Gone Home is not a game you can be good or bad at. It’s not a game that will test your twitch reflexes or resource management strategizing or tactical adaptiveness or even really your puzzle-solving abilities. For a small subset of capital-G-gamers, it’s not even a game – not a “real” game, at least. (And if you’ve ever been to a comments section, you’ve met these people.) Gone Home and other games like it have been dubbed “walking simulators,” a term intended as a pejorative by those who think these aren’t “real” games and embraced by those who enjoy them. But the discussion (such as it is) of how to classify Gone Home misses the point of such games, which is ultimately the point of all games: the experience of playing them, whether or not you want to call it “play” or call them “games.”
By now, two-and-a-half years since the game first appeared on PCs, many people are familiar with the essentials of Gone Home: you play as Katie, a 21-year-old just returning home from a year in Europe to the unfamiliar house her family moved to in her absence, only to discover that, though it’s the middle of the night, everyone – Mom, Dad, and sister Sam – is gone. To figure out what has happened, you wander through the house, picking up objects and reading documents, trying to piece together a year’s worth of family drama. And that’s it.
To some, the “that’s it” is a criticism: what the game is missing is the need to defend yourself from hordes of attacking werewolves using the increasingly sophisticated arsenal of weapons you find around the house, an adventure for which the family drama is context and backdrop. To others, the “that’s it” is grand praise, as in: that’s all developer Fullbright needed to make an engrossing game. I find myself squarely in the latter camp.
Continue reading Backlog Adventures: Gone Home
The Sisyphean task of working through a backlog of yet-to-be-played videogames requires a certain amount of strategy. There is, of course, the matter of playing all the games, but you also have to stop the backlog from growing. Getting through Skyrim won’t do much for my backlog if I end up buying five other games in the interim. So I have, for the most part, conditioned myself to ignore all those great deals on the dozens or hundreds of games that I’ve missed over the years, and to try to buy games one at a time, right before I play them. Getting past – if not necessarily through – the backlog is going to require letting some of these games die on the vine, and that’s a lot easier when you don’t own the games in the first place.
One of the big exceptions, though, is indie games. The market is overflowing right now with fun, quirky, unique indie games that can often be had pretty cheaply. A lot of these games only take a few hours to get through, so it seems pretty harmless to stockpile a handful of them for a rainy day. Or so I tell myself. Taking advantage of a few deals on little indie games isn’t the same as grabbing a cheap copy of Mass Effect Trilogy is what I’m saying. So when Badland: Game of the Year Edition (normally $11.99) went on sale for six bucks during an ID@Xbox Spotlight sale, I grabbed it and threw it on the pile.
Badland was first released in 2013 for iOS and Android (and then a year later for Windows Phone, as is tradition) and won Apple’s iPad Game of the Year award. A GotY edition was then released in 2015 for various consoles and other platforms. It only takes a quick look to understand the game’s appeal as an impulse purchase. It has the kind of look that feels unique in a very familiar way, a cross between In Limbo and Ori and the Blind Forest, casting a silhouetted foreground against a colorful, painterly forested background. It’s of a type that jumps out from a screenshot and promises a dose of adorable fun. It references a lot of other games and styles that seem to pop up in every other indie game, but, on the other hand, its appeal is irresistible. It is a puppy, basically. It looks like all the other puppies, but it is a puppy, right in front of you! Continue reading Backlog Adventures: Badland
It’s 2015 and I’m only just playing Skyrim, that smash hit from 2011, for the first time. How did this happen? When I try to answer that question, the first thing I think of is Led Zeppelin.
My first exposure to rock music was through my dad’s record collection, so I ended up listening to a lot of the Beatles, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and, of course, Led Zeppelin. But then something happened. I was in high school during the 90s, a time when the sixties were back in a big way and kids were listening to Zeppelin as if they were another Seattle grunge band; between that and Zeppelin’s ubiquity on rock radio, I got burned out. I needed a break. But somewhere along the way, my brain got confused and convinced me that I actually disliked Led Zeppelin. So, for ten years or so, I just kept on not listening to them. The hiatus became indefinite. I would change the station when they came on the radio. I didn’t buy any of their music on CD, that newly emerging music format. I simply lived as a person who wasn’t at all into Zeppelin.
Fast forward to 2005. My brother turned thirty that year, and for his birthday I made him a mix CD with a song from each year of his life – beginning with 1975, the year he was born, and the year Led Zeppelin released Physical Graffiti. Listening to that album to decide what song to open the CD with, I realized something that I knew when I was 12 but had since forgotten: Zeppelin rocks! Within days I had purchased the most recently remastered versions of their first six albums, and was making up for a lot of lost time on air drums and air guitar. Order was restored to the universe.
Why did my brain come to the conclusion that I disliked Led Zeppelin when in reality I probably only needed a brief respite from them? Could it do the same thing with pizza? What else do I only think I don’t like? I don’t know. But this is what happened with Skyrim. When people kept telling me, over and over, insistently and enthusiastically, that I should play Skyrim – that I needed to play Skyrim – I dismissed them. Skyrim just wasn’t my type of game. I wasn’t into that sort of thing.
Continue reading Backlog Adventures: Skyrim
[Over the years, I, like many gamers, have accumulated a huge backlog of unplayed games. Sometimes a huge open world RPG takes up hundreds of hours of my time. Sometimes I get preoccupied chasing down every last star in a Super Mario game. Sometimes a game comes out that I want to try, but not until its price drops. Sometimes there are just too many games coming out at once. Whatever the reason, I end up setting certain games aside and not getting to them until months or even years after they were released. As I try to work my way through this backlog, I’ll post my thoughts here, in a periodic column called “Backlog Adventures.”]
Alien: Isolation is one of those games that gets me really excited until days before its release, when reviews begin to pop up and it starts to look like much of the game’s potential was left unrealized. In days gone by, I would go to the local Blockbuster and rent a game like this; depending on how much I liked it, I would either buy it, keep renting it until I beat it, or return it after a few days. But with game rental largely a thing of the past, games like Alien: Isolation get relegated to the ever-growing backlog, waiting until I can grab a used copy for a price that matches my expectations.
Alien: Isolation was released last October, around the time I got my Xbox One, and was on my short list for First Xbox One Game. Reviews scared me off, though, and I opted instead for Shadow of Mordor, which proved to be an excellent choice. When I discovered that my local library had a copy of Alien: Isolation in its meager games collection, I decided to give it a shot. After waiting for some chucklehead to return it five weeks overdue – (come on, buddy, you can buy it for less than you’re going to pay in fines!) – I finally got a chance to play it. Would it be so great that I’d run out and buy it for its current price of $40? Or would I play it for a bit and then return it, unimpressed? Continue reading Backlog Adventures – Alien: Isolation