20th of August, 2021
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: endless driving, a modern Metroidvania, and a perfect sound effect.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Burnout Paradise, Xbox
I am always playing Burnout Paradise. It's the game to return to between games, before games, after games. I'm not sure if I've ever finished it, or even if it can be finished. Sometimes I go for the events and spend hours in Road Rage or Marked Man. Sometimes, like now, I find myself driving on and off for months - just driving, sounding out every road, spotting new connections, hunting for those elusive crash gates.
And I don't know how you do this - how you make a game so precise and so filled with stuff to do, and yet so perfect for a form of endless, aimless play that feels like doodling. Doodling games: Burnout Paradise, Grow Home, Crackdown. There's a genre for sure. A genre I will never tire of.
Axiom Verge 2, Switch
What is it that makes a really good Metroidvania? I suppose it's a question of personal taste, but my own favourites always possess a certain atmosphere. For their many merits, it's the chill dread of Super Metroid's Zebes and Symphony of the Night's castle that have helped them linger in the mind after all these years: these are coherent places with an ambience of all of their own, which is what makes the slow unfurling of their maps such a pleasure.
It's that same impeccable sense of place that helped make 2015's Axiom Verge one of the very best of the glut of Metroidvanias we've seen in recent years. The work of solo developer Thomas Happ, Axiom Verge was a deliciously icy adventure, its otherworld of Sudra a thing of inky 8-bit horror. Bustling with ideas, a glitchy style of its own and some impeccable pacing, it's earnt a fair following in the years since.
Which makes Axiom Verge 2's willingness to forge a different path for itself all the bolder. Out go the dank caverns of the original, and in comes a new, lighter aesthetic and a very different kind of chill, its own world of Kiengir a cold expanse dense with secrets. Out go the ingenious guns of the original and in comes a stripped back melee system that makes this feel more indebted to Castlevania than Metroid. Is it a better game than the original Axiom Verge? I'm not sure, though after half a dozen hours with it I'm fairly certain it also belongs up there with the very best Metroidvanias.
The Ramp, PC
Is there a better sound in all of games than the sound of a skateboard grinding? Surface on surface, but a bit of grit in there too, and the grit makes it feel real. I hear the sound and I am right there, doing something I could not even begin to do in real life, but which I am relatively decent at in certain games. The grind!
Not in The Ramp, though. The Ramp has the best grind noise in any skating game, or maybe I just think that because I am so comprehensively horrible at pulling the maneuver off in this particular skating game. That makes me want to hear that sound all the more - to grind for five, ten, twenty seconds!
I think the empty pool is my best bet. And my nemesis is the little ladder that interrupts the smooth edge that is perfect for grinding. Each morning, five minutes of this - a grind, then a fall, a grind then a stop as I run out of momentum. But I'm getting there. And I have bursts of that perfect sound effect to keep me going.
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