10th of September, 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: falling, driving, and travelling back in time a bit.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Here is a game you feel in your ankles: Downwell, a roguelike about plummeting through space with guns attached to your feet. The guns reload when you hit the ground, and if you don't want to shoot enemies you can also land on many of them and start a combo going. That beautiful jolt of impact - right through the ankles and up the legs.
It's lovely stuff, playing a sort of unbaked cookie of a little fellow, falling through dirty pixelart spaces that feel like Metroid one moment and the Addams Family the next. I like to play with the VBoy filter that dunks the whole game into the doomy Cold War red visuals of the Virtual Boy. It makes a game that's gleefully oppressive just that little bit worse - by which I mean better.
I missed Downwell on iOS, but its arrival a while back on Switch is oddly perfect. The perfect game to play between other games - just as long as the ankles hold up.
A new season of iRacing beckons, and so after a brief hiatus I'm dragged back in to try some of the newly released tracks and cars and maybe, just maybe, actually commit to a full season of regular racing rather than making an awkward, accident prone cameo in an endurance event as is my usual way.
And, of course, the first thing to remember is that the first night with iRacing after any time away is mostly admin - dusting down the rig and making sure everything works (I keep mine in a shed, so there's always a handful of snails who are attempting to stow away for the ride too), updating the build then remembering to resubscribe to Craig's Setup Shop, and all that's before I've even got around to browsing Trading Paints to see which livery I might run.
After an hour or two of all that, though, I was wrestling the new 992 Porsche Cup car around the freshly laid virtual tarmac of the Hungaroring. I'm not sure if iRacing precisely plan out which new cars will accompany which new tracks, but there's a beautiful synergy between this pairing: the Hungaroring is famously one big go kart track, and the Porsche Cup car is one big, bruising go kart, the only difference being the small matter of some 520 horsepower under your right foot. It's a hoot, in short, not quite as deathly as its 991 predecessor but still one of the quickest ways to get your heartrate pounding in virtual racing thanks to its theatrics. And who knows? Maybe I might even get around to racing the thing this season.
I remember the first time I played Bastion. I was on the review for a mag, and I was sent to a PR's office in London to play a new downloadable game that, I think, was headed to XBLA or somesuch. I started playing this pretty hack-and-slash, and then the game started talking to me. It told me what was happening, and spun lovely sentences from my most foolish actions. A narrator, who managed to make things more dynamic rather than less?
So much of that is down to the performance of Logan Cunningham - has any one person had such an impact on a game since the days of the first Halo with that thundering, wailing score? - but Bastion is far more than just a game with an ingenious narration. Returning to it this week I've been pulled straight back in. And there's so much beauty everywhere.
Most of all, it's fascinating to play Bastion after Hades and to see how much of the DNA was already in place. Bows and shields, the thud of impact, the way that some enemies like to float and swarm. There is Hades everywhere in Bastion, right down to the many ways you can tinker with your arsenal and your powers.
What's missing - or rather what wasn't appropriate yet - is the movement. In Hades you slide across the ground like you're skidding over shiny parquet in socks. In Bastion, with the rugged earth coming up to meet you as you move, it's all much slower, with a greater sense of the hardscrabble of each step. Perfect.
It's almost infuriating. Supergiant is such a magical developer, it's like the team is so poised you can never see the wheels going around. Even Hades, which was Early Access when it launched, was so astonishingly polished at the very start, when so many other games are flopping around helplessly like surprised fish on the deck of a trawler somewhere. Bastion is a delight - and it's also a weirdly perfect primer in what was to come. And it makes me think: what's next, and which parts of what's next are already here in Bastion for me to see?