Atari's reputation as a gaming label is now so far down the pan that virtually every release is met with a mixture of resigned inevitability and something akin to a macabre glee. Recent abominations such as Alone in the Dark: Illumination and the bizarre survivalist reboot of Asteroids haven't simply been bad, but so explosively atrocious that the games transform into a circus of mockery and ridicule. In the centre of the ring is a lousy clown who remains entertaining purely because the audience gets to throw pies at him.
When Adr1ft was announced at the end of 2014, the initial reports immediately compared it to Alfonso Cuarón's spatially dazzling thriller Gravity. At first glance this is not an unfair comparison. Both are near-future space adventures which are aesthetically similar, blending the deep black of space with the harsh whites of human endeavour and dramatic views of Earth in orbit. Moreover, both have become flagships for 3D, with Gravity helping to sell plastic glasses for cinemas and Adr1ft helping to sell plastic boxes for Oculus.
Midway through my conversation with the creators of Cosmic Encounter, the boardgame in which colourful aliens attempt to colonise each other's planets, Peter Olotka interrupts co-designer Bill Eberle to make a casual observation.
It's been 11 years and four months since the release of Half-Life 2, and eight years and five months since Valve left Gordon Freeman's tale agonisingly unfinished in Episode 2. Not that I'm counting the days or anything. Just the months. And years. But it's fair to say that, by this point, fans of what is frequently regarded as the greatest FPS ever made are fairly keen to see its story finished. You can glimpse this in how every few weeks the vaguest outline of a lambda sign leads to ringing ululations of "HL3 CONFIRMED?!?!111" rebounding across the Internet.
In Terry Pratchett's sublime parody of Faust, simply titled Eric, the Demon King of Hell Astfgl adopts a radical new approach to facilitating the suffering of the eternally damned. Rather than a chaotic nightmare of fire and brimstone where the air is filled with the screams of tortured souls, Asftgl's vision of hell is a bureaucratic heaven, one in which the demons wear cheerful name badges with "How May I Help You?" scribbled on them, and where, before a soul embarks upon a punishment of Sisyphean Labour, they must first be read all 1,440 volumes of the Unhealthy and Unsafety Regulations governing the Lifting and Moving of Large Objects.
2007's BioShock blew everyone away with its momentous second-act twist. The scene in which you finally encounter Andrew Ryan, your body buzzing with adrenaline after the rigmarole you've gone through to find this megalomaniac, only to be delivered the debilitating narrative gut-punch that you've been guided like a puppet the entire time, is often considered one of gaming's greatest feats of storytelling. In fact, so successful is this scene that it ends up hurting the remainder of the game. The flurry of half-baked ideas that follow - your plasmids don't work, you're sort of a Big Daddy - fail to rebuild the momentum which leads up to that clarifying moment.
I can still remember the first family I created. On the fifth of February 2000, the day after The Sims launched, Mr and Mrs Bead moved into the single-bedroom bungalow located at 2 Sim Lane. Mr Bead was a slim, gentlemanly figure with neatly-cut black hair and pencil moustache, while Mrs Bead looked exactly like the Sim displayed in the bottom-middle square on the cover of the game box, turquoise dress and all.
There's a reasonable argument to be made that Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one of the most influential games of this decade. Like Minecraft and Dark Souls, the ideas and systems explored in Frictional's masterclass in terror have crept out into other areas of the games industry, like a virus seeking out fresh hosts.
The tourist district of Amity Heights is, in my opinion, the perfect beach resort. The glittering waterfront, once lined by pristine rainforest, is now dominated by high-rise hotel blocks, providing that gnawing sense of claustrophobia so vital to any relaxing getaway. The pristine sands of the beach itself play home to a variety of attractions: fishing tours, waterside restaurants, volleyball courts and merry-go-rounds, all designed to gently fleece busy families and vacationing couples of their holiday funds.
The Trine games have always been closet 3D titles. They might restrict the player to two axes of movement, but their rich fairytale landscapes act as visual plunge pools, twinkling with brilliance and irresistible in their depth. They tempt the eye to look past that single, flat plane, tantalising with hints of a much larger world. What secrets lie beyond that sun-dappled pumpkin patch, that verdant forest foliage, that crystalline tropical ocean?
I always pick the ape. I'd like to say I do this for some meaningful reason. But the truth is I do it because monkeys are funny. Not as funny as penguins. Penguins are slapstick incarnate. But you can't play as a penguin in Black & White. Note to all game developers: more penguins please.
Gaming has long been fertile ground for comedy. Monkey Island, Portal, and Saints Row are all prime examples of virtual mirth. Through insult swordfighting, lying cakes, and vehicular singalongs, they fuel their puzzle or projectile based shenanigans with the carefully chosen witticisms of an unseen scribe. But gaming is also capable of another kind of humour, one which doesn't involve a single stroke of the pen. I suppose it's best referred to as emergent comedy; a mixture of physical comedy and improv where the human input is one step removed from the events that ultimately transpire.
When Gabriele Nannetti agreed to work on Forge , he was entirely unaware of what the project entailed. The soft-spoken Italian game designer, known online as Abisso, responded to a forum post by a Canadian named Duke Davidson, requesting aid from volunteer programmers, artists, sound engineers and so on for a new project. "He didn't mention anything about Loom," Nanetti says. "He wanted some help on game designing, because he wasn't very experienced."
After signing up to write this retrospective, it dawned on me that I might not have time to replay Loom. I looked at my schedule and saw that I'd left myself a single evening in which to struggle through a 90s LucasArts adventure. You know, those games notorious for their fiendishly difficult puzzles and dozens of red herrings. I still have nightmares about that forest in Grim Fandango.
2011's Brink was supposed to be Splash Damage's magnum opus. Stepping away from their lauded Enemy Territory series, Brink was a radical new title bursting with ideas. SMART movement! Context-sensitive objectives! Dynamic maps! Multiplayer narrative! It was a tantalising prospect. Yet for all its ambition, Brink proved a misfire, simply because it wasn't much fun to play. It was too slow, too lightweight, and its map design seemed to funnel players into irresolvable battles of attrition that rendered many of its ideas impotent.
A good measure of a Carmageddon games' success is how quickly it makes you honk with inappropriate laughter. With Carmageddon 2 I think this took about five seconds, although I was a teenager at the time. I'm still waiting for TDR 2000 to give me a giggle.
With just a minute left on the clock, the battle for Hossin is a dead-heat. The jungle-continent is split almost straight down the middle, between shades of red and blue. The heavyweight New Conglomerate faction are just a single point ahead of their lighter, more agile Terran Republic opponents, who are throwing everything they've got right across the NC's front-line. A single captured base would swing it for the Terrans, who dominated the battlefield for almost an hour-and-a-half.
In a survival situation, the first step to salvation is to take off your t-shirt. Never mind the additional storage capacity a pocket-less t-shirt apparently provides - free your nipples! Let them breathe the open air as you tear that torso-tube into shreds. Then run to the nearest forest and press E on all the spry saplings to steal their sticks. Take your ripped t-shirt in one hand, the sticks in the other, and slap both hands together hard. If you've done it right, an exquisitely-fashioned hunting bow will appear suddenly in one of your four available slots (best not to dwell upon the location of said slots). Congratulations! Now get moving, because you've only got about half a day until you die of thirst and starvation at the same time.
It's difficult to look Modern Warfare in the eye without glancing at the long shadow that trails behind it. The small library of gradually worsening sequels and annual follow-ups, the abysmal Medal of Honor games and all the other middling to poor efforts at competition that defined the next half-decade of first-person shooters ( Terrorist Takedown anyone?).
PlanetSide 2 is a game of moments. It's a titanic, perpetual sci-fi war that sees thousands of players battling it out over the four continents of the planet Auraxis, its spectacle driven entirely by player action. It's where you can witness dozens of tanks roll out into an icy valley on the frozen continent of Esamir, or watch laser fire from a hundred players light up the night on an Indarian plain.
"If it bleeds, we can kill it," mutters Arnie in the first Predator movie. Part of me wishes I could find a better line from the extensive canon of these sci-fi titans to bring you into this Aliens versus Predator retrospective. Something more intellectual, more profound. But to do so would be dishonest to the 12-year-old me who first played AVP in 1999. First and foremost and above all else, Aliens versus Predator is a game about blood.
Imagine if JK Rowling wrote her next novel on the side of a speeding lorry. Not while it was speeding, impressive as that would be, but imagine if, in some weird avant-garde experiment, she decided to pen Harry Potter and the Midlife Crisis on a plain white truck trailer and then drove it around the country for people to read as it passed. How long would you follow it, craning your neck out of the car window and squinting at the permanently markered words, before you decided it was no longer worth the trouble?
This is a little story about a magazine that no longer exists, and a game that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists either.
If LA Cops was any earlier access it would be a Kickstarter. The developer's list of currently available features include a single playable level, character selection, and - wait for it - a menu screen. Knowing this was of great comfort to me. I simply cannot invest in a game unless I know for certain that I'll get to click some buttons before it starts.
Maia is probably going to be brilliant. This extra-terrestrial colony simulator merges Dungeon Keeper-style base management with AI systems so granular you could sweeten your tea with them, and is infused with darkly comic writing that encapsulates the creeping insanity of a close-knit community isolated on the absolute fringes of human existence. You can clearly see where it's headed, and you can predict its trajectory for getting there.
The virtual gun is so often at the forefront of gaming discussion. For 20 years it has been the weapon of choice for the majority of both games and players. It's the first thing we see when developers show off their latest graphics engines, and there's always one at hand when a violence controversy springs up in politics or the mainstream media.
Every Sunday we dust off an article in our archive that you might have missed at the time or we think you'll enjoy again. In the wake of World of Darkness's cancellation, and as - thanks to the modding community - the recent release of version 9.0, here's Rick Lane's look at Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, the game that refuses to die. This article was originally published in July 2013.
It's the dead of night on the CSAT-occupied island of Stratis, and the peaceful darkness is about to explode into chaos. I'm leading one of two spec-ops teams on a mission to liberate the leader of a local guerrilla faction and return him to the much larger island of Altis. A British squad is in charge of the actual rescue. Our job is to cause as much trouble across the island as possible to distract the CSAT forces and give the British the opening they need.
Like Frozen Synapse before it, Frozen Endzone is a predict-'em-up - a primarily multiplayer strategy game of deliberately limited scope where players take their turns simultaneously, attempting to outwit, deceive and second-guess their opponent. Whereas Synapse themed its tactical trickery around squads of tooled-up door-kickers trying to gun each other down, however, Endzone brings us a glossy future sport played by hulking robots.
I've killed my little brother Matt hundreds of times. I've killed him on a gunboat. I've killed him on a train. I've killed him on a spaceship, but not, sadly, on a plane. It's been reciprocated in kind, too. He's sniped my head off on an asteroid, dropped a nuke into my castle, and splattered my giblets across a cathedral floor. Ah, memories.