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Daniel Starkey

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As the remakes pile up, it's easy to become cynical about Pokémon. There's always a young hero, there's always a team bent on world domination, and there's always turn-based combat. It's easy to conclude that every few years Game Freak releases a slightly updated version of what they already have, before dashing off to collect their money.

EssentialNever Alone review

It's cold outside.

I approach life from a different perspective than most. I'm American Indian, and the fact that my culture and my people are moving closer to extinction all the time isn't something I often forget. As I grow, a fatalistic phrase has come to summarise my relationship with the modern American Indian experience.

Freedom Wars review

Thorny issue.

Some time ago in a college psychology course, I recall hearing a professor describe, at length, how important agency is to mental health. We need to know that the actions we take will have an effect on the world around us, and that we have some measure of control - no matter how small - over own future. When we're denied that, we tilt into fatalism. We lose hope and give into a pervasive malaise as we internalise fissures between will and result.

Defense Grid 2 review

The best defence.

The basis of any given tower defence game is the narrow premise of placing towers to defend against some encroaching... thing. Honestly, the rest is quite vague. I've seen some that are meant to emulate doodles on a desk, and the invaders are office supplies. I've seen another where all of the turrets you use are Tetris pieces. And another where everything is made up of weird techno-lasers. These kinds of games are simple, often lacking any real narrative. In their day, they weren't too far flung from interactive click-bait.

Qvadriga review

Bellum, Pestilentia, Fames ac Mors.

Qvadriga is a tactical turn-based game about chariot racing, but as weird as that premise sounds, beneath the funky concept lies a functional and occasionally compelling game that only lacks depth and variety.

Metrico review

Infographic novel.

I often find myself disappointed by the relative lack of creativity in games. More often than not, I've noticed that my all-time favourites are those that fully embrace a unique style and capitalise on that with verve. From that perspective, Metrico is a triumph.

Light review

Turn off.

Amnesia is one of the most common storytelling contrivances in media. It's always struck me as odd and reductionist: if you were to lose all of your old memories, would you still be you? It's a tough question, but it's one that Light tosses away almost immediately. We see the classic amnesia trope, but only through several layers of abstraction.

Stranded review

Lost in space.

For as long as I can remember, my greatest fear has been some variant of death by suffocation: drowning, being trapped in a burning building or just about everything relating to space and space travel. To me, it's the most horrific way to go. That's a bit odd, considering how much I loved space as a kid; I grew up with Star Trek, Stargate and Star Wars. Even as an adult I regularly fantasise about being an explorer of the cosmos... before the crippling fear of asphyxiation kicks in.

The universe is big. Really, really big. Unfathomably big. So big that our brains cannot understand the numbers involved. Back in 2006, I remember being really excited about Spore and Mass Effect. Both were games that promised they'd really give us a sense of scale; tiny people, tiny beings, competing on a mind-bogglingly large stage. They failed, of course - and for the longest time I felt that I'd never see something that would really make me feel utterly insignificant. And then I played Distant Worlds.

Completely surrounded, with German tanks pressing their advantage against the last of my bazooka-wielding riflemen, I figured I'd lost. I was seconds from defeat. Then I saw an opening: a narrow path that looked relatively unguarded. So I used a few rounds of covering artillery fire, forcing the tanks to back off for a few seconds, allowing a quick opening for the last of my infantrymen. After a few minutes of rapid movement and harassing my opponent's tanks, I had managed to largely immobilise them and quickly capture the strategic points I needed to reinforce my position and push the last of the German forces out of the fields of France.

At some point, we'll all probably hit rock bottom, be it through a break-up, divorce, death, poverty or physical injury. Whether we've hit that point in our life or not, we all sort of know it's coming. Eventually. The threat of tragedy hangs over our lives as a curious thing, a distant idea we toy with when we're feeling particularly masochistic. Always Sometimes Monsters is about those moments and the things people can or will do when backed into a corner and left to wallow in their desperation.

Age of Empires 2 was one of my very first experiences with the real-time strategy genre. As pre-teens, my friends and I tried to get together for LAN parties as often as possible. After one particularly great night, I traded an old sound card I had for a copy of Age of Empires 2 and its expansion. From that point on, I was hooked on the series. A few years later, Age of Mythology messed with the clean balance, historical detail and polish of its predecessors; it was rougher, more aggressive and more playful all at once. A little over a decade later, in this Steam reissue, Age of Mythology retains much of its whimsy - but it's also clearly a relic of a bygone era.

Cloudbuilt review

Castles in the sky.

One of the core tenets of free running is that there is an artistry in simple movement; it holds unimpeded momentum to be one of the most beautiful things in the world. A growing crop of games has sought to co-opt this idea for their own purposes - be it more open levels, a sense of empowerment or simple fun. Cloudbuilt takes that idea and uses it to tell a story, frequently nailing the connection between metaphor, message and play.

Typically, I don't get on with Japanese RPGs. I don't like the melodrama, the stilted writing, the often turn-based menu-battles - and I don't like that I seem to spend more time watching the game than playing it. I can't ever shake the feeling that my participation is incidental to the story that the writers want for me.

FeatureTaking games seriously

Exploring the new academia that's growing around games.

For decades, video games have strived for cultural relevance. Cultural identity struggles instigated by spats with politicians or critics from other media have led to a complex among many gaming hobbyists as well as designers and developers in the gaming industry - that this medium has serious potential and deserves the same level of respect and critical scrutiny as any other. At the same time, there's a rise of game development programs and degrees at universities across the world; professorships, residencies and long-form game criticism are helping games through their adolescence and into adulthood.