Put down the controller and close your eyes: there is no better game on earth to listen to. What do I hear? The creak of timbers, the flap of a sail, the thud and shudder and boom of the ocean.
Here comes the head-stepper.
At the end of the first episode of Sam Barlow's reimagining of WarGames, I got to look through all the choices I had made along the way. And the weird thing is, I didn't think I'd made any. I was thinking of choices that paused the action for a second and gave me a decision to think about and then act on. I was thinking of the big (literally) show-stopping moments in games like Life is Strange. What I should have been thinking about, perhaps, is a question of influence. You nudge WarGames around while watching it unfold. You nudge it through the very way that you watch it. It's fascinating stuff. It's also occasionally boring at times, and generally a delightful oddity.
Survive Mars? It took me the best part of a day to decide where to land. And with good reason: there's a lot of stuff to think about from the very off here in this wonderfully detailed planet colonisation sim. I'm not sure that on my most recent attempt at surviving Mars - spoiler: I didn't - I was any quicker at finding a parking spot than I was on my initial outing.
I have Fortnite on my iPhone SE. The complete thing? Well, the Battle Royale part, anyway: the part that is currently taking over the world. And it works! It works surprisingly well. It's a little more basic to look at and I'll need a while to get properly comfortable, but I suspect Fortnite might well conquer the touchscreen much as it's conquered everything else.
Maybe it's something about Renderware. It must be, right? 500 Agility Orbs in the Renderware-powered Crackdown, daring you to allow anything else in the game to rival those humming green treats for sheer narrative appeal. And in Burnout Paradise, another Renderware joint, 400 yellow crash gates. They're shortcuts ostensibly but, given the way they scatter on the wind in your wake, I suspect people would happily charge through them even if they lead to nowhere more exciting than a small out-of-hours pharmacy. 400 yellow gates, twinkling their lurid twinkle and lending a throbbing emergency-yellow shape to the wild city looping and tumbling around you. And 120 billboards to smash through. And 50 super jumps to super jump. And ten multi-storeys...
There's a sort of voodoo pelican guy in Flinthook - I think it's voodoo, and I think it's a pelican. Anyway, this guy lobs flaming red skulls at you whenever you meet, and those skulls! Oh my! Those skulls are just the loveliest things. They're like the skulls in Towerfall: 2D art and animation of sufficiently magical quality to convince the mind that you're actually looking at a 3D asset as it spins towards you. I could get hit and killed by those flaming red skulls all day. Just as I could be killed by the insouciant guy who throws blades at you, spreading blades that fly from the hands of an insouciant guy whose very demeanor allows the pixel art to convey with real certainty that this character is definitely French. A French knife-thrower in space, a voodoo pelican with an endless supply of skulls. Flinthook is special.
You hear them before you see them - the awful croaking of the flap-handed poison frogs, the cosmic rattling death-baa of a squat and villainous ram. It's a tiny detail, but it brings so much to proceedings: when you enter a new chamber, seconds after you find yourself locked inside again, a game about shooting is briefly, regularly, a game about listening. What's coming next? Oh god, it's frogs! Luckily, I have exactly the right tool for dealing with frogs.
Last month Eurogamer reported that the next Call of Duty would be a return to the Black Ops series, making it Black Ops 4. This week it emerged that the game's logo would be a stylised IIII.
The 4X game is the Sunday papers genre: you spread out, prepare yourself for the long, luxurious haul, and tackle this glorious unwieldy thing, thick with features wanted and unwanted and packed with colour and far-flung intrigue. Your favourite part in it will be some aspect you were not expecting, and yet the whole thing is wonderfully awash with calming familiarity. I am still surprised that the new Civ does not drop a leaflet for life insurance when you pick it up and shake it.
The first games I played were games of memory. My English grandfather was full of them. Parlour games, mainly. There was one in which each chair in his living room became a station and his family became trains. He would stand in the middle of the room and direct the trains between the stations, and you had to remember which train you were and where the station you were headed to could be found. At five or six, I found it overwhelming, but also intoxicating. (At 39, I now look back and suspect my grandfather wished he hadn't spent his life as clerk of the local magistrate's court.) Then there was another game - I've since learned that it's called Kim's Game, but as a kid I assumed my grandfather had invented it - in which he arranged a tray with bits and pieces from around the house, gave us a minute to study them all and then covered the tray with a cloth and quietly removed one item. When he uncovered the tray again we all had to spot what was missing.
It was Superhot that first made me think about the old writer's adage, that you do the slow stuff fast and the fast stuff slow. This is the thinking that powers Jack Reacher novels, for example - Lee Child talks about this trick often and with great clarity. If Reacher's doing a bunch of research, you whip through it in a couple of lines. Literary montage! If Reacher's outside a bar, though, and a horseshoe of bad'uns is forming around him, time slows until it forms a thick mineral goop that traps everyone within it. The next few seconds are going to involve the shattering of kneecaps and the bruising of aortas (if aortas are a thing that can be bruised - having typed it, I am unconvinced). The next few seconds are going to be violent and memorable. Crucially, the next few seconds are going to take eight or nine pages to play out, because every move will be examined in great forensic detail. We will count the separate sparks in the air, and be deafened by the clatter of a spent cartridge case rattling on the tarmac. We will be fully present and fully conscious in these terrible, glorious moments.
Considering that Subset's last game, FTL, handed you an entire galaxy to knock about in, Into the Breach might strike you as being a little cramped in its opening minutes. This turn-based tactical battler likes to drop you into snug maps of eight squares by eight. You never have more than a handful of turns to worry about on each mission, and you have just three units to control as standard. What's worth remembering, though, is that FTL may have been set in the vast reaches of space, but it found its most frantic entertainment in the compact and claustrophobic arrangement of rooms that was your spaceship. This is a studio that understands panic and understands the power of confinement. FTL is a classic - and Into the Breach may well be even better.
I have heard All Walls Must Fall described as a blend of real-time and turn-based tactical action, set in a retro-futuristic Berlin in which the Cold War never ended and where all matters of consequence unfold in the procedurally-generated nightclubs favoured by gay time-travelling superspies. Deep breath. Influences cover everything from Twelve Monkeys and X-Com to Invisible Inc, Superhot and - when it comes to the wonderfully grungy animation that chops together 2D character models and low-poly 3D backgrounds - the old Paddington Bear children's series that was so memorably narrated by Michael Hordern. It all sounds a bit complicated really. But it isn't. When you get into a fight here, All Walls Must Fall is gloriously, deliriously, skull-shakingly straightforward.
Florence is a new and inventive visual novel for smartphones, and it's the latest game from Ken Wong, the lead designer on the original Monument Valley. It's out now on iOS for £2.99 and is coming soon to Android.
One of the most fascinating things I ever read about Shakespeare revolves, rather perversely, around how little we actually know of him. Putting the plays and the sonnets to one side, everything we know about Shakespeare the man is "contained within a few scanty facts," according to Bill Bryson. In his book, Shakespeare: The World as a Stage, Bryson marvels that Shakespeare exists within the historical record in a mere hundred or so documents. Despite almost a million words of text in his drama and poetry, "we have just 14 words in his own hand - his name signed six times and the words 'by me' on his will."
Fortnite, like PUBG, is a game of a million different stories, but if you leap from the sky and aim straight for the house on Loot Lake you're often going to see one story in particular.
It should not be too surprising that game designers have turned to Moby-Dick as a source of inspiration. For much of his novel, Melville is describing something that sounds a lot like an MMO.
Good and evil is barely the start of it, frankly. Fable is one of those rare, fascinating game series upon which nobody can really seem to agree about anything for very long. It's a shallow RPG, or maybe it's a canny and satirical examination of RPGs in general. It's hilarious - oh, the burping! Or maybe it's just juvenile. Let's face it: Fable's easy to the point of being obsequious, isn't it? Or maybe it's choosing to measure itself in ways that go beyond mere difficulty? It's no surprise, then, that with all this discussion churning around it, the world of Albion is so often defined by a mechanic that it doesn't even contain.
At the end of the first day of her attempt to climb Celeste mountain, Madeline sits down and lights a campfire. Flames crackling and sparks rising against the darkness, it's a moment of respite in a world defined by relentless, delirious challenge. We've been here before, of course, but, even if the nod to Dark Souls isn't intentional, it's entirely appropriate. Celeste offers ingenious delights and gruelling punishment. To master it, even partially, is to feel like you're really achieving something.
Ubisoft has announced a new addition to Ubisoft Club, its somewhat nebulous layer of cross-game friction. The new addition is called Sam, and it's a personal gaming assistant.
Years ago, holidays belonged to my only true passion. Obviously, I'm talking about healthcare administration. Home from university, my sister and I had a very particular way of playing Theme Hospital. One of us would take the reins - an easy enough level, say Sleepy Hollow or another one of the early stages - and would build out the basic skeleton of a working organisation. We would employ excellent doctors and excellent nurses, and knock up a ward, a staff room, a toilet block. And then? Then we would step away and let the simulation run for a good long while without any more input from us. And when our careful negligence was done, we would hand control over, so that the new player could inherit an embattled shell of a thing: understaffed, underfunded, and utterly under-appreciated. How would they react?
What does the future feel like? Forget what it looks like: how do you grasp it? What does it feel like in the palm of your hand, in the tips of your fingers. Think about switches, dials, and keyboards made of nothing but light. Forget the horizons, think about the UI of tomorrow.
First up, I have not learned to speak Monster Hunter. I am still learning. In fact, I am pretty much still at the beginning of it. I have almost no good equipment. I have tangled with only the most feeble of Monster Hunter's terrifying beasts. I know what Psychoserum does, but only because I looked it up. But anyway, I have started! I have ventured into the wild lands, which at first seem very tame and blurry and empty - I am playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS - and they have just started, over many hours of early-game missions, to seem truly wild. This is how it begins, I guess. I have always wanted to do this, and this is how it begins.
Do you like Shibuya? Do you like RPGs set in Shibuya? Are you willing to accept "urban fantasy" as, if not a genre, then at least a milieu?
Kinect is dead. Even its Xbox One adaptor is dead. And I mourn Kinect a little, because there are moments where I remember loving it. Crucially, though, in none of these moments was it connected in any meaningful way to an Xbox.