I suspect that if you grew up with Indiana Jones and the Goonies, with Tintin and Fighting Fantasy paperbacks, the merest combination of words like "Dungeon Run" is likely to trigger a Pavlovian response. Luckily, Blizzard's take on Dungeon Run, employed as the wriggly, twitching spine of Hearthstone's recent Kobolds and Catacombs expansion, has much more going for it than the simple pulp poetry of its name.
At one point, the sun becomes a gear with tooth-like rays that might slot neatly into the crenellations of a nearby castle. A man walks to the right in the foreground, and the castle retreats to the left in the background. The teeth of the sun have meshed with the castle now, so as a man walks, his very act of walking turns the sun in the sky - and the sun itself turns...?
Hackney Wick is the best station for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and so I emerged from the carriage last Sunday amongst what seemed like a disproportionate number of people wearing running shoes and tracksuits and fiddling with Fitbits. Once I had left the station, though, and made the first few turns towards the Copper Box, a sporting arena that has hosted everything from Wheelchair Rugby to the Netball Superleague, I was walking amongst a different crowd.
This far in, I think we can officially say: Fortnite is weird. The game that originally launched offered a brilliant suite of construction tools, but the game's pretty but rather brainless PvE meant there was little reason to build anything that fancy. The fact that any and all buildings would disappear at the end of a single Horde-style level meant that you felt you were wasting your time if you tried to experiment or make something elaborate and interesting. Form definitely followed function here.
There are a number of ways to lose in Riot - Civil Unrest, a strange and jittery and deeply unnerving game that has just hit Early Access on Steam. Riot is, as the name suggests, a riot simulator. You can play as rebels or the security forces, each side with their own objectives and their own tactics. What unites everyone, though, are those different ways you can lose. You can fail to hold territory, of course - you can be driven back or have your surge repelled. But you can also be victorious on the streets and then discover that the political cost of your brutality is too much. You can lose the war by winning the battle.
I rarely play fighting games, and, man, I did not expect them to be this soothing. Arms is violent for sure - enemies are pummelled, the ground judders with impacts, and a last-minute defeat can still throw me into an internal rage. But rages, internal or otherwise, are actually fairly rare here - far rarer than last-minute defeats for sure. Most of the time, when I think of Arms - and I am in that honeymoon phase where I think of it constantly - I think of a game that presents itself as a series of nested delights. There's the music at launch, and its theme of wordless bellowing joy. There's the way the UI slides in and out in vibrant bursts, like the screen furniture for the best sporting show ever. There are the badges that you collect instead of Achievements, all neatly laid out in their treasure box screen, and there's the Get ARMS mode in which you cash in in-game money for the chance to earn new and surprising fists to hit people with, by means of a pacey shooting gallery that is rewarding you with stuff while secretly teaching you how to curve punches.
Two things happened this week that made me think about beautiful stuff vanishing from the world, and about the strange notion that there might be a kind a melancholic pleasure to be had - if melancholic pleasures can be had - in the spaces created by fresh absence. I'm not ghoulishly thinking of death or anything as serious as that. More the weird kind of beauty you sometimes get when you look at a wall of framed pictures and notice the ghostly parchment patches where something else once hung and now hangs no longer. Ghoulishly, ghostly. We are not off to a great start here.
Ode is a musical exploration game, which is a bit like saying ET is a movie about missing your flight. Ode is music and exploration. Somehow, they are separate and yet entirely intertwined.
Only months after Atomega landed, Ubisoft Reflections has a new game out. It's a playful musical adventure called Ode.
Atomega has stuck with me. Ubisoft Reflections' brilliant follow-up to Grow Home and Grow Up is an ingenious multiplayer battler that's completely unlike any other multiplayer battler I have ever encountered. And it's all so simple: as you race around an arena, blasting away at your enemies, you're also collecting the mass you need in order to grow. The bigger you are, the more dangerous you are and the more points you can score - but you're also more exposed.
This piece contains major spoilers for Call of Duty: WW2's campaign.
The Mapworks is the heart of Torchlight 2. In many ways it feels like the heart of so much that is great in video games in general. You spawn at the portal and then you walk out, along a narrow golden bridge, to a magical clockwork escapement suspended in the void. I can imagine what the floor feels like here: the glossiness of the crystal and polished metal, and that hum coming up through your feet that suggests vast energies twisting and churning beneath you. The Mapworks is where you get to once Torchlight 2 is all but done, but it's also where you realise that Torchlight 2 is just beginning, and that it never has to end if you don't want it to. The campaign is over, and here, in this stately firmament, you can buy an endless supply of procedurally-generated maps that will take you to an endless stretch of procedurally-generated dungeons.
Editor's note: This week sees the re-release of L.A. Noire on PS4, Xbox One and Switch, and to mark the occasion we thought we'd return to Chris Donlan's piece on playing through the game - still one of the very best things ever published on Eurogamer, he'll hate me for saying - which first went live back in 2012. Enjoy!
Sometimes a crow is the perfect companion. All the way through the demo for Lonely Mountains: Downhill, you can hear this crow, solitary as ever, that ragged call mournful one minute and sarcastic the next. And while you can't see the bird itself you can imagine it, rickety on its poky legs or arcing smoothly through the sky to find its perch in one of the game's sparse, sharp-edged trees. Everyone needs an audience, I guess, and the crow is the ideal one here, for a game about clambering on a flimsy bike and chucking yourself down an endless hill, cresting rises, sprinting towards gaps and eventually colliding with a boulder that you saw but only after it was far too late.
On the surface, Lucky the fox is a perfect example of why you should never, ever name your kid "Lucky". His debut adventure was tied to the Oculus Rift, which meant that its impact was always going to be pretty limited. Even then, in amongst all those weird treats that defined the first wave of VR, controlling a cartoon fox as he scampered around handicraft 3D worlds collecting stuff didn't have much obvious appeal. And now he's back with Super Lucky's Tale on Xbox and PC, he's run right into Mario Odyssey's release window.
I will state up-front that I am no historian. I know next to nothing about World War 2. But the one thing I thought I knew revolves around the V-2 rocket. And now the V-2 rocket is in COD: WW2, I'm starting to worry I might be wrong about that as well.
Bubsy and his platforming ilk remind me in a strange, tangled way of high-frequency trading. This is the dodgy Wall Street manoeuvre, as detailed in Michael Lewis' Flash Boys, in which money men exploit their speedy internet connections and clever algorithms to spot your buy order leaving your computer, get in front of it, grab the stock you want and then sell it to you for a tiny profit - a tiny profit that becomes an enormous profit when you scale it up to the point where you're pulling this off a gajillion times a day.
Halfway through every Mario game I have the same revelation, and it always comes as a shock, as a total surprise. Halfway through every Mario game I suddenly realise that it's not about where Mario takes you from one adventure to the next, it's about what he encourages you to become along the way. Mario games aren't just great because they're imaginative and generous and precision-made. They're great because, in being all these things, they prod you towards becoming an ideal kind of player - a player who's inventive when it comes to problem-solving, who's able to wield a complex move-set with real accuracy, and who's sufficiently engaged in what's going on right now to hunt down every available secret in a world that's thrillingly dense with them. Mario forces you back into the moment. He encourages you to be playful. For me, every Mario game is like taking a holiday. It's like taking a holiday from the kind of game player that I usually am.
In the early weeks of its life, the PS3 was Super Stardust HD. That's how I remember it anyway. And when the PS4 came around, it turned out that the PS4 was Resogun. The news today that low sales have forced Housemarque, who made both these games, to declare that 'Arcade is dead' lends all of these memories a bittersweet tinge. And yet - and I mean this as the highest compliment I can come up with - it's hard to have too many emotions around games like Super Stardust and Resogun, other than panic and excitement - extreme, panoramic excitement. Bittersweet melancholy doesn't stick about for long.
With great power, as they say in Spider-Man, comes great responsibility. Sony knows a thing or two about power. One of the brilliant things about PlayStation is that the people behind it acknowledge the power that games have. They are capable of taking games seriously. It sometimes seems, however, that they are struggling to do games justice when showing them off en masse. I guess everyone is, really. As the material games choose to work from gets broader, it gets harder to pile them all together at a press conference. Sony had many brilliant-looking games at its Paris Games Week press event yesterday, but my main takeaway, I think, is that events like this are no longer a particularly good way to showcase modern games in the first place.
Did you catch it? In amongst the blather and breaking bones of PlayStation's Paris Games Week press splurge? The moment between a father and daughter that wasn't grim, predictable and clumsy? The moment that was simple, gentle, and beautifully observed? The moment that occurred in the Spelunky 2 trailer when an old hero passes his hat on to the next generation and then...?
This is unexpected! Sony just revealed Spelunky 2 via a short teaser trailer dropped into the press briefing pre-stream at PlayStation's Paris Games Week. I'm still a bit numb, frankly.
Editor's note: The Egypt-set Assassin's Creed Origins is out this week, and in a bold bit of opportunism we thought we'd republish Christian Donlan's wonderful piece on Senet, the board game played by ancient Egyptians. The piece was first published last year.
I played two video games this week that made me think about history. Not History with a capital H, although, certainly, one of them did that. Instead, they all made me think about their own histories as video games: the lineage they came from and the traditions they were bound up with. No wonder then, that by the end of the week, I was recalling a conversation I once had with a video game developer who was working on the narrative for a Star Wars game. This was way back, very much pre-J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens. I asked the developer what it was like navigating that much accrued lore from the point of view of someone who was trying to make something new and characterful and coherent. He didn't reply. Not in words anyway. Instead he sighed and he closed his eyes and he pinched the bridge of his nose as if he was trying to dispel a migraine. I doubt this man was too upset when Abrams and company announced the death of the Extended Universe.
We know quite a lot about what the Ancient Egyptians made of death. Their opinions regarding life, however, often seem more elusive. This could have posed something of a problem for Assassin's Creed: although my first thought of this series is always of death dropping down from on high as darkness suddenly swirls and engulfs, my second, more considered memory, is generally one of life - mad, rickety, often hilarious life. The teeming, thronging cities of civilisation, messy history wobbling forth in the form of crowds, of bystanders, of onlookers, of thieves and killers and victims. This life is sometimes buggy and precarious - in Assassin's Creed, you can sometimes have no face, just a grin and some floating eyeballs and yet you can still be alive - but there's always something of a cheerful miracle to it. These games bustle. They bustle with life.
I can still remember the way to Noki Bay. So much other stuff about Mario Sunshine has faded, but this remains clear, as if I last made the journey yesterday. You're in town and you head to the mosaic by the dolphin fountain. The air feels weird here, shimmering and expectant. You step onto the mosaic, and then what? Something is almost ready to happen. You spin the camera around until you catch it, the sun itself blazing in the sky. The screen goes white and then you're off.
I'm not sure how you feel about eye contact, but even if you really, really love it, Echo is going to test you. Its menu screen, for starters, is a huge eyeball, lashes thick and curling and as weird and alien as real, human lashes, its pupil darting around as you hover between the usual options. Phew! Once you've gotten past that, you're up for a lengthy opening ramble through an orbiting spaceship where you have emerged from a century of cryo-sleep, down to a planet where ice fields turn out to be endlessly replicated white cubes, and beneath that to a vast procedural palace.
For a second, holding a golden necklace above the open mouth of the cremulator, I paused. But only for a second. The cremulator is essentially an extremely hardcore blender: it is used in the funeral business to grind any bone fragments that remain after the fires of cremation have flared and then dimmed. It is not meant to grind jewelry, but I imagine it could if pushed. Games are about messing with systems, aren't they? Narrative games in particular are about messing with systems that the designer has entrusted you with for the purpose of telling a story. I was not meant to grind the golden necklace. I was meant to place it inside the urn with the remains of its owner. And so of course for a second, I paused.
Jeffrey Manchester typically robbed McDonald's. He typically robbed McDonald's because in America, McDonald's restaurants, wherever you go, are typically the same kind of building. Manchester's genius - and it was genius, albeit of a scrappy, low-key nature - was to realise that in these near-identical McDonald's buildings, near-identical rituals were often unfolding. If you found the right moment in the day to rob one McDonald's - and the right access point to utilise - you had stumbled on a crime you could export across the country. McDonald's has developed a easily replicable system for selling burgers. Because of this, Manchester had developed an easily replicable system for robbing McDonald's.
The great thing about Tolkien's Middle-Earth, I reckon, is that it's bigger than a book, bigger than a movie screen, bigger than any collection of words or images you could ever arrange. Middle-Earth has rules that cannot be broken and it has borders that cannot easily be expanded, but those are paltry restrictions when countered by the imagination of a besotted fan. You can think about Middle-Earth forever, because you can just add details and questions and guesswork and hopes and dreams. Fandom this rich is a tunnel leading deep into the misty, cavernous spaces underground - and Tolkien, as we all know, had things to say about those kinds of spaces.