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.
In Play is a column taking a weekly sideways look at new game releases.
My two favourite games of this year are very different - almost opposed - but have one important thing in common. The Witcher 3 is huge, opulent, authored, with simple gameplay working in the service of rich storylines and a bustling world. Invisible, Inc. is compact, efficient, procedurally generated, with a basic plot framing stories that emerge naturally from an exquisitely engineered ruleset. Both games, though, impress with their coherence: their total dedication to selling their fantasy and to avoiding the smallest detail that might break their spell. Strut like a sexy, magic monster hunter; commit daring heists with a team of neo-noir cyber-spies. Who wouldn't want to?
Contingency Plan is the new DLC pack for Invisible, Inc, a turn-based stealth affair that is swiftly becoming my game of the year. Klei Entertainment - an outfit that is swiftly becoming my developer of the decade - clearly knows what it's doing here. Contingency Plan contains new enemies and new abilities, and its big ticket item is probably a unique mission that extends the campaign - and swiftly cut a rather promising team to ribbons on my first playthrough. What's really brilliant about Contingency Plan, however, is the four new playable characters it offers. They've completely changed the way I approach things. They've completely changed the whole game for me.
"If we'd done it all internally, I don't know if we would have ever realised that we shouldn't do a dungeon crawler," explains designer James Lantz with a laugh. We are on Skype, and we're talking about Invisible Inc, the game that he's been working on for the last few years - and the game that, since last August, has had a new influx of design consultants.
Dungeon of the Endless, Subnautica - quite a lot of Early Access video games start with spaceships in flames, hurtling artfully towards strange planets, bound for tales of peril and survival. Possibly this is just the best way to kick off a narrative that will involve crafting and permadeath, two of this era's greatest loves. Partly, though, it seems a tacit acknowledgement of how so many people feel about Early Access in general - that it is the place where bright promise burns up, where landing sites become graves.
How's this for trouble? A while ago, I spawned in a room that didn't have any exits. My fate was limbo, if limbo even counts as a fate: eternal life amongst corporate pot plants, a hackable computer and four blank walls.