21st of January, 2021
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: photography, a classic shooter, and cards!
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Umurangi Generation, Switch
Bryn's wonderful piece on photography games sent me back to Umurangi Generation this week, and my favourite level, which I've decided is the first. The rooftop level, with the sunlight blazing around you in all those strange colours.
I don't think this is the best level, and it's certainly not the most complicated, but it's the level that gets at the heart of the game for me. This is about a group of friends and a world where all of the decisions are being made by other people - generally stupidly. This rootfop feels like home - a place filled with graffiti and tape decks and music and magic markers and cherished clutter. It's the perfect place to understand how to use the camera and the lenses, and to get to grips with what the objectives are.
It's also the perfect place to understand how the game works in a deeper sense. This is a game about observation and empathy and interpretation. Look at the stuff around you and work out what it means, why it is where it is, and who it might belong to. The game's youthful anger and energy and perceptive force is all visible in this first level. I log back in sometimes and feel like I never want to leave.
TimeSplitters 2, Xbox
I couldn't tell you what I had for dinner the other night, but loading up TimeSplitters 2 (just £2 this week in Xbox's back compat sale), I could remember guard patterns and security cam positions from 20 years ago. 20 years!
Free Radical Design's legendary first-person shooter was built by the team behind GoldenEye, freed from the rushed development cycle of the first TimeSplitters (sped out for the PS2's launch). Its multiplayer modes are legendary, but without other players on hand, I've been dipping back into its campaign levels.
Its opening Siberia dam area remains peerless - even with that helicopter shootout at the end. A mix of James Bond stealth with zombie B-movie action, it is still a brilliant thing to blast through. And it's funny! So funny - and not just the cutscenes.
There's the bit with the timed mines on the ceiling to disable the machine gun turrets - where if you miss you blow up the computer room you're trying to get into, failing the mission. (But there's a checkpoint.) Then there's the sudden arrival of flaming zombies, which can then set you on fire. (But you can dash to a shower room and put yourself out.)
We're past the point where shooters have to be serious and brown-coloured and full of men with beards. This is the age of Fortnite and its banana men, or Splitgate and its neon portals. There's never been a better time for TimeSplitters to return, flaming zombies and monkeys and all. And until then, again, TimeSplitters 2 is currently £2.
Exploding Kittens, card game
I suspect a lot of video game designers spend their spare time playing board games in part to see if there's anything worth stealing. We spent the new year with Exploding Kittens in our house, and there's something in there that everyone should steal. The Nope card.
You don't need to understand how to play Exploding Kittens to understand the Nope card, but the game is huge and chances are good you've played it a few times by now anyway. The main thing to know is that it's a card game in which you spend a lot of time screwing over your enemies - nicking their cards, forcing them to draw potentially hazardous cards from the draw pile, that sort of thing.
It's fun. But I think it's the Nope card that makes it truly stellar. It's as simple as it sounds: if someone plays a card on you that you don't like you can play a Nope card - if you have one - and you don't have to do what your enemy's card told you to do. But they can Nope your Nope, if they have their own Nope card. Never fear, though, you can Nope that! And onwards.
Nope works I think because it reaches through the rules of the game and gets at a very human instinct: Hell No. And gosh, how I wish I could have that Nope card in Clash Royale, in Tetris, in Halo, in basically anything.