22nd of October, 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: zombies, space people and parkouring enforcers.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Back 4 Blood, PC
Full disclosure: I can't stop singing Back 4 Blood to the tune of Take That's Back for Good. Go on, try it, you'll hate me forever.
I was struggling a bit with Back 4 Blood. I was playing in co-op but wasn't having much fun. It seemed to lack ideas and repeat itself. It was a bit - cardinal sin - boring.
But then, there was the bar. You know you're in for a big fight because the place is an arsenal, guns and grenades everywhere. And there's a prompt on the jukebox telling you that when you turn it on, the zombie horde will approach. None of this is out-of-the-box thinking for a zombie game: defending a stronghold while undead pour in from various entry points is standard stuff.
Here, though, it really worked. As the music blared, the place erupted in gory splatter. It felt like being in one of those outrageous moments of carnage in a zombie film, where the sound effects are muted and the music comes in over the top, as if you're watching some kind of horrendous ballet. It was breathless - I don't think I breathed for about seven minutes (unlikely, Bertie). And when it was done, I blurted to the person I was playing with, excited, "That's more like it!"
Back 4 Blood hasn't quite hit the same heights again for me yet, but there's time. And my faith has been somewhat restored, because I know it can do it. Here's hoping.
Metroid Dread, Switch
I have no idea how this happened, but I've started looking forward to the bosses in Metroid Dread. I play these games to explore, I tell myself - to keep in mind a handful of possibilities and track the number of different types of door I can currently open. The first boss I met stalled me for a whole day. I was fearful of the next. But then...
Then I started to have fun. I get that bosses are ultimately about pattern learning, and I get that this isn't new to Metroid Dread. But while playing these bosses, learning the patterns and leaping around their dangerous bits, I've started to see the whole thing as a dance - a different dance that you learn for each boss. Step here, jump, twist, shoot, jump, twist duck.
As such, it's become something that properly does what a boss should do. The bosses here are a chance to use the game's tools in a different way, to be precise instead of exploratory, and to watch instead of just wonder and wander. I'm about half way through now and still making quite slow process, but no matter. I'm in for the ride at this point.
Crackdown 3, Xbox
I ducked back into Crackdown 3 for a bit of mindless fun this week and found myself frustrated once again by this generous, difficult game. Generous in the way that, really, it's pretty surprising we ever got a Crackdown 3, let alone one with a campaign made by Sumo. Difficult in that Crackdown is more than anything a sort of design problem: how to build upon a game that let you make your own fun?
As such, I understand totally why Crackdown 3 has done the things it's done - why the world is so busy with things to tick off, and why they've given you unlocks that flare things like traversal and whatnot in interesting ways. But each of these things, each of these good ideas, takes something crucial away. The busy stuff in the world means that Crackdown 3 is elbowy and lacking in that secret ingredient to the first game: empty space. The updates to traversal and everything bring nuance to a game that exists as an example of the pleasures of having no nuance in the first place. A dumb jump. A flailing grab. That's Crackdown. It's somehow not as good when you can boost in mid-air and propel yourself upwards.
The feeling I'm always left with is that this is a valiant effort - a smart team giving its all for a brief that is ultimately impossible to fulfil. As I said I ducked back in, jumped around a bit and swept up a few last orbs. I hope I remember to come back again at some point.