9th December 2022
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: our horrible sci-fi future, bear-headed DJs, and a real jerk in the form of a card.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Signalis, Xbox One
All I knew going into Signalis was that it was a survival horror game. As a lifelong fan of the genre, that was enough for me to dive in without so much as a cursory Google search. This has previously led me to many a janky Resident Evil clone in the past, so even with the positive buzz around Signalis, I really wasn’t expecting one of the best survival horror experiences…ever?
Rarely does a game borrow so heavily from another and actually produce something equal, or better than, its inspiration. Signalis is undeniably a love letter to Resident Evil, with little kisses blown to the Silent Hill, Alien, and Bladerunner universes in its design. You only have six item slots, there’s a box to store your other pickups in dedicated save rooms, you combine and inspect items, health is displayed like a heart monitor, and you solve weird puzzles with weirder items to get weird keys and continue the story. You can even use tank controls if you really hate yourself.
What makes Signalis better than all the other Resident Evil clones out there is the way it streamlines these familiar survival horror systems, making them a part of its David Lynchian story, then turning some of them on their head almost completely. One example is that the entire map of a new area is filled in from the get go, and key items are marked when you find one - great! Exploring was a treat, and rarely did I ever wonder what I had to do next. Then at some point my map was taken from me. That was scarier than any enemy I eventually stumbled upon.
I also love how the traditional Resident Evil grading system affects what ending you get. In Capcom’s games, getting a good grade usually unlocks a new, overpowered weapon of some sort so you can have a cathartic blast in a new save. In Signalis, depending on how often you save, and how aggressive you are, you’ll get one of three main endings, revealing more of what the hell is actually happening in this Germanic-tinted spacefaring future.
Survival horror is definitely having something of a resurgence of late, with Dead Space, Alan Wake, Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil 4 and more Silent Hill yet to come. I don’t know how they’ll shape up, but I sort of don’t care now that we have Signalis.
This week brought the sad news that Fuser, from Guitar Hero studio Harmonix, is going offline. The game only released back in 2020, but it’s been some time since it was supported. Following the news, I decided to jump back in and remind myself how underrated this game is.
Harmonix truly pioneered the plastic controller craze of the 00s, but Fuser is a music game that’s all done without peripherals. It’s essentially a DJing game that makes anyone with a vague sense of a beat appear to be a master. Each song is divided into four lines - vocals, synths, bass, beats - and you’re given four decks on which to mix in whichever lines you like, as long as it’s in time with the pulse. The game takes control of tempo and keys for you so mixes are smooth and seamless - it’s less about musical skill and more about understanding your crate of vinyl and what songs work well together.
It also includes a pretty awesome character creator for your personalised DJ, with plenty of skin colours, hair styles, and clothing options to represent yourself or your dream persona. Or, if you’re like me, you can headline a prestigious dance festival in nothing but your pants and a giant bear mask. Deadmau5 who?
While there’s a campaign mode that teaches you the basics - as well as some slightly awkward advanced techniques - the game is at its best in freestyle mode. No time limits, no requests. I could spend hours just mixing unlikely songs together: Lady Gaga over Rüfüs Du Sol; Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff weaving into Lady Marmalade over Rage Against The Machine; Childish Gambino with Rick Astley. This comes into its own on the Diamond Stage, an online-only mode where you can watch others DJ, or bid for a slot yourself and perform to the world. And this is sadly what will be removed when the game is taken offline. I’ll just have to stick to bedroom mixes for an audience of one: me.
Marvel Snap, iOS
Another week, another favourite card in Marvel Snap.
This time it's Scorpion. I have literally no idea who Scorpion is - as far as I can tell, Marvel Snap doesn't do a great job of telling you where a character comes from, or even who drew the card art, which is a real shame, but granted, I might not have dug deep enough into the app. Anyway, Scorpion's this green person, and a pleasantly low cost card to play. But when you play Scorpion...
Crucially, the way I play (badly), Scorpion is not a game-changer. I like Scorpion because the card is just a bit of a jerk. Scorpion afflicts cards in your opponent's hand with -1 power. That is, I'd argue, just a jerky thing to do.
I don't know why I like Scorpion so much, really, because I don't play Marvel Snap as much of a jerk - certainly not as much of a jerk as I am in real life. It's just nice, early on, to mess with the cards in your opponent's hand instead of the cards they've already put on the table. Scorpion will probably be forgotten by next week, in other words, but that's the pleasure of this glorious card game.