8th of April, 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: foxes, a unique take on running, and spooky stuff.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Ghostwire: Tokyo, PS5
There’s a great documentary with Ghostwire: Tokyo’s former creative director Ikumi Nakamura on YouTube as she explores “haikyo”, abandoned Japanese buildings. She photographs these desolate, skeletal structures; half finished constructions that seem to have simply…stopped.
It’s clear these formed the basis for the horror game’s setting, in which the inhabitants of modern day Tokyo have disappeared due to a mysterious fog. Piles of clothing, once owned, litter the streets. It’s eerily quiet, save for the sounds of shop stereos that play relentlessly. It’s a world of Yokai and ghostly spirits from Japanese folklore who stalk the neon metropolis as rain almost perpetually soaks the ground. And you’re alone, besides a surviving spirit in your head.
It’s almost reminiscent of those early lockdown days, too, when everyone left inner-city areas to stay indoors and work from home. That is, until you venture inside the game’s buildings and protagonist Akito experiences visions as the walls morph and stutter around him. More mesmerising than terrifying, the game’s grim setting feels hauntingly unique but never truly scares.
Yet how to smartly fill an empty world with stuff to do? Tango Gameworks hasn’t quite figured that out. Instead, Tokyo is yet another open world disappointingly over-stuffed with fetch quests, meaningless collectibles, and repetitive design - both in exploration and the flashy combat. This is a game where padding distracts from the narrative, and where you’re rewarded with new costumes you’ll ironically rarely see as it all takes place in first person. A wasted opportunity.
Deathrun TV, PC
Laser Dog Games are a favourite of mine. This tiny studio turns out arcade games that are focused, responsive and an absolute joy to play. They feel wonderful, frictionless and freewheeling. This week they've released Catchee on iOS and Android and I hope to have a proper piece about that on the site night week. (In the meantime, play it.) But a video the team made about Catchee led me to Deathrun TV, a PC game of theirs that will hopefully be out soon. It has a demo on Steam.
And Deathrun TV, well, I think it might be one of the best Robotron or Smash TV-alikes I've ever played. It is wild! You spawn in procedurally generated chambers filled with deadly enemies and spinning blades and you whittle down the baddies twin-stick style, running and gunning. Like Robotron, there are people to save, who now follow you in a little crocodile, and you can have a weapon on each trigger. Shotgun and SMG? Why not?
It has all the polish and joy I expect from Laser Dog Games, and it's one of those demos you can play for hours and hours, unlocking stuff and beating your previous score. I am hooked. And I can't wait for the final thing.
Someone sent me a link this week from a forum in which people were asking about games that are a bit like Gravity Rush. It quickly turned out - of course - that no other games are a bit like Gravity Rush. It's a one off, and deliriously so.
But one name came up as having the spirit of Gravity Rush, and I'm so glad I ended up checking it out. It's Haven. I think I've seen it around - possibly a brief stint on Game Pass? - but I never properly investigated it. Now I have.
There is a splinter of Gravity Rush in there. Haven's a sci-fi game in which a couple of lovers race over the lazy hills of distant planets collecting stuff, clearing stuff up, and generally having adventures. Movement is absolutely gorgeous - you collect energy by following specific trails, and there's a wonderful combination of animation and sound effects, of the world rushing past you, as you nail a run.
But in between exploring you get this domestic tale unfolding, and like many reviewers, I've never seen anything like it. The two characters you control are properly in love - how rare to see an action game that also includes moments of sweetness and moments of negotiation as you try to navigate a partner's mood or find out what they're worried about.
Haven is a bit like Gravity Rush, but it's mainly like nothing else out there. And in a weird way, that was the quality that I loved so much about Gravity Rush.
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