Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Butterflies and Hurricanes

Life is Strange is a triumph, a game that really absorbs you into the setting and has a rich detailed story with strong character development. The game feels indebted to the works of Telltale Games and Quantic Dream, however it manages to forge its own path with its tone, its time travelling mechanism and its pace.  It is important to note from the start that this is not a game about time travel. The power is really just a tool here, something that is used to explore characters and situations in an compelling and unique way. The choices you make have a huge impact on the unfolding story, and the ability to rewind and make a different decision makes you soon realise how branching and tangled things quickly can become. Nothing is black and white. It is not a game for someone who is indecisive.

The focus on decision-making and relationships means that there are few frustrating game mechanics that you usually find in this kind of story-driven adventure games. The item retrieval moments are kept mostly to a needless bottle hunt in a junkyard. The puzzles that fall your way tend to be engaging, all due to the clever use of the time travel mechanic in solving them.

I found myself thinking a lot about Last of Us and the first season of Telltale's Walking Dead as I played Life is Strange, the way the game makes you really buy into the world and care about the characters. However this story revolves around the bond of friendship, rather than the protective parental relationships explored in the aforementioned games. Max and Chloe friendship is not perfect and riddled with difficulties, but there is a deeper love that unites them. Whilst Max tries to act the hero and use her power for good, it soon becomes apparent that it is impossible for a human being to truly shape and bend destiny to their will.

The only misstep I felt was the Alan Wake-y stealth section in the final episode, but I can see why the section was needed otherwise it would have been just a simple walk from point A to B. There had to be something difficult to overcome when the stakes were so high at the end.

Dontnod Entertainment should be commended for a fantastic achievement, Life is Strange is a thrilling and thoughtful game that makes great use of an interesting time travel mechanic. Praise must also be given to the voice actors who really made the characters live, in particular Hannah Telle as Max who managed to reflect inner strength and courage with a subtle and powerful performance.

PS - I really dug how the barn in episode 4 had a real Friday the 13th Part 3 feel!

Monday, 13 June 2016

Fez Ending

I loved Fez from the first moment I glimpsed eyes on it. Seldom have I been so completely sold on a game. It never could do any wrong in my eyes. And on every step of the way it managed to confound, surprise and delight me – always surpassing my already lofty expectations. Fez has two layers; one an ingenious platform experience and the other a challenging lesson in cryptography.  

! - Just a little warning of spoilers from here on - !

I finally decided to complete Fez recently, I had not found all of its secrets but it felt I had come as far as I could without resorting to some challenging code cracking. The ending had such an impact on me, it was like the videogame equivalent of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My interpretation of the end: when Gomez returns most of the cubes and anti-cubes it appears the day has been saved initially. However, on return to your home village when you start walking around things start to deteriorate. It felt to me that because all the cubes had not been found the world was starting to fall apart, the pixilation grew more severe until Gomez grew into a white and red dot. To me it felt like the point of the end of life, where you are stripped down to nothing but your base elements. Although this point seems like the end  everything zooms in even further in a hypnotic way, the collapse of both the second and third dimensions in on themselves. The ending then descends into a series of further reprographics, lines, fractals and shapes, with Disasterpiece providing a haunting rendition of Chopin’s Prelude #4 in Em as we see the images collapse into cubes within cubes within cubes.

To have left the ending there might have been a little to bleak and heavy and so you return to Gomez in his villages playing the drums, which has a little more feel of a traditional 8-bit game ending. Which encapsulates how Fez works, stunning originality and subverting ideas of classic gaming to produce that is more than the sum of its parts.