Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Witch's House and PewDiePie

So, I've recently started watching PewDiePie's lets play videos over on Youtube. Honestly, I thought I would hate them. I expected someone who thinks way too much of themselves will be playing games expecting everyone just to sit and watch him, and watching other people play games has never had great appeal to me.

Luckily, I was wrong. I honestly think PewDiePie is one of the funniest things on the internet and I'm so glad I gave him a try, watching him freak out over horror games, sing to Parappa the Rapper and create the most messed up Spore creations have given me endless laughs over the past few days. But while this is all well and good, this isn't what made me want to write this blog post.

Recently I watched PewDiePie finish playing a nice indie title called The Witch's House where you play a young girl trapped in a house with magical powers and you have to try to escape. The game is both scary, in a jumpy kind of way, and very funny, particularly watching someone else play. The creepy theme which it follows works very well and makes the player uneasy about everything in the house.

So, it's a pretty good game, why write a blog post about it? The ending. The TRUE ending. An ending hasn't had this kind of effect on me in a long time, possibly since Braid, and even then I thought Braid's ending was a bit forced. I'm going to write about it without spoilers for as long as I can, but I'll flag up a spoiler warning when I give something away.

I found the ending was a massive contrast to the rest of the game as although it was scary it gets at you in a way that makes you jump, then laugh, then try to get around it. The ending has none of that fun, it's very serious, and very sad. There is a massive twist which is revealed in a wonderful way that has you quickly learning more step by step until it all becomes clear. There are even videos on Youtube looking back at how some of the books throughout the game suggest the twist, but in a way you would never guess it.

Anyone who hasn't played / seen this game should go do so now... I'll be waiting for you here...


Although it may at first seem like the ending is just a bunch of text squashed in at the end of the game so it has some kind of a story to justify the game it actually works much better than that. Sure, looking back at the ending you can think, 'Well, that's a very generic boring ending. It turns out you we're the bad guy all along' it's the reveal of the information and how everything you know comes together to make sense that really stood out for me. The realisation that all of that horrible stuff inside the house was your doing, including putting a young girl, your 'friend' though the agonising and slow death. How horrible. But to then see the character that you helped get through this nightmare turn her own father against her was heartbreaking.

The way the girl attempts to call out to her father but cannot because you damaged your body before switching are terrible and then the father shouting...calling her a monster...before shooting her twice. Not only this but the father seemed like such a nice, loving parent who only wanted to help his daughter, and in doing so, killed his own daughter. All of these things shouldn't have much of an affect, after all you've only really just met two of the characters properly, but it's so moving that you can't simply brush it off.


Honestly, this ending had me thinking for days after I saw it. That's the kind of effect it had. And when it comes from a small indie title that I didn't really expect much of then it comes as a pleasant, yet horrifying, surprise.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Stacking - Review

Stacking is a Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Windows game developed by Double Fine Productions, the team that made games such as Brutal Legend and Psychonauts but is a smaller, arcade game like Costume Quest. It is a game about Russian stacking dolls with the core gameplay mechanic being that you can jump inside any NPC that is one size bigger than you and control them, with each one of them having a unique ability which can be used to complete tasks.

The concept is obviously quite unique and sounds good in theory, but to pull it off and still make the game interesting and fun would be a tall order for a game studio but with the unique comedy that Tim Schafer brings to all of Double Fine's games it makes it an interesting and amusing adventure around a wacky world that makes close to no sense and yet is a pleasure to explore.

From the beginning the game makes you wonder what you've just bought. It opens with some dolls which have a very simple model used for the majority of characters which is textured on a flat surface and while this actually works very well the immediate reaction is probably not the best one. The introductory scene then goes on to have no voice acting involved and instead uses text plaques in a similar style to old silent movies, whether this was a good choice or not I am not sure as it can make the cutscenes last a little longer than I would like them too and if I look away from the scene for a few seconds to talk to someone then I can miss part of the story. On the other hand when it is combined with the obvious stage setting and props it creates a weird but wonderful kind of cinematic.

So the game is a weird 3rd person game where you possess dolls, that may not seem so enthralling, but the real genius of the game comes from the characters and the abilities each one brings to the table. Finding different characters is always a treat as each one has a such a strong personality you can instantly get a feel for the kind of person they are and can even pretend to live their life for a short while. The abilities each one brings can be fun to use such as the 'Northern Kiss' head-but or simply shouting 'Good Day, Sir' in a hilarious manner as you watch the crowds of people around you give you weird looks. Some of these abilities come with an additional side mission such as the Northern Kiss in which you have a hit 5 different mime actors. Most of these are not difficult but can be fun a few moments in between tasks.

The missions themselves can all be solved in multiple ways with up to 5 solutions for some of them, this means you have to think outside of the box, generally 1 or 2 of them are easy to figure out so they won't slow down your game if you're just a casual gamer or have trouble getting your head around the mechanics but at the same time there are some solutions which involve real tactics and skill so if you want to complete them all and unlock all of the hidden gems within the game then you best have your thinking cap on.

The game is arguably too short, especially if you don't stop and linger on each task, but these games a only short arcade games so a full length game cannot be expected (although certainly wouldn't be unwelcome). These small games that Double Fine are making are fun little titles that are also good for testing the waters and experimenting with what gamers like, dislike and what they are willing to put up with.

I will hopefully return soon with the review of another of these short Double Fine games I picked up recently which is Iron Brigade (formally known as Trenched). Or at least I will once I can get Windows Live to let me play the game I actually paid for.