18
Apr
10

That Gaming Weekend: Indie Round-Up

So this is going to become a more regular feature. Not weekly, or to any sort of regular human timescale, but certainly ‘more than once.’ The plan is to discuss specific stories or elements within a selection of games encountered that weekend in order to highlight what they are like to play from moment to moment rather than the usual overarching information on how well all the pieces tie together…

…Except ignore all that because last weekend, with my PS3 out of action, I hooked up the PC to the downstairs TV and attempted to get Left 4 Dead to work splitscreen on a dual monitor setup. When that failed I took my friends on a tour of indie games old and new, which I will now round up by giving overarching information on how well all the pieces tie together.

The Shivah

Some facts about The Shivah:

  1. It’s an adventure game.
  2. It’s about a Jewish community in New York.
  3. The style is classic film Noir except, instead of playing a cynical Private Eye, your character is a disenchanted Rabbi.
  4. Most conversations give the option of a ‘Rabbinical Response,’ which basically turns your next statement into a question.
  5. Disenchanted Rabbi would be a great band name.

The unique setting and style would have sold me on this anyway, in fact they did, so it was pleasing to discover just how well the puzzle mechanics complement the detective story being set up. Instead of the usual adventure staples of combining items and manipulating objects, The Shivah has you talk to people to deduce clues and leads. Your chief tool in accomplishing this is your computer and the search engine that allows you to look up local people and places. The ‘puzzle’ comes from piecing together those names and places, as well as choosing the right conversational responses to coax people in to giving you that information.

You can get The Shivah from the developer’s website.

Machinarium

Machinarium’s all about the adventure staples of combining items and manipulating objects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially as Machinarium looks, and sounds, simply stunning. The gorgeous visuals give the game enormous character and charm which is accentuated by the fact that characters only communicate through animated thought bubbles showing the cause of their troubles.

The game’s logic rarely bars progress, often a problem in the adventure genre. I can only think of a couple of times in which I was stuck unsure of what to do to progress. Often you’ll stumble on the solution organically simply by interacting with the world. If you do get stuck there’s a hint system in place which will give step-by-step diagrams to how to solve a particular puzzle. It can only be accessed by completing a minigame, which allows it to exist in-game but be just enough of a barrier so as to encourage you to fully explore as many possibilities as possible before resorting to it.

Did I mention how good it looks yet? Because it looks pretty good.

You can get Machinarium from most digital download services although if you get it from the developer you’ll also receive the soundtrack, which is great.

Plain Sight

Enough adventure games! Let’s talk about suicidal ninja robots!

Plain Sight’s pretty much exactly what you want from an £8 online game – a fun, arcade slice of madness with a striking visual style and a neat little twist to the primary mechanic. As your little robot hurtles around the map killing other robots you aren’t amassing points but energy. This energy makes you stronger, making it easier to kill more robots, but, at the same time, it makes you a bigger and therefore more obvious target. If an enemy kills you then he’ll get all your energy so, at some point, you’ll need to explode to turn all your energy into points.

It’s a fun system that adds a stress-inducing level of risk/reward to performing well worsened by the fact that the numerous upgrades, which will only last that round, mean you’re never entirely sure of the other player’s strengths and weaknesses. Not that I’d know, particularly, because I’m rubbish at it. Also because I keep getting a persistent bug that fails to trigger my respawn, leaving me a disembodied camera that can zoom around the map but do very little else. Hopefully they’ll patch that.

You can get Plain Sight from Steam.

The Ship

The Ship is a game I’m always forgetting about, mostly because I assume at this point the community is pretty much dead. It turns out there aren’t many people left playing it any more but every now and then I’ll find 7 or 8 people who have congregated on a server, at which point I’m reminded just how good a game this is.

The Ship’s primary game mode is Hunter. On a ship full of people, some of which will be human and some of which will be AI, you’re given one name to hunt down and kill. At the same time a different person will be attempting to hunt you down. If you kill anyone that isn’t either your quarry or you attacker in self-defense you’ll be fined. This alone leads to a situation of having to be very suspicious of anyone near you, while still needing to carry out your own unique objective.

However, on top of that, you’re on a fully staffed pleasure cruise and being caught brandishing a weapon means an instant trip to the brig.

…And on top of that you have to constantly be aware of your character’s well being. He or she will need to sleep, eat, drink and go to the toilet periodically throughout the game, leaving you helpless if your hunter catches up to you.

All this combines to make a game that by outward appearances seems relaxed and gentile but is somehow just as frantic as your traditional deathmatch shooter but for entirely different, and frankly more compelling, reasons. You always have to be aware of your surroundings and the actions of those around you and you have to take care of your character, even though doing so can leave you defenceless for a precious few seconds. You’re also meant to be killing someone, who will be just as paranoid as you are (and just as desperate to catch up to their own quarry.)

It’s a game that I’d probably recommend over all the other games mentioned here but, at the same time, would advise caution against because there’s no guarantee of how easy it will be to find a match.

The Ship is available from Steam. If you do buy it then be sure to join our Steam group because it’s exactly the sort of game that, with just a handful of people, we could organise some regular matches.

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