By Arrowhead Game Studios, on PS4, PS3, PS Vita & PC
It’s a top-down shooter that isn’t so much a homage to Starship Troopers as it is Starship Troopers. Which is awesome. You and some friends from a hilariously fascist far-future Super-Earth (or just the United States under Trump several years from now) are shot into space to fight giant bugs and other allegories for communism with an arsenal that’s as much fun to play with as it is over-the-top. The gameplay is gory and brutally unforgiving – friendly fire is most definitely turned on, your orbital resupplies can as easily squash you as help you, and you can steal your team-mates’ shit – but it’s super fun. There’s also a neat mechanic that opens up more play areas as the community accumulates points. It’s best played on the couch with friends, and maybe a few noisy drinks. It gets a bonus point for having the best capes in any game that doesn’t feature Batman.
Developed by Royal Polygon, on PC, Mac, Linux
Sun Dogs is an indie, rougelike-like text adventure with a neat minimalist point-and click interface set in a Kim Stanley Robsinson-ish hard sci-fi future. Post-humans have colonised the solar system. Your mind is backed up to the cloud and downloaded to a new body whenever you die, which is completely arbitrarily and every ten seconds, if you’re me. It features cool concepts and some involving writing, but gameplay is frustratingly random. The writing follows suit: sometimes silky smooth, then filled with purple howlers and weird typos. Worth pursuing just for the ideas and the excellent ambient soundtrack, and the fact that the gameplay accommodates long or short play sessions is a mark in the game’s favour. Sun Dogs is out already, but development continues, so hopefully the awkward parts will be gracefully subsumed into the sum of the whole.
Verdict: Carbon nano-structure in the rough.
Developed by Psyonix, on PS4, PC, upcoming Xbox One release
I just can’t stop playing Rocket League. It’s still the Bigpipe Towers workplace game du jour, and all the frustrations of my earlier yarn about it still hold true, but I beat the best guy in the office at lunchtime today and I’m feeling good about it. The game just keeps getting deeper – just like real soccer, you can always find something to improve. The developers of Rocket League, Psyonix, have been exemplary, building on the promise of the core game with a series of carefully curated downloadable content packs based squarely on fan feedback. Over-catering to your fanbase can be a trap but Psyonix have sidestepped it neatly, managing to balance a generous serving of fan service (the Back To The Future car! Mad Max-inspired arenas!) with relevant gameplay tweaks. All this, plus an upcoming release on Xbox One, adds up to ensure Rocket League’s longevity as a classic of the rocket-powered car soccer genre, and of games in general.
Game of Thrones
Telltale Games, on pretty much every device that exists
I’ve been playing this episodic adventure tale since it started (promisingly) last year. A point-and-click adventure side-story to Game of Thrones on telly, it sold itself as a serious story with real grown-up writing where the player could actually affect the outcome. Having played it to the end, I now wish I hadn’t. The strong start and solid middle are undermined throughout by a clunky, crash-happy game engine and often-unimaginative gameplay. This would be forgivable, if not for the writing that just gets plain bad as the story continues, culminating in a finale that made me want to take what I felt should have been mine – a decent ending – with fire and blood. Plot blindness is rife, the characters make absurd decisions no matter how much you try to steer them not to, and repeat play soon shows real choice to be an illusion except for a few (infuriatingly telegraphed) key moments. The gameplay and story try to ape George RR Martin’s famous “they’ll be fine, they have to be fine, oh shit they’re dead, should have seen that coming actually” narrative structure while retaining player choice, and it fails brutally at the last few hurdles, betraying itself as amateurish, albeit licensed, fanfic. To make things worse, it’s clearly being set up for a sequel when it would have done far better as a self-contained story. Even after all that, I’m still tempted to pursue the next season to see if it gets better, but I suspect it won’t.
Hit Point, on your phone, right now
“You see this face?” said my flatmate as we bused to work this morning. “This is my judging face.” The judging face was for me, as I was guiltily feeding my starving cats on the bus, in Neko Atsume. This offbeat cat-collecting anti-game was a cult hit even before it was translated from Japanese. Now it’s available pretty much everywhere, in a variety of languages, and you have no excuse for not luring excruciatingly cute kittehs to your yard where you can… well, you can take photos of them, I guess? Sitting in the stuff you buy them, like giant macaron cushions? And then put them on Twitter? Much like real life, the cats are capricious, and only show up when you have food. Also like real life, the cats sometimes bring you useless trinkets. Unlike real life, the cats don’t hate each other on sight, and the in-game currency is entirely based around fish that are also precious metals. Much like America’s gun violence problem, you probably shouldn’t think about it too much. It’s oddly relaxing and purr-fect (heu heu heu) for toilet breaks and waiting in queues. It’s free, too, so may as well grab it.
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