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Day Z sent a surge through the gaming community. Many people said it was the game they’ve always wanted. Day Z is an open world, zombie survival game but with two stand-out features. Firstly, death is permanent. If you’re killed your character is gone forever, though your gear still stays around. Secondly, the world is full of other players and these people can be hostile, friendly or just passing by. When you meet other players the tension is like nothing else, one can’t predict which way encounters are going to go and a turned back here or a invitingly holstered rifle there can mean the end of many hours of hard work. The combination of permadeath and the possibility of everyone you meet being an arse make this game very special. The game is an anecdote generator, every player has their own story to tell and plenty of sites have written accounts of their experiences, myself included. Like the time my friend and I were crawling very slowly along the top of a hospital, searching for bloodpacks to end our debilitating headaches. We were wary of hostiles scanning the area, but not wary enough, as I crawled forward to search a medicine box I heard a shot and my screen went fuzzy as I leaked blood. “Argh! Don’t move!” I screamed down the mic at my friend, frantically trying to crawl back behind the cover I had just wandered out of. A second shot was fired and my screen went black.
Day Z is a bugger to get working and it’s pretty rough around the edges but its earnt itself a massive following of people who can help you out with any issues. It’s been so popular that it’s kept ARMA 2 (the game it’s a mod for) in the Steam top 10 for half a year. A standalone version is on the way so if you don’t fancy going through the troublesome process of buying ARMA 2 and fiddling with the mod’s installation you can wait for that. Or you could get ‘The War Z’, which was apparently planned before Day Z exploded, it definitely has a more stupid name though.
Man! This is another game I need to play more. I was in the beta for ages but it wasn’t well optimised for my particular hardware setup until release day. I’ve only been on it a tiny bit so I’m not in a great position to comment but it certainly feels spectacular. You know all those moments they like to show in their promotional material where flying vehicles fly over your head towards an epic battle in the distance? That happens all the time! I’ve had plans to go on a few sorties with friends for quite a while now but it hasn’t really happened. One problem I find with the game is that playing it I feel a little directionless. There are no typical MMO quests, only squad leader orders to help defend or attack places. SOE apparently have big plans to change this though, with talk of AI factions and player-hired armies. It’s definitely something that works better with others, especially people you’re in communication with. PS2 (this game has claimed that acronym for itself now) had a bright start and has an even brighter future. Also it’s free to play, so you can give it a go any time you like.
This game has great music too.
The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb
I didn’t actually play this wondrous rougelike until this year when I bought the base game and the expansion both, so I couldn’t tell you how much it added, this is really just an excuse to talk about the game as a whole. The Binding of Isaac is the second roguelike on this list, and, like FTL, it’s a simple concept made fun by its replayability. You are Isaac, a baby fleeing from his Catholic mother who believes that God wants her to kill her son (Ooo! Controversial!). You must make your way through the randomly generated levels of the basement, meeting lots of horrible baddies and having lots of horrible bonuses and items used on you along the way. The game looks great, the cartoony but unpleasant artwork shows Edmund McMillen’s creativity. It plays well too, if a little iffy as you move between rooms. It doesn’t communicate much to the player though, aside from looking online the only way to tell how most of the trinkets, items and abilities work is experimentation, which isn’t very good when it’s a one-use item, or something that teleports you out of the room as you’ve nearly defeated the boss. While I understand that it encourages experimentation it can still be quite annoying. That’s a small problem and at around £3 the game is great value for something that can keep (more committed people than me) busy for many hours. Also, like most games of its type, the game can run on older laptops so its a good distraction for long journeys or extended periods away from your main gaming device.
Are games art? Of course they bloody are, they’re a creative medium! The best one too! There, I’ve just sorted that stupid, old argument right there so we needn’t discuss it anymore, right?
Games can easily be art, but it took Dear Esther’s commercial release before a lot of people would realise it. It’s not a ‘game’ as such, more an always different narrative journey you can experience at your own pace, as well as having a little explore of an expertly crafted Hebridean island. The game divided opinions but I fell upon the positive side. The story itself of a recluse recounting small details for the audience is nothing new, but it’s the way in which this is communicated to the player that makes it special. The level design gives the player small hints to complement the narrative and the narrator’s comments that will appear are randomised, meaning that two players will have had a different experience and come up with their own explanations for what befell Esther, Donelly, Jacobson and the narrator. The game achieves an atmosphere that even most films fail to evoke with a great musical score, particularly in the end sequence. The cave sequence is beautiful, as is often said, but the rest of the island is very impressive too. Some say that the experience would be just the same if it were a film with no player interaction but I disagree. One ‘inhabits’ the world in a very special way, able to look at little details when they feel like it (that’s not entirely true, there are some irritatingly restrictive low rocks and patches of water). I spent quite a while investigating the shipwreck (partly because I missed the main path) and when I was transported to the motorway beneath the sea (a sequence which is also random, not every player sees it) I swam right up to the motorway sign pointing to Shepton Mallet and realised I recognised it! Bonus points for that. It’s definitely not for everyone, and that’s not just a jab at philistines, but if you buy it half price there’s a strong chance you won’t regret it.
Come back later for further parts where I talk about (among others) DOTA , Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Borderlands, Far Cry and Tribes Ascend and reveal my number one game of 2012.