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(Play this, it will help you empathise with me in the next paragraph) Oh, Papa Bear! You’d been with me so long! It was supposed to be a routine clean-up mission, that damn Muton got lucky. You were the backbone of the group. An armoured Heavy with a giant rocket launcher and a heart to match. You kept our hopes up after Corporal Fiyenyaason the Sniper lost his face on a UFO attack gone awry. If the Titan armour and the Heavy Plasma Gun couldn’t save you what hope is there for the rest of the world? Your bright, teal hair was a beacon of hope for us all. You shall not be forgotten, Papa Bear, oh mightiest of men!
XCOM’s a harrowing experience, that’s for sure. It’s not pleasant seeing your pet project eviscerated because of your stupid tactical blunder, and if you play on Iron Man you can’t just load a save and bring them back from the dead. This permanence, as in FTL, makes the game much tenser and your decisions much more significant and meaningful. One becomes attached to their little men and women as they obediently respond to Commander’s every demand. They’ll charge themselves into the face of an angry Chryssalid with chirpy aplomb and they won’t even bat an eyelid if you decide to make them sacrifice the rest of the team in order to hit a Sectoid with their rocket launcher. The ‘Papa Bear’ that I was lamenting the loss of earlier was my finest soldier. He was a Heavy that had been with me since the beginning. The game had granted him the Papa Bear nickname at random, but I didn’t want to change it. It was too perfect. He was like a father to my squad*, he was always there to lend a rocket where it was needed, or to offer covering fire for the more reckless ‘Loco’ in his mad invisible charges. He may not have been psychic like some of his friends but he didn’t care. He was the backbone of my team and as such I gave him the best spinal protection that Alien Alloys could buy, Titan Armour. But alas, it wasn’t enough. Fancy clothing means nothing to the cruel gods of probability. On a routine mission, close to the end of the game, I took the risk of letting him take a shot from an exposed area on the roof of a diner, rather than putting him behind the safe cover of the air vent. He fired at the Muton behind the truck. It should have hit. It didn’t. Slightly worried for Papa Bear(he could have got a nasty scratch) I ordered a closer soldier to take a shot. She should have hit She didn’t. The Muton fired. It hit. The Muton’s shot shouldn’t have done much damage. It did. It was a critical hit. Papa Bear shouldn’t have died. He did….
Probability can be a real kick in the teeth sometimes. After my first failed game I realised how to play XCOM properly. You advance slowly, go into Overwatch a lot and never send someone more than a single dash away from a friendly. This tactic mostly works (though is often forcibly shaken up with the occasional, clever diffusal or evacuation mission). But like everything in XCOM it’s not infallible. The real enemy unknown in XCOM is Lady Luck. Turtling goes someway to protecting you from danger but that 1% chance to miss is no joke. It can be incredibly frustrating; no other single-player game makes me shout at my monitor. As in rogue-likes the balancing of risk and reward is crucial to the gameplay. But that doesn’t make the loss of Papa Bear any less painful.
I never played the original games, they were before my time. Judging from the prejudices held by old fans towards this new iteration they must have been pretty good. Those retro-heads had nothing to worry about though. Enemy Unknown is great. It’s tense, intelligent and unlike any AAA game you’ll play right now. Go get it.
Papa Bear, we salute you!
Aliens are dicks! First they turn my squad into zombies and now they trap my entire civilisation inside a tiny, raggedy spiral at the arse-end of the galaxy. Endless Space is a 4X game in a similar vein to the Civilization series. It’s a game best played with friends but unlike Civ V it has competent netcode; it’s entirely possible to play online without a crash every few turns. Like many of the other games in this round-up Endless Space is a good anecdote generator.
I never wanted war. I’m a peaceful type. I only wished to live in peace in my spiral of the galaxy, not taxing my people into depression, not crippling my superb industry with a need to support some stupid war effort and certainly not living in fear that an army would march (hover) upon my capital from the nearby system that the sneaky Sophons had nabbed without my knowing long ago. Peace could not last however, that much was certain. Tensions brewed in the Mumble voice comms. Coccyx’s empire was growing far too strong; he was four-hundred points ahead of anyone else and his circle of influence was starting to envelop the whole of the centre of the galaxy. Nashua had started the game with a bum spiral. He deserved more. Soriasku had command of the ‘Hissho’, a race built for war, and he was itching to finally make use of his faction’s bonuses. Alliances were starting to form. The two Sophons, Jacque and Coccyx, aiming to win through technical superiority, had banded together for protection. Fiyenyaa, the biggest millitary player, was starting to invite the others to throw in their lot with him. It was becoming increasingly clear that I would have to choose a side in the war that was to come. I’d already been quietly threatened through Steam chat by Soriasku a long time ago; I had to give him all my advanced knowledge to convince him to attack Jacque at some point instead. It seemed that he was gearing up to make good on his promise.
- Cor! Look at the spiral on that!
I joined the alliance of the larger group. I couldn’t remain neutral, I’d have the full force of the galaxy to contend with. The sides were set but the war had not yet begun. Our Quintuple Ententé was in secret communication. They were determining our first plan of action. Their plans were noble, but worryingly malicious. The Franz Ferdinand of this war would be the cheeky Sophon systems Jacque owned in what was unofficially called ‘my spiral’. They wanted to return what was, by the as of yet unfinalised ethics of space colonisation, rightfully mine. I agreed with the plan. I wanted the systems, one was the best in my spiral, but they also had to be taken first for my own safety. One was Jacque’s primary industry planet, the hub from which all his advanced military power would be deployed. If we couldn’t shut him down fast then as soon as the war began he would bear his full force down upon my nearby colonies, and my beloved capital.
Suddenly, after an excruciating half an hour of passive aggressive smack talk, the declaration of war was made. Nashua, Soriasku and Vimesey’s fleets all flooded in through my spiral towards Jacque’s systems. I was shocked by how quick it all was. I couldn’t join the invasion efforts, only one player can invade at a time, so I told my fleets to defend my surrounding colonies.
I’d never been in combat before. I was a battle-virgin. A boy among men. The others were veterans of long-forgotten wars in other existences (games). It’s more complicated than you’d think, doing battle in that Endless Space. Mighty ships collide in real time. You’re presented with a multitude of options. Should you try to sabotage their deadly laser weaponry or just go all out with your missiles? I didn’t know, I still don’t. This was no world for men like me. I remember the first time I saw combat. My defending ships attacked Jacque’s fleet as they were fleeing my spiral. I didn’t even realise it was happening. I was too busy with taxes to notice that combat had begun. His ships obliterated mine. They just lay still as he rained death upon them, waiting for orders that were never sent. His fleets continued their retreat, their thirst for some small revenge for the demise of their fallen comrades quenched. It wasn’t until Soriasku captured the system and gave it to me that the full extent of what Jacque had done was revealed. The system’s improvements were gone, the homes, the farms, the industrial plants all destroyed. He had destroyed them before he left. He would rather his people die than serve another. The vicious technocrat! This was not a world I was prepared for.
He was beaten. With two of his primary systems gone there was little he could do. He had no hope of combatting us. If he joined our cause, with his homeworld so close to the mighty Coccyx’s, he would become a primary target. If he became neutral his systems would be up for grabs by anyone who fancied a holiday planet. He gave up, the first casualty in the terrible war. Surely without Jacque’s support Coccyx could not hope to stand against five factions? He begged to differ, as did his army…**
It’s also worth mentioning that Endless Space is yet another 2012 game with a great musical score.
The Walking Dead
Note:This is a spoiler-free look back at something that can be so easily tarnished so no worries if you haven’t played it yet. I’d suggest hurrying up though because in the month and a bit since the last episode’s release the Internet has already been discussing its superb ending at length.
Everything people were saying about this game is true! It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry and it’ll make you sweat (metaphorically, I imagine). It’s full of witty dialogue, great characters and hard choices. It calls itself an adventure game but those elements, entertaining enough though they are, are overshadowed by the character interaction. The Walking Dead is more like an interactive drama than an adventure game. You, as Lee Everett, a university professor with a shadowed past, are forced to make quick decisions to try and keep an unstable band of survivors on your side. You can’t please everyone though and sooner or later decisions may come back to bite you.
When I play these kinds of games I tend to play them as an extension of myself. I make the choices I would make were I an infinitely brave, dictatorial space hero or a red-headed magic lady with a thing for angry elves who hate her entire sub-species. I love moral dillemmas, I’ve had many a lengthy debate with a friend of mine about Mass Effect’s Genophage*** and the uncontrolled technocratic advancement versus hidden dictatorship scenario of Deus Ex:Human Revolution.**** The Walking Dead gives you decisions by the bucket load. I won’t spoil any here but I can say that there are plenty that may make you rewrite your code of ethics. Will you be the stern extreme-pragmatist or the determined sentimentalist? You could even be the quiet type and let events take their own course. In the majority of confrontations you don’t have to say anything, you can just remain silent. So many of your actions have ramifications; other characters are constantly bringing up small, incidental things that you said and they’ll never let you forget what you’ve done.
The Walking Dead contains a host of great characters and, unlike the show of the same name, none of them are actively irritating (apart from where it’s intentional), but one stands out. Clementine has to be one of the best child characters in any work of fiction. It can be difficult to write dialogue and find good actors for kids, just look at Carl in the show. They often come across as whiney, unbelievable or bland but not Clem. She complains, but not in an irksome way. She has some independence, but not to a ludicrous degree. She’s compassionate, but not so much that it will always get in the way of understanding what must be done. She looks to Lee as a role model and your decisions help to shape her. She gives the player, like Lee, more to care about than themselves. Ironically, she can even end up shaping the player. A friend of mine started to make every choice based on what Clementine thought of them. She holds a great deal of emotional power over the player. It’s no surprise that her voice actor, Melissa Hutchinson won a Spike VGA award for her performance.
Telltale have crafted something wondrous for their return to form and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
*In my imagined narrative that is, the team didn’t seem as phased by his passing as I would have liked.
**Sorry to see the tale end there? As was I. We had planned to return to the game to see if Coccyx’s bite could match his bark but the others couldn’t muster up the endurance to return to the game once more. I think we could have won. We must surely have outnumbered him. We could have attacked him in multiple places at once, forcing him to spread himself thin or go on the extreme offensive.
***I erred on the side of keeping it, the risks were too great. However I decided to change my view due to certain events in Mass Effect 3.
****I’m still not sure about this one. Is relative safety worth the loss of democracy and right-wing society? I suppose I’d have to say that I think not.
Also, it looks like I’ve mentioned technocracy twice in one article. Go me!