Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
There are plenty of game cities I’d like to visit. The bars and shops of Mass Effect’s Citadel remind me of a huge, strange airport. The Imperial City of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a part-majestic, part-ruinous jewel in a cosmopolitan world that consistently burps magic. But I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in these places. They’re dangerous. The city of Dorisburg in Else Heart.Break(), however. That’s a place I’d at least spend a year or two.
Part of this is just down to the colour, the bright lights of the not-that-big city. As a game, you’ll either adore the open world long enough to discover the ability to hack everything from cream buns to trash cans (and then you’ll adore doing that too). Or you’ll get understandably annoyed at the lack of direction. I hope you’re the former. There’s a machine-like quality to Dorisburg. Everyone goes about their business as time wears on. You can waste whole days on arrival trying to find beer for a homeless guy outside your hotel and failing to sell fizzy pop to strangers waiting for trams. But even those strangers have their own loops, their own little NPC routines. It makes the city feel alive, but not so chaotic that you can’t figure out where your workmate will be at 2am (on the bench in the plaza outside the club).
The game underneath all this is half point ‘n’ click adventure and half a scholastic lesson in basic programming. There’s shady government agencies, hacker collectives, banks, cafés, shoe shops, parties, concerts, casinos and an ethereal, digital network that you can tap into with any computer, a network that will “slurp” you from one place to another, if you have the skillz.
When I was little, I wanted to live in Pokémon, because that world was interesting and strange and just the right amount of dangerous. Else Heart.Break() made me feel the same way, seventeen years later. I’m supposed to be a grown-up. But I just want to take the boat to Dorisburg and live in a rubbish hotel where I can hack the ashtrays.