Posts Tagged ‘alpha review’

Premature Evaluation: Garbage Day

Keen RPS readers will probably have noticed by now that nearly every Premature Evaluation I’ve written has contained a not-terribly-secret second article in the alt-text, wherein I make a tortuous segue from the subject of the game to some matter of personal fascination to me: ancient phallic statuary, freaky Renaissance paintings, the unluckiest pirate to slap his naked bum in front of a naval officer. That sort of thing. Writing these alt-texts and seeing them being discussed further in the comments, often in much more scholarly detail, has been a true professional highlight for me. So thanks for that. This week, since it’s my last ever alt-text, it’s only right that the subject should be one inspired, not by the game of the main article, but by RPS commenters themselves: after including a glib comment about Oliver Cromwell’s bloody campaign in Ireland in one of my previous captions, one RPS reader suggested that recent research had rather redeemed him - and this (along with Pip Warr’s extensive Cromwell-knowledge) prompted me to make my way through Tom Reilly’s impressive work of investigation “Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy” which seeks to completely overturn the prevailing narrative of Cromwell’s calumny in Ireland.

Each week Marsh Davies descends like a hungry urban gull upon the reeking heap of Early Access, hoping to yank free a tasty treat without choking on a crinkled Space Raiders packet. This week, he’s been stuck in Garbage Day, a game that is nominally about replaying the same looping time period, again and again, until you piece together the mystery and escape your temporal prison. In its current form, however, it’s no more than a colourful but cramped chaos sandbox, in which you can kill and maim cartoonish inhabitants of a highly-smashable town in the knowledge that any consequences will be reset as soon as the clock strikes midnight. But does its eternal present suggest a plan for reaching a less frivolous future?

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Premature Evaluation: Dark Nexus Arena

It’s a little weird that the MOBA, apart from most other competitive multiplayer genres, seeks to contextualise its sport-like bouts of combat with some sort of metanarrative, and weirder still that it’s more or less the same story every time: warriors gathered across time and space to a gladiatorial hyperdimension. Two of them even call it the same thing: the Nexus! It’s not like CounterStrike feels the need to suggest its special forces operatives are condemned to some sort of anti-terrorism limbo in which they play out their battles over and over again for the entertainment of capricious gods. Imagine trying to supply such a narrative for Rainbow Six: Siege, in which, peculiarly, neither side play as terrorists. Have these elite police units been tricked by some Illuminati-like puppetmasters into doing battle with themselves?

Each week Marsh Davies dons his power armour and plunges into the grimdarkness which is Early Access, coming back with any stories he can find and/or succumbing to the nightmarish seductions of the Warp. This week he’s been conscripted into F2P gladiatorial combat in Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena, an action-oriented pseudo-MOBA moshpit.

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Premature Evaluation: Squad

It’s interesting hearing the barks ascribed to the insurgent soldiers in Squad. They have something of the deep-voiced glowering inflection we’ve come to expect from Western depictions of Islamic terror, but stop short of hysterical appeals to Allah or demands for the blood of the Great Satan. Such depictions of the enemy in popular culture always intrigue me, not because any particular group of people is obliged to be polite to another they consider their enemy, but because mischaracterising or misunderstanding the enemy is one of the greatest mistakes a nation can make - at least according to Sun Tzu.

Each week Marsh Davies is Oscar Mike to the FOB that is Early Access and tries to find at least one thing that isn’t FUBAR. This week he’s been taking on tangos in Squad, a large-scale military shooter which claims to be the spiritual successor to the Battlefield 2 mod Project Reality.

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Premature Evaluation: Tempest

Blackbeard may be the more familiar household name, and bequeathed to us 90 percent of the archetypal pirate look, but it’s Francis Le Clerc to whom we can attribute the appearance of at least one appendage: the peg leg. Indeed, Peg Leg was his nickname (or in his native French, “Jambe de Bois”, and among the Spanish to whom he gave such considerable grief, “Pie de Palo”). Though injuries of this gravity were reasonably commonplace among sailors at the time, it wasn’t that usual for a pirate captain to persist in his career after the loss of a limb. But Le Clerc was a particularly persistent sort of bastard. It wasn’t until Le Clerc had lost his leg and the use of one of his arms while fighting the English, in fact, that his privateering really took off, not only devastating much of Cuba and Panama personally, but acting as a sort of angel investor for other pirates. In fact, he so totally ruined the then capital of Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, that it stopped being the capital altogether. But a feature that deserves to be even more emblematic of pirates than wooden prosthetics is the theme of betrayal, both of them and by them.

Each week, with his beard smouldering and black flag aflutter, Marsh Davies prowls the oceans of Early Access for plunder, slo(o)ping back to port with any stories he can find. This week he’s been further debasing the reputation of pirates on the low-fantasy high-seas of Tempest, a game of naval combat and light ship management.

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Premature Evaluation: Guardians of Orion

Though you wouldn’t necessarily expect realism from a game in which jetpacking clone soldiers do battle with a tag-team of robots and dinosaurs, Guardian’s big-name lizards are mostly creatures that co-existed at the end of the Cretacious period, rather than a best-of selected from across the dinosaurs’ 162-million-year stay on Earth. That said, the developers do find their imagination outstripping paleontological fact in the occasional creation of all new dinosaurs: one that resembles a rhino and another that can lasso the player with its tongue. But in some ways, the dinosaur mash-up is a longstanding paleontological tradition/hazard. Fake dinosaurs continue to plague the study, and though those fabricated wholesale are easy enough to identify with modern methods of analysis, it’s still sometimes hard to spot those that have been restructured or amended to create “new” species to further line the pockets of unscrupulous fossil dealers.

Each week Marsh Davies leaps from his dropship into the untamed primordial land of Early Access and unfeelingly obliterates the nascent species he finds. This week he’s turning dinosaurs to chum in Guardians of Orion, a co-op wave-survival shooter. It’s also a top-down game – which you wouldn’t necessarily guess from some of the footage used to advertise the game on its Steam Store page.

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Premature Evaluation: Sketch Tales

As any game with user-generated content, or even a mod scene, can attest: give someone the chance, and they’ll put a dick on it. Indeed, this may be some sort of universal truth. Dick-based vandalism has long been a favoured measure of casting shade on works of art, for example. Most recently one of Banksy’s murals sprouted a fresh peen, opening up (an entirely boring) debate as to whether a graffiti artist’s work could really be meaningfully vandalised.

Each week Marsh Davies turfs through the crude doodles of Early Access and comes back with any masterpieces-in-the-making he can find and/or amends his discoveries with an enthusiastically rendered dick or two. This week there is ample opportunity to append such appendages in Sketch Tales, a firstperson hack-n-slash in which you’re encouraged to re-draw and animate everything on the island you inhabit. I’m guessing the name “Tales from Penis Island” didn’t make it past Steam’s terms of service.

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Premature Evaluation: Angels Fall First

One of the emerging themes of these alt-texts appears to be how useless humans are at anticipating anything outside of their immediate experience - whether that’s preparing for a fringe weather event like a flash flood or appreciating the essential inhumanity of a non-biological super intelligence. It’s particularly true in science fiction, where we frequently find implausible projections of earth-bound 20th century life. I think I’ve quoted Solyaris’s drunken scientist before, as he complains how inward-looking humanity is in its pursuit of the stars: “We just want to extend the earth up to the cosmos's borders. We don't want any more worlds. Only a mirror to see our own in.” There’s nothing more emblematic of this than our inability to imagine space combat in anything other than direct analogies to 20th century naval and aerial warfare.

Each week Marsh Davies screeches out the airlock as part of a frontline assault upon the forces of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or makes no appreciable difference to the war effort whatsoever. This week he’s fodder for the 64-man battles of Angels Fall First, a promising indie alternative to the likes of Battlefront, with space combat to boot.

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Premature Evaluation: The Flame In The Flood

Considering how large floods figure in the early myths of nearly every culture on the planet, they have been a surprisingly unpopular trope in Western apocalyptic fiction during the course of the last century. Despite terrible floods ravaging parts of the third world during my life-time - I particularly recall the news footage from Bangladesh in the 80s and 90s - it has really taken the advent of personal documentation with mobile phones and YouTube, as was proliferate in the flooding of New Orleans and the Japanese tsunami, to really bring home the incredible human horror of such events. So much so that even Hollywood was able to look piteously upon the reefs of corpses revealed by the receding floodwaters of Thailand’s 2004 tsunami, and ask, “Gosh, but what if it had happened to white people?” - as in The Impossible, starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. Maybe such films do good, in a cynical, roundabout and kinda racist way; maybe that “what if” is really the only way to engage a complacent Western audience in sympathy with people of another skin colour. But I’m not convinced. I tend to think films like The Impossible permit a kind of callow self-pity, allowing a privileged audience to dip into the suffering of another people and come out unscathed, while at the same time reinforcing the notion that the outside world is a place full of chaos and death.

Each week Marsh Davies paddles through the polluted torrent which is Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find, or otherwise tumbles overboard and lets himself sink beneath the surging water. This week he’s been fighting against the tide in The Flame In The Flood [official site], a survival game set in a drowned world, in which a girl and her dog paddle between islands looking for resources – then eventually fail to find them and die.

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Premature Evaluation: Hardland

Put on a mask in Hardland and you can pass undetected among the creatures it represents. Since this is clearly not a disguise that should really fool anybody, there’s something simultaneously slapstick and sinister about it, standing silently amid a herd of pigs with your own pig-hat, with its snub nose and inscrutable glassy eyes. Masks are creepy and weird - as pop-culture appears to be rediscovering with the likes of Hotline Miami, horse memes and True Detective. I feel they’re even weirder if you think about their gestation as a cultural artifact. Drawing or painting what we observe in the world, including faces, seems a too natural behaviour to evolve - but to go from that to creating a face that you can put over your own face is to take a big step into an entirely different realm of symbolism: a desire not only to represent the other but to transform yourself into it. Indeed, a large number of mask rituals across cultures hold the tradition that this is literally what occurs: that the wearers of masks aren’t merely performing a role, but have momentarily become the entity the mask represents.

Each week Marsh Davies gambols through the lush pastures of Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or feeds some ham to a decapitated skeleton while dressed as a chicken. This week he’s been playing Hardland, an unusually gorgeous and imaginative ARPG set in a part-procedural bucolia of rolling hills and haunted forests.

Having no head, much less a stomach, it’s not wholly clear how the skeleton intends to eat the ham he’s begged me to fetch. But there he is, standing by the river in his oversized pauldrons, optimistically holding a saucepan, issuing dying wishes to passing chicken-headed men. As undying wishes go, though, to taste ham one last time is relatively benign and, the difficulties of his digestion aside, my part in this quest is trivial to fulfill. When I give him some ham, after several minutes of pelting round, waving my sword at pigs, the skeleton rewards me with a mask. A pig mask, in fact, which, much like the chicken mask I am currently wearing, successfully disguises me as the animal in question, allowing me to charm and, supposedly, command them, possibly in great numbers.

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Premature Evaluation: Ronin

It’s doubly tricky to avoid setting off alarms in Ronin because the levels occasionally repopulate with extra enemies who stumble upon your trail of corpses - corpses which you have no means of hiding. This is a terrible shame because furtively stacking corpses in closets is my number one favourite thing to do in stealth games, and probably also number one in the list of macabre game mechanics that you should not admit to enjoying loudly in public.

Each week Marsh Davies slices open Early Access like the soft belly of a hapless Yakuza goon and roots around inside for any stories he can find. This week he’s playing Ronin – a game about infiltrating 2D-cutaway buildings and dicing their occupants up via a sharp-as-hell turnbased combat system.

“Tip: this is not Gunpoint,” says a little message on the screen. It’s not wrong. While playing Gunpoint, for example, I never punched my monitor so hard that it flickered to a blank white for several seconds, during which I fearfully grovelled in apology to the gods. Ronin is heavily inspired by Gunpoint, however – a fact which, to forestall the needlessly defensive cries of “Clone!”, seems to delight Gunpoint’s creator, my good chum Tom Francis. And regardless of its origins, Ronin now plays really quite differently (not least because of the tantrum-inducing lack of a manual save system). You can still leap across moonlit rooftops in elegant parabolas, scuttle up the sides of skyscrapers and sling yourself through their plate glass windows, but, once inside, the player’s purpose is less about open-ended stealth puzzling than it is strategic slaughter.

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