PS Plus: More Indies Please.
I've noticed -- as I'm sure most people have -- that Indies are currently seen as the poor man's alternative to AAA titles but I have to completely disagree. First of all I must confess that back in the day when Indies were all the rage on the 360, I too dismissed them out of hand. It wasn't because I needed a new hammer to beat a console with, it was simply because my idea of an Indie game had largely been cultivated by an 8-bit aesthetic.
It wasn't until I finally bought my first Indie game that I reassessed how I viewed Indies as a whole, and that game was Journey. Although some people would probably argue that Journey isn't really an Indie game, that's besides the point. The point is it introduced a new perspective and made me re-evaluate what I'd always considered 'Indie'. So, regardless of any in depth analysis of what qualifies as an Indie game, I assumed it was anyway.
With one 'Indie' game under my belt I then began to look back through Indie games I'd ignored; one of which was Limbo. After buying and enjoying this game, I finally realised something: I'd been an idiot (not a welcome revelation). Unfinished swan followed shortly after and it was then something else dawned on me that had gone missing in action a long long time ago. They had charm, heart and imagination, something I missed but could never quite put my finger on.
Fast forward to today and a years subscription to PS Plus on the PS4/PS3/Vita with free Indies and discounts:
What I liked:
The first time I booted this game up it struck as quite childlike in appearance, which is probably why I died on my first night! I gathered material willy nilly with no goal other than to gather material. What was I supposed to do with this material? What was I supposed to do (full stop). Of course the first thing I learned was 'light a God Damn torch you moron'.
And that's what I love about this game. I say 'love' because loved would suggest I've finished it and to be honest I don't think you can because finishing the game means to die. With no tutorials and no idea of which materials are more important, I finally got to grips with the idea and what was expected of me. THEN MY FIRST WINTER ... and my second ... and my third ... and my fourth ... and then RAGE QUIT.
But for some odd and sadistic reason I kept going back to it over and over again and eventually made it through my first winter! I can't tell you how exciting that felt and frankly embarrassing that I found it exciting. I'm a grown man for goodness sake! Watching the snow melt after a hard winter of survival is a pleasure that shouldn't be. I'm still finding new ways of getting meat and still finding better places to make camp and I'm still rage quitting. Wonderfully alluring and sickeningly brutal. Love that.
What I didn't like
Ahem ... Most of the above!
I feel as if the days should be that little bit longer. I know you can extend the day time but that leaves you very little evening to do 'certain things'. I would also add in one small change because I felt having survived 201 days (my longest time) dying was even worse than dying of frostbite in my first winter. I'd just built walls and everything else to sustain me for another 201 days and wandered too close to a Walrus. So my suggestion would be it just sends you back one gaming month. You still lose all of your progress in that month and you still have enough to lose that you feel pressured into making snappy and life saving decisions but with none of the frustration of knowing you have to start right at the beginning AGAIN.
This is the only reason I can only give it a 8.5/10. Take away some of that frustration and it's a 9.5/10 easily.
What I liked:
Outlast was my first foray into a genre I was largely ignorant of: A narrative driven journey with only environmental geometry between you and almost certain death. No guns, no crowbar, no 'chainsaw', nothing ... just a infra-red camera, heavy breathing and the ability to run like the clappers. Ordinarily, you would think the lack of weapons would some how hinder your enjoyment of the game but it's the opposite, because without a weapon it introduces something that went missing a long time ago when Resident Evil suddenly lost it's nerve, and that's 'dread' (the meat and veg of any great horror film).
The vulnerability you feel as you meander through the sepia, insipid and grainy environments, creates genuine fear of what could happen. It's brimming with horror tropes from rafter to cellar but it's pulled off so well you are caught unaware many times, giving your pace maker a test or two. Ironically, it's the jump scares (the lowest possible form of horror) that create opportunities to crank up the 'dread' because you are conditioned into behaving cautiously throughout, even when the surroundings look reasonably benign. This is it's forte and the reason the jump sequences are completely justified and so therefore forgiveable, and that's important.
The story is presented to you in a cliqued manner, through messages in files or written on walls, and looking through the viewfinder of the camera at specific moments also enlightens the player with notes. But that doesn't matter one jot because clearly the aim here is to scare the hell out of you, which it does rather well! Batteries are also at a premium and without them, traversal is dangerous and at times almost impossible. This adds yet another layer of 'dread' to your journey and feeds into an ever increasing pulse ... as does the assortment of demented souls that pursue you relentlessly throughout. There are moments to catch your breath but these are far and few between.
I highly recommend this title to anyone who wants to remember how horror used to feel before life offered them worse things than ghosts and ghouls. Pleasurable isn't a word I'd associate with Outlast. I'd simply call it satisfying.
What I didn't like:
I mentioned the fact that they've used tropes such as jump scares, but these are sometimes slightly overused towards the latter half of the game. The developers seem to lose conviction and opt for the notion that more is ... well more, and of course it's not. It desensitises you to the thrills and before long the stealth becomes less relevant as you find yourself opting for the more direct approach of running as quickly as you can to your destination. Monsters suddenly become obstacles rather than creatures to be feared and avoided, and that's a shame.
You also begin to get the sense that the game itself is trying to increase your pace with set ups clearly there to actual prompt you to run. It may seem a small detail but being encouraged to run is not nearly as entertaining as been made to feel like you should run. A small distinction that they got perfectly right at the beginning of the game but clearly lost because of the tired notion a game has to be faster, bolder, harder towards the end because that's what makes a 'good' game. DON'T DO IT!
All in all a worthwhile experience with just a couple of hours spoiling what was up until that point a good 8 - 10 hours of thrilling gameplay.
What I liked
When I first began playing Brothers I was worried I wouldn't like it. Not because of the graphics or overall presentation but because I just couldn't get down that damned hill with the cart! Controlling Big brother with the left stick and Little brother with the right stick was proving quite a challenge. In fact I was so frustrated by the control scheme that I turned it off after I managed to get the cart over the first bridge and finished Tomb Raider. The game sat on my hard drive for quite some time before I dared to test my dexterity one last time, and 'Brother' was I glad I did.
The pastel colours and soft edges gave the game instant charm. I found myself just sitting on the benches and gazing out at a part of the world I was about to traverse. What sets this game apart from many others though is the little touches strewn throughout. Only tiny interactions but they gave you a sense of who the Brothers were and how they differed without the need for one single line of dialogue. This colourful world had depth and darkness, the likes of which I've never seen in a game before ... Side missions (for want of a better word) that also earned you Trophies, from saving a hanging man , to placing a pig in soot.
The Brothers were quite different. The younger brother knew nothing of life and valued very little, while the older brother had grown wiser and understood life better, up to a point. Through our journey we grow inexplicably close to the two characters and somehow understand them as they work in tandem to seek out medicine for their ailing father. What follows is a game brimming with the most imaginative game mechanics I have ever had the privilege to play. With varied environments, incredible platforming and unique mechanics, this game is a must buy for anyone.
[SPOILER]For those who have finished the game:
I must mention the one moment when I choked up. Throughout the game there is a connection between the brothers and through the brothers a connection with the gamer. After the Big brother dies and is buried by Little brother, the little brother feels lost. Suddenly he finds himself alone in a world he struggles to understand and ends up beside a huge pond he must cross. Up until this point his brother had helped him cross water because he can't swim. He looks on with despair ... until the spirit of his mother appears to give him strength. I drowned twice wondering what to do, but then I remembered my brother. Holding both the controls of big brother and little brother enabled me to swim across while the Dualshock gently trembled to show how much effort it took. What an incredible way of showing us how we can draw strength from our loved ones and do things we never thought possible.
What I didn't like:
What I liked:
From the moment you begin this game you realise you're in for something completely different. Esoteric in nature and complex in construct, FEZ won't leave your mind alone. It probes deep and leaves you reeling from the experience. The sheer complexity on offer here begins to weigh heavily as you attempt to unravel the convoluted level design and make sense of the '0's and '1's. It's like trying to solve a Rubik's cube without any idea of what shape that Rubik's cube is. I found myself forced to take large breaks in between playing sessions, during which times I contemplated on what it would do to a mind that conceived such complexity. To attempt to make sense of something that's actually there is hard enough but to actually conceive, build and realise that complexity must have been a nightmare. Whilst the developer behind this game has said many regrettable things, I found myself in awe of his work and can't help but admire the man.
The colours and design are without doubt influenced by the 8-bit era but there's enough here to make you realise it IS just a design choice and not an excuse for low quality visuals, which is often what puts me off some Indie titles. Just like the words in a well written poem, you can see quite clearly that every 8-bit block, every 8-bit texture, every 8-bit character, every 8-bit puzzle, is there for a reason and placed with obsessive care. Nothing in this game is surplus to design or there to flatter any hidden shortcomings. Colours, music, sound effects, lighting and puzzles all create an ambience that belies the sum of it's parts.
Just as I did with 'Brothers', I found myself smiling as I flicked between the four planes using R2 and L2 to reveal the solution to an otherwise impossible puzzle. Each environment has it's own take on the four dimensions, from rotating platforms, which automatically change your perspective whether you like it or not, to cranks that change the layout without changing the perspective. It refreshes the moving platform or timed events in ways that both challenge and amaze ... In fact it takes every single platforming trope and twists it in ever more delightful ways. I urge you to play this game but for your sanity take regular breaks.
What I didn't like:
There is a fine line between 'complex' and 'frustrating', and if you like to discover every secret, you might find it frustrating. The complexity is bearable, perhaps even addictive, but I used 'esoteric' in my opening paragraph for a very good reason. Solutions are by their very nature meant to be difficult. Here though, the solutions are almost impossible to see let alone solve. If you can solve the mysteries of FEZ and find ever single hidden puzzle without a Google search then you have my utter respect. If you don't mouth 'You've got to be fucking kidding me' even after you've Googled, then you still get my utter respect.
Given that the experience is rewarding without the need for 100%, it doesn't effect my score too much; however, I can't help but feel the slight post revelation, when you start New Game Plus, just takes the edge off what is without doubt an incredible game:
There are many others too but the point is, I now love Indie games -- sometimes more than AAA titles. I for one look forward to more Indie games on PS Plus. I'm currently playing Stick It To The Man and have just finished Child Of Light. So please, don't be as ignorant as I used to be, do a little research and surprise yourself.