Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Shatterblog!: Triple Threat Artsy Game Review!

As promised in Pete's update, I do in face have a review planned. I recently visited the Smithsonian Institute's Art of Video Games exhibit (which I intent to cover with picture/video content once I finish sorting through my camera), and played a demo of Flower. I also wrote my final paper in English on whether or not video games could be considered art. This inspired me to take a day to experience 3 artistic, unconventional games, which will each get a mini-review here. Each clocked in around 2 hours, so I figured dropping all 3 in one post would make a decent length.

First off, Flower. This was definitely my favorite of the three. In it, you control a spirit of wind, or the wind, or something. You fly around using the PS3's SixAxis motion controls, collecting flower petals and affecting the environment. The controls are odd to get used to, but the motion controls feel natural very quickly, and are perfectly showcased. While I wouldn't call it a story, the progression from one level to another is very cool, with environments ranging from a beautiful meadow to a twisted city. The music is very relaxing, and the notes that play with each flower you touch are an amazing touch. The art is downright unbelievable, especially for a $10 title from a small team. All in all, no major complaints, it's a great game. It's different from anything I've played before, and innovation is always good. 9.5/10.

Second, thatgamecompany's other downloadable title, Journey. Players control a hooded figure on a (you guessed it) journey toward a mysterious glowing mountain. After a short walk players are granted a scarf. The scarf allows you to fly short distances, and through exploration it is possible to find glowing symbols which extend the length of the scarf, and also your flight time. To call it a platformer wouldn't be fair, but it is kind of a 3D platformer with puzzles scattered in. It's most interesting feature is the "multiplayer". The game requires you to always be online, and as you wander through deserts and monasteries and mountains, other hooded figures at the same point in their journeys will appear randomly. I bumped into about 7 different players, and at the end of the game before the credits roll it tell you their online handles. During gameplay, you are distinguished only by a symbol that pops up over your head when you hit O. This creates a small bubble around you for a split second and a musical chime. Any of the "animals", creatures made of the same material as your scarf, touched by the bubble will react and help you, and any players touched by it will have their scarf recharged slightly. Working together with others is a lot of fun, making flying more common as you charge each other up. Again the art is amazing, although the snow just looks like white sand, and the texture of sand doesn't really look like snow very much. Still a good game, but not as incredible as Flower. 7.5/10.

Finally, a very interesting thing called Dear Esther. It is difficult to even call it a game, as there isn't any real gameplay, in the traditional sense. You control a narrator on an island. You can walk, and holding left mouse allows you to zoom to see things more clearly. You are given no instructions, you just wander the island as bits and pieces of a narrative are read to you in a randomly generated order. You simply enjoy the view and the story, and are led inexorably to a certain point in the island where the story ends. There are many paths to take, mostly dead ends, but exploration seems to be rewarded with further tidbits of story. From the beginning I was wrapped up in the mystery of it all, wanting to know every bit of the rather tragic story. Music matched the tone of different areas perfectly, drawing me further in. The art was amazing, based on the Source engine (the game began as a free mod for Source), but so beautiful that literally every screenshot I took has been added to my wallpaper folder. The games confusing (in a good way) story and minimal player interaction mean it's not for everyone, but I really loved it. 9/10.

I actually took this screenshot, no other pictures are mine. 
All three games are a wonderful and refreshing break from the current game market which seems increasingly clogged with Call of Knockoff 300: The Shootening. While unconventional titles like these are not for everyone, I highly recommend giving them a try. Flower is PS3 exclusive, Journey is on PS3 and made its way to PC, and Dear Esther is PC only. These games have definitely widened my gaming horizons, and expect to see more artsy games reviewed as I discover them.

PS: To keep JD happy let me make this clear. I tagged this post as "indie" due to Dear Esther. Both of thatgamecompany's games, while unusual, are published by Sony, and therefore are not defined as indie.

By Chazz, of Shatterblog!

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