Press Start II: Championship Edition.
Some weeks I find myself gazing in despair at my computer screen: desperately hoping that I’ll find enough interesting stories to write Press Start. Some weeks I fail and I resign myself to self-abuse and comfort eating. Not this week, though. This week, being another full of shitty non-news, I thought I’d present you with an alternative.
So here it is: Press Start II:Championship Edition.
I play a lot of games. Too many some say. But I made those voices in my head stop and now look at me: sharing the fruits of my labor.
First up, Assassin’s Creed 3. What a bloated sausage turd of a game; struggling under the weight of its own narrative ambitions and full of hideously restrictive ‘sneaking’ and eavesdropping sections. These are abundant in the pad-smashingly awful and disproportionately challenging opening three hours. However, once you finally gain control of the game’s protagonist, Connor, it becomes something of a masterclass in world-creation and variety (the naval sequences and treasure hunting side-quests are quite good). Pre-revolution America is recreated in stunning detail, which goes hand-in-hand with superb voice acting to become two very good justifications for the game’s almost crippling ambition.
Crippling ambition, as I like to put it, is the essence of why I hate this game. Somewhere, amongst all the detail, all the mature, ‘legitimate’ storytelling, Ubisoft forgot to create an actual game. As I remember, games should be fair, have rules and be at least somewhat consistent. Assassin’s Creed 3 is none of these things and mostly serves to remind me that game design is becoming an increasingly lost art. Perhaps calling it a game is a little unfair, then, ‘Story With Varying Degrees of Interactivity’ is far more appropriate.
Staying with the professional murderer theme this week is Hitman: Absolution. In it you find yourself in the persistently blood-soaked shoes of Agent 47: on the trail of old friends and somehow working for the company that had previously tried to kill him.
I’m a huge fan of the series and like most fans, I began to worry when they showcased a more contemporary, less-strategic and seemingly easier Hitman in earlier trailers. Whilst the outcome isn’t the complete overhaul many feared, at the game’s halfway point I’ve yet to see anything that completely alleviates my concerns. That said, it is extremely slick and well-presented: showcasing the dark cinematic style that IO Interactive so desperately struggled to achieve with the Kane & Lynch games.
At its most classic, Hitman: Absolution reminds me of why I’ve loved the series for so long. However, this is a feeling that is regularly diminished by ‘chase’ levels that simply have you sneaking from point A to B in order to progress the story. These could be fun, were the game not so insistent on punishing you for killing ‘civilians’. It’s important to point out that these guys aren’t civilians; they’re henchmen; with automatic weapons, Kevlar and a monthly paycheck stained in blood. Did John Matrix feel bad? Did he get a low score? I think not.
Another game about killing lots of people and trying not to be seen is Dishonored. What separates this game from its murderous brethren though is a helping of supernatural powers. Possessing rats, fish, dogs and even other humans are all fair methods of gaining access to your targets. Not forgetting that you also have the ability to teleport and traverse near-enough anything the environment can throw at you. Recalling both Hitman and Bioshock in its gameplay, and to a certain extent its visual design, assures Dishonored a firm place in my heart. It’s a hugely rewarding game that encourages imaginative problem solving and studied observation.
The more you play, the more you will realise just how limited your options actually are, yet until you really begin to analyse your experience, the illusion remains intact. Of the three blood-drenched murder simulators I’ve played lately, Dishonored is by far the most memorable and the most compelling.
Last, but certainly not least is Hotline Miami. For weeks now, I’ve been trying to engineer ‘news’ relating to it, just in order to mention this game’s greatness. Everything that brings me down about contemporary gaming is remedied by this one title. Not because of its nostalgic yet hallucinatory 8-bit graphical filter, but because of its precision mechanics and clearly defined rules of play. Each room and every level must be treated as an individual puzzle as you take care not to let the pieces from one spill into the box of another. Target-marking and planning are paramount in this twitchy, stylish and focused shotgun blast of gaming aggression. This is the punk-rock gaming that Suda 51 dreams of. It costs $10 on Steam and is the most significant middle finger ever raised to the current state of gaming.
As if it needed to charm me any more, Hotline Miami also boasts an excellent original soundtrack and a grimly comic storyline. If anything, the game should be praised for how many garbled, ham-fisted one-liner combinations I come out with in order to describe it. Here’s another one: acid-tinged Rainbow 6 dragged into a haunted NES cartridge.
Well, I’m all out of one-liners now and I still haven’t played Halo 4. I’ve got work to do, so to speak. Hopefully the news will be back on-form next week, otherwise we’re all really fucked.