Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Muddled Faith

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Muddled Faith

I played through Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst on the PS4 and suffered a few glitches which I will talk about in the main body of the review. Mostly, it ran fine though, and the glitches didn’t impact the game too much.

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In 2008, when the original Mirror’s Edge released, the gaming landscape was different. Mirror’s Edge was something new and different – a first-person parkour game, where you were tasked with running across the rooftops of a bright, minimalist city. Time, survival and exploration were the biggest parts of Mirror’s Edge – the story taking a much-needed back seat. I have replayed Mirror’s Edge a lot over the years, chipping away at speedruns and challenges – earning a few more trophies every time. It’s still a lot of fun. In 2016, and after a cult following was established for the original, EA and Dice have released a sequel…no…prequel…no reboot in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. And I was optimistic. Unfortunately, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst captures some of the original’s charm, but utterly fails to offer up anything interesting of itself, giving fans a game that seems tired of it’s own existence.

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst offers up another look at Faith Connors, the hero of the original, who has just been released from prison and is looking to reconnect with her old runner friends. It is not long before she is involved in a city-wide conspiracy, as villainous Gabriel Kruger (the leader of a similarly villainous company) is out for her blood. The story is absolutely terrible, and I really couldn’t bear to spend any more time on it. The narrative is put at the forefront of this game (as opposed to the original) whereas it should have been shoved way way way back. Characters are one-dimensional mannequins, spouting trailer-worthy lines of dialogue that regularly don’t make sense when strung together. Any emotional moments are telegraphed poorly, and the only thing that could be called a twist is revealed by someone talking in your ear, thus negating any emotional impact it could cause. It is atrocious. And I have no idea how this can still be allowed to be a video game narrative in 2016, when developers have proved for nearly a decade that video games are capable of some much more. You wouldn’t be remiss for punching the skip button as hard as is humanly possible.

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Outside of the story, you have an open world to explore as the City of Glass spans out in front of you. This is where some of the old magic resurfaces, as the traversal mechanics are by far the best part of the game. The city is vast and varied, and finding your way around is a lot of fun. An enhanced runner’s vision helps you out, not just highlighting your route in red (again, like the original) but also giving you an ethereal line floating in the direction you should go. In pre-release footage, I thought this was a terrible addition, and would make things too easy. But, in practice, it does seem necessary to navigate around the world (and you can always turn back to ‘classic’ mode. However, I encountered a glitch, where sometimes runner’s vision would just disappear, usually in the middle of a climactic chase or a side task. This wasn’t a situation where runner’s vision was actually turned off (sometimes in missions, you are left to your own devices to find a way around), the line just disappeared and nothing was red. Then when I reloaded, it’d be back. Just a weird thing that killed momentum.

Outside of the main story, you are given a lot to do, although this all boils down to one thing: time trials. Dashes are time trials, deliveries are time trials, fragile deliveries are fragile time trials. I agree that time trials are mostly why I come to a game like this, but some more variety would have been nice. Things like security hubs (where you destroy tracking towers) and gridnodes (where you navigate around a room, avoiding lasers, to activate fast travel) add some much-needed diversity, but it only helps to prove that Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst only has one real draw – the movement. And it’s a good draw, but not enough to support an open world game.

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When you’re not running around, you’ll be engaging in terrible combat mechanics, that somehow manage to be worse than the original. There are five types of enemies, ranging from melee to ranged, and you have two attacks, light and heavy, which you can use in a number of different ways. The best way to fight is to use your movement in conjunction with attacks (i.e. wallrunning along a wall, jumping off and falling on the enemy etc.) but it’s so much easier and sometimes unavoidable to just stand in front of enemies and press the heavy attack button over and over. When you unlock a move that can throw enemies behind you, you can just turn around and kick them in the back. Then that’s all you really need. It’s almost as bad as the story.

Yes, unlocking moves is now a thing, as the RPG-ification of everything rolls on. Faith earns XP when you complete missions, side missions, activities or find collectables, and unlock points can go into purchasing moves for movement or combat or upgrading your equipment. It’s bizarre so much emphasis is put on the story, but at the same time, Faith can’t think to put her legs up when she vaults over something until you’ve unlocked it. Also, when you start the game, and go into the upgrade screen for the first time, you will see that 11/19 movement upgrades are already unlocked. What?? I had to wonder if someone else had been playing my save file. If Faith already has those abilities, why even put them on the screen? Ah yes, of course. The illusion of depth.

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I’m not entirely done with Catalyst. I’m going to try some of the time trials and maybe get a few more collectables, but I’m tremendously disappointed. As I was playing through it, I was constantly hoping for something to bring back the magic, maybe a really good mission or a really great section of the map. But I found absolutely nothing but a lack of creativity. It’s not a terrible game, not by any means, but it is incredibly generic. Which is a rather big achievement, seeing as the original was so…well… original. Now, I see no way forward for Mirror’s Edge now. It’s done. It’s dead.

And by the overwhelming feeling of this game, it seems Dice’ll be relieved they never have to make one again.

In Short…

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a tired game. And it really gives off the feeling that the developers were tired with it too. The atrocious story and the absurdly shitty combat drown out the one thing that is still done really well – the movement. However, the open world also manages to make this feel tired as you take the same paths over and over. While some of the adrenaline-fuelled action is still evident, most of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is entirely forgettable and strangely stuck in the past.

 

MIRROR’S EDGE: CATALYST

5/10

 

 

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review – One Last Time

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review – One Last Time

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There didn’t need to be another Uncharted. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception did a great job at wrapping up every loose end and giving each character an end to their narrative arcs. Series protagonist Nathan Drake walked away from his gung-ho treasure hunting life to settle down with his love, Elena Fisher. Victor Sullivan flew off into the sunset. The baddies were all gone. Developer Naughty Dog proved that they didn’t need Drake to create a masterpiece (with The Last of Us). There didn’t need to be another Uncharted. But all I could think throughout Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End 12-hour campaign was that I was so glad there was.

Uncharted 4 picks up years after the end of Drake’s Deception. Nathan Drake is living a normal life. Job, house, wife. But it isn’t all great. Sometimes he finds himself yearning for adventure, the danger of the good old days. When his brother, Sam, shows up at his work with a problem. He owes a drug lord a hell of a lot of money and has promised to find Henry Avery’s lost pirate treasure to pay the debt. It doesn’t take too much to persuade Nathan to help his brother and go on a globe-trotting adventure for forgotten gold. But is he doing it solely to save his brother? Or is he looking for the excitement of the quest?

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This question is at the heart of Uncharted 4, a far more mature story than any of the previous games in the series. Although the treasure hunting aspect of the story is still there, it is second to a more personal story. This is a story about family, greed, and the illusion of being a good man. Naughty Dog have continued to develop the fantastic storytelling shown throughout their previous works. There are so many little moments, so many side glances and sighs, so many interrupted quips, which really show the human side to all these characters. Some moments are genuinely heart-breaking, while others will make you want to woop with joy.

A lot of this is in the writing and in the performance capture. The writing is stellar, mixing the comic adventure of Uncharted, with a slightly more mature Last of Us style. There is a lot more on the line here – this is Drake’s final adventure and everyone knows it. The performances and, subsequently, the graphics set a new standard for video games. The nuances in the performances are what really makes the whole thing work, and you can see every little emotion going through the characters minds. The graphics are really fantastic and although there are obviously some caveats (background faces being a lot less detailed, a few dead-eyed stares while in-game), it’s hard to really mind when the vistas are so beautiful.

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This is an Uncharted game through and through – much of the gameplay is identical to it’s predecessors. You’ll be in gunfights with goons, solving puzzles and climbing on stuff (and every so often that stuff will crumble and then you’ll fall and have to grab onto more stuff). The formula is largely unchanged, but there are some neat little one-off mechanics that keep things fresh. The gunplay is also improved – there seems to be a bit more weight behind your shots now, meaning firefights feels a bit more satisfying. You also get some new tools, namely the rope, which provides a fun way to get around in traversal as well as combat.

The game is more open this time around, meaning you can often take different paths to get to your objective. Often I found this a little more of a hindrance than a freedom though, as story momentum ground to a halt as I wondered just where I should be going. Sometimes I would spend ages trying to get somewhere, only to find it was only a treasure collectable location and I was in totally the wrong place to advance the story. Gameplay has never been Uncharted‘s strongest suit for me and this game didn’t really change my mind. It is definitely a lot of fun, it’s just everything else about the package shines brighter.

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Uncharted 4 is a little unevenly paced at times. I played it over three sessions in three days, and I definitely found the first to be the least entertaining. The story takes a long time to really begin, and although I understood why I needed to know everything I needed to know in the first few chapters, I was really chomping at the bit to get back to the characters I knew and loved. What I wasn’t expecting though, was to get so intrigued by the treasure hunt itself. Usually in Uncharted games, I would pay little attention to the hunt itself, but the quest for Henry Avery’s treasure is fantastic in itself, and has a few big payoffs towards the end of the narrative.

It’s easy to forgive Uncharted 4‘s follies when viewing the package as a whole. It is truly a grand achievement in video game storytelling, hitting the heights of the best in any media. Naughty Dog are so far ahead of anyone else in video games, it is almost embarrassing. As I entered Uncharted 4‘s endgame, I was overcome with the fact that this was really the end of the series. And I didn’t even know I had wanted it. Nathan Drake did indeed deserve another adventure.

One last time.

In Short…

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a phenomenal achievement in video game storytelling, providing a more mature look at one of Playstation’s most iconic franchises. Naughty Dog prove they are the best in the field, with beautiful graphics and their knack for remembering the little things. Though it runs a little long, and some elements are not as strong, Uncharted 4 is a blast and more importantly, a fitting end for Nathan Drake, Elena and Sully and will be remembered for years to come.

UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END

9.5/10

 

 

 

Dark Souls 3 Review – Firestarter

Dark Souls 3 Review – Firestarter

I played through Dark Souls 3 on PS4, and suffered no technical issues (I didn’t notice many drops in frame-rate even). However, the online component seems kinda broken at the moment. Whenever I tried to summon someone, it failed. And I have only been able to go into other people’s worlds a few times. It seems to be getting better but is still rather finnicky.

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The world is in ruin. The fire is fading. And the only beings who can reverse the apocalypse refuse to return to their thrones. It is up to you, a chosen Unkindled to travel the land and bring the ashes of the Lords of Cinder back to their thrones, for if they won’t come willingly, their bones will have to suffice. So begins the rather epic Dark Souls 3, the conclusion to the Dark Souls series. Dark Souls 3 is not only a fitting end to the series, but is also possibly the best of them all.

Dark Souls 3 seems to revel in it’s history. The action RPG series famed for it’s difficulty and minimal storytelling has made a big mark on the landscape of current video games. And for good reason, Dark Souls is brutal and brilliant, and the third entry is no exception.

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Personally, I have loved the series ever since Dark Souls 1, being drawn in by the mystery of a world where nothing can be taken for granted. Although absolutely accessible for new players, Dark Souls 3 pulls characters, themes and plot points from previous games, meaning you’ll only truly appreciate it if you have played the other games in the series.

However, being a returning player also means that you know what you’re in for. I didn’t find Dark Souls 3 incredibly difficult and most of my 53 hours of playtime was spent exploring every nook and cranny of the world, rather than banging my head against a boss for days. There are indeed some hard fights ahead (one of which I feel may be the hardest in the series) but I found bosses to go down in two of three tries. This is almost entirely because of my prior experience, so I can’t really say how difficult it is overall.

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Dark Souls 3 walks the line between the entire open world of Dark Souls 1, and the impossible warping world of Dark Souls 2. Right from the outset, you can warp between your bonfires (the safe points you will find throughout the world where you can replenish your stocks) meaning some places, you can’t just walk to. However, the game does open up and about 80% of it you can just walk around. I’m not sure why From Software decided to segment off what amounts to only two levels, but it doesn’t really bother me that much.

Dark Souls 3 brings back characters and even some settings from previous games, drawing mostly from 1, but sometimes from 2, and even (if I interpreted things right) from franchise fringes Demon Souls and Bloodborne. Some of the things put in this game seem to be a little fan-servicey, but I have to admit that most of it totally worked on me. Watching a lift travel upwards to reveal an old friend was a series highlight for me.

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Being the ‘conclusion’ to a series that has minimal story is a weird proposition, but Dark Souls 3 at least has the most accessible narrative. There is a real feeling that the world is teetering on the edge, and I definitely felt a sense of urgency as I was playing, mostly towards the latter half. There are three endings to the game, and I got the one that I’m sure everyone else’ll get, at least first time round.It was a conventional Dark Souls ending, meaning there wasn’t much there, but it was enough for me.

Although Dark Souls 3 is inherently less impressive (due to it being the third one), it still managed to keep me playing for hours and hours. And I’m going back in for another playthrough to seek out another ending, and all those items I missed. And I’m sure I’ll love every minute of it.

In Short…

Dark Souls 3 is From Software’s flagship series at it’s best. The hard-as-nails action RPG is back for one final hurrah, and From has crafted something phenomenally special. It’s as compelling as ever, with inventive level design and crafty bosses. If you love games that get in your face and demand your attention, this is it. Dark Souls 3 is a fitting end to a truly magnificent series.

DARK SOULS 3

9.5/10

Ratchet and Clank Review – The Review about the Game based on the Movie based on the Game

Ratchet and Clank Review – The Review about the Game based on the Movie based on the Game

I played through Ratchet and Clank on PS4. The framerate chunked up a few times, but otherwise it played great.

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Ratchet and Clank are back in an all new action platformer! Although they never really left. After a few years of half-baked spin-offs and underwhelming budget titles, Insomniac reboots the series in this movie tie-in which serves as both a great jumping on point for new gamers, and a Ratchet and Clanks Greatest Hits for existing fans. And it’s beautiful to boot.

With the power of the PS4, Insomniac Games have perfected both the lush look and frenetic gameplay of one of Playstation’s leading franchises. Ratchet and Clank both looks and plays incredibly. At times, it feels like you are actually playing a movie, and the movie cutscenes that play at points in the story are almost indistinguishable from the in-game ones. At it’s worst moments, Ratchet and Clank chunks up a bit and a few in-game models look bad against everything else (Captain Qwark, most notably) but when you’re walking around what looks like a Pixar movie, it’ll be hard to care.

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Ratchet and Clank has always been about explosive gameplay with tons and tons of crazy guns which can be upgraded into even crazier ones. Ratchet and Clank cherry-picks the best guns from the series and gives them to you one after another to blow holes in the colourful enemy armies. The levels are packed full of guys to shoot in any way you want. You want to light them on fire with the Pyrocitor flamethrower? You can do that. You want to pixelate them with the Pixelator shotgun? You can do that. But me personal favourite is the Groovitron. A disco ball which can be thrown out into the field, which makes all enemies stop and dance. Every single enemy has a dance animation, including bosses, and more importantly tanks.

Using these guns will earn them XP, which means the more you use them, the more powerful they become. All guns have a cap of Level 5 in the main game, but you can always re-up and go in for NG+, which will mean you can upgrade to Level 10. Ratchet can be upgraded too, with tons of health upgrades to unlock.

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The fantastic action platforming of the Ratchet sections is slowed down in several Clank sections, where you take the little robot into more puzzle-orientated scenarios. While these sections are much improved from the original with Clank manipulating robots in order to progress in the stage, they’re still nowhere near as compelling as the Ratchet stuff. They’re not hard enough to make you think, and not short enough to easily blitz through.

Insomniac has created something special with Ratchet and Clank, a game which works on many levels. Hopefully, if it does well, it’ll lead into a new series. I would love to see a totally brand new Ratchet using this framework. Ratchet and Clank could be the start of something great. And that’s really exciting.

In Short…

Ratchet and Clank is a fantastic entry into a series which had fallen on hard times. Whether you’re a newbie to the franchise or an old fan, this reboot won’t fail to thrill and entertain. The gameplay remains incredibly fun, and the loop of upgrading guns will keep you playing past the end credits. Ratchet and Clank is undoubtably the best movie tie game of all time and is also one of the best exclusives on the PS4.

RATCHET AND CLANK (2016)

9.5/10

 

Firewatch Review – Watching Them Fires

Firewatch Review – Watching Them Fires

I played through Firewatch on PS4, and unfortunately it ran rather poorly. The frame rate was erratic in places, there was some hideous pop in and the game froze on me once.

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So I just finished playing Firewatch and have a lot of conflicting feelings about it. This short, narrative driven game about a guy who takes a job as a watchman in the middle of the Wyoming forest, has been on my radar for a long time, mostly due to the stunning visuals and the engaging writing present in the trailers. But, by the end of the 6 hour experience, I was left feeling that I wasn’t totally satisfied with what Firewatch delivered.

The story begins as you are cast into the shoes of Henry, a man who has run away from his problems, and has just hiked through the wilderness to get to his new home, a watchtower in the middle of the forest. You are alone for miles around, and your only companion is a voice on the other end of a radio. This voice is Delilah, and she is your only companion through a lot, hot and lonely summer. The action heats up, however, when a strange figure appears to be watching Henry.

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I really like this kind of story, and the fact it’s told through a video game is even better. Although the story is the main thing here, you do get a lot more to do than games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. You obtain items to help you progress through the forest, you can pick up and examine items and most importantly, you can talk to Delilah through a dialogue system that is deep enough to make you really feel like you’re crafting your own Henry.

When you’re out of your watchtower, doing your job, you will often stumble upon interesting things, and you can press your button on your radio and tell Delilah about it. It’s a really nice system, because these two characters and their relationship with each other and the world around them is what drives the game. The writing in Firewatch as well as the voice acting is the games biggest strength. Henry and Delilah are fully fleshed out characters, and yes, that means they’re a little annoying at times. Sometimes they’re stupid, sometimes they’re crass and sometimes they make terrible decisions. But for me, it was never unrealistic. It was like I was getting annoyed at a friend, not a game.

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The world of Firewatch is the reasonably large area around your watchtower. At times, the game can be visually stunning, and the art style is fantastic, from the sweeping vistas right down to Henry’s stubby fingers that reminded me of Carl from Up. Unfortunately, the game runs badly on PS4, and these moments of beauty are often punctuated with frame-rate drops. At times it feels like the Unity engine is barely getting through it. No doubt Campo Santo will patch the game, but the game doesn’t really inspire any replayability and is so short that that doesn’t really help.

The best moments of Firewatch are when you truly feel alone, when you feel like the walls are closing in on you (even as you’re in a lush Wyoming forest), when you feel the desperation of the two characters. Campo Santo are to be applauded for the atmosphere they create. And to their credit, they tell the story that they want to tell, and make no apology for it. Firewatch definitely makes you feel things, but the emotional gutpunch I was (wrongly) expecting never really materialised. There’s no real greater meaning I can see (I did think the whole thing was going to be some allegory-type thing about the misuse of alcohol at one point, which thankfully it is not) and the truth is, there doesn’t always need to be.

Firewatch is about Henry and Delilah. Oh, and you do watch them fires too.

 

In Short…

Firewatch is a bold narrative-driven adventure game which places character above all else. Henry and Delilah are two expertly written characters who really come to life through chirpy dialogue and superb voice acting. Firewatch really showcases how well Campo Santo can tell a story, and although certain story beats (and particularly the ending) didn’t hit the highs I was expecting, I am really looking forward to what they do next.

 

FIREWATCH

8/10

 

 

 

 

Among the Sleep Review – Troubled Sleep

Among the Sleep Review – Troubled Sleep

I played through Among the Sleep on PS4, running into no technical issues at all.

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Among the Sleep is definitely an intriguing premise – a horror game where you are cast as a 2-year-old infant looking for his mother. It’s actually so good that it’s a wonder no one has done it before. And Among the Sleep fully delivers on the premise…for about twenty minutes before crashing and burning.

At the start of Among the Sleep, you are put into the shoes of a toddler on his birthday. You are sitting in your high chair watching your mum preparing your birthday cake. Soon though, she gets a knock at the door and takes you back to your room with your new present – a teddy bear who, once you’re alone, starts to talk to you. This is creepy in itself, but this teddy is actually your ally through the darkness, as you wake up that night to find your mother missing. It is your task to try and find her.

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The game controls well with you staggering around on your stumpy legs. To speed up, you can crawl instead of walking, and instead of a torch, you can hug your teddy to get some extra light. This is really cool, as the game manages to give you all the tools you need and would expect, like the aforementioned torch and a run button. It’s what you need without breaking the world of the game.

And as Among the Sleep begins, the game is great. You have to navigate the first floor of your house and find your teddy, before looking for your mother. You can’t reach high things, like door handles, so you have to find something like a chair or a stool and push it so you can climb up to reach things. Your baby-self seems quite athletic, but it would be frustrating to have any more restriction.

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The house is spooky when it’s dark, with a lightning storm outside and shadows looming large. It is genuinely unsettling, especially when you find your teddy has been trapped in the washing machine. It is clear there’s some entity in the house, and it doesn’t want a tea party. It’s all really nice and atmospheric.

But here comes the pain, because Among the Sleep completely ruins itself after 20 minutes, leaving the house behind and thrusting you into a magical world with tedious fetch quests. It’s infuriating when this happens, as the whole idea of being a baby being scared by pseudo-normal things, is completely discarded.

Though the proceeding levels of the game do keep the idea of scale, the realism is lost. The levels are kinda based around locations a baby may be like a playground and a library but the way you travel there is dumb. You basically jump down what looks like a giant trombone and magically appear there.

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It’s stupid and ruinous, but maybe it could have been salvaged if Among the Sleep was actually scary during these sequences. But it’s not. At all. In fact, it wasn’t until my second playthrough of the game where I actually found that there is something stalking you. It’s some weird kind of mom-monster that is a strange kind of Slender Man-ish thing. But I didn’t see it my entire first runthrough, which is a problem. Saying that however, even when it catches you, it just throws you back to the last checkpoint.

To be perfectly frank, it’s such a shame to see something with so much promise totally and utterly shit itself.

In Short…

Among the Sleep capitalises on it’s amazing premise for all of twenty minutes, before caving into a magical world of boring fetch quests and a stalking monster that is neither terrifying or good at making itself known to the player. Among the Sleep is awarded the most reviled of comments for a horror game – it simply isn’t scary.

 

AMONG THE SLEEP

4/10

 

 

Pony Island Review – ‘This Is Not a Game About Ponies’

Pony Island Review – ‘This Is Not a Game About Ponies’

 

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Pony Island is not a game about ponies. It’s a game about pure evil. It’s a game about desperation and escape. It’s a game about sifting through lines of code to find an advantage against impossible odds. It’s also slightly a game about ponies. But most importantly, it’s the first must play game of 2016.

Pony Island doesn’t really fit well in any genre. It’s closest contemporaries are probably games like The Stanley Parable, Undertale and The Beginner’s Guide. It’s a game that plays with your expectations and isn’t afraid to revel in how smart it is. On the face of it, Pony Island is a simplistic platformer, where you guide a pony over fences to reach a goal. Very quickly though, Pony Island becomes something very different entirely as you dive deep into the programming of the game to try and find a way out. The ultimate goal of Pony Island is to not play Pony Island.

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The actual gameplay takes two main paths, although you never quite know what you’re in for as many variations exist if you look deep enough. One moment, you are actually ‘playing’ the game, the next you are clicking through a virtual computer, talking to other lost souls who have been trapped in the cabinet by the games antagonist, Satan.

Yes, that’s right. Lucifer himself designed the game, and you constantly lock horns with him throughout your explorations. He will try to cut off your options, forcing you to rewrite code to enable them again. The rewriting takes the form of a puzzle where you are redirecting a key along lines of text. These puzzles are always just fiendish enough to stump you for a moment, and then prove satisfying when you finally crack them.

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Pony Island is a game where you never quite know what is going to happen next, so I’m not going to spoil any of the fantastic moments that happened during my playthrough. Just know that there were multiple instances where I actually laughed out loud, usually after being duped by the game. Pony Island constantly reinvents itself so you can never really feel comfortable with what you’re doing, and more to the point, whether you’re doing it right.

Pony Island is best digested whole, only taking about two hours to complete, and is one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in gaming. It really is that good.

 

In Short…

Pony Island is one hell of a ride from start to finish, taking your expectations and shattering them at every turn. It really is a phenomenal achievement, and one that is right up there with games like The Stanley Parable. It’s very early in the year but this one could end up on a few Game of the Year lists already. Play it. Now.

 

PONY ISLAND

10/10