Here's what VICE Gaming was playing in July 2016.
It has been an incredibly busy month here in Brooklyn, but I've managed to squeeze in a little gaming in the late hours of the day.
The thing I want to write about more than anything else right now is Quadrilateral Cowboy, Brendon Chung's latest release. It's a cyberpunk puzzler that is the most distinctly human thing I've played all year, as much Frances Ha as it is Neuromancer. What do I mean by that? Well...
Back when The Witness came out, this parody video was making the rounds. It replaces a lecture from James Burke on the escape from "subjective interpretations" of the world like art, music, and philosophy through the ascendance of applied science and rationality with some words of wisdom and encouragement from DJ Khaled.
'Quadrilateral Cowboy', release trailer
Science, says Burke, "removes the reassuring crutches of opinion and ideology". And through 95 percent of The Witness, that's the tone and the game's own ideological and thematic core: the products of human emotion (and human emotion itself) are secondary at best, distractions from true progress at worst.
But Khaled? Khaled is all emotion. Khaled wants you to believe in yourself against all odds. Khaled wants you to succeed and prosper against they – even though they are never defined or categorised (scientifically or otherwise.) Khaled wants you to dance. Khaled wants you to shine.
Now, I'm not saying that science isn't human. What I am saying is that Quadrilateral Cowboy synthesises these rival positions. You spend as much time testing your command prompt hypotheses as you do killing time with your friends on a rooftop. Every secret facility and bedroom is dense and messy with the signs of life, but you only get that sort of organic untidiness in a game through careful experimentation and craftsmanship. Like a long running friendship, Quadrilateral Cowboy builds on familiarity while continuing to unfold new, interesting creases from start to finish. It's challenging, clever, and moving. I'm gonna celebrate it for a long time.
DJ Khaled pops up in Jonathan Blow's 'The Witness'
Beyond the new games I've pushed into my face primarily for coverage purposes – which is not to say I've not had a great time with Headlander and Abzû, as I have, but you can read about those experiences by following the links in the titles (and Patrick's about to tell you more about the former, too) – I've largely been exploring an older JRPG that's long been on my I'll-get-around-to-it-sometime list. Frankly, I'm an idiot for taking this long to get around to Persona 4 – or, more specifically, Persona 4 (The) Golden.
There's probably no need for me to go into the mechanical side of what this game, which I'm only just now playing on account of buying a Vita in the middle of last month. It's been out that long – the original PS2 version came out in the summer of 2008 – and has sold that many copies – Golden has done way more than a million globally, on an underperforming platform, making it the sixth-highest seller on Sony's handheld – that I'm more than likely preaching to the converted (or at least the already well aware). If not, check out this piece by VICE Gaming contributor Sayem Ahmed which documents what the game meant to him, growing up, because it's both a great primer for the gameplay and a personal insight into how the game becomes a part of your own daily schedule, mirroring the calendar-checking routine of its hero.
I've not been at it every day – but my shiny new Vita's come out on every dreaded Southern Rail commute I've slogged through since downloading Golden for the pathetically miniscule sum of £4.99 (it's gone up on PSN since, but only by two pounds), adding up to a healthy ten or eleven hours of play. It's a rare game indeed that has me consistently hooked for even that long, given the constant need to switch focus to newer releases – I have dipped more than a couple of toes into Red Dead again (which I wrote about), but with No Man's Sky imminent, I can see how that open world is going to be nudged out of the way for an entire universe. But I already feel that I'm in this one for the longest run, primarily courtesy of its portability.
'Persona 4 Golden' trailer
I'm reliably informed that Golden's story stretches on for eight or nine times the hours I've put in so far, and while that's a little daunting "on paper", with Southern's piss-poor timekeeping I should expect to finish the whole thing by, let's see, next Thursday.
I've also been playing Ghost Town Games' Overcooked at home, when I can, with my wife, once the kids have shut the fuck up for the night. It's one of the best couch co-ops I've sat down with in ages, a frantically fun kitchen-service comedy sim that rewards you with laughs when you fail, and a real feeling of achievement when you don't. It's just the best thing with wine on hand, and even better when two players become four, assuming you can stand to have Other People in your home. I tried 10 Second Ninja, but it wasn't really for me – it's in a Super Meat Boy vein, but lacks that game's squidgy, gooey charm.
I'm slowly making my way through two games from earlier in 2016 that have only just come out for the PS4: Hyper Light Drifter has already killed me plenty of times, but its graphics, and its music, are just so moreish; while ADR1FT I remain torn on in terms of whether or not I'm enjoying myself, but bloody hell, it's stunning to gawp at. Finally, thanks to PS Plus, I've had my arse comprehensively handed to me by the boss-rush brawler Furi. I think it's time to investigate that lower difficulty level.
And yes, London office colleagues, fitting all of this into my evenings is why I look the way I do.
Having just bought a house, I've found myself with precious little time for games, but in the late-night hours, before I fall asleep on the couch, I've been making time for a few. The one that's been keeping me up lately is Double Fine's latest, Headlander. The moment you tease a game as influenced by Metroid, you've already got me, but infusing that with Double Fine's humour and charm is a potential cherry on top. Though the studio isn't exactly known for tight platforming and shooter mechanics, Headlander's serviceable enough in those areas and brilliantly absurd everywhere else. In a surprising twist, I'm not sure I've played a prettier game this year? Given that Nintendo doesn't seem interested in delivering a proper Metroid game lately, Headlander happily scratches that itch.
'Zero Time Dilemma', launch trailer
When you say the term "visual novel," there's an equal chance of interest and disgust. Though I was on the latter side of the fence for years, people kept recommending I try this game called 999 – Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors – and eventually, if only to shut them up, I relented. Ever since, I've been obsessed with designer Kotaro Uchikoshi's warped and unrelentingly disturbing sci-fi series about a group of people forced to kill one another to escape.
The latest, Zero Time Dilemma, (which gets a generous mention in this episode of the VICE Gaming Podcast, at 38 minutes) is meant to wrap up the series' hilariously (and purposely) convoluted storyline. It's dark, weird, and even though I'm barely keeping up with what's going on, that's exactly why the series is so much fun; it purposely sends the plot spiralling in a million confusing directions before it, like clockwork, finds a way to tie everything together. By my count, 999 remains the best entry in the series, largely because it didn't have to deal with the broader plot machinations the sequels introduced, but Zero Time Dilemma is still damn fun.