Archive for May, 2014

Impressions – Transistor

Posted on: May 29th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

The River Always Finds the Sea

If Dear Esther is the video game equivalent of an Ingmar Bergman feature, then Transistor, Supergiant Games’ sophomore effort (and the very indirect spiritual successor to Bastion), is more akin to a Tarantino flick. To be only a little bit more precise, Transistor’s overall aesthetic feels like a heady blend of Kill Bill, Blade Runner, and just about any Wes Anderson movie you can name.

It’s inherently unfair to compare games to movies, of course. The two media, while having the audiovisual component in common, are fundamentally different in just about every important aspect (structure, plotting, mode/level of engagement, etc.). In this case, however, the comparison serves as a convenient shorthand for what I’m trying to express.

Though stylish as hell, Transistor is not, despite what some may claim, an artsy-fartsy title. And that’s not a bad thing in the least. While I’m normally a big fan of the artsy-fartsy (art house cinema, literary fiction, art games), clearly to the point of seeming, and being, annoyingly pretentious, I will be the first to admit that an expressive medium hasn’t fully matured until it has produced its fair share of in-betweens, those hybrid pieces that truly straddle the line between art and entertainment, that do approach the sublime, whether in aesthetic or narrative or both, while remaining both accessible and conventionally enjoyable.

Bridge

Transistor isn’t merely a stylish and emotionally eloquent experience, and it isn’t merely an excellent action/tactical roleplaying game. Transistor is both, and it manages to be both without compromise. That makes the release of this gem a very, very good thing both for gamers and for Video Games. Neither Kill Bill nor Blade Runner is Citizen Kane (and seriously, we need to stop constantly name dropping Citizen Kane – it’s getting unseemly), but both films, at least in my opinion, are fantastic works of art (note that in the case of Blade Runner, I do not acknowledge the validity or existence of any version prior to the Director’s Cut). They are unabashed, unashamed, unafraid to be exactly what they are.

Supergiant’s latest, much like its aforementioned cinematic brethren, never apologizes for what it is. It speaks, and sings, for itself, in the vernacular of its choice. And, in my view, there is something honest about it, something, believe it or not, refreshingly unpretentious.

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In Death’s Dream Kingdom: Dark Souls as Allegory and Initiatory Experiences in Games

Posted on: May 11th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

“Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men”

– An excerpt from The Hollow Men, by TS Elliot

This is Dark Souls

Dark Souls 2, the latest (not quite second) installment in From Software’s tough-as-nails action roleplaying series, has only been out on PC for a few short weeks and already it seems to have captured us in its powerful grip (which is part of the reason why this article has taken me so long to post). It is still too early to evaluate and critique this specific game judiciously (as our about page implies, we at Cloud Monster like to take our sweet, sweet time with that sort of thing), but my own recent return to its melancholy universe has led to some interesting musings on the series as a whole.

The Souls games, while hardly short on lore and content, are famously sparse and opaque in their presentation. After a brief tutorial, you are dropped into the world and left to your own devices. In the case of Dark Souls 2, you’re given some idea of what it is you’re actually supposed to accomplish (break a curse, restore your humanity, seek a king or some such). In the first Dark Souls, you’re treated to a dense, poetic exposition dump in the opening cinematic, but the whys and wherefores of your strange destiny are left relatively vague until about the halfway point. You’re sort of supposed to figure it out as you go along.

The Souls experience can be said to be the gaming equivalent of a walkabout, except you’re not expected to avoid dying. You’re expected, instead, to persevere in the face of the sometimes ridiculous level of difficulty and constant discouragement. As a paunchy, well fed individual who is, predictably, terrible at sports of any kind, I can’t exactly claim that Dark Souls is anywhere near as intense as physical labor. Nor can I claim that surviving any number of its various virtual perils should be classed as a true “accomplishment.” But it can undeniably feel that way.

stalking

Series devotees return in part for that rush of adrenaline in the midst of a contentious fight, that rush of endorphins after finally slaying an especially troublesome foe, that rush of dopamine on discovering a new area or exploring a new tactic. The games are known to punish the player, sometimes mercilessly, almost sadistically, but they’re also known to be commensurately rewarding for the adventurer with the patience, the resolve, and the acumen to take them on, the adventurer who is willing to take the time to learn their quirks and secrets. Mechanically, they are about as deep as action RPGs can possibly get. It is this balance between madness and reason, between pain and tenacity, between punishment and reward that makes these games as successful as they are.

Much has been said and written about that inimitable “I did it” feeling that the Souls series, among precious few other titles, provides. While progressing through Dark Souls won’t make you richer, more handsome, or otherwise better off, it nonetheless *feels* important. You aren’t merely playing. You’re engaging in an undertaking, an expedition, a virtual journey in the true sense of the word. It stays with you.

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Push It.

Posted on: May 5th, 2014 by Arie Salih

Hi, It’s ‘Pat’ from the club. We want you to DJ tonight. You’re free to play any kind of music you want. Beer is on the house! We’re on 212 ne 24th street. Dress to kill! See ya…”

We’re dressed to kill, alright. Entering the doors of North East 165th, the synth is blaring across the alternating neons of the dance floor and the rotating lights. It’s a bloody mess, and we’re playing quiet. “Dennis” they call it, and we’ve got a knife. The door swings open, and three goons chase us out. Swipes left and right, and we’re moving in synchrony with the beat.

HotlineGL 2014-05-04 18-47-24-29

A knife gets thrown across the room, and red splatters on a couch as a dog races forward. Boom- the shotgun blast puts it down. The music is pushing me to go more quickly, more carelessly! Dance, Dennis, dance! In a frantic dash of melodies and hyperdub, a gun thrown embraces a quick bit of silence. A space bar taptaptap, and there are pieces of the guy’s head everywhere. We’re faceless, we’re moving – in rhythm to every strung out transition, every step.

Keep shuffling! There are speakers by the guy slumped at the end of the hallway. A disorganized collection of vinyls and turntables- are they static? It’s hard to tell, we’re going downstairs- the Wolf and I. A bullet ricochets off the glass, and it shatters to alert others to our uninvited presence. It’s a seemingly endless procession of baddies waving around rifles and such, and quick machete jabs picked up in the west corridor. Pop, pop – the allure of the confluence of the beat and trigger keeps us in harmony.

The black tiles and black sofas blur by, the music commands us to keep moving swiftly. We’re gliding now- the Wolf fades behind the blue. A quick turn to the right, shrrrrrrrk. Each shot piercing against a body, the blues of the carpet are slowly changing color. Ah- here we are. Spotlights! It’s our time to shine, we’ve got to sway my friend! A quick shift, so we can peer down the west end and the couch surfer is bleeding out in surprise. It’s the madness inspired by the amalgam of the masked rampaged fury and Miami Disco.

HotlineGL 2014-05-04 19-09-24-36

THIS IS DEPERSONALIZATION GROOVE.

“Chapter Clear” displays in jagged letters. We freeze entirely. The silent hum fills the void, and the lights keep spinning wildly in the quiet. The music is woven so seamlessly into the death-laden romp, it’s hard not to notice the stark contrast between the end of the level and dynamic shift in tone. We’re slowly ambling now past the whispering hallways stained in blood, almost defeated.

And that’s the beauty of Hotline Miami, the willingness to approach each combat scenario with finesse in syncopation to the notes. Perturbator provides the perfect soundtrack to Devolver’s grisly adventure. Every click of the attack button matches the disco, in a murderous frenzy.