After playing Her Story for a week now, I’m not sure I can classify what I’ve been doing as “playing”. I’m not really sure that Her Story is a game. It doesn’t have a goal or an ending that I’ve found, and even when I thought I was done, it turns out there are still many, many video clips I’ve yet to see. I’m left wondering if I should keep digging or have I learned all that I need to know?
The worst part is that telling you anything about the game would be akin to being that jackass Game of Thrones fan who’s read the books and can’t stop ruining it for the viewers who haven’t. Anything I say about the story will be spoilerific. What I can tell you is that Her Story is exactly what the title says, a story told by a woman. The story is told over seven different interviews that have been chopped up into bite sized pieces which can only be accessed a bit at a time. It’s like mixing seven different jigsaw puzzles together and trying to put them all back together again.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on my iPad.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are done with the softly-softly approach.
Were, at this very moment, law enforcement to jimmy open my front door and flashbang my living room, they would not be met with force. They’d thunder into the confines of my home and find a man with sizzling corneas and ringing, blown-out ears, grinning and fumbling blindly with his iPad. I’d stand, trip over the table in front of me, apologise and reassure the burly officers that I’ll come quietly, just as long as I can grab the charging cable. “Thing is almost flat,” I would say meekly, ears still ringing.
I am playing a video game featuring an underground vault full of miserable pregnant women who are slightly irradiated and dressed in hand-me-down combat fatigues. This isn’t a Silence of the Lambs simulator: it’s Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter, the surprise iOS tie-in game that they unveiled at E3 yesterday.
If that description makes the game sound sinister, well… it’s not as bad as all that. Post-apocalyptic fiction has a base level of despair built right into it, and the Fallout franchise has always preferred its comedy slightly black. If you line it up next to, say, The Road, Fallout Shelter is pretty light-hearted, considering.
Possibly almost as surprising as the subject matter is the fact that Fallout Shelter is a freemium game from a big publisher that’s pretty fun, actually.
Damn. Should have stayed at the Severn City airport.
Back when I was growing up, we knew how to do armageddon right. One country pisses off another, bombs fly and everyone is vaporized in seconds. Of course, surviving the nuclear attack would suck, but even those mutants get to drive around really cool cars and hang out with Mel Gibson before he went completely insane. Nowadays, its humanity-ending disease that’s all the rage. Yuck. Slow and miserable, having to watch everything you know slowly fall apart. No thanks. Give me a nuclear blast and the ability to fight robots that look like Schwarzenegger’s skeleton any day. Yep, back in the day even that novel about Captain Trips ended with a nuke going off. Those were good times.
Of course, there aren’t many games involving nuclear war because, as we all know, the only winning move is not to play. Disease, on the other hand, offers up a scenario where we can find a cure and save the day. The latest example of this theme comes from a 2013 board game from Victory Point Games ominously titled Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp, lovingly brought to iOS from the more usually martial-minded HexWar.
There are already some fantastic plague themed games out there on the App Store, namely Plague Inc. and Pandemic, and Infection can walk amongst them with its head held high. This is a great game.
If games like Defcon and Neptune’s Pride have taught us anything, it is that pace is never a good indication of intensity. Defcon needs no further feathering; the glacial NORAD simulator took what could have been a cliched and highly abstracted setting and made it into a bracing slow-motion horror show of wireframes and numbers. And Neptune’s Pride, well, that’s our closest living relative today to Flow Combine’s Spacecom.
In Spacecom, you’re a chin stroking and brow furrowing fleet admiral; bathed in the glow of a tactical map and shunting flotillas between systems, subjugating worlds with your wits and fleets. This sedately-paced space strategy game was fantastic on PC last year, and has transitioned to iOS in style. Prepare your comfiest captain’s chair.
Perhaps not the naval architecture sim you were expecting.
10000000 is notable around here for almost certainly being the fastest-paced game ever reviewed in these pages. 10000000 took elements from RPGs, match-3 puzzlers, and infinite runners and ground them up in a mortar, and then fidgetingly insisted that you snort the product through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill. 10000000 was frenetic, but it was simultaneously cerebral and demanded careful planning, like a psychotic German bureaucrat.
Remarkably, You Must Build A Boat doesn’t just replicate that delicate balance of gameplay elements, it refines it all into an even more potent blend. So potent, in fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t handle a second sequel.
My love for hexagons is warring with my distaste for ambiguous iconography. Which of these is “undo”?
SettleForge inverts the fashionable trend of taking an existing, complex game and refining a single subsystem into a polished, clear, but flavorless pursuit. At its core, it resembles a single-player Suburbia: you lay hexagonal tiles which represent pieces of a settlement, with each new game offering specific goals which can improve your score. But, where Suburbia adopts that modern aesthetic of clean simplicity and has been scrubbed until it is almost entirely free of the contamination of theme, Settleforge crams in narrative everywhere it can, and adds some mechanisms to complicate decision-making. The presentation is so old-school in its opposition to that antiseptic ideal that I find myself imagining an ashtray next to the iPad.
I confess, most stories I encounter in video games hold little interest for me, and I rarely give them much attention in my reviews. In this case, though, I find the set-up cleverer than most. You’ve been chosen to lead your war-torn country back to prosperity; nothing very exciting there. But the advisor who selected you pretended you had a magic power which plays much the role of the divine right of kings in uniting the people. So part of the challenge is that you have to rule wisely enough not to make people suspect they’ve been had (and they’ll periodically check via special objectives). There’s no need to present an interesting moral problem which echoes Plato’s noble lie in order to explain the motivation for building your towns, but developers Andreas Mank and Jochen Balzer did, briefly enough and well enough to enhance the game rather than waste the player’s time. That level of craftsmanship and inspiration is difficult to maintain throughout a project, though.
The most English scene in the world: it’s raining on a battleship called Nelson. Below decks the crew drink tea and feel a sense of general embarrassment.
Back in 2012, WWII naval combat sim Pacific Fleet turned me into a narcissist boyfriend from a Nick Hornby novel: I couldn’t get enough of the game, but I also couldn’t stop cataloging its faults. Read my review from a couple of years ago and you can see me oscillating between opinions like a manic depressive garden sprinkler. I’d spent hours engrossed in Pacific Fleet, but the longer I played it, the more I realized that it wasn’t a game so much as it was a toy for history nerds.
Pacific Fleet was structured as a linear set of challenges for your customizable flotilla. Sink these two transports. Now sink a transport and a destroyer. Next two destroyers. This is the same basic structure as Angry Birds, which (while delightful) is no one’s idea of a strategy game.
A couple of years later, Atlantic Fleet arrives, flipping venues to the other side of the globe. No more Japanese, considerably fewer Americans, and the Brits and Germans taking over. Atlantic Fleet retains the endlessly playable turn-based combat of its predecessor, but now it’s been fitted with a thoughtfully designed open-ended strategy game superstructure. It is just about everything I could have wanted from a Pacific Fleet sequel, turning my weird, “it’s complicated” infatuation into a straightforward love affair.