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Author: Ross Joseph Gardner

Freedom Fighters – A Retrospective

Freedom Fighters – A Retrospective

A few months ago I reacquired my boxed copy of IO Interactive’s Freedom Fighters, which had been languishing at my mother’s for close to a decade. The game had a huge impact on me back in 2003 (inspiring the game idea that eventually became A Place in the West, which is a Half-Life comic I write for) and I longed to revisit it. Unfortunately, but also predictably, Freedom Fighters was no longer compatible with my machine.

So it was something of a delight when IO unexpectedly dropped the game on digital stores last week. I had a bunch of other titles lined up to play, but I just couldn’t stop myself from diving back in to see if the game I’d fell so in love with as a kid was just as I remembered it.

For the most part the answer is a pretty decisive “yes”.

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Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York – The Verdict

Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York – The Verdict

Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York weaves a familiar tale. Yet it is not a tale familiar out of triteness, but rather in its bleak and despairing contemporaneity. Shadows of New York artfully depicts our 2020 hell-scape, holds it up as a mirror and doesn’t so much ask whether or not we’re fucked as yell it in our faces.

It is a tale of a debauched, grotesquely wealthy elite presiding over a city of broken, desperate people, haunted by an impending apocalypse—climate-induced, technological, viral, pick your horror—precious few seem inclined to curtail, let alone prevent.

And this apocalypse cares not a whit for whether you’re human or vampire; after all, Kindred were once human themselves, and its ruling body, the Camarilla—so intent on maintaining the status quo at all costs—a potent metaphor for a global system that refuses to change, adapt, or evolve.

Even when everything is at stake (soz).

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Wasteland 3 – The Verdict

Wasteland 3 – The Verdict

After successfully kickstarting development on Wasteland 2 in 2012, InXile Entertainment are back with a third, similarly crowd-funded instalment of the iconic CRPG series, swapping the dusty wastes of Arizona for a Colorado blanketed in irradiated snow.

It’s fair to say that Wasteland 3 and I did not get off to the best of starts. After investing three hours in the game, which was spent acclimatising to turn-based combat and learning the ins-and-outs of its stats system, I returned to find my save files had been erased. I’m still not sure what went wrong. For a game that develops piecemeal, this was upsetting.

I briefly considered whether the snafu had dealt a fatal blow to my objectivity, but reasoning that it had not I resolved to start afresh and move quickly through the opening sections. Unlike my first play-through I was able to save a young Ranger – Pvt. Jodie Bell – from the murderous goon who had taken her hostage, setting me on an altogether different path to the one I had previously embarked upon.

It’s a path that has proven to be one of the richest gaming experiences I’ve had in some time. Which is to say, folks, that Wasteland 3 is very good indeed.

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Röki – The Verdict

Röki – The Verdict

Röki had me from the moment Tove, our protagonist, and her little brother, Lars, arrive home at the beginning of the game’s extended prologue. Home being a quaint cabin near the lake, surrounded by layers of dense trees and, beyond them, snow-capped mountains. The place is beautiful, but look past the halcyon visage and you’ll start to notice the cracks.

The lonely wind chimes. The crumpled well. The depleted snowman. The two grave stones. Each one has a story to tell, each one painting a picture of a fragmented family with a big, mum-sized hole in the centre.

Home brings a new depth to Tove’s vocal expressions (the characters express themselves with aural gestures that evoke context-dependent emotions). There’s a hint of sadness and longing, but also of a strength and resilience that’s a result of that pain. This sense of living with and surviving loss hangs over the entire game, lending Röki real poignancy and emotional complexity.

It’s not something I expected from a game that looked like a fun combination of cute and scary built around Scandinavian folklore, but that’s exactly what Polygon Treehouse have done. It’s what makes Röki one of the best games I’ve played all year.

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Beyond Good & Evil Film Adaptation Announced

Beyond Good & Evil Film Adaptation Announced

Here’s a bit of news I don’t think any of us were expecting: Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil has been picked up by Netflix and is set to receive the film treatment.

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Beyond Blue – The Verdict

Beyond Blue – The Verdict

I adore the ocean, so whenever a game like E-Line Media’s Beyond Blue pops up, I’m right there. The video-game is an ideal medium for ocean exploration, capable of creating the illusion of a vast expanse of blue and its uncharted depths and evoking feelings of utter isolation, which can be felt as either peaceful or terrifying, depending on your inclinations.

For me, it’s often both. So, before I get into Beyond Blue itself, I’m going to dig a little into why video-games helped nurture those twin feelings of love and fear.

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Deus Ex – A Tale of Two Women

Deus Ex – A Tale of Two Women

Last week Ion Storm’s classic first-person RPG Deus Ex turned 20. The week before that I had written about the game for the first time, having played it through again over the winter, totally unaware of its imminent birthday. I don’t know why it took me just shy of two decades to write about given its enormous influence on my creative life (I first picked it up in…2002, by which time it had made its way into the Sold-Out Software range). It might be that I owe it something of a debt.

But so much has been written about Deus Ex over the years that I knew there was little value in going over the usual talking points. I decided instead to explore what it was like to be a part of this most immersive of games, with its rich, conspiracy-laden world. It meant venturing into the margins of its story, where a surprising amount of Deus Ex’s…let’s say purpose resides. And it meant talking about two characters that have always stuck with me and to whom I wished, in some small way, to tip my hat.

So, here it is. Happy birthday, Deus Ex. This was for you, in more ways than I knew.

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West of Dead – The Verdict

West of Dead – The Verdict

“This is not how death is supposed to be.”

So intones the recently deceased William Mason upon finding himself in purgatory and not…where, exactly? Collectively, we’ve lots of ideas on what the afterlife – should there be one – has in store for us. But we don’t know. It’s what makes this mortal plane of ours such a terrifying thrill.

Not so with video games. We know where death leads us: back to the last checkpoint or a swift return to the previous quick save. Death is a momentary impediment to progress, which is just as well because there’s often a shitload of baddies determined to scrub us from existence.

Weep for William Mason, then, who certainly didn’t bank on the afterlife being chock full of gun-toting ghouls and monsters. But then he probably hadn’t expected to look like a stylish cross between Ghost Rider and Overwatch’s McCree, either. You could do worse. Swings and roundabouts ‘an all that.

Slipping into Mason’s dusty boots I push my way into an empty saloon, which serves as the gateway to purgatory: a waiting room within a waiting room. I’ve little idea of what’s in store for me. I came here for West of Dead’s striking cel-shaded aesthetics, which create a world that often feels like a thick layer of ash caught in a time loop – forever frittering away without losing an inch. There’s farms and mines and towns, but in the words of one of our latter day cowboys, they’re more like someone’s faded memory of farms and mines and towns.

And that’s it as far as my knowledge is concerned. I was just excited to play something new.

The saloon’s sole occupant, the barman, doesn’t give any hints. He might have said “roguelike” and provided a definition, but instead seemed merely content to muse there’s east and there’s west.

East for the good souls.

West for the bad. Of course.

I’ll be going west, then.

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