There’s a pervading school of thought in gaming that says good combat is an anathema to good horror. In other words, having a character that’s capable with a weapon automatically makes a game less scary. After all, horror is about being vulnerable, and we can’t feel vulnerable if we can slice our enemies into pieces. But I think games often mistake vulnerability for weakness, that a character must be physically weak for us to feel in danger. Weakness does result in vulnerability, but feeling vulnerable doesn’t have to stem from physical weakness. There’s a way to make combat fun while still making it tense and terrifying. Silent Hill: Downpour finds a solution that seems so obvious in retrospect I’m shocked no one has done it before: breakable weapons.
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Monaco is a great cooperative game and a great single-player game. That combination is sadly rare, but Monaco balances both playstyles with ease. It’s all thanks to the exceptional level design and how the game presents the player with obstacles.
I think there’s a right way to play a game, a way of approaching the game that the developers intended for and designed around. Unfortunately, the word “right” carries certain connotations of value that I don’t think are appropriate when talking about games. If you want to play a game other than how the developer intended, you’re not wrong for doing so. You can play however you like, but you also have to admit that some games don’t cater to some play styles.
Sadly, it seems to be getting harder and harder to play some games the “right way,” especially when the “right way” involves other people. What if none of my friends have the game or want to play it? Thankfully, a game like Left 4 Dead advertises its emphasis on cooperative play, so if I suspect I won’t get the best experience because no one else I know will be playing it, I just won’t buy that game. But it’s getting harder and harder to tell, ahead of time, whether I’m going to get the best experience out of a game or not. It’s trendy to integrate social features into ostensibly single-player games, which is fine in theory, but it becomes a problem when single-player games suddenly include so many social features that it ceases to be a solo experience.
There’s an old Ikea commercial about a woman getting a new lamp. She gets rid of the old lamp, placing it out on the sidewalk with the garbage in the rain, and from outside, we watch through a window as the woman turns on her new lamp and sad music swells. Then a guy steps into frame and says, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you crazy. It has no feelings, and the new one is much better.”
It’s a funny commercial that makes us consider the emotional efficacy of the tools of cinema: shot placement, setting, lighting, music, etc. When these tools are used correctly, we can be manipulated into feeling sad for an inanimate lamp.
Games have their own unique tools of storytelling, and Thomas Was Alone uses all those tools to a similar effect as it crafts a shockingly moving story about a bunch of rectangles.
Dead Island is a game I appreciate all the more in retrospect, now that I’ve played its lesser sequel. While it dragged on in its latter half, its first half contains an interesting subtext concerning class warfare that’s only apparent now after playing the subtext-fee Riptide. The first game also subverts the typical zombie origin story as well and again does so in a way that’s only apparent after playing Riptide, which falls back on clichés.