Far Cry 4 is ostensibly a shooter, but I find that I spend more time looking at and searching for things while I play it than I do shooting things. I still shoot things of course, but that’s not the point of the game. The point of the game is everything that precedes the shooting: walking, running, driving, crawling, scouting, marking targets, listening, watching, planning, hunting—my trek through the world. Even when combat explodes around me, the shooting is ancillary—just a thing to do to keep me alive, not the reason to stay alive. Far Cry 4 is an adventure game, not a shooting game, and I mean that in the classic sense of the word, not as it normally applies to video games.
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Health is generally considered an important resource in games. It makes sense. When we run out of health, we die, we lose, and we have to start some portion of the game over again. We always like to know how much health we have, and in RPGs, a very numbers-driven and statistic-heavy genre, we like to know exactly how much health we have.
One of the most ridiculed aspects of Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the map. It’s littered with collectible icons.
This by itself annoyed many players, but more annoying is the fact that a good chunk of those collectible treasure chests can’t be opened unless you link your game to multiple companion apps. It’s an awkward and frustrating integration of “social hooks,” but these apps are worth investigating because they include something fascinating. Sadly, they’re not fascinating for narrative or lore reasons, but for academic reasons: The companion apps for Unity highlight the antagonistic relationship between the art of games and the business of games.
There have been a fair number of heist games released in the past year or so—from the neon-noir chaos of Monaco to the war-in-the-streets battlegrounds of Payday 2 to the grand spectacle of GTA V‘s bank jobs. Then there’s The Masterplan, an Early Access Game currently on Steam. Normally I’d say that it has a lot of competition, but it stands apart by offering a kind of heist those other games purposefully avoid. While all those other games revolve around the moment when a heist goes wrong, The Masterplan is all about a heist gone right.
Lifeless Planet and Stranded approach a similar concept in two very different ways. Whereas Stranded tells us as few details as possible in order to let our imaginations fill in the blanks, Lifeless Planet takes a more conventional approach to its mystery that grows in scope with each new twist. However, despite these very different design philosophies that don’t invite comparison, the two games have very similar beginnings that do invite comparison. I wrote previously about how Stranded is too minimalist for its own good and how it fails to establish mystery, atmosphere, or a desire to explore. Lifeless Planet is Stranded done right, at least for the first hour, before it goes off in another direction. That first hour is similarly minimalist, but uses its minimal details to establish a compelling mystery, to subvert our expectations, to create dramatic tension, and to guide exploration.