The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

I finished The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s a noble failure. Best graphics I have ever seen. They perfected a new technique that translates photographs of environments into game art. They call it revolutionary and I can’t argue.


The problem is not with the story. It’s well written and solidly delivered, with reasonable voice acting.

The flaw is the game itself. At the start they state that the game doesn’t hold your hand, which is just a disclaimer for bad game design. They wanted to have an open-world, but they failed to explain what to do. You will almost certainly have to backtrack to the start of the game once you realise the right approach. Small spoiler: at the start of the game there are several man traps if you go off the path. Do not do the natural, intuitive thing and stay on the path. Find every man trap, even though the game doesn’t give you any explanation why you would want to. It’s typical of the opaque game design and it’s not the worst example. I had to resort to a walkthrough to finish, in other words the game failed me.

It seems a game with a linear story requires a linear structure to frame it. I’d rather play Dear Esther, even though it’s not quite as pretty and the story is far less sophisticated.

Having said that, if you can get the game cheaply, it is still worth buying simply to experience the environment. I kept stabbing F12 to take screenshots.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus-Ex: HR Trooper achievement for finishing game

I finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution this morning. It’s not perfect, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a serious game with a serious point.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is all about choice. You can fight, creep, hack or even talk your way through problems. The stealth gameplay was the best part of the game. The worst was the boss fights which cannot be bypassed but pretty much require fighting upgrades (cybernetic augmentations) to complete. My advice is to use the Typhoon augmentation wherever possible and read a “walkthrough”: without guilt.

The plot is very strong, building upon the original Deus Ex (PC Gamer’s best game ever). It can be hard to follow, but even the least engaged player will understand that Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s theme are the moral questions of cybernetics. Once you finish the game, or if you never intend to finish the game, read Kieron Gillen’s thoughts. He’s right – it’s all about DRM.

In my original reading, before I played the game, the word cyberpunk was not mentioned once – despite the hero having cybernetic arms and mirrorshades straight out of Neuromancer. Either the writers were too young to have read Wiliam Gibson or seen Bladerunner, or more likely it’s just an old-fashioned word.

If you have an Xbox 360, Mac or PC you owe this game to yourself. PC gamers should note that this is not a clumsy 360 port, if only because mouse movement feels natural.

Finally, why does a guy with cybernetic arms need weights in his apartment?

Dear Esther

Dear Esther screenshot

If you have an hour spare and a copy of Half Life 2, check out Dear Esther. I installed it with Desura, which worked flawlessly.

From the readme.txt:

Dear Esther is a Half Life 2 mod built as part of a research project by thechineseroom, a development team based at the University of Portsmouth, UK.
Rather than a traditional FPS game, Dear Esther is an interactive story, told using FPS technologies.
Using a stripped down version of the normal keys used for play, explore the island and unlock the story.
The story is randomised, so each visit will trigger a different selection of story fragments and reveal more details of the plot.
For more information about the project and other mods to be released, please visit:

It was a genuinely beautiful experience.

There’s a professional version coming out that was previewed in the latest copy of PC Gamer. A must-buy for me.

Dungeon Crawl

Dungeon Crawl screenshot

My netbook refuses to run almost all modern games, largely because of its 1024×576 screen resolution. Most games from the mid-90s onwards tend to demand 800×600. Old “roguelike”: games run on it fine, as they come from the distant past, so I have been playing “Dungeon Crawl”: on the “recommendation of Troy Goodfellow”:

I have never played a roguelike before so there has been a bit of an adjustment. Dungeon Crawl is basically a fast RPG with minimal graphics and zero plot but played with a high-score mentality. I have played it many times over the last few days and have never come close to finishing it or even hitting the mid-game. Apparently most are this tough. Nethack, the most famous roguelike, is even nastier.

Troy’s blog post points out that there is not too much strategic though required but that Dungeon Crawl requires you stay engaged or you will come a cropper. In this way at least it’s similar to computer solitaire or Minesweeper.

I can’t say I am now hooked on roguelikes, but I now know what people are talking about and I have a decent game to pass time with on my netbook.

Please let me know of any decent Ubuntu-compatible, offline-play and netbook resolution friendly games I can try. It’s a narrow list.

2010 Video Games

This year I bought a new PC and I have been enjoying getting back into PC games. These days I mostly blather on “Twitter”:, but here are some longer-form thoughts.

PC games have suffered in recent years, I suspect mainly because piracy pushed marketing money towards consoles and because laptop graphics are weak. There has been a recent renaissance due to digital distribution. It’s trivially easy to download games from “Steam”: or its competitors like “GamersGate”: and prices have fallen drastically. Also hardware requirements have fallen and PCs are cheaper, so you can play pretty much anything on a £400 desktop PC.

Some recommendations:
* “Team Fortress 2”: for multiplayer shooting. I *love* this game. Be warned – it’s very competitive. Quake Live is free…
* “Bioshock 2”: for a creepy first person shooter – too scary for me.
* “Mass Effect 2”: for a sci-fi shooter with RPG elements.
* “League of Legends”: for an online real-time strategy game. It’s free, so worth a try.
* “Civilization IV”: for slow, intricate empire building.
* “World of Goo”: for a casual puzzle
* “Batman: Arkham Asylum”: for a beautiful adventure/brawler. Plays best with an Xbox 360 gamepad.
* “Torchlight”: for an action RPG, similar to Diablo, but more accessible.

Watch “Gametrailers”: for video reviews.
Check “Can You Run It”: to see if it will work before you buy.
Read “Rock Paper Shotgun”: for news and reviews.
Buy a copy of PC gamer and build the PC Gamer Rig. It’s an £800 PC, but it’ll last for years and do anything you want.
Ready “SavyGamer”: for bargain games. Generally only mentions decent games.