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This week, Zero Punctuation reveals there are a lot of similarities in indie games.

Transcript Edit

As you may have inferred from my pain-racked sobs throughout last week's video, I was at the time suffering from rather severe tonsillitis, so everything that passed me lips magically transmuted into an entire Mongol infantry unit the moment I tried swallowing it. Basically what I'm saying is the back of my mouth looked like a bunch of incontinent seagulls had exploded in a cave. Basically what I'm saying is it looked like a Shoggoth had gotten cold feet while trying to use my epiglottis as a diving board. Basically what I'm saying is you could have cut my tonsils out and hid them in the back of the fancy cheeses and no one would have been the wiser. Basically what I'm saying is "More painkillers! Yum yum!"

But it gave me the opportunity to sit on the couch playing video games eating ice cream all day - with actual justification for once, I mean. So I used the time to catch up on XBLA's recent movements. Today I'd like to discuss two games that both carry the theme of exploration, something I could do very little of while my tonsils resembled things a habitual nose-picker would be attacked by if he got lost in Silent Hill.

Fez

First up, Fez. I've said in the past that the easiest way to be critically acclaimed on cus-blah [XLBA] is to be a game, ideally a platformer, about a small, large-headed humanoid in a big, uncaring, frightening world, like how Tom Cruise must feel at academic parties. Here's an addition to the formula: bonus points will be awarded if the game also features moving among the long-abandoned ruins of a once-mighty civilization, like how Tom Cruise must feel about his career. Fez is a deeply explorative game in deliberately retro pixel style, outwardly a 2D platformer but it's kind of complicated.

In broad terms, it makes me think of Knytt if it had less direction or Yume Nikki if it had actual gameplay - get a load of my indie penis! spurt spurt - and it's all wrapped up in a bag that smells strongly of Super Paper Mario. You move in 2D but can freely rotate the levels in 3D ninety degrees at a time to cross gaps and rearrange platforms with perspective tricks. So I guess we could also call it "Echochrome if it had more colors." Blimey! If indie gaming was a country, Fez would be the ki - well, Cave Story would be the king, but it would be unwise to appoint Fez as the grand vizier, I tell you that.

As well as being one of those rare games where my Zero Punctuation representation of the main character will probably be more complex than the original, Fez works if you let yourself get lost in the exploration. You can take a detour on your way up a likely-looking tower and end up mapping out two continents before finding a reason to turn back. That said, once you have visited all the furthest points, the backtracking can turn into the metaphorical turd in the pixel bucket, since there are no enemies or hazards beyond falling off shit, and you just get teleported straight back onto the platform like the Prince of Persia being quick on the L2 button.

When you come across a puzzle room, I'd recommend against telling yourself you'll come back and figure it out later, because that will inevitably end with having to trek back through seven different wildernesses to scrape together the last few cubes. Although in some cases "puzzle" is entirely the wrong word. One requires you to translate Morse code, another scan in a 2D barcode, neither of which are puzzles, strictly speaking. If I fix the door on my tumble dryer with a screwdriver, I will not describe that as "solving the riddle of the slightly rattly spin cycle."

Fez is a fun little way to kill time if you're not feeling up to anything as stressful as combat, and it does contain some very fine examples of interactive storytelling without dialogue, but I should mention that the combination of vibrant retro colors, chirpy retro sounds, and entire levels spinning wildly around like a meerkat looking for its lost mother in Grand Central Station did make me feel physically ill after a while, although that may have had more to do with my tonsils looking like a set of speed bags being worked over by a man made of salad dressing.

I Am Alive

But let's move on to our second topic, I Am Alive. That's not me joyously announcing to the world that my tonsils stopped looking like a porridge monster from the planet Wretch, that's the name of an XBLA game developed by Ubisoft. In contrast to its XBLA peers, you are a full-grown adult male with a soberly proportioned head, although the big scary world full of the ruins of a once-mighty civilization remains intact. After an earthquake and subsequent dust cloud bollocks up a city good and proper, you must journey through the post-apocalyptic remains to find your wife and daughter while interacting with survivors and either giving them presents or making them not survivors anymore.

I played I Am Alive when it first came out a while back but was left somewhat disappointed. I've always liked the idea of a realistic survival game - managing your bodily intake and searching every corner of the environment for slightly damp rocks to suck on - but I Am Alive is more of a climbing simulator than a survival game. You only need to eat or drink if you've overexerted yourself while climbing, and even then you can crack open a can of fruit cocktail and scarf it down like Popeye in a single frozen instant midway through leaping off a grappling hook rope onto a four-inch chunk of rebar. So bang goes realism. And as your stamina depletes, the same really obnoxious piece of scary music gradually escalates like you're climbing up Alfred Hitchcock's bum hair.

And the combat is very troubled indeed. For all the game's talk about how valuable bullets are, the enemies seem remarkably generous with them. And the game pretty much demands you slaughter everyone who looks at you funny, when a smart survivalist would say "Hey, guys, just passing through! And you can even keep watching to make sure I don't nick anything. And incidentally, just because I'm not specifically pointing a gun at you doesn't mean it's gotten any more rational to run up and try to machete my ass. We're not playing Grandmother's Footsteps, motherfuckers."

But having come back to it last week, I found a little more charm in it when the game world opened up a bit and you can explore the streets to find optional objectives, every single one of whom is some needy Darwin defier whose survival strategy is to whine passersby for specific objects. One bloke claimed to be seconds from death and needing one last cigarette, but I came back two hours later and he was still hanging on! Go hustle someone else, Captain Coughsitup.

Climbing does gain a little something-something when you unlock the grappling hook, but there just aren't enough grapple points around to amuse myself with. Come to think of it, the whole game has that Uncharted problem of climbing paths being aggressively linear, and the difference between climbable scenery and random set dressing only becomes apparent when you're trying to jump on it from a window ledge and a string quartet is busily destroying its instruments right next to your ear.

Perhaps I shouldn't criticize a game for not being what I expected it to be. Except when I say I don't expect a game like this to have a lives system, because that archaic bullshit is about as relevant to gaming today as a fucking oscilloscope.

AddendaEdit

Doctor Livingstone I presume: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

Oh, nice going mate, we'll be able to rebuild a ton of civilization out of those hacked-up bodies, cheers

Easter eggs are cheaper this time of year, alright


ScreenshotsEdit

Fez 2

Puzzle room

Fez 3

In contrast to its XBLA peers, you are a full-grown adult male with a soberly proportioned head

Fez 4

"Hey, guys, just passing through!"

External LinksEdit

Fez

I Am Alive

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II

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