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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Papers, Please and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

TranscriptEdit

The summer game drought period is kind of like the space between the legs of an attractive potential sex partner as you tell her your opinions on Japanese animation, in that it seems to be getting increasingly narrow and you could probably be having more fun with than you currently are. 

It used to be so straight forward: Good shit comes out at Christmas because the kids would want something to do after Christmas dinner once they've turned into lolloping gravy balloons. But now Christmas is the celebration of our lord and saviour Call of Duty, and everyone who doesn't want to try and compete shifts to post-Christmas or pre-Christmas or pre-pre-Christmas. It's like watching people on a train carriage shifting from a fat bloke in the middle sitting cupping himself with his legs wide open.

Consequently, the middle of this year has had a fairly fruitful harvest of risky new IP, some of which have taken more risks like, say, a bullet to the head. But this week saw two interesting new downloadable releases that I'd like to discuss for you now.

First up, the slightly redundantly named Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, part of the usual XBox Live Summer of Arcade flappery. Cus-Blah has long had an affinity for games about small children with big heads exploring scary worlds, and Brothers is kind of overdoing it with two of the little buggers, an older stronger one and a younger nimbler one who looks like time froze just as a water balloon full of custard was thrown at the back of his head.

But it wouldn't be a small child big-head XBLA game unless shit got real bleak real fucking fast. So obviously their mum's dead and their dad's dying from the old classic "unspecific persistent cough" disease. And the mum died Ni No Kuni style 'cause the younger brother drowned her or something and presumably the dad got ill from the older kid pissing in his cornflakes every morning, so it falls to the two boys to go to a perilous mission across the land to the magical tree where can be found the cure, passing through an odyssey of set-pieces and picture postcard fantasy environments with seemingly no relationship towards each other whatsoever. It's like a very very short NeverEnding Story, ironically.

The gameplay is best described as single-player co-op, and I know that sounds like saying "I'm not gay, I only suck off pantomime dames[Note 1]," but it is! You control Pissy McCornflakes with the left analog stick and left trigger, and Custardhead Drownedhismum with the right. This is regardless of where the brothers are in relation to each other so half the challenge is just figuring out how to navigate the path without wheeling round smashing into walls and furniture like the drunken abusive foster parent that inevitably lies in their future. Thanks Christ there's no combat, it would've been like being Professor Stephen Hawkings' tennis coach.

But without combat, what the hell is there? Well, there's puzzles, although a few exceptions these are puzzles in the action-adventure game sense, meaning not puzzles at all. You pull one lever then the other, it's not exactly Zork Nemesis. Sometimes there are things reminiscent of the old Gobliiins adventure games, where the puzzle is which brother to interact with the things with, but for the most part, the core gameplay is "keep moving forward". The strength lies in the storytelling which is mostly visuals, as the characters can only communicate in off-brand, Team Ico gibberish and occasional grief-racked sobs.

Brothers is a game of strung together moments, some very effective moments in well-designed environments, but they come and go quicker than an abusive foster parent's sex partners and I found the bridging narrative lacking. The game's so short and moves along so fast that I just didn't feel invested. Little Brother is the only character who gets any fleshing out. I'd have like to known why their dad was so fucking great that he was worth pulling a Saving Private Ryan for! All I saw him do was cough a lot and teach the older boy fishing in one brief flashback when either of them looked into it. So the emotional stuff feels a bit clumsy: no time for niceties, just gouge that chest cavity open and jam away at the heartstrings like a heavy metal guitarist whose hands have gone to sleep.

So in summary, Brothers holds the interest well enough while it lasts but quickly fades once consumed like a cheesy wotsit shaped like a willy.

Moving on...

The second game is Papers, Please, a bare 30 meg download on Steam that turned out to be one of the most strangely absorbing experiences I've had with indie games lately, and like a mysterious rash, I've been taking every opportunity to get people to look at it. The elevator pitch would probably have turned off all but investors with the least amount of fucks to give. Basically, it's a bureaucracy-'em-up. You play a border-control guard in a communist country and your job is to check the paperwork of incoming travelers, interrogating them over discrepancies and making the final decision of red stamp or green stamp, except there's some kind of secondary invisible checkpoint that instantly spots fuck-ups and fines you if you missed them, so one wonders why we're even here.

More layers of bureaucracy are added to the process over time: passports; permission to travel; permission to work; permission to piss; permission to use run-on sentences; until immigrants are handing you entire scrap-booking projects and if they spell their name with a different vowel once, then it's off to talk to the nice men with guns, in the building that people go into a lot but don't seem to come out of so much. But you get paid by how many you've processed in a day, so it's hard to sympathize when you have to put Spotty McBumblefuck through the X-ray machine 'cos his passport says he's a girl, and the last precious seconds of the day trickle out as you examine a picture of his hairy balls. Hey, you know who'd love to see your hairy balls? These nice men with guns!

That's the beauty of Papers, Please; it presents us constant moral choices, but makes it really hard to be a good person. Virtually all your money goes to rent and food, so while you could waive the rules to reunite a couple or turn away someone with hairy balls so catastrophic, they might level the city, you do it at the expense of your own family. You're a pivotal part of a thousand stories - some small, some big - and you have to decide if you want to create a better world or just look after you and yours. You're gazing up at a big complex state of affairs funneled down and glimpsed through the filter of your tiny little world of passport numbers and hairy ball sacks, the effect of which being that admitting someone that seemed legit and hearing the sound of the obnoxious printer giving me a citation seized my heart more than any number of dead mums.

Yeah, I got quibbles. There's a lot of telling without showing and the booth upgrades are about as much use as a Wi-Fi connection in the Auschwitz prison showers, but the important thing is that a genuinely engaging paperwork simulator is far worthier of your time than the 70,000th, slightly engaging gunfight. EA] would never make something like this; for one thing, it would remind them too much of their customer support services.

AddendaEdit

More than his job's worth: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I have a lot of nostalgia for that temp job I once had validating building survey data, alright

Life just keeps getting interesting after you've drowned your mum

NotesEdit

  1. This joke, as originally recorded, was "I'm not gay, I only suck off pre-op transsexuals," but was later changed in response to a viewer's concern about the seeming promotion of negative transsexual stereotypes. Yahtzee has since said in an Extra Punctuation column that he regrets the original joke.
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

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