Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest installment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.Read more
Many gamers are looking for one semi-mythic, intangible quality in games: immersion. It’s basically the ineffable property of making you forget that you’re sitting in front of a computer screen or TV, grasping a gamepad or a mouse, and feel that you’re really there. But, let’s face it, even with the most immersive games you never feel like you’re a mute MIT graduate saving the world with a gun in one hand and a crowbar in the other, or a cyber-ninja special operative infiltrating terrorist strongholds or a Persian prince able to run along steep walls and turn back time. There are worlds between playing FIFA 08 and actually kicking a football – there’s little to no comparison between pressing X or O and propelling a leather ball towards the enemy goal with your foot. Possibly the only game that offers near-absolute immersion is computerised chess, because as if you’re, like, really playing chess!
Okay, enough sarcasm – what I’m getting at is this: there are few games that make you believe you’re really doing what your on-screen avatar is doing. Fair enough, really; there are limits to how much I’d want to believe I’m being shot at by alien armies while killer zombies are trying to chew my frontal lobe. And I definitely don’t want to believe I’m actually playing football at Wembley Stadium.
There is a game (or several games, by now) that gives you a fairly convincing illusion that you’re actually doing the thing you’re playing, and that game is called Guitar Hero. I’ve had it for a while, but I’ve only recently started to play it again. And it’s great fun. Looked at objectively, it should be a humiliating experience: you stand there holding a plastic toy shaped like a Gibson guitar, pressing colour buttons and strumming a white bar in sync with popular rock songs. You’re as close to rock stardom as Third French Lord in an amateur production of Henry V is from saying, “And I would like to thank the Academy…”
But, hell, if it isn’t fun… And it does a great job of making you feel like you’re playing complex solos, totally rocking the place, dude! The game mainly works because the rock songs used make for surprisingly good videogame levels. So far, I’ve only made it to the second of four difficulty levels with any success – I’m only using four of the five fret buttons, which means that my hands are in for some pretty bad strain. But the choice of songs is almost perfect: Guitar Hero has everything from ’70s glam rock to ’80s cheese rock (is that a term? it should be!) to 21st century alternative rock. And since I don’t really listen to the radio, it’s this game that has introduced me to the following eminently cool song:
However, there’s a further turn of the screw to my geek joy. I’m very much an old-school gamer – I played games on machines that are practically Etch-a-Sketches compared to a five-year old mobile phone. My first slice of nerd heaven was a Commodore 64, a name that still brings on a hush of awe in the right crowd. The C-64 has been defunct for decades, yet there are insane people still working with them… and this is where I don’t care just how nerdy and geeky I sound, but the following is just distilled nostalgic coolness:
“The Enrichment Center is committed to the well-being of all participants. Cake and Grief Counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test. Thank you for helping us help you help us all.”
“Did you know you can donate one or all of your vital organs to the Aperture
Science Self Esteem Fund for Girls? It’s true!”
Portal is probably this year’s most written about game, even more so than Halo 3. And for good reason. It’s the first game I’ve every played (and I’ve been doing this since 1982, roughly) that I would call perfect. This weirdly wonderful offshoot of the Half-Life franchise, feeling like the movie Cube, if it had been written by Charlie Kaufman, doesn’t take a single wrong step. The brilliant idea that forms the premise of the game gets the usual Valve polish, but it’s the script that turns this into something special.
Which is also why I’d rather show than tell. So, here goes, courtesy of YouTube:
P.S.: Portal‘s AI GLaDOS, who gives good old SHODAN a run for her money, is brilliantly written. The funnier she gets, the more disturbing she gets. And the song at the end makes me want to cuddle and cuddle and cuddle this game.