Hitman Go was released in 2014 and was applauded for it’s innovative visuals, simple mechanics, and engaging gameplay. Eidos was able to take a franchise involving stealth, action, and assassination and translate it into a digital board game. In a year Eidos continued this formula by releasing Lara Croft Go. By modifying the visuals and tweaking the mechanics, Eidos was able to take another brand with decidedly different goals and create a uniquely different “digital board game” using the same structure. Just this past year Eidos released it’s third “Go” game using the franchise Deus Ex as the foundation. With the “Go” games now a trilogy, I thought it would be interesting to compare and discuss the differences between the Go games. How modifying mechanics and visuals can create a decidedly different atmosphere even within the same structure. Today I’ll be discussing Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go, and Deus Ex Go. This will be mainly about visuals and mechanics, yet if you’re concerned about seeing potentially spoiling visuals for these games… turn back now!
To start with I thought it would be best to briefly discuss these three franchises, their goals, and how are they different. Hitman is traditionally a stealth game, that has players exploring flexible levels that allow players to accomplish missions their own way. The games feel organized, strategic, and almost “James Bond-esque.” Lara Croft has players exploring ancient ruins and tombs, solving puzzles, and encountering hostile creatures along the way. Typically these games are filled with a sense of discovery, ancient environments, and a very “Indiana Jones” feel. Finally there’s Deus Ex, an action role-playing game that places the player in a dystopian, cyberpunk future. In this future the world has developed “human augmentations,” technology that can increase human attributes… run faster, jump higher, etc. These games typically center around conflicts between factions who do and do not believe in human augmentation. Deus Ex typically feels gritty, futuristic, and an almost “Film Noire” feel to it.
Visually these games change as drastically as they are different from each other. Hitman Go features an extremely elegant maquette styled environment. The environments feel small and look assembled, and the characters feel like board game pieces. Each level feels like a unique set piece, and the players are even able to rotate the level around to look at all of it’s details. A combination of expertly rendered ambient lighting, shading, and easily recognized materials (plastic feels like plastic, etc) helps create this effect. It’s also worth noting that while the set designs have extensive detail, the player set pieces are actually pretty simplistic. When you move your “hitman” over an enemy, there’s no combat animation… The piece just knocks over the other piece. It’s simple, elegant, and plays with our own innate understanding of board games.
Lara Croft Go has a shockingly different artistic direction. Whereas most of the Lara Croft franchise goes for a realistic visual style, Lara Croft Go goes for a geometric, highly saturated, almost cel shaded feel. In many ways the environments feel illustrative, almost like modern graphic design. This style feels like the polar opposite from the recent AAA Lara Croft games, yet works surprisingly well. Lara Croft Go sacrifices the rotation feature that Hitman Go had, and utilizes full character animations. In this way, while the mechanics still feel similar to a board game, the visual style pulls further away.
Deus Ex Go continues a step further by creating a visual style that’s simplistic, modern, and “low poly.” The franchise also makes heavy use of tessellated triangular patterns, stark black and white environments, and uses colors to pop important information. Using low poly geometry lends itself towards feeling “high tech” or futuristic. Deus Ex Go continues the same trend as Lara Croft Go and features full character animations. To top off the detective/Film Noir feel, Deus Ex Go has an extra layer of story added through character dialogue. While in a level, characters from the series will communicate with the protagonist. The style of writing and character dialogue, completes the Deus Ex feel.
Potentially the most interesting difference between these games are how the mechanics change between them. As you might have imagined, Hitman Go focuses on human type enemies for the player to overcome. Each enemy has it’s own unique behavior, that coupled with the level design, creates puzzles for the player to overcome. I noted that Hitman Go has eight different types of enemies…
While there are some bonus objectives, Hitman Go relies on the player to safely navigate their environment and eliminate their target. Lara Croft Go modifies this formula slightly, to create a different game feeling for the player. Within Lara Croft go, I noticed fewer enemies but also the addition of other obstacles or traps.
Lara Croft Go has 4 different types of enemy:
While mechanically every “Go” level is a puzzle, the traps introduced in Lara Croft Go really adds to the feeling that you’re exploring and solving ancient ruins. In many ways Deus Ex Go follows a similar formula to Lara Croft Go having fewer enemy types, but instead of having “Traps” Deus Ex Go introduces “abilities.
Deus Ex Go has 4 different types of enemies:
Deus Ex Go has two different types of ability tiles, each with two varying functions:
The Rule of Eight
While it may be a bit of a stretch in regards to Deus Ex Go, I think it’s interesting that relatively speaking there’s a rule of 8 for the “Go” games. There are 8 enemy types in Hitman Go, there are 4 types of enemies and 4 types of traps in Lara Croft Go, and there are 4 types of enemies and 2 abilities with 2 functions in Deus Ex Go. I wonder if there’s a correlation for how we as players understand levels. If for this type of game, having 8 elements to learn and navigate is optimal? I wonder if other board games or puzzle games like this have similar rule sets. It must certainly be optimal from a production standpoint to manage only 8 different kinds of obstacles, and allow design flexibility to create levels of varying complexity.
While creating massively different artistic directions is important for emphasizing each brand respectively, modifying the equation of obstacles is paramount to creating a gameplay feel that respects the brand. Hitman is about taking out your target and navigating your enemies, so it makes sense that it emphasizes on human type obstacles. Lara Croft is about exploring dangerous ruins and solving ancient puzzles… having a balance between enemies and ancient traps aids to this feel. At the end of the day Deus Ex is about using abilities to overcome your enemies, whether they be human or technological. For this having the appropriate balance between enemies and using your character’s abilities, makes the player feel like a powerfully augmented agent… instead of an assassin or tomb raider.
I’ll be curious to see if Eidos continues this trend with a fourth “Go” game? Thief maybe? We’ll have to wait and see what direction they take. In any case I hope this was interesting! I strongly believe that simple and easy to understand mechanics, in a structure that’s very familiar to most players… is a really effective formula. Often games tend to rely on complexity and at times can under deliver on the experience.
This is it! We’re coming to the end of my first full year of doing this blog thing! To finish off the year I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at 2016, and discuss my top 5 innovative games. I’ve discussed a lot of games over the course of this year, but there have been a few gems in the list that I think deserve a little more special recognition. So in no specific order, here’s my list of the top 5 innovative games of 2016!
The Mr. Robot app was really a surprise hit. This app received some minor media coverage, but really it snuck it’s way out onto the app store with very little fan fair. In “Mr.Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk” you’ve found a hacker’s phone, and the app itself pretends to be a sort of chat software. Over the course of the next couple days, you’re introduced to different characters, conversations, and interesting moral choices. While simplistic in it’s approach, the Mr. Robot app leverages simple mechanics with a player’s pre-existing understanding of social media. On top of that having to wait in real time for a character to respond to you, gave the game a dynamically different feel… truly integrating itself into your daily habits. If you haven’t had the chance, and even if you haven’t watched the show, I assure you that this is a real treat.
Virginia was another game that surprised me this year. Within Virginia you play as a young FBI Recruit on their first real assignment. While you’re investigating a missing persons case, really the game establishes itself in the relationship between you, your partner, and the agency. Virginia stood out on so many different levels… first of all having a young non-white female protagonist, no dialogue in the game, unique visual style, and cinematic transitions that we would normally associate with a movie or television… all add up to a truly unique and memorable experience.
I know that my next choice is a pretty stark contrast to my other selections this year, but The Division is definitely worth noting on this list for one reason… the Dark Zone. While many of the shooting mechanics of the Division can be attributed to other shooters, where I see the Division as being innovate was in the creation of the “Dark Zone.” If you’re unfamiliar, the Dark Zone is a full PVP zone. Where players can cooperate or compete for loot, that they then have to “extract” in order to own in the main game. The fact that players are always unsure of how other players are going to respond, if people are going to attack them to try to steal their loot or actually cooperate, creates many tense situations. I’ve been in many unsure moments where you have two groups of players looking at eachother, weapons drawn, waiting for someone to make the first move. These moments are unique, and completely player driven...which is pretty special.
No Man’s Sky
Love or Hate No Man’s Sky, it deserves to be on a list like this one. While other games include many of the same elements, No Man’s Sky is one of the first to combine these experiences together. The ability to jump into a procedurally generated solar system, seamlessly land on a planet, explore, and take back off into space is a pretty awesome experience. While the game may still be lacking in some areas, it continues to improve and build upon itself. I can’t help but wonder what the game will look like in another 6 months, but for now No Man’s Sky is definitely one of my top innovative games of 2016.
I really had a hard time picking my final entry into this list, and Dishonored 2 really came as a late addition. Dishonored 2 is an action/stealth game, taking place in a Victorian-esque steam punk world. You play as a supernatural assassin, and players have the choice of playing as one of two protagonists. Dishonored has always been known for providing it's players with a variety of gameplay options and scenarios, but Dishonored 2 has gone above and beyond in creating massively different feeling levels as well. While every level allows for a lot of player choice, I've found that every level feels decidedly different. There are different enemies, items, and at times mechanics change drastically... and I have to adapt. In games like these it's very easy to fall into a routine, and Dishonored 2 really breaks it's players out of their comfort zones. Dishonored 2 teaches it's players to become as flexible as their chosen protagist, and it's a truely rewarding experience. I really don't want to give anything away, but I would highly encourage a playthrough.
It’s also worth giving both We Happy Few and The Long Dark are honorable mention on this list. While I didn’t add these games, because they are still in mid-development, I think they should be on everyone’s radar in the coming year.
Thanks again to everyone who's been reading this year and for all of your support! I hope that this blog was able to add something special to your year, and we will continue to looking interesting gaming trends in 2017!!
Happy Holidays and Happy New years!
Originally my plan was to go into this blog post discussing “Survival Games,” an analysis of commonalities and traits that make up good survival games. For this I had started playing quite a bit of "The Long Dark," a game that's still in alpha but strands it's user in a cold alpine wilderness. Meanwhile, to everyone's surprise, No Man's Sky dropped a massive update. In the "Foundation Update" No Man's Sky released a ton of new features, including base building, updated UI, the ability to own freighters, and more. Considering my previous post titled "Player Defined Goals," where I reviewed the first release of No Man's Sky, I think it only makes sense for me to return to it and explore it in today's post about Survival Games. While I'll be discussing these games at length, there's really no plot implications here and so you shouldn't be too worried about spoilers.
When it comes to talking about "Survival Games" it's really hard to not talk about "Survival Horror," yet for this post I really wanted to evaluate games that focus purely on survival. Survival games tend to have 3 main characteristics; resource management, exploration , and crafting... with some slight variations to each. I'll be using these characteristics to help frame this analysis, in regards to different games and how they use these elements.
The Long Dark is a really structurally interesting game. While it's in Alpha, you can see how these mechanics are beginning to work really nicely with one another. What I played of The Long Dark, is that you're dropped into a random location and time of day. Your first thoughts are, as they should be, to look for shelter. The game forces the player to learn quick that they cannot stay outside for very long, without building a fire to keep warm. In my first moments of the game I stumbled upon a large branch, that I could break down for resources. I went ahead and did so but was shocked to find that doing actions like these have a cost. It costs time, calories (which is how they manage hunger in the game), exhaustion, and depending on just how cold it is... you become chilled quite fast. As you can imagine my first playthrough didn't have me lasting much longer than a day. While the learning curve feels steep, I found myself to be invested fairly early on. After dying in several different ways, The Long Dark taught me caution in all my decisions. Mechanically speaking there are many resources to manage in The Long Dark, yet the way this information is illustrated for the user allows for easy on boarding. Unless something terrible happens, the player is slowly introduced to different aspects of your character. While there are many things to manage, I never felt overwhelmed… although I was often overburdened by trying to have my character carry as much as possible. My initial experience felt very much like my playthrough of Far Cry Primal, which I discussed in an earlier post where I turned off the HUD while playing. I felt the same way due to the lack of information, while I was slowly introduced to more info, intially I felt like a newborn in a world that I didn’t comprehend. I appreciated the fact that I couldn’t hunt in the game right off the bat. On my fourth playthrough, on the 10th day, I finally found a rifle with four bullets. It was an incredible brief change of pace, and showed off the game’s breadth drastically.
The Long Dark does very well is to have a lot of depth to every aspect. I guess my biggest take away is that while every game has costs associated with actions, never did they feel as relevant as they did in The Long Dark. The best example for me was when I was finally able to track down a bear, shoot, and kill it. It took so much time to skin, and harvest the bear, that I had to first build a fire to stay warm while doing so. Even then I quickly became over encumbered and had to return to my shelter to unload and rest… yet when I returned to finish harvesting the bear, he had gone completely frozen and I didn’t have the tools required to finish. It was so disappointing knowing how many more resources literally lay in front of me, and yet the elements had beaten me again. It was a truly interesting learning experience.
I’m still surprised to be returning to No Man’s Sky, but I found myself playing a considerable amount of the Foundation Update. If you haven’t read, I would recommend checking out my first impressions of the game here . It feels very interesting to see some of my initial critiques of the game being addressed in this update. I had mentioned earlier that No Man’s Sky struggled with satisfying both the productivity and creativity itch that Minecraft is able to accomplish. Yet in this update has certainly addressed this, with the implementation of customizable homesteads, npc quests for your home, new tech and resources… there’s suddenly a lot more to discover. In all fairness I’m still only part way into this update and have yet to even touch the elements of the game related to owning a Freighter. Which is exciting considering I’ve already sunk a ton of additional hours into this update.
The Foundation Update has really breathed new life into what was a pretty dead game, there’s clear enhancements and changes to worlds, I’ve seen more unique fauna, and with the introduction of new resources and technology there’s a lot of stuff to learn. The game has definitely been rebalanced as well, where I find certain resources to be much harder to find than they previously used to be. Also while many of the NPC quests are glorified fetch quests, I’m very happy to do it and overall I find myself excited to progress.
From a Survival Game standpoint, No Man’s Sky is pretty interesting. There’s really a lot of breadth, a huge number of different biomes and resources that all accumulate to a many unique scenarios. While I have to be conscientious of my survivability in No Man’s Sky, the game feels less personal than The Long Dark. While exploring is an aspect of The Long Dark, I feel more concerned about my well being… it feels so much more about me. While No Man’s Sky, I feel as though my primary concerns are related to my spaceship, exploring the stars, and inventory management. That’s not to say that it isn’t incredibly engaging, it just feels as though the driving factors feel very different between these games.
I feel as though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Don’t Starve in an evaluation of Survival Games. This game has definitely become a staple of my previous year, as you may have noticed me mention it in a few different posts now. Don’t Starve is certainly a dynamic jaunt into the genre, most known for it’s illustrative visuals. While Don’t Starve maintains a lot of similar Survival Game tropes, survival based resource management and exploration, I believe Don’t Starve stands on it’s own for it’s unique visuals and content. So much of the game is driven by exploration and discovering unknown elements. Having something like magic certainly has it stand out against it’s competitors, and I can honestly say that even after the countless hours I’ve sunk into this game… I’m positive there are things that I still don’t comprehend. Another element worth noting is that while other games have had “Sanity” as a resource, most of those games have been more horror based genres, rather than a purely survival game.
As a Darksouls fan I can confidently say that Don’t Starve stands well on it’s own as being one of the most unforgiving games out there. That being said the playfulness of the game’s visuals and variety of environments strongly encourage players to explore the worlds that Klei Entertainment has created. Thinking about the driving factors of both No Man’s Sky and The Long Dark… I somehow feel like Don’t Starve falls somewhere in the middle. While I’m very conscientious of my character and their well being, it’s more in an effort to get more game time to explore the world further.
I REALLY wanted to do an evaluation on We Happy Few, unfortunately it ran very poorly on my laptop and I got limited game time. That being said I really felt as though it was worth mentioning in this post, for it’s unique stance on the survival genre. (I’ll try to be as factual as possible, but I apologize if I get some elements wrong.) While We Happy Few is still in it’s Alpha, much like The Long Dark, we can see a lot of the mechanics at work already. What stuck out for me was it’s use of both the traditional survival elements, as well as a social component. We Happy Few takes place in an alternative 1960’s London, where there’s this pill that instill “joy” in it’s citizens. It becomes a large part of both social norms and the law. In the few moments of gameplay that I experienced, I was thrown into a more desperate part of town. I noticed my character was wearing “tattered” clothes, and my first instinct was to actually repair this. Yet it had a negative effect on how people viewed me in town. As this was a poor neighborhood, people began to mock me and be more suspicious of me. I thought this was a truly interesting element to add to this genre. So often do we think of survival games in the same context as The Long Dark and being alone in the wilderness… when it can be a very different struggle in a city. We Happy Few maintains many of the same elements as other survival genres, yet puts an interesting spin on these by injecting a both a social and puzzle dynamic into the game.
Survival games mainly use the same key elements of resource management, exploration, and crafting… yet the driving factors of these games can feel massively different. Overall I believe it’s how these elements are balanced, the setting, and the visual direction of the game that determines what ends up being a player’s driving influence. In the examples I’ve provided, I don’t necessarily believe that one game is more successful than the other… merely it’s interesting to see such dynamically different takes on the same key elements.
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.