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June 09, 2009

Two adult games and a tantalising preview

When GTA: Chinatown Wars was released, people looked closely to see whether an 'adult' game would sell on the Nintendo DS. It was the first 18 rated game on the DS, better known for bouncy plumbers and the like. It got fantastic reviews, but the skeptics were right; it has not sold particularly well, and has been marked down to £9.99 on Amazon.

I was intrigued by the reviews so I got a copy, despite a longstanding hate of both driving games and crime simulations (I'm very law-abiding). It is fantastic fun and well worth a tenner. It is possibly a bit immoral; you certainly find yourself gunning down people with abandon, and although the drug-dealing sub-game is 'optional', you will quickly find yourself unarmed and penniless if you don't join in. There's a good range of missions and some of the plotting is genuinely funny. GTA is famed for its sandboxes and there are lots of fun things you can do in this game that have nothing to do with the main plot. For example, all the service vehicles can be stolen and then used, so you can drive a cab and pick up fares, drive a police car and respond to crimes, drive a fire engine and put out fires, and so on. And the pacing is fantastic for a DS game; you can pick it up and have fun in just a few minutes. The graphics beat anything I've previously seen on the DS by some margin too; Liberty City is huge, and it's all distinctive, and I don't know how they have done it.

GTA: Chinatown Wars is an adult game that says 'here, come and play at doing things you'd never dream of doing in real life, in a ludicrous fantasy world where you are much tougher than a pack of hardened goons, your car automatically drives in a straight line and nobody fires straight.' One of the reasons that people criticise GTA is that it 'glamorises' crime but I think it is just doing the same thing as any simulation game; making a hard thing (making crime pay) seem much easier, just like Guitar Hero or Wii Tennis.

In other adult gaming news, I'm playing the new Mac version of Braid, the thinky, philosophical puzzle game disguised as a platformer. The premise is that of Super Mario; Tim (I do not know whether Tim is a plumber by trade) has lost his princess and is searching for her. He has to collect jigsaw pieces which are cashed in for the ending, and like in Prince of Persia, he can rewind time to avoid getting killed by monsters. That description misses out three key things. The first is that rewinding time is not merely a death-avoidance gimmick. In practice you have to rewind time, in many and variously tricky ways, to solve the puzzles, nearly all of which are fiendish. The second is that this game is exceptionally beautiful, and I am a sucker for pretty games. And the third, of course, is that Tim is not an uncomplicated little plumber. The game is framed with his ruminations on time, loss, princesses, and the general weight of living. The game has an ending, which I have been somewhat spoilt for by randomly wambling round the internet; so you will want to be careful about that.

I downloaded the demo and was hooked; it does not feel to me particularly pricey at $14.99 but perhaps I am an easy target. I understand it crashes on many Macs; fortunately not on mine. Most of the puzzles (but not all) are self-contained and lend themself to prolongued thought; this is a game where setting it down, going away for a while and returning often renders an impossible scene straightforward. There is a puzzle early in Braid which is widely decried as unfair; I solved it without help and was enchanted when I did it. I think I've collected about half the puzzle pieces now. These puzzles are difficult, and the learning curve is quite brutal. The designer, rather arrogantly, has released a 'walkthrough' that says, roughly, all the puzzles are fair, figure it out and don't use a walkthrough.

Braid then, is an adult game about the nature of gaming, and about life. It is saying 'games can tell us about our life' and a deliberately artificial situation can nevertheless teach us profound lessons that are similar to those acquired from a movie or book. I do not doubt that this is true of games in general; I am not yet sure it is true of Braid.

And finally, the gameplay trailer for The Beatles: RockBand is jolly great and I'm sure the game will be fine. But the opening cinematic is just extraordinary. I'm only a moderate fan of the Beatles and I'm seriously excited.

Posted by Alison Scott at June 9, 2009 03:13 PM


Wow. That openng cinematic is fantastic. From the stylised ordinariness of the opening segment to the psychedelia of the closing one, it just works amazingly well.

Posted by: Andrew Ducker [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2009 08:07 AM

These puzzles are difficult, and the learning curve is quite brutal. The designer, rather arrogantly, has released a 'walkthrough' that says, roughly, all the puzzles are fair, figure it out and don't use a walkthrough.

Posted by: links of london at October 26, 2010 03:50 AM

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