These days, there are two major types of videogames: indie and AAA. Indie games are everything from Depression Quest to Hotline Miami, relatively tiny titles that are either independently distributed through stuff like Steam or picked up by a bigger publisher. On the other side there are the flagship games like Call of Duty or Madden, things you see on billboards or bus sides; games with budgets that oust the GDP of most small countries.
This wasn’t always the case. There used to be a middle ground, a place for games that weren’t birthed across multiple campuses but were slightly bigger than a garage or hastily rented studio apartment could handle. You could go to a store, spend $30, and get a game that was…okay. It wasn’t the new hotness, nor was it a risky venture. It was solid, but unremarkable, something that you might develop a fondness for but wouldn’t begrudge someone for disliking.
Game of Thrones is just that kind of game.
The PlayStation versions of indie darling Rogue Legacy contains a little treat for crazy trophy hunters: the Thanatophobia trophy, which demands that you beat the game from a fresh save in 15 lives or less WITHOUT using the Architect to lock down the castle. It’s unique to the PS3/PS4/Vita versions of the game and, as of this writing, isn’t even in the PC version.
It’s also a damn nightmare.
But, as the cast of every Nightmare on Elm Street movie can tell you, even the worst fever dreams can be conquered with some creative thinking and courage, so I’m here to take your trembling hand and guide you through the most difficult part of the game – the bosses.
One standout detail about House of Cards protagonist Frank Underwood is that he’s an avid gamer. While it’s not a focus of the plot, he’s occasionally shown engrossed in everything from Call of Duty to God of War, zoning out as he blasts terrorists or slaughters mythical beasts. There’s no plot beat about him lobbying Sony or trying to elicit fundraising support from Microsoft. He simply happens to enjoy something that tens of millions of people do. Based on those numbers alone, there’s no reason for this to be unique or interesting. He’s just another in a long line of people with PlayStations.
But it does stand out. It stands out because he’s not a gamer. He’s a responsible, shrewd, and handsome older man. He’s got a job, a wife, a house, and power. He should be playing squash or racquetball, making deals on fairway while a young kid in funny pants hands him a 9 iron.
He’s not a zit-faced kit who’s getting shoved in a locker, a twitchy guy with the cold look of a killer in waiting, or any of the other widely used stereotypes of a gamer. But by casually avoiding these and making gaming just another facet of his complex character, Frank Underwood might just be the most realistic vision of a “gamer” we’ve got.
A bad video game is kind of like an ugly baby. You spend months waiting for it, staring endlessly at blurry pictures and reading page after page of information on it, crafting this wonderful image of it in your head. You might even dream about it, picturing yourself watching the title cards flash by, your fingers tapping the mouse in excitement. Then, review embargos are lifted and, in a bloody torrent of viscera and day one patches, it’s released into the world.
And it looks nothing like what you thought it would be.
We learn to love babies though. A deep seated biological imperative tells us that, no matter how obscene that little mewling creature is, it’s our job to ensure its survival. We must love it.
Why can’t we do the same with videogames?
I have a terrible secret: I kind of love mediocre videogames.
There’s no single thing that makes Brothers great. It’s not the setting (fantastic!), the story (classic!), or the soundtrack (sweeping!) All of these things, were they just put together, would be little more than a pale shadow of PS2-era classic Ico. Instead, Brothers manages to be more than just the sum of its parts.
What makes Brothers great is the deceptively simple control scheme. The left stick and trigger control the brown haired older brother, the right stick and trigger the blonde mopped younger. It starts off easily enough, with the smaller brother slipping through gates to unlock doors while the elder reaches switches just out of reach. Puzzles increase in complexity as the game goes on, but the controls do not, staying intuitive.
Controlling the older brother with the tried-and-true left stick feels effortless, a reflection of the kind of comfort with your body that only comes with age. The younger brother instead darts around, stumbling from place to place in a pale pantomime of his partner. It feels maddening at first, but you forge ahead.
It’s what having a younger sibling feels like. You’re perpetually the left stick, always sure and true, the fumbling of youth long left behind. Playing the game, it’s hard to not always find yourself leading with the elder brother, the left stick, the comfortable and experienced. Even when separated, I tended toward auburn teen instead of the young boy who wasn’t quite comfortable in his skin.
Amazing things happen with these controls, things that dip into the spoiler-y end of the pool, but which you’ll immediately understand when they happen. It’s this seemless blending of tactile feel and emotional theme that elevates Brothers into the realm of greatness.
You can tell a lot about a game from how rare its platinum trophy is.
It can tell you if the game was easy or hard, critically panned or universally beloved. You can tell if the multiplayer was tacked on or well integrated, if the player base is still active or if the servers are on life support. You can tell if the developers have certain things in mind for the player or if they were typing up the list while the delivery boy waited for the gold master.
In the case of inFamous: Second Son, you can tell that Sucker Punch is damn proud of their game and wants everybody else to love it as much as they do.