For the fourth and final week of this year’s ID@Xbox Game Fest we decided to focus on games that highlight different stories and different voices (and all of these are on sale right now). Each of these games was chosen because they push the limit of traditional gaming in all kinds of different ways.
Take Wheels of Aurelia, from MixedBag, for example. It’s a road trip game set in the roaring Italian 70s that uses interactive fiction to explore a variety of topics you’re not likely to run into in any other game. While the gameplay is quite simple and the game itself is very short – only about 15 minutes – you can play through again and again to discover 16 different – and occasionally quite controversial – narratives.
Another game that delves into difficult topics not normally explored in gaming is Sassybot’s Fragments of Him, which takes you through the aftermath of a young man’s death from the points-of-view of his boyfriend, mother and best friend. Three Fourths Home from Digerati pushes the boundaries of what a game actually is – you’re driving home on a rainy night talking to your mother on the phone and … that’s it. You have limited control of the car but as you guide the conversation you’ll uncover a fascinating story (and make sure to stick around for the bonus content to find out what really happened).
Puzzle games can be simple, mindless entertainment but In Between blows that paradigm out of the water. At first glance it’s simply a finely crafted physics platformer, but in reality it uses its puzzles to explore of the mental state of a young, African American man struggling with a debilitating illness. In one stage the young man realizes “if you face the dark, it cannot harm you,” a theme that is then explored visually and through gameplay in the level. Thomas Was Alone is a platformer famous for infusing a stunning amount of personality into a group of rectangles. Seriously. The incredible story and voice-over work will make you feel like you know these blocks at a deeper level than you do most of the characters on your favorite TV show.
If you’ve never experience an “FMV” game before, you owe it to yourself to check out The Bunker, from Wales Interactive. It’s is a complete live-action experience filmed on location in a decommissioned government nuclear bunker in the UK. The story is dark, surprising and ultimately quite shocking. With top-notch acting and writing it’s about as close as you can get to playing a movie. The Magic Circle: Gold Edition, from Question, puts you in the role of a character in an incomplete fantasy game trapped in development hell. The game designers are unworthy, indecisive “gods,” from whom you must seize the tools of game development to master the world-in-progress as you’re playing it (and get the game to ship).
Have you ever played a “Walking Sim”? While some may consider the term pejorative, it can also be considered an apt description for an game where the point is to immerse yourself in a world and experience aspects of life from an unusual character’s point-of-view, rather than hop around and kill things. This genre was arguably pioneered by Dear Esther, developed by The Chinese Room. It contains no puzzles or challenges and your only objective is to explore a richly detailed, isolated island while occasionally listening to a troubled man read a series of letters to his deceased wife. The Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, brought to Xbox One by Curve, adds in a developer commentary, through which you can re-live the ideas behind the creation of the game (and genre) from the voices of the game’s creators.
Another inventive “walking sim” is Beyond Eyes, from Team 17 and Tiger & Squid, which lets you experience the world as a young blind girl in search of her lost cat. The rather unique concept of conveying what it’s like to be blind through a visual medium is accomplished by “painting-in” objects and environments on a blank canvas when the young girl experiences them through sound or touch. But since this is her first time outside her garden by herself, her senses can mislead her – what she originally hears as a woodpecker might turn out to be a traffic signal when she gets closer, for example.
Some games use their settings to explore worlds and cultures that few people have had the chance to experience. Never Alone picked up shelf-loads of awards for its rich exploration of the Alaskan Native people and stories – nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members contributed to the development of this amazing game. Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a hand-drawn action-adventure game entirely set in the realm of traditional Norse mythology. And Silence, a sequel to The Whispered World from Daedalic Entertainment, tells the story of a teenager and his little sister who take shelter from an air raid in a bunker, and find themselves at the crossroads of a world between life and death. It presents a gripping, powerful narrative in a rich, hand-painted aesthetic.
FRU is a puzzle platformer that uses Kinect to literally drop you into the game. Your silhouette becomes a portal between two worlds. One of the mostly highly rated Kinect games (and, indeed Xbox One games), it challenges you to come up with different creative solutions using your body. Another Kinect game, Perfect Woman from Peter Lu & Lea Schönfelder, builds off the ubiquitous personality questionnaires featured in women’s magazines to challenge the idea that something like that can possibly capture the depth and complexity of a woman’s life. It uses stereotypes the challenge you to be your own perfect woman.
All of these games are on sale right now, so if you’re eager to explore different stories and different voices in gaming, there’s no better time to try some of these out.