One Hour: Police Stories

“And remember – shooting first is not an option!”

When I played the demo version of Police Quest: SWAT 2 in my late teens, already a devoted fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Jagged Alliance 2, I was simply shocked. Wait, do you really want me to play a tactical game which doesn’t want me to kill every baddy if it’s possible to avoid it? Which actually punishes me for excessive use of force? And, the worst thing, it forces me to find the Golden Mean between effectiveness and frugality because police budget is strained to the limit? What an outrage.

 

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Definitely not an excessive use of force.

 

The first and only scenario available in the demo involved a typical hostage situation with a besieged bank full of terrorists, innocent civilians, and a ticking time bomb as a bonus. Since I was used to solving tactical problems with heavy plasma guns and mortar strikes, my first attempts to win would make Waco and Ruby Ridge pale in comparison. Slowly, painfully, I learned to act as a police officer, not a xenocidal commando or mercenary leader, and then a miracle happened. I actually managed to save the hostages and disarm the bomb without firing a single shot. My brilliant solution was to provide an escape car, as demanded by the villains, and place two officers right next to the bank’s main entrance. The terrorists then left the building in a file, without noticing my men at the door, and were promptly handcuffed one after another. Clearly, this was a result of a flawed AI, and definitely not my tactical genius, but the non-violent victory made me feel so great.

These sweet memories were one of the reasons to get interested in Police Stories after I watched the trailer. Another reason was, obviously, that it looked and felt like a total conversion of Hotline Miami – without flashing neons and ultra-violence, that is. Immediately, I started to follow the game on Steam, still in a very early stage. As always, I soon forgot that I did and Police Stories disappeared from my radar.

Until yesterday. Out of sudden, I got reminded that the game actually exists by a news article. Following the link, I found out that an early Alpha version is available the download. The few screenshots I saw looked too familiar to resists the temptation.

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After clicking through a few menu screens, I arrive at the scene of the crime with a bang, my huge armoured car crashing a few motorbikes. We’re at a biker bar taken over by some violent thugs and the first thing that captures my eye is a nice reference to the Sons of Anarchy. Now it’s time to knock at the door. “Hello, do you have time to talk about our Lord and Saviour, the Government”. The man behind the door isn’t interested. I’m too slow to pull the trigger and Officer Rimes lies down on the floor with a generous dose of lead in his belly. Yeah, this feels like Hotline Miami. Even the “R for Restart Level” button is there.

My further attempts to pass the level are more successful and soon it becomes clear that the similarity is superficial. Yes, death is very cheap but Rimes is not The Jacket. In Police Stories, both heroes move very slowly, and for good reasons, because they have to be really careful. Unlike the Devolver game, here the enemy is invisible until you enter a room and then you have very little time to assess the situation and take decision on how to act. The game punishes you for unauthorised use of force and you have to be sure that the evil guy really wants to shoot you to avoid a penalty, but even then you receive more points for arresting them – and the score required to play the second level is rather high.

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Above, I wrote that Police Stories caught my eye because it looks like Hotline Miami, but it’s not entirely true. Of course, the top-down view, detailed interiors and character design are clearly similar, but the colour palette is toned down and there are no image distortions to make it look like a VHS recording. Actually, it reminds me more of the adventure classic Dreamweb.

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Speaking of differences, it’s a police operation and not a war zone, so you can’t just pick up enemy weapons. Hitting someone with a gun butt is a viable option if you want them to surrender, but it’s quite risky too, so forget jumping at an armed enemy with bare fists like it sometimes happened in HL.

One of the most important things is that you’re not alone in this. There’s always your partner behind you and it’s possible to give him simple commands – basically, you can tell him to stay put, guard a corridor or handcuff someone.

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When I’m writing these words, Police Stories is still in early development. There’s is no plot or dialogue, the inventory screen is inactive and, sadly, there are only two available scenarios. The worst thing is that the AI really needs improvement, both the enemies who are too passive and the player’s sidekick who notoriously suffers from poor reflexes. Despite that, at the current stage, the game looks more than promising and I’m ready to pay for the beta version as soon as it is released on Steam.

If you feel that this may be your kind of game, and especially if you’re a fan of Hotline Miami just like me, you can download the alpha version here.

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Distraction: Real Neat Blogger Award

Mainly due to my own laziness, I’ve kept this blog low-profile for years, so you can imagine my surprise when I found out that it was chosen by the invaluable halsdoll for something called the Real Neat Blogger Award. I don’t deserve this kind of honour, but thank you! It’s a welcome chance for some introspection and I love it. And yes, I know my answer comes late but having two jobs keeps me busy… All right, enough excuses.

Hey ho, let’s go, here are my answers:

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1. What is your earliest gaming memory?

It’s funny because I have two such memories and, no matter how hard I think, I cannot decide which one was really the first. What I do remember is that River Raid was the first game I’ve ever played when my Dad brought home a (somewhat battered) clone of Atari 2600 borrowed from one of his friends.

The second memory involves my first visit in a computer store. While Dad was busy talking with an employee, I noticed a kid sitting in front of a 286 PC and playing a game. I sat next to him on a free chair without saying anything and began to watch. At that time, I was really interested in military history, especially World War 2, so you can guess how amazed I was because said game was Wings of Fury. You know, a real F4U Corsair taking off from a carrier, bombing Japanese outposts and then trying to land in one piece. Despite my shyness, I finally asked the guy if he would let me play just for a short while… and he answered with a smirk and a brutal “No!”.

 

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*sigh*

 

Such was the end of my childhood innocence when I learned that some gamers can be real bastards.

2. When did you start blogging and why?

This blog was created in August 2015 and initially was meant to be an antidote to a personal flaw of mine. Since I rarely finish games and my backlog is constantly growing, I figured out it would be motivating to make a list of games I somehow completed. After a while, I found out that the blog is useful for roleplaying purposes and began to write about my fictional player characters, their personalities, goals, self-appointed challenges and restrictions, etc. Another step was to use it to capture fleeting gaming moments in screenshots and words, and generally ramble about the games I was playing. So here I am. It’s very far from perfection but my little WordPress corner has become an important part of my video games experience.

3. What feature do you wish any of your consoles had that they currently don’t?

I don’t own any consoles so I’ll just skip this question.

4. Name a movie that you wish had a video game made after it and what  developer would you want to make it and why?

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There are so many possible choices here. Sadly, halsdoll has already picked up one of my favourite films, Event Horizon, so I’ll have to improvise. How about the Ghibli classic Porco Rosso? It has everything I’d want from a video game. First, it’s the protagonist, a Great War ace pilot, who’s become shell-shocked by his experiences and turned into an anthropomorphic pig. Then it’s the setting, a magical realist version of post-WWI Italy with sky pirates and the Fascist government in the background. Not to mention all those finely drawn Italian planes and air combat. If I were a billionaire, I’d hire both Studio Ghibli and the team behind Beyond Good & Evil to create an open-world game being a spiritual sequel to the aforementioned masterpiece. In my vision, the gameplay would have a twist related to the main story with the government being the main antagonist, slowly limiting player’s freedom of movement and finally forcing them to either run away or die in a desperate last stand.

5. Do you have a games room/corner? If so, let us see it and show your favorite thing in there?

Nothing special here because I spend too much time playing games to care about secondary stuff like merchandise and collectibles. It’s just two shelves in one of my book cabinets with old game boxes and magazines.

6.  Do you have a child or a pet? Which character do you name it after?

Neither. If I ever have a child, he or she will have a traditional name, but I swear that one day I’ll visit a shelter and adopt a Dogmeat.

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7.  What keeps you going when gaming?

Curiosity. I’m always eager to see how the plot resolves, what kind of characters and enemies I meet on my way, what fancy weapons I will find. The other reason is the sense of accomplishment when I finish the game or at least beat a difficult boss or find all the gold stars.

Nominees:

Sorry, I’m posting it so late that it would be simply rude to nominate anyone but if you’re reading this and still want to participate, you have my personal approval.

Don’t forget to link to my blog if you do 😉

Again, thanks halsdoll!

Weekly: Springtime for Uncle Ho

My wonderful adventure in the post-nuclear Boston was suddenly interrupted by the sound of UH-1 helicopters blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. That’s right, I entered April and the spring surrounded by burning napalm. Fire, walk with me.

 

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Source: fluxy.net

 

When doing some spring cleaning at my parents’ house during the Easter holidays, I found an unexpected treasure at the bottom of my old wardrobe. Lo and behold! A forgotten copy of Battlefield Vietnam. Since both I and my little brother used to be dedicated fans of the game, without much thinking I asked him if he’d like to revive the good old times and throw a mini-LAN party. His answer was more than enthusiastic.

After two evening sessions, each two or three hours long, I can tell that it’s an absolute classic. Obviously, the visual side looks very outdated 14 years after the game’s release, but the rest is still as great as I remember it. One of my favourite things about BF:V is that it finally fives some screen time to the South Vietnamese army and treats them fairly – something that I wish would happen more often in Western media tackling the subject of Vietnam War.

Now, the most important thing. Since it’s spring now, the temperatures are constantly rising and the concrete jungle I live in will feel like being in Saigon. Therefore, I officially announce that I’m opening the Vietnam War video games season. We’ll see whether I go back to classics like Vietcong or Men of Valor, or maybe try out something new like the strategy game Vietnam’65. In any case, I’ll surely write more about that.

 

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Source: TV Series Finale

 

I barely watch any TV shows these times, but I’ll definitely make an exception for The Terror recently released by AMC. I didn’t read the novel by Dan Simmons it’s based on, supposedly a bestseller, but it seems the closest thing we have to a film adaptation of Sunless Sea, a game I spent more than 700 delightful hours with. Sure, the show is not set in an alternative Victorian era where London was kidnapped by pointy-eared eldritch abominations, but it has Royal Navy exploring the northern wastes in search of another passage to the Pacific Ocean. Their adventures involve cold, darkness, cannibalism and a bit of supernatural, so it feels close enough. I deliberately won’t read anything about the historical events which served Mr Simmons as the background for the book’s plot. All I’ll do is to watch a few episodes, compare them with my (very rich) memories from the Neath, and maybe write a few words about it.

Weekly: Arstotzka Film Presents

For the past few weeks, I’ve mostly kept babbling about Fallout 4 and how much I’ve enjoyed playing it so far. Now it’s time to change it because a real miracle happened: a film adaptation of a video game which is more than decent.

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Disclaimer: since this is my first attempt to write a film review, you have to know that I’m not even trying to be objective. Not only because I love this game, but also because I’m biased against American film industry and culture in general while having a soft spot for Russian films.

Maybe it’s dangerous to use such big words in the age of post-sincerity, but Papers Please is a masterpiece for me and nothing will ever change my mind. When I learned that a short film based on Lucas Pope‘s game is about to be released, I felt mostly two emotions: awe and trembling. As a dedicated fan of his work, I was more than happy, but as a fan of video games in general, someone who watched Super Mario Bros. and Assassin’s Creed, I was also afraid of a disaster – after all, most films based on video games are forgettable crap. My anxiety dropped a little after further reading when I learned that the incoming short film was being made not by a big Hollywood studio but by a small Russian team lead by the director Nikita Ordynskiy.

Thus, when it was finally released on Steam, I pushed the ‘play’ button with a trembling finger…

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Due to its length, the film’s plot is simple. It starts with The Inspector arriving at work and having a short conversation with the guard Sergiu who asks him for a favor. Then the day starts and he has to process the people trying to cross the border, facing heartbreaking dilemmas, taking difficult decisions and paying the final price for them.

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Acting is convincing enough, and Igor Savochkin seems to have been born to play the main character with his sharp features and deep-set eyes. When he struggles to hide his conflicted emotions, it feels like looking at someone who desperately tries to get out of a very deep trap pit, but also reminds the viewer that The Inspector is as much an oppressor as a victim of Arstotzka‘s system – I’ve crossed a few Eastern European borders in my life and I remember the same stone-cold faces and piercing eyes of border officials checking my passport. Another remarkable role is played by Antonina Kravcova. If you’ve ever rejected Eliza in the original game, you’ll remember her sad eyes and resigned voice for long.

20180323232630_1.jpgAdmittedly, the film treats the source material seriously and only manages to capture its original tone but even incorporates the interface and mechanics, and does it seamlessly. The camera repeatedly zooms on the passports when The Inspector looks for discrepancies, at one point he receives a printed order from the Ministry (I swear, the dreaded printer sound made me jump) and, of course, there’s the ominous red stamp. Of course, there are minor alterations, for example the protagonist has a Makarov pistol instead of a rifle in his safe, but they don’t change the overall impression at all.

The only single criticism I can bring is the film’s duration, obviously. It should be at least one hour longer, with long shots and lots of silence, to match the game’s atmosphere and make the plot look less simplistic. Beside that, this is how an adaptation of a video game should look like and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, even they never played Papers, Please or even if they aren’t interested in video games at all. If you hear that your favorite game is being put on the silver screen, be sure to bomb the screenwriters and the director with links to Ordynskiy‘s film so they can learn how to get the job done.

Glory to the New Arstotzka!

(sorry, I had to finish the post like this)

Weekly: The Hero’s Return

An obvious fact: the Survival mode in Fallout 4 is there for immersion. One of the things I like about it is that it really makes you realise the importance of places like Diamond City or Goodneighbor. After all, they are the safe havens and beacons of civilisation amidst the ocean of chaos and violence which is the Commonwealth. But I wouldn’t have realised it without finishing a really funny but somewhat exhausting quest.

Supermutated spoilers below!

Meet the Silver Shroud, a comic book superhero from the age before the whole US-Chinese misunderstanding happened. When in Goodneighbor, you can meet Kent Connolly, a ghoul who has been Shroud‘s fan for the past 200 years and has is own radio station broadcasting episodes of the hero’s adventures. After a short conversation it becomes obvious that he wants to revive the legend – and the Lone Survivor is to play the main character. The first step is to obtain the Silver Shroud costume and his iconic weapon from the ruins of a comic book company. Then Kent, a trained radio technician, begins to transmit the names and locations of local villains who are in need of superhero treatment (which involves lots and lots of shooting). What is really interesting, when you confront the baddies, you can choose between having a conversation in your standard voice or impersonating the Shroud in a really hammy way. Eventually, after delivering justice to some lesser minions you have the chance to meet Sinjin, the supervillain. At this point, things got really interesting and led to a wonderful conclusion.

I returned to Goodneighbor after disposing of the last Sinji’s henchmen only to find out that Kent had been kidnapped. Since I really enjoyed the quest so far, I decided to do the hero part and immediately go out to rescue him. This required a rather long journey south and clearing several floors of an old hospital. The hard part began when I reached my target, Sinji and his gang of goons, holding Kent at gunpoint. Without boring you with the details, I can just say that killing the former and saving the latter required a lot of reloads and experimenting with Charisma-enhancing drugs. Seriously, it was the most frustrating experience in my Fallout 4 experience so far. Needless to say, in the end, the hero saved the day.

 

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The hero. The villain. The author.

 

Then the wonderful thing happened. It was late in the night on both sides of my PC screen. The Silver Shroud finally got back to Diamond City, wounded, tired, hungry, sick, suffering from radiation – and wasn’t feeling much better than him, minus a few gunshot wounds. After crossing the city gate, we both saw this…

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…at the first moment, I didn’t really realise what was happening, but I quickly checked the in-game date on my Pipboy. 25 Dec 2287. After surviving a difficult and demanding adventure, I (we?) can finally sit down, rest and have a deathclaw steak for Christmas supper.

Hey, the game even dropped a Christmas gift on me. Here’s what I found on a Legendary Raider‘s corpse shortly before getting back home.

 

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The Ultimate Weapon.

 

True catharsis. The perfect union between the player and his alter ego. You play games for moments like this.

Maybe Fallout 4 isn’t a bad RPG after all.

Soundtrack: Five Songs For Dystopian Settings

The problem with video game soundtracks is that either they become too repetitive after you play for a while or they’re not so good, to begin with. One of my favourite pastimes is finding songs which fit the game’s theme and mood, becoming a new custom soundtrack. In fact, I already wrote a few posts about it in the past. This time, the topic is dystopian totalitarianism.

So you want to be a resistance hero fighting oppressive regimes in the grimdark future? Or maybe just impersonate an ordinary citizen trying to survive the boot stomping on his face, forever? Since one of my earliest childhood memories is attending a Labour Day parade and waving a  tiny paper red flag towards some fat Communist Party officials standing on a balcony, I may be the right guy to do the job and recommend you five songs which will get you into the Orwellian mood.

Our sons will be born with their fists raised up! An anarchist classic from the times of the Second Spanish Republic and the civil war. Recommended for stories set in Latin America and the Caribbean, like Just Cause or Red Dead Redemption, but also for the few games portraying the Spanish Civil War. Unless you want to feel ironic and listen to it while playing Tropico and executing those pesky revolutionaries.

Every time I about a Western rock star or another celebrity doing something supposedly brave, risky and controversial, I immediately think about Yanka Dyagileva and then just sneer. Wanna see a real punk rock rebel? The Russian songwriter and singer was a member of an underground music movement during the final years of the decaying Soviet Union. Of course, being a subversive in that time and reality could get you into real trouble, including harassment and torture by the Communist police, and all this reflected in Yanka’s lyrics. The song above is particularly haunting story about a couple of young lovers getting arrested and murdered by the StateSec for the grave crime of having a walk down the tram tracks. It works very well if you want to immerse yourself into the world of Papers, Please.

The enfants terribles of Slovenian music scene have recently gained some notoriety in the news after playing a concert for the North Korean regime, including the Glorious Leader himself. Even before this happened, they’ve been always known for using Fascist and Communist aesthetics, supposedly to mock the modern popculture and the mindless masses bowing before their music idols, or so the critics claim. Geburt Einer Nation is typical for their work: they took a cheerful song about peace, unity and understanding, and turned it into a cover mixing 80s disco with a marching song. Including a video clip which would make Leni Riefenstahl swell with pride. All this seems perfect for the new Wolfenstein games.

Since I used an image from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, it’s only proper to include a clip from that film featuring a musician who suffers from a mental breakdown and starts to impersonate Sir Oswald Mosley himself. Weed out the weaklings. A song tailored for We Happy Few.

Our courage wants to laugh. Our anger wants to sing. Lonely struggle of individuals against oppressive powers is the constant theme in the work of the Luxembourgian artist Jerome Reuters. Frankly, I have no idea which particular game to recommend for this one, but you’ll like it if you’re a wannabe rebel anyway.

How about you? Do you have any favourite songs which would sit well with games set in dystopian settings? If your answer is yes, then the comment section is waiting for you.

Weekly: It’s Good To Be a Survivor

Damn, it feels like being alive again. For the past few months, I found little joy in playing video games, constantly skipping from one title to another and finding no satisfaction whatsoever.

 

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Maybe I’m just too old for this kind of hobby?

 

To my surprise, this changed after I finally got Fallout 4 downloaded to my disk.  To say that I enjoy it would be saying nothing, as I’m simply hypnotised by everything happening on the screen. So, maybe it’s the right time for little introspection. Let’s sit down and think about the reasons why I like Fallout 4 so much.

Survival of the Stealthiest

While the so-called Hardcore mode in Fallout New Vegas was a disappointment, adding only minor challenges to the gameplay, the Survival difficulty mode in F4 is something completely different. First of all, hunger, thirst and radiation are serious issues now and if you forget about them, the game punishes you by severe stats penalties. Even more importantly, even rank-and-file characters are deadly now — fitting for the highest difficulty setting — but so is the player character. If he’s careless enough, a bunch of angry Raiders can shoot him down in a few seconds, but since your basic damage is considerably higher than on lower difficulties, you can turn the tables by quietly climbing up a building or a hill and taking them out with well-placed sniper shots. Generally, sneaking is one of the most valuable skills now and I’m all happy about it.

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The most important element of the Survival mode is the strategic value of beds. Since manual saving and most autosaves are disabled, you can keep your progress only by sleeping for at least one hour. That’s why it’s very important to search your surroundings for a resting place when entering a hostile territory. After all, you don’t want to lose hours of progress due to an unlucky incident with a frag mine or a genocidal ghoul. Obviously, it’s very frustrating when it happens, but it makes exploration of the wastes even more exciting.

Meet the Vault Tinkerer

Remember picking through tonnes of useless trash in Fallout 3 and New Vegas in search of Stimpaks and ammunition? Now it’s over. With the new crafting system, even tin cans and broken clocks can be real treasures. After finding a proper workshop, you can customise your weapons, armour and even the Pipboy to make them lighter, sturdier, deadlier, or simply more fancy. Add enough modifications and your weapon’s or armour’s name becomes ridiculously long, but they thought about it too and you can give it another name.

 

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Maybe I’ll just call her Vera.

 

While most ingredients are common enough, some are quite rare and you’ll learn to value each piece of circuitry or nuclear material you find in the dirt. Things get even more complicated when you find out that you need the same resources to expand your settlements, but I left my settlers to their own devices so far, so let’s just leave it at that.

The Power of the Armour

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There’s been a huge change in the way the game treats Power Armour in comparison with the previous instalments. Now it’s not just a piece of (very heavy and expensive) clothing you wear but rather it behaves like an in-game vehicle. The Sole Survivor enters it using that funny hatch on its back and, just like a real car, it needs fuel, the Fusion Cores, which aren’t exactly cheap but still surprisingly easy to find. Beside standard modifications increasing damage resistance, it has some new options unavailable for other types of armour, like an enhanced HUD targetting enemies or special filters in the helmet which clean your food and drink from radiation. Another minor but nice thing is that your PC sounds really badass in conversations when speaking through his power helmet. In short, for the first time in the history of the Fallout series, they really made the Power Armour something special.

Well, that’s it. I’m sure I’ll have more to write about when I spend another dozen or two of hours of playing under my belt. Meanwhile, let’s get a cup of noodles from that crazy Japanese robot and then set sail for the ruins of Boston.