Time to crack the case, hunt the bad guys down and smash-up an entire city: that’s right, it’s another round of crime and punishment themed recommendations – this week we’re looking at videogames. Just what capers will we recommend to you? Or is it going to all get a tad hard-boiled? Read on to find out…
I’ve never played any Rockstar Games – they’ve never really appealed to me. There was something about all the murder and questionable morals of the Grand Theft Auto games that put me off from the start.
A post-war, mystery, cop game? I was sold.
Despite unfortunate beginnings (I first played L.A. Noire on an Xbox 360) I found that I was really getting into the game. It was fun and challenging. I soon found myself getting addicted, hoping that I wouldn’t drive in real life like I did in that game.
I both feared and dreaded the ominous date of the 11th of November 2011, because it was the day that Skyrim would lay claim to me and would take my life away. On that very same day, L.A. Noire was released for PC and I can honestly say it was one of the best purchases I’ve made.
David Hurd and I had a whale of a time solving crime together, and the way we played it made it feel like a brilliant multiplayer. I found myself getting attached to the characters and the storyline and was deeply impressed with the graphics – this is one of the first games to use motion-capture technology – and it was a great break from the snowy tundras of Skyrim.
As a crime game, L.A. Noire may not be the most accurate, but it certainly opened my eyes to the noire genre and really enchanted me.
Crime games usually have a reputation for being dark and gritty, with violent and unpredictable characters, and a hearty slice of heavy violence and gunfire. But they’re not always like that. Sometime the crime genre can provide a great platform for light-hearted comedy, and nowhere else is this better exemplified than by LucasArts’ point-and-click masterpiece Sam & Max Hit the Road.
Based on the comic books by Steve Purcell, the game follows the titular Sam and Max, the Freelance Police, as they try to solve their latest case: a local carnival has had its two star attractions, a frozen bigfoot and a giraffe-necked girl, stolen during the night. After leaving the carnival, the plot kind of takes backseat and what follows is a manic road trip across the whole of the US of A as the Freelance Police search everywhere for clues, not matter how tenuous or inconsequential, visiting as many tacky tourist traps as they can. Because of this, Sam & Max Hit the Road is really an ode to the numerous Americana sites that cover the country (surreally making it a kind of spiritual brother to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods).
What makes this game work so well is the humour. It’s full of brilliant sight gags, witty dialogue and, in central characters Sam and Max, features one of comedy’s greatest (and most bizarre) double acts. And as a puzzle game, it’s actually very challenging. In a good way.
With the initial theft of the carnival attractions and the involvement of a villainous Liverpudlian country and western singer, Sam & Max Hit the Road is definitely a crime game, it’s just one of the rare ones that falls on the right side of hilarious.
You play fugitive undercover cop Max Payne whose whole world has gone down the drain, after the death of his wife and baby daughter killed by several drug junkies who broke into his home. It’s a huge tale of betrayal and seeking revenge. Framed for something he didn’t do, Max’s world is falling apart in this game where he chases down drug junkies and has to run from the police while dealing with the death of his family and best friend.
You find yourself visiting quite fair few different city locations from motels, rooftops, docks, factories and more. You spend a lot of time shooting out with gangs where you get to dish some rather sick shots when you get to dive forward or backwards or sideways and shoot at them when they occasionally get to have a slo-mo shot of the bullet hitting them.
The game has a rather nice narration from Max Payne and depicts just about everything he sees, he really does sound like a detective, his tone as he talks during the comic book cutscenes taking note of everything around him and the situation he’s in. It’s a game jammed with action, with a cruel noir tilt.
I’ve never been a fan of the Lego games (I know, heathen). Since I first played Lego Star Wars, the ratio of actual humourous cutscenes to repetitive and seemingly pointless gameplay was not in my favour. Thankfully, Lego City: Undercover gets it right.
Not only is it an original story, it’s also a pretty good one. You play as Chase McCain, a hot shot cop with a mastery of disguises – and the roles seem well done, requiring each one to think your way out of a situation. The story lives up to the name, as Chase goes undercover to get closer to his target: the escaped criminal – Rex Fury. Chase McCain isn’t just a random glorified Lego piece – he has a backstory and the entire affair feels like it’s got something for you whether you’re a fan of dirty cop movies or a 5 year old. The parodies are also very lighthearted and done actually very well (which is arguably the best thing about most Lego games). And I’m so glad they’re using voices now as it allows the story to be better told, and necessarily so since you’re actually meant to follow it rather than just watching a mime show. So much better
The downside is that it’s exclusive to the WiiU, which wouldn’t be so bad, had it not meant that people probably haven’t even considered playing it. But if you don’t have a WiiU yet, Lego City: Undercover is one of the games I would recommend (among actually a surprising amount).
Telltale Games took the magic they created with their Walking Dead games and applied it to Vertigo’s Fables comic book series, which is what The Wolf Among Us is based on. It’s a deep, dark world that the beings from fairy tales (a.k.a. Fables) occupy on the edge of human society. Set sometime in the 1980s, you play as Sheriff Bigby whose duties include keeping order among the Fables, to help ensure their continued survival. The game is actually set before the first issue of the comics, so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read them (but you should definitely read them some time).
What starts out as a regular night for Bigby, quickly deteriorates into one of the biggest scandals to rock the world of the Fables since they ended up among the humans. It may sound like it’s just chasing crime fiction clichés that we’ve become accustomed to over the years, but in fact the developers make them their own in the game. You might think you know what’s going on as Bigby’s investigation heats-up, but there are an amazing number of turns that things can take and just like in The Walking Dead, the decisions you make as Bigby will affect the outcome of the game.
The first episode is really well put together and a good set-up for the rest of the series.
This is actually the third Discworld game in a series of point-and-click adventures based on Pratchett’s novels. But while the first two are broad comedies, with bright pallets and cartoonish art-styles, this third is grim and serious. Our protagonist – Lewton – is a disgraced ex-watchman, following a chain of grisly murders through a dark city of perpetual rain.
Which isn’t to say it’s not funny. It’s hilarious. But the humour is black as pitch, and much of it stems from Lewton’s deadly serious delivery of his hard-boiled monologues. It’s both a send-up and a love letter to Film Noir – riffing hard on Cassablanca, and featuring the most fatale of all femme fatales. As a result, it skews far closer to the satirical tone of the books than its two farcical predecessors.
But it’s not only great as a Discworld game, it’s a great Noir – with atmosphere so thick you could cut with a knife – and a great detective story. There’s a wonderful mechanic where scribbles in Lewton’s notebook can be used as inventory items, allowing you to combine clues into theories, and theories into evidence. This same idea recently resurfaced in Dave Gilbert’s Blackwell series, and it still feels innovative, fifteen years later.
Point-and-click games are making a comeback now – thanks, in no small part, to Telltale Games – and my fingers are crossed that, one day, we might see Ankh-Morpork’s rainy streets once more. Play it again, Samael!