I don't get along with "zaney" video games. Maybe I'm just a grumpy git with no sense of humor but I just can't get into them. Across the board from Team Fortress to Borderlands, I just can't get into them. So when I first saw a trailer for The Outer Worlds, my eyes rolled right back, I gave a good huff and booted up the buggy mess that is Star Citizen. I'm the kind of player who would rather have weight to a game. I want it to make me think about my actions, fret over them afterwords and dare I say it, develop as a person. Ok, so sure, sometimes I'm looking for some idle distraction to relax too and that's what PUBG and Euro Trucker 2 are for!
If I'm going to invest emotionally with a story it needs a narrative I can get my teeth into and truly feel. This for me, always means less bubblegum and more substance.
Deus Ex did this, Colony Wars did this, Skyrim did this and it's why they remain so treasured by the gaming community. They draw you into their world, make you invest and leave you rambling like a mad man over the proverbial watercooler and leave you thinking about your choices long afterwords. The Outer Worlds started making this kind of noise on the run up to it's release but I'd invested in bah humbuggery so carried on ignoring it until a couple of days after it comes out, half my social media to spilling over with praise for it's politics and, ah what the hell, I went and bought it for PC (Yep, Epic finally got me), I want to play me some space revolutionary!
Fair warning, there are plenty of spoilers after this point.
The Outer Worlds is set in the colony of Halcyon a couple hundred years into the future. A group of corporations – know as The Board - have cobbled together and bought the rights to the fledgling colony and have driven it into the ground. You come into the game a frozen popsicle in a colony ship called The Hope which after some mysterious malfunctions turned up late and get's mothbballed on the edge of the system. Thankfully for you the infamous Dr. Welles is at hand to rez you and send you packing off to do his bidding. There is a pretty good theory (which the creators effectively confirmed during a QnA) that it's set in an alternative timeline where the Anarchist Leon Czolgosz never assassinated William McKinley in 1901 and subsequently the governmental curbing of large scale buisness trust under Roosevelt never occured. Subsequently they've been left to run rampant and Halcyon is a prime example of this. Flooded with crass advertising, forced corporate compliance and all manner of woes for the workers and customers alike.
The game is lush, like amazingly beautiful. It's an orgy of visual delight. The score and foley are similarly fantastic and you'll find yourselves truly absorbed in no time. Straight up, I can't here the theme without getting shivers of adventure. The main combat is driven by gunplay and for this you're armed with a diverse array of weaponry and they all feel meaty enough. The various types of weapons (force, plasma, shock anmd a couple of rarer specials) all give differant effects when you murder someone and it's all very satisfying. Yeah, it's safe to say that graphically everything has a very high standard of polish on it. The colonies aestethic is a curious clash of frontier western, golden era pulp, art deco and Juche propoganda which... well it works, it really works.
Instead of a vast map to explore you'll bounce around five main maps areas with a similar amount of smaller, self contained, mission specific ones. There isn't any flying of space ships mind, you just jump from one to the other. This actually works and provides the game with several very dissimilar environments and keeps a fast paced space opera feeling. Aside from The Groundbreaker which is a self contain space ship come station, these spaces all have the feeling of being a small part of a wider world and you're simply at the bit we're focusing on for the story. However it is here that I find my first criticisms. Once you've been there, killed/fetched/hacked your way through the lab/ruin/base then you're done with that location. Even when the game drags you back to places you've been before there is absolutely zero incentive to check up on people you've affected, the NPCs are all limited in their little parochial encampments and once you've ticked them off you'll never see them again.
It's drive through heroism, and while not the worst sin a game could commit, it's was the first aspect to pull me out of the game, I started fast travelling and just speeding through towns with little care or need to stop by and say hello.
Now, you've played this game before.
Here you are random stranger, come to do the fetching and killing with your near super hero prowess. Enjoy sunny Halcyon, meet the dead eyed locals who can't do anything for themselves and save or ruin their day as you see fit. Get yourself a few companions and help them grow! We've been here before, but their ain't nothing wrong with retreading well loved ground. Encounters with the local wildlife and maruaders are limited to set areas rather than random occourances and you're given the usual variety of ways to go about things, hack the security system, smash them with your hammer, snipe snipe, or go in all guns blazing etc. This is made even more fun with additional of "science weapons" such as the shrink ray and mind control gun which I'm sure are going to bring us plenty of memes. Combat is a bit basic tho, with the AI being a weak and held into a rather rigid "threat assessment" system thats pretty easy to cheese and there is little in the way of tactical combat from the AI. This time around you also have the ability to slow down time and deal specific debuffs to your prey, this is called " Tactical Time Dilation " and it works quite well. It'sdefinitely worth making good use out of TTD, not it is vital in some of the harder fights, it also makes for some tidy Max Paine esk moments (my particular favourite is blasting some poor fella while diving off a a house). You have this ability due to the chemicals used to ressurect you, but the game spends literally about two lines of dialogue on this and moves you along. It's never a great sign when the game can't be assed explaining your super power to you but by this time you've landed on Edgewater and already hating these corporate bastards so let's move on!
There is an interesting but woefully undervalued system of consuming drugs and food via a vape that's right out of Barbarella that is your health and skill buffer. I would have liked it more if combinations had interactions but alas it's just a way of bumping up the stats. Mind you I didn't use it much as you auto heal in two seconds and the game is pretty damn easy. This isn't a bad thing so much but given how much you stumble over weapons and consumables it seems bit of a loose extra. I'm sure on "Super Nova" difficulty it comes in much more use tho.
One of the first computers I had a gander on was a record of a man's suicide. The chief concern was that as an indentured servant he had actually damaged company property and they were not happy. It set a grim tone that I was pleasently suprised with. Over the next hour I was supporting striking workers at the cannery and meeting with deserters after being sent on a mission that would give me my first ethical hurdle. Do you keep the power going to Edgewater, forcing the deserters to abandon the Botanical gardens they had made their home, pushing them back into the corporate fold or do you reroute it to the deserters new home and shut down the company town?
This should have been a really hard hitting moment for me, but it wasn't.
You see I always play my first run through "straight", by which I mean I play myself in this fictional world. I'm playing on normal and I'm not looking up "best solutions" or any of that. In both in Edgewater and The Botanical there were curious statements made in passing and in the dialogue. The leader of the Edgewater is a seemingly reasonable man Tobson, a typical middle management pettifogger, asking you to do right by everyone. The leader of the deserters on the other hand is a women called Adelaide whose quite comfortable with the idea of letting the workers in the town die due to starvation, because hey, it's for the environment and liberty and what not.
A little looking around the place and it becomes evident that "it's aint Saltuna in the cans", meaning that there is some Soylent Green situation going on at the cannery, while back at The Botanical they are able to grow crops, simply because they are using corpses and fertilizer.
I go with the lesser of two evils and as I'm specifically intent on fucking over corporations I make the call to pull Edgewater's power because that's what I would have done.
What ruined it for me is two fold. First, it's immediatly apparently that the games revolutionary branding is actually going to be more about thje binary choice to support the evil corps or deserters with indigestibly muddy ethics. Second, I know games and understand the silent language we all accept. So I'm 90% certain that with enough back and forth, the finding of a specific document, the right dialogue path or some shit, I can reveal to both Tobson and Adelaide that they are cannabal pricks and they'll agree to share the power or something, you could almost taste it. I don't want to be "playing" the game to get all the ticks and the best ending. Solutions like this shouldn't be hidden behind the modern day version of "rubbing the right item with the right object to progress the story". It should come from our actions and intentions instead (similar to this is the super weapon on Monarch which turns out to be a form).
So bye bye Edgewater despite the concerns of my first companion Parvati, and I'm here feeling railroaded. Ok, so this is the just in intro so maybe I should just get on with it?... Still, I would have liked the option to push the workers into seizing the cannery and then working with Adelaide to establish a better food basket for the colony. If you CAN do this, feel free to shut me down, but I tried and failed and for a game that's trading on its counter corporate politics I thought this would have been the default go too? Instead we get a fairly standard by the numbers mission which some hidden solutions if you know the secret math.
This is the grounding of my third and primary point of concern.
The politics are shite.
I really don't understand where other people are coming from with their fawning affection over the games revolutionary patter. It's all surface, it's hideously shallow and pretty inept. I'm not asking for quotes from Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution or anything but the first time you see the word "Revolutionary" it's to define a npc class from a faction of religious zealots call ed the Iconoclasts and "anarchy" is only ever used to mean "chaos". Almost everyone, even the anti Board types are full of praise for the the corprate system. The standard line is "sure they are bad guys, but without them who would protect us? Who would keep order?" urgh. Wretch. This is repeated time and time again even from allies who hate The Board. They don't want to end the corporations, they just want a better type of corporation.
(This is woven into the game itself as it seems there isn't even a corporate free ending that could be considered good)
The Outer Worlds really dives into this in the third act when get to work for a corporation The Board have cut out of the colony proper with an embargo and propaganda campaign. They are a Democratic Socialist's wet dream. Monarch Stellar Industries (MSI) want a more ethical form of capitalism and eventually if you play I like I did (not simply murdering everyone corporate for no reason but trying to do "what's right") you end up leading them into an alliance with the afformentioned "revolutionaries" who are akin to right wing libertarians and christian survivialists.
Even your companions constantly berate you for being so naive if you cuss out the corporations. The only light in the political window is Felix, but he's played as a violent thug of low intelligence, lost in a somewhat arbitary loyalty and romanic vision of revolution. The only faction that seem legit are the crew of The Groundbreaker who hold onto their position as a bastion of liberty in the colony and even tho they hold offices for both the evil Board and the local mafioso Sublight Salvage & Shipping. Maybe I'm wrong here, maybe Max and Ellie turn out to be full on Black Bloc bad asses if you take them to get lit on Scylla together but I doubt it.
It's a bloody waste of a great premise that never delivers on the compliments it seems to be getting. I actively tried to be anti corp, but without randomly mowing down their guards this seems impossible. I was well respected by them right up until the end game.
Ok, the end game is a nice protracted fire fight where the outsiders come together and help you take down the big bad but this itself happens with zero build up. I feel like I missed a chapter where I went around rabble rousing and building up a plan of attack, they just randomly turn up. Given that franchaises like Farcry, Killzone, Half Life and Red Faction have all taken on social movements and political commentary in a much better manner, I was expecting the ground work to have already been put down. I went in looking for a work class revolution to join and I struggled to find even an anti-capitalist dialogue string let alone a revolutionary that wasn't played are corrupt in one way or another (ok, Zora comes close in the end).
Saying all this, it does do a grand job of visibility with a diverse range of characters and the very first asexual story thread I've ever encounted in anything other than a small indie game. So fair's fair top marks there.
So is it worth a play?
Yeah, go on, it's worth it. If you like fast paced narrative driven gameplay and can get behind the cheesy space opera stuff, you'll love it. It isn't half as zaney as I thought and I got pretty invested in some of the storylines (Parvati is pure and needs to be protected!).Jjust don't expect too much as it feels like half a game. I felt that it constantly drops the ball on going deeper and so many of the interesting possibilites hit a dead end. Why didn't we get to explore the mechanical love affair Ada and SAM seem to have? Why did we never get to usurp the social order in the capital Byzantium, even after we get to know it and realise it's falling from grace? What the hell is happening with Earth?
The game is refreshing in a world of microtransactions and is very well made. Heck, no day one patch tells us that they are quite happy with what they've put out. I only encountered one of two bugs such as the missing text on the computers and the odd visual glitch. There are a couple of game breakers but they seem quite difficult to find yourself in and in thirty hours of gameplay that is rather rare. The character creator is pretty cool with a good array of options. Politically it rises above some previous failings by including afro hair styles and while you have to select male or female as a template, males can have makeup and the females can fashion themselves with a beard. The vibe here is Adam Ant meets Peaky Blinders depending if you want a dirty face or some big ol' scars. Easy to miss there are also some blemishes and features hidden under "make up" and while it could do with allowing multiple layers it's plenty servicable given that you're almost certainly never going to see your face again.
On normal the game is mostly a cake walk (aside from one particular Mantiqueen and RAM, there was little threat). If you have a decent set of dialogue and science skills you'll avoid a bunch of fights and with the right companions, with the right perks, you'll walk through it. You're tripping over guns and food so you never really find yourself in a tight spot either, infact I never really had to use any of the venders for anything other than the bypass shunts and mag-picks or the odd obviously a quest item purchases. This isn't really a major problem with the game tho, it's flaws lie a little deeper. I want more politics, more social development and more reason to treat it as a epic adventure come walking simulator as I do Fallout and Skyrim. Tho The Outer Worlds makes the right kind of music it never really becomes as substantial as either of these other titles, and I'm not sure we can blame budget or anything like that. There is a wee game we reviewed called "A Bewitching Revolution" which managed to do all three of these in a much smaller and confined narrative space. As it is, after beating it, other than trying the challenge of Super Nova or replaying as a corporate stooge or violent insurgent terrorist there is little reason to go back to it right now, tho hopefully this changes with DLC.
At the end of the day tho, I think the game is well worth your time, get hold of a copy and give it a spin. Just don't go in expecting a proper space sim and certainly not something to sink your Anarchistic teeth into. It's a fast paced space opera full of thrills and spills but it's as shallow as a paddling pool. Accept that and you're going to have a blast, look for something deeper and you are going to find it lacking. The story is engaging, the dialogue pretty hilarious at times, I really liked filling my spaceship with enough bits of tat that it looked like an American dinner and for some reason I got quite serious about collective tossball cards.
You'll invest and you want to talk about it and that's what games are about. It'll make you want to ramble on like a mad man over the proverbial watercooler or leave you squirming about with a knowing smile when your mate says "no spoilers!". The Outer Worlds sure did that for me and for that reason it's thumbs up. Seriously tho, the politics of it were a let down and a few choice quotes don't change that. ■
Rhyddical is just another pseudo bohemian revolutionary Anarchist who expects better of us all but does his mains in Tesco anyway.
(mildly proofed and edited 03/11/19)
During the height of the 1984-85 UK Miner’s Strike, Wanted: Monty Mole for the ZX Spectrum was released, in which the titular character; a strike-breaking miner collects coal from a South Yorkshire coal mine in order to support his family during the strike. The antagonist, Arthur Scargil (leader of the National Union of Mineworkers) is defeated by venturing into ‘Arthur’s Castle’ and collecting ballot papers while dodging flying pickets and cans of Scargil’s signature hair spray.
The game was written by the 19 year old son of a mine training officer, Peter Harrap through the British software house Gremlin Graphics. Founders Ian Stewart and Kevin Norbun thought that the miner’s strike would be a good hook for the game, so built it around the strikes motifs like Scargil himself, as well as the concept that the miners get screwed over no matter what, as once Monty defeats Scargil, he gets arrested by Thatcher’s militaristic police force (presumably sent by Scargil who owns the mine?) and gets sentenced to 5 years in prison. It all resulted in an incredibly convoluted story, that evidently treats Thatcher’s almost state of emergency regime as though it was a moral equivalent to Scargil’s Miners Strike.
The concept of collecting ballot papers and a vote casting scroll to topple Scargill is a reference to the reactionary line at the time that the Miners strike was illegal because it happened without a national ballot being held. In a similar vein, the flying cans of hair spray refers to the famous Daily Mirror photograph of hair spray in Scargill’s briefcase contents. This incident was used by the British media as Scargill’s tan suit moment, in which Etonian op-ed writers tried to emasculate him by pointing out supposed vanity.
As a result of this controversial subject choice, eight radio stations, national newspapers, and national television news reported on the game, including ITV’s News at 10 Program, and the BBC. The media wanted to cash in on any vague semblance of the miner’s strike controversy that could enrage enough viewers into tuning in.
The software house, which was located in Sheffield and not that far from the South Yorkshire coal mines, profited hugely from the exposure of their new game. Gremlin Graphics subsequently tried to alleviate political adversity by publicly promising to donate 5 pence per copy sold to the Miner’s Welfare Fund. The fund ultimately denied the donation without a comment.
When asked why they chose to villainize Scargill in a 2011 Metro interview, Ian Stewart described the decision as “unashamedly a PR stunt. It was opportunistic.” and “I’m not a political person. I’d rather it be remembered because it was good a stunt.“ It wasn’t too different from the logic of the media coverage, and ultimately devoid of much political gravitas beyond ‘Now is the advent of neoliberalism. Let’s see how profitable it would be to devour and sanitize an event in which 142,000 miners are fighting for their jobs.’
Wanted: Monty Mole earned the accolade ‘best platform game’ in the then prolific Crash magazine, and spawned six successful sequels, and ultimately became the unofficial mascot of the ZX Spectrum.
“In my view Monty Mole will be a future Spectrum hero and there will be posters of him adorning every wall in Britain. After hearing about this game on the News, I thought it would be a winner, and when it arrived I found I was right.” - Crash! (October 1984)
The strike ultimately fell into a trap set by Thatcher’s government, who anticipated it and who had organized large amounts coal stocks to be stored near power plants resulting in the strike’s failure and subsequent symbolic death of the British labor movement. This was just a few years after Raegan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers, and taught America’s ruling class that they could exploit their workers in favor of ‘competitive work practices’ and fire whoever disagreed.
In retrospect, the bizarre concept of demonizing Arthur Scargill as a machiavellian plutocrat who oppresses a monocle-bearing scab mole doesn’t really add up to much. It’s a goofy take on what equated to pop culture in 1984. Devoid of any real meaning, or even harm, and mostly just a useful example against the ‘get politics out of video game’ debate, Wanted: Monty Mole is an obscure and confusing relic of the miner’s strike. ■
The world opens up before me a small functional apartment in a grey city, open sky above me shows flying cars darting round a bleak cityscape. The apartment is illuminated by a few dashes of colour in the form of incense sticks with drifty smoke rising up, flowers dotted about, a square wheeled bicycle in the corner and the eyes of a black moggy, who as I try giving it a pet tells me “If socialism does not stand unflinchingly for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and it's claim is a false pretence”... ok then kitty! . I venture out into the streets and a moment later a owl gives a hoot hoot and tells me “The police are afoot! But where are they going we've no way of knowing”... a moment later two black clad fash come storming alone trying to bash the innocent. Not to worry, I'm a which a with a quick burst of magic I've turned the, into neon pink pigsa who run off... Welcome to A Bewitching Revolution, a short FPS adventure about a communist witch who uses their power the ferment revolution.
This indie gem by indie game developer Colestia is available on Steam as a a free to play game and Colestia's own site as as a pay as your feel download. You might recall Colesta from the micro puzzle Post/Capitalism which did the rounds a spell back, their modus operandi is simple... to create atmospheric games laden with seditious propaganda, educational resources and gentle nudges for people to go out and make a better world. A Bewitching Revolution does this like Marmite, you will love it or hate it. The politics are right up front, the game oozes revolution and dissent. If you like that kind of thing you're going to have a great time, if you don't then, well buddy, you're on the wrong website. The setting manages to be both Kafkaesque and Whimsical at the same time. My head canon immediately placed me as a young Granny Weatherwax transported through time and genre to Ridley Scott's L.A. circa. Blade Runner.I don't know if that was intentional but it certain felt fitting as I explored this dark, decaying city and went about injecting it with a magic and life.
The game itself is a a short narrative set in a pseudo open world capsule of an bringing social change to an Orwellian nightmare. You travel around planting seeds of change (both figuratively and literally) using Tarot as a medium to share revolutionary propaganda helping to crack squats, unionise the workforce and destroy advertising before taking on and defeating the state. The music is a single track by NY Vice called “Smooth Steering” that is very A E S T H E T I C and reminiscent of Stranger Things with it's mysterious and etheral vibe. The soundtrack is infact very complimentary to the graphics which are smooth mooted tones of grey and brutalist design, which adds to the oppressive environment and made all the more interesting subsequently by being highlighted by flashes of neon colour wherever the people have risen up.
The game works very well as a pocket of Communist propaganda in itself however I truly hope Colestia takes it further and adds more environments for us to explore and rabble rouse in. Perhaps playing focus to different aspects of the struggle as we go on and exploring different branches of Communism, Socialism and Anarchism, entire sections given aware to woodland occupations and the such? Eitherway it's five star, well worth an hour of your time, it could do with a save function and Y Inversion (please) sure, but as it stands you have a lush game that'll get your wanting to cook up some revolutionary action in your cauldron and maybe bring some of that energy into the real world. Great little game to sharing with gamer comrades who are a starting to learn more of the theory and the hopeful message will be a hit with any radical. so get downloading and have fun taking back the city! ■
Check out Colestias other games at Colestia.itch.io
Rhyddical is just another pseudo bohemian revolutionary Anarchist who expects better of us all but does his mains in Tesco anyway.
It’s ok… read that name a few more times… go on buy a copy before I’ve even talked about it. Ok, you ready?… Is it as good a game as it is a name? Fuck yeah. The TESA collective have pedigree for making top quality tabletop games with a strong social message, from Co-opoly to Civio, the games wear their politics front and centre and do a great job at making social change a fun (and educational) game for all.
So the premise is this, there is a rising wave of fascism sweeping across the galaxy, threatening to throw the Interspecies Galactic Alliance under autocratic rule. The regime known as The Rat Pack has convinced the powers that be that all cats must be tightly controlled… or forced into feline exile. But everyone knows, cats don’t like to be collared, and they don’t like to be caged.
So the fash are rats and the players are cats, taking them on in a co-op, all win or all lose fashion. Your team of 2-4 players hop from planet to planet raising your forces and hopefully liberating atleast four before the fascists take over the Galactic Alliance, which means you’ve got to get on with the job! Meanwhilethe Fash rats use propoganda and (haha) laser pointers to wrestle back control so you have to use your three actions per turn wisely, utilising cards from a resistance deck.
At the end of your turn you roll a few dice to see what damage the Fascists are doing and the games stratergy comes from knowing when to let this happen and when to counter it.It sort of works like a dice rolling version of Pandemic so team work and planning are the name of the day.
It’s a night starter game, something reasonably light to play before heading on to a heavy or maybe even to have a few rounds off down the pub after a meeting, accessable and fun and really worth a play.
They’ve recently released an expansion called “Secret Moewssions” which tho I’m yet to play will be on my list for sure. It’s a bit on the steep side with shipping but worth it if you have the resources or can get your FLGS to stock a copy.■
Orwell is a PC game that sees you take on the role of an investigator tasked with implementing the nation's 'safety bill', by tracking down dangerous extremists. The first part 'keeping an eye on you' was released in 2016, with the second 'Ignorance is Strength' being released this year.
The game is designed to feel as little like a game as possible, allowing you feel fully immersed as you dig through evidence looking for those responsible for a terrorist bombing. You'll receive instructions from your handler, scroll through social media, look up newspaper stories, and listen to tapped phone conversations. All allowing you to begin to piece together what happened in a detective like fashion. You'll soon be starting to to highlight people of interest for surveillance or even arrest, and begin uncovering information about not just your suspects but The Nation itself.
interface cleverly allows you to highlight information taken out of
context. You can deliberately use this as a short cut to highlight a
suspect, or accidentally end up chasing the wrong person. Either way
it shows you the limits of the phrase 'if you aren't guilty you have
nothing to fear'. As you delve further into the game you're realise
that there is never a single 'smoking gun' left by a suspect. That
doesn't mean however, that you can't piece together a lot about them.
By cross referencing hacked emails with public forum posts and media
quotes, you can soon build up an eerily complete picture of someone’s
life, and reveal the complex plot threads woven by the writers. It
might make you think more about the way you use internet more so than
any real world article about online privacy.
The name itself, and the other scattered references to 1984, make the views of the game developers, Osmotic Studios, pretty clear. During development they read both fiction and real world accounts of surveillance, trying not just to alert people to it's existence – but actually make them care about it. However, whilst you are playing, the game doesn't preach at you like you might expect. Instead, as you play your role, you will uncover uncomfortable truths about the way surveillance works in a way that feels natural. Plenty of decisions will occupy a morally grey zone, forcing you make difficult decisions that will have far reaching consequences. It may even be possible to play through and think total surveillance in 'the right hands' is completely fine, though I suspect this would be rather difficult. Like Papers Please before it, this game excels in utilising gamings unique ability to make you feel responsible for fictional actions in a way that films and books struggle to manage.
A sequel was released in 2018, it introduced some interesting new features. Such as the ability to push stories favourable to the nation, or unfavourable to its detractors, via mainstream news sources and linked social media accounts. Unfortunately the game ends quite abruptly not long after this feature is introduced, and a whole feels a bit more straight forward than its predecessor. ■
Keeping an Eye on You
5/5 everyone should play this game
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength
3/5 if you really want more!