Dreams of Your Life is not so much a game as a sort of conversational meditation on the subject of life, death, and love. Writing this, I realize how dreary it sounds; but actually, it's quite effective.
It's a project tied to a documentary film, Dreams of A Life; in this it is not unique. But unlike most games tied to documentaries, it does not in any fashion try to replicate the experience of the documentary itself. It does, at times, refer to the documentary's subject, never talking about the film itself; the subject is what happened to Joyce Vincent, a woman who died in a flat in London in 2003, in her 30s, with her television on. She was not discovered for three years.
The Snowfield is a beautiful and horrifying game. You begin on what was clearly a battlefield not long ago, strewn with corpses, barbed wire, and broken fences, covered in snow. You are huddled and obviously freezing. There are some other soldiers in the area, mostly standing in a daze, shell-shocked; they speak to you (a handful of catch-phrases repeated), in German; evidently, this is the Eastern Front in World War II, though none of the corpses are wearing Russian uniforms. The setting is stark, and emotionally impactful.
Movement is via WASD; some items can be picked up, though only one at a time, and handed to others. In a ruined house nearby is a fire; if you spend too much time away from it, you freeze to death, the view becoming blurry about the edges and what seem like ice cracks appearing in your vision as warning. It's easy to lose your bearings in the snow and freeze to death; the controls are also a bit awkward and you cannot climb even a fairly shallow slope, so you sometimes find it hard to extricate yourself from your current position.
You come away from Alphaland thinking "This is art, without the drama." That is, it an interesting aesthetic experience, from narrative, visual, and ludological perspectives all; its subtext is not entirely clear, but a degree of tasty obscurity is itself an effective artistic technique. And "without the drama," because unlike, oh, Rohrer, or the Tale of Tales folks, there's nothing here that says "I are an artist, look at me!" Indeed, the effect is as subdued as the minimalist graphics.
Alphaville is a platformer, with blocky, flat colored shapes providing the environment, and a little blue square for the character, if you can call it such. Some, but not a great deal, of platforming skill is required to play through it, but familiarity with platformers is required to understand the aesthetic of the game; as with many forms of art, a degree of cultural literacy is required to understand the work, in this case, with the nature of the platformer.
Clickistan is donationware, of a sort; it urges you, from time to time, to donate to the annual fund for the Whitney Museum, which commissioned it.
It's an art game created by a Ubermorgen, a duo of Austrian digital artists. You would think, given these facts, that it would suck, but actually, it's kind of engaging. Not coherent, mind you, but engaging.
In each level, you click on stuff while chiptunes play. A score at screen bottom is about the only thing that the levels have in common; it increases, somewhat mysteriously, when you click on the right things, whatever they may be. At some point, text appears telling you that the level is "extremely complete," and you should click to continue.
In short, it's chaotic, there's really no motivation to play other than to see what comes next and for the basically irrelevant non-thrill of maximizing a pointless score; but visually, it's cool, and the chiptunes are fun, and it's at least as much of an enjoyable timewaster as most of the stuff we point to.
In Ulitsa Dimitrova, you play Pyotr, a seven year-old homeless boy in St. Petersburg. The graphics are stark pen drawings, the music an annoying recorder tune. You are a chain smoker, and need to obtain cigarettes. You can break the Mercedes medallions off cars and sell them, and smash shop windows to steal stuff, as well as beg passersby for money. You can also encounter your mom, a prostitute, who will give you some money in exchange for booze, as she is an alcoholic.
If you fail to keep going, you get tired, have a nicotine withdrawal fit, lie down, are covered with snow, and die.
Once the transgressive nature of the subject material is experienced, you realize there's really nothing much to this game; no progress, no strategy, nothing but repetitive experience. As a game qua game, in other words, it sucks, really.
The sadness of its subject material is worth exploring; this is obviously not an emotion much explored in games. Yet it's notable in another way; this is not a game with remote commercial potential (nor is it intended to be such), but it is actually well suited to a particular ecosystem that has not existed in games until recently: It works very well in a festival setting. In such a setting, there are a bunch of games on a bunch of machines, and you move from one to the other. A game with depth that might take some time to get into does not shine here, because few will devote more than a few minutes to any title. Contrariwise, a game with shocking subject material and an unusual visual style will gain considerable attention, and the fact that there's no more than a few minutes of gameplay is irrelevant, since nothing will get more than a few minutes of gameplay.
Akrasia ("acting against one's better judgment" in Greek) is a visually beautiful game with pleasant music in which you, a rotund character manipulated by arrow keys or WASD maneuver about a maze.
In the maze are "pills". Eating a pill increases your score, but reduces your life. At various points along the life bar, which is in the shape of at tree branch, are icons representing a house, a pet, people (family or friends?) and a heart (love, presumably). As your lifebar decreases, these icons fall away.
On one level -- and, to my mind, about the only level that matters -- Rationalization is a simple, one-puzzle game with a starkly minimalist look and a nice feeling of surreality.
On another level -- and the level that has drawn considerable comment, and perhaps is the key element for the interest in the game, it's apparently a commentary on Objectivism (and if you're interested in exploring that, Kieron Gillen and commenters provide their own, ah, rationalizations).
In Runner, you're a little fellow running away from the ghost-images of three women who pursue you. You're running down a two-lane street, and obstacles periodically appear before you; "doors" that block one lane, requiring you to slide to the other to evade them; and barriers that stretch across both lanes you must jump to get over.
Coil's been out for some time, but we've never reviewed it, which makes it among the few IGF nominees (in the Innovation category) that you can play at present that we haven't reviewed. So it's about time.
In each level of Stealth Combat, you control a vehicle, ranging from an armed jeep to a Star Wars-like walker. Often (but not always) you have a variety of subordinate vehicles you can issue orders to. Each mission has a series of objectives--and generally, the other side has enough firepower to wipe out your entire force if you just charge in firing blindly. Which is where the "stealth" aspect comes in; this isn't quite Thief for vehicles--combat is often necessary--but succeeding typically requires a degree of finesse as well as mastery of the combat UI.
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