Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I’d seen people talking about Paratopic for awhile. An experimental horror game drawn in blurry PlayStation 1-style textures, it drew comparisons to David Lynch and Silent Hill, meaning that it was a historic inevitability that I play it. Give me some brown hallways and a sad ambient track, and I’ll be happy for at least an hour.
So I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did. Played from a first-person perspective, the game develops tension across a series of long, plainspoken scenes. There are slow-moving, history-rich conversations set in some post-industrial hellscape, long silent stretches spent driving on the highway, and brief flashes of surreal violence. The game jump-cuts between these moments like a film, a technique previously employed by the beloved heist game Thirty Flights Of Loving. (Why don’t more games do this?) Also like that game, Paratopic shuffles through fully developed systems in these vignettes, such as a functioning camera or a lovingly detailed gun-reload animation. For all the comparisons to Silent Hill, though, it plays out much more like a cross between Kentucky Route Zero—with dreamy interludes and circuitous, rambling dialog trees—and Kitty Horrorshow’s Anatomy, which treated video game horror as the rough material for something closer to confessional poetry.
It’s not perfect. When it shifts from atmospheric horror to creature terror, it misses the mark considerably. But it is, nevertheless, a wonderful reimagination of what video game horror can look like and be. Its jagged narrative elements never quite form a compelling shape, but rather stand on their own, a sort of anthology of strange scenes. I’m glad that I played it, but moreover, I’m glad that other people seem to be playing it, too. Horror and games are a perfect match, and anything that pushes them forward is worth celebrating. [Clayton Purdom]
City Of Brass
Sometimes a game just needs one good idea to keep you coming back for more. That’s been the case with me and City Of Brass, an Arabian Nights-themed first-person dungeon crawler that recently escaped Steam Early Access and made it onto consoles as well. I’ve been playing the PC version for a few weeks now, stumbling my way through its randomly generated death gauntlets, and while it’s far too rough around the edges to heartily recommend (a little too difficult, a little too repetitive, a little too eager to obfuscate—three slight flaws that add up to a lot of irritation) I have to praise the game for the way it handles traps.
City is a first-person roguelike (Roguelite? Whatever.) and as such has some strict rules about the ways objects interact. You’ll find a few different kinds of extremely dastardly traps hidden around the levels: spikes that pop out of tiles when you walk over them, trap doors, walls that shoot out deadly gas. All of them can take out big chunks of your teeny health bar if you stumble into them, but they also affect your skeletal enemies. And let me tell you, that’s the real joy of this game. You’re equipped with a sword and a whip, and the latter can be used to pull monsters around, say into a bunch of spikes, or push them back, say into a bottomless pit, and that simple turnabout, your ability to flip all these horrible little annoyances on the game’s dumb-as-rocks mooks, is so darn satisfying every time. (It does require some precision aiming, though, and I have a feeling it might be a little too hard to manage with anything but a mouse and keyboard.) I seriously doubt I’ll ever be able to string together a full run, but I’m pretty content with my failures if it means putting these hazards to good use. [Matt Gerardi]