14 Days Remaining

Tuesday 22nd
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Ben Cowles: Game On

THE FIRST-PERSON game Tacoma takes place aboard the seemingly empty space station of the same name in 2088 and it’s your character Amy’s job to find out exactly what happened to the eight people stationed on it.

There are no guns, no violence, no damsels in distress nor any other standard video-game tropes in this latest from indie developers Full-bright.

Instead, you snoop around the deserted station, discovering holographic recordings of the crew members’ conversations before they disappeared.

Each time you stumble upon a recording, you’re able to follow the characters as they move from room to room. In one scene, the whole crew gathers together to figure out an escape plan but, when the conversation is over, they split up into couples, head off in different directions and discuss privately what they think.

You’re able to follow each couple individually and then rewind the scene back to the beginning and follow another pair. Eavesdropping the conversations like this is downright intriguing and oddly satisfying, in a voyeuristic kind of way.

But it’s not just these great characters which flesh out the story. The emails, letters, photographs, flyers, diaries, company announcements and all manner of personal effects you find in the environment cumulatively add depth to the characters, the ship and the world they inhabit.

Mature, compelling and expertly paced throughout, this story of around six hours serves as an interesting critique of the seemingly inevitable trajectory of neoliberal capitalism.

Tacoma could easily have been the most captivating game of the year so far if it weren’t for one released a week later.

From the opening scene of Ninja Theory’s genre-defying action-adventure/puzzle/mental-illness simulator video game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, all I’ve wanted to do is get back to this intense, unsettling yet enthralling experience.

Hellblade tells the story of Senua, a young Pictish warrior on a journey into the mythical Norse realm of Helheim to reclaim the soul of her murdered boyfriend — whose skull she carries in a sack on her belt — from the half-living, half-corpse goddess Hella.

Senua is not like other video game protagonists. She suffers from psychosis, a mental health problem that causes people to perceive things differently, often involving hallucinations or delusions.

As you journey deeper through this terrifyingly corpse-strewn yet beautiful world, uncover our hero’s traumatic past, search for Nordic runes hidden in the environment, talk with ghostly apparitions and battle a slew of abominable Viking berserkers, Senua is plagued by a host of disembodied voices.

They question, doubt, mock and berate her actions throughout in an experience lasting six to eight hours. Playing the game with headphones on is both fascinating and disturbing as it offers a glimpse of what this misunderstood condition must be like.

Though the combat is at times monotonous, everything else about the game is phenomenal.

Its sound and environmental design immerse players in Senua’s reality and the cast’s raw and harrowing performances are sublime.

Ninja Theory are to be commended not only for creating one of the most unique video games experiences of the year but also for the way it presents its lead character’s mental illness.

Senua is not some one-dimensional “nutter” but a fully fleshed-out character with understandable motives and emotions that we can all empathise with.