Despite the fact that I’ve lived in a state that claims it has the greatest snow on Earth, I’ve never liked the winter season. I have this theory that my distaste of being cold/wet and driving through early-morning snowstorms have coupled with my crippling fear of Wampas has resulted in a general hatred of what I call the “season of the dead.”
But now spring is here, bitches (EDITOR’S NOTE: Spring was here when I originally wrote this, but then winter showed up again like a booger that won’t slide off of your finger no matter how hard you flick it at the wall)! And with the month of April comes two free games via PlayStation Network (if you have a PlayStation Plus subscription, that is–but why wouldn’t you? Free games!) This month, I’ve been trying to shimmy up the Tower of Guns and navigate the Alaskan wilderness with Never Alone.
It’s a fairly straightforward concept: player outfits him/herself with a unique weapon in order to ascend a tower. Of guns. It’s a little odd playing a first-person shooter in which I’m not trying to rack up headshots–instead, I’m trying to navigate through walls of autonomous cannons, kamikaze robots, and environmental pitfalls. While the lack of living enemies is disorienting, I grew to appreciate the fact that the game’s conflict revolves around surviving traps and a hostile environment.
From a gameplay perspective, Tower of Guns is just okay. Shit starts to get real about seven levels in, and the slow-moving controls don’t really facilitate the quick movement needed to successfully navigate upwards. It’s also tricky to evade the zillion bullets coming your way when your vertical leap is that of a legless tree sloth. Yeah, there are power-ups that fix this, but it’s teeth-grindingly aggravating until that random item drop.
I haven’t played many rogue-like FPS games, but as far as my memory serves, Tower of Guns is a decent addition to this pantheon. The game’s level generation is awesome, especially when combined with the steampunk aesthetic and cel-shaded graphics.
I’m a bit of a sucker for puzzle platformers–especially those that involve an intelligent animal companion. In Never Alone the player takes control of an Iñupiat girl and her arctic fox as they quest across the Alaskan tundra in search of the man who destroyed her village. Each character has specific strengths and weaknesses that the player must understand and use to get through environmental puzzles.
The game reminds me of Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts in both gameplay and in the fact that it’s packed with tons of fascinating information about the Alaskan environment as well as Iñupiat culture and folklore. As the player progresses, he/she unlocks mini-documentaries that were put together with the help of honest to agaayun Iñupiat tribespeople.
As a hybrid of a documentary film and a video game, Never Alone delves into territory that is as uncharted as the Alaskan wilderness. It’s not often that an engaging game rewards your hard work with bits of knowledge instead of points or achievements, and it’s something that I think more games should feature. As long as it’s interesting, of course. I wouldn’t want to cleverly elude a polar bear just to be rewarded with a video that chronicles the origins of polyester, for example.