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In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, we get into the swing, as Phil explains his love of grappling hooks.
If you go back through the Why I Love articles I've written to date—stealth on ships, TF2's Scout or playing Chinese-style opera in Audiosurf—all have, to a greater or lesser extent, been about systems or experiences that change how you traverse through a level. The Scout can double-jump. Ship-based stealth levels are tighter and more claustrophobic than their inevitable "big warehouse" counterpart. Monkey Bee has one of the most distinct middle-sections I've yet to see emerge from Audiosurf's level generator.
A satisfying traversal system isn't the only thing I look for in a game, but it is one of a few broad areas that define my taste. If I can move around a game in interesting ways, then I will probably like it. I like Prototype—a game in which you can run up, and leap off, and glide over buildings—even though a part of me suspects that it's really a bit rubbish. I'm a somewhat overweight guy in his thirties. Sometimes it's nice to tell gravity to go and do one.
There's another traversal tool that I consistently love in games: the grappling hook. My appreciation for good grappling hooks—and good here doesn't mean realistic—started with the original version of Worms. Friends and I would play multiplayer matches with a very specific set of rules: no turn timer, unlimited girders, and unrestricted access to the grappling hook (or "ninja rope," as it's called in-game). You can use the ninja rope multiple times per turn, and we gave ourselves unlimited time to make our way across the map. With these rules, a worm can travel from one side to the other—their turn ending only if they take fall damage.
That's where the girders came in. We'd place them above the level, both to protect our own guys from air strikes and to have more surfaces to grapple on to. Worms' rope mechanics are, in essence, bizarre. They're also consistent in their implementation, which led us to a great understanding of their potential. With some effort, it's possible to swing 180 degrees and beyond—eventually landing on top of the platform the worm is swinging from. The trick is to extend the rope fully, smack into a solid surface, and then retract. That maximises the speed boost from bouncing off the wall, and, with luck, propels the worm up and around.
To anyone but those directly involved in the match, this was an unspeakably tedious spectacle. To us, it was thrilling.
Subsequent Worms games enforced turn times, essentially ruining my enjoyment of them. But a few other 2D games feature that same spirit of exploitable traversal. Trine is, intentionally or not, all about this. One of its three characters is a Thief, and her grappling hook allows for a similarly awkward battle against physics. Here, you can even grapple onto one surface, break off and re-attach to another, all while still in mid-swing. You can, on select levels, chain these swings—at times resulting in long, unbroken stretches of undulation.
Used properly, it can be a graceful tool. But both Trine games also contain a secret hidden mini-game for grappling hook aficionados. This game is called "can I use the Thief to complete this section, even though it was obviously designed for the Wizard?" Often, the answer is yes.
At this point, I should probably point to another 2D grappling hook game—one designed entirely around swinging as the main method of level traversal. It's called Floating Point, it's free, and it was made by PC Gamer's former section editor Tom Francis. It's a more sedate grapple-space to move through, and rare in that its freedom of movement is the idea rather than an exploitable quirk in the engine. If you're here because you like grappling hooks, then it's relevant to your interests.
In three-dimensions, the grappling hook is a less sure-fire hit. Too often, it's restricted—kept to specific grapple-points in order to stop the player breaking the level in ridiculous ways. Most recently, you can see this in Far Cry 4. You have a grappling hook! You can jump from the rope and re-attach it to another point before hitting the ground! You can only do this at specifically marked points around the map. I'd like you to imagine a sort of anti-exclamation mark, and place it on the end of that last sentence.
Some games are better at it this than others, and they tend to be the ones that are more open about their freedom of movement. Arkham City's Grapnel Gun combos satisfyingly with the glide. You can't swing, but you can shoot it to build speed across the map—using it to all but fly. And then there's Just Cause 2, or Let's Do Fun Shit With A Grappling Hook: The Game. You can attach onto a plane, or to cars, or to an explosive barrel that is shooting vertically into the air. You can use it in conjunction with a parachute to create a free-form system of movement more distinct and enjoyable than any of the game's vehicles.
Maybe that's another reason why grappling hooks, specifically, are one of my favourite methods of traversal. They're inherently ridiculous. There is no way to put an unrestricted grappling hook in a game and still have it be a serious tool, because it's either inherently exploitable or inherently unrealistic. It is a jointly a tool for motion and a tool for fun.
Case in point: the 3D version of Bionic Commando. It had a grappling hook as its central gimmick, and yet its story still felt the need for a Serious Emotional Payload. How was that done? With the late-game reveal that your bionic grapple-arm was also your wife. Your wife, who was used to create a strong emotional bond with the robo-limb.
That is dumb. But that is what happens when you try to inject emotional pathos into a game with a grappling hook—it throws off your sense of what's appropriate. At some point, a developer must have questioned whether wife-in-a-robo-arm was good storytelling. I suspect they saw their hero swinging care-free through a city and lost all sense of perspective. "Yes," this hypothetical employee thought, "it makes total sense that this bionic commando's arm is his wife."
It didn't, though. It was stupid. That's why grappling hooks can never be serious. Not true, freeform, use-'em-wherever-you-like grappling hooks. They're silly and fun—a tool for engaging with, perfecting, and enjoying the feeling of motion. They are, in practice and philosophy, the opposite of a wife in an arm.
More grappling hooks; less wives in robot arms. That feels like a strange place to end things, but also like good words to live by.
Eidos Montreal aren’t saying this is a screenshot from the next Deus Ex game, right. Today they announced the shiny new(ish) engine that’ll power their next cyberfest, and simply wanted to illustrate that with an image. This here Dawn Engine is based on “a heavily modified version” of Glacier 2, the engine IO Interactive created for Hitman: Absolution. This Dawn demo screenshot is perhaps not Newus Ex, but it is quite Human Revolution-y in its gold-washed technohole with metal walls, metal floors, and so many cables and tube lights, yet incongruously swanky furniture.
Fluorescent tubes? Dark, yellowy palette? Derelict futurism? It's all looking a bit Deus Ex to me.
The screenshot isn't confirmed to be from a new Deus Ex game, but is an in-engine shot of the engine behind the new Deus Ex game. It's called the Dawn Engine, and it's a modified version of IO's Glacier 2—the engine powering Hitman: Absolution.
"In the past, we ve relied on existing engines for our games," writes Eidos's Sacha Ramtohul. "But in the end, we found that our creative vision was somehow limited. So we decided it was time for us to invest in creating an engine tailored for our needs."
"Keep in mind despite any hints you may pick up from this image, this screenshot was only taken in order to display the level of detail and artistic fidelity that is possible with the Dawn Engine."
Fine, fine, so it's definitely not new Deus Ex. But the upcoming Universe project is further detailed in the post.
"As you can imagine, the Dawn Engine will form the cornerstone for all Deus Ex Universe projects at Eidos-Montr al," Ramtohul writes. "Some of you have had concerns that 'Universe' meant 'MMO'. Rest assured, it does not.
"Deus Ex Universe is the name we are giving to the fictional world and the rich lore we are creating for it, which will of course include core games, as well as any other projects that will help bring the world of Deus Ex to life."
Personally, I don't really care for the transmedia fudge DE:Universe is hinting at. But "core games"? I'll take some core games, especially if they live up to the light-hell promise of the above screen.
Every Sunday, we reach deep into Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s 141-year history to pull out one of the best moments from the archive. This week, Adam’s 2012 article singing the praises of videogame cities which are more than mere reconstruction, but are built from the bricks and mortar of ideas.>
I’ve been visiting various cities recently, which always fill me with confusion and wonder, then Dishonored made me think about how much I miss Looking Glass. Put the two together and this happens. Join me in a meandering word-search for cohesion and theme in the use of the city across Thief, and the selected works of Rockstar and Charles Dickens. Be warned, there are spoilers for all three Thief games.
Will Just Cause 3 have multiplayer? Just Cause 2‘s wonky-but-ace Multiplayer Mod showed that – surprise surprise – running and driving and flying and grappling-hooking and exploding all around an open world with your chums can be pretty fun. An actual, proper, made-with-access-to-the-source-code multiplayer mode could be something special. But Just Cause 3 won’t have one, Avalanche Studios have said. Probably. At this point of the game’s marketing campaign, it’s hard to tell how much of this is a firm declaration, how much is uncertainty, and how much is The Official Marketing Line. Don’t get your hopes up, in short. But maybe don’t be surprised. Oh, I don’t know!
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom can't stop falling off buildings, climbing up and falling off again.
Sometimes an ability feels so good it changes the way I play a game, and the Icarus Landing System from Deux Ex: Human Revolution feels amazing. It's a meagre tool compared to Jensen's arsenal of bionic gadgets. He can spray tiny warheads from his shoulders and brutalise guards with spring-action swords that pop out of his elbows. An ability that reduces falling damage ought not to compare, and yet it is Jensen's most graceful manoeuvre.
Film, comic and game characters who love showing off have been using the three point landing for years. It's visual shorthand that implies a high level of martial skill. It can be quite expressive when used well. Spider-Man slaps against walls in a lithe, springy motion. Pavements everywhere fear Iron Man's crunchy fist-first variation. In Ghost In The Shell Kusanagi's heavy three-point landing shows the surprising weight of her augmented body, reminding us that she's beyond human.
Like Kusanagi, Jensen's landing is obviously augmented, but the characterisation is different: more delicate and controlled. You can upgrade it to deliver a concussive blast with the downward thrust of a palm, but it's an upgrade I never take—the standard animation is too perfect. Ten feet from the floor Jensen summons a gold aura with outstretched hands. As the ground approaches he folds into a crouched pose and the electromagnetic field cushions his landing. His trenchcoat settles around him and he casually stands, as though dropping three storeys from a rooftop is perfectly natural.
It has become completely natural for him. He poise of that landing shows that he's mastered his synthetic body. At two Praxis points, it's a surprisingly expensive upgrade, the sort you're likely to take later in the game when the environments shift to multi-tiered complexes. By fortune or design, acquiring the Icarus Landing some way into the game completes Jensen's traumatic evolution from regular Joe to robo-Joe. It also riffs on Human Revolution's fondness of the Icarus myth, used as an analogy for the perils of transhuman progress. It's a punchline. The modern Icarus' wings can melt away and he'll still come back to earth in a halo of golden light and land unharmed.
For all that, I mainly love the Icarus Landing system as a piece of sensory design. It's a prime example of Human Revolution's vision of an ornate black-and-gold cyberpunk renaissance, complemented by the best noise in the game—a sonorous "fvvvwoooomph" that's both gentle and ominous. The overall effect is one of coiled power, which is fitting for a man who's had every inch of his being weaponised.
Outside of its opening hours, Human Revolution's plot isn't too concerned with issues surrounding human augmentation on an individual body-horror level, spiralling quickly into a tale of conspiracy and corporate espionage. Human Revolution lets you frame Jensen's reaction to his implants—using the famous "I didn't ask for this" line if you wish—and then moves away from the topic. But abilities like the Icarus landing and the Typhoon Explosive System do offer a stance, and the stance is: human augmentation is really fucking cool.
When you activate one of these abilities, the camera pops out of first-person to spin cinematically around Jensen's mo-capped animation. After the Icarus landing he pauses for a moment and looks up before standing—a touch of flair you'll see in any big-screen three-point landing. The artifice of the whole thing is compounded by the total lack of reaction from nearby pedestrians.
This carefully manufactured sense of cool is an essential prerequisite for the player character of a big-budget game, but in Human Revolution it comments directly on one of the central themes. Never mind the immunocompromised early adopters of bionic technology, or issues of identity concerning the replacement of natural limbs with superior robotic versions, look at this man who can shrug bombs and jump off buildings. Look at his retractable sunglasses. Look at his lovely coat.
I wouldn't have it any other way in this instance. Heroes are designed to be aspirational figures, and achieve that in problematic ways in some cases, but I've fallen for Adam Jensen. It's not because of the coat, or the shades, or the beard that could double as a can opener in moments of need. I want to jump off a building and land in a haze of electromagnetic energy, and go "fvvvwoooomph". It's the only reason I bother to navigate the fiddly rooftop walkways of Human Revolution's city environments, climbing up and jumping off repeatedly to the impassive stares of passing citizens. Bring on our augmented future. My body is ready.
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, stealthing around ships. We don't know why all the best stealth levels are set on boats, but they are.
Due to the popularity of military shooters, the ship level has become clich . It's the genre's lava level. Inevitably, it has a TV Tropes page.
I don't care. I love them. Specifically, I love them in stealth games, where they act as a setting, rather than a set piece. That bit where you're running through a semi-cinematic disaster movie, an invisible trigger sending the next wave of flooding water crashing through a door? I'm not a fan, thanks Tomb Raider. Scripting robs the setting of that sense of separation from the outside world; the idea of a small, confined, claustrophobic space with no escape and no backup. Not just for me, but for them—the guards.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution's Missing Link DLC opens on a ship, and it's one my favourite sections of the game. There is a very functional design philosophy to a big floating boat that sits at odds with the game's stylised futurism. In the open cities and sprawling office complexes, Deus Ex could lace its environments with high-tech design. The ship is just a ship. The scale is different—narrower, more linear. It's filled with plain, metallic walls. The doors are bulky slabs of mass. It feels solid. Real.
See also: the original Deus Ex, or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. These levels stand apart as standalone vignettes contained with the overall flow of their respective campaigns.
It's pure coincidence that I'm writing this on the week of Alien: Isolation's release, but it's fitting. That is, to all intents and purposes, a stealth game set on a ship. But it occupies a different mental space than what I'm talking about here. In many ways it's the opposite. The film Alien is about a crew trapped in an inescapable place with a unstoppable killer. It is a film about being hunted. But take the opening Tanker chapter of Metal Gear Solid 2—it flips the concept. Your enemies are the ones trapped in an inescapable space, and you are the unstoppable killer.
I was about 17 when the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo came out. It was around the same time I was discovering horror films. The demo—containing the first section of the Tanker prologue—felt like a powerful, cathartic inversion to the stories I was watching. It manifested as a fascination with toying with the guards. First, I'd shoot out their radio, disabling communication with the ship at large. Then, I'd move. Give them a glimpse that something is out there. Finally I'd strike.
I should probably point out that I'm not a psychopathic monster. Games can, to the outsider, be horrifying. My repeated MGS2 playthroughs probably looked like sadistic torture sessions—another young mind corrupted by violence and giant seafaring transport vehicles. That's not the case—if anything, the experience felt more like I was directing a movie. None of it was real, so what story can I tell? How about a story where the monster wins.
In Hitman: Blood Money, the monster is even more insidious. He hides in plain sight.
In Hitman: Blood Money, the monster is even more insidious. He hides in plain sight. Here, 47 is essentially the Thing—another film based on horror in a remote environment. In the Death on the Mississippi level you discover members of different social strata scattered throughout compartments of the ship including workers, revelers, and, of course, your intended victims. With care, you can move through them all, a powerful subversive presence that, if you're playing as intended, passes unseen. I always play stealth games as perfectly as possible, often reloading if the fantasy of hunting through these spaces is broken.
The ultimate example is Coloratura, the winner of last year's Interactive Fiction competition. In it, you're a literal monster—pulled from the deep and tasked with finding your way home. The monster's actions are initially obfuscated by its alien thought patterns, but eventually, as you work out what you're doing, you'll realise the effect that you're having on the ship's human inhabitants. And then you'll keep doing it anyway.
To an extent you can pull this off in any remote setting. But there's something about the sea that makes the concept so irresistible. In every direction is a vast and inhospitable ocean, and I'm the most deadly thing on it.