PC Gamer

Main quests are overrated. You'll probably get to save the world, perhaps fight a dragon or two along the way and all that jazz. We've done that all before. The real treasure lies off the beaten path, in all the extra quests and characters you discover for yourself.

Rubbish sidequests can feel like padding, which makes the whole game world feel insubstantial. Conversely, good sidequests can make a game world feel vast and interesting. We'll have to wait and see which camp Kingdom's of Amalur falls into. Will we be killing giant rats in cellars for meagre coin, or vanquishing sky-demons for magical plate-mail? US players will find out on February 7. It's out on February 10 in Europe.
PC Gamer
Sins of a Solar Empire - battlecruiser
Rebellion will be the first standalone expansion for the marvellous 4X space strategy, Sins of a Solar Empire. It'll split the universe into two factions, loyalists and rebels. You can join one side or the other to gain access to new tech trees and alternative versions of each faction's most powerful vessels.

The expansion will also add jumbo sized battlecraft called Titans. These monsters will be even bigger than capital ships and will be able to take on enemy fleets single-handedly. They'll get to dissolve incoming pirate raids with new giant laser beams, prettified by a new lighting engine. See Titans and their pet lasers in action in these new screenshots.

PC Gamer

On Friday CD Projekt announced that everyone's copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings will be upgraded to the Enhanced Edition on April 17. This will add extra areas, like "an underground system of chambers beneath Loc Muine" and "a temperate coniferous forest in the Loc Muine mountains." There will be new characters to meet, quests to complete and foes to freeze-bomb, and CD Projekt will release a bonus digital map, soundtrack, game guide and manual for good measure.

The trailer above is the new cinematic created for the Enhanced Edition. You only see King Demavend's severed head in The Witcher 2, but you don't know that he lost it during an awesome slow-mo action sequence on board a shattering, ice-bombed boat. Good stuff. The Witcher 2 is on sale on GOG for the next week or so.
PC Gamer
PCG Cat that got the milk header
It's the unsettling, frozen warzone of The Snowfield that's had me most intrigued this week: an experimental indie game that plays with original ideas in narrative design is always worth a few paragraphs of rambling in my book. But there are three other freebies of exemplary quality. The Cat That Got The Milk is a delightfully chaotic two-button title, and the wonderfully named Eunaborb is an intriguing take on crazy golf. Elsewhere, The Fourth Wall takes a single clever game mechanic and runs with it, in exactly the right direction. Read on for my thoughts on these lovely free games.

The Snowfield

GAMBIT. Play it on the GAMBIT website.

The Snowfield is slow. Painfully, agonisingly slow. That's clearly a very intentional decision, though. This abstract, experimental title employs its creaking pace and bleak themes to create a stifling, sullen atmosphere.

More than a little reminiscent of Tale of Tales' work, most specifically The Path, The Snowfield asks you to experiment and interact, piecing together your own narrative experience as you go along. Dropped into the shoes of a soldier in the aftermath of a great battle, you find yourself surrounded by the dead, the dying and the mourning. But there seems to be something else out there: haunting whispers permeate from certain areas, and people seem to be getting spooked.

Stray too far away from a lone, fire-lit building and you'll almost certainly end up in a frozen pile on the ground. The longer you remain in the icy climes of the outdoors, the more your health begins to deteriorate, and the less able you are to move. Stay out for more than a couple of minutes and you'll find yourself slowed to an aching shuffle, before keeling over and gasping your last breath.

It's hugely successful in cementing a sense of place, even if its visuals are a little broken at times, with polygons clipping over each other and the camera sometimes straying into the middle of a wall. It's also not entirely clear what, if anything, your goals are. You can pick up items and offer them to NPCs, who sometimes take them and other times refuse. Is it of any consequence? It seems that's up to you to decide: this is an experiment in emergent storytelling, first and foremost.

GAMBIT students wanted to see what would happen if they started with a basic game, then, via extensive user-testing, measured participants' responses to different narrative elements. It was a story designed by committee, yet one that never follows an overt structure, and never means the same thing to two people.

Whether this has made for a successful game will be a rather contentious topic, but one thing's certain: it's hard to imagine anyone coming away from this relentlessly dark, often unsettling experience without any opinion at all.

The Cat That Got The Milk

Ollie Clark, Helana Santos, Chris Randle, Jon Mann. Download it from the official website.

Cats and milk have very little to do with this brilliant two-button game, in which you must navigate a small rectangle around a series of increasingly complex mazes. Pressing nothing makes your little box rush full-steam-ahead to the right, and you've only the power to divert it in an upwards or downwards direction.

Before long, the mazes begin to undulate and animate, routes shifting mid-course, obstacles cropping up to block your progress. Sporting some extraordinary visual touches, the game's entire aesthetic begins to go quite crazy - the music becoming more frantic, the animations increasing in both speed and scope.

By the end it's turned into something immensely challenging, although a tap of the space bar lets you instantly skip anything you're having too much trouble with. But this is a masterfully crafted, abstractly attractive and tremendously exciting game. At just a few minutes in length, it's a shame it's all over so quickly: I have a feeling this could be spun out into something far longer without losing its fantastic appeal.

The Fourth Wall

DigiPen. Download the game from its official site.

An extraordinary clever puzzle platformer, The Fourth Wall absolutely demands that I tell you as little about it as possible. Its joy comes not just from understanding how to make use of a single mechanic whose application grows in complexity, but also from figuring out that mechanic in the first place. You're dumped in this world with no explanation, and fairly instantly find yourself stuck. How do you progress? It took me a couple of minutes to work it out, but when I did the feeling was joyous.

Quickly this one mechanic, controlled initially by the game, is handed over to you to utilise as you wish. You hold a button to activate it, let go to de-activate it, and it's via these methods that you'll solve an increasingly bafflingly complex series of environmental tasks. The nearest touchstone is probably Braid, but The Fourth Wall is equally delightfully smart in its application of game mechanics, and the stark grey and simple art design - almost the polar opposite of David Hellman's work in Jon Blow's indie classic - works perfectly. Credit must also go to the music. And to all the ideas. And just to everything, really.


KrangGAMES. Play it on the official website.

The delightfully named Eunaborb is essentially a game of crazy golf played at super-speed and without quite so many of its inspirations tropes and rules. You'll guide your ball - the eponymous eunaborb - around increasingly devilish courses, aiming to hit the ludicrously challenging pars and meet the frankly impossible time suggestions.

Unlike in crazy golf, you're under no obligation to wait until your eunaborb has stopped moving before striking it again. The result is that you end up chasing the ball around with your mouse as if this were a game of mini-hockey, avoiding dirt traps and desperately trying to ensure you don't fall off the edge of the game and into the spaceyness that lies beyond it.

As you chase those top times you'll find yourself frantically clicking and dragging your way to potential victory. Playing with a eunaborb, it turns out, is a lot of fun.
PC Gamer
The Elder Strolls
In the last entry, Nordrick was faced with a question we've all struggled with at one point in our lives: "Should I marry a filthy homeless man?" After a great amount of heated internal debate, hours upon hours of soul-searching, and the thoughtful splitting of many cords of wood, I have finally reached a decision. I'm not going to marry Angrenor Once-Honored.

It all boils down to this: deep inside his thick, ugly head, Nordrick has a dream: a place to call home. Angrenor Once-Honored can give me a lot: companionship, happiness, comfort, a variety of social diseases brought on by unprotected hobosex in an unsanitary public thoroughfare... but he can't give me a home. And so, I have to turn my back on the one man to ever love me. I'm off to Whiterun.

Before I leave, though, I feel like I should try to do something for poor Angrenor, who walks endlessly through the frigid, snowy streets of Windhelm without a penny to his name or a pair of sleeves to his, uh, arms. I buy some fine clothes and boots at the general store, and drop them in his path, hoping he'll pick them up. He sees this, and runs over to ask if he can have them. Aw. He's so nice, you guys! I give him permission and he picks them up, though I'm a little disappointed that he doesn't actually put them on. I was hoping to leave Windhelm with the image of Angrenor strutting about in some classy duds. Alas.

Jasper and I begin our stroll to Whiterun, following, as we always do, the river. Aside from some wolves and one giant spider, we make it through the day without much hassle. As evening approaches, we climb a long hill and come upon two towers connected by a bridge straddling the river. A bandit woman rushes over and tells me there's a toll to pass safely. She wants 200 gold, but I talk her down to 50 (with my honeyed words). I figure we're cool at that point, and I spend a few minutes using her cooking pot and looking at the tower. She eventually grows irritated and attacks, but I calm her back down by killing her. I search her body, but my gold isn't there. Did she eat it?

I try to leave but the remainder of the bandits hiding in the towers attack, one by one, and Jasper keeps running off into the tower to protect me. After a long, calamitous fight, so frenzied that no decent screenshots of it were taken, four or five bandits lie dead, including one on the far side of the river who I bring down with a couple well-placed bowshots. That was pretty gruesome, but at least we have a place to spend the night.

Another day of quiet walking (except for Jasper's continuous barking, which is starting to grate) and a night spent at a Stormcloak camp, Whiterun finally comes into view. Sort of. It's a bit gloomy today. Reaching the city gate, the guards don't want to let me in because there's some dubious talk of a dragon in the area. I'm pretty sure a locked gate won't stop a dragon, but whatever. I bribe the guard and he lets me inside.

Whiterun! Now, this is a city. Forget the grim, claustrophobic alleys of Windhelm and the shoddy, jerk-filled wooden walkways of Riften. Whiterun's avenues are wide, bright, and clean, and the people seem mostly pleasant. I start my day off at the blacksmith's, where Adrianne Avenicci invites me to learn the trade by doing some basic crafting for her. I'm a pretty accomplished blacksmith by now, but I play along, and make her a dagger and helmet as if it's my first time, hoping she'll be so grateful she'll marry me. While she's impressed with my skills, she asks another favor: would I bring a sword to her father who works in the castle? I agree, and roughly three seconds later I realize she's already married to the guy who runs the weapon shop. Great. Half the morning gone for nothing.

I stroll around the streets of Whiterun, with Jasper following and barking noisily (seriously irritating now), looking for anyone else who needs safe, reasonable help with something. Once again, everyone needs something. An elderly woman says her son was abducted by Imperials, and asks me to meet her at her house so she can give me all the details. Well, I am aroused by the mention of a house, but I'm trying to avoid any Imperial entanglements. Another woman I speak with is being stalked by some guy who wants to marry her, and would like some help fending off the leering jerk. Seeing as how I'd only be helping her so I could stalk and leer at her, I'm probably not the right man for the job.

There's also an angry woman in the tavern who wants to fight me because she's been snubbed by the local fighter's guild, but I can't imagine telling our grandchildren how it was love at first fight (plus, she looks really tough), so I'll give that one a miss. A man and woman are bickering over a stolen sword, and the man wants to hire a mercenary to retrieve it from bandits. Sorry, I don't kill for money, plus it seems as if he's already married. Another woman named Ysolda is trying to break into the merchant business, and asks me to bring her a mammoth tusk to impress some Khajiit businessmen. Mammoths? I'm a hunter, sort of, but I prefer to stick to elk and deer. Mammoths are big and generally guarded by giants. Pass.

Although. I did see a mammoth tusk sitting on a bookcase when I rented my room at the inn. It turns out it's not for sale, and I'm not a thief, but the general store is only a few feet away from where I was just talking to... what's her name? Yolanda? Yosandra? Ysolda. Maybe they have a mammoth tusk I could just flat-out buy. I walk into the store and sure enough, the proprietor has a mammoth tusk for sale. It's pricey, but it saves me from having to go nose-to-trunk with a giant hairy enraged elephant, so it's probably worth it. I buy it and walk back over to... what the hell is her name again? Ysolda.

I give her the tusk, hoping she'll think I somehow managed to bravely kill a mammoth in the past two minutes, and wouldn't you know it, she suddenly notices I'm wearing an Amulet of Mara! Man. Love in Skyrim seems to involve not so much the performance of romantic deeds but the completion of routine business transactions. But, again, I'm just in this for the real estate, so who am I to criticize? Yosoldra (or whatever) wants to marry me! It's happening! Again!

I back off immediately. Sure, Yosanta (whatever!) seems nice, and I like a woman who swoons when you lug part of a deceased elephant a few feet over to her, but I need to scope her out. It's time to spend the day following her around like a horrid creep.

For a few hours, she walks around the merchant booths, chatting about this and that with the vendors. Okay, she's sociable. That's nice. I never saw Angrenor talk to anyone but me. In the afternoon, she stops chatting with the locals and walks off. I follow. She's heading for a small house behind the general store. Could it be? Oh, it could. Oh, it be.

Whatsername has a house! I follow her inside, because I want to make sure her house doesn't completely suck. Oh, and because I love her or something. It's a small place, to be sure, though there's a nice cooking pot, a bookcase, a table, a wardrobe, and a little dining nook with two chairs. After she has a snack, she leaves and I continue shadowing her. She walks all the way to the castle, twice, which gives me a chance to deliver Adrianne's sword to her father so it doesn't haunt my inventory for the rest of eternity. He gives me 20 gold. Ooooh, thanks. Now I can buy that carrot I've had my eye on.

The woman I'm in love with whose name I still can't really remember continues walking around town until dark, then heads to the tavern, where she drinks, eats, and enjoys the bard's performance, even stiffly (but politely!) clapping after each song. Around midnight, she heads home. She locks the door, so unfortunately I can't stand over her watching her sleep all night, but there will be plenty of time for that if we marry.

I head back to the inn for the evening. Time for the pros and cons list! It's pretty easy this time.


1) Likes me
2) Impressed by speedy mammoth bone delivery
3) Active social life
4) Eats and drinks
5) Enjoys music
6) Not filthy, homeless


NONE. Let's do this. In the morning, I find her by the merchant booths, and excitedly pop the question. She says yes. We are to be wed. Holy crap.

"You should arrange our marriage in Riften right away," she says and immediately walks away. Oh. Uh, sure. I'll just go arrange the entire wedding all by myself, shall I? Okay. I'll just do the whole thing. I just went out and killed a mammoth for you, as far as you know, and brought you a piece of it, but why shouldn't I also do all the wedding planning myself? I'll just do everything in this relationship! EVERYTHING! YOU'RE SUFFOCATING ME!

Okay, okay. Let's calm down. We had a little tiff, honey, but that's normal for two people about to marry, right? Perfectly normal. Couples in love grow and change and sometimes bicker, but it doesn't mean that their love is any less JASPER GODDAMNIT WILL YOU STOP BARKING? I'M TRYING TO HAVE AN IMAGINARY FIGHT WITH YOUR FUTURE MOTHER! SHUT! UP!

I'm sorry, Jasper, I'm sorry. It's just the stress of having to plan this wedding. You know, plan it all by myself. I guess it's getting to me.

So! Now I need to go all the way back to Riften to arrange our wedding (by myself). I think maybe I should have something nice to wear on my wedding day, though. Wouldn't that be appropriate? I head to the general store to find some fancy duds, but they aren't selling much besides "Clothes", unfortunately. I can't even find a nice new hat to wear. Then an idea strikes me: why not craft something for my wedding day? I recently increased my smithing skills to the point where I can craft Dwarven accoutrements: why not whang myself out some special ceremonial wedding armor?

It takes most of my savings, but I buy a bunch of Dwarfonium bars (or whatever) and presto! I've some gleaming new Dwarven armor to wear on my wedding day. I have to say, I'm a quite impressed with myself. Using my self-taught crafting skills and most of my personal fortune to build myself some ceremonial Dwarven wedding armor is a pretty damn romantic gesture to my bride-to-be. Slightly less romantic is the fact that wearing my new Dwarven armor makes me look like a giant fucking robot.

Not quite the dashing knight I was picturing, but it's the thought that counts. Now, all that's left is to clomp my way back to Riften, and plan the wedding (myself). Come on, Jasper! Stop your stupid barking and obey your robot overlord! Bleep bloop bleep!

Save the date! If I can make it back to Riften speedily and safely, you're all invited to the wedding of Nordrick and... shit, what the hell is her name?
Jan 28, 2012
PC Gamer
Bioshock Infinite interview thumb
This interview first appeared in PC Gamer UK issue 233.

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter like its predecessors, but a less lonely one. You play Booker DeWitt, who is trying to escape the flying city of Columbia with a girl named Elizabeth before a terrifying steampunk robot called Songbird catches her. The city is a spectacular airborne flotilla of districts suspended by vast balloons – a testament to America’s cultural might, and its fondness for things that are big but not terribly useful. Our last good look at the game was a spectacular 15-minute demonstration at E3.

I spoke to creative director Ken Levine about why Elizabeth is the centrepiece not just of the story, but of the technology that drives it.

PC Gamer: Your personal story seems to be about rescuing Elizabeth from Songbird. How does that tie in to the revolution that’s going on in the world around you?

Ken Levine: Elizabeth is the catalyst for what sets this revolution that’s going in slow motion into one that’s going at hyperspeed. The fact that you bust her out of this tower where you find her at the beginning of the game... the Queen comes into play on the board.

And each side – the Founders on one side, and the Vox Populi on the other side – feels that Elizabeth is essential to them accomplishing their goals. The Founders want to keep her locked up in the tower, and the Vox Populi want to destroy her. This is because she is part of a prophecy: it is believed that if Elizabeth dies, the city falls with her.

That’s all the Vox Populi want, to take the symbol of their oppressor and make it tumble from the heavens.

PC Gamer: Aren’t they also on the city, though?

Ken Levine: Yeah, they are, but you know what? They don’t care.

PC Gamer: So it’s like suicide bombing on a massive scale?

Ken Levine: Yeah. Well, if you go back to the Anarchist movements of that period, their symbol was a bomb. They have to tear down the system to rebuild it.

PC Gamer: How do you go about making the player care about a companion character like Elizabeth?

Ken Levine: In terms of emotional connection, I thought about this for a long time. Because you only know this character for a period of hours, and you have to make a connection with her. And in real life that just doesn’t happen – relationships take a long time to form.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about that: “How can you make a relationship form quickly? How do you cement a relationship fast?”

And one of the things that we kept coming back to was soldiers – the kinds of bonds that soldiers form, when their lives are in danger and they make these incredible sacrifices for each other. And I think that it is sacrifice that makes people form relationships very, very quickly, with people that you don’t really know very well.

And so I just started thinking about how we can make Elizabeth and Booker perform sacrifices for each other, and how that would draw them together. And that’s what we did with the narrative of the demo we showed at E3: a little microcosm of that.

It’s basically a story of sacrifice, and she sets up her own stakes: this is the thing she wants out of life, and this is what she wants least out of life – to go back with this... thing, Songbird.

And what does she do at the end of the demo? She goes back. And then that puts Booker in a situation where the onus is on him. She made the sacrifice for him, what does he have to do for her?

It’s one thing to say that the princess is in another castle, it’s another thing to say that she’s there because of you. And not you as in the backstory, but you as in what happened in the game.

PC Gamer: How much work does it take to produce a demo like the E3 one?

Ken Levine: For us it’s a lot of work, and the reason it’s challenging is that obviously you’re bringing things to a level of polish ahead of the rest of the game. But the thing for us that’s useful, that actually saves us time, is that it forces us to get real, you know? We can’t say, “Oh, that’ll be fine once that part’s in,” or “Yeah, don’t worry about that.”

It sort of forces us to bring it to a point where it actually has to stand up for itself. These Skylines, it’s not, “They’ll look good,” or “They’re going to feel fine.” It’s, “Do they look okay? Do they feel okay? Do they seem interesting? Do they seem fun?” We have to make those determinations.

Like interacting with Elizabeth: “Well, yeah it’ll be great! Trust me!” We actually have to bring it to a point where we start to get a sense of that, internally on the team, and I think that’s very valuable for us.

PC Gamer: So it’s almost like a preview for you – you’re finding out what your game’s going to be like and how it works.

Ken Levine: Absolutely. So quite often you’ll encounter things that you realise are not going to work, and you have to either figure out how to make them work, or say they’re not going to be part of the game. And that happens a lot during our demos.

PC Gamer:There are moments in the demo that seem scripted, and others where it seems like you could go anywhere. Can you?

Ken Levine:Well, I’d say it’s much like BioShock. It’s just that the levels are geometrically larger, and they seem more vertical. But I don’t want to give an impression that this is a Grand Theft Auto or a Red Dead game.

I think the big thing that is interesting for us in this is that... we controlled that demo, but if we want Elizabeth to do a bit of business – like the part where she picks up the Abraham Lincoln head – what if the player doesn’t go there? What if the player’s busy? What if they’re in combat at the time?

And so we have this system where we build these bits of business like the Lincoln head, and Elizabeth says to the game: “Hey, I’d like to pick up the Lincoln head now and show it to the player, can I do that?” And the game either says, “Yes, this is a good time,” or, “No.” And if the game says no, we’ll place the other opportunity somewhere else in the level for her to do that bit of business and again, it’ll check: “Hey, is this a good time?”

PC Gamer: Does that mean she’ll carry the Lincoln head through the whole level, waiting for you to turn around?

Ken Levine: No, it means that we would place the Lincoln head in the level, but say she picks up the Lincoln Head and all of a sudden the player gets attacked, she has to get rid of it. So we need to account for that, or she’s carrying this stupid Lincoln head throughout the level.

But we also have another system on top of that which is saying, “We don’t want all these bits of business to either happen at the very beginning or the very end of the level, as if the player is sort of rushing them to the end.” works like content distribution, saying, “Has Elizabeth just done something recently, or has she not done something for a while? We should try to make her do something now.”

So, those bits – you could say that they’re scripted in a sense, but they could happen at numerous places throughout the level, because we don’t know what the player’s going to do. So we have to account for it, and Elizabeth has to seem both fluid and consistent.

That is probably the most complicated thing – in fact, I wouldn’t say probably, I’d say it is the most complicated thing in the game, because she’s so content-heavy.

She has her roots in the Big Daddy and Little Sister characters in some ways. And I say that in terms of how we had to think about it, because Big Daddy was trying to go through all these little bits of business as well: Little Sister would get tired, and Big Daddy would control the speed he was moving at. And we had to do that in places where we didn’t know what players were going to be doing. Their paths weren’t entirely predetermined, nor were their actions on that path entirely predetermined. So she’s just like an incredibly, incredibly complicated version of that.

I don’t think anybody’s done anything exactly quite like this, because she’s performing these continually scripted things in areas where we can’t control the action.

PC Gamer: Were you tempted to put that in a restrictive context, where the player loses control of his view and has to see Elizabeth do this cool thing?

Ken Levine: We have this theory – and I can’t say whether it makes sense, but... the less we take control away from the player, the better. That’s always been our structure in terms of storytelling, it’s always been our approach back from System Shock 2 to BioShock. We try to tell a story that is deep in narrative, but without asking the player to be restricted for it – and that’s very tough to do. But we think it’s worth it

BioShock Infinite is out in 2012.
PC Gamer
Private Eye
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, who's in the mood for something... noirishing?

The inevitable sound of smoky jazz echoes down the dark Los Angeles street. Somewhere, a man falls to the ground with an ice-pick in his neck. A damsel puts the finishing touches to her look of mock distress. A crucial clue is picked up off the floor and torn up by a genre-savvy plotter. And in his dark, cramped office, Philip Marlowe waits to be told the lie that'll pull him into the middle of it all.

Yep. It's time to head back to the golden age of detectives and take a look at a game that - while no classic by any stretch - deserves better than to languish in its current obscurity.

Proper detective games have always curiously been thin on the ground. Sure, there have been plenty of games where you play a detective, but that's not necessarily the same thing. Any old flatfoot can find a few hidden objects on a screen, or shove a bit of newspaper under a door to recover the key on the other side. To actually feel like a sleuth is to enter a world and be given the chance to investigate; to work out whodunnit instead of having to be told. Half the fun of watching detective fiction is trying to get one step ahead of Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Jonathan Creek or whoever. It's rare to see an actual game built around this rather than straight-up solving puzzles though, to the point that you usually have to head back to the 90s and games like Laura Bow to even get close to something resembling a case to pick apart with your, how you say, leeetle grey cells. Sure, a few have tried, like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and the Phoenix Wright series over on Nintendo DS, but nowhere near enough.

(At a pinch, you could also add Fog, but that's less of a game than the answer to the question 'if a multiplayer adventure is released and nobody plays it because it's shit, does it actually exist?")

Philip Marlowe: Private Eye... or Private Eye: Philip Marlowe, the logo makes it a bit tough to tell which way round the words go... is one of the few that tried. It didn't make much of a mark, ultimately ending up slumming it with Noir and The Dame Was Loaded instead of joining Tex Murphy and Discworld Noir in glory - but that doesn't mean it didn't do anything worth remembering before it disappeared.


Marlowe was always my favourite of the classic pulp detectives: the iconic PI with a sharp tongue, hard-boiled exterior, and noble heart that both separates him from the far more cynical world around him and ensures he's constantly ground down by it. They're traits shared by others of his era, not to mention subsequently picked up by everyone from Tex Murphy to Harry Dresden, but you just can't beat the original. Sam Spade? Nah. Bit of a bore, especially when played by Bogart.

Unfortunately, if you're a fan of the character, you won't find much mystery in Private Eye. It's based on the novel The Little Sister in much the same way that a photocopy is based on an original sheet of paper, with precious little you don't already know. There's the option to play an alternate version of the story with a different criminal and a few minor changes here and there, but the majority of the investigation remains the same. If you haven't read the original on the other hand... well... prepare for confusion. As great as Chandler was, his actual stories could be a bit of a mess. Most famously, when a movie was being made of Marlowe's first case, The Big Sleep, the makers called Chandler to ask "Uh... who killed this guy near the start?" only for the author to realise he hadn't got the faintest clue.

The Little Sister doesn't have anything like that, but it does seriously pile on the plot threads. In the book, this doesn't matter - it's Marlowe's job to solve it, and you're mostly there for his attitude and to see what happens. When you're the one in charge, simply staring at a pile of names like "Orfamay Quest" (no relation to Johnny Quest or the Quest for the Holy Grail) quickly gets confusing, and the story quickly moves from simply trying to track down Orfamay's missing brother to a whole heap of other trouble, including icepick murders, false identities, and intrigue involving Hollywood starlets.

Thank goodness notepads are so cheap. You really need one here.

Investigating the case is an unusual experience though - a mix of adventure (pointing and clicking), interactive movie (it's a very pathed game) and radio play (there's a lot of talking) that only really works because of the extra little elements scattered in. My favourite, and one I don't think has been done anywhere else, is how the game handles crime scenes. Marlowe's method of investigation has a tendency to dump him on the wrong side of the law, not always for particularly smart reasons. In keeping with this, you're quite welcome to walk into a crime scene, pull an icepick from a corpse's neck and stash it in your pocket for later. After all, you need evidence, right? However, you also have to factor in that when the police finally decide to check out your office, they're not going to be impressed if they find a cupboard full of bleeding murder weapons and other souvenirs you pinched. And they're certainly not above just arresting Marlowe for the crime and declaring it a three-day weekend...

Does this have much impact on the game? No, not really. It's a great idea though, both making you think a little more carefully about how you handle each situation that comes along and ramping up the danger. Similar scenes include only having a limited amount of time to raid a room before the police show up, and hoping you grabbed everything, and simple decisions like whether or not to investigate before interrogating a suspect or vice versa. It also leads to the hilarious image of Marlowe casually pulling an icepick out of a corpse's neck, considering it, then going "Nah" and stabbing it right back in.

Adventure gaming still desperately needs ideas like that, and while Private Eye is too tied to its source material to make the most of them, they're probably why I look back on it so fondly. It's a shame that there wasn't a follow-up with a completely fresh story, although looking at the general quality of storytelling here, you can see why - it's a great demo of how words that would be fine in a novel written in the 1950s don't necessarily shine in an interactive game designed for 1997. Modernising classic stories is tough, even if you're not planning to drag them gloriously into the modern day.

What it lacks in spark though, it more than makes up for in atmosphere - the music, the location design, the use of cel-shaded characters that fit into them instead of blotchy FMV characters filmed in front of a bluescreen - and that's honestly as much of noir's appeal as the stories the genre lets unfold. There are better noir games, like the aforementioned Tex Murphy series (and The Pandora Directive especially) and Discworld Noir, but few that make it so satisfying to slip into a pair of gumshoes and snark at a prissy dame from Kansas whose attitude really isn't worth a measly $20 a day plus expenses.

$40 a day? Perhaps. That whisky and detective-friendly dog-food's not going to buy itself...

Oddly, the age of the original story and its setting mean that while Private Eye has obviously aged, it manages to pull off the rare trick of feeling retro rather than ancient. If you're a Chandler fan, it's still worth checking out if you see it cheap anywhere (though it's not 64-bit compatible). If you've never read any? Maybe you should fix that. You'll find cheap compilations almost anywhere books are sold, and the pulpier they are, the better. Afterwards, you might not feel like jumping into this adventure specifically, but that's okay. Hit Good Old Games for the second two Tex Murphy interactive movies and you'll still get all the noir you can handle, along with a couple more adventures with the guts to be different.

Sigh. How I wish I'd been able to say "LA Noire" instead. How that disappointment still burns...
PC Gamer
DC Universe Online's Creative Director, Jens Andersen, announced yesterday that they're undertaking a large overhaul of DCUO's holiday content. Thankfully, they're cutting the uncomfortably weird Valentine's Day event from last year, and building a new one from scratch. Their goal is to have four major events that each host open-world content, collections, and a boss encounter.

Most MMOs have at least a few holiday events, but BioWare has yet to reveal any of its plans for holiday content for The Old Republic. What's the best holiday content you've ever played in a game, and what do you want to see from holiday events in TOR, DCUO, or any other MMOs you're playing?
PC Gamer

In the latest installment of the League of Legends Champion Roundtable, Josh and Lucas are joined by GamesRadar's Hollander Cooper to give the run-down on Sejuani, the newest female tank to storm onto the Fields of Justice. Is she really worth your money? Only one way to find out.
PC Gamer

Creatures may be disappearing from Diablo 3, but there are more soon to be added to Minecraft. The video above shows the three new varieties of Ocelot. They can be found in the new jungle biomes, and tamed with fresh fish. D'aww.

Elsewhere, Aliens: Colonial Marines gained a few months of development time. Hopefully Gearbox can get those shiny alien heads all polished up before Autumn rolls around. Bioware lost their dictionary but found a way to make us excited about Mass Effect 3's multiplayer in the latest trailer and CD Projekt Red made us smile the smile of someone about to get lots of free stuff when they unveiled their plans for The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition. Hooray!

But what else has been happening? Monaco, Portal, Battlefield 3 and the Binding of Isaac all feature in the following list of links for the day, presented for your perusal in no special order.

DICE tell MP1st that the MAV riding bug, beautifully exploited in this video, will be patched soon. Nyooo!
Ever left a game to get a drink and then returned to find your character dancing? Edge takes a look at idle animations.
The lovely Craig P, who used to sit just opposite me, posts about a neat new Portal mod over on the Rock Paper Shotgun.
Evil Avatar have the latest trailer for Blacklight: Retribution.
This is what designing a Monaco level would look like if it was made reallyreallyfast.
In a not-at-all sinister move, Square invite you to join its Hitman community, The Barcode Society.
An "Unholy" edition of Binding of Isaac is arriving on Steam in March, VG247 report.
Kotaku mention that PixelJunk is coming to PC.

Pets in games are brilliant. I tend to roll as a pet class when possible in RPGs and MMOs. Why should I bother killing ten boars myself when I can let servile creatures kill ten boars for me? What are your favourite examples of animals in games?