Deadshirt is Playing brings you a look at the best, newest, and strangest of what the wide world of video games has to offer. What are our staff and contributors playing this month, you ask?
Kyle Herr is…
From Buenos Aires and says, “Kill em’ all…”
Arrowhead Game Studios & Sony Computer Entertainment
When I wasn’t fawning over beloved childhood cartoons (see later) this month, I was reminiscing about a beloved movie from my youth (that was probably way too violent for a little kid, but my dad always let me watch the good stuff). If you didn’t guess from the title joke, I’m referring to 1997’s cult classic, Starship Troopers. Now, Arrowhead’s Helldivers isn’t actually based on that satirical take on a sci-fi novel about how great it is to fight and die for a meritocracy hellbent on expanding ever outwards, but within the first moments it’s incredibly clear that they would have licensed it out if they could have.
Fighting for the tenants of “Prosperity, Liberty, and Democracy,” you take the role of a “Helldiver,” the Crème de la Crème of Super Earth’s (yes, Super Earth) military might. As a badass orbital drop trooper with an amazing variety of weapons, tactics, and a flowing cape, you must fight back the hordes of bugs, cyborgs, and filthy “enlightened” aliens that aren’t really clamoring to your doorstep. More importantly, you must die. A lot.
What I love the most about this game is the way that Arrowhead works humor into the game’s mechanics, much like they did in the critically acclaimed Magicka. The game, like Starship Troopers, is ripe with horrifying ways to die that come off as so over-the-top that you can’t help but crack a smile. You need to watch your fire, as all of your weapons can chew up your teammates as easily as the aliens you should be pointing them at. While this may frustrate some online players, there have been countless times when I’ve heard someone burst out laughing over their mic when the supplies they just called in flatten another teammate. This is then amplified when they call in reinforcements to respawn the fallen comrade and, due to their own laughing fit, they are in turn crushed by the ally’s own drop pod.
I can’t recommend this game for endless single-player fun, as the more difficult missions are near impossible to tackle alone and there don’t appear to be to add bots into your games. However, this is one of the most hectic, yet rewarding four-player experiences I’ve played in a long time. Add in the abundance of tactical items, such as turrets, heavy weapons, and even a big unlockable mech suit, and you have one hell of a fun game, especially if you can round up three friends to play local co-op with you.
Watching Krillin die, again…
Dragon Ball Xenoverse
PC/PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox 360
Dimps & Bandai Namco Games
When I was in junior high, there was nothing that I wanted more than a good Dragon Ball Z game. (Well, to be honest I was hoping more to become a real life Gundam pilot, but that’s not relevant to the narrative that I’m building here.) What is important was that there was one shitty, very limited pressing of a Dragon Ball game available at the time, and it wasn’t based on Z, it was based on GT, the half-baked sequel series that wouldn’t even come stateside until almost a decade later.
By the time that there were more Dragon Ball Z games in circulation than episodes of the show itself, I had long since stopped caring about the seminal martial arts anime. However, the more trailers and coverage that I saw for Dragon Ball Xenoverse, the more strangely intrigued I became about the hybrid Fighting/RPG style game.
Rather than having the player control Goku and friends through a series of scenarios retelling the story of Dragon Ball Z for the dozenth time, this take on the anime series involves Trunks, the time traveling son of villain-turned-hero, Vegeta, and the show’s Kyle Reese parallel, using the Dragon Balls to wish for the strongest, bestest, handsomest hero of all time to join his time cops and take on an evil from beyond time and space. SPOILER WARNING: the hero is you.
While having the player create an original character to save all of the world’s greatest heroes’ asses is a blatant display of fan service, it works so well that it becomes the game’s greatest strength. After a brief intro, you are given the choice of making a character based on numerous species from the show, such as garden variety Humans; the every-scene-stealing Saiyans; the asexual, egg puking Namekians; the bubblegum-bodied Majins; or the villainous Frieza’s aptly named “Frieza’s Race.” Throughout a series of missions during which you drop into famous battles and bail out the heroes, you gain new abilities, equipment, and other items modeled after every detail from the series.
While I don’t think that this game is “great,” I do think that it’s a very fun brawler for old and new fans of the show that want to mess around in a beautifully rendered facsimile of a colorful, fun cartoon. The story isn’t anything I’d write home about, but this is based on a show in which the characters die after every story arc and are wished back to life through a new, unknown-until-that-very-moment loophole every time, so I wasn’t really expecting gold anyway. Regardless of that, I’ve had a ton of fun taking my Saiyan, Rhubarb (named to adhere to traditional Saiyan nomenclature, mind you!) on a journey throughout history’s greatest battles wearing a pair of shades that would make a T-800 jealous.
Robyn is trying to keep the fires out…
Colossal Order & Paradox Interactive
Cities: Skylines is everything you wanted SimCity to be. It is a robust city-sim that, while not as polished as a Maxis release, provides all the features and functions that avid SimCity fans have come to expect.
I have only put a handful of hours into Skylines, but it was like coming home. As with SimCity, there is a steep learning curve and minimal tutorial. You have to learn that the water system provides water to your city but also removes waste, and that your pumping station needs to be up-river from your sewage runoff. Sound pollution can make people sick; bus routes can be awesome or terrible.
Players are given the ability to create districts that allow for specialization of industry (forestry, coal). The ticker that had seen so much use in SimCity is replaced by a Twitter analogy, in which your #citizens post their delight or dismay at the recent developments in their #city (they love #hashtags). Citizens are visible waiting for the bus or walking to work and can be followed around as they go about their business.
Maps slowly expand as the city grows, and new features, amenities, and economic choices unlock at certain milestone population sizes. Paradox is also extremely welcoming to the modding community, and there are already a ton of mods out there. Do you want your city to have an In-and-Out Burger? There is a mod for that! Do you just want to play in Los Santos from GTA V? There is a mod for that! You get the gist.
Cities: Skylines is available now on Steam, and is well worth the price.
Matt is mining Mars for silicon…
Offworld Trading Company
Mohawk Games & Stardock Entertainment
In a nutshell, Offworld Trading Company is everything you loved about the Civilization games with none of the combat. What’s that? I was the only one who hated the combat? That’s awkward. Well, the game is still really awesome, and it’s what I’ve been playing.
The long and short of it is that you are running a mining operation on Mars. You stake out a limited number of hexagonal claims that allow you to collect resources, including water, iron, carbon and silicon. You then use these resources to create other items that you can use to either upgrade your base (granting you more claims) or craft special structures that allow you special abilities.
What makes the game interesting is that there is an economy that works in real time. If you have an excess of a material, you can sell it, but the price will drop accordingly. Dumping a bunch of silicon onto the market will reward you in the short term, but can punish you in the long term. It’s a delicate balance, especially at the start of the game when you are scraping to set yourself up in a solid position to expand.
Just like in Civilization, there are several ways to win the game, but for my money, the most interesting is through buying out your enemies. Every player in the game runs a publicly traded company, which means you can be bought out of your stock, lose a controlling interest in your company and lose the game. Like with the selling of resources, there’s a delicate balance. The money you spend to buy stock of competing companies goes directly to them, which means this path to victory actually involves the risk that the money you give an opposing company could result in your downfall.
David Uzumeri is facing down despair to solve high school murders of passion…
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc & Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Spike Chunsoft & NIS America
High school is a time in everyone’s life when terrible decision-making is de rigeur, DTF is less of a state of mind and more of a way of life, and everyone thinks they’re way smarter than they actually are. In short, it’s a pretty solid setting for both a social/dating simulation and a bunch of overly complicated, well-thought-out (in execution), poorly-advised (in motive), and increasingly brutal murders. The Danganronpa series…has both.
Each chapter is composed of two sections: “daily life,” in which you hang out with your friends and have free time to further your relationships with them (usually via gift-giving), and “deadly life,” which occurs after someone (inevitably) gets violently murked, and then you have to first investigate the murder and then participate in a “class trial” during which you solve a series of logic puzzles and minigames to work through the evidence and find the killer.
Now, I normally find “a bunch of people cry because they have to kill each other” stories sort of hopelessly dark and eventually monotonous, but Danganronpa does a lot to break past that with a number of things. First off, it’s got a relentlessly bright and diverse visual aesthetic, which provides a consistent ironic distance between not only you and the narrative, but the writers as well—it’s a clear product of people incredibly aware of how ridiculous what they’re making is, and this comes off as relief from the grand guignol rather than a twee nod-and-wink that kills the mood.
Secondly, there’s way more to the narrative, in both games, than the murders and high school relationships themselves. The settings of the two games—Hope’s Peak Academy and Jabberwock Island—contain a whole lot of weird shit, and the way all the weird shit fits together always ends up making a surprising amount of sense. (Think Lost-style mysteries, but with satisfying resolutions.) The reasons behind the killing games are way larger-scale and higher-stakes than they seem at first, so rather than simply being a series of depressing-ass murders with a depressing-ass ending, there’s a real sense of narrative momentum and revelation as the twists get thrown at you rapid-fire up to the end of each one.
The main issue with the game is that along with the anime storytelling DNA that gives it its strengths come some pretty problematic dealings with trans issues and (not a HORRIBLE amount of, but still) fanservice. You’ll roll your eyes once or twice, and you’ll probably hold your PS Vita in a way that other people can’t see it on the subway, but it’s ultimately a super-rewarding puzzle-solving relationship sim with arcade mini-games that I’ve had a whole lot of fun with.
And, I mean, the evil mastermind is a teddy bear.
Sam Paxton is humming the theme to Goldfinger…
Dynamighty & Sony
Though it’s been available for almost six months, I didn’t really know anything about CounterSpy until Sony offered it up as one of the free monthly games available to PS Plus subscribers. What I discovered when I booted it up is a fun, tense side-scrolling stealth game with an addictive gameplay loop and an attractive, Pixar-meets-007 kind of aesthetic.
Players are tasked with de-escalating a Cold War missile race by infiltrating Russian and American bases and stealing nuclear launch plans. Over a series of missions, players subdue and sneak past guards, stealing plans, weapon blueprints, and intel, all of which net the player money that they can spend on new upgrades.
The cool thing about CounterSpy is that all of the levels are procedurally generated, so every playthrough presents reconfigurations of guards, rooms, and challenges. If the player is spotted by guards or security cameras, they will raise the DEFCON level—if it reaches DEFCON 1 (so that is the highest!), then the player has a limited amount of time to sprint to the end of the level and deactivate the counter, missing precious collectibles in the process. The DEFCON level also carries over between missions, forcing players to be savvy and exercise caution when infiltrating the bases.
Unlockables range from normal hardware like shotguns and assault rifles to dart guns that let the player take control of enemies, or potions that let you move silently. All in all, CounterSpy is a great game with a lot of gameplay flexibility and replay value, and if you are a PS Plus subscriber, you can get it for the cool price of absolutely free through the end of March.
Jen Overstreet is living a fish’s life on hard mode.
Survive! Mola Mola!
Survive! Mola Mola! combines the insatiable yet only vaguely above coma-level interactivity of taking care of a Tamagotchi with the reward of biological factoids & animations of pixelated fish expressing emotions. As someone who spends a lot of time falling asleep to David Attenborough talking over videos of fish, I apparently have at least a month’s worth of time that I would otherwise spend sleeping or avoiding eye contact on the subway to sink into the promise of Sunfish trivia.
The game revolves around the Mola species of fish, known in English as the Sunfish. This species is known for growing to enormous sizes, and for their extremely high death rate on that journey to massiveness. The goal of the game, ostensibly, is to grow as large as possible, but the eventual result of even that is death, so Survive! Mola Mola!’s goal really becomes to collect different causes of death. You grow your Mola by eating different creatures, or by going on adventures to find food or scratch off parasites. Growing to a larger rank gives you points, with which you can unlock new food, new adventures, and increase the amount of food that appears.
Foods cause Molas to die through various reasons, like mistaking trash for food, or puncturing their delicate stomach lining. All the adventures also come with a high risk of death. Dying, however, gives you a growth percentage bonus, and piles of points (more points the higher your Mola’s rank at death). As you grow at a faster rate, with the combination of growth percentage, unlocking large foods, and high-level adventures, you reach grander and more fantastically bedecked Molas, and can even unlock Hard Mode, which allows you to redo all your deaths & thereby gain an even higher growth rate, and reach five new forms of Mola that I am…so close to making it to.
Survive! Mola Mola! is a free game, but suffers from possibly the worst advertising integration I’ve ever seen, which is irritating enough to really make you wish the game had a paid version to switch to. It also lacks variety in the buoyant theme music and sound effects, resulting in an increasingly grating effect, though I do still catch myself deeply enjoying the bouncing bassline.
Like most extremely simple mobile games I’ve become temporarily obsessed with, it’s a game for the kind of completionists who get a shivery thrill at the presence of the question mark graphics of unlockable badges. I often (and, as I write this, currently) am playing by leaving Survive! Mola Mola! open on the side of my laptop, pausing periodically to grind after some food has accumulated. Only 200 kg to unlocking an Ocean King rank.
Yen Nguyen is making guac for four…
I am incredibly tired with the bigness of video games of late. Spectacle overload and wildly self-important narratives have left me drained and yearning for something else—anything removed from what we’ve come to see as “the traditional sense” of video games. Luckily, like with film and comix, the indie games movement has done wonderful work toward this end, mining the mundane for narrative and mechanical possibilities that are as wonderfully different as they are absolutely simple. “Mundane” seems to be a four-letter word when it comes to art, but it is through the lens of the everyday that we best understand what it means to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes: to experience their perception of “normal.” In Little Party, you play a mom.
There are…not many games where you get to play a mom! In Little Party, you’re not even the main character of the story; your daughter, Suzanne, is hosting an all-nighter art party, and most of what you’re doing in the game is staying out of the way. It’s not like there’s nothing to do, though—you can still check in on Suzanne or her friends (all good kids, though, as I refer to them as such, I’m easily closer to their age than I am to Mom herself) as the game moves them around the house throughout the night. You’ve also got your own quiet grownup activities to pass the time, like reading a book upstairs while they work in the basement. Mom Simulator 2015, I suppose, and a convincing one at that.
And it’s great! Pleasant, refreshing, and calming, all while being an experience more alien to many of us than the video game fantasies chiseled into the medium. Sure, Little Party isn’t going to “keep you on the edge of your seat” or “make your jaw drop,” but the fantastic need not be confined to bombast. Video games are an interactive medium like none other, and the way we lose ourselves in games is a psychological and empathetic magic all its own. Little Party is full of moments like that: going to the kitchen to make guac for the party, walking the dog before it gets too late, seeing your daughter perform a new piece of music.
It’s video game mumblecore/DIY folk/diary comix and the benefits of such a thing should not be understated. Here is something different, presented without exaggeration or embellishment—a rare viewpoint only in that not many people have sought to show it. To call it a mom simulator is not to dismiss it; on the contrary, I am ecstatic that I get to call any video game that at all.
Little Party is available for free on Turnfollow’s itch.io.