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What We’re Playing – July 6th

With Independence Day in the rear view mirror and Summer in full swing we’ve decided to stay indoors. Here’s what we’re playing:

Dark Souls

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I gave up on Dark Souls last year. After a couple of hours playtime I hadn’t even progressed past the Undead Burg area, which, for those of you who have played the game will know, is an embarrassingly early section. It had broken me, and after a week of trying to advance and receiving nothing but death and lost souls I was ready to blame my failure on bad game design.

Surprisingly then I got the urge to give it another try last week. The salty bitter aftertaste left from my past experience had all but faded and I felt compelled to armour up and delve back into the treacle black medieval fantasy world of Lordran, and I sure am glad I did. After re-acquainting myself with the nuances of combat (it’s all in the timing) and accepting my inevitably ridiculous failure rate, I persevered on into the Burg. What I discovered was exactly what every piece of praise I had read about Dark Souls upon its release had told me, but I had never quite experienced for myself – that its secret sauce lies within the very punishing sadomasochistic nature of design that put me off in the first place.

Being pulverised into the ground by its ornery inhabitants at every corner without a shred of remorse is inevitable. Dark Souls‘ gameplay is much like a hard life lesson, painfully difficult to take at first but something you must face up to should you want to learn from it and move on. And in Dark Souls rising to that challenge and developing the technique necessary to overcome your brutal assailant brings about a sensation of achievement, of having overcome such a tsunami like wall of obstinate, unmovable difficulty that it evokes an utter elation rarely matched within gaming today.

I now enter the shadowy cavernous depths of Blighttown where a gruesome bestiary of monsters undoubtedly awaits, and I can’t wait to take them on. So I urge any other dispirited Undead out there – try, try, try and try again, and then again and again, and then try again a thousand more times, because when you succeed, it sure is worth it.

Matt Sawrey

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

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After nearly four years of waiting I can’t say that I’m wholly impressed by the return of Penny Arcade’s diet-RPG series. What I love about Penny Arcade is Jerry Holkins’ unique world view and mad-cap sense of humor – I often find the blog posts funnier than the comics themselves. But, what made his writing work in the previous two episodes was Hothead Games’ rendition of New Arcadia, which brought Holkins’ words to life with a richly envisioned cartoon world coupled with a slew of lovely animated sequences. In Rain-Slick 3 we’re treated to honest-to-god 16-bit graphics, graphics that could easily pass as an SNES-era Final Fantasy title, courtesy of Zeboyd Games. The problem is, they just don’t work here. Holkins’ descriptions are long-winded, sumptuous and detailed in a manner that Zeboyd’s rendering cannot hope to emulate. When we played true 16-bit titles back in the day our imagination filled in the blanks, but Holkins’ prose and dialogue does this for us, which largely eliminates the charm of a retro aesthetic at all.

Sean Kelley

Metal Gear Solid

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This is one of those games that finds a way to work itself into whatever current PlayStation model I have every year. The amazing thing about this game is just how well it ages. The controls and camera could be updated (something that can be said for almost every entry), but the game is extremely playable, something that can’t be said for many early 3D action games (and even many current ones). It was one of the first games that really drew me into serious gaming when it came out and now it serves as a stark demonstration of my strengths and weaknesses as a gamer. I’m much better at the stealth segments than when I was a hapless 12-year-old self armed with a GameShark, but I am still just as slow at button-mashing as I was then (poor Meryl). What’s best about this game is how so many of its systems hold up – sure, the cones of vision are kind of lame, but the reactive AI still impresses and the characters are the series’ best. Right now, I’m close to the end of the first disc, about to go underground to find out the truth about Snake, his family and a secret military project.

Matt Wadleigh

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

Gentle persuasion

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