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What We’re Playing – June 8

While our colleagues were on the show floor at E3 this past week, the rest of us were stuck playing old games (of varying degrees). Here’s what a few of us have been up to.

Catherine

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In this week of E3, and while my girlfriend is away with family, I’ve decided to cozy up with Catherine and Katherine. Occasionally titillating and quite often illicit, Atlus’ latest console effort is a bizarre look under the hood of men. Vincent is a 32 year old male going nowhere fast, but, to his credit, he’s been able to form a stable, long-term relationship with the bespectacled brunette, Katherine. Soon after joining Vincent’s seemingly simple life of dating and drinking (heavily), you find yourself waking up next to the cheeky, carefree Catherine.

In between dealing with your friends and lover(s), Catherine is primarily a survival-puzzle game, tasking players to climb through the recesses of Vincent’s mind, or die. The climbs are difficult and frequently frustrating, but there’s an interesting subtext that forms through Vincent’s nightmare journey, as he is but one of many men who’ve been cursed to climb for their lives.

So far Catherine is an interesting juxtaposition of game types, one that I don’t find nearly as successful as the studio’s Persona series. But, as with every in-house Atlus title, their unique blend of strong characters and unconventional story telling have a grip on me, and I’m determined to see this nightmare to its close.

Sean Kelley

Final Fantasy XIII-2

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Being a big fan of the original title in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series (I know, shock! Horror! Right?), I was both excited and cautious about XIII-2. I was never that fond of Serah as a character, perhaps because of her delicate, sensitive, squeaky clean nature, and her tepid relationship with Snow. A few hours in and I really wasn’t feeling it. It felt to me like this game didn’t need to exist. There was no cliffhanger at the end of XIII, and the opening events of XIII-2 seemed a little too fabricated and unnecessary.

Ten hours in now, and it’s improved a little, but my main interest lies in exploring the beautiful lands you visit, and travelling to different times. I like meeting the superior characters from the first game and seeing how they’ve changed, and observing how the landscape of various locations has been altered.

I find myself dozing off during certain cutscenes that involve time paradoxes and strange futuristic women – this is convoluted storytelling nonsense at its finest. Still, the fighting is great fun, even if my strategy lies in switching paradigms, pressing auto-attack and waiting to use my monster buddy’s overdrive ability. I quite enjoy QTE sequences, and the ones found in this game are lively and slick, if a little easy. The pokemon-esque monster mechanic is interesting, although I miss the ability to control a third player. I’ve been naming them cute names like Winston, Malcolm, Poppy, Crumpet and Hector, y’know, to scare the enemies. On the back of the fantastic Mass Effect 3, however, this game is a massive step back in its gameplay system.

Oliver Banham

Minecraft

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Squares! So many squares! Thanks to Notch’s cuboid sandbox of fun, Minecraft, making its way onto the 360 last month, I now dream in right angles and live in fear of those childhood parental warnings that my eyes would turn square from staring at a screen for too long. I had dabbled with the original PC version, but never really invested enough time to dig deep into its mechanics. Having done so with this port I finally understand the addiction, the whole reason it has become such a phenomenon and spawned so many imitators: Minecraft isn’t so much a videogame as it is a tool, a toy or a sandbox of mechanics that allows you to create your own goals and make your own fun. In some ways it’s more akin to Lego than any videogame ever made.

I never had quite realised how literal its name is either. You can mine any block that its worlds are randomly generated from and recombine them to craft new items. Mine some wood and stone and combine them to craft a stone pickaxe, or dig up some sand and melt it to form glass. Precious minerals necessary to construct more elaborate items are craftily nestled within its dangerous, cavernous, subterranean depths, where flowing pits of lava, explosive creepers and bow and arrow wielding skeletons reside.

Commonly a game of Minecraft involves constructing a house (as sanctuary for the above ground night time nasty’s) and using this as a base from which to dig down for minerals and take daylight trips to collect raw materials, using all that you find to construct increasingly grandiose and elaborate structures. It’s a simple and addictive formula, and the option to play with up to eight friends online makes for a wonderful co-operative experience. The only downside of this port is that it is based upon a relatively old version and lacks a number of the newer PC features. That as well as the fact that it might make your perception of reality a little more cubic that it previously was.

Matt Sawrey

The author of this fine article

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

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