Jan 282014

“Hell Is Other Gamers”

I have a confession to make: my idea of hell is being surrounded by overenthusiastic gamers and I have a powerful and instinctive aversion to anything “nerdy”.

For years I went as far as actively avoiding online games. Games were a chance to escape and not have to interact with others for a few hours, rather than have “OMAGERD HOMOFAG!” screamed at me by a 12 year-old. On the nerd front, for the longest time I wouldn’t even contemplate reading fantasy and sci-fi literature. Unless a particular game was very, very good there was no way I would even look twice at a game with sci-fi/fantasy themes running through it. I had a strong cultural cringe around game culture and it just wasn’t something I wanted to be associated with. I was the ultimate gaming misanthrope and cultural snob.

Needless to say I didn’t ever get into card games like Magic: The Gathering or pen and paper roleplaying…


This is easily the most flattering picture of people playing Magic that I could find.

This is easily the most flattering picture of people playing Magic that I could find.

Cherry poppin’ fun

Today things are a bit different. I’ve been working in online games for most of the past decade,  I enjoy playing with (some) people online and my tastes are much broader. These days I’ll happily play pretty much any online game from WoT to FUT to DoTA 2/LoL. When I was weighing up losing my card game virginity I wasn’t sure how it would go. Would I feel dirty afterwards, or worse still… would I like it!? It wasn’t without trepidation that I crossed the bespectacled smelly nerd divide and took my first headlong plunge into the world (cesspit) of fantasy card battling.


Looks more complex than it actually is.

Looks more complex than it actually is

Known Unknowns

So, onto Hearthstone. Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who’s spent the past 30-odd years playing a lot of games, it really wasn’t very different to games I’d played before. As someone with hundreds, if not thousands of hours sunk into turn-based strategy games (particularly the Advance Wars and XCOM series) it’s all very familiar. At its core Hearthstone is a simple turn-based strategy game: each turn you get a number of action points, each card has a number of hit points they can dole out and/or damage they can take, and the rest of the cards confer temporary bonuses or one-off attacks. The game ends when one team has dealt enough damage to the enemy base (or Hero in the case of Hearthstone). The key  difference in Hearthstone versus the strategy games I grew up with being that matches rarely outstay their welcome and are almost always finished within the 5-10 minute mark.

The actual in-match tactics are pretty straightforward. If you’ve played strategy games before the best move you can make with your cards is usually pretty obvious. So much so that, I regularly play Hearthstone while I’m doing something less entertaining like Skype calls or desperately trying to get through to the out-of-hours number at the STI clinic.

The real depth to Hearthstone lies in pre-selecting the deck of cards you’re going to use in battle and ensuring you have a set which are tactically balanced and compliment each other perfectly. Given the sheer number of cards available this is pretty daunting. Thankfully for lazy people like me, you can have the game pre-select a very strong deck for you from the cards you’ve unlocked. I’ve never once picked my own deck and still manage to win about 60-70% of my matches. Huzzah!




Let’s talk about the money

Winning in Hearthstone is a combination of having a well-balanced deck (I went for the auto-complete function, life’s too short to spend hours trawling through poorly-written wikis and  forums), a bit luck with the cards you’re dealt, patience, basic numeracy in order to calculate your options and of course, having unlocked/bought the best cards.

New cards are unlocked by completing matches (very slow and only a basic subset) or by buying packs of random “Rare” (AKA: OP) cards from the store. You can get these with currency you earn by winning matches (which is actually not very hard) or you could go full-one mental and just buy a load of packs if winning means that much to you. Given that I’m not into the whole deck-building thing and the in-game strategy is a nice casual experience, I can’t seem to get myself that worked up whether I win or lose. Hence it’s unlikely I’m going to be parting with my cash anytime soon. At the end of the day it’s a card game with a degree of luck involved, to my mind you’d have to be mental to spend 50 Euros on virtual cards, but I know people who’ve done just that.

There is one nice touch to the game. If you don’t want to play against people with OP cards you can compete in an “Arena” where you’re both assigned balanced and random cards to build your deck before competing, the kicker is that this costs money to do. So if you spend virtual currency you can “compete” in the balanced part with no advantage for pay users. You’re basically paying to avoid being roflstomped by someone who spent more than you. Genius. If you’re good enough you can earn currency in the “Arena” in which case it pays for itself and lets you play until (like me) you rack up enough losses.

To someone who’s definitely not the target audience (never got into WoW, little to no knowledge of the Warcraft lore outside of the original strategy games, never played nerdy card games), Hearthstone is a great distraction for 10-20 minutes at a time when I should be doing something else or on a conference call (just like Triple Town, Plants Vs Zombies 2 or even Candy Crush), and that’s just fine. It’s just not enough to inspire me to shell out and start getting into Magic: The Gathering or any other of its card-based brethren anytime soon…

Anyhow, I’ve still not seen any of the Star Wars movies so I guess that’s still something I can still troll the studio nerds with…


Jan 142014

Outlast is scary. Not just “creepy” like say, an over-enthusiastic uncle or a young Conservative, but more like the kind of full-on mentalist terror you feel when you realise that curry you ate isn’t going to stay in.

Plotwise it’s somewhere between Shutter Island (yes, the Scorcese/Di Caprio movie) and the Silent Hill games. You play an investigative journalist who receives a tip-off about some nefarious activity at a nearby asylum. Like every good horror story protagonists your character makes a series of dick moves, resulting in you being stuck inside.

Outlast is probably the scariest game I’ve ever played, the main reason being that your character is as about as safe as cupcake on the set of Oprah . Being completely defenceless the only thing your terrified character can do when you encounter enemies is hide (in the dark, under beds, in the closet) and enemies will try and hunt you down. Also, most of the game takes place in almost total darkness, so you have to rely on the poor visibility of the nightvision on your camera to try and get by, which ratchets up the tension further. To top it all off, the content and the subject matter is at time really dark. There are scenes and concepts in the game which you won’t forget it anytime soon.

The initial 2 or 3 hours are awesome. What lets it down is that the repetition starts to set in about half way through with the same shocks popping up (they’ll still make you jump), the same enemies stalking you and more and more fetch quests (albeit in different locations). Thankfully the change of pace toward the final third lifts things and the game manages to pull off a tense final sequence with a nice wrap up to the plot.

Though not a long game (4-6 hours), it would probably have benefitted from being a bit shorter and more concise. Nonetheless Outlast is a fun experience while it lasts. Given that there’s almost fuck all else on PS4 right now, you’ve no excuse to not download it when it comes out on February 5th.