So walking simulators are a thing, right? Although I’m always leery of using the terminology, because am I trying to say “it’s like a game, but you don’t have to have any gaming skills to play it,” and more importantly, is that extra judgy / gatekeepery? I think I’m overthinking it, especially since I like both kinds of games, and others for that matter. Anyway, all of this to say that Beacon Pines is sort of that kind of game, but with a choose your own adventure twist.
See, you play as a tween elk/llama-looking semi-orphan in the titular town, with a best friend and a treehouse and a mysterious corporation and a dark past. Well, I got mixed up a bit; the kid has the first two, the town has the latter two. …although there’s some bleedover. Only, all of that is not exactly right, because what you actually play as is the reader of a book, except the book has a personality and is in search of a satisfying ending. Maybe even a happy one?
Anyway, easily recommendable way to spend 8 or 10 hours, unless you are allergic to anthropomorphic animals or implausible pseudoscience.
 which Wikipedia Pete helpfully calls a “narrative adventure”, which is probably a better name anyway
I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book.)
This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.
What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.
It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.
 Outside of a specific reading schedule
So far, my favorite thing about Xbox’s Game Pass service is that it gives me the freedom to try things out that I cannot otherwise convince myself to pay for. To wit, Tacoma, which is apparently the only other game from the people who made Gone Home.
The upshot being, a) I really liked this story, about an abandoned orbital station where I was tasked with downloading the station AI and acquiring the associated hardware, which perhaps (or perhaps not?) inevitably involves learning some details about why exactly the station is abandoned; but b) I felt somewhat misled into believing that I would have some kind of influence over the outcome, rather than only walking through a story. I am not per se opposed to this form of visual novel, I just want to have a clearer idea of what to expect? I don’t think I ever felt this way about Gone Home, and by contrast I think I actually did have some minor influence over the outcomes of Firewatch, which was also a much larger game.
But that is an issue of expectations contrary to reality; the game taken as is was pretty excellent, and I would have no trouble recommending it. Which would be easier to do if it hadn’t fallen off the Game Pass thing at the end of the month, some very few brief hours after I finished it. Which is good news for me, but… oops.
The biggest problem with Firewatch is that I don’t really know what the genre is. Walking simulator is a really bland descriptor, indie is not a type of game, it’s a type of studio, and it felt a lot less interactive fictiony than other games I’ve used that tag on before. So, what kind of game was this?
One kind of game it was is “pretty great”. After a series of unfortunate life events, this guy Henry takes a job with the 1980s Wyoming forestry service on firewatch. Which, if not self-explanatory, is when you sit in a tower all summer looking for fires before they become uncontrollable. And over the course of the summer, a story unfolds!
The story is fine, too, but mostly what I loved was the haunting atmosphere. You’re wandering around the woods, no company, virtually no human contact, just the voice on the other end of the radio that is your supervisor between you and utter isolation. Which is I think what Henry was going for, but it gets really hard to take after a while. I am an introvert, in that I want to spend only a small amount of time interacting with people; but I guess I’m a soft introvert in that it comforts me to know that if I needed a person, it would be really easy to find one. I’m pretty sure a summer spent not seeing another person’s face and only hearing another person’s voice at their whim would leave me pretty dang bonkers.
Or maybe it was only haunting to me, because, see above? Either way, there was nothing I didn’t enjoy, even down to the emotional discomfort. The one bummer was trying to figure out the controls. There was Steam controller support, but not in the sense that the game’s instructions matched them; purely keyboard driven, alas. Having a gated ecosystem is the better way to console in terms of support, but significantly limiting in terms of what games are available. So, definitely worth the trade-off! But still.