The Furlough Playlist

Having found myself on furlough since the start of April, I have found myself getting back into computer games and exploring a number of new titles over the last few months. Many of these games are more on the ‘indie’ side of things, are quite short to play through or can be dipped in and out of, and are suitable for the non-gamer. So here are some of the games I have been playing, and enjoying:

Mini Metro

The graphics for this simple but addictive game look to have been based on the London Underground map. You have to design the subway system for an expanding city, drawing and redrawing routes between stations, and trying to transport as high a number of commuters as possible. The game ends when a station becomes overcrowded, so you have to utilise the limited number of trains, carriages, bridges/tunnels and lines you have at your disposal wisely. It’s fast paced, but also quite a relaxing game, and there are lots of different cities to try, each with their own challenging characteristics.

Islanders

This is another relaxing little game, which is dedicated to building cities on small islands. You start off with a number of buildings in your inventory which you have to choose where to place on the island. Each time you place a building you are awarded points, and you have to be strategic about your placements: the score you receive can either be very large, very minimal, or even negative depending on the building’s surroundings. Accruing enough points rewards you with additional buildings to put on your island, and additional islands to move to when yours is all full up.

The Marvellous Miss Take

In this game you are a thief who is trying to steal works of art from a gallery without being spotted by the guards or caught on the security cameras. You therefore have to be stealthy in your movements and employ distractions at just the right moment. The guards don’t stick to the same routes and the aim is to try and complete each gallery as quickly as possible, which means you have to be inventive and speedy, rather than just waiting around until the coast is clear. There are three main characters, who all have different characteristics and items to steal, so each gallery can be played through multiple times. I find it quite challenging, but it’s a good one if you’re just looking to spend a few minutes on a game rather than several hours.

Aviary Attorney

This game puts the illustrations of 19th-century caricaturist J. J. Grandville and the music of Camille Saint-Saën to good effect. Set in revolutionary Paris in 1848, you play as defence lawyer Jayjay Falcon and his assistant Sparrowson. The gameplay is based around making choices over where to go to gather evidence, what to ask potential witnesses and how to present your case in court. Whilst it only took a few hours to play through the whole thing, there are a few different possible endings depending on the choices you make during the game. The script is delightful and genuinely funny, and as detective games go, I found this way more satisfying and enjoyable than the blockbuster L.A. Noire.

Puzzle Agent / Puzzle Agent 2

Puzzle Agent is based on the cartoons of Graham Annable. You play as Nelson Tethers, an agent in the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division, who is investigating mysterious goings on in the town of Scoggins, Minnesota. The story is a little bonkers, and continually punctuated by small puzzles to solve, some of which are pretty straight forward and some of which are quite challenging. Puzzle Agent 2 is a continuation of the same story, with the same style of gameplay, and both only took a few hours each to play through. Whilst they are both fun, in my mind nothing can ever beat The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis when it comes to logic and puzzle games.

80 Days

This game is an interactive story with a strong steampunk vibe, loosely based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Phileas Fogg has laid a bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days; you play as his valet Passepartout, who is both assisting him on his journey and narrating their travels. You have to choose which route and modes of transport to take, which cities to stop off in, and which objects to purchase to either facilitate your journey or trade in other cities to raise enough money to fund the remainder of your voyage.

In Other Waters

You play as the AI unit of a diving suit occupied by a xenobiologist, Ellery Vas, who is searching for her missing friend on a new planet. You have to help Ellery explore and map this planet and collect samples of the various plants and organisms which inhabit it as she seeks to catalogue this uncharted ecosystem. What’s interesting is that the game doesn’t show you the environment you’re moving through and the creatures you’re encountering, but just describes them. It’s a timely story about man’s relationship with nature and a gently paced game where movement is slow and meditative, and exploration is encouraged.

Heaven’s Vault

Whilst this game is centred on an archaeologist, it has a rather different vibe to Tomb Raider and Uncharted, not least because of its sci-fi setting. The antagonistic protagonist, Aliya Elasra, is trying to discover what happened to a colleague and uncover the history of the universe, through talking to other characters, exploring different moons and finding ancient artefacts. The most interesting part of the gameplay is that Aliya is also trying to decipher an ancient script, which is inscribed on numerous objects and buildings. The script is based on glyphs, and so once you learn one word that can then help inform your translation of other words. Decoding this language is not only enjoyable in its own right, but also adds to your understanding of the culture and history of Aliya’s world.

The Flame in the Flood

This is a story about survival, with a beautiful soundtrack and graphics. One of my proudest moments of the last few weeks was when I managed to complete this game, as I really thought it would be yet another game which I loved the idea of but was incapable of playing successfully. Set in a post-apocalyptic America, you play as a girl who is travelling down river with a canine companion, stopping at a variety of deserted dwellings and rural wildernesses on route. You have to seek out water and shelter, forage for plants, scrounge for medicines and other supplies, and craft objects to ensure that you don’t die of hunger, thirst, cold or ill health. Plus you have to watch out for a lot of wild animals.

Banished

This is a rather different sort of city builder game to Islanders. It’s like SimCity, but with a medieval-esque settler community, so you’re trying to create a sustainable rural development rather than a bustling modern metropolis. You have to task your settlers to collect resources such as food, wood and stone and construct various buildings, trying to ensure that your population cannot only survive, but thrive and grow. I enjoyed Banished a lot but found that once I’d reached the point where my settlement was a reasonable size and swimming in excess food the game plateaued out. You can exchange wooden houses for stone ones and send your citizens to school, but there isn’t really the same sense of development that you get in games like SimCity and Civilization.

Civilization VI

Having never played a Civilization game before, but attempted other strategy games such as Age of Empires, Age of Mythology and Crusader Kings in the past, I was surprised to find that Civilization VI was a lot less complex and a lot less militaristic in focus than I thought it would be. It’s a turn-based game where you play against the computer, guiding your civilization from the ancient world to the modern era, building new cities, setting policies, choosing which technologies to research, and either waging war or conducting trade and diplomacy with the other civilizations on the board. Although there’s a lot to learn, by putting the game on the very easiest setting I felt I had a chance at both picking it up as I went along and beating the computer. Victory is not just gained through military domination – you can also win via cultural, scientific or religious domination, making it a good one for those of us who get frustrated when the computer decides to come and invade and destroy all our hard work.