Selected samples of my games writing for publications including Polygon, Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, Edge and more. For more details, email me on alexjspencer@live.com.

ONLINE FEATURES

THE FINAL DAYS OF NETRUNNER
Waypoint

“In one of a cluster of small industrial buildings just outside Roseville, Minnesota, something is happening for the very last time. On either side of an oversized table, under a bank of office-style fluorescents, two men sit compulsively shuffling the cards in their hands. A few dozen spectators crowd them, watching over their shoulders, while a set of cameras streams the game to the rest of the world.

This is the official world final of Android: Netrunner, the last one that will ever be held.”

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WHAT IS CYBERPUNK?
A brief history of the near future
Polygon

“Cyberpunk, and science fiction in general, can take ideas from the grey of modern life and turn up the contrast. The for-profit medicine system becomes 2077’s Trauma Team, a vital part of the gameplay demo’s first quest — equal parts paramedic and paramilitary, ready to kill in order to save the lives of paying customers.

That’s far from subtle, but these exaggerated futures can provide a helpful filter for examining our current political situation. Head to the cyberpunk subreddit and, as well as a wealth of fanart, you’ll find people sharing the latest incursions of cyberpunk into our reality, whether it’s police in AR headsets or a woman charging her bionic arm on the train.”

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PERSISTENCE & PERMADEATH:
Progression in Spelunky, Into the Breach and Roguelikes
Rock Paper Shotgun

“Permadeath isn’t quite as permadeadly as it used to be. There are an increasing number of roguelikes, roguelites and other games with forms of permadeath that kill a character but leave traces of progression behind. Your character might be gone, but some of the updates and unlocks they accessed live on. Exactly how this persistence is implemented, though, varies from game to game.

Take Into the Breach, a recent and brilliant example of the form which not only included persistence between playthroughs but managed to weave it into the game’s story. Losing means the end of an entire timeline, as the last remnants of humanity are claimed by giant bugs. But you can send one of your mech pilots back in time, with their experience and skills intact, to try and save the world all over again.”

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POKÉMON GO: ONE YEAR ON
Kotaku

“For me, Pokémon Go always was best as a way of overwriting physical locations with virtual memories. Scrolling through my collection (which now tells you where each Pokemon was caught), every glamorous location – from Croydon to Stourbridge – comes with its own story.

The party that dispersed to chase an Electabuzz two streets over; a summer’s afternoon in Wetherspoons, throwing out Lures with each round of drinks; the holiday where I risked extortionate roaming data charges because I couldn’t wait to catch my first Squirtle.”

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MAGAZINE FEATURES

TIME EXTEND: VIVA PIÑATA
How Rare got its groove back by balancing the two sides of its history
Edge

“Back in 2006, Rare found itself at a crossroads. The developer had spent the 1990s working with Nintendo, creating some of the SNES, Game Boy and N64’s most beloved titles. In 2002, though, it was acquired by Microsoft, becoming a first-party developer for its new game console. In the transition, some of Rare’s magic seemed to have been lost. None of the four games it developed in the intervening years were hits, critically or commercially, on anything like the scale of its Nintendo golden years.

As such, 2006’s Viva Piñata was positioned as a comeback for the studio. The game was aimed at a younger audience and was intended to be the beginning of a fully fledged franchise, complete with its own animated TV show. On these terms, the game was not the success it deserved to be – but it proved that the embers of that old Rare magic still burned bright.”

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NOW PLAYING: DISHONORED 2
In Dishonored 2’s Iron Mode, dead means dead
Official Xbox Magazine

“Omnipotent mascara-and-Morrissey fan The Outsider has returned my magical powers – including Blink, an ability that lets me teleport up to the rooftops, where I can safely scurry around. I make my way towards the objective, trying to avoid any shiny, dangerous distractions along the way. Like, for example, the five-storey Overseer Outpost on the far side of the plaza. I know from experience that the building is packed with zealots whose religious commandments don’t extend to not killing me. Alas, it’s also a deliciously tempting treasure trove of Runes, which can be used to upgrade my abilities.

Before you know it, I’m knee deep in Overseers. The battle empties my ammo reserves and nearly costs me my life, but I’m the last man standing – mostly because the rest all end up with their legs chopped off.”

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COME TOGETHER
Unity Technologies is no longer just making one of the world’s most popular engines – it’s making games, too
Edge

“A flying car, looking like it could have been ripped straight from the original Blade Runner, darts between brutalist towers lit by dusty sunlight. It’s Gormenghast as cityscape, a sprawl of gnarled skyscrapers peppered with neon signs and exoskeletons of scaffolding, that stretches horizontally and vertically as far as you can see.

The sheer sense of scale is dizzying. There are somewhere in the region of ten million game objects in this demo, we’re told, and 3.5 million of them are visible at any one time. A large-scale Unity game apparently contains around 100,000 – equivalent to just one building in this city.”

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CLASSIC GAME: SPELUNKY
Stealing golden idols, and dodging the resulting boulders, in one of PlayStation’s most influential indie games
Official Playstation Magazine

“You die, but it was such fun you can’t help spinning the wheel one more time. This time, surely, there won’t be so many of those damned spiders. This time, maybe one of the shops will stock the jetpack that would’ve saved you from the spikes. This time, you won’t make the same mistake. Except, of course, you do.

That’s Spelunky: a machine which eats up all your greed and overconfidence, and spits out failure. A fedora-wearing one-armed bandit. We can’t wait for its recentlyannounced sequel to rob us of our spare time all over again.”

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REVIEWS

ASHEN
Edge

“The game dangles items, marked with glowing white icons, just out of reach – on high ledges, around impassable corners, off the edges of cliffs. Figuring out how to access them is one of Ashen’s greater pleasures. It’s not exactly Breath Of The Wild, but the game lets you clamber your way to most spots – including ones that seem off-limits – through a mix of vaulting, a generous sprint jump and partner-assisted climbing.

Yep, partners. You’re rarely alone in Ashen, which is probably the game’s biggest divergence from the Souls template. While From’s games allow you to summon another player for assistance, or be invaded by one with more nefarious intentions, Ashen constantly pairs you
with a fellow adventurer.”

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FAR CRY NEW DAWN
Official Xbox Magazine

“Everywhere you look, flowers of scorching hot pink have bloomed into life. It’s a welcome splash of colour, helping to differentiate New Dawn from the glut of other post-apocalyptic options out there.

There’s considerably less, however, that marks it apart from every other Far Cry game.”

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ONRUSH
GamesMaster

“Let’s be honest. Modern racing games, in their continuing quest for verisimilitude, can sometimes be rather stuffy – all about fiddling with incremental upgrades in digital garages and carefully sticking to perfect racing lines as you take each corner. That might be fine for dedicated gearheads, but occasionally you just want to be rewarded with a room-shaking ‘vroom’ for pressing the right trigger and ram other cars off the damn track.

Good news, then, for anyone who doesn’t fancy respecting the rules of the road – Codemasters’ latest might feature cars, but it’s not a racing game.”

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PREVIEWS

PHOENIX POINT
Edge

“As far as Gollop is concerned, though, neither the first X-COM or any of Firaxis’ reimaginings are the main influence on Phoenix Point. He points instead to The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge – a game which was cancelled during development, resulting in the 2001 closure of Gollop’s Mythos Games studio.

‘Some of the ideas from Dreamland are actually in Phoenix Point,’ he says. ‘You could say that, from about 1999, I’ve been trying to find ways to evolve the big X-COM idea.'”

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CONAN EXILES
Official PlayStation Magazine

“There’s the ability to choose which god you worship, and, of course, the infamous ‘endowment’ slider which lets you decide, um, how much loin there is beneath your loincloth. Or not beneath, if you choose to play on a server with ‘full nudity’ settings.

Either way, you’ll start the game in a state of undress, left to die in the middle of a desert. At which point, the survival game mechanics kick in. As well as crafting clothes, you’ll need to make sure your barbarian gets enough to eat and drink, and ideally build yourself a home. This gives the game the immediate, satisfying loop that will be familiar to any players of Ark: Survival Evolved, Don’t Starve, or even Minecraft’s Survival mode.”

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MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN
Edge

“The promise of inhabiting Spider-Man’s body – a long-limbed figure imbued with unlikely grace, tracing arabesques through the Manhattan skyline – is an easy sell. Filling the more earthbound shoes of Peter Parker, though, a man who is constantly behind on his rent and late to social occasions? That’s not so much amazing fantasy as it is lived experience.

But Insomniac Games is insistent about pushing Spidey’s all-too-human alter ego into the spotlight. This becomes apparent in the very first moments of the game, as Peter wakes up in his apartment and we pan across an assortment of characterful domestic items: abandoned takeaway cartons, Nerf darts, a homemade smart toaster and – of course – an empty savings jar.”

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Have any questions, or just want to send me praise about all these lovely words? Contact me via email on alexjspencer@live.com.