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

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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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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STAR WARS: SECRETS OF THE EMPIRE BRINGS A GALAXY FAR, FAR CLOSER TO HOME
Kotaku

“The single biggest draw of Secrets of the Empire, of course, isn’t the promise of the VR technology. It can be best summed up in two simple words: Star Wars. Who doesn’t love lightsabers and furry aliens?

As a setting, it’s a perfect fit for the tech. Cramped industrial corridors are Star Wars’ stock-in-trade, which suits the limited real-world space you have to move around in. A mix of stormtroopers and droids eliminate the need for human faces, which in VR risk falling into the uncanny valley. And given you’re going undercover in the shining-white armour of the Empire’s foot soldiers, putting on the real-world bulky headset and suit just becomes part of the fantasy.”

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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 the1990s working with Nintendo, creating some of the SNES, Game Boy and N64’s most beloved titles. In 2002, though, itwas 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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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

PLANET ALPHA
Edge

“How beautiful does a game have to be for nothing else to matter? Planet Alpha fills your eyes with colourful spectacle – shifting clouds of pink smoke; overlaid tiers of exotic flora and fauna; rock formations that calcify Mega Drive-era low-poly shapes into abstract art – but does significantly less to entice your thumbs.

Its alien world is navigated through platforming, physics puzzling and the occasional stealth sequence. Ultimately, though, whatever the nature of the challenge, every interaction is a puzzle. You arrive at a new obstacle and, through a mix of intuition and trial-and-error, learn its rules.”

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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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ATTACK ON TITAN 2
Official PlayStation Magazine

“Carrying out your giant-fighting mission feels great. The show’s iconic ODM (Omni-Directional Mobility) gear handles exactly the way you’d imagine. A combination of a grappling hook, jetpack, and Spider-Man’s fluid web-slinging, it’s basically all of the greatest traversal mechanics in games rolled into one. Pressing SQUARE fires out two anchors, which embed in nearby buildings and reel you in.

Steer downwards and you’ll skid along the ground at inhuman speeds, kicking up dust into the bargain. Pull up and let go, and you’ll be slingshotted through the air. There’s a genuine kinetic thrill to using the ODM that doesn’t really fade even after hours of play.”

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PREVIEWS

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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BATTLEFIELD V
GamesMaster

“World War II, it seems, is officially back in fashion. Old warhorses will no doubt remember the endless beach-storming and bunker-clearing of the early noughties, but eventually the Nazis were deposed as FPS Enemy Number One by zombies, and military shooters moved to the modern day. Now, like Call Of Duty before it, one of the veterans of that time is going back to the beaches.

Or not, as the case may be. Developer DICE is keen to emphasise that it wants Battlefield V to be a fresh take on WWII, in a number of ways.”

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