State of Play – Metrico, 80 Days, Watch Dogs

Last week, I made a rare expedition to London. From the tranquillity of my Hobbit shire in Devon to the frenetic, fibre optic capital in just under the time it takes one of the railways’ daring sustenance stun drivers to rodeo ride a bucking buffet trolley from one end of a train to the other.

For a hick from the sticks like me, London continues to be as stunning as it is suffocating and, as always with these journeys, I learnt some valuable lessons:

1. St Pancras, it turns out, is actually the patron saint of overpriced tat.

2. While in Devon the word ‘organic’ means ‘natural’, in London, it’s a synonym for ‘extortionate’, and

3. If you ever hear the announcement, “At the next station this train will divide in two”, you better make damn sure you’re on the part that’s continuing on to your chosen destination. Otherwise, you risk having to nail an action movie-style leap with your luggage across the increasingly widening gap between two carriges.

On my last morning in London, we were having breakfast in a Le Pan Quotidien (I was having an ‘organic’ boiled egg served on a bed of Wonga application forms), while a man at the table next to us was making a sales pitch to some potential clients.

Normally, these events exist exclusively within the David Brent cringeworthy quotient, but this guy took it to another level. Tinkling on the ivories of his laptop with virtuoso ease, he made pirouetting pie charts and timelines materialise out of nothing but a thin layer of liquid crystal. If Mozart had been in middle management this was exactly the kind of statistical symphony he would have delivered.

By the end, neither I, nor his guests, had any idea what he was selling, but none of us wanted him to stop. Perhaps all he was actually doing was playing Metrico, Digital Dreams’ new artisan exploration through the world of infographics.


Apparently, Metrico’s Dutch makers take exception to their creation being labelled as a puzzle platformer. In fact, it’s possibly the definitive example of the genre.

The objective here is almost as old as gaming itself, to guide your diminutive, two-dimensional avatar from one side of the screen to the other. The modernist twist comes in the way the gargantuan data diagrams that make up the imposing, abstract landscape around you shift and redraw themselves in response to your movements.

In Metrico, x and y form the axes of evil against which you are battling, and only executing the correct sequence of actions in order will create a route to safety. In one section, for example, moving your character back and forth just the right distances causes the undulating columns of a towering bar graph to form a flight of stairs to freedom.

I’ve read a couple of reviews that have chastised Metrico for being deliberately obtuse. Personally, I like that about the game. I enjoy the irony that infographics, whose whole purpose is to present information intelligibly, actually become tools for bewilderment. I like the idea that data can be used both to assist and obscure the path of progress; that it can be manipulated for your own advantage.

I’ve no idea if that’s the commentary Digital Dreams was going for, but anyone who’s ever endured through an interminable, torpor-inducing business meeting will be able to relate to the despair of a little individual trapped inside a giant Powerpoint prison world.

Of course, no truly synergised corporate seminar can resist some ill-conceived audience interaction. A speaker, intoxicated with their own ideas, encouraging you to stand and make a sound like a bear with a pine cone stuck up its bottom. And Metrico will have you growling in similar constipated frustration as it continues to fiddle with the faucets on its thought shower by introducing the PlayStation Vita’s clumsy touch and tilt controls.

Overall, though, Metrico is ambitious, inventive and genuinely thought-provoking. A game about investigation, extrapolation and precision. Over recent years, a vibrant scene for innovation and artist expression has grown up around the puzzle platformer. It’s one with which Digital Dreams should feel proud to be associated. Being discussed alongside the luminaries of the genre makes you a game of note, not just another statistic.


If Metrico offers intriguing work experience in the field of avant-garde data analysis, then 80 Days acts as an even better apprenticeship for anyone contemplating a career in international logistics. Not only that, it also provides bookmakers with the blueprint for the perfect advertising campaign. Right now, I’d wager there are more punters than you could imagine willing to put up decent money to see Ray Winstone dispatched from these shores in a creaking airship with only a French manservant and some faulty navigation equipment.

As the name suggests, 80 Days is based on Jules Verne’s classic novel. And developer, inkle, has found the perfect modern vehicle for Phileas Fogg and Passepartout’s Upstairs, Downstairs; Entente Cordiale circumnavigation of the globe in the form of a choose-you-own-adventure game.

Normally when literary works are adapted to other media their content is compressed because accessibility and time are of the essence – a sacrifice Mr Fogg would no double be sympathetic to. Here, however, inkle intricately and ingeniously embellish the original text with a myriad of alternative routes and a steam-punk asthetic. Additions perfectly in step with Verne’s own overlapping loves for travel and science-fiction technology.

While nominally the game casts you in the supporting role of Gallic valet, in order to present yourself at the Reform Club with the necessary punctuality, you’ll need to adopt the mindsets of both the story’s main characters. Passpartout’s passion for exploration and inquisitive nature will uncover new destinations and useful items, while Fogg’s almost automaton levels of cool-headed reasoning are essential for forward planning and crisis management.

Appropriately, 80 Days’ gameplay elements contrast and complement each other as strongly as the personalities of its two protagonists. The moments you’re desperately packing suitcases and impatiently urging faster progress across the map deliver the requisite tension, but the real joy comes from inkle’s clear love, not just for this story, but storytelling as a transportive device.

No matter what your chosen direction, you can be sure your journey will be littered with incident, carrying you through exotic cities, encounters with swarthy strangers and a grand tour of potential make-or-break decisions. In its quest for engaging and absorbing interactive fiction, 80 Days never loses its bearings. inkle has plotted a techno-classic tale of pure, romantic escapism as intoxicating and addictive as happy hour at your local opium den.

Watch Dogs 1

Finally, I have, at last, got around to playing some Watch Dogs. Easily my most disappointing game of the year so far. That isn’t to say it’s badly made, far from it. It’s just so average. Worse still, it’s just so safe.

The parallels to Ubisoft’s last über franchise, Assassin’s Creed, are easy to spot. Watch Dogs’ hero, Aiden Pearce, is basically just Altaïr with an internet connection. The cloak and dagger of good, old fashion execution replaced by the baseball cap and cell phone of cybercrime. Hacking, clearly, is just sneaking for Twitter generation Templars, right down to the fact that you initially attempt both with the sincerest intentions only to discover it’s much easier to allow situations to degenerate into lazy bloodbaths.

The original Assassin’s Creed was far from perfect, but the key thing it had that’s absent here is a leap of faith, both physical and conceptual. That transcendent moment that sends your heart soaring at the lofty heights, if not always achieved, then at least aimed for on a set of new consoles. Instead, Watch Dogs feels like it was put together by a group of business-types looking at infographics in a boardroom. Perhaps they should try touching base in Metrico.

Metrico – Digital Dream – PS Vita

80 Days – inkle – iOS

Watch Dogs – Ubisoft – PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360






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