Monday 18 December 2017

Streets ahead of the new AR craze

Silent Streets (iOS/Android) ★★★★ Age: 12+

Silent Streets
Silent Streets
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

A year ago, the world swooned in a frenzy over Pokémon Go. Sensible people who wouldn't know a Bulbasaur from a Jigglypuff swarmed on to the mobile craze, before quitting almost as quickly.

The mainstream popularity had less to do with Pokémon's cutesy collection game and more with the novel inclusion of augmented reality (AR) and a step tracker that demanded you walk around in the real world to achieve goals.

AR will become a white-hot genre again very soon following Apple's decision to integrate the necessary code into its next iPhone software update. So Silent Streets, an AR and text-based Victorian murder-mystery created by three Russian blokes who moved to Ireland, is cannily timed to ride a rising wave.

Their Maynooth-based start-up Funbakers plans seven episodes but you can download the first instalment in this Sherlock Holmes-esque adventure for free. It's an impressive production, written by Richard Cobbett (whose credits include Sunless Sea and Long Journey Home) and fully voiced by professional-sounding actors.

Visually, it strikes a coolly understated but stylish note. It is, after all, a choose-your-own adventure, dialogue-heavy game but it achieves a lot with a little. The AR component feels underwhelming, however, a way to integrate "clues" into your surroundings with the phone camera that, like Pokémon Go, lacks believability.

More successful is the incorporation of a GPS tracker that requires you to physically move between locations as you investigate first a murder and then a kidnapping. You never need to schlep more than a few hundred metres at a time but, for the terminally lazy, some inevitable in-app purchases will save your feet.

The atmospheric text and characterisation are Silent Streets' strongest suits, though the branching narrative and investigation mechanics thinly disguise a linear plot.

Funbakers expects to release episode two next month for €3 but this brief taster of an ambitious project leaves us wanting more.

Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy

(PS4) ★★★★ Age: 7+

The studio that later produced the epics Uncharted and The Last of Us made its name with the charming but basic Crash Bandicoot platformer on PS1 more than two decades ago. This remaster bundles the original and a pair of decent sequels - and it's if as the last 21 years never happened.

Faithful to the unforgiving gameplay (the developer says it's actually slightly harder), though graphically updated to a high sheen, the N-Sane Trilogy can't match platformer rivals such as Super Mario Bros for sheer invention. But it packs a heap of fun into its colourful worlds.

However, it disdains modern sensibilities with its insistence on pixel-perfect jumping married to demanding controls. For that reason, its natural constituency remains those fans who enjoyed it first time around.

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