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What we’ve been playing – pools, crates, and tombs


29th March 2024

Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we’ve been playing over the past few days. This week: swimming pools, crates and tombs.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We’ve Been Playing, here’s our archive.

Pools demo, PC

POOLS – Official Demo Trailer


Pools trailer.

My wife is completely fascinated by the whole liminal spaces scene online. These are slightly Gibsonian faux-found-footage clips of office hallways and empty interiors, sickly lit by neon strips and radiating a vague sense of contemporary malice. Loads of people make these clips, share them, discuss them. They’re reaching out for something deeply felt, I suspect, but which more or less defies the powers of language.

And quite a lot of these clips revolve around swimming pools. There will be tiles, lapping water, a bizarre slide tunnel. This brings us to Pools, a forthcoming liminal spaces horror game that my wife has become pretty excited about. We finally got round the demo this week. It’s creepy and mysterious and brilliant.

And it’s so simple. In Pools you navigate a huge swimming pool complex, moving from tiled room to tiled corridor, stepping in and out of little pools, rivers, and huge deep stretches of water. The sense is always one of recent absence: a new room will contain lawn furniture that’s been tipped over, and you might feel that someone has just passed through and bumped against it. There’s the sense of being pursued, no, of being driven forward deeper into the building.

Pools is very beautiful, and very doomy. It’s like navigating a very strange burial chamber. We loved the demo, but I feel like I’m slightly nervous about the prospect of a whole game of this. Which I guess means that the game is onto something.

-Chris Donlan

Super Crate Box, PC

Sometimes it’s nice to go back to the past and realise how much things have changed. With Super Crate Box, which I probably fire up once a year, the thing that has changed is me. Super Crate Box itself remains as infuriatingly perfect as ever.

Me though? I am so slow now, so sluggish, so empty of head and clumsy of hands. Super Crate Box is a wonderful arcade game. You scamper up and down 2D environments – you really scamper; there is no other word – and navigate single-screen arenas of absolute chaos. Enemies attack from the top of the screen, flow downwards, and then emerge from the top again enraged, while you blast away at them trying to avoiding the single hit that will kill you.

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The genius comes from the crates themselves, though. These spawn randomly around the level, one at a time, and you collect them to score points. But they also swap out your current weapon, and this can properly mess you up. Sometimes it’s a flamethrower and you’re off to the races. Sometimes it’s a mine or the bazooka, which has a long reload. Oh the ways you can die.

Add to that my increasingly slow processing of everything that’s happening on the screen and you have a game that gorgeously exposes the changes that happen as you age. I still love it, but I’m also shocked by how it remains so fresh and brilliant, while I have to put up with the indignities of time.

-Chris Donlan

Tomb Raider 1-2-3 Remastered, Switch

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered | Official Launch Trailer


Tomb Raider 1-2-3 Remastered trailer.

I’ve been watching a lot of Tomb Raider Let’s Plays on TikTok at the moment, and it’s fascinating to see how a game that was pretty much a straight-down-the-line blockbuster when it came out is now being received. And to see Tomb Raider – the first three games – on TikTok you’d think it was a cross between the Souls games and something like QWOP.

I guess what I mean is that people aren’t just playing the games, they’re playing the controls. They’re leaning into their frustrations with how tricky it is to navigate around with Lara, and they’re celebrating level design that is now perceived as the kind of stuff that pushes you right to the edge.

This is all done in a lovely spirit and it’s very enjoyable to watch. And it’s made me realise: Tomb Raider was always like this, and we knew at the time how challenging it was, but what we didn’t have at the time was games that made things easier for you. We do now, and so when I think of the first Tomb Raiders, I find it very easy to forget their difficulty, the frustrations and the restarts and that pure joy they were able to access when things actually went right.

Games are so easy to misremember – certainly for me to misremember. It frightens me a little. We were having a conversation in the office recently about Monaco, which I love. But how can I love it when I can barely recall what it does? I was describing the game to someone and describing this incredibly precise game about pulling off heists. It took someone else to talk about all the chaos they’d caused within the game for me to actually see the game as it is again: a game that wants to construct teetering piles of disaster that you then have to navigate.

What I do at least remember correctly – about both Monaco and those early Tomb Raiders – is that I love them, that they showed me something new, and that they changed things for me quite profoundly while I was playing them.

-Chris Donlan

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