Eskom! Once synonymous with electricity, the name now conjures a perpetual fear of being left in the dark for hours on end with no power to run the appliances that matter – such as computers and gaming consoles. Every other appliance is pretty rubbish really; I mean, who actually uses a stove these days?
Our ever-reliable electricity supplier has been keeping most of South Africa switched off of late. It all has something to do with a coal storage tower collapsing in some now darker corner of our country. The timing couldn’t be worse what with it being the start of the festive season and there being a lot of new games to play. Even though Eskom has said that load-shedding is easing up (and it actually hasn’t been too bad for the last week or so), we always like to have a contingency plan in place for when load-shedding inevitably rears its wretched head once again.
With this in mind, all of us left on NAG Online sat down and compiled a list of games to play that don’t necessarily require electricity. We’re talking mobile games and other titles that can run quite happily on the two hours of battery life your old laptop can still put out. Now when the lights go out, the gaming can continue… until the batteries die at least.
Ah, load-shedding. That time when frustrations flare, political analysts are instantly born, and we all ponder the disturbing reality of how dependent on electricity we truly are. When this happens, I know that there’s one game which can entertain me, get the brain gears lubed, and generally curb my annoyance: Transmission, by the British Science Museum.
See, it’s a puzzle game for Android and iOS platforms, and I play it on my old-but-trusty Samsung Galaxy S3. Players are presented with simple, geometric nodes that represent communication devices: modems, satellites and cellular phones, to name but a few. You’re then tasked with creating links between them so information can flow cleanly from one to the next. Figuring out the most efficient waypoints is a totally mesmerizing task that never gets old or frustrating. Also, as time goes on, new challenges are introduced, such as leaving redundant data on the end node, avoiding cross-overs or being limited to a certain number of connections.
Did I mention that it’s totally gorgeous? Oh yeah, it’s a modern piece of art; simple shapes, bright neon colours and clearly-rendered icons all come together to create a very visually-soothing experience. Of course, the music compliments the mood perfectly with a relaxing ambient track, and sound effects will completely absorb players with their static, pulsing, tonal nature.
After a few rounds of Transmission I barely notice time has passed and load-shedding doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Get your fix for free on both Android and iOS.
Being a bit of a gaming snob, I’ve never been able to play popular mobile games like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush. The freemium model just doesn’t sit well with me and I can’t turn my brain off for some mindless phone-tapping – I crave a bit of depth for my gaming fix. Luckily for me, a large number of classic games ranging from Max Payne to Baldur’s Gate have been ported to Android and iOS devices, and for a small price you can play some really great games while you wait for the lights to come back on.
Naturally these mobile ports are often slightly worsened versions of the original game, but I’d still pick them over repeatedly firing birds at innocent green pigs for two hours. The biggest hurdle is, of course, the clunky control systems that touch-screen devices allow for, but I’ve found that the RPG genre in particular is actually quite well-suited for a phone or tablet. It’s also quite nice to take out your device and quickly grind for some XP or finish some side-quests when you find a free moment.
So, if you have a bit of money to spare and want to get some real gaming done when load-shedding strikes, here are some ported titles that I can recommend:
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition (Android and iOS, R109.99). One of the pricier games on offer, but easily the best. I’ve been slowly working my way through this massive RPG on my tablet and, once you’ve mastered the controls, it really is a great way to revisit the old DnD classic.
Final Fantasy Series (Android and iOS, prices vary with game). Any of the first six games from the epic JPRG franchise are a great fit for mobile gaming. To my shame, I had never actually played a Final Fantasy game before playing Final Fantasy VI on my tablet, and I really enjoyed it. Carrying one of my favourite characters in all of gaming around in my bag, Kefka Palazzo, was a lot of fun.
Crazy Taxi (Android and iOS, R11.25). I’m not entirely sure if this game qualifies as a classic, but it is to me. The old Sega game is recreated fairly well for mobile devices and is perfect for short play sessions when Eskom strikes. At only R11.25 it really is a steal. Who wouldn’t want to race passengers around a city while listening to oldschool Offspring music?
The current mobile game keeping me glued to a tiny, battery-operated screen is Dead Run. It’s another endless runner game: a massively popular mobile genre where the main character runs forward and you have to dodge, jump, or do things at specific times – see Temple Run, Canabalt, Robot Unicorn Attack, etc. etc. What makes Dead Run so neat is that it has two inputs: one to swing a baseball bat and another to fire a shotgun when you happen to have one or two of the ever-scarce shotgun shells in stock. Also, zombies! Your silhouetted character runs across the landscape trying to distinguish between the shambling undead and the panicking survivors that kind of look like the undead because they’re flailing their arms around to get your attention. Kill the zombies; don’t kill the survivors. Then see how many survivors you can collect before you inevitable get eaten or you mistake an actual person for a dead person. Oops.
Dead Run wins extra points for its game over screen, which tells you exactly who you just accidentally bumped off. So far Madonna, William Shatner, Megan Fox, and Rick Grimes (!) have all met the business end of my baseball bat. I’m sorry, OK? It’s their fault for waving their arms around so hysterically.
Also worth noting: Dead Run is a local indie game by Twoplus Games, so now you can feel patriotic while you sit in the dark trying to avoid killing celebrities instead of zombies. Try it out for free online right over here, or pick it up on iOS for $0.99. Android version coming soon.
I’ve spent quite some time on this site talking about boardgames, so I will be the voice of the table-top generation. It actually seems pretty obvious when you think about it: lights out, Cluedo out. My personal choice for in-the-dark gaming is Bananagrams.
Yep, it’s a funny name, but it’s a great game. Up to four players share letter tiles from an adorable banana-shaped bag, then separately compete to spell as many words and use as many tiles as possible. It’s like Scrabble, but you have way more options and you don’t have to wait and see what the troglodyte sitting next to you will spell. It’s fun to play alone too, especially if you’re timing yourself or just feel like relaxing while working out your grey matter.
Other recommendations? Heck, anything except Monopoly. If you’re playing that, then tensions will be high already. And with the lights all out, it will be too easy to hide the bodies of the [expletive deleted] who bought the red streets.
Something I had a great time with at rAge 2014 was Munchkin Legends. It’s a competitive card game where all players share the same deck, and the objective involves backstabbing, lies, thievery, and shenanigans in general. There are no little pieces to lose in the dark (why Catan isn’t one of my picks), and the cards are easy to read by candlelight. And if none of this “game” stuff interests you, pick up a bag of Bananagrams and make cute little pixel-arts.
I’m a Gamer™ , and Gamers™ are dead. Eskom recognised this cutting edge trend and have since rolled out their Massively Multiplayer Outside new IP, First Life – a free-to-play, open-world, permadeath roguelike set in a country like the one in Far Cry 2.
First off, you’ll notice the fidelity. Utilising an old but robust graphics and physics engine, First Life pushes a quatratrillion atoms per millisecond at a smooth 60fps. The game looks incredible and with a variety of locales, from an upmarket suburbanite’s shopping district to the gritty alleys of Hillbrow, diversity is the name of the game. I’ve just got to say, the water is amazing, guys.
As a roguelike, you’re assigned a random race, class, gender and genetic profile with several potential buffs and nerfs, such as Prodigy, Nouveau Riche or Blindness. This is a once-off process and is irreversible, so only the most hardcore of players need apply. Git lucky gud, scrub.
Unfortunately, First Life utilises a pay-to-win monetisation model, with every consumable, customisation option, mount and activity gated behind a paywall. Combined with the randomised character creation and permadeath feature, this often makes for a frustrating and unbalanced experience that for the majority of players results in a grinding strat wherein the same actions are performed repeatedly for the better part of the game.
However, for those willing to play, Eskom should be commended for the range of activities available, including a ton of mini-games such as Grand Theft Auto V, World of Warcraft and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Eskom realises that these aren’t the main focus of First Life, however, and therefore doles out access to them sparingly via the Power resource in a contentious lottery mechanic wherein players pay but aren’t guaranteed to receive the resource.
Overall, First Life is a commendable but flawed first attempt at a truly immersive open-world adventure. I guess we’ll have to continue to wait for the Oculus Rift.