Q1 2016 Games Played

March 28, 2016

I thought that, rather than write a bunch of posts on games I’ve played, I’d do quarterly write-up on what I’ve played and some brief thoughts. This, by the way, is reflective of games I’ve played in Q1 2016, but not necessarily Q1 2016 games 🙂

 

Batman: Arkham Knight (completed)

https://www.batmanarkhamknight.com/

batmanArkhamKnight

This game was plagued with performance problems on PC when it was released, so I left it on the back-burner until now. Overall, I had a good time with this game. I enjoyed the more adult, darker vibe (more Christian Bale than comic zaniness) The game had refined and enjoyable gameplay, and I did enjoy having the batmobile as a chance-of-pace from Arkham Asylum + City. If I were to rank Asylum, City, Origins and Knight, I’d put Asylum first but Knight second.

While I did enjoy it, I was disappointed it didn’t fully commit to the dark vibe throughout (I could give an example of a plot point, but out of concern for spoilers I’ll hold back). I did get game-fatigue closer to the end, and was not inspired to bother with any of the side-quest stuff (particularly the riddler puzzles). I didn’t bother in Arkham City either, so no surprise there.

 

Goat Simulator

http://www.goat-simulator.com/

Goat_Simulator_cover

Here’s a little change in pace from Batman 😉 This game almost borders on party game, from the point of view that it is a ridiculous game that is even funnier when you have friends to laugh along with you. There is no real story to speak of – only that you’re a goat, and you have objectives offered up progressively by the game for points. Other than that, it’s open-world with no guidelines. You can totally mess around in here, and you certainly do. Your goat has a hell of headbutt, a jump, sticky tongue, and can’t truly die, so you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. When you do “die”, you become a floppy goat corpse, but can still move it around until you reset the goat. Even that is pretty amusing 😉

I’d recommend this one for a good laugh for a couple of days. To note, a prototype of the game was originally created as a joke, and the developers got such a positive response to it that they turned it into a commercial product!

 

Pillars of Eternity

http://eternity.obsidian.net/

pillars

I grew up with the AD&D Gold Box games made by SSI, followed by Baldur’s Gate and its ilke via Bioware. This game manages to nail the memory of Baldur’s Gate to a tee. To feel this nostalgic, yet still be modern and approachable, is saying something indeed! It’s very easy to sink a lot of hours into, and the game isn’t exactly small. It’s basically what you want from this kind of isometric RPG (unless you want Planescape: Torment or Fallout, which both have modern iterations in Torment: Tides of Numenera and Wasteland 2).

Unfortunately for me, I got bogged down in some difficult combat and it was enough to side-track me onto the next game… I haven’t made it back to continue yet.

 

Homeworld: Battle of Kharak (completed)

http://www.desertsofkharak.com/

desertsofkharak_spot

I missed out on the original Homeworld games back in the late 90s because I found 4x space RTS games were way too confusing with camera angles and the like. But when I found this was more Command and Conquer (or StarCraft 2) than Homeworld, I gave it a spin. I’m very, very glad I did! The game’s audio and visuals are stunning. Speaking as someone who lives in a desert climate, it gets the color spectrum and feelings exact. This is a great little game and a fantastic example of what you can pull off in the Unity Game Engine.

If I had any complaints, it’s that it’s FRIGGING HARD! I am no rookie to RTSes (though I tend to turtle) and I lost the first mission. Yep, it’s not a walk in the park. But it’s a great experience all around.

 

Rise of the Tomb Raider (completed)

http://www.tombraider.com/us/

Best_Games_Rise_of_the_Tomb_Raider

While Homeworld surprised me, I was waiting for Rise of the Tomb Raider. And like Homeworld, this game nails the visuals. Everything looks great, and on a number of occasions I stopped just to look around and take it in (thanks for not being Call of Duty in a constant sprint to the finish line!). Some of the exotic settings and ruins are incredible.

The gameplay is very much an evolution of the original reboot, but I enjoyed that game a lot and thus enjoyed this as well. It plays well, and you like to be in this world, especially as you get better skills in survival and combat. This was one of the few games that actually motivated me to try to get 100% on each map, though as I got to the latter couple of maps a combination of game fatigue and map scale served to end that goal.

If there was anything weak in ROTR for me, it would be the story. In a word: predictable. I figured out a plot twist early on that wasn’t revealed for a dozen more hours. Plus, the characters are a bit archetypal – they play to stereotypes and again become predictable. But, honestly, this wasn’t a big hindrance, and I had no problems playing through to the end.

 

X-Com 2 (completed)

https://xcom.com/

xcom2

Ahh X-Com. I have such fond memories of the original ’90s PC game, and the reboot got a lot of it right. X-Com 2 follows in these footsteps and tries to innovate on the existing design with (mostly) good improvements.

This game was very addictive – the “just one more mission” kept me up way later than I ought to have stayed up. I also made sure to name/customize the soldiers to be family and friends, which gives you a LOT more investment in them than you’d normally have. You really want them to live, and even yell at them when they miss 🙂 I loved the base building, the combat, the exploration… pretty much everything.

My complaints stemmed from particular aspects of how they ramped up the difficulty. For one, you start “behind the 8-ball” in terms of limited resources and contacts. You spend a lot of the game just trying to dig yourself out of the hole and (personally) I found this frustrating. This was exemplified with the “Dark Events”, where you could choose to stop an enemy activity – but not all of them. So you were guaranteed to get punished, but you could limit the damage somewhat. Not motivational. Another angle was the introduction of timed missions (10 turns to win or automatic lose). It changed the typical X-Com “take your time” strategy and forced your hand. The problem with this is it happened MOST of the time, so people who enjoyed the strategy of setting up troops felt cheated.

One complaint I have about both reboots was that the original X-Com hid enemy movements from you, including when aliens shoot at you! So you would genuinely “stumble into an alien” on a mission at point blank, or a laser beam would shoot out from the fog of war and SCARE THE CRAP OUT OF YOU. These reboots have the aliens traveling in packs and revealing themselves instantly… I miss that old element!

 

The Witness (completed)

http://the-witness.net/news/

thewitness

It’s hard to know how to feel about the Witness in a number of ways. Developer Jon Blow seems to know how to push the right buttons 🙂 This game is different from most other games you’ve played, perhaps overlapping with the classic game Myst most.Myst had little story, and neither does the Witness – they both mainly embrace the puzzles they present. Myst, at least, had more clear motivation on what you were trying to do… The Witness is vague at best in anything narrative (intentionally).

The game is very beautiful and it is interesting to see how it was designed to encourage players to teach themselves the logic of the different kinds of puzzles. But forget X-Com 2 or Homeworld, THIS GAME IS MIND-MELTINGLY HARD. Some of the puzzles are best suited to people who are very logical (good at math and science? this is for you) and punishes everyone else with no real assistance aside from the initial “training puzzles”. A lot of people will dislike how this game denies support or assistance in any way, but since its main reward is the thrill that comes with solving puzzles, it kind of makes sense.

It’s worth a try, perhaps as it gets cheaper, but don’t expect to beat this thing unless you are committed, a logic-genius, or resort to puzzle assistance (this was me) 😉

 

Firewatch (completed)

http://www.firewatchgame.com/

firewatch

If The Witness sounds frustrating, or if you are much more drawn to characters and story, Firewatch is much more up your alley. Situating yourself in the 1980s as a park ranger, the majority of your interactions come from another park ranger over the walkie talkie you carry. You spend a lot of time walking around the park (and man is it pretty), and a genuine sense of “being alone” (both positive and negative connotations) come into play for the character. You have the ability to ask and answer questions with some choice, and care was taken to make your choices feel unique.

When I finished the game, I read up on some reviews and realized the game changes notably based on how you response to questions. I hesitated to play again, however, because I felt I got “my story” from my choices. It’s not impossible to replay, however, because the game clocks in at about 3hrs to completion. Some people may complain it’s too short, but it respected your time (especially valuable when you’re older and, you know, have responsibilities other than playing games). I recommend this to most people as a really engaging and unique experience worth having (as long as you don’t mind “not shooting stuff”).

 

Helldivers

http://arrowheadgamestudios.com/games/helldivers/

helldivers

Speaking of shooting stuff, Helldivers is a very intense isometric shooter with co-operative play (up to 4 players). Borrowing from the Starship Troopers vibe, you invade three different types of worlds to “bring justice” to different alien races… through shooting stuff, of course!

The game has a basic formula of choosing a difficulty level, generating a procedural map with specific types of objectives to complete on the mission, and allowing the player to choose a start point. You configure your gear, and drop in. Depending on the difficulty, the game introduces more/different types of enemies, and this game gets very VERY HARD. A friend and I jumped into a game three levels higher than I was playing at and I died in less than 30 seconds 😉

The game plays well and is fun, but is based fundamentally on “level grind” progression which can get a bit tired after a while. Also, while the levels are procedural, the mission goals are from a set group (maybe 7 or so?) so you end up doing the same kinds of missions often. But the coop (collaborative) aspects make this game pretty enjoyable for quite a while. And did I mention this game was HARD? There’s also friendly-fire you can’t turn off 🙂

 

Superhot

https://superhotgame.com/#trailer

superhot

Now THIS is an experience that surprisingly-new! It’s a First-Person-Shooter-Strategy game, more or less. An FPS, but where time (basically) doesn’t move if you don’t move. So rather than an FPS where you run for high ground or cover, Superhot gets you running AT your enemies, dodging their bullets and feeling, quite literally, like Neo from The Matrix. You need more spatial awareness than any kind of hand-eye coordination, because you have to figure out where the baddies are coming from and what they’re doing. It is really refreshing, and rewarding to clear a level like some action hero would do. Though a totally different experience, there’s a bit of a “Hotline Miami” feeling of accomplishment upon completing a level.

The game steadily increases in difficulty as you progress, and the latter levels get really complex and difficult (hence why I haven’t beaten it yet). Graphically it is very abstract, which gives it a unique look and takes some of the violence out of your actions. It also helps you see enemies and bullets as they show up in different colors than the background. Play this if you want a notably-different (but exciting) gaming experience.

 

Grim Fandango Remastered (completed)

http://www.grimremastered.com/

grimfandango

It’s been a long time since I played this game originally, and in most ways it still holds up. Grim Fandango is a classic adventure game set in the Land of the Dead with a Film Noir style. It has some of the best plot/environment/dialogue that I’ve seen in any computer game. It’s a classic, and that’s probably why it finishes in the top 10 on most “best game ever” lists (presuming you’re not a console elitist). It’s great to see the Remastered edition allows another generation of people to play this game, since the original is difficult to get set up properly. The developer commentary is also excellent, as it gives us insight into a lot of decisions and processes that made the game what it is.

Now, I can’t let GF off without some gripes – there are some really unclear puzzles in this game. Perhaps spoiled a little by more modern games, there were times I genuinely didn’t know what I was supposed to do next, nor could I figure out what worked with what. They were also experimenting with 3D (physical) puzzles in this game, and some of those are downright confusing or tricky (glitchy) to get to work. I even had the game crash on my a couple times! And the game -STILL- has a puzzle that you can break the game with, which has been there since it was originally released. But honestly, despite these grumbles you really need to play this game if you have not. So good.

 

And that’s all I’ve played in this quarter… judging on my impending move back to Canada in July, I’m probably not going to have nearly this much to comment on for Q2… but I’ll give it a try 😉