745th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment/Vivendi Universal Games/Warner Bros. Games

Supernatural elements to the extent that F.E.A.R. seems to have, based on the reading I have done so far, are normally the domain of the survival horror. Resident Evil has some of it together with its zombies and it sounds like Eternal DarknessĀ revolves around it.

Here, though, it’s a clearer shooter, with no survival elements. It feels like a different way of dealing with horror and I’m wondering how it will all fit together.

Our Thoughts

Looking at F.E.A.R., the story is what stands out. In a world where you seem to have a psychic connection to something, the game has a bunch of small cutscenes where the shooting gets interrupted by weird occurences – encounters, destruction, just things that feel weird. It’s a neat way to keep the world unsettling, allowing for some in level storytelling, without interrupting the flow.

Unfortunately, in between those story bits, the game feels like a bog standard military shooter – limited weapons, loads of enemies and long, endless, samey levels that seem to go on forever – the water plant really started boring me after a while. There’s little new that seems to be introduced, and while there’s a part of bullet time included, it didn’t feel like it made much of a difference to me.

But it’s a real shame, because the nuggets of story rewards are few and there’s a lot in between, with what’s in between feeling uninspiring and unnecessary.

#306 The Neverhood

Posted: 4th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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744th played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: The Neverhood, Inc.
Publisher: Dreamworks Interactive

The Neverhood is another game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. My first school diary for secondary school came with a demo disc for a bunch of games (it was video game themed) and this was one of the demos that was included. I didn’t know of any other links (Earthworm Jim wasn’t on my radar at the time and I never really got into it afterwards) but the claymation intrigued me and the puzzles were fun. I’ve always wanted to play more of it to see where the story goes and enjoy the animations and in the past few years I’ve held off for this game.

Our Thoughts

Let’s start with the positives (and they outweigh the downsides mostly). The Neverhood is a gorgeous game, the claymation not having aged even if some of the cinematics themselves have started to look a bit rough – in the game itself it looks fine. The world is colourful, a bit wonky but with a decent amount of variation. Just the first few houses are inviting and interesting to explore.

The puzzles are a mixed batch. Unlike the likes of LucasArts games, there’s no dialogue and there’s no inventory to speak off (you have some space, but it’s not as big a part of puzzle solving). Instead, the puzzle are real puzzles, things like getting the levels of pipes right and doing sliding puzzles. There’s some backtracking required, but early on it plays quite well and teaches you some of the stranger mechanisms.

This changes a bit later on. The puzzles doesn’t necessarily get loads more difficult, but instead they get tedious. This starts early on with a optional tape that tells part of the backstory of the world being hidden behind a five minute long corridor, which only barely compares to the required path around a mountain cliff you undertake in this weird scooter – the length sort of obfuscates what goes on, but it still feels like it could be a lot faster. Sadly, it wore me out after a while, as it just wasn’t enjoyable to keep retrying, and left the game alone when the endgame just pushed it too much.

Final Thoughts

I’m really torn on The Neverhood. The world looks lovely and invites exploration, having plenty of treats around. It’s more of a puzzle game than most, but sadly it doesn’t seem to be able to keep them constrained enough. Considering this came after the giants of Myst and Day of the Tentacle (and Loom pulled off the inventory light adventure game better), it feels that should have provided a good base. Still, it’s worth it as its own experiment that maybe pushed further than it should have.

#80 Jet Set Willy

Posted: 30th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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743rd played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: ZX Spectrum
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Software Projects
Publisher: Software Projects/Tynesoft

Some games are on this list because of their legacy and place in history, rather than being the best out there – if you grew up with it, you probably consider it great, but it’s not necessarily that good (or accessible) as modern games. For me, these home PC platformers feel like they’re in that group, with Jet Set Willy being fondly remembered but, from all I can see, maybe a bit outdated and not having stood the test of time as, say, Pac-Man or even MUD has.

I mean, that’s probably sacrilege to those who grew up with it, but home machine platformers haven’t impressed me much yet and later changed things so much that I am hesitant to expect much of this game.

Our Thoughts

And of course I’d seen enough to know this game wasn’t as impressive. This platformer isn’t too impressive now. While it has an interesting larger world, spanning several screens that create more routes through the area. You’re running around through the house, picking up items to clean it up and can only go to bed after that. While it’s a slightly different story, the house isn’t consistent enough to pull it off – it could just be any group of random screens.

I didn’t do well with the controls. Stairs are awkward (jumping makes you go through them) and hitboxes and jumps made it difficult to avoid any hazards. I got through a few screens, but I struggled to really get past anything but the simplest.

I guess what didn’t help is that collection of random screens – on these open games, exploration can be its own reward, with a tension between what you expect and the surprises you can get from it. Here, however, everything is so disjointed that the rewards aren’t there and the effort I put in doesn’t feel right. Some actual foculs would have been nice, but what’s there now doesn’t hold up anymore.

#648 Garry’s Mod

Posted: 26th November 2018 by Jeroen in Uncategorized
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742nd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Facepunch Studios
Publisher: Valve Corporation

Garry’s Mod, taken on its own, isn’t strictly a game. It’s a physics sandbox to either mess around in (which you could call a game, but without goals) or to play the maps, game modes and props created by other people. And mostly multiplayer – the game really encourages you to work together. It’s like Minecraft without any of the gameplay mechanisms.

Since I’m feeling a bit limited finding much in the sandbox mode, I’ve gotten myself a bunch of game modes and maps to see what it’s like. Jazztronauts, for example, has just been released as I write this – a mode that takes you to other maps and has you steal its props. How does it work? We’ll see, but clearly it does somehow.

Our Thoughts

I’m not sure I have much to say about Garry’s Mod on its own. It does what it says, import packages from other Source games and place them, pose them and let them move. They can move and do things and I’m sure you can build some cool videos in it, but as a game it lacks goals and systems and as a sandbox, there’s little innate discovery to be done. That’s fine, but I couldn’t really muster any inspiration to do anything with that.

So on to game modes I went. It was quite tricky – I downloaded a whole bunch of them, but there were several I couldn’t quite get to work. Once I got through adjusting game modes, some seemed broken and others weren’t really worth much on my own, so that’s what it was.

Jazztronauts, however, did what I wanted. Through whatever magic they managed to put in the game (it feels pretty impressive) they created a mode that lets you travel through pretty much all of the maps on the Steam workshop for the game and steal props and other things from it. The hub level showed off a nice environment, though the writing felt to me as being of mixed quality, but it was interesting to see all the different maps out there. Admittedly, some were broken because prerequisites weren’t handled well, but it’s been amazing to see.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to quickly get any story maps to work. It’s possible that I overlooked the ones I had downloaded – I struggled quite a bit with identifying maps and making sense of everything. It adds to the homemade feeling of the whole game, but I guess I didn’t dive quite deeply enough.

Final Thoughts

Garry’s Mod is an amazing tool for creating content. It doesn’t come build in with that, but as a sandbox tool it looks amazingly featured to work with. If I had any plans, I’d love to try it – and maybe one day I will – but don’t expect an amazing experience out of the box. Even for this, I feel I spent a lot of time preparing the game to create what I wanted. It wouldn’t have felt right for this game without that, though.

#784 Retro Game Challenge

Posted: 22nd November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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741st played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: indieszero
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games/Xseed Games

I feel I’ve referenced Ultimate NES Remix before, the game that takes old NES games and has you do a Warioware style minigame on a smaller part of it – see how well you do at the challenges and how far you can get.

Retro Game Challenge does a similar thing, but based on retro-like games that were created for this game, with a story surrounding that. Apparently, it’s based on a Japanese TV show – not something that would transfer here, so instead I’ll have to rely on the game itself to explain its premise.

Our Thoughts

I think that presentation came across a bit lackluster to me – a young version of the game’s presenter being excited you’ll play with him so you can head back to your own time – but it creates some nice touches around being able to see old manuals and hints in magazines for these fabricated games. Those matter because the challenges for these games are quite specific, perhaps starting as a simple score attack, but later requiring you to use these secrets to progress.

The first game is a Galaga clone that plays quite close to this genre of shooters. There’s a mini game inbetween that consists of shooting rocks, but it’s somewhat separate from the main gameplay – still dangerous, but it mostly serves as a way to rack up points. It’s quite faithful in style to the old games without outright copying them, which is what works so well. The challenges – clearing a stage or using warps – go up in difficulty until the last require you to clear the game and, well, that’s where it broke down for me.

Rather than letting you go through the next game after a few challenges and leaving a few more for later objectives – perhaps required to beat the game, but not immediate progression – Retro Game Challenge requires you to beat all the challenges before moving to the next game. Which may have some slight merit, but if you can’t do it, well, that’s most of the content of the game gone. After all, I couldn’t beat the first game, so I couldn’t see what else there is on offer. It feels really out of place and poorly balanced at a time when I would have expected the developers to consider the hurdles. While you may aim it at hardcore gamers, I would have hoped the nostalgia factor would be more important.

Final Thoughts

It’s unfortunate this game’s difficulty threw such a spanner in the works as it feels unnecessary – the game would have worked as well and made its point as much without the high difficult. There’s a lot of creativity here to make the game work, but I feel cheated since I never got a chance to really see that.

#841 Spelunky

Posted: 18th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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740th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Mossmouth, LLC
Publisher: Mossmouth, LLC

When listening to recent gaming podcasts, people whose taste I generally agree with or at least respect mention Spelunky as a game they really enjoy, its daily challenges especially being something they love to engage in as being a great driver to keep playing and offering an experience that relies so much on skill and player knowledge.

Spelunky is a roguelike platformer – featuring random levels like Nethack, but focusing on platforming skill and action to take on enemies and challenges rather than a turn based RPG system. The challenges, though, come from how systems combine and never just a single problem, or they would once you get the experience. Emergent gameplay and all that – we’ll see how it goes.

Our Thoughts

Spelunky is a challenging game. A lot of the individual challenges aren’t too difficult – correct jumpins and taking out enemies – some can make your life difficult if you don’t know the trick yet. The real challenge comes from the accumulation of elements, as enemies pop up at the wrong time, jumps are tricky and while reaching the exit isn’t always the hardest, doing so optimally is.

Because there’s always something else to go for. Shops have tools – once you can’t always afford early on, but want to get. Treasure is buried underground and there are even entire rooms that you can only reach by getting through the walls, mostly using your bombs. They are, of course, a limited resource, so you need to consider whether you’ll get enough benefit out of using There are constant trade offs, which adds a strategic dimension beyond the action segments.

Even with the time I spent on it, I noticed I was starting to discover more systems even towards the end and even as I didn’t progress in levels. As I’m meant to get more as I progress in levels, I’m curious to see where all that will end up.

Graphically, the game is fairly simple. I played the HD version, which uses redrawn, cartoony graphics rather than the sprite work of the original version, and the bold colours help make everything stand out. They’re effective and the changes as you go through are enough to add to the fun of discovering and exploring these levels.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Spelunky is a difficult game and I probably missed out on a lot. The systems just don’t seem readily explored like this, but the layers that I’ve already seen are enough to pull me in further.

#793 Super Mario Galaxy

Posted: 14th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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739th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

One of the struggles going through this list is to pace playing certain franchises so we don’t play them too soon, and the Mario series is a clear example of that – we playing the important Super Mario Bros. quite early on, started the first of the RPG series, Super Mario RPG, soon and started the 3D iteration Super Mario 64 within the first few months.

With only a few games int he last series, Super Mario Sunshine, the previous game, took half a decade to get around to, but I feel I get to play the first Wii installation further. As the Wii was popular, it feels like the main Mario game for the platform was a swell, and I’ve played around with it a bit before – before we started the blog and when I still really needed to learn the Wii controls. I hope this attempt will go better.

Our Thoughts

I feel like the 3D Mario series still suffers from its camera controls. While the original game introduced an impressive leap forward, I’ve always struggled when the games took that control away from me and comparing Super Mario Galaxy to its contemporaries show that it tends to struggle. The game’s first galaxy – the areas the game is divided in, ignoring, the scientific background of all of this – has no free camera controls, and when you’re running around small, weirdly oriented planets, it screws with my orientation more than it normally would.

The game’s basic idea works well, though. Rather than working on a flat world, you have several planets, some very small, others a lot larger. A number of them are spherical, as you’d expect, albeit it sometimes with pretty large holes (or black holes inside, if you need more of a challenge). Others are more oddly shaped – hourglass and dumbbell shapes show up and weirder shapes as the level dictates, with some of them creating chunks that look more like a standard level. In most galaxies, you travel between a bunch of them, neatly separating the areas although I’ve not encountered the branching paths I expected, other than when used to create different paths for different stars.

Sadly, it feels like these galaxies don’t have many stars each, so you don’t spend a lot of time in each. They’re large areas, but sometimes they feel quite underused, which is a shame. This is especially the case in galaxies with a strong theme, such as one focused around bees, that feels like it could house a lot more. Super Mario Odyssey has spoiled us at this point, but compared to the others it still seemed sparse.

Final Thoughts

As always, the presentation of a main Mario game is perfect. It looks good, is creative, is great at teaching you the mechanics and redefines what a Mario game is once again. It’s let down by the camera controls, but beyond that offers a great game that might be outshined now by Super Mario Odyssee, but stays addictive in its own sense.

#722 Lumines Live

Posted: 10th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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738th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios

There are a bunch of games that take after Tetris and the Lumines series always seemed like a worthy one. While not music or rhythm based, the game’s pace influenced the music in a way that made it feel like the two interacted that much.

Lumines Live was developed alongside the official sequel (which was aimed more at the portable PSP) and is listed in the book as having some issues with expensive DLC, but as I played it on an Xbox Live Arcade collection, that won’t bother me as much.

Our Thoughts

The core gameplay of Lumines stays the same in Lumines Live, blocks drop and you need to combine them into ever growing blocks. While you’re getting into it, this quickly piles up, but as you get in the game and reach the flow, the placement starts to make more sense and you get in this flow where, with a bit of luck, you get some big cascades.

It gets a bit finicky when you start reaching the top row – dropping down gets pretty touchy and you get the column of pieces that you see too often. It got me some (near) losses, but was more an annoyance than a real problem in the game.

I still haven’t seen quite what the improvements are from the base game though. The book write up mostly mentions the first impact of (larger) DLC packs, but I didn’t really experience those and so I felt I mostly got the big screen experience.

Final Thoughts

I guess I might have noticed some differences in the different modes, but playing through the game still felt the same as before. It’s fine with me – the Lumines formula works really well. It’s still great fun and the choice between the different games probably comes down more to what devices you have access to.

737th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

After playing the first Geometry Wars game, I felt we played a nice shoot ’em up that was nice in shorter bursts. It didn’t sustain itself for too long, but the stripped down aesthetic and general feel really scratched that shooter itch without the annoyances the older games in the genre would bring along. It felt modern and more playable.

A sequel, then, would have to balance that, and it seems like Geometry Wars 2 does so by being willing to mix it up and change the game around. It’s a decent strategy that doesn’t always pay off, as it can dilute the game as well. We’ll ened to see where it falls today.

Our Thoughts

While the first game’s simplicity was its boon, I don’t think this sequel would have gotten away with doing just that – especially as it’s not just a minigame, but is sold as its own Xbox arcade game. What it does is to expand the number of game modes offered. This goes from a score attack like the original game to having unlimited lives, but a time limit, to the point where you can’t shoot unless you’re in a safe area or only destroy enemies by flying through gates. It’s a pretty nice set of options and as you unlock them one at a time, I had enough time to appreciate each of them. The way it’s ordered builds nicely as well, introducing new weapons and options at each go. Often, concepts vital to a mode are introduced one or two earlier so you can get used to them and requirements on your score – low but enough to make you work for them – mean you have to give each mode a good try before moving on.

Once you get in the game, its abstract visuals persist and match with the technomusic. It is a great combination that keeps you focused but also sets up a large number of enemies that are easy to distinguish and often hint well at what they do anyway. There’s a big variation in them, with different behaviours and attacks. The distinction between the approach modes of some is especially interesting – two very similar enemies has one always following you, while the other backs off, for example, and it’s neat when you can explore and exploit that.

Final Thoughts

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 lives up to its predecessor, improving the gameplay by expanding its modes outwards rather than trying to go bigger. The core gameplay stays the same and the excellent visuals stay the same, but it tweaks the formulas enough to stay interesting. A lot is the same thing, but you have to change your approach each time to be slightly different. It’s become a shooter that I actually want to go back to – and that’s really rare.

#415 Outcast

Posted: 2nd November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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736th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Appeal
Publisher: Infogrames

Some games have stood out for a long time and I’ve been looking forward to trying Outcast from the day I first saw previews in gaming magazines. It was quite proud of its voxel technology – something that turned out not to go as far most of the time – but also created a semi open world, where you could go where you wanted and do what you felt like. It was amazing at the time and I remember reviewers needing to get used it a bit.

Our Thoughts

Through a weird accident, our protagonist Cutter Slade ends up on an alien planet, wanting to repair his ship and find his colleagues so he can go back to earth. And of course you get involved in the going ons on this alien world, with one group now dominating the others. You become a resistance fighter while trying to get everything together so you can find your way back.

You do this by walking around the world. It’s not a fully open world, instead consisting of several separate areas that are linked through portals. The tutorial village lead to another area, which have several more – almost all guarded by the warrior caste. You’re free to wander around any of the areas though, as long as you can avoid or beat these enemies, and I got to see a few different areas. Each have a bunch of missions – some plot based, I think often taking down the warrior leader of the area but also convince the others to stop or start doing certain things that weaken the warrior caste. Other side quests are similar, adding to your equipment or getting resources to upgrade those.

The world looks suitably alien and everything is done to enhance that feeling. The landscape looks alien enough, even if there are recognisable shapes. The customs and names are different enough to stand out. There’s a lot of lore and it feels like they’ve taken a lot of care to build something consistent. This even plays into the general AI – everyone seems to have their rhythm through the day, interacting and making sense, and they all respond to what goes on around you. This also extents to enemy AI, which feels natural in how it calls for help and responds. It’s still a bit stupid, but clever enough and while later games make it better, for 1999 this feels very realistic.

The downside of the game is its weak combat. I found it incredibly difficult – not helped, I guess, by the fact that the enemies start out at their strongest and get weaker. There aren’t single enemies to take out early and it’s easy to get drawn into a battle if you’re not constantly vigilant. I managed to make it from one side of the map to the other without being seen, but it’s far from easy, and taking out enemies near a portal took a lot of abusing the AI by hiding. Not that stealth generally works – they still know where to find you, instead you have to rely on weak pathfinding. It’s a bummer, because it’s something that keeps you from enjoying this world by having to be too careful. I see why it’s needed, but a rebalancing for the modern day would be helpful (although, of course, I guess there’s the call for smoother controls that feel more modern that would fix this).

Final Thoughts

Did Outcast live up to my expectations? To be honest, despite my excitement I wasn’t expecting something incredibly amazing either. It wasn’t as dated as it could have been, and while the combat was clunky, the world it presents still feels good. The Kickstarter campaign for an HD remake failed, but several versions of that remake have been developed – I guess it would have fixed things, but at the same time, I think a sequel would be better. Get back to this world, and see what new stories it can tell.