#235 Cannon Fodder

Posted: 18th July 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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618th played so far

Genre: Action/Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Sensible Software
Publisher: Virgin Interactive

Partially because of this blog, I started reading up more on older games, to learn about their background and find out more about them.

Cannon Fodder is one of the games that I feel are often discussed in them. There’s some impact to your actions in them that make the games more meaningful than they otherwise would be. I’m not sure if it works that way for me, but we’ll have to see.

Our Thoughts

Cannon Fodder sees you take out a squad of soldiers to fufill a couple of tactical objectives – kill everyone, blow up several buildings, that sort of stuff. The group you take out grows a bit in the first few levels, so there’s a small squad that follows your cursor. It’s a decent game, taking you through pretty varied levels. Your characters level up as they survive missions, making them more valuable.

But not that much. As you are more succesful, more soldiers join your army. They make for an excellent replacement if one of your guys gets taken out and dies – permadeath in that sense is a thing. It means that you won’t bond too much with each character, because they are expendable – real cannon fodder.

And with that, they show you tombstones for each of your dead recruits. More recruits still join you, but it feels dark. You have a decent strategy game, but what it really talks about is how these soldiers are so easily replaced.

It’s a subtle statement, one the game just as much implies as it says. These characters are expendable, but it doesn’t let you forget about them either.

Final Thoughts

Cannon Fodder is a fine strategy game, but to be honest, it would have been forgettable if that was all it was. However, the things it implies regarding cannon fodder is where it sets itself apart for me.

#328 Wipeout 2097

Posted: 14th July 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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617th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Psygnosis
Publisher: Psygnosis

We have played several Wipeout games – including the first – and the main thing I remember is that the first in the series didn’t agree with me… and that later ones were okay, but still difficult.

The second – which doesn’t feature the game show aspects that I originally, somehow, associated with this series and this specific installment – would probably be better and more polished, but we will see…

Our Thoughts

So I did a lot better playing this game than I did the first one. Not that, of course, I was winning everything, but I could reliably keep up with more racers and managed a few top three wins quite easily. I’m not sure if that was even quite as intentional, the controls just felt more reliable and responsive. It was a more enjoyable experience, although the Wipeout series was always fun anyway.

What it’s aided by is that the tracks are easier to follow. The game takes a step up in visuals and it helps to identify what’s going on and when to react. There are a bunch of small fixes here that are simply that helpful.

Final Thoughts

I admit I still struggled to really get far into this game, but there is a clear progression and I did feel I was getting more out of the game this time. It’s a fun racing game and drives you much more than others would.

616th played so far

Genre: Stealth
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

After System Shock 2, Thief: The Dark Project is another part of the Looking Glass trifecta of important games – the Ultima Underworld series will follow later. All three evolved what 3D games could do, each in their own way, and with Thief we look at improving stealth gameplay.

Our Thoughts

It’s probably not a surprise that this game has you infiltrating mansions, breaking out of prisons and so on. Mostly – so far – with a motivation of fun and profit, which works as a good enough wrap around plot without getting too involved.

It’s all, then, about these large environments and AI patterns of everyone who inhabits these areas. A lot of it becomes a bit of a puzzle – how do I get past this guard without alerting the others, where are the dark areas or loud grates and how does this work out? Even so, it offers multiple options past, more giving you a toolbox to get past these challenges in these different circumstances.

One of the goals, then, is often a deathless run as well – don’t kill any guards or servants, just sneak past or knock them out. It’s a nice added bonus, and even playing at a difficulty where I didn’t see the need to stick to that, I tried as much as I could – just failed at it from time to time.

To be honest, for the first playthrough, I just got lost. Obviously I had to be careful walking around the area, but I was spending quite a bit of time just exploring and seeing what’s about. There isn’t quite as much story telling in the areas as System Shock – in part because they’re independent levels – but I could see that appearing later.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure the game grabbed me as much as System Shock, but I felt like repeating the level several times to get further – I got killed a few times because I didn’t quite get it right. It’s what showed off the many opportunities best though, with strong stealth showings becoming easier, but having some big battles in between that got worse quite quickly – and killed me soon enough. You can keep trying, and it seems like a lot will feel different every time.

#827 De Blob

Posted: 6th July 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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615th played so far

Genre: Puzzle/Platform
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Blue Tongue Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

I’ve been keeping an eye on De Blob since, I believe, just before the start of this blog, as an interesting game that seemed so different from everything else.

Not to mention that the original version of the game was based on the area around the railway station in Utrecht, a place I’d been traveling to and through over the years for various reasons (mostly education related) and I was wondering whether I could see any of that in the final game.

Our Thoughts

The basic premise of the game is simple – just spray as much of the area with paint. You get some choices in colour – the primary and secondary colours, really – and there is a lot of just colouring buildings going on that just involves bouncing around the level.

If that’s all there is to it, the game would have gotten boring – even with black paint and water (washing off the paint) it would have been straight forward. It’s the missions that guide you through the world and give the game purpose. Not all of them are required, which means that the more annoying ones (with jumping puzzles…) didn’t feel too punishing.

Aside from the fairly unique mechanics, what really sets the game apart in my mind is its setting. The basics of it – a police state that says everything has to be colourless – isn’t that special, and we always tend to associate dictatorships like that with greys and browns. However, it sets it in this weird and happy world, one that you really make happy and beautiful. All the city’s inhabitants are simple blob creatures – with a helmet on if they’re a police officer, that sort of stuff. You colour them as well as you colour their buildings. Then there are the weird paint receptacles – cute spiders with paint on their back that you stomp to increase your paint reserves. They’re all cute and create a nice atmosphere that feel like it encourages bouncing around.

Final Thoughts

The concept for this game is quite interesting, something fairly unique, especially when placed in these action/adventure style 3D levels. There’s a lot to do and find and it takes a long time to run out of these. I really enjoyed the game and its challenge.

614th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment
Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment/Microsoft Studios

Although there are plenty of tower defense games out there these days, we don’t see many on the list. We’ve had Pixeljunk Monsters and one of the first, Desktop Tower Defense, but they feel rare on this list.

Defense Grid: The Awakening looks like a high production value interpretation of the genre. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good game, but it is a good start.

Our Thoughts

The basic gameplay of this game isn’t necessarily that different. There isn’t much you can change about placing towers on a grid and upgrading them isn’t a new thing either. One thing it feels we haven’t seen as much is the focus on pathing your enemies. Some of it was in other games, but several levels make it the focus, forcing the enemies to take the longest path in and out. You’ll still have flying enemies you can’t control, but that really becomes part of the challenge.

The other change is that this isn’t just about preventing enemies from reaching your base, but instead about preventing them taking power cores from a station partway through the level – sometimes at the start or end, but often partway through. There aren’t necessarily masses of strategy in there, but it makes a few changes to who you want to kill first and strategizing for that – especially when some start carrying off several cores.

The other pleasure in playing the game are the visuals. Set in this sci fi part destroyed world, it looks broken and real. It feels less constructed and more planned, although not too much… Still, the high production values are what really make the game stand out compared to its simpler counterparts. This is further emphasized by its story – having a slightly snarky AI be the reason you’re doing all of this helps immensely in building your goal.

Final Thoughts

I think this is the best tower defense game I’ve played for this blog. Pixeljump Monsters, with its different ‘interface’, is one of the few competitors in my mind, but I loved playing this one. I need to get back to it soon, it deserves it.

613th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Xbox 360/PSP/DS
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Metanet Software/Slick Entertainment/Silverbirch Studios
Publisher: Metanet Software/Atari Inc

Did you know that N+ is utterly ungoogleable? I don’t think I need to explain why, but it’s frustrating when I want to write these small bits.

N+ is a platformer, stylized, with very few unnecessary elements, based on a Flash game just called ‘N’.

Our Thoughts

N+ is not a gorgeous game. As stylized as the graphics are, they are not that pretty, just functional. It gives you a reason to focus purely on the platforming. On theĀ  whole, that platforming feels as focused.

The game starts of challenging and keeps being difficult, with short levels still taking some time to complete, especially if you want to collect the optional coins.

I quite enjoyed the time I spent on it, but the game was difficult enough that after short burst I lost the focus I needed to keep going.

Final Thoughts

Decent and very straight forward platformer… but man, it’s tough.

612th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC/Xbox/Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Gray Matter Interactive
Publisher: Activision

Wolfenstein 3D is certainly a notable game. It was amazing to see 3D done at the time, as a first person shooter. Horribly dated now, of course, but the technology was amazing at the time. On the other hand, setting it amongst nazis reviving Hitler, the subject matter felt edgy at the time, but now feels unnecessary.

Returning to that castle, then, we go back to the nazi theme (which I’m not convinced of), but in a modernised setting that looks more like what we’ve grown used to. The question is, does that make it better for us?

Our Thoughts

I’ll be honest, as much as it is meant to be the point of the setting, the nazi imagery of this game feels mostly unnecessary and not something needed here. The game spends a lot of time trying to set this up as necessary – turning them into monsters – but it never quite worked.

Even so, while set in a castle, these days a good way to create a large integrated setting, this is no System Shock 2 and it instead creates several levels (with associated secrets) and an outdated feeling score at the end of each level. It’s a weird throwback.

The castle is designed to be somewhat realistic – perhaps except for some lengthy staircases that seem to have heavy stuff dragged up and down them for the levels to work. It feels like work has gone into it.

Final Thoughts

This game is a decent enough shooter, but feels outdated in places and I feel the setting doesn’t do it any favours. It never connected with me and became middle of the road because of that.

611th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Irrational Games/Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts

System Shock is an influential shooter, in part because it further develops the open world setup that we will in the future encounter in the Ultima Underworld series, but also because it leads into the environmental story telling exemplified by spiritual successor Bioshock. Many other games draw from it and the Thief series by some of the same developers again create this sense of place.

The first isn’t on the list, but the second game is the one often cited as really standing out. I am genuinely excited about starting to play this.

Our Thoughts

Despite the hours I feel I have already spent playing this, I want to go back and play more and more of this. This game has such a sense of setting that just walking around was interesting. Add to that a multitude of paths around the ship the main game takes place on, stealth or combat, and you get a complex enough game that encourages exploration. While the ship is divided in levels, they connect in different places, making it a technical restriction and slight progress blocker but still doing its best to create a more connected world.

Although listed as an FPS, System Shock 2 has RPG elements in a way Deus Ex has. You get some choice in what aspects of your character you develop, buying upgrades from a few different consoles. It makes for a decent system that isn’t too complex or in depth, but causes enough blockers along your path to make you want to research and go back.

The experience is in the small parts too. Playing on easy, dying respawns you as long as you’ve activated a machine for it on the level. It can be a race to reach it, but once you do, it creates a great base for for exploration. It allows the game to be tough and challenging, while staying in character. You’re not just reloading a save game, making it feel like you’re always making progress. It also leaves you with a difficulty that seems higher than the game could otherwise afford to be.

Final Thoughts

I need to get back to this ship and see more of it, see where SHODAN leads me.

The perfect way to do a shooter, tell a story and get me engaged.

#121 Super Sprint

Posted: 16th June 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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610th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games

While earlier we played Portal 2 for its appearance in Lego Dimensions, Super Sprint instead appears in the game as a not-really-cameo. Nevertheless, I’ve probably played the game more that way than I ever would have otherwise. If nothing else, it’s a nice bit of continuity.

Our Thoughts

Super Sprint isn’t a very complicated racing game. Top down, the track for each round fits on a screen and you race around like Micro Machines. That setup is pretty straight forward, and one of the big delights in this is how the different tracks appear. There are eight of them, with a lot of different turns and some nice action with tunnels, bridges and closing doors. It creates a nice increasing set of challenges.

Then, from the second round on, the tracks get more difficult, having more hazards added so the challenge isn’t just enemy AI, but also finishing on time with the track in the state it’s in.

What pulls the game further along is the car customization. It’s limited – acceleration, grip and top speed increases only – but adds an extra challenge in grabbing the wrenches that allow you to upgrade them. I’m not quite sure how it would have worked in the arcade – you would have had to struggle to keep up – but it’s a nice idea to add some more options to the game.

Final Thoughts

Super Sprint doesn’t look very fancy, but its simplicity really makes for a better game and I’ve enjoyed diving into it a lot. There is just enough variety to keep things interesting, while the challenges escalates enough to keep it interesting.

#56 Planetfall

Posted: 12th June 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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609th played so far

Genre: Interactive Fiction
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Infocom
Publisher: Infocom

It feels like the arcades dominate these early years of gaming, and my mind, when seeing a title like Planetfall, automatically assumes it’s some action gamer or shooter once again with a space theme.

The space theme is still there, but instead we get another Infocom adventure. That’s a good thing – even now they’re still good story writing for games, and they were amazing compared to everything else that was put out in the day. Will I be able to survive the puzzles?

Our Thoughts

So it did, and although some puzzles were clear – making it out of the spaceship where you start to a relatively safe space is quite manageable – this game adds a hunger and sleep mechanic. I suppose it’s sensible that it does so, but it’s another puzzle to solve that makes itself more difficult by the long term inplications if you don’t quite get it – it can create dead ends that you can’t get out of with a restore, especially considering how far away from the solution you can be considering distance.

Still, it makes for an interesting experiment, and I can see why you would try it. It suits the difficulty these games tend to go for, and it’s something where if I had the time, I would probably enjoy diving into it repeatedly.

For this playthrough, however, I’ll admit that I grabbed a walkthrough after my first few tries. That created some odd back and forth to work around inventory limits, but at least showed me how to get past the nutrition limits.

What I got at that point was that the story, so far at least, might not have been that amazing. The real value is in the game’s worldbuilding, taking you through a weird alien castle (with some odd injokey rooms) and having you explore the base. For that, it’s good fun at least, even if it feels like a lot of work to get through.

Final Thoughts

I am really intrigued by interactive fiction, but at this point the game feels quite harsh and unsuited for the casual exploration I like to do. It’s a nice world to dive into, just with some flaws.