#320 Metal Slug

Posted: 28th March 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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590th played so far

metal_slug_cover

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Neo Geo
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Nazca Corporation
Publisher: Nazca Corporation/SNK

One of the difficulties I’m starting to face with this list is that a bunch of games blur together. Metal Slug is a run and gun platform shooter, It looks a bit like Ghosts ‘n Goblins or, to stick to the genre slightly better, Green Beret.

Metal Slug is ten years newer, which shows in the graphics and should in the gameplay. Beyond that, the book doesn’t add more on what makes it unique, other than being well balanced in its setup.

Our Thoughts

I don’t think I’ve ever really goten this genre. I don’t enjoy being overwhelmed by enemies this way – I prefer more deliberate play – and beyond that it can feel like there’s little in the game that interests me.

The graphics and environment are the two things that impress the most, and in a way that links the two together. The game has its cartoonish elements. It’s quite colourful and varied, not just from taking you many places, but from the details that are present in the environments. These aren’t the clean, simple houses from earlier games. They’re ramshackle, patched up where needed and with plenty of loose items. These same items also prove useful – you can shoot them, making them fall, then dropping them on enemies or unlocking the path forward. There’s a bunch of different versions of this, and often the fact that it happens is enough of a nice surprise.

That’s where the game continued to keep me going. The rush of new environments gives me a reason to keep going, but it gets hard. You can find and free prisoners of war, but dying removes those from your list, never giving me the bonus points.

Final Thoughts

While I see this as one of the better games of its type, the difficulty and speed required clearly don’t sit that well with me as far as playing it goes. Still, the amount of time it entertained me says how well the game actually does its job.

#688 Prey

Posted: 24th March 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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589th played so far

prey_xbox_360

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Human Head Studios
Publisher: 2K Games

Ignore the category above – this is an FPS that just wasn’t categorised by the book as one, while we didn’t pick up on it earlier. Now the stats drive us forward, and we always need more shoot ’em ups.

Prey takes a shooter and sets it in space. Not gritty sci fi as we saw back in Doom, or even Dead Space, but anti-gravity and magical seeming portals type of space. The story starts with an alien abduction. We’re going for the fantastical here.

Our Thoughts

So Prey is a science fiction FPS with super powers. In genre similar to Psi-Ops, but in quite a different setting. Aside from the start, all action so far has taken place in a giant spaceship that assimilates different alien cultures… there’s a lot to it. You escape capture and travel through the ship trying to free your sweetheart.

It’s a straight forward love story and one that is, to be honest, the most boring part of the game. The protagonist doesn’t want to do anything, hates everything, just has the love interest to go after, and is, to be honest, acting quite stupidly as he is doing so.

The gameplay works far better for me, and is what kept me going. Although it starts off as a standard shooters, you soon find that the game introduces portals that allow you to travel from one part of the ship to another. You can’t control them yourself, but while they’re partially used to separate levels, they are also used as part of puzzles and to let you snipe enemies in places. Similarly, you can walk on walls, through variable gravity, which mostly makes for a weird experience, but also means the game makes far more use of its space. There are some other weird going ons related to it (like you ending up in what seemed like a snow globe at one ponit), but it mostly makes exploration far more exciting.

Then the most interesting thing happens. Our main character is Native American and at one point he gets a vision. That leads to him getting the ability to leave his body and spirit walk, bypassing forcefields but limiting interaction with it. You also have your spirit animal follow you, mostly used to point out points of interest. It makes for a nice mix of powers that create more interesting puzzles in the world, as well as some tactical implications.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure Prey wowed me with its story – it certainly didn’t with its protagonist – but it created an interesting world to explore using far more interesting powers than other shooters do. It also feels more interesting to go through than Psi-Ops‘s world, although that’s a trickier comparison to make. They may seem similar but the environment they take place in make sure they’re not.

588th played so far

the_elder_scrolls_v_skyrim_cover

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2011
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Looking back on the Elder Scrolls series, I think I preferred Morrowind over Oblivion. Sure, the latter is more modern, with better graphics, but it wasn’t quite as weird as Morrowind, while having to worry about how you level in Oblivion ruins some of the freedom of play you want to get out of it.

Skyrim is certainly meant to resolve the latter, while the world is at least more interesting than generic fantasy. At the same time, it offers the better graphics and modern gameplay of Oblivion – or Fallout 3, closer to the release date, really.

Our Thoughts

So Skyrim is a good game. It has been dominating our evenings for a few weeks now, we have to keep playing to see more of the world. The game starts with a tutorial, but it’s fairly short and fun. When you get out you get led to the first town, and first city from there, with some pointers on where to proceed – useful for the first game – but it allows things to mostly stay completely open. You get some bonuses by following the first few plot threads, leading you to the first few useful bits, but you can let go whenever you want – and soon enough the game encourages you to by throwing many different things at you.

I mean, let’s be honest, Skyrim isn’t the best written RPG. This isn’t the fault of the writers, but being an open world game gives you a lot of places to with things, while being fully voiced limits what you can put in. The large dialogue trees of Morrowind don’t apply here. Because of the open world feel, there isn’t always a need to go in different directions either.

The quests can have similar problems. There are loads of them, but most are fairly straight forward – often go to dungeon, fight to the end, get item, go back. It’s an easy way to set up the quest, especially necessary for the semi-random quests the game throws at you, but it mostly makes the special quests shine far more, when it’s not just fighting and looting, but there’s more conversation and more variety involved. As it stands, sometimes it’s just a case of “which quest dungeon do I take out today?”

The world itself is well realised. There are some really good bits of environmental story telling, and loads more stories that emerge as you play, from interactions you cause by doing quests in specific orders, speaking to the right people, and just dealing with random challenges the game throws at you. More than once, I managed to avoid a difficult battle because a second group turned up and they started fighting each other before facing me.

The game also looks good. Sure, the boundary of graphics is always being pushed, and this game certainly isn’t leading the pack (especially considering the fantastical monsters it needs to display, as well as the large environments), but it’s immersive enough that it feels special to walk across the snow coverered areas where the road sometimes disappears, while animals run around. It’s one of the really nice bits of the game – just walking around finding things.

Final Thoughts

Going into an Elder Scrolls – or really Bethesda – game sets you up for a certain type of experience. Not many in depth quests or characters, like, say, a Mass Effect or recent day The Witcher offers, but a large, living world where you have more freedom to create your own experiences instead. That’s where a lot of power exists, in a way that makes me want to go back to play it right now.

#680 Resident Evil 4

Posted: 16th March 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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587th played so far

resi4-gc-cover

Genre: Survival Horror/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

I can’t say I’ve enjoyed the previous Resident Evil games much. There were some okay adventure elements and such, but the controls were terrible and shooting difficult. Partially it’s said this was meant to create horror, but I felt like Dead Space managed to create the right atmosphere pretty well while still giving you normal shooter controls.

Jumping ahead to 2005, however, Resident Evil 4 is done as a third person shooter, with an over the shoulder perspective. Possibly one of the earlier games to use this specific perspective, we probably have something more revolutionary on our hands.

Our Thoughts

Those controls really increased my enjoyment of the game. A lot of the other survival elements were still there, but a lot easier to handle on the easier difficulty that I was playing on. Still, the big change are the controls, and the more conventional setup pays off everywhere.

It gave me a chance to get into the creepier parts of the game. At first, it’s you investigating a weird village. Soon, they gain horde like qualities and start to seem a bit like zombies. It starts off unsettling, and the horror starts to develop from there. There aren’t that many answers, it just keeps getting weirder.

I also felt far more that sound was used well to set an atmosphere – hinting at dangers, sure, but setting you up there. You know the danger is out there, you know roughly where it is, but whether the jump will help or hurt is always a question.

The puzzles and exploring is a lot easier than other games might do. It’s not really an adventure game, but has some puzzles of its type in there, with some minor rewards for exploring. It feels a bit unnecessary, but I suppose it changes things up. The real draw, now at least, is in dealing with the different zombies and getting rid of them before bits of exploration.

Final Thoughts

This is, I suppose, closer to what I want from the Resident Evil franchise. Maybe with a bit less shooting, less hordes and more individual, trickier fights, but it works well enough here. There is also a lot of space for story beats, enough of it implied, that it adds to the game as well. I’m hoping for more of this.

#50 Star Wars

Posted: 12th March 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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586th played so far

starwars_arcade

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari

There are many different games called Star Wars. The one I’m familiar with was the NES iteration that mixed platforming and top down planet exploration sections with space battles. That one was released in 1991, while the one we’re talking about today goes back further.

In 1983, an arcade cabinet was released that used vector graphics to simulate the space battles in the Star Wars movie series. It’s the best suited for early game play, really, as it covers the most gamey moments in the film, but just reading about it makes it seem samey. This certainly won’t be a Knights of the Old Republic for us.

Our Thoughts

This game is divided in three distinct levels, each with its own challenges. The first is a free movement three dimensional shooter like we’ll see in Wing Commander one day, and a more basic version of Elite‘s type of navigation. I usually lost quite a bit of my health here, but managed – I simply lose my bearing after it.

The second (which I believe is skipped on the lowest level) has you go across the surface of the Death Star to take out laser turrets. Or, as I saw it, has you go destroy evil trees. It’s fairly simple, with obstacles being your main problem, but it’s manageable.

Then the third confused me most. You’re in a tunnel and have to avoid beams in the air, by flying on different heights to get through gaps. You have to shoot the exhaust at the end, but I didn’t quite realise the timing for that until several games in. It’s still the most fun, because it feels like it’s far more about flying maneuverability than just shooting.

As said, this is all done through vector graphics, which makes it look fairly simple. It works really well to create the semi-3D feel, but on the whole it leads to some confusing moments early on, especially in the first round. It does convey the sense of speed quite well.

Final Thoughts

This game is obviously about the action, and it packs a surprising amount of variety in, with a natural difficulty curve that goes beyond more and bigger to also adding more interesting aspects to the levels. It can be tricky to follow – as so often, probably a consequence of not wanting to spend too much time to learn – but it works together really well despite that.

#877 Valkyria Chronicles

Posted: 8th March 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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585th played so far

valkyria_cover

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

I’ll be honest, based on the cover and title I figured this would be another RPG. It’s not – this is a strategy game in the style of Fire Emblem and the like, but set in a fictional World War II setup.

Our Thoughts

So to start off, this game immediately lost credit with me for the silliest of reasons. Set in a fictional world war (with magic) that takes inspiration from Europe, seeing real Dutch placenames used – not even major cities for the most part, making it seem like a really odd choice.

Getting past that, these names don’t come up quite as often during the campaign, although that still felt fairly story heavy at times. The game is divided in chapters, with several scenes each. Usually, one of them seems to be the battle for the chapter, while others are different cutscenes. Most of them drive the story, but a bunch of them are optional and give you more information on the characters. This also happens in a bunch of other side features that enrich the world. They make for a more compelling story, filling it with more characters you care about while not forcing you to sit through endless cutscenes when you just want to play.

I struggled more with the actual, core gameplay that comes in with the battles. Not all concepts are explained that well, which left me sending my characters into danger more than once when I shouldn’t have been. This is luckily compensated, at least initially, by you getting enough characters to make it through easily, but it felt a bit odd. At other times I seem to have broken their strategy by doing quite different things from what the game was build to do. That gave me some advantages (like a far better strategic position than at first) but at other times just confused story beats happening in the level.

The one big feature of the game that helped a lot with that is that the scenarios often weren’t “kill everyone”. I can recall one or two that were “kill these units”, but several maps simply relied on a “capture the base” style play where you just needed control of enough points. While still needing a lot of strategy, the strategy repeatedly led to me running to a point and capturing it, figuring out move distances and distractions for units so I could get it. In real situations, they might have been killed after and the point retaken, but as the level just ended there, it worked well enough for me.

Final Thoughts

Console strategy games of this type are, I have discovered, not always my strong suit – mostly down to exposure and not having gotten deep enough into one to really learn the genre. There were some nice changes in here from others I’ve played though, creating a better world and giving me some more options to win. It made me feel really clever about that a couple of times, as if I had really beaten the game. It’s the most entertaining in its sub genre that I’ve played so far.

584th played so far

dreamfall_cover

Genre: Adventure
Platform: PC/XBox
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Funcom
Publisher: Aspyr/Empire Interactive

After starting The Longest Journey for the blog a few years ago, I kept playing it on and off to truely get through the game. One of the big reasons for it was that I enjoyed the game a lot and didn’t want to spoil the story by jumping ahead to the sequel before I had to play it here.

So that’s what I’m doing here. I’m starting this sequel a few weeks after finishing the predecessory – where does the story go after this before I look at the Kickstarted sequel?

Our Thoughts

So from being a point and click adventure, this game goes to being a 3D one with a few action elements. You have a camera you controll and then camera-relative controls, which makes for an awkward way of controlling at times, one you need to adjust to. It’s not as bad as the tank controls of Grim Fandango, but to be honest, there were times when it felt awkward.

The action elements, while integrated well enough in the story, aren’t really my cup of tea either (I’m too sluggish and don’t quite get in line with all the rhythm elements), which didn’t make for the best of starts.

Add to that that although this game is set in the same world as The Longest Journey, and the story is linked, we start off with a new protagonist in a new location that is decidedly less grubby (and steampunky) than Stark. It’s a definite, and intended, shift, and although plenty of things start to overlap and the evil authority groups sneak in early enough, it felt a bit unexpected. It works, though, and the world building soon takes hold and enhances the game brilliantly.

Final Thoughts

So far, despite some oddities in the controls, this game has lived up to my expectations and fits in the magic created in the first game of the series. The difficulty isn’t an issue yet, it’s all well enough thought through, and I really want to immerse myself further.

583rd played so far

dark_chronicle_coverart

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Although billed as an action RPG, the main thing that stands out about this game before really playing it is that it is supposed to have city building elements. Now, we recently got that in Fallout 4, but it was a weird unique feature there and not something that usually features in the game. You might influence a town by your actions, which might change what’s available, but not to the extent implied here.

Dark Chronicle – and the semi-predecessor Dark Cloud – however have it as one of the features, which sounds weird to me. What’s going to be the point? Will we get a chance to find out before we’re sick of the game?

Our Thoughts

One of the big surprises for me early on while playing the game is how randomly generated the randomly generated dungeons are. They feel Rogue-like, perhaps not in the depth of gameplay, but certainly in the way the levels are put together, and how you get smaller floors as part of a bigger dungeon. In this case, there are fewer floors than the gargantuan Nethack, but there are many more dungeons to go through instead. The dungeon crawling is more Diablo with a JRPG sauce instead, with plenty of story happening between floors the first time you go through.

The game soon starts introducing its other elements. Aside from some QTE bits, the first thing we get is taking photographs to start inventing items. By taking a picture, I think the item becomes available for use to put things together. The game length is such that we didn’t get too deeply into that yet, but it feels pretty promising to allow for some future building options.

The main flaw of the game that got me in the end is that the dungeon sections didn’t get that interesting, with boss fights just getting tedious after a while. Because – at least in the stages I got to – the dungeons don’t get quite as mixed up as you’d hope, and several enemies become a real chore to deal with, I lost interest with that part of the game quite quickly. It’s possible that with some rebalancing there, it would have gone on my to play list, now it’ll linger waiting for me to find time for it again.

Final Thoughts

I don’t dislike this game, but the tedium it brings is one I don’t appreciate as much these days. It has a lot of promise, with a lot of different things going on – perhaps too much sometimes to stay focused – but it works well enough as it is.

#233 NBA Jam

Posted: 24th February 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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582nd played so far

nbajam

Genre: Sports
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway

My knowledge of basketball is probably summed up best by saying that the podcast Pistol Shrimps Radio actually teaches me things about the game, and that the most exposure I’ve had to it was through the Michael Jordan classic Space Jam. I absolutely dread the newer NBA 2k10 that’s on the list, based on how I tend to find new sports game impossibly difficult to get into.

Older games tend to fare a bit better, being less complex, so I hope that will pay off today.

Our Thoughts

NBA Jam is, indeed, a lot more accessible and so a lot more fun than other sports games like FIFA 2010, closer to something like ISS Pro Evolution. The big advantage is that it’s 2vs2, where you play with one character and the other is AI controlled. You don’t need to fight to keep track of who’s who, and don’t need to deal with control jumping around. It’s simpler, but because of that easier for the layman.

It is a decent – simple and fun – sports game. Because there aren’t many players, tactics don’t get complex, and getting to the basket and throwing is tricky, but not that difficult. It is mostly very playable.

Final Thoughts

Sports games tend to work as they should, and it’s often difficult to really point out the differences – this lets you play basketball, and it’s simpler because it’s with less players. That saves it for me, but, as always, not really following the sport means that I don’t get as much enjoyment out of it as others would. Good in the genre may sound insulting, but it works here.

581st played so far

godofwar

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

The last time we visited Kratos, in God of War 2, Peter probably played more of it than I did. It’s down to experience and familiarity with the controller, as well as general frustration tolerance.

Now that the blog has moved more towards me updating it (although in this case motivated by Peter wanting to play as well), this runthrough might be slightly more interesting – and because of that probably a more authentic ‘me’ experience.

Our Thoughts

I’ve had some sweary experiences during this game – not quite noticing the signposting for some pbattles, and some errors throwing you back a bit further than seems justified – but mostly being annoyed at my lack of skills. QTEs aren’t always my thing, while this series really relies on them.

Despite that, after all, I kept going. A large part of that was because there were a bunch of set pieces I wanted to get to. The series thrives on these, and doesn’t disappoint. Normal battles set you up for amazing setpieces, the big ones go over the top – but in a good way. The main disadvantage is that the attention on QTEs sometimes mean bosses don’t quite have the same battle setup, but it doesn’t really matter for them.

Exploration and puzzle solving is encouraged – the puzzles aren’t that difficult to solve, but exploring them leads to plenty of useful collectibles. Mostly, still, of the “make this bar longer” kind, but that’s most of what you need.

The settings themselves add to it – all (for the extent I played) based on Greek and Greek mythology environments, which helps the whole feeling. The enemies are mostly appropriately grotesque, with a lot of thought put into making them roughly respectable and matching the description while also making them feel ‘evil’.

Final Thoughts

God of War  isn’t difficult, but it’s challenging enough for me – I’m glad I’ve gotten more used to the controller, as that makes these games a lot better. Character advancement is fine, but this game interests me more than its partners in the genre like the Devil May Cry series.