544th played so far

Red_Dead_Redemption

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar Games

Even before it appeared on this list, Peter had played this wild west Grand Theft Auto. It won’t be the first Rockstar-penned or -influenced that takes from other sources. Bully went for a similar open approach, but with a smaller world.

So yeah, I know what I’m getting into with Red Dead Redemption, and I’m vaguely excited about it. I struggle a bit more with the controls – sitll a PC gamer at my core – but my more recent adventures in Grand Theft Auto have gone better and I hope that’s enough to carry me through.

We’ve played Red Dead Revolver before, by the way, a more area-based shooter. This is a sequel, in the same world, same style, but this time the gameplay will be somewhat different.

Our Thoughts

Red Dead Redemption was, indeed, enjoyable. There were certainly areas where I struggled, but that was more part of the game. From the experience I had, and Peter has before, random exploration is (at least initially) deadly. There are bandits around who want to take everything you’ve got and several dangerous animals who will kill you if you’re not careful.

The game still encourages you to explore, though. Early on, going a bit off track during a mission, I found a treasure map for an area nearby (based on some rocks I recognised from earlier scenery). Even though it’s not necessary so far, I followed it and started a side mission with, well, some neat loot. Others came even more natural – picking some herbs started a set of sidequests to learn to use them, skinning animals started another.

In the mean time, the early missions are the usual tutorial mixed with story exposition. Part of it takes you through the features – driving herds, taming your own herds – all the cowboy jobs you’d expect. You also start taking out a gang, setting that storyline in motion.

The world is big and interesting. While it might not have the ongoing street scenes of GTA, it has the different nature settings, people traveling between cities and doing their things in corners of the world. They trigger some interesting, varied mini quests and it makes for a still living setting, even when you’re out there in nature.

Final Thoughts

In a way, I’ve jumped ahead to a “better” open world game by skipping a bunch of GTA entries. So far, Red Dead Redemption has felt more refined than the Grand Theft Auto 3 follow ups – never mind its official previous game, Red Dead Revolver. Well crafted, well put together, in a setting where open world games don’t generally go. Sure, deceptively difficult in places, but I’ve managed – it’s fun enough for me.

#206 Tecmo Super Bowl

Posted: 20th September 2016 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

543rd played so far

tecmo-super-bowl-cover

Genre: Sports
Platform: NES
Year of Release: 1991
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo

Time for another sports game I don’t know much about! I’ll be watching the Superbowl at some point, but until then most of my knowledge of American football comes from the theory of how it’s meant to work, bits I’ve picked up from rugby and more.

These sports games make me wonder why it’s that one in particular. Tecmo Super Bowl is listed as a game that was a good, accurate simulation that isn’t too difficult to get into – the latter something that has thrown me with other sports games. I hope this will do it for me.

Our Thoughts

Tecmo Super Bowl works well enough. It feels simple enough that I’m not missing out on loads of systems that I just haven’t had explained. At the same time, the core of the game is about all these different plays, which are mostly unfamiliar to me – and where I’m not sure of my role during any of them. I realise that won’t make a difference for fans, but as a newbie to the sport, it didn’t help. I got my yards, but slowly.

I tried a few matches to get to grips with it, and it sort of worked. It never quite won me over, but played better than the later games that might look prettier, but also became more complex. It’s a bit of give and take, really, and if I had started playing this when it came out, I presumably would have done better.

Final Thoughts

This was good enough for a sports game. It was simple, without too many in depth systems, while still giving the impression it is close to the original game. Maybe at some point it’ll actually connect.

#353 X-Com: Apocalypse

Posted: 16th September 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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542nd played so far

XCom_Apoc

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Mythos Games
Publisher: Microprose

We played the first X-Com game a few years ago, and I remember it as being outdated – no in game tutorial or handholding, just putting you in there and wishing you good luck.

The second game isn’t on the list (I believe you would uncharitably describe it as the first game… under the sea!). Instead we get the third, set in a (mega) city instead. Will that work?

Our Thoughts

X-Com Apocalypse works – sort of. Setting it in a city makes the game feel smaller in scale, and the involvement of businesses who like or dislike you, rather than countries, makes for something more organic feeling – it seems more reasonable they’d shift allegiances. On the other hand, the diminished scope makes the game seem smaller, which reduces the “saving the world” feeling you had before and makes things like having multiple bases seem a bit stranger.

While travel has changed – possible by car now, which has to follow the streets, but has obvious price/capacity benefits – and the changes really change how the overworld works, the all-important crew battles are broadly the same.

I mean, there’s an improved UI and you start off a bit stronger, but there were some oddities with the AI control and walking around that took some time to master. They also started out tough early on, which made for a few frustrating experiences. It feels like slow going really, especialy without it being clear what happens when you go in.

Final Thoughts

I love the idea of X-Com. The games have an interesting world and interesting mechanics. What I still haven’t gotten over is the difficulty – not only is it high, there’s no real ramp up and feels like you’re forced into it from the start. It’s a shame, it puts me off really trying. I hope the recent revival – the first of which is on the list – will at least solve part of that.

#714 Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

Posted: 12th September 2016 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

541st played so far

Persona3cover

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus

Persona 3 is an interesting game. Part dungeon descending role playing game, part life sim role playing game. That’s not really a revelation – it’s sort of what the Shin Megami Tensei series is based on. The fourth game caught our eye some time ago, but the third is one that we have to play first – and over halfway into the project, it’s long overdue.

Our Thoughts

Persona 3 is an interesting game. Not quite what I expected (but I am not sure what I was expecting), although as good as I was expecting.

There are actually two games in here that affect each other. One part, that’s strong at the start, but gets equalised down the line, is the life simulation. You go to school, make friends and decide on activities that increase stats and give you access to power for the second part, a roguelike style dungeon crawler that has you fight through a spirit world place (with so far unknown destination).

The dungeon crawling is pretty decent, your initiative based on whether you can catch the enemies off guard. You explore a floor at a time, gathering cards to use spirits that determine your stats and otherwise doing fairly standard JRPG combat. Each floor you beat stays permanently beaten (although I suppose there might be a way back up). It’s interesting and deep enough, with some interesting powers unlocking later in the game, but not necessarily exceptional on its own.

The life simulation is more interesting. It’s a pretty straight forward setup, walking around the city, going to school or focusing on other activities to increase your stats and become friends with people in the world, something that powers up your spirits in the dungeons. There’s quite a bit of time management involved (and some sneaky activities that cost more than expected). While it might not be the most in depth area, it feels more interesting and different.

Final Thoughts

Persona 3 is a great-looking game that contains two good games. The RPG section is solid, focusing on spirits to switch classes and provide you with powers. It works well there. It’s difficult, at least at this stage, to lift specifics out. The life simulation may not be quite as in depth in its systems, but the variety and difference add a lot of character to the game that’s as much fun to follow up on.

540th played so far

The_Mark_of_Kri_Coverart

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: SCE San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I’ve been enjoying a number of action/adventures for the blog – the likes of Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted often being amusing (assuming combat is handled well). The Mark of Kri hews a bit closer to Zeno Clash in that respect, but with more of an exploration focus.

The setting of this game seems to stand out specifically – based on Polynesian designs, it looks like the world will be quite different. That alone seems worth exploring.

Our Thoughts

Let’s get this out of the way first – this game has save scrolls. You’re not limited by where you can save – you’re limited by how often you can save. This was annoying enough in Resident Evil, but at least that series has a narative justification in that it heightens the tension and risks hopeless situations. Here, we don’t have a survival horror aspect and there seems to be no reason for it other than adding artificial difficulty and adding another collectible. There is no technical reason to limit how often you can save (after all, if you can do it three times, you can do it thirty times without any real penalty), so this is a game design choice that has no place in the world.

And it’s not as if save games bring you any advantages. You respawn in the exact same state as before, low HP and all, so you can’t use or abuse the extra save games for anything. This is just to be obnoxious… and I can’t say I like that at all.

Beyond that, though, the game is pretty good. As a single fighter against groups, a lot of the combat is optimized for rapidly switching between enemies and dealing with different ones (attacking three at a time with three different buttons, or using combos if less than that attack you). It takes a bit of getting used to, but soon feels natural enough to make it through larger hordes.

The real stand out feature, though, is the use of your raven. You can send him to spots around the levels, allowing you to scout ahead and occasionally pick up items for you. In a game that would normally force you to go from fight to fight, it prepares you to do a lot more sneaking and plan out your attacks instead. It’s really well done and makes the game a lot more interesting.

The Polynesia-influenced looks help set the atmosphere. They look different, and very nice just through the different, having some Japanese influences, but in a jungle setting and with far different designs. It really sets an interesting atmosphere once it starts.

Final Thoughts

The Mark of Kri is a good game that feels like it had some unfortunate decisions made. They do make it more difficult for me to consider going back to it, but there are a bunch of good elements in here that I would love to revisit.

539th played so far

Midnight_Club-Los_Angeles

Genre: Racing
Platform: Playstation 3/Playstation Portable/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar London
Publisher: Rockstar Games

Rockstar made a racing game! You know, the group probably best known for the Grand Theft Auto series (once it goes third person).

Racing games are always a mixed bag for me – some work well, some not at all, just as often depending on the difficulty as anything else. Even so, this game at least add some GTA and open world elements, so we’ll see where that goes.

Our Thoughts

So as this is Rockstar games, we really get an open world racing game – and with street racing like this being a felony, one with at least some criminal elements involved. The cut scenes this involves are mostly small, GTA3 style, rather than the more involved cut scenes of later games. It still feels like it’s there just to tie things together, too insignificant to make it connect everything.

Still, the racing is good. I’m not great at it myself, but even that was taking care of: Even when losing, you earn some XP and can make some progress. It’s slower, and I’m sure it changes, but it didn’t feel like I came up to a wall as much as in other games, and it encouraged me to try different races.

These are fairly varied, one on one or with a group, with a set route or just telling you to go to an endpoint. The latter especially makes use of the large open world, but all of the races do to an extent, sometimes showing you through familiar areas, but also taking you through distinct areas.

The game does some fancy things with the map too, zooming in and out while it moves around landmarks. As a small 3D model (it seemed) it adds a real helicopter view. The game does look good, even beyond that, and it’s clear Rockstar pulled out all the stops on this one for looks – even if you just race past them once.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult for me to get too enthusiastic about a racing game. It is executed really well here and the open world adds a lot – especially as the systems set you up to always be moving forward. The world is big and fun. It does everything well enough – with far more real elements than you would expect to see – but of course, having never visited LA, that doesn’t have quite as much of an impact…

#586 Halo 2

Posted: 31st August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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538th played so far

Halo2-cover

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Xb0x
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

And here we finally return to the Halo series. We’ve played the first and ODST spinoffs of the series so far and have a few more coming up.

The first was an exploration of a nice, large world, fighting weird aliens in something other than the dark corridors we saw in many other games. The second game? Well, we’ll see.

Our Thoughts

One of my biggest annoyances when playing games is when it’s too dark. I wonder if they expect us to play at maximum contrast or brightness, or whether you’re meant to guess where everything is, but there were stretches where all I could say were vague black shapes. Add to that repetitive environments in places early on in the first level (a necessary shortcut in large games like this, and they make sense on a space station, but it got a bit confusing at times – changing your props a bit are all you need!).

Oh yeah, and those large planet levels? Not seen those yet. You start off on a space station, then go to battle in a couple of narrow alleys. It may change later, but man, take your time to show off instead of dragging that out for a few hours. The second level felt really bad for it. There were a few streets and I felt I spent ages waiting for different scripted events to trigger – almost at random, because I managed to sequence break a few times by moving to the wrong part of the map.

That’s not to say the game is bad (other than the lighting. That was abysmal in places). It’s just not what I was hoping for out of a Halo game. On a technical level, it feels good. The destructible environment feels better than many other games and help a lot to increase immersion. It feels like there are lot of great things in there. The game just doesn’t take the time early enough to show off, instead taking too long on more boring parts of the game and story.

Final Thoughts

There is a good game in Halo 2 somewhere. The first few levels – which I have to go on, and which have to keep me interested to keep playing – don’t show it, but only offer glimpses of it from bit to bit. I’ll need to try further at some point, but at the moment I think Halo 3 might offer me a bit more of what I want.

#359 Quake II

Posted: 27th August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

537th played so far

Quake2box

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Activision

Following in our travel through first-person shooters, Quake II is the next on the list. Despite its current omnipresence in the list, it seems to have taken until the 2000s before it got that good. Before then, this game’s predecessors – Quake obviously, but also Doom – mostly dominated it, together with Duke Nukem 3D.

As the sequel to Quake, mostly I’m expecting more of the same, with the usual set of upgrades. It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes.

Our Thoughts

Sure, on some level Quake II still plays like Quake. It would have been weird if it hadn’t. It also feels more refined and modern. The secrets are still there, but there’s less of a focus on finding secrets and speeding through a level, instead focusing on progress and missions. I started off having to move between several levels to complete mission objectives (where and when I could find it, the levels still felt a bit maze-like sometimes).

The controls feel tighter as well, or probably better, the controls feel like they’re closer to what we’re used to in modern games. There were still some oddities, but it never got in my way while I was playing the game. Slow progress, but it’s there.

Sure, a lot of it comes down to “it looks/feels better”, rather than a full approval, but that’s also what the genre gave us at the time. Compared to other genres, FPSes came in late and went through a more rapid development, but that also means we associate them with further advances more often. Technically, it’s done perfectly here, we just needed to wait for computers and consoles to catch up.

Final Thoughts

Quake II doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as some of the predecessor mentioned earlier, but that’s not a bad thing. The game improved the genre, perfecting it for the time, and adding some polish that make it feel more playable these days than they used to be. A good game on its own.

#236 Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

Posted: 23rd August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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536th played so far

Day_of_the_Tentacle_artwork

Genre: Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

I’ll admit, playing Day of the Tentacle today was self-indulgence. The special edition was released a few days earlier and I was really looking forward to experiencing it again.

Although technically the sequel to Maniac Mansion, this game took in a lot of the improvements from later games and (from what I remember) really played a lot better.

Our Thoughts

I was playing this with Peter – I had played the game before, he hadn’t. It showed soon after. Although initially the puzzles aren’t as complex, later puzzles have some odd leaps of logic that jump out at me, but aren’t obvious to the first time player, and some require some weird leaps of logic. It’s a trademark, almost, of LucasArts games, but it didn’t match with me trying to see what Peter could solve. You can see what you need to do, but not always how to get there (with some oddly unnecessary red herrings).

Still, knowing the puzzles I got to enjoy this more and it shows off so many more elements that work in the game. The graphics are good – even in the old version, a lot is done with, sometimes, very few pixels – the bold designs take care of that. The dialogue is excellent, filled with jokes and well done (but obscure) hints.

There’s a lot of joy in the initial exploration of the mansion, something the game’s time travel mechanics sort of have you do three times over. The looping nature of it in two of the three periods help keep the drudgery down, although there’s still the usual large amount of travel in places. The time travel aspects often comes down to getting and sending items between periods (something easier when I found out about a trick that would have sped up gameplay – items can be swapped from the inventory without traveling to the designated spots), although later eras can be affected in other ways – one I personally like is a puzzle that requires you to change the design of the flag so you can use it as a costume later.

Final Thoughts

Day of the Tentacle feels as funny and inventive now. The puzzles do feel like they could be a bit less obscure sometimes, but the rsults are usually fun enough to work for me.

#44 Sokoban

Posted: 19th August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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535th played so far

sokoban-original

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1982
Developer: Hiroyuki Imabayashi
Publisher: Thinking Rabbit

Sokoban feels like it’s one of the better known puzzle games out there, to the point where Nethack names a set of floors after it. Box-shoving and boulder-shoving comes down to the same thing after all.

I don’t know where I first came across the game – must have been at a friend’s place – but Sokoban was one of those puzzle games that was always intriguing, even if the progress of the time left it behind in favour of others. At this point, I can’t even say for sure whether the version we’re playing now is the best, or the most accurate, or the original – it’s just one of the versions out there.

Our Thoughts

Beyond that, there isn’t loads to say about Sokoban. The graphics are exceedingly simple – differing a bit based on platform you’re running it on, but the system doesn’t necessarily allow for many changes. There are crates, places the crates need to go, boxes and walls. The gameplay sounds as simple – push those boxes to get them to their destination. Push them the wrong way and they might block other boxes, get stuck in a corner or make the puzzle impossible in some other way.

Oddly enough, it’s probably one of the more often replicated game puzzle types, most notably with Pokemon having some of these in most of their games.

And the reasons why are probably obvious. The puzzles are fairly easy to understand and straight forward. If set up and signposted well, they can be pretty easy, but as the game quickly shows, they can be incredibly complicated as well. Just one slight change in a puzzle can turn it from straight forward to tricky or impossible.

And with just the slight trappings, the experience is pure. The boxes are the obvious skinning of the puzzle, but it matters little what you’re doing. It’s all simply about getting them where they need to go. And you can always try that another time.

Final Thoughts

Sokoban is a good, simple puzzle game – as such games should be. Often imitated, it is for good reason, and the simplicity means it slots into puzzles for other games nicely – a legacy of its own.