#710 GTR 2

Posted: 21st October 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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819th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Blimey! Games/Simbin
Publisher: ISImotor

Considering the most recent racer I played is one of the less realistic ones, with Carmageddon II, switching to GTR 2 is going in the opposite direction. Based on the book write up, this is one of those games that goes for extreme realism. It’s something that, from experience, probably means I won’t get far, not unlike Need for Speed: Most Wanted‘s trouble.

One difference here is that this is all track based, based on the FIA GT Championships, and so there will be a lot of real life elements. That usually means something blander, as we can’t have the real life expensive cars get blemished. We’ll see how that holds up.

Our Thoughts

It’s interesting how compressed other games make the act of racing. You get a qualifying lap and two or three rounds down the circuit and you’re done. GTR 2 has options for time compression, but there’s a default option and the game clearly likes it. You get the real amount of time to qualify – you can speed it up as you wait and play with that, but the option is there. The race takes the real number of rounds and time and you could race for two hours if you wanted. I’m not sure how the Le Mans race works, but I assume there’s some pattern. It’s a nod towards realism that the game wants to go for everywhere.

The racer feels realistic beyond that as well. The game is licensed and you’re racing your cars on real circuits, in real seasons, and the way the car handles and moves around the circuit is the same. I’m not sure quite how realistic the damage is, but beyond that I struggled hard and the game doesn’t seem to give you much help. It’s a challenge – not one that I always got along with, but it really felt I was putting the effort in. Badly, and shortening the races may have helped with it, but it just didn’t feel right to do it with this game.

The game looks fine but not amazing, but everything else surrounding that fits so right that that doesn’t matter. Although it’s a racing game, GTR 2 feels like a racing simulator, going for accuracy and making you feel like you’re in an actual racing season. That’s difficult, but cool to get into.

#329 Vectorman 2

Posted: 1st October 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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818th played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Mega Drive
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: BlueSky Software
Publisher: SEGA

There really was a trend in the mid-nineties, before the advent of 3D-capable consoles, where using pre-rendered 3D graphics was the best way to make your game seem modern. We’ve seen it on the SNES with Donkey Kong Country 3, for example, and on the Mega Drive we’re seeing the same with the Vectorman series. After all, while there’s probably a separate explanation in the game for the name, it’s hard to disassociate vectors from 3D graphics when you’re looking at games.

What we get here is a run and gun game on an older console, probably not too dissimilar from Cybernator, and I already feel like I’m going to struggle to keep the two apart in my memory of both.

Our Thoughts

There is something in these 3D pre-rendered graphics that lets game makers add a lot of personality. Since you can pose them as you want and render out the animations, you can do quite a lot more than when you’re animating each frame, but since you don’t have to render it on all machines, it feels like you can go further than you normally should. The protagonist Vectorman especially gives that impression from the intro on, showing some nice idle animations and really charmed me from early on.

This turns into a run and gun game – again, predating twin stick controllers, so walking and shooting use the same direction and you have limited control to stop that. My brain can’t quite rewire itself to do that properly, and the schemes to do so vary between games, so it stays obnoxious and a clear sign of age.

The game focuses more on platforming though, with a heavy focus on our protagonist’s rocket boost – a double jump that’s required to pass the stages in several places and get to all the secrets, but that feels just as forgettable to use as it’s not that useful except, it feels, in those specific spots.

Final Thoughts

Vectorman 2 features the stereotypes that I’d have expected going on, but it didn’t feel like it actually added anything more to the formula. It looks very good, but the difficulty is off putting – and even called out in the book, meaning that I did well making it past the first level – and the levels feel too long to stay entertaining.

#572 Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

Posted: 27th September 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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817th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Activision

There’s something nice, for me, about playing the occasional free game – it’s pretty helpful for my wallet, if nothing else. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory started life as an expansion pack for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was turned into a standalone multiplayer game because of some technical difficulties. Apparently this became the game that pioneered level ups and growth that kept you playing and through that it became an early popular online shooter.

This means that I’ve got to play another multiplayer game, but at least there are some mods available to get bots in, which gives me my preferred way to experience these.

Our Thoughts

Based on the server list, this game still seemed to have quite a few players, so I wouldn’t have needed them. However, I’m sure they were experienced enough that a new player like myself wouldn’t necessarily be appreciated. So I played against some bots and those bots were better at the game than I was. Part of it is probably the structure. I guess deathmatch or capture the flag were the prevalent modes at this point, and even playing modern games like Overwatch, those and escort missions dominate the game. Here, while the game doesn’t have loads of maps by default, it has a more complicated set of objectives.

The first map, for example, has a final goal of getting some packages from radar dishes and getting them back to a gathering point – classic capture the flag. However, you don’t go all the way back – the truck is parked nearby. Instead, you need to get to it first and have one of your demolitions guys plant explosives to get in. There are some earlier control points to capture, so you respawn closer to your goal. And as a defender, there are a bunch of defenses to build.

Other maps do the same, both having a few sets of objectives and most important offering lots more tools to work with. The maps may not actually be large or complex, but they feel it and they feel far more like a location than other multiplayer shooters. There’s a bit of story here, and it’s quite a bit of fun. In fact, it really does feel like a campaign with RPG elements, just one that focuses on multiplayer rather than being a single player experience.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure I’ll ever love multiplayer shooters, but this experience was quite good even if I was playing against bots. There were some clunky bits, but I mostly wished to see what else could be done with the engine. It feels like it could have some great maps out there, I just need to find them.

#930 Guitar Hero: Metallica

Posted: 23rd September 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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816th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision

To be honest, at this point I feel like I need to get out the plastic instruments about once a year to cover all of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band game. The first Rock Band game, the most recent one I played, happened a bit earlier than that, but as I’ve got three more games like it to go, we’re pushing them a bit closer together.

Not unlike Beatles: Rock Band, Guitar Hero: Metallica is dedicated to the works of one band. I suppose in this case it’s more Metallica and friends, but there is a definite theme here that should suit the Guitar Hero system well.

Our Thoughts

There is one way in which Guitar Hero: Metallica grabbed me straight away. Although I had a quick look at the tutorial, I decided to jump into career mode early on to make sure I could get a good idea of what’s up.  The game starts a song almost straight away, forgoing setting up a character, putting in some weird story beats or anything else. It’ll get done later, still feeling a bit more involved than I think it should be, but for now you can just jump in and play. I understand you start by playing For Whom The Bells Tolls and The Unforgiven as Metallica, which works well. Then your cartoon avatar creates his own band and you go through both Metallica and non-Metallica songs. It becomes a pretty standard setup after that, but it’s a far more exciting way to start and hooked me well enough.

After that, the game settles into the same routine as all the other games. You play through songs, advance to unlock more songs as well as money to create different outfits. At higher difficulties, it seems like some specific Metallica changes come in, but I didn’t notice too much. The song choices are good – I think I’ve enjoyed them more as a group than previous games – and song selection is really what brings this games to their best. I guess that’s where it succeeded.

Final Thoughts

I keep wondering whether these games are different enough to deserve all their entries on the list. Still, this is probably one of the better entries, with a focused sound in the songs selected and ones that are set to be quite playable. It’s a worthy entry in the series – more consistent than the numbered ones – which makes sense here.

#449 Phantasy Star Online

Posted: 19th September 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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815th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Dreamcast
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

Following the disappearance of City of Heroes (even if it was found to have fan servers online this year), we set off to play as many of the online games as possible, especially MMORPGs that rely on it so much. When doing so, however, we missed out on Phantasy Star Online, mostly because it has a single player mode… just one that you need to connect to a server to to play.

Thankfully, having researched it earlier this year, we found that there were ways of playing the game on fan servers and getting through that way, so that’s what we’ve been doing to try and see what this, the MMORPG adaption of a Japanese JRPG series, is about.

Our Thoughts

It’s weird to walk through what I guess is a semi-lobby for a multiplayer game when you’re playing single player. After the process of setting up your character – which took some guessing as to what’s what – you end up in the space station that orbits the world you’ll be exploring, and it’s a mostly empty error, shops in some corners, that feel lifeless without other players. It also meant I felt confidence being weird on my own, so I guess it’s all trade offs.

I think the single player missions are somewhat different from the multiplayer ones, with both being useful, but either way I can see the general pattern being similar. You teleport down to the planet – at least at first always to the same area, but you expand where you can go as you get further into the story. Still, you learn the first area inside and out, several doors preventing your transit so you have to take a different route each time, but you still know the places to hit up to get your supplies. It starts to wear out its welcome a bit earlier than it takes to get a new area, but at least it gets you more areas eventually.

Character building is fairly straight forward. Partially you have the JRPG levelups, while you need to buy additional techniques and spells using your profit. It’s not too complicated, but the mysterious names means I needed a guide to really see what’s going on. The combat itself isn’t the best with those – the auto aim tends to lose focus quite quickly and when you rely on your spells, that leads to a lot of wasted tech points (the game’s MP). I probably made a mistake by picking a magic focused character here, but it still felt unnecessarily annoying. I hope this is better in multiplayer, though – this might have been me and bad AI on the NPC helpers.

Final Thoughts

One of the issues I obviously have is that this is an old MMO that hasn’t had the time put into it to upgrade it to modern standards. Its sequel is still online, but with only fans keeping the servers running, we have  a status quo where the game doesn’t move, and where some of the possible online appeal is lessened from its unofficial status. Still, there’s a decent game underneath and I can see how playing this with others could have been fun – especially with its sci fi story setting it apart from standard fantasy fare.

#220 Cybernator

Posted: 14th September 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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814th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: NCS Corp
Publisher: Konami

As I don’t have much of an interest in shooters, I have a bunch of series that I clearly messed out on. Assault Suits, which this is a part of (Cybernator being the international title) is a mech shooter series that seems to have been popular enough for a while. For me, what I wonder is whether we get something to grab on to here.

Our Thoughts

Cybernator is a decent shooter. It looks decent, obviously limited by the SNES’s restrictions, but there’s some quite good about the gritty, mech-based graphics. They work well and give you that feeling of a dystopian future where you’re in a mined asteroid or something like that. It adds some decent storytelling to that, with small conversations during the level as you’re updated on what’s going on. For once, I felt like I could get the story of the game without looking at the manual, something games struggle with at the time. It made all the difference in keeping me interested.

In other places, the game still struggles. It wants to be a twin stick shooter, separating movement from your firing direction, but that’s not really possible on the SNES controller. Instead, you need to use the same d-pad for aiming and moving. You can freeze the direction of your shots if you want to – the game even lags changing its direction so you can fine tune it – but that means movement is always on going, rather than letting you aim. It feels off and it takes a while to get used to those controls – mostly I started ignoring enemies to help with that.

The good thing is that that’s fine – you don’t need to kill everything and I felt running past was often a good option, especially as I could time it to avoid taking damage. When adding the movement option, allowing dashing and short flight, maneuverability becomes important and it pays off – the shooting issues from before making that more difficult, but the options are there, and the fact that the game starts playing with gravity in the first levels adds to that feeling of motion, especially vertically.

Final Thoughts

Cybernator has some unavoidable control issues, but overall it remained quite playable – it felt tough but fair and I felt like I was proceeding and getting further as time went on. It’s dated, but it feels fair to judge it in the context of its era and even now it feels like it’s on the good side of all of that.

#322 Donkey Kong Country 3

Posted: 10th September 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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813th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo

It feels like Donkey Kong always took some weird turns in his gaming appearances. Originally, the ape was Mario’s big enemy, and vice versa. Skipping ahead a couple of years (and, conveniently, this game) he appeared in the Mario Kart series as a racer, the Donkey Konga bongo group of games, the still upcoming Mario vs. Donkey Kong games and a bunch of other appearances.

One of the changes in how Donkey Kong appeared came from the Donkey Kong Country series. Him – and his family members – became the stars of a bunch of platformers by Rare, who were a Nintendo-affiliated studio at the time. The third is the only entry of the series on the list, picked because it’s the biggest and most featureful one – the pinnacle of the series even as the SNES had been replaced by the Nintendo 64.

Our Thoughts

Like the contemporary Super Mario RPG, Donkey Kong Country 3 uses prerendered 3D graphics, sprites created from existing 3D models. It’s a cartoony look that would have looked incredibly advanced at the time and aside from looking a bit pixelly now, it allows for some nice animations that traditionally animated sprites would have struggled with.

That cartoony feel belies the difficulty of the game – at least when I tried to play it. I feel I got some decent distance in when I played, nicely finding some shortcuts and secrets and dealing with a rather incongruous set of levels – a snow level next to some tropical seeming areas seemed a bit weird.  There wasn’t much thematic consistency in it, unlike other bigger platformers, which I guess gives it some nice consistency here. It’s what it is, but with the size of the game it doesn’t matter too much. It certainly gives a bunch of different things to play with early on.

There are several secret caves with bonuses as well, and the world feels incredibly large as you explore. They are still linear, but there aren’t many games of the era that gives you that sense of size. I guess it’s the scale of the game, both in the size of the world and what happens in all the levels, that really stands out.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of Donkey Kong Country 3 – the mill level got to me – was a bit of a roadblock, but I’m glad to have played and seen what I have. There’s quite a bit of variation and the whole game makes it feel like there’s so much to do. Every level felt different, with three games worth of options going into it, and I hope I’d continue to see more of that.

812th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Looking Glass Technologies
Publisher: Origin Systems/Electronic Arts

There are a few games that I vividly remember being introduced to through the library. It started me on Baldur’s Gate, which I played that way first before getting my own copy, as well as the Discworld adventure games. The other series I played because of it – although I never got too far in because of my limited time – was the Ultima Underworld series. As an off shoot from the Ultima series, from around Ultima VII, it switched to first person dungeon crawls for the entire game while laying the groundwork for immersive sims. In fact, Looking Glass Technologies went on to be involved in both System Shock and the Thief series, both of which pushed that further. This early part of that legacy started here and it managed to get me quite involved and interested.

Having been exposed to more games and more of these genres (and really enjoying them), I’ve been dying to go back to the series that started so much of it. Now I finally get to go for it.

Our Thoughts

Just walking through Lord British’s castle, there is something big feeling about this game. There are a lot of named NPCs walking around with their own schedules and set up s who seem to react quite well to what’s going on – it’s not bad by contemporary standards and great for 1993 – Ultima was doing it anyway, but it feels it stands out here too.

Add to that that this first “level” has a bunch of things going on anyway – several secret areas, one of which actually contains the supplies you need to cast spells. I’m sure it’s hinted plenty, but it stands out here as something that avoids hand holding. Still, obviously there aren’t many quest lines here, but it stands out as not being the only level setting up this way, even if you might expect that. The dungeon levels under the castle are a fairly standard dungeon crawl, including some annoying puzzles and death traps, but it feels fairly simple for the most part compared to that castle. The stand out in that sense is a community of peaceful goblins who are happy to leave you be, and even accept some help.

Then you get to the prison tower. Other games would have you fight or sneak your way through. Here you can find a food delivery voucher that lets you travel through uninterrupted, as long as you deal with the guards correctly. Fighting is, of course, an option, but it’s a lot more difficult and less satisfying. It’s a neat way of giving you multiple options where the game supports it.

From there on, the world also opens up. You need to return to the castle regularly to open up new routes and deal with things as they happen, things changing at you do, but also need to travel between levels as their quests aren’t contained to one side. It’s a cool mechanism, with a pretty varied set of areas that it seems to take you through, and it feels quite intense. It’s all more dungeon focused than other Ultima games, but creates its own good feel.

The magic system, ported from the original game, is as interesting. You combine different runes to cast spells. A number of them are given, but you can experiment with combinations to cast more of them. A lot of them are utility as well, which works in this type of world as well. I didn’t get to the point where my MP was high enough to keep using them – and the fact that you need to swap rune stones around mean it’s not as easy to use several of them – but it feels immersive and good.

Now, these systems appear in other games, but somehow this feels different from the original Ultima‘s, which focuses a lot of this on the NPCs. Everything interacts, but since it seemed like it is more focused on your interactions with other characters, here it feels like you’re more involved with the world – it’s smaller but your interactions with it seem more in depth.

Final Thoughts

Ultima Underworld II struggles with the constraints of its age at every point. Visually it can’t quite show everything with the detail it needs and its systems maybe aren’t quite as worked out as they could be. It certainly runs up against the limits of the UI it has – no WASD, no hotbar casting for your spells and so on – which I don’t think has a decent engine update to improve this. It’s a game to go to and explore, but I need to take my time to take a deeper dive. This is a game that needs it.

#229 The Incredible Machine

Posted: 2nd September 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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811th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: Jeff Tunnell Productions
Publisher: Sierra On-Line

As one of the other games I had great memories of, I mostly experienced the Incredible Machine franchise through The Incredible Toon Machine, a more kid focused presentation of the whole thing. It has hints of Armadillo Run or a more focused Eets, creating Rube Goldberg style machines to solve puzzles.

This is the more serious version, but I think even then it has some cartoonish elements. I’m looking forward to see whether it’s still as playable as I remember it being.

Our Thoughts

While the Incredible Machine is one of the earlier Rube Goldberg games, it is a lot of fun to play – I kept playing the puzzle levels and needed to force myself to stop playing. There are a lot of different puzzles in there, with their own parts and different goals. In a way, it already feels like all the other games follow this. While the sequels put some additional flavour on it, later games that use this feel like they specialize for a specific type of goal or puzzle pieces or methods. In that, they lose some flexibility and they become less interesting – the potential here is what makes it good, especially with some of the creative elements and flexibility in your solutions. It’s a big space and it meshes well.

Graphically, obviously the game is quite simple, butthey work well. There are some situations where it’s a bit difficult to see whether they line up properly, but the game gives you enough chances to work all of this out. It makes it quite clear what’s going on, which is what matters.

Final Thoughts

The Incredible Machine perfects its formula well – big Goldberg devices with a bunch of different puzzles to solve and more than enough to play around with later. It still works and while the sequels aren’t on the list, they feel like they would work just as well.

#120 Rolling Thunder

Posted: 29th August 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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810th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

Do I need to say it? There are some games that I know are on the list for their impact or because they stand out in the genre, but where I know it doesn’t appeal. Rolling Thunder is a side scrolling shoot ’em up, without adding more that I see appeals – it’s very gory even by today’s standards, but I just don’t really see whether I would care.

Our Thoughts

Perhaps part of the realism for this game is that the main character animations stand out so much. They are decent, better than I’d expect from the era, and it almost feels unnecessary for the game. They’re quite slow, which is their big downside, but it’s a nice touch for the game. The art style is closer to what’s expected of the era, but on the whole, it looks nice if only it didn’t hinder gameplay as much as it seems to have been doing.

Beyond that, this felt like a pretty standard shooter. There are an abundance of enemies, possibly more than I’d really want, and you keep being challenged. It’s an incredibly difficult game, both from the enemies, the clunky platforming and general slow control issues, in a way that doesn’t really pay off long term.

Final Thoughts

I guess there’s a certain level where Rolling Thunder is appealing, but for me it’s too difficult to pick up in the time I gave the game. It looks nice though, and does its best to give you something that looks good for the eighties. It just goes to and past arcade difficulty while offering the arcade ‘expensive’ feel.