#415 Outcast

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

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

#127 Buggy Boy

Posted: 29th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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735th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Tatsumi
Publisher: Tatsumi

There are a bunch of games that look like Buggy Boy, racers from a pre-3D era, running down a semi endless track that relies on sprite scaling to get the illusion of racing forward. Out Run is the canonical example for me, at least the one I remember from my youth. Buggy Boy is from the same era, so we’ll see whether it leaves the same impact.

Our Thoughts

Buggy Boy does follow this standard formula, although it feels like it takes it a step up. The basic gameplay alone does. Rather than beating someone’s time around a track, or making it through on time, there are flags dotted around the course. Collecting them gains you bonus points, which is what the game judges you on in the end. You can also drive through gates, giving you additional time from time to time. It makes the race more strategic, as you need to hit the right points on the track to keep going.

There are five different courses, one a repeated loop and five longer races. They are visually distinct with some different obstacles, but the trick stays similar, getting through without crashing while keeping to time. They’re all unlocked from the start, which gives the game a nice bit of variety which it feels like other games like it tend to lack.

Final Thoughts

Buggy Boy isn’t amazingly advanced, but I don’t think that’s really needed for an arcade racer of the time. I would of course have been happier with no time limits, or easier ones, to make it a bit gentler as a casual experience, but as it is this worked well and felt more varied than most others like it.

#273 Sub-Terrania

Posted: 25th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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734th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Mega Drive
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Zyrinx
Publisher: Scavenger

While we’ve played some in cave, sometimes land your ship shoot em ups before – Lunar Lander being the obvious one – I have conincidentally picked this and Pixeljunk Shooter to be played closely together. Both are similar multidirectional shooters, flying through cave systems, released about 15 years apart. And of course, here there’s no fluid dynamics. Still, I’m going to need to spend a bit of time separating the two in my mind.

Our Thoughts

The truth is that I struggled more with Sub-Terrania. While the controls feel fairly standard, it relies heavily on your movement determining acceleration rather than velocity, which makes it difficult to control and brake to avoid running into the walls. And fuel is limited, so, well, the game might not be in the arcade, but it feels like it keeps that difficulty and doesn’t really agree with me.

There’s some nasty placed challenges that don’t help with this. There are platforms that move back and forth when you hit them that can squash you, enemies in awkward places and other tricky sections. They just didn’t make for a fun challenge, it got frustrating instead, with the wins being small enough to not really matter. It does what it does, well enough, but not really worth it.

#1017 Mark of the Ninja

Posted: 21st October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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733rd played so far

Genre: Stealth
Platform: PC/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios

I’ve had Mark of the Ninja down as its own indie game, a 2D stealth game that presumably has you ninjaing somewhere quietly. Beyond that, I’m actually not sure where it goes or what to compare it to – especially that’s on the list – and in appearance I think the looks of Muramasa: The Demon Blade come closest. It’s one of those games where I just have to go and play it.

Our Thoughts

You get woken up as your dojo is under attack. You fight off the intruders, mostly by moving around them, tricking them and hiding them in the many tunnels present in the dojo. Then you go out for revenge. There’s more to the story than this, mostly leading to how you gain your abilities and how they avoid your outlook on life, but it feels like that’s what happened early on.

Although upgrade purchasing comes in late (only in the third level), there’s a lot of emphasis on finishing challenges to be able to afford them (to the point that I worried I’d missed them) through various collectables and challenges the game throws at you. They give you different ways to attack or distract, lending itself to the different approaches to the game.

After all, while this is a stealth game, the game still needs combat mechanics, and you could probably hack and slash your way through. The system is quite in depth, although sometimes a bit difficult to come to terms with. I started doing okay if I needed to do something, but the difficulty of the enemies goes up enough that you clearly need more experience. Besides, the game clearly rewards stealth in its missions, so it’s never really the best solution. It’s about avoiding enemies by sneaking past through vents, taking them out from the back (and hiding their bodies) and often enough, hiding from the ceiling in the shadow as they walk past. It mostly is done intuitively – you can read everything you need to know from the screen, which doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but feels fairer.

So yeah, sometimes the aggressive approach is needed, but it never felt quite as satisfying. Maybe when you could use stealth to do both, but there’s always that pressure to hide the body so you couldn’t be found. The automatic defenses add to this – usually aggression doesn’t help, but it puts everyone on a higher alert state that always makes things worse.

Final Thoughts

Mark of the Ninja is a great stealth game. The 2D nature means it can set up more elaborate puzzles while giving you a better view of the surroundings and it’s all stylized enough to give you a good idea of what everything will do. The story content takes some time to take off – I never got quite far enough to see much of it – but it seemed quite promising with some mystical elements. There are some good challenges in here and enough variety to keep up interest.

#996 Bioshock 2

Posted: 17th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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732nd played so far

Genre: First Person Shooter
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games

After Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I need a more reliable game today. I remember the original Bioshock really fondly and enjoyed its inspiration System Shock 2 when we got to playing it.. I think I’ve intentionally held off on playing the sequel because I just can’t be sure how it will be. I still believe it’ll be a good game though, so I think that’s what I really need today. Time to return to Rapture, I guess, or some version of it.

Our Thoughts

Bioshock 2 did not disappoint. There is something weirdly attractive about this world, even if it’s in a museum/theme park with animatronic rides that explain the philosophy behind Rapture. There are still the small stories that tell you more about the world and why things are the way they are. It feels like they more immediately comment on Ryan and his way of running Rapture and the downsides, as the story appears to be more about the other factions that started to change it. There’s a bit less going on in the moment – the area feels quite static, possibly not helped by more respawning than I remember from the previous game – but the areas still tell a story of their own.

Then again, your story is more immediately obvious than in the first game. You know you’re a Big Daddy pretty much from the start, the little sister you’re supporting being lost in Rapture where you need to chase after her. She’s a constant presence, still, through the things she left in the levels, and while your appearance never seems to have mattered to as many people that you meet, interacting with the other little sisters just feels different.

Since you’re this lumbering semi-robot thing (I don’t know what Bioshock lore describes you as), traversal between areas relies on some underwater levels as well. That might sound silly, but it’s a lovely break from all the action, looking nice as sea creatures flow around you and you see these large buildings flow around. In the original, these outside areas were just window dressing, but here they are part of the world.

The RPG elements of the game seem to work better than in the first game. Unlocks come earlier and more quickly, and while not as many or required to progress, or even find secrets (the game implies you can’t always backtrack), a lot more options are available sooner as shops unlock sooner too. It feels pretty good to have the option to get stronger sooner and the upgrades are incredibly useful. You’re still looking for slots, but not as badly as in the first game.

Final Thoughts

Bioshock 2 lived up to the hype, giving a twist on the world and system that’s different enough from the first game, but fits into the same mold. I really enjoyed getting back into its world and I’m looking forward to the last entry that’s on the list, when I get to play in three years, but I should get back to it sooner than that.

#662 Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Posted: 13th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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731st played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts

I’ve always distantly admired the Need for Speed series. I remember the original being released and playing it with friends and enjoying the naughty feeling of being chased by the police and the thrill to speed along and getting away.

Two entries in the series are on this list and since we’re approaching that three quarters mark that I’m looking forward to, it’s time that I get these two entry franchises started. Let’s hope it works.

Our Thoughts

I didn’t really get to play this game. That’s not for a lack of trying, but ten goes at the first race and never winning it means this game is too difficult. I’d say for me, but the first race, the first level, is your chance to hook your player. Unless you’re intentionally making a difficult game – and I see no evidence that it’s the case here – you want to make sure they can beat it. Rubber band, give some bonuses, give a better car, there are many options.

The car you start in is way too floaty. I’m sure expert players don’t mind that, but when you’re learning the game, its physics and its controls, you don’t want to be drifting all over the place because you misjudged a corner. That’s bad on boarding and not providing a good user experience.

And that’s a shame, as there’s promise in the game. The FMVs are set up in a way that blurs computer generated images and actors really well and I was hoping to see where they went with that. The world looks interesting. But who cares if you can never get far enough into the game?

#243 SimCity 2000

Posted: 9th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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730th played so far

Genre: Management Simulation
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Maxis
Publisher: Maxis

I’ve been playing a fair amount of Cities: Skylines recently, the spiritual successor to the, by now semi-defunct, SimCity series. It’s one of those series I love playing and I’ve been holding off on playing them so I have a chance to savour them later. We covered the first SimCity over five years ago – back when this was a shared blog – and it still felt a bit primitive then.

SimCity 2000 was my first introduction to the franchise, though, and I’m expecting to enjoy it a lot again. If nothing else, we’ll still be close enough to get quite a bit out of it.

Our Thoughts

You can approach these older games in two ways – you can judge them trying to take them in the context of their time, trying to separate them from what follows, or compare them and see how they would fare now. In the latter category, SimCity 2000 has some issues. Aside from a lot more repeated buildings, abandonment seemed random, information about your city seemed difficult to obtain, and building certain things was unintuitive – a highway was far more difficult to set up than it had any right to be, being too fiddly. Sticking to a grid made sense at the time, but it constrains your gameplay far enough that it made the world feel smaller and more awkward. And while unlocking based on a date makes historical sense, having unlocks based on progress works better on training you, or unlocking everything from the start makes it easier to just plan what you do. Accuracy doesn’t necessarily matter much.

On the other hand, the magic of building a city is still there. You need to learn the rules – never build anything more than three squares away from a road, making sure power and electricity is build – but then you can build a city the way you want. A “no money” sandbox mode would be nice, but the game’s old enough that there are ways around that. Traffic density might just be cars going in loops, but it works to make the city feel busier. There are a lot of different buildings and systems that are at play to make your city feel more real. Maybe they don’t always interact as much as they should, but it’s there. And there are plenty of disasters to deal with.

The game is also fairly simple. Put down areas, things build. You need to spend a bit of time on getting the other resources in place, but it feels liek there’s always something to do and more to move on. It’s always extremely satisfying, which is part of what matters here.

Final Thoughts

Sure, this version of SimCity is dated and if you wanted to play more, you should probably play a later edition. At the same time, the isometric play, semi 3D and improvements on the original game feel like they set the real standard, and for me it’s still the defining version of the series, that everything else really built on.

729th played so far

Genre: Flight Simulator
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Nintendo EAD/Paradigm Simulation
Publisher: Nintendo

I played Pilotwings about four years ago, a SNES flight sim with some unusual craft and an interesting set of missions – a bit simple now, maybe, but impressive for the time and with a fair amount to do.

As you can see, the Nintendo 64 got a sequel, although it took fifteen years for another follow up.

Our Thoughts

It feels like this game has less options than its predecessor, despite its increase in technology. We’ve lost skydiving and replaced a light plane with a gyrocopter. In the mean time, the areas in which the missions take place has grown, feeling more suitable for the platform and giving more interesting worlds to play with.

The controls are quite tricky – made for the N64 controller, but it still doesn’t always transfer well. There’s something in the way it feels delayed that the game works against you in places. It doesn’t add that much challenge, though, just awkwardness to do things like making the turns correctly or being able to dive just right, but that’s also because the game doesn’t always need it.

The missions aren’t impossible, but finishing them in time, while landing properly, is. You need to get enough points between the missions to continue to proceed. Per level, they always take place in the same area, just for the three different modes, and they soon feel hard. You need to keep trying and improve until you manage to get there… Something that got me to the third level or so, but keeping up became a bit much after that.

Final Thoughts

While the controls let it down, Pilotwings 64 provides a decent challenge with some nice missions in a world that looks better than its predecessor. It misses a bit of that game’s simplicity, but they both hold up quite nicely.

#990 PixelJunk Shooter

Posted: 1st October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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728th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Q-Games/Double Eleven
Publisher: Q-Games

Q-Games’ PixelJunk series combines simpler cartoonish graphics with decently in depth gameplay, as suits a downloadable console game. We’ve played the Monsters variant before, a decent tower defense game, and this is the other game of theirs that’s on the list, obviously a shooter this time.

Our Thoughts

It’s not really a series, beyond the creator being the same and a shared name. Even the art feels flatter and simpler, although the underlying systems might be a reason for it. Although there are a bunch of enemies to kill in this shooter, the main focus is on rescuing these workers trapped in the mines.I couldn’t immediately identify the games where we did that before, but I’m sure we had.

The unique mechanics it introduces are interesting and really change the game. It introduces lava and water early on, both with their own interactions – water is safe, mostly helping by cooling you down, while lava kills you until you get certain suits, heats you and kills your rescuees – but works to get rid of ice and enemies. The liquid physics used are quite impressive and play into the puzzles throughout and it’s incredibly satisfying to get the combination right and make your way through.

It’s what turns the game into more than just a shooter, as manipulating the environment becomes as important as shooting enemies, and there are times where the latter became more of an inconvenience than something that felt necessary. It was still enough to keep you on your toes, and they’re used in the right amounts, but they’re more realistic obstacles.

Final Thoughts

As much as Pixeljunk Shooter is set to be a shooter, the highlights are the liquid physics and everything that flows from it. It’s a delight to mess around with and creates enough special situations to stay interesting.

#76 Karate Champ

Posted: 27th September 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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727th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Technos Japan
Publisher: Data East

So I don’t really look forward to these early fighting games – the genre isn’t the best in general and it’s not until the likes of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter that we see some of the kinks getting worked out.

Karate Champ, then, is the next game because it’s a game I’m not much looking forward to, but need to get done, so I might as well get it out of the way.

Our Thoughts

In Karate Champ, you don’t go out to save the girl. There’s no set of recognisable opponent. You literally play in a karate tournament, as you would expect. I don’t really know karate, so I’m guessing that’s pretty much how it works. You move by using two sticks, the input of the two combining to moves. It’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t lead anywhere. It was difficult to keep track of, and not knowing the rules (old game, nothing gets explained) it became quite difficult to deal with.

It doesn’t help that the intro for the game is fairly long – I couldn’t get into the game, or stay in it.

Final Thoughts

While Karate Champ probably works nicely if you know the sport, and it’s all about the martial arts, now it just feels a bit uninteresting and drawn out.