#974 Red Faction Guerilla

Posted: 27th January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

926th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ

I’ve really enjoyed the Saints Row series stylings, both the aggressive glee of the second games and the over the top feeling of its sequels even after it descends into hell, and weirdly Red Faction Guerrilla is repeatedly referenced in the series as the evil corporation Ultor corporation is shared between both series, while the science fiction levels of this game come back in some bonus content.

So what I know is that this game is set in the distant future on Mars and that there is a lot of focus on the destructability of buildings – it was the engine’s main selling point. Crackdown did something similar a few years before this game, but some time after the first game in the series.

Our Thoughts

I suspect this installment in the game specifically was because it was the most recent game in the series when the book was written, but its sequel didn’t seem to have done that well and ended the series with the exception of some recent remakes. I haven’t played other entries in the series yet (perhaps once I finish this list I’ll have time), but aside from story references they don’t seem to be that important to get.

Early on, you’re told that the main way to get money and resources on the planet are by breaking down old buildings, gathering the dropped items and trading them for the upgrades and such you expect from a game like this. There’s something quite fun about this – having been on a Train Station Renovation obsession as a quiet game to relax, this feels similarly therapeutic. There’s a real satisfaction in destroying things, seeing numbers go up and seeing everything slowly break down.

In comparison, the gunplay is the weak part of the game. It wouldn’t be a shooter without it, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying, a bit loose, relying a lot, for me, on the backup of my allies.

What helps hit those dopamine rushes though is the control system, where you perform missions to increase your standing and take over, with the usual extra assistance as you do better. There are some story missions involved in each as well, but it feels a lot like the same system in Saints Row 2 – one that works, even if it can get a bit repetitive. Still, it felt like a good driver to keep going.

Final Thoughts

The unique points of this game – the district system and especially the destruction of buildings – feel really good and those feel like enough to make me want to try more Red Faction games. It also avoids the slapstick humour Saints Row got stuck in, and that works out here – the tone is darker, more grim, and it creates for a more desolate planet to explore. With that said, I feel like the shooting in the game still lets it down and I never got to the point where I actually enjoyed that part. It stopped the game dead in its tracks for me early on, especially when it’s required in places where you can’t make up for it as much. Without the support you get during this missions, it feels like it would be impossible.

#411 Homeworld

Posted: 23rd January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

925th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: Sierra Studios

While I’ve played plenty of grand tactics games set in space – Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire come to mind, as well as Stellaris which I really need to dive further into. I don’t remember covering many RTS games that have that setting, though – Star Wars avoids the genre and the Star Trek Armada series isn’t on the list. Beyond that, it feels like all these games have some sort of ground based opponent, or else work on a different strategy level.

Homeworld is a game that offers that, though, a RTS game set in space with at least some additional verticality. It could be a reskin of the same mechanics, but it sounds like it isn’t all that.

Our Thoughts

On the surface, Homeworld is that strategy game set in space. As it should be, it also adds a third dimension to the game – rather than a flat map, Homeworld levels are a 3D sphere, where your space crafts can also move up and down. The interface is mostly good enough not to let that get in your way, as you can usually direct your ships to attack or investigate specific places. There are some times where it doesn’t when you’re just exploring, at which point it mostly just gets confusing. It’s still very playable and easy enough to control, but it takes a second to adjust every once in a while.

Then there’s the story. As you test a colony ship, you jump away from your homeworld and explore movement elsewhere – basically a tutorial on controlling the game. As you come back, your world has been destroyed and you travel around the galaxy to track down the group that destroyed your world and to find a place to settle. It’s pretty decent, giving you an explanation for what you’re doing that threads through everything you do in the level, including some plot-only levels that work well being this in-engine as you explore what happened. It also ties into a neat mechanic where your units carry over between missions. You’re expected to collect them as you go through and, if you’ve got resources left over, it makes sense to use them to build what you can at the end. It’s an anti-climatic end when you’ve otherwise won and could otherwise move on to actually move further.

Final Thoughts

Homeworld is a fun RTS, with the 3D elements making a nice difference in how the game plays. There’s something a bit more dynamic about it, without it ever really getting in the way – a bunch of attack formations make a lot more sense now. With that, the story is intriguing so far and while I’m not expecting major surprises, so far it’s been good to be along for the ride.

#129 World Games

Posted: 19th January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

924th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Epyx
Publisher: Epyx

The Epyx’s Something Games series had quite a large range of them – with California Games being the one I’ve known for ages, Summer Games kicking off and all of it being inspired by the Track & Field series that still defines these sports mini games series now. We now get to close the book on the series with the broadly titled World Games.

This time, the game features sports from various different countries – ranging from known sports like weightlifting to more performances like cliff diving. It’s certainly an eclectic mix… almost as if they threw together some random ideas they had.

Our Thoughts

As much as it sounds dismissive, this being yet another sports game means that there isn’t much to it. One thing that I think I realised about these is that the timing of these mini games is all pretty specific – you need to learn when to do it, which isn’t necessarily that intuitive. I feel like I’m not just trying to improve, I need to learn how to play by knowing when to even press the button to play the game beyond the manual’s “push these buttons”. It felt really off for this game in particular, perhaps because of my lack of experience with it, but playing the master system version might have played a part as well here, it sounds like it isn’t t he best edition this time.

The game was a slight step up graphically, but at this point I’m not too invested into learning the timings of particular games, and it puts me at the point where I’m not sure I could do much more with it.

923rd played so far

Genre: Adventure/Puzzle
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts

There are quite a few games on the list described as Adventure/Puzzle games. They include Myst, one of the earliest examples of the idea, giving you an area with puzzles to explore, Professor Layton in a few guises, which has literal puzzles amidst light adventuring and Zack & Wiki, which feels like it takes an action/adventure level and inserts bigger, more complex puzzles into it that I wish I could see more in action/adventure games.

I don’t know where Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure quite fits in, but it appears to draw on more platforming elements than those and feels like it’ll be its own, different stream.

Our Thoughts

Although the title says this is Henry Hatsworth’s adventure and the book calls it such, I don’t think it really plays like anything else in the genre. Rather, it feels like a puzzle platformer – although not as the genre is currently known, as with Limbo, but as a game you play as a standard platform game, then drop into a match three game to permanently get rid of your enemies after you defeat them in the platforming sections, as well as getting you powerups to use during the platforming. Do it for long enough and you can go into “tea time”, which lets you kill everything you come across. You get money to upgrade between levels to get more puzzle time and powerups and to do more damage.

It’s an interesting idea, but where normally you’d want these two elements to reinforce each other, here it feels like they’re interrupting each other. The match three time limit is too short to always meaningfully make progress, while the platforming doesn’t work when you have to interrupt it so your puzzle doesn’t overflow. This becomes even more obvious when you get the enemy arenas where they keep coming in at you. It really becomes a frustrating mess more than a fun experience. It comes down to what was there earlier – if this was more of an adventure game, it could have slowed down the pace and give the puzzle part more time to breathe.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure doesn’t really satisfy what I was expecting it to do. It doesn’t give you enough of a puzzle to keep it interesting, but you can’t get a good action game when you have to get into the puzzle. It’s more satisfying when you can just rampage through, but it also feels like just skipping part of the game entirely – anything that makes people want to skip the game to continue feels wrong.

#141 Galaga ’88

Posted: 11th January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

922nd played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco/Atari Games

We’ve had a lot of games in the Space Invaders mold already, including the original Galaga which updated the basic game by adding in swooping in, changing formations. They are some interesting games, and I believe the Galaga formula really helped make the genre more interesting. Galaga ’88 will update these further and I wonder how, exactly, it was updated for 1988.

Our Thoughts

Galaga ’88 clearly builds on the formula of the series so far. It obviously still has the waves that come in one after the other, with a good early chance to attack, and taking out what you can. As a formula, that stays as good as it can be. It did feel a lot harder – while the non-linear progression is a nice idea, the game is harder and I couldn’t get quite as far myself.

There’s one saving grace with this difficulty that both made the game easier and made it feel more interesting. You can get a dual fighter, in which case you are basically playing with two linked ships. It doubles your fire power and effectively gives you an extra life, with only one fighter disappearing when you get hit. It makes the game easier, while you’re still strategizing to make the best use of the double fighter. It’s a pretty neat twist and adds enough to make it a good game.

Final Thoughts

Sure, Galaga ’88 may not push the boat out that far. It has some decent backgrounds, but doesn’t necessarily step it up miles when it comes to the sprites. The gameplay mostly stays the same, but the double fighter does enough to push it a bit further. Unfortunately, the difficulty is also higher (I suspect as a general trend for sequels in the arcade, where you wanted to get more out of your players), but it feels like the evolution could have been nicer.

#712 Hitman: Blood Money

Posted: 7th January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

921st played so far

Genre: Stealth
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

I have had a difficult time with Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. I had heard a lot about the later iterations and their freedom, but the difficulty of the game meant that I never got that far in. Still, I enjoyed the options and I was looking forward to finding more than that.

Hitman: Blood Money is a later entry in the series and it certainly feels like that should have allowed for further improvements to the series. I hope that it will pay off.

Our Thoughts

I feel like the first level of Hitman: Blood Money is one of those perfect odd settings for a game like this: an abandoned fairground area, with theatres and broken down rides, now inhabited by thugs. It looks a bit unsettling and while it seems a bit more dense in buildings than I would expect from a pier like this, it’s a good place for a setting with some good back office set up. As a tutorial, it also gives you a good set of puzzles – your journey can be handled room by room and area by area, each with a solution that teaches you a system. The other options are fine and accepted too – I’m sure I could have experimented more – but it worked here too. It shows an amazing range of options in the game and works well to do that much.

It shows off the fluent controls, which feel really good – it doesn’t get in the way and it’s good to follow along. The game reacts appropriately to everything that happens, with an AI that’ll often end up chasing you, but it can also give you those other options if you do it well.

The first proper level, which of course features a lovely mansion in a warm climate (Chile this time) sets you loose and you have to go through. There are some straightforward first steps – outfits you can get easily, with weapons you’re allowed to carry around – and some tempting targets like a sleeping guard you could get to more easily. There are a lot of options, and that’s the one thing I feel the tutorial doesn’t prepare you for – there is so much you can do, and I feel that paralysis and struggle to pick a solution. Even when I do, it’s trickier to experiment. There’s a big issue here with the length of time I put in a game, as I can see myself get into a four hour bout of trying different options, creating several save games and working out the paths. I could follow that with a proper speed run, but it’s a world you need to keep experimenting with, then moving on to the next step.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot in these Hitman levels – more, I think than I saw in Hitman 2. To be honest, this is the sort of game I expected from a Hitman game: big open world, lots of options, having to structure your run and plan ahead while improvising. There is a lot in there and I feel I could play for quite some time to figure it out. So much of this is what I wanted to play, and it feels like it’ll stay a great challenge.

#165 North & South

Posted: 3rd January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

920th played so far

Genre: Action/Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1989
Developer: Infogrames
Publisher: Infogrames

I remember reading quite a bit of Belgian comic Blauwbloezen (Les Tuniques Bleues, more recently published as Bluecoats in English) when I was younger. I remember really enjoying them then, and while I’m sure there are a number of things in them that don’t hold up now, at least they were going for an army that ended up on the right side of history… I have also seen parts of the 1980s adaptation of the book North & South… but that doesn’t have anything to do with this game beyond having the same name.

With that said, we’re getting a French company using a Franco-Belgian comic (that I know from its translation) making a strategy game about the American Civil War, with a clear wink already included there. Will that feel right thirty years on, though?

Our Thoughts

The initial way North & South plays is quite familiar to me, and the most interesting. You have a Risk-style tactical map that lets you move armies around between the different states. Depending on your settings, you can be in control of a station, which gives you extra gold, and you might get regularly reinforced with new armies to bulk up your forces. It’s fun this way, a pretty quick playing strategy game because of the limited area that’s involved, but quite playable. I really enjoyed it and you could see how it could just as much work as a five minute phone game where you set things up and deal with the different strategic options.

Just as Total War games ended up doing about a decade later, though, once two opposing armies meet you go into battle. While there is an option to set these to auto resolve at the start of the game, part of the game is that you are meant to go in and fight these battles yourself, switching between a few different unit types as you attack them. This isn’t as deep as the Total War series does it, but there’s some control for you here. Sadly – or, considering my dislike of them in Total War, happily – the keyboard controls seemed to be broken for me when I played them, so I stuck to resolving these battles automatically. Based on other examples, it looked like these weren’t as interesting anyway, so in the end it worked out for me – I got to play some other variants of the game instead.

Final Thoughts

North and South‘s graphics appropriately invoke the graphical style of the comic it is inspired by, and while it can’t carry through fully in the pixel art of the time it feels like the spirit is still there. Beyond that this game offers a fun strategy game, not one that’s incredibly deep, but it’s surprisingly accessible and fun to play instead.

#855 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky

Posted: 30th December 2020 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

919th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: GSC Game World
Publisher: Deep Silver

The last time I played a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, we played it after we had just watched the movie of the same name this series was based on. That’s a few years – and some more other downbeat Eastern European movies later (The Fireman’s Ball seems to operate in the same spirit at least, even if everything else is different). It’s the empty, tense feeling of the world that works, but at the same time the game was filled with stalkers, factions following their own path while you need to get up their yourself. There’s an atmosphere in the world that I wanted to feel more of and while the game wasn’t easy, it was manageable – you just needed to know what you’re doing.

That game had two sequels and Clear Sky is the first, even if it’s really a prequel to the original game. It’s also a game I wanted to look at for a long time and I’m excited I finally feel ready for it.

Our Thoughts

While the first game sets you up on your own, with stalkers working individually and only some vague support mechanisms in the form of shops and such, Clear Sky‘s central conceit is its faction system. You can take on missions for different factions and influence the balance of the game. You start working with the relatively benign-seeming Clear Sky, a group of scientists and researchers, and at first drive back a general group of bandits. You do this by helping them out on missions – helping them take down outposts, defend against incursions and so on. Since, as in the first game, everyone is working on their own, a lot of this tends to resolve without you. Even in the first area, where you help Clear Sky take it over, I got several different side quests to take on, that were completed before I could get to them.

It’s good that that’s the case though, as the game is tough even at a lower difficulty, and the aid of NPCs is incredibly useful. Having them help from the start is a big boost, and while you make an impact, there’s something quite amazing about being part in the world that resolves around you – you’re a single contributor rather than the big hero of the story. I’m sure later, as you get more powers and become stronger, you get to have more of an impact, but it adds to that feeling of a hostile, alien world that was so key to the first game.

The game is divided into several different areas, rather than the single one of the first game. I’m not sure whether they connect – there was a tunnel and loading screen between the first two main ‘levels’ – but it feels more disparate than before. It’s a nice way to create a structure and progression, but it feels limiting in the long term. I didn’t have time to get that much deeper – the game needs that much trial and error that it’s a bit too tiring – but again, there’s something here.

Final Thoughts

While I want to get back to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, it’s going to be one of those games that I need to be in the mood for, where I know I feel ready for the challenge it brings and can balance it all – perhaps with some guidance to make sure I find all the helpful secrets and side quests that are out there.

#670 Silent Hunter III

Posted: 26th December 2020 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

918th played so far

Genre: Simulation
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Ubisoft Bucharest
Publisher: Ubisoft

One of the weirder games we had for our old, 2 5.25″ floppy drive only PCs was called GATO. It was a real time submarine simulator that took me years to figure out – helped by having to learn English well enough to understand what’s going on. It had you go on various missions in a map of fictional items, taking out randomly selected targets. It was fun once we got there, helped by the rituals I developed with friends where we had to escape the submarine if it did crash. I think I accidentally activated a fire hydrant in the sense of playing along. My gaming isn’t quite as physical anymore, but there was a wonderful sense of mixing games and real play there.

It meant that Silent Hunter III had something to live up to. The graphics obviously evolved – I’d honestly struggle with the 4 colour CGA graphics now – but I do wonder whether there’s any of that odd magic that will carry over.

Our Thoughts

I can say for sure that Silent Hunter III is more complex than GATO – this really is a proper simulation game, rather than a more action based game that just has you hunting and fighting. The sub you travel on is partially modeled (for the parts you need to visit) and has your crew members all sitting around, looking to you for orders. It’s all constrained and small and I have to admit that having watched Das Boot, it seemed familiar and I felt some of that tension here. Sure, they’re not the most realistic graphics, but the sub does feel real.

The fact that this is a true simulation extends beyond that as well. The game can run in real time, which is quite challenging when you realize your first mission takes you from a German harbour to the North Sea – a trip that takes about 36 hours of real time. It’s a good thing the game offers time compression at that point – 1024 as fast as normal – to deal with that hurdle. It still gets annoying when it drops you out for any excuse, but it clearly goes for giving you the tools to deal with that precision.

There’s a decent tutorial, but it’s lengthy and dense in information. It means that I ended up guessing a bit on what to do, but it all worked fine in the end, so I guess that’s fine. Still, the game is complex and there’s a lot going on that you need to keep track of.

Final Thoughts

Silent Hunter III is complex, a deep simulation that I’m sure match reality somewhat closely. I don’t know whether I got everything, but I got the claustrophobic feeling from Das Boot and other media, which are apparently based on reality anyway. It’s something you rarely get from a game, and it’s amazing here.

917th played so far

Genre: Life Simulation/Role-Playing
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Marvelous Interactive
Publisher: Marvelous Interactive/Natsume

I’ll be honest, the main reason Harvest Moon appears to be known now is that it’s the game Stardew Valley is based on – a decent enough recommendation, but not necessarily noteworthy enough to set it up on its own.  It’s a farming simulator now known as Story of Seasons that builds up a bigger world around your farm, where taking care of it becomes a small part of the things you can do around it – which aside from getting good relations with the other villagers, you can also go mining and do loads of other things.

While superficially similar to Animal Crossing in that sense, its approach to time management is what is so different. Where the latter takes its time – you can play all day but are paced in unlocks taking a day or two of real time – Harvest Moon instead forces you to use limited time on each in game day, and there are things you need to get done each day, which means planning to get everything done is important. It sounds stressful to me… I’ll see how that goes.

Our Thoughts

There is a lot of time pressure in this game, which can feel overwhelming at the start, to the point where I felt I wanted a guide to be able I focused what I needed to do well enough early on. Once you get started, however, it becomes clear there’s no real way to fail: you can always keep going, gather some free stuff and get new supplies if you need to. Once you get that feeling that there are no major deadlines, you can start to enjoy the game, petting your dog, earning money,  building up your farm and dealing with the village.

Even so, once you get going you do keep running up against the limitations, especially in the early game. Part of it is the usual – lack of storage space and inventory – but also that it takes money to get more options in and, indeed, to be able to automate a large part of the daily process. There are a lot of things in here – not always as deep as a lot of games offer, but there’s so much here and it clearly takes a long time to get there. At least, I suppose, you can play as many days as you want in a row.

Final Thoughts

As so many people did early in the year, we got majorly into Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As I said, you can’t compare the two as the games have quite different designs. Still, in finding a place to get away to, this is far more stressful and has too much going on. I was hoping for just a bit more guidance to actually figure out what’s in here.