December 7, 2009
I’ve decided to list out the ten games since the year 2000 that I enjoyed the most. For numbers 10 through 6, click here. For five and below, I’m going to go in to a little more detail.
#5: Fallout 3
Even though I’ve only recently become a PC gamer, years ago I would play games wherever I could get them. It was through this insatiable desire to try anything and everything that I came across Fallout 1 at a friend’s house. I played the hell out of it, never quite making it to the end, and never really understanding what I was doing. It was a world of complexity that savaged my child mind, previously unwrinkled by fun but simple platformers and go-kart driving games.
It’s in that same context that Fallout 3 managed to blow my mind, yet in an entirely different way. Despite intense fear of becoming like Tim Rogers, I reluctantly posit that Fallout 3’s opening was literally and symbolically the act of birth. There is, of course, the actual intro where your character is born. After that, when your character emerges from the vault and is given no instruction about what to do next, is what defines Fallout 3 to me. A feeling of post-natal fear and loneliness that has to be overcome if you want to survive.
The game neither leads you along a tightly designed path nor offers an amusement park of activities like some most sandbox games do. It strikes a middle ground that all nonlinear games aspire to, even if they didn’t realize it at the time. Fallout 3 creates a world to explore, and populates that world amicably, leaving you playing a fantasy version of real life.
It doesn’t do it perfectly, and sometimes exposes the flaws of trying to design a world without unlimited resources, but it tries its damndest. And it’s an experience worth rewarding.
#4: Metal Gear Solid 3
I am unsure exactly what prompted me to pick up Metal Gear Solid 3 the first time. I distinctly remember grabbing the box from Blockbuster and, in a description to a friend, inaccurately telling him what the game was about. “I think it’s about Vietnam,” I mentioned. “Some kind of stealth mission that goes on during then?” I had recently finished a review of Spy Hunter, a fairly mediocre stealth game, for the then-fledgling Men.com, and was on some sort of stealth kick. So, having never played a Metal Gear game before for any significant amount of time (and thoroughly mocking their absurdity online), I tried Metal Gear Solid 3.
I couldn’t describe to you why the game grabbed me. Maybe it was the first time I walked across a bridge, saw a guard coming my way, and hung off the edge. Maybe it was that time I stood in the water with a crocodile hat on and proceeded to kill every guard inside a building by setting off the alarm repeatedly outside. It could have even been the very end of the game, where Kojima emotionally manipulated me to feel an emotion I wasn’t aware video games could evoke – remorse. I do know that when the credits rolled, I realized I loved the game. I hate long cutscenes, I hate being emotionally manipulated, I hate cheese, I hate awkward controls, but I loved Metal Gear Solid 3.
It was the game that showed me that some games are more than the sum of their parts. In our review-oriented industry, we like to break down games based on what we like to think are objective criteria. Game X is great because the graphics are at least a 9, the score reminds you of a Jerry Bruckheimer flick, and the developers made sure to fashion the controls like everything else that’s popular out there – 9.7, there you go. MGS3 fails a lot of what I considered important to me, yet the game is dear to my heart. This was the game that made me reconsider why I played games and the answer was to enjoy them, even if I didn’t love everything about them.
December 5, 2009
A friend’s blog, Big Red Coat, recently put up his reaction to a Top 15 Games of the Decade by posting his own list. It would be inappropriate to shamelessly copy that idea by posting my own list, but I’m doing it anyway. Except worse.
I feel one of the major flaws with lists like this is a lack of an explanatory theme. So, these aren’t the best games of the decade – it’s not a metacritic rundown of the top fifteen scores. It’s not even the most influential games of the decade. It’s the ten games from 2000 on that I enjoyed the most, whether that enjoyment be a product of context or actual quality.
#10: Baten Kaitos Origins
The original Baten Kaitos was something of an odd beast, refreshing for the different things it did, but ultimately failing on doing them right. The game was infamous for a terrible localization that took the wind out of what could be considered an interesting premise for a story. The sequel, which was ignored mostly because of the bad first game, takes all of its predecessor’s flaws and makes them golden. The battle system was refined, the localization was top-notch, and the twist tied it together with the first game in a way that many of the much-vaunted top video game writers of the industry have not been capable of. Really a hidden gem.
#9: Mega Man Zero 2
One of the most stagnant series that still, at the same time, gets a lot of shit for changing things, Mega Man has basically branched out in to several different series all offering different but connected gameplay styles. The zenith of this experimentation is Mega Man Zero 2, which is either a bitch-hard game or God’s face in handheld form. In my opinion, nothing the series has done has been quite as good since.
#8: Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2
I can’t remember exactly when Ouendan clicked with me, but when it did, it was some sort of gaming nirvana. I can distinctly remember sitting there for hours, playing songs over and over, starting over if I missed a single note because it meant I wasn’t getting as good a score as I should have. Ouendan 2 zombified me, turning me in to a shambling corpse thirsting only for points. If any game can do that to me, then god bless it.
#7: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
In twenty years, when people try to figure out where platformers have come from and where they could have gone, Sands of Time might be the starting and ending points of both these conversations. Sands of Time, at every instance, knew how to be an excellent video game. It was not trying to be the next Hollywood Blockbuster like Uncharted (a fact that eludes Jake Gyllenhall), it was not trying to be anything but an enjoyable video game. At that, it succeeds. It marries entertaining narrative without stopping your gameplay. It isn’t without its flaws, but the sum product overcomes them gracefully.
#6: Mass Effect
I could sit here and list off many things I don’t like about Mass Effect. There were all sorts of flaws that most developers wouldn’t let past quality assurance, yet Bioware did. If you asked me to tell you what I liked about Mass Effect, I probably couldn’t. Yet, at the end of the day, I still remember it as a game I’ve played through three times, stayed up nights just to see a little bit more, and had me obsessing over whether to choose a blue alien girl or racist jerk as a love interest. That’s more than I can say for most games.
November 17, 2009
Found this girl playing in Denerim.
If this is a skill, I demand to learn it.
November 13, 2009
I’ve run a little behind on my recording and unless people want to see video of me starting a bunch of games as opposed to interesting stuff inside them, then I’m going to have to use this weekend to actually play games.
I’ll be back on Sunday or Monday with Jak & Daxter PSP.
November 13, 2009
Assassin’s Creed was not a good game.
It burned me in ways few games have. I spent a lot of time thinking – and saying, loudly – that it was the first example of a real “next-gen” game. Something that uses all that extra power for something beyond graphical fidelity. And it kind of did! It just sucked.
This is why I was incredibly surprised to try Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines for the PSP, expecting it to be a terrible version of the game I already didn’t like, but it turns out the terrible ideas that made up Assassin’s Creed works fine on the PSP.
The graphics are really mindblowing. Outside of Square-Enix, I have not seen anyone get this kind of quality graphics out of the PSP. Even Little Big Planet Portable (see yesterday’s post about it) doesn’t come as close to matching its console brother.
The things that drove me crazy about Assassin’s Creed – the mission structure, the simple combat, the unused and unnecessary space – work fine in a handheld structure. City sections are broken up in sections, making finding mission objectives easy. Combat is simple, which is good because you don’t want to spend a long time fighting, and the mission structure lends itself perfectly to simply putting the PSP in sleep mode when you get bored of it.
It’s not amazing, but they managed to make Assassin’s Creed work. Maybe I’ll be delightfully surprised by Assassin’s Creed 2, as well? Or it could turn out to be the disappointment the first one was and more?
We’ll see come next year.
November 12, 2009
Today, Borderlands decided to fuck up my save. I had to use file directory trickery to roll it back a few days.
It was not a fun glitch.
This is, though.
If I could play the rest of the game like that, I would.
November 12, 2009
Remember Little Big Planet?
Now you can play it away from your PS3!
…yeah, I don’t get it either. LBPP is pretty impressive for a handheld title, really. It gets far closer to the PS3 game than it really has any right to, but it exposes the flaws the original had very clearly. With the stellar graphics, personality, community, and (relatively better) controls stripped away, there’s little stitching holding the game together.
Maybe it’s just that I’ve been playing NSMB Wii a lot the last few days, but the fundamental controls for the LBP series just aren’t tight enough. It’s a very deliberate decision, but it’s one that keeps LBP from being a good platformer. This problem is exacerbated by the PSP’s analog nub being kind of a shitty control method.
If you liked LBP and want to play it away from home, LBP Portable won’t disappoint. If you didn’t really dig LBP, its little brother won’t change your mind.