Tastes change, I try new stuff, and things slip my mind. I'm human.
This list is compiled at no discredit to my previous one. Rather, these entries rank alongside. Think of them both as one list, but each number has two games listed. The games listed here should be treated with just as much esteem as the others.
Got it? No? Good! Here goes.
(The pictures will link to the theme song of each game, and the title will link to the place the game can be obtained. [usually Steam])
A visual novel is possibly the barest representations of a game out there, hence why Katawa Shoujo is only an Honourable Mention. But for the sheer narrative heft to this game, I have to include it at least this much. I understand if novels aren't your thing, but I would still honestly recommend giving this a shot. Visuals and music to go along with the words can go great strides to making a reading experience more fluid.
The first ten minutes of the game hooked me, and I would say to try it for at least that much. It covers the setup of the game, doesn’t have complicated choices, and comes to an end before the game begins proper. It’s an introduction to what’s to come, in the sense that it does a very good job putting you in the head of the protagonist.
It’s just a sample of the power that a visual novel can have.
Upon retrospect, I think what this game gets over any of the other Elder Scrolls games is just how weird and alien Morrowind is. Oblivion is pretty standard fantasy fare, Skyrim has a cool Scandinavian vibe, and Daggerfall's aesthetic really suffers for the technology it ran on.
But Morrowind stands out from those with the experience it delivers. Going from the staggering size of Daggerfall, it shrank the world in favour of having a much more diverse and strange land to represent the lore that went into this small section of Tamriel. Yeah, Oblivion and Skyrim have full voice acting for every NPC, but I feel that the limited vocals in Morrowind strengthen it. You get a bit of voice for what an NPC sounds like, and then a big box o’ text. The writers didn’t have to prepare for a voice actor to read what they wrote, so they were more free to be as verbose as they liked.
Personally, the game itself hasn't aged as well as its aesthetic. Much as I bash Skyrim, that still played pretty dang nicely. Morrowind has some clunk to it, though awkward as the GUI is, at least Morrowind's menu's can be moved and reshaped as you need, instead of Skyrim's wonky GUI that I could never get used to.
But above all, Morrowind feels like a game with soul. Harrowing landscapes or frightening creatures or unwelcoming citizens or giant Silt Striders. Despite its age, it feels great.
I have a complicated relationship with this game.
When it was first unleashed on Steam, my friends hyped it up to me, saying how the gameès director was planning to have plenty of features added to the game in time, and how updates for the game would be coming in 'thick and fast!'
This was a blatant lie.
But it's still in beta!
This is also a lie. This is an alpha build.
The sad thing is, it's a very functional alpha. It plays well, runs quite smooth on less powerful systems, rarely crashes, has many things to do, many blocks to build with, and very able means with which to build. But the part about this game that has made me put hundreds of hours into it isn't so much in the content, but in something much more abstract.
It is by far the best game for role playing I've encountered. And by role playing, I mean it more in the theater and play sense. Losing yourself in a character and performance so wholey that you aren't aware of your own body.
I don't know what it is. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I haven't come to a solid answer. I don't know what this game does that makes me lose myself in it. The worlds are procedurally generated, and these aren't the best examples of such. The combat has many issues. There's cosmetic items that can be worn atop your standard equipment, but those aren't much a reason for my immersion. Getting what you need to proceed is nothing but a grind.
So why the hell do I enjoy this game so much?
The game's director is an incompetent fool that wouldn't know an equality operator from an assignment operator, but despite his floundering, his team has managed to make something quietly beautiful.
8. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Growing up, I was a Transformers kid. The cartoon was amazing to me then, the toys were great hand-me-downs from my brother (so 90% of them were broken), but the concept of good robots fighting evil robots was grand stuff to a child that loved anything sci-fi.
There seemed to be a lack of good Transformers games, though. I still find that odd, since it doesn't seem like a concept that would be difficult to make a game out of, without even going with the cheap and turbo-hard platformer route. Heck, I would bet that a 90's arcade fighting game featuring transformers would have easily made its money back.
....Why isn't there a Transformers fighting game?!
Well, we have Fall of Cybertron in the meantime.
It's a big, flashy AAA third person shooter game with a lot of nods to the lore that came from Transformers media before it. The previous game, War for Cybertron, opted to let you choose which character you wanted to play as for each level, which sounds great in theory until you realize each level had to be designed for any of them to use. In Fall of Cybertron, you have no choice in the matter. But on the plus side, each level is designed for the character at hand. The flyers have big open stages to zip around in, flitting from platform to platform at they deal with what stands in their way. The sneakier sorts get fairly well designed stealth stages, featuring small tunnels their alt modes can fit into. The car 'bots get big wide open fields in which to move from objective to objective. This revolving door of characters also serves to keep the game fresh, often swapping from Autobot to Decepticon to get alternate viewpoints on what just happened. This culminates in an amazing final stage, which brings about all the things you learned and loved from each character and puts them into play.
But one aspect of this game is my favourite. It's one I have yet to see a game other than Shadow of the Colossus do so well; a sense of scale. The big bruiser type Transformers look and feel in every way so much larger than their smaller compatriots and opponents. The environments feel truly massive. They seem like backdrops until you really look at it and realize "That is one object." Or you spend an hour of the game making progress across an area, only to make your way inside and realize you were fighting on top of a Transformer.
Oh yeah, and the multiplayer is decent.
7. Saints Row: The Third
Most any good game has a sense of progression. That feeling of slowly climbing that ladder, coming closer and closer to reaching your objective and overcoming your obstacles.
And this is what Saints Row: The Third gets right. You’re thrown into a new town with nothing. And to satisfy the plot, you’ve gotta take it over. Piece by piece. Literally buying it off and adding it to your growing empire.
But at a number of points in the game, you think you’ve got this game figured out. Like you can expect what’s coming next. And like any good wonderful game should, it defies that expectation. But Saints Row: The Third goes the extra mile. It doesn’t side-step your expectations, it rocket-jumps to the left. And when you think it’s gonna rocket-jump, it hops lightly. And when you’re thinking “Screw it! It’s gonna move somehow to the side!”, it finds a way to move that you haven’t seen before.
The story may not keep you guessing, but the method through which the story is delivered certainly will. Add into the mix a well-rounded set of great characters, great mechanics for accomplishing your objectives, some very varied mini-games, and a great feeling of a city. Not all that much is copy-pasted from one another. Neighbourhoods are quick to be recognized after a while.
And another part of this game that I really like is that, with the right sort of character, it’s very easy and fun to role-play in.
6. Shovel Knight
I heard a lot of good things about this game. Even before it came out, I somehow knew it was going to be a winner. The degree to which it would win, I deliberately kept myself uncertain. I avoided everything about this game, for fears of even minor spoilers. Even though that's standard procedure for me, it is in cases like this that justify the practice. (Borderlands 2 is another)
In my limited opinion, it is the best designed retro throwback game. It adapts elements from countless NES games, polishes them to a mirror sheen, and expertly places them in a peerless stained glass kaleidoscope of functional nostalgia. Everything fits, everything works. It's just as difficult as a majority of the old games, with none of the frustration that often came with them.
This is precisely how a retro throwback game should be done.
5. Star Wars: Republic Commando
Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the things that obscure my vision.
It sounds like a mark against this game, to say that many things get in the way of your vision. Your visible space in the game is lower than many other games, but with the way your vision bobs as you move, you realize that's your helmet. You take damage to your armour, and cracks appear in your visor. That crack is then repaired after a moment by a sweep of an electric beam across your vision. This same beam also clears away the rain when it gathers on your visor.
The attention to detail in the hands is astounding as well. This is a good thing, since they're moving in your face a lot. You have a squad of commando's with you, whom you order around by way of hand signals. There's bonus videos in the game showing the devteam being trained in commando maneuvers by an ex-Captain. This carries over into the game, which evokes that sort of 'four man army' vibe perfectly.
Trust in your brothers, the game tells you. You will learn this. The whole emphasis of the game is on your three squadmates. The AI is very capable, and they follow your instructions to the letter. They're equipped with the same equipment you have, and despite their personalities hinting at specializations, none of them excel at certain tasks more than the others. The dialogue between them can be hilairious, heartening or harrowing.
They made an impression on me, and I will never forget them.
On the flipside from Shovel Knight; here’s a retro styled game that rests almost entirely in the realm of personal appeal.
The presentation in LUFTRAUSERS is old-fashioned. Pixel art everywhere, in both cartoon and minimalist proportions. One of the many unlockables are even old colour palettes, ranging from CGA to even ZX Spectrum colours, with many others.
The gameplay in LUFTRAUSERS is nearly the epitome of 'easy to learn, difficult to master'. Sure, it's easy to fly around and shoot at enemies in the beginning. Yeah, it gets more difficult as time goes on and you defeat more enemies, but then you start wondering what that counter is in the top right corner, and why it goes away when you don't kill an enemy quick enough. And what are these achievement-esque things? Oh! It got me a new gun!
And soon you're starting to go down the snowball of unlockables. There's three way to build your plane; select between a gun, a body, and an engine. The guns fire different kinds of projectiles, the bodies all have different functions and sometimes have their own weapons, and the engines all make you go differently. They're all side-grade unlockables. None of them are out-right better than the original starting equipment. Yeah, it's easier to hit enemies with the Laser gun, but it doesn't do as much damage as the Machine Gun. Yep, that body has a lot more hit points, but it isn't near as nimble as the original. Super boosted engine? Yep, you go like a bat out of hell, but you can't turn for crap while it's going.
I just mentioned three of the unlockables, and there's a lot more to be had. Each piece can be selected individually, giving you a *lot* of different ways to play the game. But on top of that, each and every configuration has a different name. Even better on top of that; each piece of equipment changes the song slightly. So not only do you have a unique name for your favourite build, but its own theme song!!
Not bad for a game about giving you a lot of different ways to wreck hordes of enemies, get a big score, and dodge death by the skin of your teeth a hundred times, each time more intense than the last.
3. Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages
If I was to be particularly egregious; I could summarize this game as Asteroids + Fancy graphics + Customization + Story.
Key word: Egregious, ie bad. Mentioning the base components of a game tends to do that.
Yes, the game controls similarly to Asteroids. But it doesn’t mention how each of the 50 or more ships control different from one another.
The fancy graphics part isn’t so inaccurate, but keep in mind they were all done by at MOST three people. The background is randomly generated, but rarely gets involved. Looks pretty, and while the space cities and asteroid fields and space debris that consist of the levels look nice, during play you’re usually watching the lines that represent their hitbox more often. The ships all have unique designs to them, and after a while, you’re able to recognize any of them from a glance.
The customization part is where the game’s true strength and structure lies. There’s the many many ships you can control, but there’s also hundreds of different weapons and equipment available. And then there’s the millions of ways they can all be combined. Much of the time, they’re valid builds. Some missions feature randomly generated opponents, and they’re usually able to put up a stiff fight.
The story, though. If the customization is the bone, then here’s the meat. It starts innocuous, waking up with amnesia, an alarm going off, and a voice in your head. You find a ship, escape, and begin one wild ride, meeting quirky characters, memorable characters, getting various jobs, many twists, and a gut-wrenching pre-ending. (Which I consider to be the true ending, since after that it just gets… Weird and frustrating.)
This is a game made by four people, who set out to make the game they always wanted to make. A lot of Ring Runner may not appeal to you right away. It didn’t for me either. But because the devteam wanted to make this game so badly, by the end, I was wanting what they wanted.
2. Fistful of Frags
You will believe that a multiplayer only deathmatch game can be immersive!
You will believe that the pursuit of reloading can lead to some of the most frantic moments in video games!
The key to Fistful of Frags strength is its design. There is no part of this game that is an accident. How slowly you reload, how accurate each gun is, the puff of smoke that gets in your face if you shoot in one spot enough, the drunken wavering from drinking whiskey (which is how you heal damage), to even the line of sight you have from the top of this one tower.
And each of these aspects reflects the time period. The revolvers don’t make as much smoke as the older guns that still use black powder. None of the weapons are automatic, so there’s no spray-’n-pray. Each shot has to be lined up carefully to succeed. Only three of the weapons in the game are capable of killing in one hit, which reduces frustration very nicely.
And there's little punishment for death! You can respawn barely three seconds after dying, and getting back into the action. Your incentive for staying alive, though, is your kill streak. Usually I'm not much for kill streaks, but that little sound that plays when you get your streak going, getting more and more intense as you rack up the kills, that one second sound clip is your motivation for
It’s a game of love, and while there aren’t many maps, every single aspect of this game has been polished to such a flawless mirror-shine. I don’t see myself getting tired of it any time soon.
Pass the whiskey.
1. Mirror's Edge
This is my most grievous missing entry from the previous list. The one that I've kicked myself the most for forgetting to include. But, its exclusion also inspired the creation of this list.
So it's a mixed blessing.
But also somewhat of a mixed bag.
The environment is so immersive, so detailed, so well designed! It's also mostly white. But white is one of my favourite colours! The combat is very fluid, nail-biting and extremely well animated, with tons of different approaches to it! It's also interspersed sporadically, and it's definitely to your advantage to just run from it. But I love the intensity of running from a helicopter as it tries to gun me down! Save for the between-mission cutscenes, everything is done from the first person perspective, from rolling with a landing to hugging your sister! But since it never leaves first person, and you're doing a lot of rolls and leaps, those with *any* degree of motion sickness will find this game completely unplayable.
I love all the subtle things the game does to give heft to your surroundings, like how your character puts a hand up to touch the wall she's facing. Or if you look at a door frame, then slowly turn to the outside, you’ll notice that outside looks blurry. Look outside properly, and it comes into clarity, exactly like in real life.
There’s also a few little things that the game does to give a sense of having a body. If you look down, you see essentially what’s in the picture above. You see your body, not just your feet and legs. You don’t even have to look downwards all that far to see part of your body. If you watch your shadow, you’ll notice that she turns her head for small adjustments, but when you look to the side far enough, she turns her body. When you fall, the camera shakes very realistically when you bounce.
This game only gets better for me the more I study it.
I really reallyreallyreally hope the sequel doesn’t shit the bed.