Fallout 3 You had an interesting game world! Too bad moving through it was like going from exit to exit on the capital beltway. Its reliance upon maguffins and set pieces puts the “lug” in lugubrious, which does not at all mix well with what can charitably be described as the world’s first sandbox rail-shooter. Any similarity it bears to the previous Fallouts is unintentional… and it doesn’t, really.
Fallout New Vegas The obvious intention was to offer the player a selection of alternative strategies which might be employed to retain civilization in the face of the greatest of hardships. What ends up happening is you get lead by the nose between a series of kawaiipocalyptic set-pieces in an attempt to fit the dull mold of Adventure. Fallouts 1 and 2 had agency; New Vegas is more of a travel agency.
Planescape: Torment As an RPG it stands with the best. But that’s the least of its accomplishments. PsT one of the best adventure games in history. It’s one of the best visual novels, best interactive novels of all time. It has more exploration in its little finger than most games have on three cartridges or six DVDs. Its characters are more real, more sympathetic, than really they have any right to be. And anyone familiar with Dungeons and Dragons will know that this game is a profound send-up, a total flip-on-the-head of near every dogma of that hoary archetype – and yet all of its inversions manage to produce gameplay, character, and a true sense of agency which far outstrips its inspiration. Someone better make a sequel so I can fucking buy it.
Half-Life It’s Silent Hill with a semi-auto and isn’t that a fucking thing to pull off.
Half-Life 2 What better way to interact with a visual novel than by SHOOTING IT?
Half-Life 2 Episode 1 It does the Spirited Away thing of revisiting places with eyes towards revision and alternative perspectives. What wonders! Except the alternative perspective is basically shooting at the things you missed, and shooting at new things which clearly weren’t there a few minutes before, and then there’s some more shooting, and then there are some parts where you aren’t shooting and let’s face it those kind of stink. The driving story and promise of episodic gameplay make you feel great urgency, thus great agency. Let’s see if Valve can keep up the steam HAR FUCKING HAR
Half-Life 2 Episode 2 Well, there’s a great deal of steam here! And then there’s a huge side quest underground which hearkens back to the beastie-squashing of the original Half-Life. And then there’s a FUCKING AWESOME final sequence which feels as completely nonlinear as an essentially linear experience can get! And then there’s a tremendous ending, waiting for the next game to give us more and more!
Portal You wake up in a strange room! A tinny radio sets the aesthetic, a Wintermutean voice sets the plot, a pataphysical birth canal opens and the game is afoot! Soon you are harnessing its power to maneuver through discreet puzzle rooms which require you to utilize basic mechanics and abilities in increasingly inventive and challenging ways. The introduction to the mechanics is smooth and engrossing, the aesthetic is clean and elegant, the puzzles in constricted space and time offer some of the best emergent gameplay to be found outside a Malayan whorehouse. I can’t wait for the sequel to expand upon these in every way!
Portal 2 NEWP! The humor pales beside the dark grinning glee of the first game, as ought to have been obvious to anyone who compared GlaDoS’ seamless comingling of personality and situation with Wheatley’s doing straight man standup right into your ear like Jar-Jar Schizophrenia. Each discreet puzzle chamber is as uselessly large as a floppy pair of Double Gs; the sense of solitude which provided the first game with a great sense of agency is replaced by the feeling that one is just following the steps in a predetermined narrative with all the personal investment of a four-year-old strapped into a stroller; the feeling in Old Testament Portal that you were fighting a near-hopeless struggle against both your environment and The Evil Queen is replaced in the New Testament by the feeling that you are flipping pages in a rather shallow graphic novel which makes you play a mini-game every time you want to turn the page. The ending is one of the greatest demonstrations of the Sin of Pride to be found outside of a religious text, and is so steeped in milky-white fan-wank as to qualify as the world’s stickiest eschatology. Oh, and it’s a puzzle game that’s really really easy. Yeah. No. Not so very much. No.
Psychonauts You play an adolescent rapscallion with budding psychic powers who has run away from the circus – yes, from the circus – to attend a summer camp entirely for psychic children. Your power gives you the ability to enter people’s minds – or rather, video game levels which are themanifestations threof. This idea alone makes Freud roll over in his grave only so he can get a proper two-handed grip on the biggest erection in human history. This doubly so when the people whose minds you enter have one or another odd eccentricity – many of which are straight out of the DSM – and your investigations of their subconscious minds may go a long way to curing them of what ails. This serves to advance the overarching plot – if most often in a way that serves to DEFINE the word ‘digression’ – and as the game progresses begins to include introspective elements on the part of our loveable but flawed young protagonist. The characters are endearingly Goonies-like and the ebb and flow of the charming and the dark is perhaps the apotheosis of the Tim Schaefer style.
Secret of Monkey Island It’s a satire that stands on its own feet; it’s fun and funny while being serious, while creating characters you care about and sending them on adventures you kind of wish you could go on yourself. There are some excellent puzzles and delightful lines and it’s all as tight as a Tortuga hooker isn’t. And then Monkey Island II brought in more of the same… so much more that it wanted for Ipecac and three weeks at fat camp. And then that ending happened. So let’s choose to remember MI I.
Bioshock It’s very difficult to have a plot unfold by means of found notes, eMails, comlog entries, etc. So then what you do is you make them entirely irrelevant to the gameplay, irrelevant to the advancing of the plot – which is spooned directy into your ears whether you want it to be or not, and then you make it out of fun-staggering text blocks that any decent message board would tl;dr like a stylish Manhattan editor swinging a Prada banhammer over her head. And then you add some gameplay mechanics which are fun but stupid and then some which aren’t fun at all – like the actual combat. In an FPS. And the art style gets really old really fast, and the silly side-questing makes you want the game to just hurry up and end, and the level of difficulty at the hardest setting makes you wish you could fight an enemy who was actually a threat. Boooooooring.
Deus Ex This is the most freedom an FPS had ever offered – and just about as much as any subsequently have done.
Deus Ex 2 A mild-mannered rehashing of Deus Ex 1’s plot twists that kept the twists and sent the plot down with the ship. Polished free of the grit of cyberpunk and replaced by console-tardistry a-go-go, the ending was smacked with the epic stick sufficiently to send it flying out of the story to land somewhere between hilarity and the gooey leavings found on the class of an Amsterdam nudie booth. The only reason it’s known to be terrible is because as a sequel it was so disappointing; without that, it wouldn’t be remembered at all.
Deus Ex 3 See Deus Ex 2! And then make sure the dialogue was obviously written in French and then Google Translated into English!
Warcraft A lovely RTS, so ancient in its manner that playing it is almost archaeological – producing that kind of romance which fantasy novels strive for but so often fail to achieve. It’s fun. It’s challenging. The story is mid-numbingly well crafted. And then there was the best part: THE BAD GUYS WIN! The canonical ending of Warcraft is that the invading orcs sack the continent, come through en masse, pummel the knights – in some of the most visceral animations of muscly pummeling ever to grace a cutscene – and then drive the humans into the sea. That’s how you end a game!
Morrowind You are the Chosen One and you’ve got to do a lengthy and irrelevant quest before you can do another lengthy quest to find The Sharpest Maguffins in All the Land and kill the etc. to save the etc. etc. But a game is more that its Main Quest, and especially in a sandbox game – or a Big Box game or whatever you want to call a single player game where you have to zone every sixty paces – much of the story is told through its situation and its world. Morrowind suffers under the yoke of numerous sins of the Tolkeinist genre which I’m sure I have no need to belabor to anyone who’s ever rolled a fucking dice. Yet it builds a fantasy world which, at the time of its release, was among the most substantive and varied yet presented. Its significant development of urban environments I found particularly compelling, such that a person of any play style might accomplish a significant amount of personal enrichment and empowerment – that is to say, GRIND – by playing an exceptionally civilized and cultivated gentleman of breeding and means. Then you have to go stomp on orcs and drink health potions because this is a computer game, STUPID.
Minecraft The simplest hint of a story would ruined this game more quickly than anything but the revelation that Notch was a salaried executive at Nintendo. Emergent gameplay this strong allows for one to build emergent storytelling as much, or as little, as one wants. This is a game which should not have a story. Or a game, come to that.
Starcraft Nobody in the world has anything interesting to say about Starcraft that hasn’t already been said! Shut up!
Myst A guy falls through a portal and ends up on a deserted island where he has to solve complex puzzles to survive. And the island is beautiful and mysterious and it turns out it’s actually a hub to dozens of other places, each more beautiful and creepy than the last! And a plot is revealed, and your position in the universe comes together, all leading up to you fully understanding and controlling the island – and having to make a choice that will decide its future. Ladies and gentleman, THIS IS A GAME
Riven In Myst you solved discreet, created puzzles by finding clues and making logical connections. In Riven you have to solve an entire world. The world is natural, organic; you have to explore it, learn about it, learn what the puzzle even is, and discover what this world is and what saving it will actually mean. Exploring it is a pleasure because, even 15 years after its creation, it’s still the most beautiful game ever made. It’s breathtaking. It’s magnificent. It’s unified and organic aesthetic far outstrips that of any other game I have ever encountered. Let’s face it: this game is years beyond Myst. Too many years. At 15 years old, Riven remains ahead of its time.
Myst III It’s like Myst Island if it was run by the Disney Corporation. It’s very pretty, and very clear-cut, and desperately introduces black-and-white morality in an attempt to make you sympathize with the aims of the characters. The fact that it has characters was probably the first clue that it was going to take all that Myst and Riven did and drop it on its head. It would be nice if, one day, someone made a real sequel – not a sequel to Myst, but a sequel to Riven. Maybe one day. Not today.

~ by davekov on 11 November 2012.

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