A Year of Gaming II (October 2016 - September 2017)
Hard to believe a year has passed since the last installment. I have once again recorded the games I've finished in the past year. Here's the breakdown:
Total = 48 games
An average of exactly 4 games per month, a handful fewer compared to last year (54). Once again the majority were on PC, but there was less diversity this year as I've moved and don't have access to all my consoles.
Star Control II - My original experience with this game stems from playing Super Melee as a kid with my older brother. I finished the single-player mode about a decade ago, but with extensive help from a walkthrough. This time I decided to play without any assistance, and it was vastly different. Navigation of the huge starmap is tough, but manageable with some note-taking. You'll definitely need some patience to harvest resources for fuel, and then waste that fuel in pursuit of your next objective. I spent more than a few ~2-3 hour sessions essentially accomplishing nothing.
That doesn't affect the undeniable charm of this game, even 25 years on. The alien races are variously delightful, creepy, and fascinating, perfectly framed by catchy, mood-setting music and lovely animated drawings. Bewitching dialogue and world-building keeps you hungry for the next conversation, the next revelation about the history and fate of the galaxy. The sense of progression is spot-on, as you slowly transform your bare-bones Vindicator starship into a dominating force. Modern gamers might be put off by the near total lack of hand-holding, but this game was and is a treasure.
Life is Strange - A simple, oddly gripping adventure game that sticks with you more than it has any right to. The gameplay is highly streamlined. The dialogue has the unavoidably disingenuous ring of being written by a 40-year-old, who does a poor job of aping the slang his kids use. But the story manages to be emotionally resonant. Though similar in feel, it lacks the pretension that David Cage games sometimes possess. It keeps things moving fast enough to keep you from getting bored. A great effort from Dontnod after the unsuccessful Remember Me.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - What a blast. This is the most underrated of the many shooters in the post-Quake era. The level design rides a line between linear and labyrinthine that is Goldilocks-right. The gameplay is fast and furious. No reloading, simple puzzles, no bullshit. The cheesy FMV is a joy. Half-Life and Unreal are great, but this is nearly perfect.
Prey - Most of the best games take liberally from their predecessors, and this game has no shame about it. This is the modern 0451 game you've been waiting for. The setting is rich with atmosphere. Covert and action play-styles are well balanced, with no shortage of tools for either. The Recycler/Fabricator mechanic is totally engrossing. The semi-hub level design makes for a great mix of exploration and sightseeing. The spacesuit sections are a treat. There's plenty to do, and the quests never get to the point of feeling inconsequential. Probably my game of the year.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma - People have written about this game's combat more eloquently than I can for years. It's heavy, but always fluid. It rewards both reflex and strategy. You can be as flashy or efficient as you like. It just feels great. And yes, it's difficult, but nearly always fair. The camera is the lone hiccup, but it's a blemish on an otherwise Helen of Troy face.
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault - This might be the only game I actually hated this year. My contempt for this game has pushed all thoughts of it out of my mind, so here's what I originally posted a day or two after I finished it:
"It has possibly the worst hit detection I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with in an FPS.
The AI is anything but intelligent; you can't even call it AI, it's just pathfinding. The enemies alternate between cowering behind cover, standing stiff as a board, and rushing forward. Beautifully paired with this is a favorite of bad 90s game design-- aimbot-style, instalock accuracy.
Coupled with low-res bushes and trees that obscure everything, the jungle levels are an infuriating mess.
Most of your guns aren't worth a damn, and ammo is maddeningly scarce for those that are decent. Your squadmates are similarly worthless.
The cherry on top is the awful health system. Health packs are rarer than a night in which Bah's mom doesn't get penetrated. You can call over a guy to heal you twice a level, which doesn't always work, and you can die while being healed.
It's not a matter of being dated. This was released in the era of Far Cry, Half-Life 2, Doom 3, The Chronicles of Riddick, and other fine titles which still hold up.
A curse upon the “Comunidad en español” Steam group for helping me acquire this steaming hot basura."
XCOM 2 - This wasn't awful, but the RNG was highly problematic. You don't see the figurative dice rolls, so when your "80% chance to hit" shots continually miss, it's infuriating. I don't care what the developers say, it's not confirmation bias. While the first XCOM was maybe a bit easy, XCOM 2 is too fucking hard. This made me skip side missions so I could finish it faster, which only made things more difficult. I never found the ADVENT stuff particularly interesting. A good game, but not a worthy follow-up to the 2012 iteration.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - The gameplay gives you a ton of freedom, and generally feels great. There is an absolute wealth of side missions, collectibles, and upgrades if you're into that sort of thing. Unfortunately it's all in service of a story that is mostly non-existent and far from competently told; one that I would struggle to call even mediocre. Call me crazy, but I love the bonkers plot of MGS 1 (which had silly characters but a relatively grounded premise), 2, and 4. Big Boss is just not an interesting character. The prequel MGS games have a weird focus on real-world war that doesn't mesh with the rest of the series. MGS should have ended on the PS3. This is the game that is credited with provoking Konami to exit the industry, and for that reason alone, it is a monumental disappointment.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst - The movement is still a rush, but this game is just riddled with open-world game design scheisse. The story missions are fun, but the many side missions were churned out with little care. You retread the same ground (literally) over and over again as you collect various trinkets and help people run bullshit errands in a poorly constructed, bootleg YA-fiction dystopia. The characters are lame and unlikeable. The plot goes almost nowhere. In their infinite wisdom, EA decided to focus on the worst part of the original, the combat. Every once in a while you'll face a few mandatory waves while waiting for a door to open or something. The rest of the time, you're better off running. Just replay the original.
Mad Max/Far Cry 4 (tie) - Mad Max is Generic Open-World Game 2015. I am losing hope that this trend will die. It could not be less creative if it tried.
Far Cry 4 is Far Cry 3.
Killzone: Shadow Fall - Honestly, I thought this was pretty fun. It has some interesting non-linear levels, and the combat feels good. It's solid, but nothing special. I don't have much to say about it, but I feel like it didn't get much recognition. It's better than the usual launch fodder.
Doom (2016) - This was an awesome game, but you already knew that.
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair - A really fun arcade shooter. It's a bit longer than you'd think, so it gets tiresome. Probably better if played with a friend. The cheesy dialogue is cute.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End - The best of the Uncharted series. It's the same as the rest, but it's great.
Cold Fear - This game is famous for being an RE4 ripoff, and, well, it is. But it's entertaining, and short enough not to overstay its welcome. Forgettable, but fun.
Battlefield 1 - The campaign is aces. Amazing visuals, visceral gunplay. The anthology-style missions make for great variety and a perfect pace, and the mini-stories were well crafted.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire - I don't know what it is with me and Star Wars games. I'm honestly not even a big Star Wars fan. This isn't a very good game, and it doesn't really hold up. But the almost naïve simplicity is alluring. You have lives. There's platforming. There's auto-aim. There are vehicle stages. You might chalk it up to nostalgia on my part, but it's just fun.
Full list follows for those who are curious.
Thank you for reading!
Shadowrun Returns (PC)
Star Control II (PC)
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (PC)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II (PC)
Unreal II: The Awakening (PC)
Hitman: Blood Money (PC)
D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die (PC)
Mad Max (PC)
Star Wars Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight (PC)
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus (PC)
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PC)
Gal*Gun: Double Peace (PC)
Killzone Shadow Fall (PS4)
XCOM 2 (PC)
Far Cry 4 (PC)
Star Wars: Rebel Assault II (PC)
Ryse: Son of Rome (PC)
Bet On Soldier (PC)
Life Is Strange (PC)
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith (PC)
Doom 2016 (PC)
SiN: Wages of Sin (PC)
SiN Episodes: Emergence (PC)
Rez Infinite (PS4)
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PS4)
Cold Fear (PC)
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PC)
Ratchet & Clank (PS4)
The Order 1886 (PS4)
Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition (PS2)
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (PC)
The Saboteur (PC)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PC)
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC)
Counter-Strike: Condition Zero Deleted Scenes (PC)
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PC)
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (PC)
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (PC)
Battlefield 1 (PC)
Lollipop Chainsaw (PS3)
Titanfall 2 (PC)
Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)