Great Games! (That Didn’t Get Good Until Halfway Through)

When I think back to some of gaming’s greatest beginnings, I think of “Uncharted 2“, “Batman: Arkham City“, and “Bioshock“. They’re great games that let you know from the very start that you are in for an experience like no other.

But not all games have that luxury. In fact, the only way to appreciate games with truly great beginnings, is to play games that struggled to get started. If you’re looking for some suggestions, here are some of the greatest games of all time, that took a while to really get good.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

One of the top 5 Star Wars games, and one of the most underrated games period, “Jedi Outcast” was an absolutely brilliant tale that saw retired Jedi Kyle Katarn (who went through some absolute hell in the earlier game to want to give up being a friggin Jedi), wrapped up in the newest plot to take over the galaxy, and forced to go back into the Jedi life to solve it, while taking a little vengeance along the way. Sound pretty bad ass? Oh yeah, it is.

However, before you even get to use the force young padawan, you must slog through the game’s first few missions using nothing but guns, as the early moments are nothing but a first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. This is actually a trademark of the series, since the second game, but you see the thing is that at its design worst, “Jedi Outcast” features horrible flip switching puzzles, bad jumping sections, and aimless wandering. The first half of the game exemplifies all of these flaws, and doesn’t even give you a lightsaber or force powers to help ease the pain. It’s not like it’s the worst first person shooter ever, but it’s fairly far from the best and takes some time, and patience, to get through.

But here’s the thing. Without the dullness of that first half, that moment you meet Luke Skywalker, grab your lightsaber, use the force, and hear that beautiful “Star Wars” music swell wouldn’t be near as sweet. Earning the right to that moment is what makes it, and the game in general, so incredible. Even on subsequent playthroughs though, when you know the reward, it is still difficult to force yourself through that first half.

Deus Ex

I hate to admit this, but embarrassingly I never found the words to adequately describe “Deus Ex.” Instead, I’d refer you to the mounds of accolades and awards it accumulated, and confirm with you that it was indeed a revolutionary breath of fresh air that’s influences wouldn’t be properly noticed for years to come, as even leading developers seemingly couldn’t appreciate exactly what it was.

The average gamer may have never gotten the chance to experience that though. “Deus Ex” was a first person game, but it wasn’t really a first person shooter, and trying to play the game like that, as many at the time surely did, only led to a swift demise. That’s because while you can play the game guns blazing, in that first mission you’re forced to take a more stealthy, very careful approach as you worked though what was essentially a tutorial of the game. What hurt is that it lacked many of the character enhancement options and various tactics that made “Deus Ex” so much of what it would be. Your methodical approach towards liberating the terrorist controlled statue of liberty is the game’s lowpoint, and doesn’t lend much encouragement to seeing the rest of the game through.

Even after that lengthy intro, it takes a mission or two for the game, and plot, to find its groove and for the series RPG and strategy elements to kick in properly. Once it all comes together though (which occurs around the time of a major plot twist), its inescapable brilliance is a constant onslaught to your senses. You can retrospectively laugh at gamers that didn’t stick through the beginning of “Deus Ex”, but really the game did itself no favors in immediately making itself welcome.
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The 31 Horror Games of October: Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

As Halloween draws near, here are the final 10 greatest horror games of all time, any of which would be more than worthy for a Halloween night marathon.

10. Alien vs Predator 2 – A couple funny things about this game being on this list. One, its actually more of a sci-fi shooter than a full on horror game. Two, there are three main stories to play through and two of them (that have you playing as the alien and the predator) are entertaining, but far from scary. What gets it on the list is the 5-8 hour colonial marine campaign. If the best aspect of horror games is how they make you feel like you’re not ready for what’s next, then this may be the best example of it.

Around every corner waits a new threat, and the tension of awaiting it is only outmatched by the fright itself. It may be a sci-fi game but it’s also one of the best examples of the “haunted house” effect I can think of. You would think that the heavy arsenal at your disposal would help, but it only leads you into a false sense of security. The “Alien vs Predator” movies may have been abominations, but if you never played this game, I can’t begin to adequately describe the terror you are denying yourself.

9. Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth – An almost impossibly underrated title, where as most horror games take elements of the works of H.P. Lovecraft for their scares, this is a direct adaptation of several of those titles. What I love about the game is how much it feels like a love letter to the genre, as so many elements present in the game are horror conventions that are effectively implemented so that they sure to give any fright fan an impossible to shake ear to ear grin. Well, until it’s replaced with a look of cold fear that is. As much as “Call of Cthulu” is a fun experience, it is an even greater trip through pure terror. The monsters design is superb, the ammo is appropriately sparse, the sound is a highlight reel of bumps in the night, and the game features some of the best set piece moments you’ll see in the genre.

Particular mention here must go to the escape scene in the town of Innsmouth, where your early investigations lead you to conclude that everyone in the town is incredibly indifferent, and even hostile. That instinct would turn out to be dead on as the entire populace starts chasing you with the intention to kill. It’s a flawless escape sequence that puts you into the game like few other titles can even hope to do, and is a perfect example of the brilliance of this title.

8. Dead Space – Picking up “Dead Space” originally for a quick play through, I didn’t understand the hype. After all, at the time it was being heralded as the savior of the survival horror genre and one of the most terrifying games ever made to boot. My mistake was only playing the game for a short burst though.

“Dead Space” is a game that begs you, even dares you, to immerse yourself in it. Turn off the lights, shut down the phone, crank up the volume, and see how far you can make it before the sheer terror overwhelms you. The brilliance of “Dead Space” is in the collection of all the little things it does well, like removing a lot of the traditional HUD elements on the screen and subtly putting them on your characters back, or how almost all of your weapons are mining tools re-purposed for your current slaughter needs. There’s also the bolder elements like the horrific creature design, and the emptiness of the space station setting making you feel like you are truly fighting your way out of hell and into the unknown. I was gravely mistaken for thinking “Dead Space” was anything less than one of the greatest horror games of all time, and I now recognize it as perhaps the prime example of effective atmosphere in gaming.

7. Left 4 Dead 2 – The greatest zombie game ever made? Well…not quite but it is certainly the most entertaining. Valve struck horror gold when they devised the idea of allowing 4 players to fight their way through the zombie apocalypse in the original “Left 4 Dead.” With the sequel, they perfected the experience by incorporating more enemies, more characters, better levels, and more modes.

The entire game works because of its intense level design which is open enough to make you feel like you’re not boxed in, but still linear enough to make the choke point moments work. Even better is the community aspect, as “Left 4 Dead” perfectly allows you to live out those conversations you have with your friends about what you all would do in a zombie apocalypse. That’s not to say the game is entirely about fun, as the scares are plentiful and often come in the form of the sheer overwhelming numbers you face, and the special zombies that complicate your survival intentions with their unique abilities (especially the Witches, which are essentially the nuclear weapons of the zombie horde). “Left 4 Dead 2″ is a simple idea executed to absolute perfection.

6. System Shock 2 – Remember earlier when I mentioned that “Dead Space” is perhaps the prime example of atmosphere in gaming? Well, that’s because there are a couple of other contenders on this list, with “System Shock 2″ being chief among them. The theme of the game is isolation, as you are sent to investigate the sudden stoppage of the world’s most advanced ship. One it becomes clear that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong on board, your only companion is a surviving analyst who guides you to her location, and your only goal is to survive and hope that by reaching her you can regain a sense of perspective about what is going on around you. In your path is a host of mechanical and organic enemies as well as a very real sense of hopelessness that threatens your progress more than any in-game element.

“System Shock” is the spiritual pre-cursor to “Bioshock” and many of its elements were highly influential on the “Deus Ex” series. While that gives you an idea of how revolutionary it was at the time, I’m happy to say I can do no real justice to the game’s atmosphere. You are truly alone in this world. While it’s a world filled with incredible amounts of backstory and political intrigue if you go looking for it, that doesn’t make it feel any less unwelcoming. Capped off by one of the greatest plot twists in video game history, “System Shock 2″ is one of the few great entrants of the horror genre in the games are art debate.

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The Next Project From the Developers of “The Witcher 2″ Looks More than Promising

Maybe it was watching “Blade Runner” over and over in high school, or maybe it was beating “Deus Ex” about 20 times, but somewhere along the way I acquired a taste for cyberpunk worlds. Often cited as being full of “high tech and low lifes,” there is something immensely appealing about a world where technology has made anything possible, and yet, in many instances, all hope is lost.

I couldn’t be more thrilled then to hear that CD Projekt Red (developers of the brilliant “Witcher 2”) have officially announced their much hyped new title will be called “Cyberpunk 2077.” Unless the game is just going for complete misdirection, it looks to be an RPG set in my beloved world of gears and fears.

Outside of that, the only thing we really know about the game is that it has an official website, a facebook page, and looks to be set in the fictional town of Night City (on the west coast, in between LA and San Francisco) which means it will essentially be the video game adaptation of the tabletop classic “Cyberpunk 2020,” which, according to the press release, is going to be a major source of inspiration for this title, right down to gameplay concepts.

Oh, and there may or may not be a half naked, half robot girl with scythe implants if you are to believe the promotional image. I’m going to bet may on that one, however.

Is it too early to get excited for a game we know virtually nothing about? Well, considering that you’ve got an immensely talented developer working off of a deep and well aged source material in a universe that is still relatively fresh in video games, I’m going to say the odds are long that this isn’t going to at least be an intriguing title. Even with games like “GTA V,” “Bioshock Infinite,” “The Last of Us,” “Watch Dogs,” and so many more on the horizon, I’ve still got this one pretty high on my most wanted list.

Team Fortress 2 and Other Games That Would Make Great TV Series

If you head over to Adult Swim’s website right now, you’ll find an interesting teaser. Apparently, next week Valve and Adult Swim are going to be revealing a collaboration that they describe as “their video game peanut butter… our network chocolate” and “something that you’ll probably enjoy.” The picture accompanying the announcement makes it pretty clear that this is something “Team Fortress 2“-related, and speculation everywhere has it at everything from the long-awaited “Meet the Pyro” episode of the “Meet the Team” series, to a full-on new TV series based on the insanely popular online shooter.

Considering that “Team Fortress 2″ is one of the most purely entertaining games of all time, with a comic style and personality that is unmatched in its medium, and that those “Meet the Team” videos are some of the funniest things ever produced in relation to a video game, whatever comes of this announcement is sure be a bonafide success.

Personally, I’m hoping for a “Red vs Blue” style online miniseries.

It is odd, though, that video games and television shows are two mediums that don’t have much of a celebrated history, or anticipated future of collaboration. Video games made into movies have been a popular subject of discussion for years, but for some reason very few people ever consider the potential for games as TV shows. While “Team Fortress 2” might be the strongest argument for the games to series transition in the history of video games, the truth is that I think there are at least five other titles that would do very well in an episodic format.

“Fallout”

How It Would Work: Three letters. H-B-O. The world of the “Fallout” series is one of the most brutal, bleak and terrifying of all time. Around every corner waits a new horror and atrocity, and just about every person left has become a hardened bastard because it’s the only thing that’s allowed them to survive.

It’s the perfect world for HBO’s no limit programming.

More than the violence, though, this show would need HBO’s creative freedom to really showcase the  ”Fallout” series’ biggest success, and that’s the world it takes place in. The 50s style atmosphere, mixed with the total apocalypse, is the thing that made the series stand out above all others, and it leads to some of the greatest dark humor in any medium. From the always gleeful “Fallout Boy” mascot to the incredibly inappropriate yet oddly fitting classic soundtrack, there is so much in this series that you wouldn’t have to change a bit of to make it shine as something truly unique and incredible.

What’s better is that you wouldn’t be stuck with the parameters of the series story either. There are so many tales waiting to be told that you could just borrow ideas from the established parts of the series and have more than enough foundation for even a mediocre script writer to build something truly compelling with.

In fact, with the possible exception of “Team Fortress 2,” “Fallout” is the series perhaps most primed for television. Just please… no Deathclaws. They scared me enough in the game already when I accidentally found Old Oney too early, and I certainly don’t need any more of them.

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Deus Ex 3 gets a few new screenshots

Deus Ex 3 lighter.

Deus Ex was a huge part of my upbringing in video games. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Eidos announced Deus Ex 2. Even though the game was a bit of a letdown, I have high hopes for Deus Ex 3. The game could be incredible if Eidos just returns to the roots of the original. Honestly, I would take Deus Ex with updated graphics.

Eidos leaked two screenshots this week that have me more than a little concerned. The first shot is just a lighter. The second, that same lighter…wait for it…lighting a cigarette! How cool is that? You’re right, it’s not. Not at all. This is about the worst screenshot leak I’ve seen. Does the lighting look good? Of course it does, but there are hundreds of ways to show off cool lighting. Remember the first trailer for Black? That thing rocked, at a time when graphics on the Xbox were just starting to get decent.

The one saving grace is that the Eidos Community Guy that posted the screens said, “I can’t say a darn thing about this other than people who like to go into details will shortly have some new material to dissect.” Let’s hope it’s something good.

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