When one first upgrades their computer, the perspective is one of, “I wonder if this game I had trouble with before plays better now.” After the new computer buzz wears off a bit, one begins to realize that all their games play the same, just without lag. (With the exception of games which were so laggy that they were unplayable to begin with, but I think my old ATI X1600XT still pulled enough pixels on lower settings that I never quite encountered that.) So it is that I look to my pile of games and wonder at what in the way of not technical superiority but rather quality there is to play.
(Defined as games I had sitting around my house for awhile.)
Real-Time Strategy: Supreme Commander.
As far as Real Time Strategy goes, Supreme Commander is the purest and most powerful take to it. The tried-and-true Total Annihilation balance meets cutting-edge GUI innovation. No other RTS allows you to command hundreds of units quite as well. Technically, it’s one of the few games that makes truly good use out of multiple-core CPUs. The latest expansion adds a few things, but the core game is solid enough.
Turn-Based Strategy: UFO Afterlight
It’s not exactly turn-based, but close to it, because you plan out actions and then pause or resume the action as you see fit. Thus, the thought-based mechanic of a turn-based strategy game is maintained. The earlier UFO games (Aftershock and Aftermath) are fairly awful – I can only recommend them to those who have a strong stomach and don’t mind plodding through a difficultly balanced game. Afterlight, however, is considerably better balanced. It’s still quite difficult (in a good ol’ X-Com sort of way) and not entirely stable at times, but this game has robbed me of quite a few nights rest.
Roleplay First Person Shooter: S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is not getting its own entry because, frankly, I’m sick of it. The atmosphere enthralled me at first, but eventually it wears off. (For me, this is when I first completed the main campaign. For Yahtzee, it apparently was when he first installed it.) At that point, a very tired and humdrum game is revealed. I tried many of the plethora of mods that have been made by the fan community for it, but they do not solve the overall problem that core game the engine presents is very simplistic in nature. Throw fireball, swing sword, spam heal/potions, win. Blah!
(S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky trailer.)
I mention this here because S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an awesome Oblivion replacement. It does take place in an alternate universe Chernobyl (site of a major nuclear catastrophe), a far cry from Tamriel. However, the atmosphere, Oblivion’s main trumpcard, is several times better in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Just as importantly, the gameplay involved is much more interesting: pointing and shooting with variable accuracy pistols and rifles feels much more involved.
Though I loved vanilla S.T.A.L.K.E.R. until I first completed it, I found the replay value weak. That’s why I’m happy to say that I found the (ironically named) Oblivion Lost mod to greatly enhance the replayability. It does this by introducing many elements of worldliness, unpredictability, balance, foes, and in-game equipment. I have yet to read up on the recently released “clear sky” official expansion much, and considering how good Lost Oblivion is I’ll probably be checking for compatibility first.
Fantasy Action Roleplay: Two Worlds
Maybe you prefer to Oblivion alternatives to be fantasy based, and in that case I offer Two Worlds. This game had a much poorer reception than Oblivion amongst reviewers and players alike, but I feel that’s mostly a first impression problem. Once you get into it, Two Worlds offers a much more organic feel and more interesting gameplay.
(Two Worlds gameplay)
The cities and peasants feel considerably more natural, not like they were placed there with the Elder Scrolls Construction Set. The basic combat in Two Worlds feels simplistic at first, but it picks up as you earn a number of hotbar-enabled abiltiies and learn the importance of dodging and watching your opponents movements. The spells are somewhat recycled, but that’s a crime Oblivion is equally guilty of, and the effects in Two World are actually quite a bit more diverse. Only in Two Worlds may you find yourself laying out flaming fields of fire, slowly baking your enemies to death.
The main issue with Two Worlds I can find are that the engine isn’t as pretty as Oblivion, the physics arent’ as well implemented, the controls are a bit tougher to master (especially the oddness of horseback riding and getting snagged on a pebble) and that the balance is a bit strange. It’s one of those “open-balance” RPGs where the players are pretty much free to accumulate wildly, with things such as herbs you can mix to create permanent stat increases. That’s actually a bit cool once you get used to it, the enemies I encounter deeper into the game seem to be well-balanced to counter the juggernaut of a character I end up with.
Roleplay First Person Shooter #2: BioShock
BioShock is Ken Levine’s endeavor to prove that games can be artistically incredible and still good, and this is reflected throughout its environment: A horror action-adventure shooter that takes place in a 1950s-style underwater city where society has gone horribly wrong. I shouldn’t need to say more – would you kindly just try it?
The main counterpoint of BioShock is the replay value. All those neat story twists are spent, and the balance isn’t all that tough. (There is a difficulty and balance mod… I have yet to try it, but should.) The ending is very clique, and only two endings (a black and a white) the immersive environment is somewhat wasted. Some people can replay BioShock, but (having not tried the mod) I can’t say I see the appeal after the first (quite awesome) trip through Rapture.
(Defined as games I recently purchased or am considering purchasing.)
Action: Lost Planet: Colonies
Made by Capcom, Lost Planet has a very console-like feel to it: Run around, pick up weapons, fire away against super CGI-rendered beings great and small. However, so far as showcasing cutting edge hardware goes, there’s probably no better game to do it. Yes yes, Crysis… but Crysis’s technical superiority is diminished somewhat by its simple first-person-shooter gameplay (even the special suit abilities were not quite enough to overcome this). Lost Planet just feels a whole lot more epic… perhaps that has something to do with the several story tall aliens you’re put up against. The artistic direction alone make this game very easy to recommend, but the gameplay itself is quite solid.
Action Adventure: Assassin’s Creed
UbiSoft’s Assassin’s Creed is the rare game that is heavily hyped yet actually survived the hyping process looking good. Like many of the games listed here, Assassin’s Creed excels in both atmosphere and gameplay. The atmosphere is a truly stunning representation of the middle east during the middle ages, with perhaps the most realistic-feeling city life if any game listed here. The gameplay itself is a really well executed combination of third-person sneaking, combat, and perhaps the most sophisticated representation of an acrobatic, building-climbing character ever.
(Assassin’s Creed Gameplay)
I have not really penetrated Assassin’s Creed very far yet, so I’m projecting a bit when reaching for the downside of this game. It seems to me that the plot is a bit loopy – it’s one of multiple layers that seeks to keep the player in the dark as long as possible. Further, there’s some bothersome travel time sequences that are good at preserving immersion but at the cost of unneccessary down time.
Sci-Fi Roleplay: Mass Effect
At its core, Mass Effect is many hard-found games wrapped into one. The open-ended planet exploration of Starflight. The cover-based quasi-FPS combat of Gears of War. The 3D atmopheric adventure of Anacronox. Of course, the Bioware style story and action fusion found in games such as Knights of the Old Republic. However, Mass Effect’s wrapper is one fresh out of the high production value military Sci-Fi movie, and it feels great from start to finish. There’s even some replay value here in terms of being able to take your character through again and again to unlock achievements and special skills.
Very excitingly, Mass Effect is said to be the first part of a three-part series in which your character’s choices will influence the course of.
I noticed as I compiled this list that clearly my preference in games is in atmospheric-feeling games with relatively deep gameplay behind them. I’m thoroughly burnt from MMORPGs, and perhaps that’s for the best: those things are terrible time suckers for often sub-par experiences. Of these games, I’ve already completed most of them, but Assassin’s Creed and Lost Planet are two that I’ve yet to really get into yet.
I haven’t done much BYOND work lately. The game I made isn’t panning out right. I’m not a real big believer in the concept of “balancing in” the game because I think a game should be good on the core level. So it seems that currently I’m doing some “research”. Playing good games like these help remind me what I enjoy about games in ways that two weeks of screwing around with BYOND code can make one forget.