Rants, rambles, news and notes from another geek

Games I'm Enjoying Lately

I first started playing games on computers the day after we got our first computer way back in 1978 or 1979 on our venerable Ohio Scientific Challenger 4P. Man, those were good times. Tanks and mazes… that was about all we had.

In the 80s, when we lived in Egypt and had an Apple II+, I would type the games in, line-by-line, from the backs of magazines. I’m still convinced that I really learned to debug computer programs back in these days.

And I’ve been a gamer ever since.

Lately, I’ve been playing a bunch of different games, looking for something that I can really get into for a while. Although I’ve had fun playing almost all of them, I’ve still not found any with real staying power for me. But I have had a chance to play a number of different games on a few different platforms.

Here are some review of what I’ve been playing lately, and a look to what I’m waiting for.

What I’ve Been Playing

World of Warcraft - PC

Metacritic Score: 90-93

Yes, I still play Wow. I’ve been playing since the tail-end of so-called “Vanilla Wow”, but I have severely cut back on the amount of time I play it. I still raid two nights a week with my long time guildmates and friends but on non-raiding nights, I just can’t seem to bring myself to login and play.

The thing I always liked about Wow was the team & social nature of the game. Working together with 5, 10 or 25 people (or even 40 in the olden days) to figure out how to defeat one of the dungeons is a blast. Problem solving, leadership, joking, laughing and then the joy of victory. But while the non-raiding parts of the game used to keep me engaged, it has lost its luster, which is why I’ve been dabbling in so many others.

Dead Space 2 - PC

Metacritic Score: 87

This game can be pretty scary at times, as you expect from a survival horror FPS. Tons of scary shit coming at you all the time. The upgrade and leveling system was a bit weird, but I muddled my way through and seemed to maintain decent killing power.

The magnetic grip things is a blast to kill with. You can grab steel rods, saw blades, etc. (kinda like Half-Life) and rip the monsters in half. Great fun and recommended if you like the scary stuff.

Like so many FPS/RPG games though, I didn’t actually finish it before moving on to something else.

Skyrim - PC

Metacritic Score: 94

The whole world was raving about Skyrim a few months ago, so I had to give it a try. I got it for a steal during one of Steam’s special sales, and I have to admit it is a fun game. When the modding community really got rolling that was fun too.

But I have a problem in general with single player RPGs, and it is that I just start to get bored. I don’t really “role play”, so for me the fun is in the puzzles and challenges. In every single player RPG I’ve played I find that once I figure out the basic fighting mechanics, it becomes very rote, very quickly.

I will say, this game is one of the most beautiful game worlds I’ve played in a long time. If you install the HD textured pack (free downloadable content) it is even better, but make sure you have a good graphics card.

I still may return to Skyrim for some more dragon killing and whatnot, but it just hasn’t been able to draw me back in more than a month.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction - PC

Metacritic Score: 83

Sneak and spy RPGs are a lot of fun, especially when you’re first getting started. This one has very nice graphics, and a pretty reasonable set of controls and mechanics. Like many games that are also console games, there aren’t as many controls and options as a big MMO, and that is good for this kind of game. Crouch, sneak, aim, shoot, stab, etc.

I did really enjoy this game but there is one thing that really annoyed me and made me stop playing. Ubisoft totally screwed the pooch on making the wireless Xbox controller for PC work. And since they don’t give you any configuration options for the controller buttons, you pretty much have to use the keyboard. (Apparently it works fine with a wired controller but that isn’t what I have. Also there are some hacks here and there and I almost got one to work, but then I gave up and started playing something else.)

A good game. Good playstyle, an interesting story line, and it is always fun to grab a bad guy from outside a window and toss him down four floors to the street below.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - PC

Metacritic Score: 90

I am still playing this one on-and-off. Unlike Splinter Cell, this one works perfectly with my Xbox wireless controller. It has the stealthy aspects of Splinter Cell. You also can just run and gun if you want to play that way, but it is not nearly as much fun.

There is an achievement called Ghost that was fun to get. Basically you have to get through an entire level without getting seen. And given that you do have to take some people out in almost every level, that can be fun to pull off.

This one has some interesting sci-fi aspects and a recurring mini-game that they call “hacking”, but that is basically dependent on whether you spent the right talent points and get lucky with the RNG.

A good game, probably will give it some more time.

Rage - PC

Metacritic Score: 79

I grabbed this one in another Steam weekend sale and it was a lot of fun for a while. It is not-quite a rail shooter, but also not at all an open environment game. Graphically it is clearly an Id game, as it just has that “Doom feel” so many of their titles have.

What really makes this game interesting is the constant transition between vehicle fighting and dungeon-like instances. Any time you get a mission, you have to drive there. Along the way you will do combat with bad guys also in vehicles. This is fun.

There are also races you can do to get car upgrades, so if you want to just do that, you can play this as if it were a car game. An in-town “mission board” provides odd-jobs you can do, and some of those are fun. (I really liked being the sniper defender from 300 yards away while the work crew repaired something.)

As I mentioned before the dungeon instances are pretty much rail shooters (no real path choices, just keep going forward blasting everying you see) but there are a few puzzles to solve here and there.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - PC

Metacritic Score: 78

I really liked multi-player CoD:MW2 until the aimbotting got so bad I had to get one myself just to compete. And then it was boring. CoD: Black Ops was also pretty good, and while some people didn’t like the way the servers worked (publicly controlled with various rules and configs), I actually liked it. I especially liked the so-called crouch servers where you had to always stay crouched or you’d get kicked. It slowed the game down and make it more strategic as opposed to just full-speed run and gun.

I was optimistic when Modern Warfare 3 was announced, but unfortunately I think I played it for less than a month. Like all of the CoD games, I really enjoyed the single player campaign and the small-scale coop missions, but the MP was all crazy run-and-gun. A few of the new battleground styles were fun, but I just got bored.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll do another big only FPS for a while after this one. I know the new CoD was just announced, but unless I can get it for cheap, I will probably pass.

Old School Racer - Windows Phone

Metacritic Score: not available

I saw my son playing some side scrolling motorcycle stunt game on his iPod Touch, so decided to look around for something similar for my phone. There are actually two versions of this game “Old School Racer” and “Old School Racer Classic”. One is a typical outside motorcycle trials game and the other has all kinds of weird environments.

I played both games all the way through. I found the tilt control to be passable , it was easier to play with the left thumb lean bar.

A good game for a small screen, but it didn’t feel as natural as I’d like. Still a pretty fun phone game for a buck. (BTW, this game is apparently known as OSR Unhinged on Xbox.)

iStunt 2 - Windows Phone & iOS

Metacritic Score: 82

I found this one purely by accident, and it is a blast. The same idea as other stunt side scrollers like Old School Racer, but this time you’re snowboarding. It has grabs, flips, rail slides, gravity flips and zero-G zones.

This one I played through in both Stunt and Time Trial mode, of course getting all stars on all levels. This is a bit of an obsession for me with games that keep score this way, and that includes things like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. I simply can’t stop until I get all the points. I will do a level for as long as it takes to get that last star, and I didn’t get bored of this one too quickly to achieve that.

For $3 it is a bit more money than some other phone games, but it is worth it. The tilt controls are natural and work well. The stunts are fun, and often required to get that last star. My son has it on his iPod and it was fun for us to be sitting side-by-side working on levels. Recommended.

(You can play the Flash version of this game on the Miniclip site but without the tilt and shake of the phone, it feels totally different.)

Trials HD and Trials Evolution

Metacritic Score: 86-91

I knew there had to be a good stunt trials kind of game on the Xbox and these two are it. It has good graphics and physics, easy levels and ridiculously hard levels. It has rewards for achievements, even some that cross games. (I really wanted the Micro Donkey 60cc mini bike in Evolution so had to go back to trials HD to get the Unyielding achievement. That one was hard!)

If your Xbox Live friends also have the game, you can see an in-game marker indicating their best time & position on that track. It can be a bit distracting though as you try to make sure you don’t get “beat” by the your friends.

Evolution added a bunch of new things to the classic HD motorcycle game. There are skiing courses, a very cool map editor (you can share maps), and even mutliplayer races (my son always wins).

I’m still playing through these two games because, as you may have guessed, I still don’t have gold medals on all the levels. Oh, and the hard+ levels are frigging HARD!

Other Games of Interest

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Metacritic Score: 85

The newest Wow-killer certainly took a dent out of it. A lot of my friends left Wow to play SW:ToR, but many of them also came back after the leveling part was over. From what people are telling me, the story line and leveling are second to none for an MMO, but the end game raiding experience is way behind.

I have an account, but still haven’t activated it. Let’s see if it lasts longer than the other so-called Wow killers from the past two years.

Fallout: New Vegas

Metacritic Score: 84

I bought this one a long time ago when I was playing Fallout 3, but by the time I was done with that, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep going. It is still sitting there in my Steam library waiting for me and maybe I’ll go back and give it a try some day.

Just Cause 2

Metacritic Score: 84

I actually played this one three or four times and it was interesting. I like the grapple thing, but as I was playing Skyrim as the time I gave up pretty early. It has a bunch of other interesting gameplay mechanics too, so if you can get it cheap, it might be worth a try.

We’ll see if it draws me back.

Half-Life 2: Episode 3

Metacritic Score: not yet released

I absolutely loved the entire Half-Life series and played them all through to the end, even the Lost Coast mini expansion. Occasionally scary, but always fun, I’ve been eagerly waiting for any new at all from Valve about the continuation of this franchise. These are probably the only first person RPGs I’ve actually stuck with end-to-end and come back for more.

Hopefully this isn’t a dead series, because I think there is more good stuff possible here. Valve has made occasional statements about it, but still nothing concrete. And given how well Portal 2 did last year, I wonder if they will just go back to that pool to drink. (Of course, Portal 2 was a great game, and the coop was super-fun, but I want some HL2:E3!!)

Battlefield 3

Metacritic Score: 89

I sorta wish I’d bought this instead of CoD:MW3, but… well… I didn’t. And by the time I gave up MW3, I wasn’t interested in another combat & warfare FPS.

But friends have told me that the vehicle combat is great, so I may go back and get this if I can grab it for a steal.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Metacritic Score: not yet released

This was just announced and will ship before the holiday season this year. Apparently set in a much more futuristic setting than the classic CoD games, this one could be very interesting. Since it is a Treyarch game like he last Black Ops, I’m hoping it has the same kind of public multiplayer server community, so it doesn’t become just another speed run-and-gun game. We’ll see.

It is available for pre-order pretty much everywhere, but given that the release date isn’t until November, I’m in no rush to hand over my money.

Halo: Reach

Metacritic Score: 91

Like some of the others listed here at the end, I own this one but haven’t really sat down to play it yet. I did find aiming to be a bit hard with the controller but that was probably just lack of practice, since I don’t generally play FPS games on the Xbox.

Wrap up

I’m still looking for a good MMO to take the place Wow has had for me for the last few years, but there are certainly a lot of good games out there to play and I’m having fun trying them all out. I love that so many of the games now have trials you can play before committing the real money. The number of games I’ve tried but not purchased on the phone and Xbox is crazy.