Classics: System Shock 2

I finally finished System Shock 2 today after gathering enough guts and I'd say the praises it received is not without merit. It is a fine example that games has to have heart for it to be a classic. It has absorbed me from the very beginning and did not let go until the end. I'll list what I like about the game below:

Pros:

  • The atmosphere is palpable.
  • The game really has a feel of cohesion to it. Every element of the game complements each other. It's like a team held a meeting, put all their ideas on the table, merged it all together and achieved a singular vision of what the game should be.
  • The game is tense and outright creepy.
  • Superb voice acting makes every audio log compelling to hear. It also helps that much of the back story from the logs add to the player's immersion.
  • The sound design is also one of the best in gaming. If there's an enemy around the corner you could hear them from a distance and know their position just by the sound blaring through your headphones. It keeps you on your toes.
  • Skill upgrades provide a sense of progress and encourage experimentation.
  • Rewards exploration of the world plus the level design is varied and interesting throughout. Once I finished exploring a certain level I instantly have a sense of the place and know it like the back of my hand which is a great feeling.
  • Enemy design is very impressive. Facing a cyborg midwife has ALWAYS sent chills down my spine.
  • SHODAN is one of the best antagonist to ever grace video games.
  • Combat is fun in a Skyrim clunky way. Depleting enemy health bars is thrilling and gives a feeling of relief.

Cons:

  • Respawning enemies and they can visibly turn up out of thin air.
  • Some upgrades are more useful than others

I wholeheartedly recommend this title for anyone who wants to be immersed in a beautiful and twisted place. Don't forget to check out some essential mods like the SHTUP as it will enhance the resolution of the texture making the graphics easier to swallow.

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Top 9 of 2012

2012 has been a great year for me in terms of what I played. I finally got the chance to touch some of the games on my backlog hence latest games have been a lesser priority for me this year. Nonetheless I've managed to finish seven games from this year and I''ll rank them accordingly.

Here are my top 9 games of 2012:

9. Spec Ops: The Line- A different take on the standard military shooter which puts you on the shoes of Walker, a soldier obsessed with making things right on the Middle East. Most of the game is unremarkable except for the character development.

8. Binary Domain- This one took me by surprise. It's a standard cover-based with a heart of gold. No single element of this game really stood out but the intriguing story and the various set-pieces make it easy to bear the derivative nature of the game. It is better than the sum of its parts.

7. Max Payne 3- Max Payne is one miserable bloke. He is being gunned down at every turn by bad guys and all of the people he cared about is caught in the crossfire of his life. His back story is arguably one of the best in video games and that is why I was happy to hear that Max would return for another murderfest. Remedy is out of the picture though which left Rockstar to continue the tale of Max. For a game that boldly stripped things that made its predecessor so great the result was better than I expected.

The core gameplay has been changed to give more emphasis on cover-based shooting rather than run-and-gun action. This coincides with the story Rockstar wants to tell that Max is getting old and weak due to past events and alcohol and drug abuse. The storytelling was also changed. Gone are the comic strips and it's definitely not Noir anymore which made me really sad. Luckily, Max's internal monologue is still kick-ass and the game ended in such a way that Max was finally given a life of peace and that left me happy.

6. Mass Effect 3- I got around playing Mass Effect 3 the same time as Brad and like him I avoided much of the spoilers before going in. All I know is that I was in for something different, something that has encouraged endless discussions over the interwebs. The whole game was a standard Mass Effect affair with all the character interactions, rich lore and squad combat we know and love. I really like that this game is largely all about the cameo appearances of all the members of your crew and rightfully so because (for me) the pull of the Mass Effect universe are the relationships you cultivate through your journey. It is really sad then that the payoff felt forced. Still I enjoyed throwing frags on Brutes and slowing down time showering bullets on Banshees. Also making love to alien life form.

5. Legend of Grimrock- Everything old is new again. This game is a proper homage to old school RPGs like Wizardry and Daggerfall. The thrill of gaining levels and loots to best the challenges of a dungeon is here in full effect. For this generation obsessed with frame rates and polygons it's hard not to admire Legend of Grimrock's minimalistic approach to gameplay and presentation. It's the type of game which introduces limited mechanics and takes full use of it. Its simplistic "square dance" combat is intense due to the toughness and variety of enemies. The challenge not only comes in combat but also in inventory management, food consumption and ingenious puzzles. The difficulty ramps up quite nicely letting you learn the basics and tricks for handling different types of enemies before pitting you against almost insurmountable odds. The dungeon holds many secrets and loots that the game is compulsively addicting urging you to take just one more step to unravel a new mystery. I just wish that the combat is turn-based.

4. Mark of the Ninja- Sleek in its style and execution of stealth mechanics Mark of the Ninja rarely got dull from beginning to end as every level introduces new ways to kill or get around your enemies. The core mechanic is simple enough so as to be accessible but the depth is amazing that it can cater to your own style of play whether you want to kill all the enemies or sneak past them without detection. The levels have many ins and outs similar to Deus Ex and the way the visibility of the character and enemies' vision cones are handled make it easy for you to devise your plan of attack. This game will make you feel like a total badass without sacrificing much of the challenge.

3. Hotline Miami- This game is really something. The precision of the controls is damn near Super Meat Boy and the violence is exciting and high-octane. The 80s vibe also complements the story and the atmosphere well. Also the soundtrack is really bonkers. Never have I played something that triggered my adrenaline rush quite as effectively until this game came along. Although really, really short, the experience is definitely worthwhile.

2. Sleeping Dogs- Open world games has to have the right feel for me to truly enjoy them. It has to have tangible culture and atmosphere. Sleeping Dogs has both of that in spades. Sleeping Dogs is so good I wonder why it almost got canned in the first place. Granted it took nearly all of its ideas from other games but the execution of that ideas is exceptional. The story is solid and engaging for the most part and the setting is painted with a brilliant oriental flair depicting a beautiful modern Hong Kong.

1. The Walking Dead- Game of the Year baby! I have written my thoughts on this game on my previous blog post. Suffice to say it is an unforgettable experience that should not be missed by anyone.

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The Walking Dead Experience

The Walking Dead

Wow! Where to even begin? Well let me start by saying that The Walking Dead is a game everyone should play because it is fantastic. It has numerous moments of shock, awe and grief that tapped into my emotions better than most of the games I played as of yet. Rarely does a game give me goose bumps but this one has it in spades. This game hinges on its story and it succeeds in that aspect carrying the game through to the very end mainly because of player choice. Your choice matter in this game and at every turn the games remind you of that and the consequences of your actions has a very tangible, realistic payoff. The characterization is outstanding and most of the ones who would be a part of your journey is excellently realized and multidimensional. Lee Everett and Clementine raised the bar for video game tandems.

Here's just a chunk of your crew of survivors you'll adore or hate or both

This game is very story driven in fact that the gameplay is so basic. That's not to say that the game is boring because it is not. The key in the implementation of the gameplay elements is the timing of every prompt and the context of the scene. For example the prompt in a scene using force (pushing or pulling etc.) will have you just tapping Q then pressing E at the right moment. Another prompt is the obligatory use of firearms by pressing aiming with the mouse and firing with the mouse button. These prompts may sound very dull on paper but it connects to the on-screen action well enough that it adds to the immersion. It is used at just the right amount keeping it from getting stale. The pacing is perfect giving you ample time to breath and think things through before moving to the next scene and I tell you this game will get you thinking A LOT. It is emotionally draining for the most part as the game is relentless on giving you tough choices and jaw-dropping scenes one after the next. Tension is always running high in this game as the survivors struggle against nature (zombies) and among themselves.

The graphics and animation is great for the most part. The sound effects and voice acting conveys the right mood and atmosphere of the game. The game is not perfect though as there are some technical foibles like the movement and its controls might be stiff at times and there are some stilted frames of animation here and there but these are hardly an issue once you get sucked into the story and it happened almost instantaneously on my part. There is rarely a dull moment in the whole series as every scene has weight and relevance to the narrative especially when your decision is important on how the story plays out.

Okay that is just an overview of the game. The rest of this entry would be filled with MASSIVE SPOILERS so if I convinced you enough to play the game already (which I hopefully did) you can come back here to read the rest of my thoughts about the game.

Decisions Made (MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!)

I will now discuss the 25 major decisions I made in the game. These are the summarized decisions at the end of every chapter.

Episode 1:

1. Lie to Hershel- I chose to not lie to him and that goes for the rest of my philosophy in the game. I never concealed information in every turn and I even told everyone of my past.

2. Duck or Shawn- I chose Shawn because I'm an ass but also because I thought I owed Shawn and Hershel something for taking us in. Also I blame Duck's stupidity for getting Shawn stuck in the vehicle.

3. Loyalty (Kenny or Larry)- So in this particular choice I picked that we have to reason with Larry and that put me in his side which I did not intend to. But that is what I like about the game. It doesn't give easy exits and you may have a choice as Lee but you can't control what other characters can or cannot do.

4. Mercy (Give the gun to Irene)- So this scene is good because it's a pseudo-euthanasia dilemma. I opted to give her the gun as I believe that it's her call on how to end her life. Also turning into a zombie is a fate worse than death.

5. Doug or Carley- Man this choice really gave me the creeps. It is certainly one of the defining moment that kept me hooked for the rest of the game. I chose Carley though because she's a nice journalist and I think that her experience in shooting will be a valuable asset. Doug is not bad though and I feel sorry for him but decisions have to be made.

Episode 2:

6. Savior (Chopped David's Leg)- Episode 2 starts out strong with a live or let die scene. Of course I saved the dude because it would be heartless to leave him alone in the forest.

7. Interrogation (Shot Jolene?)- I didn't have enough information to go on so I did not shoot Jolene although I got a bit panicky cause you know crazy people can do that to normal people. Right then and there I knew that something was up with the St. John's.

8. Pragmatism (Helped Kill Larry?)- Man this scene ughh... Just thinking about it makes me cringe. I chose to do the CPR but then Oh God BAM! Gee, this scene really is stuck in my head for days now. It's hard to like Larry but then it would be murder to kill him in cold blood. Besides turning is not instantaneous so I don't know the deal about Kenny throwing that salt lick with reckless abandon. One of my favorite scenes in the game.

9. Revenge (Killed Both St. John's Brothers?)- I killed Danny because he taunted me and I left Andy because everyone was looking at me. Also the dead came already so what's the point?

10. Survival (Stole Food from the Car?)- Yeah I stole food from the car considering that some of the characters haven't eaten in days. I was just bummed because there was not an option to steal some and leave some behind if in case anyone owns it and also to ease my conscience.

Episode 3:

11. Girl in Macon- I opted not to shoot her cause she was bitten anyway already. No point in saving the dead plus it gave Lee and Kenny some time to collect all the supplies. It made the crew grumpy though especially Lilly.

12. Leaving Lilly- Man this scene is really heartbreaking and shocking. I left her out to rot because I can't take someone who would Kill Carley.

13. Getting physical with Kenny- I'm a diplomatic kind of guy so I talked him out of fighting.

14. Killing Duck- I decided to kill Duck because Kenny's burdened enough as it is with the suicide of Katjaa and all.

15. Helping Omid- So this decision is lackluster for me. I decided to help Christa because, I don't really know to. I just didn't feel that this decision is weighty enough to be even considered as a major decision.

Episode 4:

16. Killing Duck Part 2- Same as before I chose to kill this kid that resembles Duck. An easy choice really.

17. Meeting with Dr. Vernon- I chose to be rational and honest because why the hell not?

18. Taking Clem to Crawford- I feel a lot better with Clem joining the team than being left with an invalid.

19. Ben's life- This is the moment I've been waiting for because fuck Ben! He is the reason Lilly and Carley are both dead. The fucking idiot should die for that and I let go of him without a moment's hesitation. I also told him not to fucking talk about the incident with Kenny and he blabbered about it in the worst possible time imaginable. Larry was at least tolerable but that idiot Ben really takes the cake for being utterly useless.

20. Reveal the Bite- So yeah this scene is also unexpected but it led to the awesomely heartbreaking conclusion of season 1. I chose to reveal the bite because it could lead to misunderstandings later on.

Episode 5:

21. Cutting off Lee's arm- I opted not to cut his arm because man this came out of the blue for some reason. I need my full body function if I am to save Clementine from some hooligan.

22. Losing Temper with Kenny- I didn't lose my cool as I've said earlier I'm kind of a diplomatic kind of guy. Kenny also has been through a lot so I cut him some slack.

23. Surrendering Weapons- I did surrender my weapons all of them because you know you have to show some obedience if you are to negotiate. Also this guy has some points and he almost had me believe that he can take care of Clementine. I was silent the whole time until Clem got out of the room and fucking killed the guy. Clem grew up really fast I'm so proud.

24. Killing the stranger- I let Clem handle it cause she can.

25. Stopped Lee from turning- Yeah, I let Clem handcuff Lee and put a bullet in his head before he turns. Man that last conversation between them really reduced me to tears. It gave the game a breathtaking conclusion matched only by a few other games ever.

Some other things:

It can be said that Clem has been a sweetheart since day one but the moment I really connected with her completely was when Lee was teaching her how to shoot the gun. That face she makes when Lee steadies her aim really made me love her.

This game is stressful. Man, I think I caught myself taking a deep breath every now and then just to ease the burden inside my head.

That ending scene is really tense. I was thinking the whole time whether Lee would turn before she can help Clem escape. Man that would be a fucking downer if Lee chomped on Clem instead. Thankfully that did not happen.

Some questions:

Where will Lilly ultimately die if I made her stay with the team?

Will the stranger be the one who takes Clem away from Lee if you hadn't stole his goods?

Will Telltale games be able to top season 1?

What would be the improvements you want to see in season 2?

Thank you if you read up to this line! The bottom line is I'm just glad that Telltale Games pulled this off with flying colors. This game could well be a definitive statement that a game can be carried by its story and not by its gameplay elements.

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Throwback/Play These Games

Throwback

The following will be a brief history on how video games have been an integral part of my life. So if you're not interested just skip to the next half of the blog post.

I have been a late bloomer when it comes to playing video games as I started playing on 1997 and did not experience gaming before the NES. I first found passion in video games at a time where many iterations of the NES were floating around in the market like the Megajoy.

An image for the uninitiated. Oh such beauty!

It's an all-in-one plug and play NES with over a thousand of repeating names of several games. I sure played the heck out of that knock-off from Gradius to Adventure Island and of course Super Mario Bros. Then my passion for games burned further because of the PlayStation which I bought over the Dreamcast which I luckily did considering the dearth of games for it and also I was eight back then so I did not really know much about hardware and stuff so I picked the console which I played already. It was a magical time for me. I played through every game on the Playstation Demo Disc and never looked back. Oh the joy of seeing Metal Gear Solid in all its 3D polygonal glory and the grand adventure that is Brave Fencer Musashi, it made my heart soar. Having my cousins come over every Friday to play Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style and Tekken 3 among others is just something we cannot do anymore with all the busywork of being in college/work. I wish I could go back in time when I was severely impressionable even the worst of games like The Fifth Element, Ian Livingstone's Deathtrap Dungeon and Alundra 2 amaze me (the latter-most IMO still holds up pretty well).

I've played a ton of games for the Playstation but only managed to see a handful of endings due to my short attention span and who could blame me? I was eight I did not really care for the endings that much. I just needed to play the games. But that changed as I grew older and was introduced to my first PC. The day my PC arrived my Playstation broke down as if it's self-aware that I somehow found a new source of entertainment and knows that it can finally rest easy. The PC included popular games like Battle Realms, StarCraft, Counter-Strike and NBA Live 2003. But my love for consoles did not go away so I found a way to play Playstation games on my PC and I finally managed to complete some games that I missed the first time around. My parents also bought me a PlayStation 2 as a birthday gift and I couldn't be more pleased. The first game that I'm interested in playing that time was Final Fantasy X as I've heard plenty of praises from my friends who already own one and boy it did not disappoint. By then I started digging deep in the Playstation 2 library (a benefit of adopting a console on its mid-cycle) and found games like Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, Viewtiful Joe and Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction all of which blew my mind at varying degrees. It was clear to me then and there that video games will forever be a part of my life. I love video games and I love gaming. There's so much potential in this medium and so many things that has yet to be explored. Each console generation presents new and exciting possibilities. Being a part of the grand community of gamers around the world (especially of Giant Bomb) is astounding. Knowing that there are people who has the same passion as mine makes me feel great.

Play These Games

As I have established above I've been playing video games for at least a decade now and in that span of time I kept track of what I know I played to completion and it's around 180 games. Among those are games I want people to experience just because.

I'm not big with reviewing games. This will only serve as a short overview of good old games that I feel haven't got enough exposure and convince people to try them out. Ladies and Gents with utmost humility I present to you games you have to try out before kicking the bucket.

Koudelka (PS1)

Koudelka is one gem of a game. It's about the story of Koudelka Iasant eponymous to the game title itself. A gypsy with supernatural powers, Koudelka's journey takes place in Wales, England and beyond to heed a voice of a ghost. Shortly after her arrival she'll meet Edward Plunkett and James O' Flaherty who have different motivations for coming to the said place but will inevitably team up with Koudelka in unraveling the mystery of the place. The three of them will be the party for the entire game and their relationship and interaction is essential to the development of the story.

Koudelka is your typical JRPG with a few exceptions. It has competent grid/tile turn-based combat system as you would expect from such games. Weapons and (armor?) break so there's some deal of strategy on what to equip on certain occasions. You can also change equipment inside combat. Random encounters (that you know and love) are also in this game. A little bit of grinding is also required at certain points in the game as the boss fights are beautiful but brutal. It also has amazing cutscenes for its time and also voice acting. When it's all said and done mechanically this game is a fairly standard JRPG. However what sets this game apart from other JRPGs of that time is the story and atmosphere of the game. The vision really adds up to this Gothic title. The monster design is eerie and messed up just as it should be. The design of the place is really dark and grim conveying an unsettling vibe throughout the game including deserted cathedrals, gardens and graveyards. NPCs are scarce and appropriately weird or mysterious. the healing items are limited early on, there are surprise encounters when picking up certain items and all other little things that make up the overall Gothic tone of the game. In spite all this Koudelka is not a scary game and is fairly accessible even if you are not a fan of JRPG.

Play this game if you want a different story and vibe on your JRPG. Just be prepared for the tropes that goes along with it. If you are still not convinced please also consider that Koudelka is one sexy heroine and you wouldn't want to miss her journey unfold before your very eyes (that last statement might be overselling this game a bit but whatever).

Trapt (PS2)

If you are familiar with the Deception series then Trapt is more of the same game with only a different protagonist. However for those vast majority of the readers who aren't aware of the existence of such series let me enlighten you. Deception is Home Alone on steroids. It's brutal, sadistic and fun.

The gist of every game of the series so far is this: You control a fairly fragile female protagonist who has the power/curse to set traps around the house to kill her pursuers who want to gain her powers. Kill everyone who wants to kill you by casting falling rocks over them or by letting a bear trap bleed them dry. That's about the objecitve of the game. What it lacks in objective variety however it makes up for its elaborate set of traps.

There are 3 major types of traps: wall trap, ceiling trap, and floor trap. Furthermore there are also built-in traps within the house encouraging players to get creative in setting their traps and netting combos. For example a successful pendulum hit can hurl an enemy in a built in electical wall and so on. Pulling off a combo can be quite satisfying and it also rewards more points which can be used to upgrade current traps and research new traps before every levels begin.

Early on you will encounter unwitting peasants desperate for money and such other weak characters. The game ramps up the challenge on every level by adding more AI enemies with varied skills into the mix such as bounty hunters/hired killers. However overall the AI in this game is either dumb or cheap or sometimes both. But on the game's defense I can't think of any way to hit an enemy if they can always avoid the traps that I've set so overall the dumb AI somehow works for this game.

This game (or series) you must play just for the sheer uniqueness of the gameplay. There is nothing else like this on the market. If you can get past the AI this game can be an intense, thrilling and fun ride as you slay your enemies with a press of a button and see your power grow alongside the fatal combos you're planning for the next unwitting house guest who wants to murder you.

There you go two games I want to broadcast. I will have another entry next time as I plan to make this a blog series.

P.S: All of the games I mentioned in the article supposedly has a hyperlink but something happened it got messed up.

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