I feel that the Forgotten Sands has gotten a bad rap. It came out the same year as the poorly reviewed Prince of Persia film, and I think some saw it as guilty by association. However, the game still contains the same majestic environments the populated the first three games in the series, and both its combat and platforming represent steps forward for the series. The larger-scale battles give the Prince opportunities to show off his new elemental powers, and in navigating rooms the Prince has the ability to recall sections of the environment from the past and to freeze water in place (that he can then climb or swing off of). The precise, rhythmic usage of these platforming abilities gives the player a wonderful sense of mastery.
A few years ago, a friend let me borrow his Playstation 3. Up until that point, I’d solely been an XBOX 360 man. However, I took advantage of the opportunity to try many Playstation exclusives that I hadn’t had an opportunity to play. After trying the original God of War (through the PS3 re-release), I played through every title in the series (including the ports of the games originally on handhelds). I loved the sense of weight and speed I felt swinging the Blades of Chaos and the brutality with which Kratos dispatched his enemies. One aspect of God of War that doesn’t get enough attention is the camera work. The angles provided allow you to see what you’re doing, while at the same time calling attention to the massive size of the bosses you’ll be up against and the imposing environments.
There are a small number of dedicated Singularity fans out there, and I count myself among them. You can often find Singularity on lists of “underrated gems,” etc. I liked the dilapidated Russian military aesthetic (similar to the Metro series), and the way that Singularity seamlessly blended elements from other popular games into a cohesive whole. There was an interesting time theme within the game – the player had a power that allowed him to “age” people or make an old environment new again. In some areas of the game, the player is given an opportunity to see how a certain space was used back when the area was fully functioning. Other particularly fun abilities that the player gained were telekinesis and the ability to create a bubble that slows time to a crawl within it. Guns felt good to shoot and had upgrade options, and the Seeker weapon allowed you a guide your bullet through the map, making headshots a cinch.
Call of Duty: Black Ops was the last Call of Duty single-player experience I had. Although I liked the jungle environments, period-appropriate rock music, and passable story, I still thought that its difficulty options were horrifically implemented. I also initially didn’t love the multiplayer. I couldn’t find a gun that felt comfortable. The guns seemed to kick a lot when compared to Modern Warfare 2, and it seemed to take a while for me to put enemies down. However, I grew to appreciate this state of affairs. I found that with the longer time to kill, my skill at compensating for gun recoil and keeping my crosshair on an enemy mattered more - gunfights felt more balanced than in previous CoD games. And since no gun (with the possible exception of the FAMAS) was clearly superior, I had four multiplayer classes with different weapons that I used almost an equal amount. . However, some of the highest killstreaks in Black Ops were tremendously powerful, and perhaps created games that were a bit TOO lopsided in favor of the more skilled team.
Wings of Liberty is fantastic. As with all of the Starcraft II campaigns, I liked the character interactions and voice acting, and the ability to upgrade my army to better suit my playstyle. If I’m not playing Protoss (my favorite of the game’s races), I’m playing Terran, so building a squad of marines was right up my alley. The game also features creative mission design that keeps your experience fresh.
Although I could never get into the first Mass Effect game, the improvements that BioWare made to the series for the second iteration won me over. There are just too many strong characters to name, even just within the player’s combat squad, and I appreciated the voice acting, skillsets, and unique missions of each. The player will receive special dialogue if certain squad members are brought on missions that have personal relevance to them, lending a weight to your choices as Commander. I enjoyed the shooting and scrounging, coordinating powers, as well as the hacking and unlocking minigames – just spending time in this sci-fi world. The separate races were creative and compelling, and conflicts between them set the stage for challenging decisions on the part of the player.
I must admit to being a huge fan of the first-person Fallout games. I like the customization options in terms of attributes, traits, perks, and crafted weaponry, and I always feel that I’m able to create a somewhat complete character. The irradiated wasteland is fascinating to explore, and both Obsidian and Bethesda excel at environmental storytelling. Each interior is purposely crafted to tell a story, especially in the case of the vaults. Piecing together exactly what experiment was being performed on a vault’s inhabitants by Vault-Tec was always quite a satisfying endeavor. In New Vegas in particular, I loved cleaning out the casinos with a high luck character, listening to one of the game’s many 1950s tunes, or interacting with one of the distinct and colorful factions in game.
Conviction is likely the best third-person stealth game I’ve played. The combination of the sonar goggles and the black & white desaturation effect (the game switches to grayscale presentation when Sam is in the shadows) give the player the information they need to make tactical decisions. It feels fantastic to systematically takedown the enemy forces through smart environmental navigation, the use of under-the-door cameras and stickycams (that double as noisemakers), and the impressive mark & execute ability. The game also oozes style, with objectives and video clips overlaid on top of the environment, the brutality of environmental interrogations, and Michael Ironside’s gravelly tone. The single-player campaign was already brilliant, but Ubisoft Montreal also included an exhilarating co-op multiplayer mode. Distract enemies together and coordinate dual takedowns!
“Omega 3 fatty acids are good for your heart!” This quote, periodically said by some of the “Taken” enemies you encounter, encapsulates the funny but creepy vibe that permeates Alan Wake. The game adeptly weaves its tale with humor, concluding on a note that left me ruminating on possible meanings of various lines for a full week after completion. However, the gameplay is worth highlighting as well. Alan’s slow-motion dodges, and the way he burns the darkness off of the Taken, creates a unique rhythm. Alan bounds this way and that, dodging haymaker punches and fire axe swings. I loved the way that flares and flashbangs, although simple support items in most shooters, are among the most powerful items you can find in Alan Wake. The telekinetic environmental effects of the dark presence are worth mentioning here as well, as they further unnerve the player and make him or her feel that they are always being watched (even in areas with no enemies present).
Bioshock 2 does so many things that I appreciate. First off, it’s got that same “the future as imagined from the 50s” vibe that the Fallout games do. I find this theme particularly endearing, and the mood is enhanced through the lovely soundtrack (e.g. “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”). The environmental design is done in a gorgeous Art Deco style, which kept me in awe as I mercilessly scrounged my surroundings. The combat has weight (which only makes sense, as you’re playing as a Big Daddy), and there are many different ways to approach it. Your choices upon visiting the Power to the People machines, as well as the tonics and plasmids you choose to equip, allow you to tackle combat in whatever way you see fit. Additionally, Bioshock 2 includes defense sections that scratch an itch for me, allowing you to make effective use of your trap rivets, turrets, etc. Bioshock 2 also continues the use of audio log mechanic from the first game, allowing you to gather lore on the story without pulling you out of the experience. I wish more games would take inspiration from this, instead of having the player pause the game to read background information. Of course, it helps that so many of Bioshock 2’s characters are brilliantly voice-acted. I contend that Bioshock 2 is absolutely not a step back from its acclaimed predecessor.