Backlog Weekend, 9/17/2016

This is an experiment I’ve wanted to try for a while now. Like many of us, I have an overwhelming backlog of games that I want to play, but will likely never find time for. I manage my backlog via a spreadsheet off-site, and over the past few years the number of games on it has hovered around 200. While it’s good that it hasn’t drastically grown over that time (and I periodically cull some games from it without playing them), it hasn’t gone down either. That doesn’t bother me in the grand scheme of things, but I have always wondered if there would be a good way to survey a bunch of these games (many of which I already own) in a timely fashion.

Hence, the idea for “Backlog Weekends” was born. The idea is simple: take a chunk of games from my backlog that I already own but have never played, and survey as many as I can in a weekend. The goal is to play an hour or so of a game, just enough to get a good feel for it, and then move on to the next game. I’ll get to as many as I can, and after the weekend is over I’ll take stock of what I played, what I did and didn’t like, and what I may want to play more of in the future. The real impetus here is to quickly sift through the noise to find the good stuff buried in this giant pile of games. Most of the games on my backlog are curiosities as much as anything; games that seem potentially neat, but I won’t know for sure until I try them. If a game doesn’t grab me up front, I’ll drop it entirely. If it does, I’ll make a point to come back to it later. That’s the process here, plain and simple.

I doubt these weekends will happen too often, but when I squeeze one in I’ll record the results in a quick-fire blog like this one. This is the first time I’ve done this, and I’m finding my footing a bit, but I’d say it was a successful first attempt. I tried out nine games over two days, and was able to quickly rule out most of them. And I found at least one hidden gem that I may not have tried without doing something like this. That’s the ideal payoff of this experiment, and I was lucky that my first run bore some delicious fruit; I'm already looking forward to the next one. But first, this weekend's results (games are listed in the order I played them):

Battlefield 4

Da-dum, dum, da-dum dum.
Da-dum, dum, da-dum dum.

What I played: PC version on Origin, acquired in a sale. Had most DLC installed as well. Played two and a half full games of conquest, which took almost two hours.

What I thought: I’ve always enjoyed a good Battlefield game here and there, and seeing as EA has basically been giving this one away lately (the main game has been on sale for $5 multiple times, and a lot of the DLC has been free too), Battlefield 4 seemed worth grabbing. I decided to start my weekend off with it, and I had a good time. I was low level, and didn’t have a posse to roll with, but the Battlefield charm/mayhem still functions as advertised. I captured points, blew up tanks, crashed a helicopter, had helicopters crash in front of me, and got shot a lot by people I didn’t see. If you want your multiplayer FPS to be big, loud, and chaotic, this is still where it’s at. Also, it looks fantastic.

The verdict: Battlefield remains fun at large, yet I remain unlikely to ever dedicate too much time on it. Doubtful I’ll play more.

Wipeout 2048

What I played: PlayStation Plus freebie that I (obviously) played on the Vita. I played half a dozen races in the campaign. Took somewhere in the 30-60 minute range.

What I thought: I’ve never played a Wipeout game before (hence why I wanted to try it), but it didn’t take me long to realize this was not my jam. I have no idea if that’s indicative of Wipeout 2048 specifically, or the franchise as a whole, but I just found it boring. The races/tracks were bland, the control and sense of speed weren’t impressive, and the arcadey weapons and power-ups were so light they might as well not be there. If I’m going to play a racing game, nothing here suggested this is the one for me.

The verdict: A big nope. Already uninstalled and off my plate.

Echochrome

What I played: PlayStation Portable version, on my Vita. Can’t remember if it was a PS+ game or if it came from a sale. Played a handful of puzzles for roughly half an hour.

What I thought: File Echochrome under the “like in theory, not in execution” pile of games for me. Generally speaking, I like a good puzzle game as much as anyone, and this one certainly has some good ideas. But the act of playing Echochrome was way more cumbersome than I felt it should have been. Once I figured out the solution to a puzzle, the process of slowly rotating things around, trying to line it all up pixel-perfect was maddening. And if you missed it by even the smallest margin, it could take a surprisingly long time to re-engineer the entire thing. Puzzle games are at their worst when implementing the solution you’ve already figured out is a hassle. That’s Echochrome. The music was nice though.

The verdict: It’s a small puzzle game on a portable system, so never say never. But allow me to say I’m 99% sure I’m done with this one.

The Unfinished Swan

Great initial idea, but loses steam as it goes.
Great initial idea, but loses steam as it goes.

What I played: The PlayStation 4 version, acquired via PS+ or a sale (can’t remember). Played through most of the game in an hour or two.

What I thought: The Unfinished Swan is a really neat game, though one that starts off at its best before dragging down the stretch. The initial idea of using paint to splat the walls and floors of an all-white world to color a path forward was intriguing. But it’s also thin (and plodding), and as the game tried to branch out and do other things it began to wilt. Especially rote was lengthy the vine segment. Regardless, I’m glad games like this exist, as it takes some worthwhile liberations creating different kinds of games, and different ideas for conveying narrative.

The verdict: Neat little game, but I’ve gotten what I want out of it.

Hohokum

What I played: The Vita version courtesy of PS+. I spent maybe 20 minutes wandering aimlessly.

What I thought: Hohokum is also a game I’m glad exists… but that’s about the only thing I’m glad for here. This is certainly a different game that marches to the beat of its own drum, and provides a carefree and unstructured “playground” to just mess around in. I can respect that, but this particular case is one that didn’t do anything for me personally. I need more structure, or at least interesting mechanics and/or story to stay hooked. I’ve simply never been someone to enjoy games this “open”. Take that for what you will.

The verdict: Already uninstalled, so long Hohokum!

DuckTales: Remastered

What I played: The PlayStation 3 version, also courtesy of PS+. Played through about half of the levels, which took an hour or two.

What I thought: I have never played the original NES DuckTales, but this Remastered version seemed alright. It’s of course a bit simple and straightforward by modern standards, but as far as old school 2D platformers go you could do much worse. I had an OK time with what I played, but I also don’t have an urge to go back… and that’s about all I got on this one. It felt very middle-of-the-road. Though the dialogue was terrible (and slow), and the music was pretty good. The moon theme still rocks.

The verdict: Not a bad game, but not good enough to spend more time on either.

The Order: 1886

Visually stunning, but perhaps too cinematic for its own good.
Visually stunning, but perhaps too cinematic for its own good.

What I played: Picked up for real cheap in a sale, obviously played on PS4. Played the first three chapters (past the prologue) in about two hours or so.

What I thought: Whew, The Order: 1886 is a piece of work. It boasts production values that are through the roof, an interesting premise, and shooting/controls that are plenty solid. And then it embeds it all in one of the least interactive games I’ve played. People pejoratively call things like Gone Home a “walking simulator”, but you have way more agency there than you do in The Order. On the rare occasion when you’re not slowly plodding down a tight corridor or performing a quick-time event, you engage in small-scale shootouts that might as well be quick-time events. This game wears its cinematic aspirations on its sleeve, and is perhaps one of the best examples why chasing movies is not the best way for games to go. I would rather watch The Order than play it, which means I don’t have much respect for it as a game. And I didn’t have much fun with it either.

The verdict: There are good things in here, and part of me wants to see some of the spectacle I’m sure it has later on. But the act of “playing” it is too dull and plodding for me to continue.

Volgarr the Viking

What I played: PC version on Steam, acquired in a sale. Beat the first level and poked my head into the second. Spent maybe an hour on it.

What I thought: Volgarr the Viking is very much chasing the punishing action games of yore, and seems to replicate it very successfully. It has a few modern concessions as well, but the bottom line is that it’s a game that requires persistence and dedication to make it through. It also requires a lot of memorization, which is generally not my favorite kind of challenge, and why I’ve rarely liked these kinds of “hard” games before. Still, for what it’s going for I think Volgarr pulls it off, and I’ve probably liked it as much as any comparable game. It’s got some good style too.

The verdict: It’s not inherently my kind of game, but certainly not bad. I may even try and beat another level or two before moving on.

Flywrench

Winner!
Winner!

What I played: PC version on Steam, acquired in a sale. My initial play session was about an hour. I couldn’t resist and got in another hour on Monday, and at this point have played through most of the planets.

What I thought: Here we are, the payoff. The last game I tried this weekend was also my favorite, and by a good margin. It probably took me all of 10 seconds to realize how smooth Flywrench's controls are, and I only became more and more impressed with it as it slowly increased the complexity of the levels. There’s a real craft to the curve here, and it’s all supported by sound mechanics that are smart in their simplicity. The best games often get a lot of mileage out of simple ideas. That’s exactly what Flywrench does, and it controls like a dream every step of the way. It’s a short and challenging game, which means it won’t be for everyone. But if you appreciate this kind of arcade style action game, it comes with a big recommendation. Also, the soundtrack is amazing.

The verdict: This is the kind of hidden gem this entire experiment was made for. I may not have given Flywrench the time of day otherwise, but once I tried it I was hooked. I already returned to it yesterday, and will definitely play more. How far I get depends on how hard it gets, but I’m eager to find out.

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