- Invisible, Inc.
Turn-based tactical stealth strategy roguelike doesn’t sound like something that should work but it does. Klei found a way to take the plodding deliberation of strategy gaming and mix it with the tense sneaking of a great stealth game. It still captures that feeling of slyly moving past guards and getting past traps but from an unique perspective. Add in the procedurally generated levels and an endless mode and it’s a game that can be played for hours on end.
It would have been easy to keep recycling the formula of Dark Souls but From Software decided to make a game that rewarded calculated aggression over carefully prodding your enemies to death. It’s one of the most satisfying combat systems in gaming. Mix in an evolving horror story rich Gothic and Lovecraftian elements and Bloodborne leaves a strong mark.
- ARMA 2
A realistic military simulator where you spend a good hour setting up a firefight only to have the fight end in a minute sounds like it should be a bore, but there’s something captivating about the meticulous nature of the game. It involves coordinating with friends and adapting to evolving situations in a way that feels more team-building than any game I’ve played. Or you can always just push the boundaries of the simulation and do something hilarious instead with friends.
- Resident Evil 2
It’s rare that a game makes me frustrated for missing a shot or I feel like I’ve failed an encounter because it took a clip to down an enemy. Most games give you a surplus of goods, but here each gain is met with more zombies, more targets and more choices about when to run and when to kill. Here, a gun is just a false security blanket. You think it’ll make you safe but it only tricks you into fighting instead of running.
This is as close as I’ve come to feeling like an RPG captured that sense of role-playing to me. At various twist and turns you’re given menu based screens that give you branching choices to try to solve problems. Combat is so often the default of the RPG but here you could use your athletic ability, or brew up a solution, or maybe pray to the saints to intervene on your behalf. Combat is one of an arsenal of tools you have at your disposal.
- Doom (1993)
What can you say about Doom at this point? Doom is playing the cover of a heavy metal album. Doom is ballet dancing with guns and demons. Doom has possibly the best gamefeel of any video game ever crafted. Doom isn’t a game, it’s a state of being. Live, laugh, Doom. It’s a great video game, that’s what I’m saying.
- The Talos Principle
The puzzling in The Talos Principle owes a lot to Portal, but it’s the story that makes the game so good. The superb story is drenched in philosophical ideas and told mainly through computer console dialogue conversations and a disembodied voice called Elohim. It’s a game that’ll have you thinking on multiple levels.
You could write a book about all the great things Psychonauts does. It’s a compelling 3D platformer with consistently clever level design. The initially funny story gives way to tales about a cast of characters all dealing emotional and mental trauma. It’s a game that deals with mental health without ever feeling exploitative or sensationalized. It’s somehow simultaneously one of the most colorful and zany games you’ll ever play but also extremely dark and disturbing. You know what, maybe I’ll write this book.
One gigantic gaping hole in my gaming knowledge is JRPGs. I know just about nothing about the genre. Chrono Trigger is the only one I’ve finished and I love it. The combat in JRPGs always looks like the most mind-numbingly dull thing I could imagine, but here each encounter is a puzzle to work out and it makes the gameplay shine. Add in a great story with memorable characters and an epic soundtrack and this game won me over in a big way.
The best title of the recent string of immersive sim video game revival, Dishonored 2 leans deep into its Thief roots with a bigger focus on stealth and more powers that emphasize unique problem-solving. It’s the level and world design that still stands as the core strength of this series as there’s nothing quite like sneaking through its elaborate levels as you inhabit a world so unlike our own.
© James Blake Ewing 2018