I wiped and packed up my xbox 360 yesterday. With the next generation of games consoles mere weeks away it seemed like a good time to trade it in for some store credit, but before clearing the HDD and putting it back in its box, i took a little time to look over my gaming history and achievements.
130,816 gamerpoints, 243 games, and more hours than i care to count's worth of memories.
As i did so it occurred to me that many of my favourite games came and went without much fanfare or critical acclaim, and that i seem to be in a very unvocal minority when it comes to championing them on forums and the like. So i would like to take another shot at rectifying this as i take a look back at what i consider to be some of the most under-appreciated computer games of the current times.
Quantum of Solace.
I was immediately struck by how appropriately presented the game was. Its main menu is sleek and stylish and just very 'Bond', and the score was very much what you would expect. Despite being played predominately from the first-person perspective, when taking cover or using a takedown the game switched to third person view, making the most of Daniel Craig's likeness and making it very clear that you are 007.
The attention to presentation was such that it trickled down to less relevant things like the achievement list, where each achievement/trophy was named for a film or famous line from one, and relevantly so. 'He's playing his golden harp' is awarded for meleeing the man with the golden gun in multiplayer mode, while 'Octopussy' is quite hilariously reserved for finishing the game on its easiest difficulty setting. If you're a Bond fan, little touches like that can really enhance the experience.
The game also features what i consider to be the single-greatest song recorded specifically for a video game. Kerli's When Nobody Loves You.
The game was made by Treyarch at around the same time they were putting Call of Duty: World at War together, so you can be pretty sure that as a shooter the mechanics are solid. A modified version of the CoD4 engine was used.
Unlike Call of Duty, however, stealth is a viable and enjoyable option in many of the game's situations. Sneaking through the backstage area of the floating opera at Bregenz and the terrorist-controlled terminals at LAX is all the more fun for Bond's signature silenced PPK and how well Treyarch captured the brutality of Craig's 007 in hand-to-hand encounters.
I wouldn't say that Quantum of Solace is a game everyone must rush out and buy, i wouldn't even say it is a game that those who particularly like shooting games must play... but i don't think that any Bond game has been made with quite as much love and respect for the source material than this one, and in that respect it is severely under-appreciated by 007 fans.
This is a legitimate contender for my favourite game of all time and the thing i most love about it is how much agency is afforded to the player. I really liked both Dragon Age games, but while there were often multiple ways of resolving an issue or completing a quest, these options were quite neatly laid out for you on almost all occasions. Not the case on Risen 2.
As an early example (and a very minor spoiler), you need to free a pirate who is being held in a cell. You can obviously nick the key from the commandant or pick the lock... but more industrious gamers can find some much more rewarding ways of doing things.
Scattered around the town are cannons that you can use. One is conveniently positioned so that it can be swivelled towards the back of the prison tower, and can be fired so that it blows a hole in the wall through which our pirate friend can escape. At no point does the game tell you that you can do this, and there is an even more fun way of completing the task.
In the game you have the option of learning the art of voodoo or receiving special training in firearms that allows you to use muskets and shotguns. If you opt to illuminate yourself in the black magics you can take control of certain characters throughout the course of the game. In each case there is a reason you need to do this, but the game seems to know that you're going to want to do more. In one case you control a particularly loathsome man for the purposes of entering a restricted area.
If you feel like it, you can take this opportunity to ruin his life and resign from his position of power within the city. I did feel like it, and the writing is good enough that you likely will too.
Graphically you can look at the game and see that the animations aren't that great and that the textures are not all they could be, but this game has a really nice feel. The weather effects, foliage and geography combine beautifully to create a world that is absorbing and fun to explore as it is lush and tropical. Each of the game's visitable islands also has its own distinct feel.
I would say that the combat is something i suffered through. It's not bad, but the game is at its most enjoyable when you're talking to people and looking for interesting ways to complete quests. Although its sense of humour can be described as a little off-colour, i found it hilarious... particularly enjoying this potential response when informed i may enter a pirate tavern, though may be disappointed it isn't 'gay night'.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
There are very likely Transformers fanatics who didn't even bother with this game, considering all that Michael Bay has done with his trilogy. I'm the sort of person who tries to see the good in things even when they aren't what i would have wanted, and found more than i expected to like in the three Transformers films... and High Moon brought most of that to the forefront in this game, unlike Bay who relegated little things like characterisation for anyone who isn't Bumblebee to the back of his movies.
Firstly, i'm not going to lie, i like the look of most of the Autobots in the movie universe, and especially Bumblebee. Whoever had the idea of having the four doors position like that on his back to resemble bumblebee wings was inspired.
High Moon did a great job bringing him and Optimus and Ironhide to life. The transformation animations are terrific, as is that of general movement and attacks. The transformers look and handle impressively, and getting that right is half the battle in a game based on this IP, i think.
More impressively than that, though, they actually took the time to give the Transformers a little personality. You play as a different robot in each of the game's seven levels, and unlike the films, each one does more than just look spectacular and smash stuff... though admittedly that is a big part of Ironhide's level. Optimus has to reprimand him on a couple of occasions for his indifference towards collateral damage.
Ironhide will always be a red fire engine with a Southern US accent to me, but his black, English namesake can be very amusing when given the opportunity and lamenting the fact that 'the Decepticons don't want to come out and play'.
High Moon's Cybertron series rightly gets all the plaudits, but Dark of the Moon did more to impart fond memories of the film-versions of the likes of Mirage, Ironhide, Soundwave and Ratchet than the films managed.
Of course, there is still a little life left in the current generation. I have decided to keep my PS3 and could not be looking forward to Batman: Arkham Origins any more. To get in the mood i recently went back to the Asylum to clear up the remaining challenge maps.
On my way home from worth the other day i stopped at the bakery, and noticed in the lead-up to Halloween they were selling bat-shaped gingerbread biscuits. I don't really like gingerbread, but bought a couple anyway, thinking they might inspire me.
I was sitting at home, playing the Rumble in the Jungle Extreme combat map and fondling one of the biscuits, sort of like Christian Bale did his first batarang, when my girlfriend came home and asked what i was doing and why i was eating a biscuit i had claimed not to like.
I told her: 'Ginger frightens me. It's time my enemies shared my bread.' and threw it at the wall, where it smashed.
Unfortunately she didn't get it, and my amazing movie reference was wasted... much like the fragmented biscuit i had to hoover up.