I've been gaming since 1987. I used to be a big Nintendo fanboy, then Square jumped the shark, so I followed. Eventually I realized neither Square nor Nintendo were the only companies out there worth following and my collection more or less speaks for itself now. I love to meet up with people on XBL, though I haven't done much online with the Wii. I've also been writing game review articles since 2004 on the old Project Wonderboy, then Morphine Nation, and now back to the new Project Wonderboy and various other sites.
I also help out in writing for a local videogame store website (VGMX). Not much else to say, really, when it comes to gaming. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I would say I'm experienced.
So this time around I figured I'd throw in some stuff that's actually pretty clever. Most of the time games are fairly predictable, so when one can up and surprise me, it warrants attention. It should be noted that the examples I give will almost definitely include spoilers, so just a heads up. Confused? Intrigued? Indifferent? Then read on, my friend!
So I recently got to Maracai Bay in Risen 2 in order to hunt down Garcia, as he is one of the supporters of Mara who holds a weapon, talisman, or whatever that can defeat her. The key objective in Risen 2 is to get these artefacts so that you may defeat Mara, at least as far as I understand currently. The game is fairly straightforward, very open world, and offers a decent amount of exploration.
What I didn't expect was a clever ruse. Really, most of the game plays fairly predictably. Something happened recently, however, that turned that shit upside down. So upon arrival at Maracai Bay, they state that Corrientes, a member of the inquisition, set out to find Garcia, a devious pirate captain, and that they hadn't heard back from him or his squadron.
So you trek through the jungle and find him at the Maracai native village. He tells you that his men were attacked by Garcia's men and that one fled. This next part is important...he tells you that the man that fled needs to be taken down for being a deserter. All of this sounded very plausible, but I felt bad about it. See, you find this guy, discover that he was barely able to escape because of a leg wound and fled in the opposite direction to tend to his wound.
You have a few options here, so I decided to take the high road and instead of killing him myself, bring him back to Corrientes. Well, I do that and the first thing that happens is Corrientes shoots him dead, quipping "I thought I told you to shoot him." He then scoffs and it's over. I decided I didn't like that outcome, so I loaded my game and instead took him all the way to the beach, presumably to see if he'd join my pirate crew instead.
Well, I got kinda cut off by the inquisition members at the beach. I explained what happened and they stated the following: "What? We don't kill deserters! You must have heard him incorrectly, we would never authorize such action." So I was fairly satisfied, though confused with that, until through more conversation you find out that that wasn't Corrientes; it was Garcia.
See apparently, yes, Garcia's men DID ambush the inquisition search party, but none of them survived...save the deserter. Not knowing what Garcia looked like, he was able to throw you off. He would've gotten away with it too, were it not for them meddlin' save files! Honestly, I felt this was a brilliant move that would have been very easy to fuck up for the player (and I did initially) and seeing how both ends turn out, it's, well...brilliant.
Tales of Vesperia - A True Anti-Hero
When we think of an anti-hero, we often think about characters that don't quite match the look and feel of a traditional hero to the point that they're not really a hero at all, yet they still end up being the hero. A good example of this is Squall from Final Fantasy 8. I'm still not a fan of FF8 for many, MANY reasons, but he's a good example because he doesn't really WANT to do anything and he's just kinda forced to do so (by the player's hand, of course).
Often when we consider what a vigilante is, we think Batman. But even then, that's a "controlled" vigilante in that he's disciplined, has unlimited funding, and lives by a strict code. Yuri is neither of these...and yet, he's the very epitome of what it means to be an anti-hero. When you initially start playing Vesperia, you're treated to Yuri's wisecracks and overall sarcastic attitude, but overall he's still a very traditional hero.
Until...a specific incident. Now, my memory's a bit foggy, but there are two specific moments in the game that set Yuri apart from nearly any anti-hero you have or will ever have experienced. There's one point at which a corrupt senator or something is finally found to be corrupt. He's ruined peoples' lives for his own personal gain and, having been found guilty, he's being escorted off to trial where, more than likely, he will get off scot free because, hey, them's the breaks.
But NOT SO FAST. See, this is where the traditional story would've taken over and that would have been that...but Yuri decides fuck that shit, leaves the inn alone late at night, ambushes the escort, and kills the whole fucking lot of them, dumping them in the river. If that's not bad enough, later he finds a fellow knight who's gone totally corrupt and, wouldn't you know, same circumstances.
He's going to fact trial, but will most likely get off. Yuri's solution? Toss his ass into quicksand. The most awkward part to this is there's a rope right there...the knight cries out...and Yuri completely ignores him. Then he's caught by Floyd, a more righteous knight and former friend of Yuri's and the corrupt knight. Not going to spoil it anymore, but ultimately Yuri is a very complex character that deserves a closer character inspection and is easily one of my favorites of all time for any Tales game.
Saints Row 2 - Monster Truck Rally
In a game like SR2, you expect death, destruction, and all kinds of crime-related activities. What you don't expect, however...well, I'll just come out and say it. So upon arriving back in Stilwater, you find that new gangs have taken over the Saints' territory you worked so hard for in the last game. Naturally, you want it back. You have multiple informants who do their share of spying and whatever on the individual gangs.
Carlos is sadly looking into the latino gang (don't remember what they're called, sorry). Well, after a few missions, one of which involves you getting some nuclear waste to poison the water lines of a local tattoo parlor so that the gang leader gets a ridiculous amount of permanent facial scarring (yeah, very roundabout passive aggression), Carlos gets dragged by the face behind a truck.
When you finally free him, he's barely alive, so you put him down and GET PISSED. Alright, cool...so what's your retaliation? Well, let's see. First, you kidnap the gang's boss. Then, you drive her to the monster truck rally that the gang's about to compete in. Okay, so what? Well, what happens next is the most horrifying thing I've ever seen in any of the Saints Row games.
You lock her in the trunk of your car and line the car up with the other cars in the monster truck rally...you know, the ones that get smashed. And wouldn't you know...the gang's leader then amps up the audience, then proceeds to unknowingly obliterate his girlfriend with his monster truck. I don't think I even need to say any more about that.
Xenoblade Chronicles - Reyn And Shulk's Co-Dependency/Bromance
Initially Xenoblade's characters seem fairly normal...and really, they are. Actually, that's what I like about them. There are a few quirks in their personalities, but it's nothing obnoxious or forced. They all seem very believable and overall "normal." But I think the two characters I like the most, especially with the chemistry between them, are Shulk and Reyn.
Shulk is the main character, of course, destined to wield the monado, a sword of ultimate badassness that can destroy mechon. Reyn is, well...a big, dumb idiot. But here's the thing...Shulk ISN'T a badass, no matter how hard he tries. For the greater part of Shulk's life, Reyn has had to step in and protect him like a big brother.
But that all changes when the monado is activated again and causes Shulk to get all kinds of wacky superpowers like the ability to see possible futures, stun enemies, put up shields, and all kinds of stuff. But, well...two things. Firstly, though Reyn can't wield the monado, he's still the stronger of the two. Through most of the game (or at least that I've played), Shulk is still very uncertain, unconfident, and hesitant.
Even when he knows something's about to go down, he still wembles and worries about it, often opting to keep the information to himself until he learns more about what's going on and what may happen. As a result, despite all the power he's been handed, Reyn often steps in to take control because he feels he needs to. He also begins to feel useless as he's no longer a match for Shulk himself and his only real strength is...well, strength.
The chemistry between the two is very buddy buddy at all times, but you're constantly left wondering what will happen next because of the constant changes within both characters. It's not as though we haven't seen a good "buddy story" before, but it's interesting how it plays out here because of the circumstances at play.
Final Fantasy 4 - Cecil, Ex-Dark Knight
From moment number one in FF4, we know something's up with Cecil. He's supposed to be this big, bad, intimidating dark knight...but he constantly feels remorse for what he knows is wrong, so much so that even in the opening scene he questions his king's motives. Those are some serious balls right there. I mean, they don't really go into it in the game, but he could've just as easily been executed right then and there and considering how bastardly the king had been acting up to that point, I'm surprised that ISN'T what happened, looking back on it now.
In any case, through the course of the game, Cecil is revealed to be...a pretty good guy, actually. It's almost like playing as a demon in the game, but being an absolute saint. It just doesn't work, really. Even still, I don't think anyone really predicted Cecil becoming a fucking paladin of all things! Now, it's been a number of years, so I don't remember the scene entirely, but if I remember correctly, Cecil must fight his past self in order to become a new man.
It's an interesting take on the development of characters because often, yes, a character will undergo a transition upon his journey, but it's often one that's more subtle and told through the story, not an actual physical transition. The reason I find this so fascinating is that even though it was totally unpredictable, it also felt necessary and unforced.
Cecil's an interesting character anyway, but seeing the story evolve as it does and seeing him become a paladin is one of those nice little moments in gaming that make you feel good for the character.
I've been gaming for 25 years, so it takes a lot for a game to surprise me...and no, I don't mean jump scares. There are actually quite a few other examples I could've cited, but most people either know them already or they weren't that interesting. Here's to hoping that game devs will continue to intrigue us with interesting stories, characters, and twists! Don't forget to check out my site when you get the chance!
It's entirely possible that I missed some games, but I'll say this...this list took me a good 4 hours to put together, therefore, if I missed anything, just let me know and I'll fact check it just in case. I'm confident, however, in the top 5 and let me tell you, there are some FANTASTIC games this year. Some not so great ones, too, but mostly fantastic ones. Also, you may be wondering where I've been at.
In any case, there are 42 games this year, so let's get to it!
#5 - Shin Megami Tensei - Devil Summoner 2 - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon (PS2)
I don't remember if the first Devil Summoner made one of these lists or not...I'd have to go back and check. Either way, the first one, while certainly interesting and having a kickass opening, was kinda slow, a little hard to figure out, and often the encounter rate got annoying. Devil Summoner 2 fixes all these issues and gives us a more incredible action RPG all around while also tossing an equally great story at us.
Combat is kept very quick and basic while adding layers of complexity in the form of allies and demons. And hey, it's Shin Megami Tensei...did you really think it wouldn't place this year? And yes, I do still have the little Raidou Jack plushie.
#4 - Muramasa - The Demon Blade (Wii)
Again, not sure if Odin Sphere, a previous Vanillaware project, made it on these lists or not, but that's irrelevant. While Muramasa does suffer from the same amount of repetition as Odin Sphere, one simply cannot deny how incredible the graphics, animation, story, music, and overall style of the game are. Being able to play as two different characters with individual storylines helps, too.
The upgrade system could've been a little better and I definitely pouted when they didn't have a more expansive cooking system like in Odin Sphere, but truth be told, these games are mostly played so you can be wowed by the incredible visuals. Seriously, this game is a living work of art.
#3 - Torchlight (PC)
While I'm fairly certain that at least 99% of us have played this title, I need a description all the same. Torchlight is basically Diablo, but in 3D and with all kinds of new, tricked out features that serve to only enhance the original formula. Add in all kinds of bonus dungeons, special zones, fat loot, great boss battles, lots of enemy variety, and an emphasis on new game+ and you have a dead ringer...well, were it not for the top 2 titles, that is.
#2 - Super Robot Taisen OG Saga - Endless Frontier (DS)
Goddamn, what can I say about this one that I haven't already? Look, the battles are insane and fun (if a little repetitive), there's all kinds of anime pervy goodness, the graphics and animation are top notch, the music and sound design overall kicks ass, the dialogue is hilarious (though the story is rather forgettable), and overall you will not be able to put this title down. So what could possibly beat this title?
#1 - Shin Megami Tensei - Devil Survivor (DS)
That's right, ANOTHER Shin Megami Tensei title and quite possibly one of the best of all time. I wasn't sure what to think when I initially went into this game. It's SMT, but as an SRPG. And yet, it totally fucking works. The battles are intense and require excellent strategy, planning, and grinding. Sometimes even the regular encounters are enough to fuck up your day, such is the case with many SMT titles.
The dialogue, story, and characters are excellent, as are the graphics and music. Really, the only thing I could harp on here is the difficulty, but you should already know what to expect if you've ever played SMT titles before. This is one title you absolutely cannot pass up.
It's been suggested that I highlight honorable mentions, you know, games that didn't QUITE make the top 5 list. So starting this year, I'll be enboldening any games that I feel could have been on the top 5, were it not for the insanely great top 5 that was already there. Also, some people might complain that...certain...PS3 titles didn't make it in the top 5. I don't have a PS3. I will totally recommend them based on recommendations from other people, but again, these recommendations are not my own as a result.
Avalon Code (DS)
Black Sigil - Blade of the Exiled (DS)
Blue Dragon Plus (DS)
Crimson Gem Saga (PSP)
Demon's Souls (PS3) Dokapon Journey (DS)
Dragon Age - Origins (Multi) Dragon Quest 5 - Hand of the Heavenly Bride (DS) Drakensang - The Dark Eye (PC)
Dungeon Hunter (iOS)
Fighting Fantasy - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (DS)
Final Fantasy 4 - The After Years (WW)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles - Echoes of Time (Multi)
Fossil Fighters (DS)
Half-Minute Hero (PSP) King's Bounty - Armored Princess (PC)
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (DS) League of Legends (PC)
Magna Carta 2 (360)
Mario & Luigi - Bowser's Inside Story (DS) Marvel - Ultimate Alliance 2 (Multi) Mega Man Star Force 3 - Black Ace (DS)
Mega Man Star Force 3 - Red Joker (DS)
Might and Magic - Clash of Heroes (DS)
My World, My Way (DS)
Phantasy Star 0 (DS)
Pokemon Platinum Version (DS) Risen (PC)
Spectrobes - Origins (Wii)
Star Ocean - The Last Hope (360) Suikoden Tierkreis (DS) Valhalla Knights - Eldar Saga (Wii)
Valkyrie Profile - Covenant of the Plume (DS)
Witch's Tale (DS)
Wizard of Oz - Beyond the Yellow Brick Road (DS)
It was a toss up between this and Eternal Sonata to be honest, so don't hate. The Tales series is has been a long time running series and has had a lot of really good games within it, but nothing too mind-blowing, especially after the first few installments had boiled over. Vesperia presents us with a story that, on the surface, is pretty standard and seems like it's just an excuse to get the heroes out there in the world.
However, and I'm not going to spoil anything, the character interactions are great, hilarious, spot on...and often do things you wouldn't expect. That last point is especially crucial. Yuri's character is an interesting one that truly defines what it means to be a vigilante. He makes decisions that most main characters wouldn't make and in a way that often surprises you. In a way, he does what you WANT to do, but can't because you're supposed to be the good guy.
He's a very complex character and everyone that surrounds him, even the bit characters, are done incredibly well...and that's not even counting the great voice acting present in the title. Naturally the battle system makes a comeback and while it can be a bit difficult at times, the game overall is fit for any action/RPG fan. A welcome addition to the Tales series and potentially the best one, Vesperia is spot on in nearly every category.
To say that Lost Odyssey is a game that grows on you is a gross understatement. It was actually the first title I ever purchased for my 360 and almost 2 years later did I finally beat the first disc. Why? Because OH MY GOD IS IT SLOWWWWWWWW. There. That's an honest, genuine criticism. Well then, why the fuck did it make the top 5? I mean, come on...this top 5 list is supposed to be the absolute, definitive BEST of 2008, right?
And it is. How so? Look, I don't want to spoil anything, but if you make it through the first disc, you'll immediately become a fan. That's all I can say. Yeah, the story's slow, but it's also very traditional and the 1000 Years of Dreams stuff is pretty incredible. Of course, I'd expect it to be so as it was written by the dude who did Final Fantasy. The game has lots of high production values including great voice acting, music, graphics, and so on.
While the story is slow, it's also a very well told story. Mostly the game is slow from a technical angle as combat is turn-based and you have to carefully plot out your movements well to survive even the simplest of battles. And I get that most modern gamers may simply not have the patience for this title, but trust me when I say it's one of the best RPGs you will ever play.
I had high hopes for Fable 2 and while they fell a bit short, the bottom line is it's still a game that's very fun to play, has a lot of the spirit of the original within it, and there's plenty to do even after you've beaten the game. I think one of the most addicting aspects to it is the rent system. See, yes, there was a property/rent system in the original, but it was very basic and you were never really expected to own a bunch of properties.
Fable 2 is almost like a monopoly hybrid. Seriously, one of the first things I do when playing anymore is buy up as many cheap ass properties as possible, then when I actually start getting bigger developments and shops, I start furnishing and refurnishing properties until...wait wait...isn't this supposed to be an action/adventure/RPG? And that's when it hits you.
Despite the fact that this game fell short in some respects and went super casual, it was still a very solid title overall with many addictive things thrown in more or less just because Lionhead could fucking well do so and I truly appreciate them for that. I mean, come on. What other game can you say that between adventuring you got half the town in on an orgy, just because you could?
Really, what more do I have to say? Well, I guess I should say something. I mean, I hate to be facetious enough to believe that at some point this will be looked at as a time capsule of sorts, but hey, maybe, right? Gamers were understandably skeptic when they first heard of this title. I mean, sure, Oblivion was a damn fine game and Morrowind...well, OTHER people liked it, so they couldn't have done wrong, I suppose, but Fallout was originally an SRPG, so seriously, how was that going to translate well?
And yet, it did. I mean, it REALLY did. I sunk hundreds of hours into this title just wandering the wastes, doing random tasks, rolling over achievements, trudging through DLC...yeah, the whole nine yards. Didn't get tired of it until months later, in fact. It was easily one of the strongest post-apocalypstic games ever and yet it was such a perfect, unbelieveable blend of genres.
Effectively, it's a stealth/action/first person shooter/RPG/adventure game. Yeah, I couldn't believe it wasn't a garbled mess myself, but there you have it. True to the original, insanely fun, easy to pick up and play, and nary a negative thing to say about it, Fallout 3 should be number one this year. Should be...but there's simply no beating...
Now now, put down the pitchforks. While Fallout 3 was an incredible title, this is my second favorite RPG of ALL TIME. There was a while where I was strongly debating whether I actually liked this one more than Final Fantasy 7, and if you follow my writing, you know that's a pretty grand statement coming from me. See, Persona 3 was an incredible title, but it had its problems.
The difficulty curve spiked early, the characters were good but could have been better, the dungeons got fairly repetitive, there was a lot of trial and error, you couldn't manually control your allies, there were very few save points, having your characters get "tired" was fucking frustrating...the list goes on and on despite it being an incredible title.
Persona 4 fixes every single last one of these with effectively difficulty balancing, better characters, better voice acting, better character situations, innovative shop item acquisition system, jobs, lots of save points, automatic checkpoints, trading the tired aspect for having to pay to heal, and much more. While the story isn't as dark as P3, it succeeds tremendously from a technical angle and I liked the characters, story, visuals, and music more in this one.
It absolutely succeeded in taking a system that was already great with just a few minor flaws and polished it until it was platinum quality. I absolutely cannot say a single goddamn bad thing about this title and that's with me really, really trying. If you haven't tried this title, you are truly missing out on an incredible JRPG experience.
I know I'm going to be stepping on some toes for the order and also not including titles like Valkyria Chronicles and Eternal Sonata, but hey, this is my list, so fuck off. It is possible that I missed a few titles, but I tried to reference and cross-reference as many different places as possible to produce this list. Let me know if anything is out of place or missing. And again, thanks for the read!
Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures (PC)
A.I.M. 2 - Clan Wars (PC)
Asda Story (PC)
Atlantica Online (PC)
Avernum 5 (PC)
Away - Shuffle Dungeon (DS)
CABAL Online (PC)
Castle Crashers (360)
Crisis Core - Final Fantasy 7 (PSP)
Crazy Tao (PC)
Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! (PC)
Deco Online (PC)
Disgaea 3 - Absense of Justice (PS3)
Dragon Quest Swords - The Masked Queen and The Tower of Mirrors (Wii)
Dungeon Explorer - Warrior of Agent Arts (Multi)
Dungeon Runners (PC)
Eternal Eden (PC)
Eternal Poison (PS2)
Eternal Sonata (Multi)
Etrian Odyssey 2 - Heroes of Lagaard (DS)
Fate - Undiscovered Realms (PC)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles - My Life As King (WW)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles - Ring of Fates (DS)
Final Fantasy Fables - Chocobo's Dungeon (Wii)
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 - Grimoire of the Rift (DS)
From the Abyss (DS)
Gaia Online MMO (PC)
Ghost Online (PC)
Global Conflicts - Latin America (PC)
Holic Online (PC)
Infinite Undiscovery (360)
Izuna 2 - The Unemployed Ninja Returns (DS)
Key to the Kingdom (PC)
Kingdom Under Fire - Circle of Doom (360)
King's Bounty - The Legend (PC)
Last Remnant (360)
Legend - Hand of God (PC)
Legionwood - Tale of the Two Swords (PC)
Luminous Arc 2 (DS)
Lunia - Record of Lunia War (PC)
Masters of Belial (PC)
Mega Man Star Force 2 - Zerker x Saurian (DS)
Mega Man Star Force 2 - Zerker x Ninja (DS)
Mount & Blade (PC)
Operation Darkness (360)
Penny Arcade Adventures - Episode 1 (Multi)
Penny Arcade Adventures - Episode 2 (Multi)
Perfect World International (PC)
Pirates of the Burning Sea (PC)
Pi Story (PC)
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Explorers of Darkness (DS)
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Explorers of Time (DS)
Quest for Glory 2 - Trial By Fire VGA Edition (PC)
Requiem - Bloodymare (PC)
Rise of the Argonauts (PC)
Rohan - Blood Feud (PC)
Rondo of Swords (DS)
Rune Factory 2 - A Fantasy Harvest Moon (DS)
Sacred 2 - Fallen Angel (PC)
Secrets of the Solstice (PC)
Sewer Goblet - The Wu-Tang Clan and the Wu-Tang Baby (PC)
Shin Megami Tensei - Imagine (PC)
Sho Online (PC)
Silverfall - Earth Awakening (PC)
Song Summoner - The Unsung Heroes (iPod)
Sonic Chronicles - The Dark Brotherhood (DS)
Space Siege (PC)
Spectral Force 3 - Innocent Rage (360)
Spectrobes - Beyond the Portals (DS)
Spirit Engine 2 (PC)
Star Ocean - First Departure (PSP)
Summon Night - Twin Age (DS)
Tales of Game's Presents Chef Boyardee's Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the
Hoopz Barkley SaGa (PC)
Tales of Symphonia - Dawn of the New World (Wii)
Talisman Online (PC)
Valhalla Knights 2 (PSP)
Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
Warhammer Online - Age of Reckoning (PC)
Wonderland Online (PC)
World Ends With You (DS)
Zoids Assault (360)
When I heard there was going to be a new Shadowrun game, I was stoked. I remembered playing the SNES Shadowrun and thinking it was cool, then more recently playing the Genesis version and thinking it was absolutely badass. I couldn't wait for the new Shadowrun. Then it came out...and I was thoroughly disappointed. Seriously, a dumb FPS that barely captured the spirit of Shadowrun, had no true RPG elements, and was basically an over-glorified Team Fortress 2.
Something similar happened when I played Final Fantasy 13. "This is it. This is Squaresoft's final chance to prove to me they've still got it." And they blew it. I felt like it was over. "Well, that's it! No more Final Fantasy! Way to go, Squaresoft." And then I realized...it doesn't matter. How so? Recently I started playing more Final Fantasy 5 and 12. I enjoyed these games as though they were classics because realistically, they are now.
I didn't like Final Fantasy 8 when it came out. Guess what? I don't play it. Sure, there may never be another Final Fantasy ever again, but that doesn't mean there won't be Dragonquest, Persona, Mass Effect, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, or countless other Western and Japanese RPGs in the future. Furthermore, it doesn't soil my memory of classic Final Fantasies and I can always go back and play them.
It's not as though Final Fantasy 13 is solely responsible for the end of a series; Square already made it 100% clear they weren't interested in that kind of big budget for a game anymore. Besides, come on...it's 13 titles long. Well, more than that technically, but you get the idea. Isn't that long enough for a series? Besides, Squaresoft and Enix were always more interesting when they were trying new things that weren't Dragonquest and Final Fantasy anyway, so what's the big deal?
I cannot begin to tell you how much fun I had going back and playing classic games, especially lately. Sure, I'm not happy that I don't have a working 360 in my possession, but it's been more of a blessing than anything because it's helped me rekindle my relationship with all things retro. In fact, it's even inspired me to build my game from the ground up entirely in 16 bit graphics complete with 16 bit sounds and music!
And that's not to say modern games don't impress. Despite all my hate for FF13, I'm still looking forward to trying FF13-2. You know I'm looking forward to Mass Effect 3. I mean, there are all kinds of games, casual or otherwise, coming out everyday that are interesting to me. The industry will continue to get money from me because as many bad games as there are, there are also plenty of brilliant ones pumped out all the time.
So let's assume someone offers to make a new Crusader game. We'll call it Crusader: No Rebuttal. And let's say it absolutely fucking sucks. So what? You can always go back and play the old Crusader games and have plenty of fun with them. It's the same deal with the new Syndicate game coming out. Sure, I hope it does well and helps revive the series, but let's be honest...it doesn't really matter if it does well or not at this point.
When you look at it from this perspective, you don't have to worry about a shitty sequel, prequel, or remake being made because you always have the original. And in the event they succeed, hey, awesome. I think from now on this is the way I'm going to view the industry. They often grab from old ideas when they don't have any of their own (much like the movie industry), so when they fuck up, just go revisit the classics. That's what I'm going to do, anyway.
For me, stealth is a very mixed bag. I really appreciate games that allow you to use stealth, but don't completely shove it down your throat with unnecessary and unforgiving trial and error sequences. The early Splinter Cell games were a perfect example of this in action. It's very hard to get stealth "right," especially because you need the enemy AI to act appropriately to what we would expect in real life, but I think I've found three games that seem to match this well. Don't forget that I attach videos to the pics!
Metal Gear Solid 2
I would normally say the Metal Gear series overall, but I wanted to highlight this one for a few reasons. First, let's talk about the MG games up to this point. You have the original NES version (the MSX version is better), where you just have to watch line of sight and not use noisy shit, evading enemies is fairly easy, but it's also easy to die. You have Metal Gear 2 (MSX), where there are noisy surfaces, you can crawl to mitigate noise, you can hide under things, and overall stealth is a much more desired trait.
And of course, you have the original Metal Gear Solid where there's an incorporation of all these elements along with pressing against surfaces, tapping on walls, the cardboard box (which was also used in the last one), more noisy surfaces, footprints in the snow, and all kinds of clever shit. In my opinion, MGS2 is the apex of Hideo's stealth action genre. Now, I say this not having played MGS4, so keep in mind some of what I discuss may in fact be better in the 4th game.
Everything that occurs in the previous MG games is taken into account, plus there's a new hoisting/hanging system. You also have the ability to make people surrender at gunpoint, but different guards will react differently. You can drag around bodies and hide them. Furthermore, you can hide yourself in more locations, but this comes at a price: smarter AI. For the most part, the AI does what it's done all along: moves in on your location and prepares for a shootout.
However, let's say you've fled to a locker room and the alarm has gone into caution mode. They will start checking lockers. They will start checking in usual hiding spots. See, in MGS, they didn't do this. As long as you hid somewhere they didn't see you enter, you were safe. In this one, they're more self aware and as a result, it becomes harder to hide. The reason this is especially good is because stealth isn't just about hiding; it's about never being found in the first place.
They won't necessarily find you every time and it's not as trial and error, again, as earlier Splinter Cell games, but it still makes for some damn fine stealth and more than a few hair raising moments when you're wondering exactly where they're going to check.
Deus Ex - Human Revolution
The original Deus Ex was a game that prided itself on stealth. That makes sense. The same team behind Deus Ex also made the Thief series, which is a game that's so heavy on stealth that if you're even a little unaware, you're completely and thoroughly fucked. Of course, Deus Ex was also a game that featured shootouts, continuous improvement of the character in a variety of ways, and so on, so really you didn't even NEED to use stealth if you didn't want to, but it was preferred.
I was sure that Human Revolution was going to get this wrong, yet they managed to blow me away. First, the stealth is very traditional. Not a whole lot is done that's new other than cranking the enemy AI. Suffice to say, firefights are almost never a good idea. It's not that you can't win them...it's that the enemy AI is that good. Regardless of whether you're fighting street punks or a small army, you're in a world of fuck if you get in a firefight.
Nevermind that, guard patrols actually make sense, they don't always face just the one direction, and you have a lot of paranoid guards, too. They're smart enough to check everywhere and while you can flank them, they watch for that, too. Overall, the system in DX:HR is a very smart system built on a very classic formula. I'd say it's easily the best traditional stealth engine on the market.
Splinter Cell - Conviction
...which brings us to the best modern stealth engine. Conviction really surprised me. See, I really enjoyed Double Agent before this, but it was set up very much like the previous Splinter Cell games, just with less trial and error, which is really all the formula needed. Conviction, however, blows you away with all kinds of new and interesting mechanics that don't just work, but manage to keep the game hardcore while adding a layer of casualness to it that only adds to the gameplay.
How is this possible? Firstly, we do away with the whole "stealth gauge" thingy. If you're running, you can be detected because of sound. Keeping your head low keeps you in better stealth, but if you're just moving at a normal pace they also can't hear you. Simple. You know they can't see you if you're hidden in a dark area because everything goes black and white except the enemies, which pop out vibrantly.
This is an interesting effect because it immediately lets you know without cross-referencing a bunch of gauges and stuff that they can't see you. Furthermore, it allows you to hone in on them with that much more ease. Another nice touch is if you're detected, then run into hiding, your last known location will pop up as a frozen silhouette, which you can use to your advantage for flanking purposes.
A lot of really clever stuff like that was done in the game which added to the already high production values and made the game more playable without seeming too easy or too punishing. All in all, Conviction is easily the best modern stealth engine on the market and I highly recommend it.
Of course, I also highly recommend all three of the titles today. Sure, I get that MGS2 is a bit dated, but it's still worth playing through if you never did. Stealth has become a major factor of today's gaming, so it's worth looking into as a new genre. Now if only Tenchu could make a major comeback...
Skyrim is a fantastic game where even something as minor as sidequesting can be fun, interesting, and even a well told story all in its own. Some of the sidequests in Skyrim are much more entertaining than the main storyline...so much so that the main storyline pales in comparison to it. This seems to be something that Bethesda does well. It almost sounds backwards, yet it really is quite brilliant.
Imagine my surprise, then, when a serious epiphany followed by a long moment of introspection occurred when I sought out to get an achievement. Which achievement? Master criminal. For those that haven't played the game yet, shame on you. Also, the master criminal achievement is gained when you successfully have a bounty of at least 1000 gold on your head in all 9 holds. In other words, you have a major crime spree, completely witnessed, and got off scot free well enough to do so in all 4 corners of the Skyrim world, effectively.
First I'm going to start by telling you a little bit about me. While it is true that I play most games that offer lots of choice as either a master thief or a bloodbathed barbarian, I also strive to be "the good guy." You know the type. Even when the opportunity presents itself to get a great reward by doing something malicious, I'll turn it down because I know it will tarnish my reputation...even though I just successfully robbed the entire town blind probably.
"They love me! Well...till rent is due anyway..."
It seems like such an odd contradiction, but I'm going back to the Zelda example that I didn't quite flesh out in my last article. Here we have the hero of time, Hyrule, green fairy land, or whatever, we know he's supposed to be the good guy and goes around doing nice things, BUT HE SEEMS TO HAVE SOME MAJOR VENDETTA AGAINST CLAY POTS AND THINKS NOTHING OF STEALING BOTTLES, HEART PIECES, AND OTHER GOODS FROM PEOPLES' HOMES.
The same could be said for most Final Fantasy games as well, but I digress. In any case, I played Skyrim fairly neutral. I chose sides when I was asked to, but for the most part I would do nice things, steal like a sticky fingered bastard constantly, and do just about any mission someone would throw at me, good or bad. I kept telling myself I would do this achievement eventually...you know, maybe after I beat the game or something.
Then I decided "Eh, I'm at level 56 and I'm bored. I bet this achievement will be easy enough to knock out." It was, but that's hardly the point. Allow me to elaborate. The first thing I did was set a manual save game so I didn't have that one MANIAC autosave or whatever haunting me. I attacked a child. Nope, can't kill children. He ran like a little bitch and the guards swarmed on me. They were no match and fell pretty quickly.
"THAT'S WHAT YOU GET FOR MAKING FUN OF THE HELMET!!"
It didn't take very long to earn the 1000 gold bounty and as soon as I did, I ran from the village, set a marker on my map, then kept using stealth until I was safe. When I was finally safe, I fast travelled to the next village. A bunch of people were coming out of a bar. I remembered a few of them being fairly snooty and just plain all around bastards. I came at them with my axe. BAM, HEADS FLEW CLEAN OFF, ONE AFTER THE OTHER.
I was getting excited. The 1000 gold bounty was already there, but it kept saying something about "last witness killed, 1000 bounty removed," so just for good measure, I killed the entire crowd, sparing the guards. I then fast travelled to the next town. I did it again...starting with another asshole, shouting "ha, yeah, fuck that guy!" It was liberating. They were dying with just one hit, totally uncharged. They were in no way prepared for me and it was hilarious.
I did this over and over, often running into the main taverns when I couldn't find people readily available. Hell, there was one town where I had to FIGHT A DRAGON before I could kill anyone, which was especially hilarious because I began the massacre shortly after they'd just cheered me on and thanked me for saving them from death. Bloodbath after bloodbath occurred at my hand. Guards were no match for me, often submitting after one or two well placed hits...but I don't take prisoners...they all died unless they were necessary for being a witness.
"You will tell EVERYONE what happened here today or you will get 500 arrows to the knee!"
Then...the achievement rolled over. It seemed to happen almost too quickly. "Already? Man." I loaded up my manual save and...and...my adrenaline was still surging, but...the first thing that happened was the kid I initially attempted to kill came up to me. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a miner. Just like my dad!" I turned and his father came out of the door behind me. "I'm a miner, just like my father and his father before him."
Everything was peaceful again. There was no chaos. Certainly the game surrounds itself around dragons, all kinds of evil monsters, a rebellion, evil gods, and even the corruption of man...but not now. I had been the monster not but a few seconds ago. I had attacked this child; the child of the man behind me. From there, I simply started killing people because hey, fuck them, right? Gotsa get my cheevos!
And sure, it's just a videogame, but let's think about this just for a second. I could have just stolen a bunch of stuff right in front of the guards, but I did the thing I thought would rack up my bounty the quickest: murder. I could justify killing bandits. They often strike first, usually don't give you any other option but to fight them, and, come on, THEY'RE BAD GUYS! So really, I don't feel bad fighting and killing them.
Plus trolls. EVERYBODY hates trolls.
If I was just killing guards it may have been easier, too. The guards in Skyrim have a closed helmet, so in a way, it's easier to look at them as not human and a symbol of oppression. However...these were just civilians. Sure, most are far from "innocent," with even some of the children being outright little shitheads, but they're no warriors. One or two hits and...that's it. Often their heads just flew off...just pop...there goes your head...and that's it.
The sudden shift from aggression and adrenaline to calmness and peace made me realize...sometimes, that's how videogames are. In Doom, everything is out to get you. You have to kill them, hoards of them, before they can get you. The same is true for many FPSs. And really, the same is true for Skyrim in many areas. But it also has established areas of peace...and I shattered that...all for the sake of an achievement.
And sure, I had my handy little reset button, but I couldn't help but feel bad. I actually had to stop playing for a bit and play something a little more lighthearted before I could return. Once I did return, I smiled and went on to the shops as though nothing had happened. Because it never had in the eyes of the save game. But the achievement is there...and I will never forget it.