...and I noticed that they are all different. "Well DUH", some of you might initially say, "every game is different".
You are right, but the three I played vary so vast in tone that I think now is as good a time as ever to look at those three.
First up is a game I've anticipated since its first announcement trailer rolled around. It looked intriguing, it looked tragic, it looked "WOOF".
Yes, I'm talking about "Valiant Hearts - The Great War". Interestingly enough, World War I is not a scenario often featured in games. Even with its centennial anniversary right about now, only Valiant Hearts made the jump. The only other notable World War I game I can think of was "Iron Storm", an FPS that played in an alternate timeline, where WWI wasn't decided 1918 but raged on into he 1960s.
But Valiant Hearts.
What's pretty evident is, that this game is absolutely beautiful. The UbiART engine was looking good, when it came to the new Rayman-titles, but absolutely kills it here. Kudos also to the artist that managed to create an interesting art-style that is charming to look at, easy to fall in love with but nevertheless manages to show the uglier sides of that particular war.
And don't you, for a minute, think, that this is your typical war-game. Nuh-uh. VH is a puzzle-platformer, but with an emphasis on puzzling, rather than platforming. Think more "The Cave" and less "Braid".
The game follows four protagonists: Karl, a young German-native, living in Elsass-Lothringen on his farm, with his wife and child. Emile, Karl's father-in-law, an old man. Anna, a young french veterinarian and Freddie, an African-American soldier who fights for the Canadians for very personal reasons. Then of course there's Walt, the Dog. Featured in every trailer, he is the one constant in this world of chaos.
The story and characters are definitely the strong point here. The art and music of the game do a great job of making us feel for those guys with very little exposition and no dialogue at all. The only clearly spoken words that tell us what's going on are being told to us in between the levels. In there, we only hear fractions of sentences, single words and always in the respective languages (Freddie speaks english, Karl German, Emile French and so on). Mostly, however, you're given a speech bubble with some hint as to what to do.
There is a really great little scene, where you have to throw the right kind of dynamite to an Arab soldier. He speaks his language, you speak yours, both don't really understand each other, yet have to make it work regardless.
This is an underlying theme under the whole game: the chaos, the dissolution of humanity and everything that comes with it...and in all this: you. Some normal guy, as confused by all of this as the rest of the world, trying to get by and to somehow survive this.
It's pretty hard to merge an engaging narrative with an engaging game in a puzzle game. It almost seems as if there's very much narrative with some not-invasive elements (like for example in The Cave) or have Gameplay and Story at two levels which makes them both seem interrupting each other (like Magrunner).
In this case, we have strangely a mix of both. Most of the gameplay is integrated into the scenario rather well and doesn't disturb the flow of the game. In several scenes, however, I felt like the gameplay was there to stretch the time, just to make me do something. I'm not gonna spoil, where that is, but sometimes I just felt like I was doing busywork, not getting on with anything. It's a shame, because usually it works and it works very good.
Game number two on this list is basically the complete opposite of this one. I'm speaking of Sniper Elite 3.
Now I wasn't really too high on this one. I really liked the first game in the series when it arrived in 2005. It was a 3rd-person sniper game with some awesome bullet-physics. You basically ran from point A to point B and sniped there, but the areas for sniping were rather vast (for the time) and you could approach enemies from multiple areas and in different ways.
Then, seven years later, came Sniper Elite v2 and took me by surprise. I mean: was anyone really screaming for a second game in that "franchise"? The first one had its following, sure, I'm one of them, but on the other hand, it was a niche title, even back then and it sold rather poorly. But well, might as well give it a shot...and a collective "MEH" was heard. It looked okay and it introduced the Killcam but it restricted you too much. Gone were the "multiple approaches" of the first one and in came a more "cineastic" experience...which sadly doesn't work well with the Sniper-thingy. The bullet-physics were still there but there was sadly no way to integrate them into this strict corset.
But apparently it sold okay-ish (mostly methinks to 13-year-olds attracted by the violence) and so, about two weeks ago, Sniper Elite 3 - Afrika came down upon us and what can I say?
It's great. The best in the series and it shows everyone how a Sniper game should be made.
What makes the big difference? Two words: Open. Levels. You have an objective and are put on a large map. Everything from there on is up to you. This game is basically everything that Hitman Absolution was not. It's your approach and your approach only. You can rambo your way through or stealth your way through and the best thing: both ways work and both ways are rewarded in their own ways so that you never feel that you played the game "wrong". There are also numerous sidemissions in every mission with a little twist: you have to find them yourselves.
The Killcam is still there, but it alone gives you more options than many games do in their entirety. You have five levels of how often they came and another five levels of "with what weapon and what kill etc." so that you can cater it to your personal liking.
The bullet-physics are better than ever and you have to factor in a lot of stuff down to the own quirks of your gun.
There are currently only four rifles in the game but more are announced via DLC + the weapons you have can be customized (with parts you find in game).
Of course not everything is as shiny. The narrative for example is as basic as it gets. One of Hitler's generals has plans for a new "Wunderwaffe" (the P-1000 Ratte....a superheavy tank that, believe it or not, was REALLY planned by the Nazis), go stop them. You won't get much more than that, as this is one of those "gameplay > narrative"- kind of games. Also, as fun and satisfying as the sniping and everything related is, as clunky do the other methods of disposing nazis feel. Assault Rifles in general feel like glorified pea-shooters and of the three pistols, only the Welrod is remotely useful, due to it being the only silenced gun in the whole game.
Another thing is the AI. Now, generally speaking, the AI is pretty good. They react to disturbances accordingly on several levels and gang up on you, seek cover, flank you etc. etc. etc. However, once ONE enemy knows where you are hiding, EVERY enemy in the whole level knows it which seems kinda strange to me. Yet, this forces you to think about how you approach things...which is not what I anticipated in a game that was supposedly all about separating Nazi-testicles from their Nazi-owners via Rifle circumcision.
Now it wouldn't be a complete blog without some curveball of japanese whackyness and luckily, they've got us covered.
In Kantai Collection (or KanColle in short) you command a fleet of World War II era warships who are represented by school-girl persona-like versions of said ships....I'll give you a minute to take this fact in.
Finished? Good. So what is KanColle? It's a free-2-play card-based game with RPG-elements and several multiplayer aspects in a grind-heavy singleplayer game, if you want the basic description. Really, it's not that complicated. You start of with a flagship and some ressources. Soon, you'll find yourself able to compile a fleet, build new ships (or just use the ones you get through combat), research new stuff, etc.
The catch here is basically the "collect 'em all" mechanic regarding the ships. There are 200 of them, ranging from Destroyers to Battleships and Carriers. The artwork is really well done and creative enough to make you want to collect them all. Who knows? Maybe one day you'll be able to marry your favorite ship, as it levels up enough (seriously, I can't make this stuff up...)
The free-2-play model seems kinda fair so far. It hasn't been a problem to play anything or get anything done until now. Ressources drop in every few minutes or through supply runs and if you're careful enough, you can play this for hours before you run out of things to do for the day. Quests and Daily specials loosen up what sometimes runs dangerously close to formulaic boredom. The basic "Sortie - repair - resupply" rinse and repeat is definitely a thing here and in terms of graphics, you shouldn't expect much. The battles are battles of still-images, wielding their stats at each other. There is, however, some tactic involved when it comes to morale, fatigue, supply, damage etc.
Imagine it more like a management sim: you don't do stuff directly but are able to influence it with your guidance.
So that's the games. Which one is best? I can't honestly say. The way war is depicted in games has changed over the years and in my book, that's a very good thing. At first, I wanted to do a "cross review" until I realized, that these are three games that you can't compare. This starts with something as seemingly simple as the graphics. Which one is best? The creative artwork of KanColle, the wide and detailed landscapes of Sniper Elite 3 or the incredible comic-book style of Valiant Hearts?
Each one of these games is more than worth its money and I can't honestly make a general recommendation.
War is many things and these games each feature some of them: it's chaotic and cruel, it's meticulous down to the smallest part, even in the face of gigantic adversary and it's paperwork....
...and obviously sometimes it's school girls dressed as battleships.