As I’m currently awaiting knee surgery, I have a lot of time to play video games. Here’s a sampling of the ones I’ve been playing over the last little bit, complete with a brief review.
I have put hundreds of hours into this game over the last year or so. The first time I played it was at the insistence of a friend; we had been drinking and I bought and downloaded it after we split at like 3:00AM. I could not for the life of me figure it out so I gave up and went to bed.
The next day I tried again. I punched down a tree. I built a house. And then it spiraled out of control. Right now I’m working on a super-fortress and adjoining city. Not only do I have lots of free time, but Minecraft has evidently made me insane.
If, somehow, you have not heard of Minecraft, check out the website. I don’t know if one can even review a game like Minecraft, but suffice it to say it is amazing. Basically, you mine things — like trees, or dirt, or rocks, or iron, or whatever. Some of these things you can turn into other things — you could make an iron pickaxe out of your iron, for example, and mine faster. Other blocks you can just straight up place — you can mine cobblestone and place it to make a tower, for example. There are incredibly few limits to what you can do — using things like redstone and pistons, you could even make simple machines (people having even created in-game calculators and the like). Notch recently endorsed pirating the game if you can’t afford it, so if money is an issue, do that.
Dungeons of Dredmor: Realm of the Diggle Gods
Dungeons of Dredmor is probably my game of the year for 2011. It is incredible. Gaslamp Games, this tiny company, managed to create an amazing game that, while simplistic, manages to remain endearing. I wrote a bit more of a comprehensive review awhile back and stand by what I said there. It is an excellent game, but it is ruthless. Honestly, the deepest I’ve made it without dying is level 4. The expansion pack adds fifteen levels and, to be honest, I don’t know how many levels there are in the core game. All I know is that even though I keep on dying, I need to keep on re-rolling and keep on playing.
Realm of the Diggle Gods, the expansion pack, adds several floors and some great skills, including the hilarious Emomancy, the awesome Big Game Hunter, and the seemingly overpowered Werediggle. The first grants you magic abilities or whatever and stuff, the second makes you a lethal killing machine (particularly against the “Animal” subclass), and the last lets you turn into a diggle, which is hilarious and fairly powerful. The guys seem to have redone a lot of the monsters and taunts, added features like portals that teleport you to alternate dimensions and levers that port you around the dungeon, added a ton of extra skills to the core-game skill trees, added a ton of new weapons, fixed a bunch of bugs, and made the game a lot, lot more fun — and that’s a feat, because, it is still one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played. If you haven’t bought it yet, you can pick it and the expansion pack up at Steam for the low low price of $7.49 USD. It’s definitely worth it.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
I cleared through MGS2 a few times and have turned my full attention to MGS3. I beat MGS3:SE several times on PS2, beat MGS3: Subsistence a few more times, and am working on it again, especially now that trophies are up for grabs. If for some reason you haven’t bought the HD collection and have never played either MGS2, MGS3, or MGS: Peace Walker, you should probably stop wasting your time and pick it up.
The HD edition of MGS3 looks quite a bit better than the SD version, and runs better, too. The addition of trophies is something I like: something that bugged me about MGS2 and 3 was that there were “challenges” that the game never really issued but that online communities were partaking in. And unless you belonged to these groups, you may have not known about them. You’d have to read strategy guides and message boards to even figure it out. Trophies/achievements are great because they do help give you a focus, something to strive for, and a way to prove you achieved what you did. As it stands, I’m working on the Peace Walker trophy (no-kills), the Markhor trophy (capturing every food item), and the Kerotan trophy, which requires a certain level of OCD that I am quickly approaching.
Final Fantasy VIII
There’s something about the Final Fantasy games VI-IX that makes them stand out. They each have their flaws, I think, but they’re all very entertaining. I’m working on playing through VIII — while I can’t stand the Squall/Rinoa romance because I’m not 16, it is nonetheless an excellent game. That’s all I’ll say, there.
Transylvanilla alerted me to Indie Royale’s Serious Sam package yesterday. It’s still on. For several dollars ($4,46 USD as I write) you get Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Serious Sam: Double D, Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack, and Serious Sam: The First and Second Encounter. Serious Sam is an old staple of the shooter world, almost, but not quite, as legendary as Duke Nukem. SS features the same over-the-top, self-aware, corniness. They’re games meant to be fun more than anything else. There isn’t a real story at stake, and there is no characters trying for emotional attachment or growth or anything like that. They’re games about killing baddies — old school kinda stuff, in the vein of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, which itself was a spoof of action video games… but Serious Sam does it much better (though Matt Hazard has one of the best trailers ever). It’s self-referential and self-aware, and well, just a cool video game — all of them. I’d recommend picking up the Indie Royal deal while it’s still up.
And rewatching the Matt Hazard trailers, I’d recommend getting that too. It’s fun.
Metal Gear Solid 4
This is embarrassing. I only got a PS3 last September so maybe I deserve a bye on this, but I’ve only just beat MGS4. I hit a bit of a wall where I didn’t really want to play and took months off, but got back on and beat it. It starts off slow but right after the wall I hit, it absolutely picks up and becomes one of the greatest games ever and includes at least two of my favourite boss fights of all time.
Well played, Hideo. Well played.
While it has been out for slightly over a month, I’ve only just now had the chance to get around to playing the re-release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Peace Walker in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection. And, obviously, it’s awesome. It’s a tough thing to review if only because, well, MGS2, 3 and PW are all old news. Sure, they may be some of the finest video games ever made, but we’ve played them. Aside from improved graphics (most notably in 3 and Peace Walker, less so in 2), you’re looking at the exact same games as before (except PW has moved from your PSP and now you can get trophies/achievements for choking guys out). But there are a few things to note for the nerds in the room: you’re playing the expanded editions of each. That’s right, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. That means that in addition to getting two of the greatest video games ever made, you’re also getting a slew of bonus missions, training, and extra content (minus the Skating mini-game for 2 and Snake vs. Monkey in 3). On the other hand, while they have been dramatically improved, the graphics of MGS2 and 3 still show their age.
Before proceeding, however, something needs to be said: Metal Gear Solid 2 is the superior game. It’s tough to say and it’s, I dare say, a wildly unpopular opinion. I’ll run through the two biggest complaints:
1) The story is batshit insane (minor spoilers ahead).
Metal Gear Solid 2 has an insane storyline which seems to involve removing letters from the alphabet, incest, and destroying a financial center, a la Fight Club. Along the way you discover that not only are you a former child soldier and a soldier now with no real training aside from VR training because you’ve repressed your time as a child soldier being raised and taught by none other than
John Cygan Canderous Ordo Dash Rendar Solidus Snake, Liquid Snake and Solid Snake’s third, perfect brother, but that the entire mission is another training, VR-esque mission. Also, The Patriots control everything.
Hideo Kojima played a really mean trick in 2001. Following, again one of the greatest games ever made (MGS1), we were given fully 3D, slightly-human looking Solid Snake. The first two-three hours of MGS2 are awesome because you’re once again playing the living legend himself. The same badassery and box-wearing shenanigans are back, and it is actually sweet. Then everything goes south and you find yourself in part 2, AKA The Plant chapter. Campbell begins by addressing the player as Snake, and for half a second you’re thinking that somehow, Solid Snake and the Campbell are back together for an awesome mission. Nope. Some wuss responds and within ten minutes you see Raiden in all his douchebaggery. Whether it involves slipping on pigeon crap, getting felt up by an old man (only for him to exclaim “You’re a man?”) or getting urinated on by a guard, you are a running joke for the rest of the game. You don’t even find redemption in the final fight. Regardless of what Raiden has become, his beginnings are pretty sad.
Addressing number one, yes, it is a little nuts but like with any story, if you allow yourself to be pulled in, it becomes believable. And, well, let’s not forget that we’re playing a video game in the first place: it’s not real, anyhow, and striving for realism in what is clearly an unrealistic medium seems kind of silly, no?
Number two is the harder part. Raiden is ultimately a wuss and is a lousy character. He’s whiney and dumb and weak and constantly confused but, in the end, he really is the player. MGS2 touches on this to some extent, but look at it this way: the average video gamer has no actual combat experience. I’ve played tons of war games but I’ve never been to war. I’ve launched nukes and mortars and cannons and fired guns, but not outside of a video game. Like Raiden, we have no combat experience. When we first meet Snake in MGS2 (or even in 1, or even going back to Metal Gear), he has more combat experience than us, period. He is an expert at what he does and his level of ability is far beyond ours. Raiden, though, is relatively unshaped and unmolded. He has a wealth of combat experience, but all of it (save his child warfare stuff) is purely virtual. So when we’re launched into the game as him, we’re going in with that same background of VR training, but nothing real — and even our experience as Raiden is virtual (and while Raiden’s experience is somewhat real, the fact remains that it is all a test by The Patriots, anyway, meant to mimic Shadow Moses). His experience eventually has him ranting at his girlfriend and at the Colonel, saying that “we bleed, we die” and that one needs “something higher” than just the mission to fight for (but what that is, he doesn’t know).
What we’re fighting for is, at the start at least, the game. We’re fighting because we’re told by the Colonel, by Konami, by Kojima, to fight. That is our role and our mission. And maybe we turn at some point and start fighting because we want to, not because that’s the mission but to figure out what is going on and try to set things right. In MGS1, Otacon asks Snake “what am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?” Snake enigmatically explains, “if we make it through this, I’ll tell you”. He fights to fight. He fights to survive, he fights to set things right. At the end of MGS1 (and repeated by Snake to Raiden halfway through MGS2), Gray Fox famously says to Snake:
We’re not tools of the government or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I always fought for what I believed in.
Towards the end of MGS2, we’re expected to decide what to continue fighting for. We can continue the mission, continue playing Kojima’s game as it were, or we can break out and instead fight for the game. While Raiden is our avatar in MGS2 and he ultimately decides to fight for what he believes in, thus forcing us to fight for what Raiden believes in, we can still make the same choice. We can care, or we can beat the game. Of course, as Raiden too finds out, either choice forces you to the same end, though you take a different path. In the end, we gain our VR experience playing as Raiden, while Raiden, insofar as video game characters can have “real” experiences, gains the experience of the Plant chapter as VR mission, as well as beginning to face his inner demons as a child soldier.
This, I think, is the brilliance of MGS2 and of Raiden. There are very few video game characters I hate more than Raiden of the MGS2 era. When the game first came out, I heard people claim that we were supposed to like this unlikable character but I think that’s wrong. Raiden is this bland, by-the-book, no real experience sort of character. We’re expecting a Snake, and we get this wuss. We’re expected to hate him because we all like to think that we’re as tough and as badass as Solid Snake, especially if we have beaten MGS1 a dozen times a dozen different ways. But we’re not, and through MGS2, we’re expected to come to terms with that and even if we don’t ever come to like Raiden, we come to at least understand and not totally hate him.
I will admit that nostalgia does play a small role in my love for that game. My cousin and I rented it the day it came out. I had school the next day but there was a chance, admittedly a small chance but a chance, of an overnight snowstorm. We started it late in the day and eventually cloistered ourselves in a room in the basement. I remember our original playtime came to thirteen hours because we made ridiculous rules such as no restarting through suicide after getting caught and so on. It took what felt like forever. 5 AM or so rolled around and my cousin had to go to work. We were near the end, ready to fight some Metal Gear RAYS. He took off, and I beat the game. I looked outside for the first time in hours and the snow was up several feet. Here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, even a light dusting of snow stops everything. School was cancelled, I went to sleep. It was one of the best video game playthroughs in my life.
All that said, MGS3 is an absolutely amazing game and I respect the fact that most people would rate it above MGS2 simply because of how excellent a game it is and is worth a critical reading same as MGS2. Peace Walker looks and plays better here on the console than it ever could on the ill-fated PSP as well. It easily had a much thorough overhaul than MGS2 or 3, and while I don’t think it’s as good as either, it is an excellent game.
Pick up MGS: HD Collection if you’ve never played the games or if you have a few hundred hours to kill (assuming you play through more than once). It’s definitely worth it.