Thursday, September 29, 2011

Most Memorable Games of All Time

This blog contains spoilers for various video games.

There are a ton of threads on a ton of different forums asking people what their favorite games are.  For me, that's not a very easy question to answer.  I've been gaming since 1997, when the first Turok was released.  Since then I've racked up a lot of experience, gaming in the Super Nintendo, NES, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Playstation, Sega Dreamcast, Playstation 2, XBOX, Nintendo Gamecube, XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Playstaion 3, and of course PC.  I even have a lot of experience on portable systems from the first Gameboy to the DS Lite and PSP.

The first game I ever played was an FPS, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, so as you can imagine I've continued to play them throughout the years.  I consider it to be one of the greatest games ever made.  It's a shame first person shooters evolved into what they are today - generic, not challenging, not thought-provoking at all, and repetitive.  Turok is a first person shooter, platformer, and adventure.  The amount of hidden crap in these games will boggle the average gamers mind, and combine that with the intriguing storyline (not visible to newcomers to the Turok franchise), confusing but huge level design and innovative enemies, this is a game that will have you hooked.

You play through the first Turok as Tal'Set, aka Turok: Son of Stone in the original comics, a Native American and tribal leader of the Saquin Nation born in Southern Texas in the early 1840s.  In the late 19th century, Tal'Set was transported while battling Captain Bruckner of the U.S. Army.  Both were transported into the Lost Land, a world in which time has not much meaning at all.

The Lost Land is made up of jungles, but also contains a large city, junkyard, temples, and a number of ancient structures.  I'll explain the Lost Land's origins at another time, but it's another world in a distant galaxy.  It is so similar to Earth that a bond was formed between them, and occasional wormholes, known as portals, occasionally form between them allowing matter to pass through from world to world.  This is how it got its population in the ancient times.  Tal'Set and Bruckner were brought into this new world, after civilizations had come and gone in the Lost Land.

Tal'Set was rescued by the seer TarKeene who said that Tal'Set was the legendary Son of Stone, or Turok.  Tal'Set formed an alliance and was brought into the war against Slegs, led by Lord Tyrannus (not Count Dooku from Star Wars).  Bruckner was part of the Slegs Army.  Their plot to wipe out humanity was foiled, as detailed in Turok: Evolution.

After accepting the title of Turok, Tal'Set had a new enemy known as Campaigner.  He vouched to find an ancient artifact, a weapon known as the Chronoscepter, which was dismantled into pieces and hidden for centuries.  It was believed that this weapon had the power to destroy the barriers between Earth and the Lost Land.  Your goal in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is to stop Campaigner, and if you're a good enough explorer, find all eight pieces of the Chronoscepter.  Throughout the game you'll be challenged by your enemies, puzzled at the level designs, and intrigued by the exploration factor.  A truly fantastic game.

Turok 2: Seeds of Evil comes next.  This sequel surpasses the original in some ways.  The enemy design is my absolute favorite, in fact I'd love to see them recreated in Killing Floor.  The HUD was improved, completely new levels, and we dwell deeper into the storyline.  You no longer play as Tal'Set, but now Joshua Fireseed, the next Turok.  This is where the Lost Land's origins fall into play.

At some point in time, a being known as Primagen became bored in life.  He was intrigued by the ideas of secrets and unknown truths in the universe... puzzled by all of the stars in outer space that never seem to end. So one day, he decided to uncover these truths.  He restructured his Lightship (against the advice of his peers), and set forth on a journey across the universe.

Unfortunately, his Lightship was not built for the type of travel he went through.  The hull began to wear out, and a hull breach near the core of the ship caused immensely powerful energy to poor into space.  This energy interacted with various particles in outer space, propelling the ship into a sort of vortex.  This energy release was so powerful that the universe at the time was destroyed, and our universe was created afterwards.

Because of the energy accumulation, the Lightship skipped in and out of time, collecting anti-matter.  When it finally settled back down into reality, the ship had been totally changed.  It became a sort of magnet for all nearby matter.  Years and years passed by as this Lightship grew into something else.  But what would it grow into?  After all these years, Primagen's Lightship grew into a planet, separated from the space around it by a mass of energy that became known as the Netherscape.  This planet became known as The Lost Land.

^ Now, does this paragraph not remind anybody of the TV series "Lost"?

Anyway, as I've stated earlier, the Lost Land and Earth were so similar that a bond was formed between them, opening up the portals.  For a long time, nobody knew of the existence of Primagen.  What happened to him?

Let's backtrack here, to Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.  Tal'Set acquired the pieces for the Chronoscepter, assembled it, and unleashed a volley of whoopass on Campaigner.  With Campaigner destroyed, Tal'Set did what most would consider to be the right thing - he set forth to destroy the Chronoscepter.  Something so powerful shouldn't be available to anyone right?  Who knows what people would do with something like that (a theme relevant in my favorite modern game of all time, discussed later).  Tal'Set dropped the Chronoscepter into a volcano.  This triggered a violent earthquake, which awakened the creator of The Lost Land - Primagen.

Tal'Set's fate remains unclear.  Seeing as how he is nowhere to be found after the events of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, and Primagen sticks around, it would be reasonable to assume that Tal'Set met his match and was destroyed by Primagen.  Primagen was a huge creature, maybe thirty feet tall, with powers far beyond those of a human.  Because of his power, wisdom, and knowledge, he spent 150 years after his awakening building an army to free him.  You see, Primagen was trapped in the wreckage of his lightship and kept imprisoned by the people of the Lost Land.

Primagen raised an army to free him, destroy humanity, and conquer both The Lost Land and Earth.  Joshua Fireseed, the next Turok, was called to save the day.  However, unlike in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Turok is guided throughout his quest.  His guide is Adon, an alien chick who represents Galyanna, one of the first civilizations in The Lost Land.  Adon represents the Council of Voices, or the Lazarus Concordance, leaders of the people of Galyanna.  They're bodiless beings, communicating through computers to Adon.  They reside in Forever Light, the major city of Galyanna.

Turok must prevent Primagen's army from destroying the five energy totems which keep him imprisoned in his lightship wreckage.  Throughout this quest, Turok is contacted by mysterious creatures acting under a force known as "Oblivion".  They attempt to destroy him and nearly succeed.  Turok battles through these forces, as well as Primagen's, ultimately defeating the Primagen and saving both worlds... for the time being.

Turok 2's gameplay is similar to that of the original, combining platforming and exploration elements with the FPS genre.  It's a formula not seen today, which is very unfortunate.  Despite the similarities you won't feel like you're replaying the same game (unlike today's shooters and their sequels).  There are no human enemies, and the level design is very different.  As with the first one, and not with today's shooters, beating Turok 2 will trigger a strong feeling of accomplishment regarding video games.

After Turok 2, we saw Turok Rage Wars, a fun multiplayer game at the time, and then Turok 3, which brought the action to Earth briefly before moving into more unseen areas of The Lost Land.  While it was a very good game, the exploration factor is a bit less than the first two, and overall its lasting appeal is reduced.  It focused on Oblivion, who was an omnipotent individual who consumed any planet it encountered prior to the creation of The Lost Land.  The creation of The Lost Land nearly destroyed him, and he seeked revenge on everything that took away from his power.  Turok 3 much shorter than the first two.

Turok: Evolution followed, adding to the story of Tal'Set (conflict with Bruckner, first entering The Lost Land, war against Tyrannus and the Sleg army).  It was another fun game, although once again the platforming, exploring, and mind-blowing level design of the first two were gone.  Unfortunately, the developing company for the series, Acclaim, went bankrupt.  The game "Turok" followed years later, ignoring the previous storyline, ignoring the previous unique gameplay elements, and turned the series into a generic space marine game.

One other N64 game stands out on my list of most memorable games.  N64 had a bunch of amazing games, far superior to most of what you see today, such as The Legend of Zelda series, Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie/Banjo Tooie, and Donkey Kong 64.  But this next one I'm about to mention utilizes a unique formula that I've never seen again.  That game is Diddy Kong Racing!

What makes this game so unique and memorable?  Well, for me, that would be the combination of a racing game with an adventure game.  It's not like that Lego racing game or Mickey Mouse racing game on N64 (which were great), nor is it like any racing game I've seen today.  The game has a free roaming main level, and you choose which races to participate in.  You also get to race in a cart, hovercraft, or plane.  You play as Diddy Kong, who needs no introduction, and you race your way through this large world and various boss fights in order to defeat the evil Wizpig.

Like other games of the time, it was challenging.  It was also a load of fun, and it's hard to ask for more (perhaps just a new controller).  This game was ported to the Nintendo DS for those of you with dead N64's (mine still works!).  An absolute must have.

The next three games are part of the same generation of consoles (and appeared on both).  The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series!

Oddly enough I started out with the second one, because a family member introduced me to it directly.  I've spent countless hours in these game (applies to the Turok series and Diddy Kong Racing as well) and it got me very interested in skateboarding.  Of course this interest died down as I grew older.  But my love for the games has yet to die down!

I only mentioned the first three, because they were the best.  The first one started it all, second one improved visuals and changed gameplay around slightly, while the third one changed up the campaign completely (while keeping the old school style) and also drastically changed gameplay.  The fourth one is unmentioned, but still great, since it wasn't any different from the third.  Then came the Underground game, which added a campaign as well as clothing customization.  But the level design and parks are less memorable.  Same for Underground 2 (hardly remember it actually), and Project 8.  I still rank them all as either great or very good, but the first three strike me as amazing.

My absolute favorite would be Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x, which is an XBOX version that combines all of the levels from the first and second games.  I spent countless hours making levels, since I didn't run out of space on memory cards like on N64.  So many levels, hundreds, and I still remember a select few very vividly.  Such good memories...

Speaking of XBOX, there was one other less known game of that generation that remains one of my favorite third person action adventure games.  However, I don't think it's quite good enough to make my list of absolute favorites, but it's damn close and I will always remember it.  That game is Predator: Concrete Jungle.  To any Predator fan... go play it.  It's challenging, you get to play with all of his gear (if you play well and unlock everything), long, good storyline, good storytelling, good dialogue, and I could go on.  It also helped that I was a master at this game.

Another third person action/adventure stands right next to Predator: Concrete Jungle for me, and that's The Matrix: Path of Neo.

First of all, this game had the best graphics of all games that generation.  No doubt about it.  Predator: Concrete Jungle may have topped the list of most played games of that generation, but The Matrix: Path of Neo was really close.  You play as Neo and go through the events of all three Matrix movies, but it's not even remotely the same as the films.  The gameplay comes out just weird at times... like The Matrix.  You'll love it. Weird, mind-blowing, and insanely fun.  It might be hard to get used to at first, but again, I was unstoppable in it.  The game includes puzzles, very unique gameplay, and lots of hand-to-hand combat plus shootouts.  The end boss fight is also crazy.  I won't spoil that, go play it.

Honorable mentions include the Metal Gear Solid series, Resident Evil series, and Silent Hill series (best horror games of all time, 1-3 at least).

These were games I played, sucked at, and watched my brother play more than myself.  Silent Hill is the most unique - it's not like any other horror game out there.  It's very personal, story-driven, and will make you piss your pants.  Silent Hill as a whole, but especially Silent Hill 2, can be studied on so many levels.  You'll not only get pwned by the enemies, but you'll lose a lot of brain cells in dealing with the puzzles.  The latter applies to Resident Evil as well, but to a lesser extent.  I don't include Resident Evil 4 and 5.  They're fun action games, but they totally destroyed the series.  They were horror games for Christ's sake, and RE4 just said "fuck this storyline" and went on its own spree.  Gotta love Crapcom.  $$$$$$$$

Metal Gear Solid is all about storyline, details, government conflict, and just conflict and war in general.  It looks on the latter on a macro scale and micro scale (through characters like Snake, Meryl, and to some extend Raiden).  The multiplayer of Metal Gear Solid 3 was one of the best multiplayer experiences I ever had.  Very competitive since you almost had to go for headshots, and the game modes were incredible.  I loved starting off as the underdog and working my way up into a decent (Chameleon) player.  Such a shame they closed the servers.

I have to mention Rainbow Six: Vegas and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 for the teamwork required in online.  Awesome, awesome experiences.

I'll mention two more console games before moving onto PC.  Uncharted 1 and 2.

These PS3 exclusives bring a Hollywood cinematic experience to gaming, in the cutscenes, dialogue, character personalities, and the entire theme.  While it was inspired by Indiana Jones, this reference stops at treasure hunting and intense action.  The storyline, soundtrack, gameplay sequences, character development, and cinematic presentation all play out to the game's benefit, making them some of the best third person action games around.

Now that I'm moving into PC gaming, I suppose I'll start with my first PC game.  Crysis.  

That's right, Crysis is one of my favorite and most memorable games, and I do in fact agree with the statement "Gameplay > Graphics".  Crysis Sandbox gameplay, customization, and out of the box lasting appeal are all things I were looking for at the time in a first person shooter.  Nanosuit gameplay is great, the storyline is somewhat interesting, the soundtrack is amazing, and weapons actually have ballistics factored in.  It helps that the graphics remained the most realistic overall until 2011's release of the subpar Crysis 2 and DX11 high res texture pack.  Crysis multiplayer (Crysis Wars especially, since it brought some small but welcome improvements) is perhaps the most underrated thing in all of gaming.

I have to ask, what doesn't Crysis Wars have?  To those who are unfamiliar with it, I'll go over its features.

  • 32 player servers (by default, there have been 64 player servers in mods, but 32 is really all the engine can take)
  • Two layers of anti-cheat - but of course people still get around it, and it uses PunkBuster which is worse than VAC but whatever
  • Without mods, lots of options from an administrative standpoint.  Friendly fire ratio customization, level rotation selection, random level rotation option, kick players, ban players for however long you'd like, and of course fully customizable kill limits/time limits, and much more.
  • Three game modes give you every type of popular FPS gameplay out there.  There's Power Struggle, team based and makes other so called "team" game modes like CTF, CoD Domination, and anything Battlefield look like a joke.  Then there is team deathmatch (Team Instant Action) and deathmatch (Instant Action) for fast paced, competitive gameplay.  See these Power Struggle tutorials.  12.  
  • Level design.  Huge maps with roads, lots of buildings and cover, sniper spots, and so on.  This is for Power Struggle, and two Team Instant Action and Instant Action maps.  Then there are the smaller maps, some of them good for a dozen players or less, for those who like Counter Strike or Call of Duty but want something more competitive than the latter and more advanced than the former.
  • Nanosuit gameplay is simple and effective.  Four modes - armor (normal, bullet count is like BC2), strength (high jumps, stronger punches), speed (run faster), and cloak (invisible for a short amount of time, no shooting allowed).  AND, since everyone these days prefers generic modern FPS, the Nanosuit can be disabled via server side mod.  Look for the Hardcore servers from XI (Xtreme Idiots, great guys).
  • Vehicle gameplay.  Cars, boats, hovercrafts, APCs, tanks, helicopters, VTOLs.  Don't like them?  Not all maps have them.  Only Power Struggle has them definitely.  Some Instant Action / Team Instant Action maps have them, not all.
  • CryEngine 2 is surprisingly good for multiplayer gameplay.  Anything up to a 200 ping doesn't affect gameplay.  Despite client side hit detection, there aren't any noticeable hit detection issues at all, whereas the most played MP game, Call of Duty, has more of these issues than anything else.
  • Weaponry and equipment.  While there aren't many actual guns (one pistol, one shotgun, two SMGs, two assault rifles, two sniper rifles, two heavy machine guns, one freeze ray, one rocket launcher, one handheld grenade launcher + one attachable grenade launcher), it has smoke grenades, flashbang grenades, fragmentation grenades, EMP grenades (disables nanosuit), C4, Claymores, vehicle mines, vehicle/turret repair torch, vehicle lockpick kit, portable radar scanner, customizable classes.
  • Ranking system - stats are tracked on some website (can't remember what), you rank up in matches individually, not globally, so every server is balanced.  You all start off as buck privates with little money to buy stuff.
  • Balance - see above.
  • Decent spawn system.  No spawning in anyone's sights like in Call of Duty and Red Orchestra 2.  Even playing with 32 players on the tiny map Coast (designed for 8 or less) you'll have better spawns than the two aforementioned games.  It's set up so that in Team Instant Action, you spawn near teammates away from enemies.  For Instant Action, you spawn isolated.  Power Struggle, you spawn in your base or captured bunkers (see above tutorials).
  • No spawn camping / baseraping in Power Struggle.  The base's auto defense turrets cannot be destroyed in Crysis Wars, unlike Crysis.  This is unfortunate though, and many server side mods re-enable this feature.
  • SDK - Make your own levels, objects, faces, anything.  One of the best SDKs.  Levels can be gigantic.
  • Mod support.  The game has an autodownloader for custom maps, you can customize vehicle/weapon prices in Power Struggle, weapon spawns, damage, money earnt, ANYTHING.  And it's all server side.  Client side mods exist to but this is obviously normally done privately.  There's a zombie server, for Christ's sake.
  • Voice commands for quick communication
  • Some level of skill is required to do well. Don't believe me?  Play against me in my server.  See my previous blog on my server for details.
  • ETC.

I had far more fun in Crysis and Crysis Wars multiplayer than any other multiplayer game, by a long shot.  I can't play more than one round in BC2 before getting bored and Call of Duty is pathetic.  Halo also gets boring for me.  Multiplayer isn't the most memorable thing about these games by itself, playing the campaign of Crysis is just as memorable, as well as all of the incredible third party single player modifications.  It's a shame that Crytek went and turned the series into a mix of Call of Duty and Halo.  Yet another series ruined.  

Anyway, next is a game that stands out for its gameplay, multiplayer, and expandability.  Red Orchestra 2.  It contains most of what I've been looking for in FPS gameplay.  

All of my comments are in my review.  

Next game is Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason.

This is yet another insanely underrated game, put aside because everyone is either into WoW or generic modern warfare FPS games.  Honestly Cryostasis reminded me a bit of Silent Hill, both in the slow paced horror gameplay and how personal and deep the game's storyline goes.  Like Silent Hill, the game's hellish atmosphere is one that relates to you.  Both have important messages about humanity - trust and right/wrong to be more specific about Cryostasis.  The horror elements in the gameplay surpass most other horror games I've played as well, but falling short of Silent Hill due to the lack of survival elements and lack of challenge in the game.  Not an absolute favorite, but an honorable mention.  There's so much that can be said about this game.

Another single-player only game will make it onto my list - Metro 2033.  Based on a novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky.

There is still a crowd that is far too large that dislikes the game because it isn't a generic military FPS, but it does ramp up more than Cryostasis to get your blood pumping.  Metro 2033 is a riveting adventure, at times reminding me very vaguely of "Children of Men" (film by Alfonso Cuaron, based on P.D. James' novel).  You play as Artyom, a young man born into an apocalyptic Moscow in which humans are forced to live in the underground metro stations.  The surface is inhabited by deadly mutants and radiation.  Despite these conditions, humans still continue to battle each other over ideology.

Metro 2033 introduces incredible survival elements into the FPS genre, having to do lots of things manually like check your mission objectives, swap gas mask filters, and so on.  Weapons ballistics are good and the technology behind it is great.  You'll fight from the shadows against other people, such as Bandits, Communists, and Neo-Nazis, and then move out into the cold ruins of Moscow against its new inhabitants.

Don't think of Metro 2033 as just another post-apocalypse game.  It's also an outlook on humanity and its destructive nature, and asks the question, "Can we change?"  Play through to find out your answer... the sequel is coming up, Metro: Last Light.  Next we're up to the final games - all part of a series, and I save the best for last.

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.  A unique blend of FPS, RPG, and survival elements.  To newcomers used to traditional FPS gameplay, you will immediately feel challenged as you're dropped into a man-made hell with little equipment.  Before playing these games, I recommend giving this a read.  

So why are these games my absolute favorites?  I'd say because it's extremely dimensional, functions well from many perspectives.  They're the most atmospheric games I've ever played, they'll get you thinking, and they can be quite challenging.  From an FPS standpoint, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. succeeds from more challenging gameplay, ballistics, lots of weapons, armor factor, and much more.  As an RPG, its exploration comes into play, combined with all of the items sold by traders, technicians who upgrade your gear, choices that affect your world, and so on.  Lets not forget the survival parts - in the new Chernobyl Zone you have to deal not only with radiation, but also bleeding, and using whatever equipment is available.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has the most intriguing storyline I've ever encountered, and in the hands of a good writer (which requires imagination), it can make for an excellent film or television (mini) series.  I do not look forward to the upcoming low budget series, simply because they seem focused on making it a shocker/horror flick.  S.T.A.L.K.E.R. constructs a hellish world, and you're thrown into it, no holds barred.  Shadow of Chernobyl stands out most regarding the storyline, since most of the major events occur in this game.  You play as an amnesic person, and since it was the first game to be released, this is ideal in the sense that you don't know what to expect, and neither does your character.

The official synopses don't explain much.  More digging is required to find out more about this game.  A second disaster occurred in 2006, just above the power plant.  Nobody knows how this happened.  The world around it became distorted, unique, and drawn away from our world.  This new world, the Zone, became populated by scavengers, trespassers, adventurers, loners, killers, explorers, and robbers.  Some were looking to get rich by collecting the mysterious artifacts born in the Zone's deadly anomalous areas, others looked for adventure, while others sought out the tales of the Monolith - a Wish Granting machine responsible for life on other planets, hidden in the unreachable center of the Zone.  Why are you there?  What's your purpose?  Through this chilling and daunting adventure, maybe you will find out...

I can recommend this series to anyone, and my guide listed above will help fill you in on what you need to know.  After reading it, I actually recommend starting with Clear Sky, the second game to be released but first chronologically, since most of the important events occur in Shadow of Chernobyl and I inform you of what you need to know already.  Happy hunting.

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