The video game industry really astonishes me. If done right, a video game can now be more ‘cinematic’ than many of the major motion pictures being spewed out of Hollywood nowadays, and if the game creators are ambitious enough, the story and character development can actually be better than most of the film’s you’ll see, too. I’m not so sure we could say that ‘video games as art’ was a good conversation to have back during the NES or SNES days, but that’s all changed, and dramatically at that. To a certain degree, I regard video games as high as I would a good book… there are plenty of games out there that knocked my socks off for one reason or another, yet when I hear Hollywood plans to adapt said properties into feature films, I cringe and hope they don’t destroy the franchise TOO bad. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that nobody has actually tackled a Halo movie yet, or God of War. The longest running and most successful video game franchise right now is Resident Evil, and those are films I consider guilty pleasures because they’re all style and very little to no substance whatsoever.
So, yes, video games have come a long way, especially in the most recent console generation, but I find myself torn – Although certain games can be counted amongst the best entertainment experiences I’ve ever had, there are far too many clunkers in between to wade through, and frankly, I’ve grown bored of gaming… well, for the most part. My wife might say, “You hardly ever play your video game systems”, but that’s mainly because of how picky I am about the content as it becomes available. If I get a really, really good game, I’ll play the hell out of it for quite some time, and then when I’m done with it, I’m done. Many games don’t really warrant any replay unless they have awesome multiplayer, and there are a select few games that offer just that, but there are still games in my collection that I will never want to get rid of, because they’re simply too amazing to ignore. What does a game have to offer in order to catch my attention and keep it? Well, let’s look below. First, I’ll offer a game I really WANT to play, and then run down a small list of games I personally appreciate, and why.
Dark Souls – Never played this game since its debut in October of 2011, but I’ve heard lots of people talk about it, and very recently have taken a considerable amount of time to watch multiple video reviews and read plenty of others, as well as the opinions of those who post on gaming forums. This game seems to be exactly the kind of experience I’ve been waiting for –It’s a third person RPG, with a huge open world to explore, and many ways to change your character or level them up, as well as upgrading your weapons along the way to become even more powerful. The graphics are excellent; atmospheric and moody. What makes this seemingly stand above the rest of the RPG pack out there? For one, the combat system – It supposedly is precise, to the point where if you mess up and die, it’s because you messed up, not because the game was unfair. And adding to this, brings me to my second reason – The difficulty is insane. If you want to live, you need to be smart and be on your toes at all times. Don’t rush in to enemy territory without a plan. Don’t attack a small group of foes if you don’t have to… the game’s marketing line was ‘prepare to die’, and most reviewers state that the game is BRUTAL in difficulty, but also the most rewarding as a direct result. Although I LOVE Skyrim, I’ve pumped 60 hours or more into that game, and don’t really feel ‘accomplished’. The last game that had an insane difficulty that I was happy to play with, was the ‘Ninja Gaiden’ game that was on PS2 and Xbox. I’m looking forward to a game that offers that kind of experience with a finely tuned and fully realized RPG setting. Hopefully I get to play this soon. It’s only $20 at this point, so it just may happen.
Now, games I have played:
Alan Wake –This is probably the most unique game on my list. The story is gripping, the gameplay is solid, and the atmosphere makes this one of the scariest games around. You spend a great deal of time walking around in the dark, in environment that look real enough to believe. You want to feel like you’re walking alone in the middle of the woods at night, with nothing to protect you from the shadow fiends that attack you out of nowhere but a flashlight? Yes, light is your only real friend… you use weapons and stuff as well, but light is what you need in order to make those weapons effective. As far as the story and feel of the game, it plays out like a terrifying Stephen King novel and a series of Twilight Zone episodes. That should say it all. You feel vulnerable at all times, and there’s not a single moment you won’t feel vulnerable. If you haven’t played this yet… shame.
Dead Space / Dead Space 2 – This is third person survival horror at its finest – Much like the third person Alan Wake, it’s intensely creepy and atmospheric, this time combining the likes of Aliens with ‘The Thing’. You’re walking around in a nifty armored space suit with some pretty cool weapons, but alien crawlies spring up from the woodwork to scare the bejesus out of you more often than not, and the bosses are a sight to behold. Nobody can hear you scream in space… but you just might get in trouble when you scream in a house when everyone else is asleep. The gameplay is sturdy, too, and one thing I like is that you’re actually required to think about your aim and shoot off limbs to make the monsters ineffective.
The Walking Dead (by Telltale) – This game is basically like an interactive story, and at times sort of like a ‘choose your own adventure’ deal. You’re always given multiple options of how to respond (verbally or physically) to certain situations, and characters will remember your words/actions and will treat you accordingly. An interactive story may not seem like a compelling reason to label this one of my favorite video game experiences in the last couple of years, but it is, and here’s why – The story is solid and actually makes you feel like you’re a part of the ‘Walking Dead’-verse. Your choices will carry consequences or reap rewards, and you’re in control of that experience. You also come to care a great deal for your character and the little girl he’s looking out for, and you can feel the tensions rise and fall in the group you find to stick with along the way. If you love the series, you owe it to yourself to play this game.
Skryim (The Elder Scrolls V) – After a brief setup of the story and tutorial, when you finally make it out on your own, you start atop a mountainous hill, staring at realistic scenery that’s combined with the serenity of a musical score that’s so finely written and orchestrated, it literally sounds like it could have been lifted from a Lord of the Rings film. At that point, you just start to explore. I came across a hunter just camping next to a shallow river, and he offers me some supplies and food because he’s a good guy, telling me there’s more than enough to go around for everyone. Well, I slaughtered him and took his hunting bow and furs and used them later on to make some leather armor. Thanks, bro. Anyway, the big appeal of this game is that everything you see in the distance, you can travel to and explore. IT doesn’t really feel like a sandbox environment, and the world map is HUGE. You can literally pump 50 hours into this game without even touching the main quest, because you’re literally that free to do whatever you want. This was true in the previous game, Oblivion, but it did feel sand-boxy, and all the environments looked the same. Not so in Skyrim! Great game and great design. Literally drew me in and never let me go. Over a year later, and I’m still picking it up and pumping time into it. Still, at this point I just feel like I’m trying to ‘grind’ my characters skills and not actually accomplishing much, but I plan to set that aside once I can get the best armor possible. Then I’ll move forward again. The only drawback is that the game seems really easy… it’s more or less selling the ‘experience’.
Halo 4 – I’m mostly tired of FPS games, but Halo 4 actually did something interesting – It’s more cinematic than a major motion picture, and the story is great, and the new threat is fresh and feels smart and formidable. I wasn’t a fan of Halo 3 ODST or even Halo Reach, but Halo 4 is simply amazing and probably the best FPS in a great while.
Rayman Origins – This is a 2D platforming game that’s been wildly successful on the ‘latest generation’ of consoles… and it’s also one of the most enjoyable games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. It’s fun and cartoony, the gameplay feels finely tuned to the point where you feel like you die because YOU made a mistake and not because the game is sloppy or even ‘cheated’, and it’s rather challenging, especially if you want to collect everything in every stage. Big title platformers should be a regular thing, and not just appear on Nintendo consoles for nostalgias sake. WE NEED MORE OF THIS STUFF!