06 June 2012

What IS Fun: Part II

So this little look at what kind of games I find fun has become a bit more of a project than I anticipated, but in a good way.  I've enjoyed the look back at my "gaming history" and some of the games and genres that have defined me as a gamer even today.  I hope it is encouraging you to do a little looking back yourselves.  Often we might have a particularly positive (or negative) reaction to a game, or anything else in our lives for that matter.  Sometimes it's good to look at the factors that shape who and what we are.  I know that may sound a bit too philosophical for a gaming blog, but video games are just another aspect of our lives.  They can create memories and influence us just as any other hobby.  So today I'm going to finish my look at the console side of things and then in a third post I'll turn to the PC and MMO's specifically.

The PS2/Xbox/Gamecube Era 

This was the time I really started to branch out in my gaming, mostly due to having a lot more disposable income.  At various times in this period I owned a gaming PC as well as all three major consoles.  For the first time since the original NES period, I was experiencing these games while they were still current and relevant instead of several years after the fact.  If I really wanted to get into it, I could probably select one game from each console to add to this list, but my posts get long winded enough.  Let's just stick to doing things one at a time.  Remembering that story + gameplay is what I am aiming for, my choice for this period became clear.

Metroid is another of gaming's most cherished franchises and one of the titles that has kept Nintendo competitive in the gaming market despite many of their less than wise business decisions.  I could have easily selected the original game or Super Metroid as the best for each of their eras and I probably would not get too much argument.  So it may come as a surprise that I pick this particular title as my favorite from this period, but this game just has it all to me.  Metroid has always been about equal parts exploration and combat and Prime just nails it on both counts.  The Gamecube controller does not lend itself well to a full on first-person control scheme like the true dual analog PS2 and Xbox controllers do.  Nintendo (or more likely Retro Studios) understood this and made the control scheme a sort of hybrid with lock-on targeting.  So while the game is played from a first-person perspective, it is not the sort of "twitch shooter" that Halo and its ilk are.  This was a fabulous decision as it makes Prime a blast to play.

By the same token, the exploration is handled in a similarly brilliant fashion.  There is no dialogue.  There are a few cutscenes, but they are far from elaborate.  No Prime tells its story almost entirely within the game world itself through the use of Samus' scanning visor.  Not only can you scan enemies to learn their weaknesses, but you scan computers, data terminals, ancient ruins, etc. not only to complete puzzles and advance in the game, but to unlock the lore of the world.  Some might find the constant scanning tedious, but I loved it.  It told the game's story in a very unique way and really reinforced the sort of "isolated explorer" concept that Samus was there on her own; no backup, no reinforcements, just you on an alien world.  It just worked all the way around and I just loved it, which made this game an easy choice.

The Current Generation 

I'll be honest, I have been pretty disappointed with console gaming in the past few years.  More and more I find myself wishing a game were available on the PC or at least designed with the PC in mind.  The endless parade of uninspired sequels (how many Final Fantasies are we up to now?) and cookie cutter shooters has left me saddened with the state of the console gaming market.  So it was actually kind of difficult to come up with a fun game that really jumped out at me from this current generation of games.  When I sat down and asked myself the question, nothing immediately jumped to mind.  Nothing said, "Wow I want to go play that right now!"  So my choice here is with a bit of reluctance, almost saying simply that it was the best of a bad lot.

Yeah I spent a whole post criticizing Bioware and I didn't have much nice to say about Mass Effect, but all in all, it is one of the games I enjoyed most from this current generation and one of the few that I played multiple times.  The narrative is fantastic and the setting really captivated me at first.  I love sci-fi in general, but a game in an entirely new intellectual property was even more enticing.  As big a fan of established settings like Star Trek I might be, it is always refreshing to see a new take, and the Mass Effect universe was just that. 

For me the first game remains the best.  The two sequels both brought new things to the table in terms of the series, but I still enjoy the original the most.  Yes the inventory system was tedious, but I really liked the lack of ammunition for weapons and the modification system.  It felt more RPG'ish to me as opposed to the sequels that largely strip those features out.  The combat was also most enjoyable for me in the original as the sequels began to feel more like Gears of War and less like a true RPG.  There's nothing wrong with Gears of War or cover shooters in general, but I want an RPG, not a shooter, so that is why the original Mass Effect still stands as the best in the series for me, and one of the best games of the current generation.

The Dawning of PC Gaming 

The best things come in threes, and I'd hate to bust up my pattern, so I'm going to transition from consoles to PC gaming at the end here and set up my final post in this series.  PC gaming doesn't have as easily identifiable "eras" like console gaming does, so my distinctions here are going to be somewhat arbitrary.  For me it was a matter of what computer I had to play games on that largely determined the different "time periods" here.  So let's jump way back to some of the earliest examples of PC gaming, well ok not the earliestPong was a bit before my time.

Boy did I enjoy the heck out of this game.  I suppose I could pick either this one or its direct sequel as I played them both to death.  It had a lot of things going for it for its time.  It had a decent story, it had memorable characters (still love ya Maniac), and outstanding gameplay.  I played through it many, many times to experience each mission outcome, each branch of the story, etc.  Heck even "losing" was fun in that it sent you to new systems with a different set of missions.  It was just one of those games that when I think back on it leaves me saying, "Yes, that was fun."

The sequels only improved on it as far as I'm concerned.  Well... up until the third installment at least.  The second game was essentially just more of the first with a few new mechanics; stealth ships, capital ship killing torpedoes, and more ships to fly.  The third game really opened things up from the story perspective as you had fully voiced and acted cutscenes and dialogue, led notably by Mark Hamill playing "your" character and Malcolm McDowell as the morally ambiguous Admiral Tolwyn.  This was one of the first games to incorporate such a high level of dialogue and visual narrative as part of its story-telling, a device that we see all over the gaming world today.

Ok so that'll do it for the second installment.  In the last piece, I'll focus almost exclusively on modern PC gaming and online gaming specifically. 

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