Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Top 10 Best Games I've Played the Last 5 Years (Part 2)

And here is part 2 of my Top 10 list that you probably thought I had forgotten about by now! You can find the first part here.

5. Planescape Torment
Although I am a big fan of old CRPGs I often find that while they hold up storywise, they don't always gameplaywise. Because of that I can often be quite wary when trying them out, knowing that I am going to need a fair amount of patience (and sometimes googling) for the initial couple of hours to get acquainted with the somewhat outdated and sometimes unintuitive systems.

Those late 90's graphics *heart*

I barely even remember if that was an issue with Planescape Torment. Sure I had some minor gripes with some design choices - the fact that you had to rest to be able to gain back your spells for instance - but they all drowned out in the experience that was the Planescape. As "The Nameless One", aptly not only amnesiac but also immortal (which sounds like it would break the game, but it is very cleverly implemented), you wake up into a world that just barely makes sense to you, yet manages to keep you interested and invested throughout. You'll meet crazy and broken people along the way as you try to uncover more about yourself (sounds like The Witcher took a page from this). I hate the cliché "you have to experience it to understand it" but that is ultimately the kind of game Planescape Torment is. Words just don't do it justice and anything I could tell you about the stories or characters you encounter would spoil the experience. 

This game really has it all - great characters, great gameplay and a world you won't find anywhere else.

4. Deus Ex
Back when I was barely even playing PC games, my dad brought home a game for me and my brother he had received from a co-worker who had told him it was "really, really good". I took one look at the cover and decided it was not for me. It looked dark and kind of scary. Surely it would be too hard for me anyway.

The game was Deus Ex and years later I decided it was time to give this all-time classic a go. I was hooked from the very first mission. As JC Denton (who I keep misremembering as Fenton in my head) I absolutely loved to sneak, shoot and blast my way through the levels. I was amazed at the possibility to try out different solutions, allowing me to avoid danger or go in guns-a-blazing as it suited me. My jaw completely dropped to the floor when I was able to completely avoid a boss-fight by choosing the appropriate dialogue options. To me, this game was pure genius.

More beautiful graphics

It hardly made matters worse that the story was interesting but the amazing gameplay is what I would return for. I didn't love every level, I remember being quite creeped out by the huge water stage (I don't like swimming in water in games, don't ask me why) but I loved how clever this game made me feel (this is something in common with a lot of other entries on this list). The level design is nothing but brilliant and manages to make you feel like a master puzzle-solver without any big signboards displaying how and where you should do something. The game smartly leads you to find alternative routes if you are interested in looking for them and to give you the feeling you have outsmarted the game and its inhabitants. Few games adapt themselves as much to the player as Deus Ex and I think no two players will play it the same way.

3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I can hardly say much more about this game than hasn't already been said. It not only started a genre, the Metroidvanias, but is probably without argument the best entry in said genre. I knew of this game long before I ever decided to play it, and it wasn't even my first foray into the Castlevania series (see Circle of the Moon in my previous post).

I think my only real reason it took me so long to get around to playing SotN, other than it being quite tricky for me to get hold of without having to live off bread and water for a month, was that I had heard so many good things about it that it started to intimidate me. I wasn't even really worried that I'd be disappointed with the game, I sort of knew that it was going to rock my world just like it had pretty much everyone elses, but I knew that once I had played it that was it. You only get one first playthrough of a game, and I wanted it to be special. I wanted to be able to get it all the attention it deserved, so I bided my time.

Maybe awesome graphics is what all the games have in common?

Then, it was finally time. I played it through (and recorded it here)* and yes - it is amazing. The gameplay, the setting, the MUSIC! I wasn't disappointed for a second (not even the clunky handling of items could sour my gleeful mood). Even the voice acting has become a classic. Not only was it a game so full of new ideas convened into an amazing package, it also showed game designers high on 3D graphics that pixel art and 2D games were nowhere near done being awesome and that some games needed to be in 2D to be at their best.

What really makes Symphony of the Night stand out from other games on this list is that I don't think you have to enjoy this genre to enjoy this game. It offers a more universal type of enjoyment and has a style that will always be unaffected by time, technological advances or changes in tastes.

2. System Shock 2
If there was one thing I would like to change about mysef, it's being such a scaredy-cat. Sure, I am quite capable at social situations but I am like a child when it comes to darkness and scary things like horror movies and games. One of the creepiest things I know is an illustration from Edgar Allan Poes "Masque of the Red Death" that I stupidly read as a child (if you click that link, don't say I didn't warn you).

So I scare easily and probably the most when playing games. I tend to get very invested and immersed and that doesn't help in the slighest when you think (or know) some ghoul is breathing down your neck. Unlike a movie I can't make it better by closing my eyes. Unfortunately this has kept me from fully enjoying otherwise brilliant games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.

I am trying to change this about myself though, and one way to do it is to challenge myself to playing games that are just creepy enough to keep me on edge but not keeping me from playing. It doesn't hurt if the game is also really, really fun. System Shock 2 is definitely such a game.

Cyborg Assassin, probably the most annoying enemy in the game.

Firstly, it's not scary because it makes you feel too vulnerable or because the enemies you encounter are that freaky (compared to a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent for instance) but because of the weird mood and atmosphere it sets. In this way System Shock 2 and the first entry on my list have a lot in common and you might find me saying similar things about them. The tension doesn't rise so much from the fact that you're pretty sure you're going to die any second, but that you just don't know what is coming around the corner. In System Shock 2 you start out on a space station, but towards the end you're in some sort of body, jumping on teeth and stuff? I don't even know and that's part of the fun. The twisted people you meet who try to kill you even shout things like "Forgive me!" as they try to bludgeon you to death.

Like I said, it definitely doesn't hurt that it has excellent gameplay with fun role-playing elements that allow you to tackle situations differently from playthrough to playthrough (that being said I've only played it through once, but I have watched LP's of it since). Good level design means you're rarely confused as to what to do and where to go, at least not long enough to leave you frustrated, and Shodan is one of the best villains in video game history of you ask me (too bad she has a pretty lackluster boss fight). It will drown you in sinister and eerie, but always keep you curious and wanting more.

1. Thief: The Dark Project
So here it is, the game that has left the most scars memories and that I keep returning to in my head over and over - Thief: The Dark Project, that is the original and not the remake that came out a couple of years ago. I mentioned that it's similar to System Shock 2, and that goes most prominently for tone and atmosphere. Gameplay wise they're not overly similar, whereas SS2 allows you to be sneaky if you want to, there is also a lot of room for going around guns-a-blazing if that is your cup of tea. In Thief however, staying in the shadows is essential and I found this game very trial-and-error heavy. Never have I played a game that made trial-and-error so much fun though. Just timing going around a corner, sneaking into a room, shooting a moss-arrow at the right time - everything has to be perfect if you want Garrett to survive the harsh world of "The City". 

Sometimes you're not entirely sure what you're fighting.

The story is ominous, it starts out light-hearted enough with you getting a mission to steal some nicknacks, but soon you find yourself trying to avoid zombies and monsters. There are factions to ally yourself with and demons to destroy. It all sounds convoluted, but Thief has some of the slickest level-designs and densest feeling worlds I've experienced. Every second is a delight and I can't ever remember feeling frustrated or cheated - every failure was my own. 

In fact the game weighed so heavy on me that it was almost like running a marathon every time I sat down to play it. I really had to mentally prepare myself for the all the concentrating and quick thinking I was going to do, to me this was far from a game you can play around in leisurely. There is a reason I have been very hesitant about getting started on the second game even though I enjoyed the first one so much. But it was all worth it because of the overwhelmingly rewarding feeling you got when you got through a mission. 

This game is pure brilliance, even though it (just like SS2) gets very weird towards the end. Overall though, it's a must-experience game in my book.

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