The Binding of Isaac/The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb
Remember how cool Legend of Zelda was when you were just a dumb little babby? And how scary basements were? Then if you grew up in a Christian household, you’ve got quite a background for The Binding of Isaac to flashback at you. The combat takes some getting used to, but eventually you can get the hang of it, and with some good item drops, become a true monster to be feared.
If you missed Zelda, were scared of nothing, and weren’t exposed to religion growing up, Isaac is a respectable place to work back from should you want to experience something close to an interesting, flavorful life.
Dungeons of Dredmor
If the jokes in Dungeons of Dredmor don’t first slay you, the monsters surely will. No kidding, Dungeons is funny and incredibly difficult, but the RPG system is good and the turn-based combat gives you just enough hope to think that maybe, one day, you can kill all those monsters on the screen that were behind the door you just lock-picked.
Of Diablo 3 (D3), many things can be said. The game is fun, especially with friends. The production value is pretty decent and the game is gorgeous to behold. The character classes all have something different to offer the player, and the hot-swappable skill-system is just as interesting and fun as it was in Guild Wars. Hardcore mode is thrilling, and nothing else feels quite like seeing your hero perma-dead due to negligence or flat-out greed. [Let's not discuss the narrative or all the pointless lines of voiced dialog, which sounded great but said nothing at all.] What D3 doesn’t do, however, is respect or trust the player.
These qualities, taken for granted it now seems, are missing thanks to core design choices that went into the final product of D3. The most egregious error is the default Normal mode, which should be an insult to anyone who even has just a basic familiarity of video games, let alone actual gamers. The instances where the player is actually trusted with real challenges to overcome can be counted on the fingers illustrated on a Left 4 Dead poster. The absolute worst part is that Normal mode cannot be skipped – the only feasible way to do so is to be run through by higher-level characters or to hit up the in-game, ever-present auction house to twink your budding character with the best gear gold (soon real money!) can buy. Keep this last point in mind.
Sorry Shepard, but this franchise never really was about you.
Mass Effect 3 (ME3), in the course of one grievous mistake, gave me some important realizations. My woman Shepard, or FemShep, was an orphan who grew up in a slum on Earth, joined the Alliance Navy, and became a war hero. Despite being elevated to a heroic status and becoming a representative of humanity’s prowess, Shepard never forgot her roots and never allows the big picture to obscure the individual, which probably hampers her ability to be a great military commander. Losing a planet in large-scale conflict is not a failure to Shepard, but losing one person under her command was a traumatic catastrophe that can never be repeated again. While she favors diplomacy, safe resolution a quick trigger-finger away isn’t ever discounted when her crew is at risk. I learned that my FemShep is a matriarch and her crew, the only family she has, is the most important thing to her in the universe. No other game has made me role-play a character in this way, and it’s doubtful another one ever will.
While the Mass Effect (ME) series has an interesting sci-fi setting where humanity has only just arrived on the galactic scene and has to fight for what respect and influence is available from the established space-faring community, ME is nothing without its characters; any time a ME game has the player interacting with squad-mates and crew members the game is doing something right, feeling light years ahead of other games in the same vein. I have tried many times to put into words the sincere love that I feel for the original Mass Effect (ME1), and every time I feel like I do I’m doing the game insult. I haven’t ever tried to write about Mass Effect 2 (ME2) for the same reasons. Unfortunately, in the quest for understanding and closure, Mass Effect 3 is forcing my hand otherwise.
When it works from a design standpoint, Rochard is really fun.
As blue-collared space miner John Rochard, Rochard provides the player with a gravity-tractor beam, a simple blaster, and the means to manipulate environmental gravity with the push of a button. The game starts with Rochard’s mining team being under pressure to get results and then scoring a big find on an asteroid when disaster strikes; the initial goal is to rescue Rochard’s team members and save the day. When it stays on target Rochard is an entertaining 2D sidescroller with enjoyable platforming combat and decent puzzle-solving mechanics. The problem is that Rochard isn’t always as laser-focused as it could have been.
This article was written as a contribution for “The First Ever SMPS.Net Games of the Year 2011 Thing” which you should really go and check out for a broad range of well-written lists covering many games, old and new. This article has had a typo corrected, screenshot captions added, and uses some different screenshots than it originally included, as well as a link to new a video of me playing Dark Souls.
A Possible Glimpse of Things to Come
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has great references sprinkled everywhere, rewarding exploration.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution doesn’t quite live up to the original game, but it was a respectable, thoughtful effort. While boss fights fell flat, the hacking, sneaking, and upgrading of abilities made for an enjoyable experience that could be a glimpse of bright, promising future for the franchise and gamers alike.
A non-tea-bag taunt in Monday Night Combat.
To say that Monday Night Combat is an intelligent game is an understatement as it mixed personality and gameplay to create a fun, balanced, and unique competitive multi-player game. Using sound to balance an invisibility cloak, or rewarding players for doing a scripted, non-offensive taunt to earn some money instead of tea-bagging are ideas that will hopefully permeate game design in the coming years.