Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl Non-Review

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl has been a game I’ve declined to review. There are some things I’m just not comfortable casting judgment on. A review implies that the reviewer has authority over the game, an intellectual superiority. I can tell you what I think about Stalker, but Stalker is a complex game full of loose ends; it calls upon a creative power within its players to piece them together. What I think about it is constantly changing the more I play and the more I learn. Any review of the game will say much more about the reviewer than the game itself. This is my non-review. It’s just what I think right now.

I’m going to go ahead and say that I like Stalker–a lot. It’s one of my favorite games ever and I still can’t stop talking about. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Dungeon Keeper 2

One of the critical problems of the gaming industry today is that nearly every game is an adaption of a successfully proven concept. This is probably why there is a lot of hullabaloo (scrabble bonus points) whenever an interesting new concept game comes out, even if the concept and execution are flawed. But at the end of the day 95% of the time we’ve done it all before: whether we’re shooting aliens with force shields that are oddly susceptible to melee attacks (Halo), humans who have developed chainsaws with invulnerability shields (Gears of War), any civilization game, etc–despite minor variations, games are typically incremental improvements of a proven formula.

That is why I gave an exclamation of glee when I recently re-dug up Dungeon Keeper 2 (now classified as Abandonware, woohoo), a game with a refreshing concept that seems so simple yet has never been followed up on. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Shadowrun

One of the hardest challenges of making an RPG is finding a way to integrate plot, setting and gameplay into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Some games, like the Final Fantasy franchise, are surprisingly good at all three. Others unapologetically settle for one or two–Fire Emblem being an example of one that eschews plot and world for superior gameplay. But wrapping all three together, and doing so in an innovative way is a rare treat.

Finding a game like this in 1994 is even more amazing, but Shadowrun for the Genesis managed to pull it off when Square was trying to figure out how they could make the most complicated Final Fantasy plot ever–a feat that would take them nearly another decade to achieve, in 2001, with Final Fantasy X. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever: Star Control II

This Best Game Ever is brought to you by developers making their old games open source, which is a wonderful thing. Toys for Bob, the developer of Star Control I and II, released the game as open source in 2002 under the “Ur Quan Masters” title, since the name Star Control remains a copyright of Atari. The game is now up to version 0.6.2, giving an incredibly robust, bug free experience that surpasses the original 3DO version. I played the 3DO version back in the early 90’s, and I was overjoyed to find the Ur Quan Masters project and replay Star Control II. It’s free and fun – who could ask for more?

Star Control I set the stage for the franchise. The concept was fairly simple: a galactic strategy game with ship vs. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Seven Kingdoms II

Playing the disappointment that was Seven Kingdoms: Conquest got me nostalgic for Seven Kingdoms 2.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, because there is no plot. There are 12 (increased from seven) nationalities, existing alongside a half-dozen or so Fryhtans. No past or future given. The campaign is a set of randomly-generated scenarios, with the ability to carry over your king (and up to five selected “royal units”) to each successive scenario.

The heart of Seven Kingdoms 2 is in its great complexity. Simply put, no other RTS has the depth of SK2. This is somewhat hidden – after all, each nation only has three units, and one of these is the villager type, identical for all human nations. Doesn’t sound complicated, but SK2 is altogether a big numbers-game with highly intuitive systems. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition

Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition (hereafter referred to as JP:RE) is truly a one of a kind game. In my decades of playing games, I have never come across anything quite like it.


Back in the early nineties some developer released the movie tie-in game Jurassic Park for the Sega Genesis. The game used digitized sprites, similar to those of Mortal Kombat. You moved a photorealistic (for the time) Dr. Grant around, shooting tranquilizer darts at spitters and compies so you could make it through very slow paced and quite challenging platforming levels. Any drop over 10 feet tended to kill you. Most dinosaurs would kill you with a few hits. 90% of your arsenal was tranquilizers and gas grenades, forcing you to save your concussion grenades and Quake lightning gun (no seriously, it’s in there) for the raptor encounters. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Drug Wars

About two years ago my mother walked in on me… Playing Drug Wars. (Get it? You thought I was going to say “masturbating.” But I pulled the old switcharoo on you. Ha…haha…h…sigh…) Anywho, my mom walked in and asked:

“What are you doing, Gunter?” Normally, it’s her loving nickname for me, but the emphasis on the word made it sound like something dirty.

And I said, “Why mother dearest, I am playing Drug Wars!” I indicated the exclamation point by spreading my hands and doing a quick shuffle.

“What Wars?!” she said; indicating the question mark/exclamation mark combination by fainting.

“Drug Wars” I repeated, waving the smelling salts beneath her nostrils. (I always keep an assortment of smelling salts in my fanny pack. They have saved my life on many an occasion.) →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever — Baldur’s Gate 2, Shadows of Amn

When Jay asked me to write a “Best Game Ever” entry for Baldur’s Gate 2, my first instinct was to refuse the offer. Why? Because I love the game too much and I feared that nothing I could write would do it justice. It would be like trying to write a review for New York City. I mean where would you even begin something like that? How would you dissect something so steeped in its own mythology? Would you even want to? And just because here I am writing, does not mean that sentiment has changed. Whatever ideas I might express here will ultimately fall short of accurately encompassing the experience of playing Baldur’s Gate 2. However strong my control over language might be, it will ultimately prove woefully inadequate in approximating for you, the reader, the overall feeling I had as a player of Baldur’s Gate 2. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Lumines 2

When deciding upon which system to purchase next, many people will look for that one game to satisfy their needs almost immediately. Xbox had Halo and GameCube had Smash Bros. Melee. Well, you can add Lumines 2 for the PSP to that list. I’m here to tell you that you should buy a PSP for Lumines 2. Even if you never play another PSP game, you would still have spent your money wisely.

You’re probably asking yourself, “What makes Lumines 2 so special?” Well I’ll tell you, smartypants. Lumines 2, although somewhat of a Tetris clone, does some amazing things with its sound design. Things that I can say, without hesitation, are perfect examples of art within games. There are moments in Lumines 2 that I did not think could be created in a video game. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever / Review – Dragon’s Trap / Curse

It’s somewhat bizarre that my normally useless extensive knowledge of the Sega Master System would come in handy because a Turbo Grafix 16 game is released on the Wii. But despite the comical circuitousness, I happen to know a thing or two about Dragon’s Curse. You see, as far as Master System games go, this game is anything but obscure. It’s actually so beloved that a great Master System emulator is named after the game.

In an attempt to completely confuse America as revenge for dropping atomic bombs on them, Japan has seen it fit to rename the game called Dragon’s Trap (Master System) for release on the TG16, where it would be called Dragon’s Curse. That wouldn’t be very good retaliation, though, considering the cancer rates are still abnormally high in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Master of Magic

Back when Microprose was still making games, they came out with a bunch of ideas for similarly themed titles spanning multiple universes. Although Master of Orion, Civilization, and X-Com were all well and good (that is to say, well, very good), my favorite was always Master of Magic. Master of Magic took the best parts of Civilization and being a wizard and put them together.

You play a wizard starting with control of one city, and your goal is simply the annihilation of all other wizards. You pick a difficulty, pick which spell types and special enhancements you want, and go. A randomly generated map is created, and you get to start playing.

Red Creek. What a depressing name for a hamlet.

The elements of Civilization come into play with city management. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Pinball Quest

Genre blending is a splendid little thing. Diddy Kong Racing, one of Rare’s greatest Nintendo 64 games, is a wonderful mix of racing and adventure. Mario & Luigi Super Star Saga is a clever RPG with platforming elements thrown in. Games that stick adamantly to a certain form run the risk of getting stale, and introducing elements from other genres is a great way to keep things fresh.

I don’t get it.

Video game pinball is no stranger to this phenomenon. I remember the high hopes I had for Odama when I first heard about it sometime a few years ago. A pinball-based tactical wargame? That sort of thing just sells itself. Mario Pinball Land, similarly, had you explore typically Mario-esque worlds with a peculiar ball-shaped Mario. Interesting concepts, and rarely seen, too. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Master of Orion 2: The Battle at Antares

Master of Orion 2: The Battle at Antares was probably the defining game in the 4X genre (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate); it set the standard for a decade of games. Featuring a robust tech tree, intricate ship design, active ship combat, a big, goodie filled universe, and intense colony management, MOO2 had it all. Despite being well over a decade old, the game still has a level of depth that has been unmatched by its successors. Additionally, even though Microprose is long out of business (gobbled up by whomever), the game’s support has been taken over by fans (Lord Brazen, for those interested), who have kept the game playable on KALI and have steadily eradicated the last remaining bugs in the game. As exciting as it is to have a game so old with such a following, it also depresses me that the industry has yet to produce a worthy sequel. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Cave Story

When I was considerably younger, I had no disposable income but way too much free time. So I did what any sensible young gamer would do: I looked for free games on the internet. Back then, pickings were pretty slim, and the only downloadable games worth playing were severely limited shareware. Most of those, if they were any good at all, were not worth the registration price.

A dozen or so years later a truly great freeware game had finally come out. The game was Cave Story, and it had been painstakingly designed by one individual (who goes by Pixel) and later translated by Aeon Genesis. It comes across as a game that might have come out for the NES in its prime; simplistic graphics and basic music may lead you to believe this. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Warcraft III: Defense of the Ancients

It’s hard to classify this review. On the one hand, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) is a custom map for Warcraft 3 that has been around for four years. WC3 itself has been around for almost five years. This might qualify it as “best game ever” status (and it indeed received this status). The flip side is, DOTA is still actively maintained, has a huge community, and has a number of sponsored leagues, including at various Blizzard events. More bizarrely demonstrating the cult status of DOTA is the work of Swedish DJ Basshunter. Accordingly, given the active maintenance and evolution of the game, it’s hard to give it the necessary dinosaur status a Best Game ever has.

Regardless of what you call it, DOTA has been amusing gamers, including myself, for a very long time. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Golvellius: Valley of Doom versus The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most influential games ever made and every gamer should make sure they play it. Golvellius is a Zelda clone made by Compile originally for the MSX that no one needs to bother with. It is also one of my favorite games. If a kid today played both one after another, it’s tough to say which he’d prefer. Without the context of Zelda being the pioneering adventure game, and without the nostalgia of playing Golvellius after school, all that’s left is the games themselves.

Golvellius was translated by people who actually spoke English.

And so I will now ignore how important Zelda is, ignore that it was designed by one of the greatest game designers in history, ignore that it was on the most popular system of its time, and most importantly, ignore that it came first. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – The history of puzzle games leading up to Baku Baku

Some day in the far off future, Tetris will be played with six screens. One screen will feature the gameplay while the other five will show images of unrelated games being automatically played. All five other games will be superior to Tetris.

Once upon a time there was an evil Communist engineer named Alexey Pajitnov. Don’t bother asking Alexey if he is an evil Communist because, like all evil Communists, he signed a blood oath with Stalin (and possibly Hitler) to hide his menacing ways should Soviet Russia ever fall. Anyway, Alexey was a genius and in 1985 he bestowed upon the world a video game he liked to call Destroy American Freedoms. This was later renamed Tetris.

The premise of Tetris was to line up American freedoms in order to destroy them. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is my favorite game of all time. With the many hours of enjoyment I have gained from this title, I owe it to you all to spread the good word.
Let me tell you why:

First of all, this intriguing subtitle brings to mind many important questions for the common gamer. Among these questions are:

1. What throne?
2. Why is it frozen?

But frozen seats of royalty aside, the storyline in an RTS is superfluous. What makes WCII: TFT great is the well-implemented and innovative hero system, the tight control over units that makes über micro possible, and the well-balanced, well-designed variety of races.

Warcraft is a popular game, with fan-created artwork, a lively multiplayer community, board games, hugely successful MMO adaptation, and mangas.

If my memory serves me, this book tells the tragic tale of the forbidden romance of Draakthazaar, the proud frost dragon from the north and the free-spirited young maiden, Ara, shunned by her people for daring to love the monster they so feared, yet she tamed with her tender touch. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Jumping Flash!

The year was 1995 and my Plan Get an SNES hadn’t come to fruition. Too young to learn from my mistakes, I diverted recourses from that plan towards my new plan: Plan Get a PlayStation Plan. This consisted of saving my allowance, selling rare Genesis games (I’d later buy again for twice the price), and begging my parents for money.

Explaining why a longtime Sega supporter decided he wanted a PS and not a Saturn would take another article, but can easily be summarized — Sega had destroyed my faith in them by releasing and not supporting two add ons for the Genesis. The Saturn, in my eyes, was doomed to fail. And fail it did, at least in the US. Years later I’d feel slightly guilty for abandoning Sega in their time of need but in late ’95 I was ecstatic because Plan Get a PlayStation worked. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Planescape: Torment

For as long as there have been computer role playing games there has been the paradox of character. How can a game give you control of someone who has feelings, memories, personality traits and a history that you don’t share without you undoing these qualities? How can a strong narrative allow for the main character to be completely amorphous?

If I wanted to read I’d go to school.

Traditionally, the East has dodged this problem by simply forcing us to control a character whom we have no actual control over. We can steer him left and right, but all of his decisions, dialog, thoughts and feelings are his own. Our job is to control the character in battle and make sure they get to the next cut scene alive. This method allows for a potent narrative and excellent characterization but, for obvious reasons, very little actual role playing. →  Read the rest