Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Like Carson Daly, but less of a tool.

A few days back one of my readers complimented me on my review of Half-Life 2 and asked for a list of my top 5 favorite games. I found this a little surprising, since I was unaware of having written a review of Half-Life 2 (The post in question discussed certain aspects of the game in one setting, and certainly didn't qualify as an entire review), but I'll give the request a shot anyway. The way I see it, any excuse to suck up page space with totally inane crap is worth using. So, after some thought, I am going to try and sum up my five favorite games of all time.

Now, there are some groundrules here. First off, these aren't reviews. If I were going to review a game in a thorough way, I'd have to go and replay it just to make sure it was fresh in my mind. Secondly, I'm only considering PC games here. I play pretty much just PC games, so it wouldn't be fair of me to comment on the one or two console games I've messed with. This also extends to the old Atari games, so all you Pong addicts can just shut up. Third, I won't be considering Macintosh-only games. I liked "Spectre" as much as the next guy, but I'd prefer folks have a clue what the fuck I'm talking about. Fourth, I'm directing my focus almost entirely at the offline single-player content. This automatically excludes MMORPGs (Which I don't play anyway) and oldschool BBS games that I actually might be very fond of. Ah, Trade Wars, will I ever stop missing you? This also means that a game with a lousy single-player experience but pretty good multiplay (I'm looking at you, Halo.) won't make the grade. I think this is fair because multiplay experiences depend as much on the group of people playing, as the game. Even an awesome multiplay game can be ruined by an overabundance of fucktards. Finally, the games are not listed in any particular order.

Everybody clear on that? Good. Then, without further ado:

Drek's Top Five PC Games:

(1) Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares. Master of Orion II, or MOOII as it is usually know, is a turn-based strategy game oriented towards interstellar domination. You play as one of several unique races, or as a custom race you design yourself, and attempt to take control of the galaxy through a combination of military might, economic clout, and politicial influence. Along the way you will build colonies, develop technology, conduct diplomacy, and fight wars. What makes MOOII such a brilliant game is the tremendous amount of flexibility built into it. Any of a variety of approaches to victory are potentially successful, and players can choose a style that fits them. Similarly the ability to customize your racial characteristics as well as the enormous variety of in-game technologies and ability to design ships adds to replay value. With proper attention, a well-designed ship with adequately thought out tactical doctrine can be a serious threat to rival ships many times its size. Of course, what holds all this power together is the elegant and capable interface, that can provide detailed information and control without seeming overwhelming. On the weak side this game suffers from a handful of irrational bits, like the fate of surplus food when no alien races have yet been encountered, or the species that can basically be summed up as, "Hot warrior babes in form-fitting armor." Nonetheless, this game has tremendous replay value and is a serious challenge. It also carries on the legacy begun in the also excellent Master of Orion I, and remains a far superior game to the poorly-executed Master of Orion III: The Rape of a Great Franchise.

(2) Descent: Freespace- The Great War and Freespace 2. Despite the fact that these were released as two games, I count them here as one. This is partially because of the smooth continuation of the story, and partly because both used essentially the same game engine. So, Freespace 2 is almost more of a really huge expansion pack than a truly independent game. All that said, these are two amazing games. The basic concept is that you are a star fighter pilot for, first, the Galactic Terran Alliance and then later the Galactic Terran Vasudan Alliance. In this role you'll fly a variety of missions ranging from interception, to escort, to attack, to espionage, in a wide variety of unique craft. Enemies range from the Vasudans, to renegade humans, to the terrifying Shivans. Gameplay is uniformly excellent with well-designed missions and compelling art. What really pulls the games along, though, are the gripping storylines. Freespace and Freespace 2 are, above all, stories about courage in the face of overwhelming odds. As such, it would be difficult to find games that are more fun, and satisfying, to play. On the negative side, the Freespace games play extremely fast and loose with physics, which can bother obsessive nit-pickers like myself. Still, they use this looseness to enhance gameplay, and so it can be excused. Just this once.

(3) Fallout 2. This game, a sequel to the earlier Fallout, which was itself an homage to Wasteland, is one of the most superb Role Playing Games (RPGs) I have ever played. I'm not generally a fan of RPGs- mostly because companies seem to have a hard time finding the balance between creating a good world and creating a playable game- but Fallout 2 wowed me with its elegant user interface, its deep character and skill system, and its expansive world. This game allows you to play through its main and subsidiary quests using a variety of skills and ethical choices, all of which help to determine Non-player character (i.e. computer operated interactants. aka NPC) reactions. The game manages to convincingly depict a post-nuclear (Or, as Bush would say, "Nukular") holocaust U.S., as envisioned by 1950's pulp sci-fi, while injecting a quirky humor all its own. In more detail, Fallout 2 tells the story of the Vault Dweller's legacy, in which you are dispatched by your village to find a particular piece of technology that can mean survival or extinction for your people. Along the way you'll make friends, alter the world for the better and the worse, and thwart a genocidal plot. This is a game that can be played and played in a multitude of different ways, and each time a new experience can be had. It's also one of those rare games where access to a good manual and even a hintbook is worthwhile. If the game has any problems, it is that it is so deep and rich that it shipped with a number of unpatched bugs. If you get an early release, download the patches, and if you got a late release, make sure all the patches are already there.

(4) Half-Life. Half-Life is what is called a First Person Shooter (FPS) game. It places you in the body of a game charater who is at risk of becoming a bullet sponge in the immediate future. Half-Life, however, takes this concept quite a bit farther, crafting an interesting and mysterious story. In Half-Life you take the role of Gordon Freeman, a newly minted MIT physics Ph.D. who becomes involved in some sort of bizarre government accident. Afterwards you begin a race against time to correct the mistake before legions of alien creatures invade the Earth. As cheesy as it sounds, it's actually quite compelling, and I'm not just saying that because it's a game where an academic is also an ass-kicker. With the addition of good graphics (For the time) and enemy AI that holds up quite well with age, this game is both a compelling piece of storytelling, and a lot of fun. If there is a flaw, it is that very little flexibility exists in Half-Life. You are forced to move through certain areas in certain ways, whether you want to or not. Yet, this is a characteristic of most FPS games and Half-Life at least conceals the constraints with quite a bit of aplomb. One doesn't even notice the restraints, in most cases, until one plays the game for a second or third time. (For those who wonder if Half-Life 2 should be on this list: I wouldn't make that decision until I had both finished it, and gotten some distance from it. Sorry.)

(5) Starflight. Man, this is an oldie, but a goodie. The basic idea here is that you are the commander of a newly-built starship sent out to explore the universe and make a profit. A few things are mysterious, however: you don't begin on Earth, other intelligent species are sharing this world with you, and nobody knows how this all came about. So, Starflight turns into an adventure game with trading, combat, diplomacy, and exploration as you race to solve a mystery before an ancient threat destroys your world. This game is both deep and rich but has a number of flaws. In terms of gameplay, Starflight is problematic in that many, many "stations" must be accessed to accomplish certain tasks, such as raising shields, handling damage control, and navigating. In a more technical sense, Starflight has an unfortunate feature that makes saving impossible except when you exit the game. So, if you die once, you have to start over. This is, to put it mildly, upsetting. Still, this game is a lot of fun and has a fascinating storyline. Word on the street is that some folks are even working on updating its rather dated graphics and might even release a Starflight III. One can only hope...

Now, those are my five favorites, but what would Total Drek be without needless insults? So, tomorrow we'll deal with a second topic: Drek's five most hated games. Tune in and watch me say unflattering things about someone else's hard work.

In other words: it'll be a normal day.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Wing Commander?!

As for Starflight: Pythagoras! Rubber Widget! Uhlek! What a great game. I spent weeks on end swapping my save disks and play disks (and mining molybdenum).

- Alan

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 2:08:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Yeah, I considered Wing Commander but, honestly, the first game didn't come together completely. It was cool, but the gameplay and narrative never really integrated. Wing Commander II was really good, but the narrative took place in cutscenes that you had no control over, rather than in the game itself.

So, when it came right down to it, I decided to give the nod to the Freespace games and just let Chris Roberts take the hit.

Besides, I still haven't forgiven that bastard for Privateer. I mean... damn.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm commenting on a years old post, but oh well.

If you're talking about Wing Commander you really can't forget the tragedy that was Wing Commander IV: the game which saw an out of work Mark Hamil making appearances in the cut-scenes (cool when you're 8, but pretty damn funny looking back). That game had it all--poor acting, video cut scenes that took forever to load, and bad gameplay. From what I hear it was a pretty low point for a strong franshise.

This was, of course, the second flight sim that I played on the PC--and which along with X-Wing turned me off of the genre entirely. X-Wing in particular punished me for attacking capital ships with a single fighter, and where, I ask, is the fun in a game that punishes me for doing something insanely stupid? 16 years later and still bitter about that one...

Friday, March 16, 2007 7:51:00 PM  

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