Game On

Fallout 3

The world is gorgeous and vast, and the atmosphere is downright horrific, but the character animations give the entire thing a healthy dose of Uncanny Valley. The scripting is a bit off as well, so it feels like some areas / quests are broken. And the UI is downright horrendous. But aside from those small quibbles, Fallout 3 is probably the most immersive game I’ve played this year. Not due to the storytelling, which was somewhat half-baked and yawn-inducing (nevermind Liam Neeson’s admirable voice acting), but simply due to the post-apocalyptic scenarios presented to the player. Approaching a slavers camp with the mission to rescue a few kidnapped children, you go in with the intention to cut a deal, complete the mission, and get out alive. But the cockiness and pure evil of the slavers induces pure rage: you pull out a handful of frag ‘nades the minigun and don’t stop firing until the ground is littered with red slaver giblets. That’s the most impressive (and fun) thing about Fallout: the sheer power you feel when you equip power armor, some heavy weaponry, and bring justice to a land lacking any.

Dragon Age: Origins

DA:O was Bioware’s return to its origins of classic fantasy RPGS, and it was a welcome return. A new engine, new rules (finally setting aside the legacy of D&D), new world, a new emphasis on gritty realism. Bioware’s skill for polish shines through – every map, character and dialog tree is lovingly crafted by the guys. The raw gameplay draws heavily from the elephant in the room (World of Warcraft), with configurable talent trees and hot buttons the player continually “fires” during combat, with cooldowns. Even some of the bigger boss fights approached the epic endurance of WoW’s raids. But the fact that you control 4 characters and can pause at any time harkens back to the glory days of Baldur’s Gate. Aside from expanding endless dialog trees to reveal lore about the land, or perhaps kick off a romance among companions, the most memorable thing about the game are the fights. When it comes down to the wire, pausing at a sliver of life, chugging a potion, getting a critical attack on that pesky mage, landing a heal on the tank, and just barely eking out victory. In most RPGS, victory comes down to a math equation (are my skills / gear good enough?). But in DA: O, victory draws in part from skill, so when you save the world, it feels like you did something.

**Super Meat Boy **

Probably the hardest game I’ve played in a long time, in a purely hand-eye-coordination sense. But it’s got a cool style and aesthetic, and the levels aren’t impossible, just challenging. So you end up playing the same level 30-40-50 times in a row, until you perform the jumps with perfection, and you watch all your failures plummet to red death. Like the many lives failing on the path to attain nirvana, you reincarnate again and again until you (the player) reach a state of zen.

Torchlight is the antithesis of Bioware RPGS. There’s hardly any story, no puzzle solving, no dialog trees, no party dynamics. It’s pure hack-n-slash. Diablo on crack. And its fun as hell.

iPhone Games

I’m loathe to pay even a dollar for a piece of software that would be free and take up a minute or two of mindless time on a regular computer (hello – flash games). So I’ve usually just downloaded the “lite” version of iPhone games, or wait till they drop to 0$. And most of it is crap. There are maybe a dozen unique games, with ten thousand different skins. Of course, I have the staple – Angry Birds. (I’ve found the game frustrating in the seemingly arbitrariness of its physics. I like games where success is assured given a few well executed timed button presses. The “analog” nature of iPhone physics-based games goes against my entire video game upbringing, from Nintendo through PC, where all input is digitized and finite. In Angry Birds, we are at the whims of a cruel physics simulation, and those damned green pigs! hence frustration ) Other games I’ve liked (and played far too many hours):

Gun Bros – probably the best of the twin stick shooters, aside from the micro-transaction annoyances.

Death Knight – old school beat-em-up with great art and smooth controls.

Logic Box – contains a pack of classic puzzle games (unblocker, labyrinth, etc). I’ve spent hours on this one.

Trace – Platformer-puzzler, where you draw the platforms.

**TikiTotems ** – disassemble towers (ala Angry Birds) by removing pieces.

The Labyrinth – Like the old school marble-on-wood board games, using the iPhone gyroscope.

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