Category Archives: Games

Level One – Grim Fandango

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 71/100Title: Grim Fandango
Developer: LucasArts
Original Platform: PC
Year: 1998

Now that Oscar season is over it is time to get back to regularly scheduled programming. Probably should have been a classical piece since it has been a very long time, but instead it’s time to tick off another entry from the video games list.

As with a number of games, I am playing a modern/remastered version of Grim Fandango. However, in the interest of having a more authentic experience, I had the old-fashioned tank controls turned on. I quickly remembered why we stopped using tank controls… but hey it’s all about the experience.

When you see lists of the best adventure games ever released Grim Fandango is a regular feature. If it’s a list about the older puzzle/adventure games it will probably be milling around the top alongside a Monkey Island game or at least another LucasArts title. Strange to think that the Star Wars movies are partially responsible for this game.

Anyway. Let’s talk Grim Fandango. You take on the role of Manny Calavera, a travel agent, as he traverses the underworld to save the soul of a woman he accidentally sent on a perilous journey. It’s one part film noir, one part Day of the Dead and all the weird humour you’d come to expect from a LucasArts game.

When it comes to world building this game is an absolute winner. As any one who knows me would work out, a game that has films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca as sources of inspiration is good by me. Then by filling this world with monsters, skeletons and guns that permanently kill you by turning you into a mass of flowers… well you get the idea. I really fell for a lot about this game.

Even the puzzles, which can be esoteric at times, are fun to solve… as long as you have some sort of hints with you. I don’t know if it’s the game or my television settings, but there are some puzzles where it’s hard to see what your meant to be interacting with (like the mug tree or the infamous road sign puzzle) which I can imagine being awful when this was first released. Still, that’s the wonders of the internet, if you get stuck someone can show you where the liquid nitrogen is.

At about 7-9 hours to beat Grim Fandango may not be the longest game out there, but with the remastered version being about £12 on the PS Store (I got mine on sale) you get good value for money with this old classic. Just, make sure you have hints. You can thank me later.


Level One – Ico

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 70/100Title: Ico
Developer: Team Ico
Original Platform: PlayStation 2
Year: 2001

Every now and again an article gets published asking the age old question: Are video games art? It’s something I have talked about before when I played Journey and  I find myself coming to this question yet again with Ico. 

For the record, I am very much on the side ‘video games being art’ in the same way as music and cinema. Games like Ico just make the argument a lot easier to make than something like Naughty Bear or anything Barbie.

There is so much good in this game that makes this an exemplar of games as art. The way that Team Ico used a ‘subtractive design’ method to make this game just helps it to stand out. The villains are just shadows, the dialogue is at a minimum and the lighting is between soft and darkness (it’s a bitch to play if your television has even a slight glare on it). This method was done to help with the immersion and it really works.

At its core Ico is a game about ‘boy-meets-girl’. The way that they call out to each other, rescue each other and run through this old castle holding hands helps to build this relationship between you as a gamer and them as your avatars. Sure, there are times you want to scream at the girl (the pathfinding in Ico is far from perfect), but ultimately you need her and you want to protect her. So mission accomplished.   

However, being an ‘art game’ doesn’t allow you to escape from some criticism. Ico ends up playing as an incredibly long escort mission… and I don’t think there is anybody that enjoys those too much. Also there’s the combat.

On some level I appreciate that the focus is on the puzzles and how to navigate this beautiful castle in a one-person co-op game, but the combat (and the lack of variety in the combat) just added unneeded pieces of frustration in an otherwise atmospheric and mysterious world. The worst part of this were the times the enemies would spawn to kidnap your companion whilst you are separated – it just felt cheap to get a game over because you didn’t memorise the route.

Still, there is no denying the importance of Ico. There’s a reviewer that said (and I am paraphrasing here) that whilst Ico is by no means a perfect game, it is a game of perfect moments. It’s hard to disagree with that as you find your characters running hand in hand in the grass towards the iconic windmill.

Level One – Final Fantasy VI

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 69/100Title: Final Fantasy VI
Developer: Square
Original Platform: SNES
Year: 1994

I am going to start this with, what might be considered, a controversial statement: I think that Final Fantasy VI is much better than Final Fantasy VII. I know I haven’t crossed off Final Fantasy VII yet, but that’s only because my attempt to play it some 6 years ago didn’t keep me interested enough to keep going. As a gamer I am aware that saying this is heresy, but there you go.

Considering that I do not have a SNES to hand, I played the version that can currently be found on Steam and used an Xbox 360 controller. It’s not necessarily the genuine experience because of some of the updates (including art that makes Terra look unnecessarily vapid), but it was successful enough that I know that I am going to end up playing this game to completion.

The big thing that got me with Final Fantasy VI was the scope. The world is huge, the roster of 14 characters gives you plenty of scope for experimentation and the variety of battle mechanics makes sure that you can use many different strategies for the random encounters.

Of course you end up having favourites (the party I have used for most of my game so far is made of Celes, Cyan, Sabin and Edgar) but I can see that should I complete this and come back to this game in a few years time I will be able to have a completely different experience. That’s the mark of a great JRPG and what I didn’t get with Final Fantasy VII, but did with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy X.

Keeping with the character theme, Final Fantasy VI really invests in character development. I enjoyed the fact that your experience of an area can vary depending on the characters you have in your party – which can help you get to know them better. For example, there is an optional cut-scene where you learn about Sabin and Edgar’s relationship and how it was Edgar that ascended to the throne after their father’s death. It’s a scene you can completely miss, I just got lucky.

Also, how can I talk about characters without mentioning Kefka. He has got to be one of those rare pure villains who is evil for the sadistic pleasure and not because of some trauma or some ulterior motive. There is no real attempt to generate pathos, Kefka is just Kefka and he is a few nuns short of a nunnery.

So yes, it’ll be a while before I get to the next game because (as I am writing this) I have yet to complete this. And I will complete this, as I need to heal the ruined world before I walk away from this game.

Level One – Half-Life

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 68/100Title: Half-Life
Developer: Valve
Original Platform: PC
Year: 1998

I think the phrase ‘about damned time’ comes to mind.  Whilst all these video games on the list are essential to the canon, Half-Life really is one of those games. Games that have been so influential and so important that they act as a watershed moment. I think it is fair to say that what Half-Life is for the first-person shooter is what Super Mario 64 is for the 3D Platformer, Grand Theft Auto III for open-world action-adventures and Braid is for indie-games.

As a console gamer there was one overwhelming obstacle for me: the controls. I bring this up now because this is my only criticism of the game and it is one that probably didn’t catch many people. Specifically it was the controls for the crouch-jump and the long jump that really made my playthrough frustrating at times. Thankfully Half-Life is not a game that restricts your saving ability, so I would just make sure to save before making many failed jumping attempts.

Other than the jumping controls, it is amazing just how well this game holds up nearly 20 years later. I mean, sure, the graphics date this game, but honestly the only time you really notice this is in the endgame and whenever you encounter one of the many Albert Einstein lookalikes.

The big thing that set this game apart was how it told the story. Most video games that attempt some modicum of a narrative rely on cut-scenes. Some games, like a number of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, rely too heavily on these to the point that you can become incredibly bored. In Half-Life all the storytelling is done as you progress through the world solving puzzles, finding survivors and neutralising enemies.

This lack of cutscene is something that never really occurred to me as I played through Portal 2but it occurs to me that Valve managed to do the same thing again. Both games also use a mute first-person character to help immerse you further into the action.

A lot has been written about the storyline, but I just want to focus a little bit on the bestiary. As good as the story is, the game would have sunk if it wasn’t for the impressive variety of enemies. The final boss alone is… freaky in a mutant baby with a light mote for a brain kind of way.

I also really loved the houndeyes. They aren’t one of the major enemies, and were originally meant to be allies/neutral, but I always smiled when they appeared. They’re the kind of enemy that are… well cute isn’t the right word for it, but there is something appealing about them. As long as they stay fictional. If they become real then I will be hiding in the wardrobe.

So yes, after the way I couldn’t get into Ocarina of Time it was great to finally experience to get better acquainted with the world of Half-Life. At the moment, however, I don’t count myself as one of the rabid fans who are desperate for Half-Life 3, but let’s see if my eventual playthrough of Half-Life 2 brings that out of me.

Level One – God of War

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 67/100Title: God of War
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Original Platform: Playstation 2
Year: 2005

Of the three main God of War games it is only the first one that ended up in the Top 100 list, and it is a long way ahead of the other instalments. Fair to say that this must, therefore, be the best game of the three.

Now, if you are into gaming you will know the basic idea behind God of War. You play as Kratos, a former Spartan general who has become the go-to dogsbody for the Greek Gods. Why? As penance for killing his own wife and child (after being driven made by the god of war himself) and to try and rid himself of his haunting nightmares.

Kratos is an interesting character as, in many ways, he is your quintessential meathead. Then again he is also slightly schizoid, ultra-violent and has a Gorgon’s head that he uses to turn enemies to stone. Sure he has slightly emotional moments (nightmares about your dead wife and daughter tends to do that to you) but, on the whole he is a badass.

As someone who LOVES Greek mythology this is a game I have been looking forward to playing for a while. I knew that this game would end up taking liberties with the mythologies – I don’t see a reason why since there is such a wealth of characters and monsters that would be interesting if left as they were – but I admit to doing a few heavy eye rolls.

The biggest of all the eyerolls happened in the desert section where you are tracking down sirens. Sirens life on the coast and, in many cases, are synonymous with mermaids. So if you want to put a siren in the place that would kill them the quickest then the desert is probably your best bet. Now, I did enjoy how they were used… but did it have to be a desert?

Still. As a game that is essentially Bayonetta meets Hercules I had a really great time playing this. Thanks to Zero Punctuation I know a fair bit about the storyline for the next two games and, honestly, I am looking forward to giving those a whirl once I expand this out from the Top 100 (should I complete this!).

Level One – System Shock 2

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 66/100Title: System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games & Looking Glass Studios
Original Platform: PC
Year: 1999

And so today we have the latest in the series of games that managed to freak me out and had to watch someone else to get a grip of what made this an essential play. Honestly, for someone who has loved computer games all their life this is getting embarrassing.

System Shock 2 is one of the few games in this Top 100 that were critically appreciated at the time, but was a near flop commercially. So much so that System Shock 3 has been in limbo for the better part of 20 years. Still, so influential was this game that it is a regular feature on a number of best of lists.

In essence this is an action/survival horror game set in space. After some character generation choices (interestingly done in a way to give your character some history) you find yourself waking up on a spaceship as it is being ripped apart by the AI, human-alien hybrids, robots and cryokinetic monkeys.

The world is firmly planted in the cyberpunk tradition with, and it is not too much of a spoiler to say this since she is on the box, an AI called SHODAN acting as antagonist. She is lethal and truly one of the great bosses in a time where evil computer as villain has become a bit old hat.

The atmosphere is greatly helped by the music and the audio cues. Having the first hybrids apologising for hurting you and basically asking you to end their misery is an extreme mindbender. Killer7 did a similar thing, but the effect is much more pronounced here. This is made better by music that just ups the tension at all times. It goes to show the importance of having a good soundtrack on a game that is meant to mess with your head.

One thing that helped remove some of the scares (and this might just be because of playing it on easy) is that death is cheap. As long as you can find the respawn point then you can be up and running straight after death and with no real negative consequence. It really does take the sting out of being overwhelmed by apologetic mutants.

The way this is balanced is by having constantly respawning enemies. This, after a while, just became annoying rather than challenging. Something that really was improved on in the successor Bioshock where once an area is clear you are safe for a good while.

Actually, now that I have seen both System Shock 2 and Bioshock in action the similarities between the two are uncanny. Swap cyberpunk for steampunk and introduce a more philosophical brand of storytelling and there you have it.

Take, for example, the upgrade system. During the game you get a limited number of point called ‘modules’. With it you are able to upgrade your stats or buy new ‘psi powers’. It’s basically the precursor to Bioshock‘s plasmid system, just that you use the modules to buy upgrades for all features.

Honestly, this is a game that I would really recommend. I know I didn’t play it too long because I am a jumpy wuss, but having seen it in action via the husband it feels like my own nerves prevented me from taking part in a unique experience.

Level One – Portal 2

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 65/100Title: Portal 2
Developer: Valve Corporation
Original Platform: PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Year: 2011

So Peter, what did you spend your last Sunday doing? Oh, I spent pretty much the entire day playing the single-player campaign of Portal 2 to completion. How very nice of you to ask.

I have to say that there is a lot to be said for a good game that can be completed in 8-10 hours. As we as a gaming community have become more used to the Skyrims of the world we tend to dismiss games of Portal 2’s length. I remember when Bayonetta came out there was always the caveat in the reviews that it was a bit brief at 10 hours to completion. Sometimes a game can pack a whole lot of ideas and progression into a shorter package.

Enter Portal 2. When the original game came out it was just an add on that captured the hearts of the gaming community thanks to the portal gun concept and highly memeable storyline (I mean, even some non-gamers react with a smile when someone announces that the cake is a lie… which I know as I once did this during a work birthday presentation… that was not my own).

Honestly, when I saw that this sequel was coming out I had sincere doubts that Valve would be able to pull this off seeing how pure and neatly packaged the original was. Obviously with this being in the Top 40 of my list these doubts were misplaced. Especially since I think Portal 2 is better than the original in pretty much every way.

As with the original you have the immortal portal guns, the liberal use of physics puzzles and some stellar pieces of black comedy (I don’t think there is a gamer who has played either Portal game and not found themselves chuckling at some of the lines delivered by big, bad GLaDOS).


Now for the add-ons. You have Steven Merchant doing some fantastic voice-work as Wheatley, whose work as a comedic side-kick in the first chapters of the game are a real highlight. Also, you finally get some background into who GLaDOS is and how she came to be the ruler of this utterly macabre testing site.

Then there are a bunch of new puzzle elements. A lot of attention went to the gels when the game first came out; for good reason as they really helped to add some longevity to the proceedings. They also allowed for the larger puzzle environments that are created in the latter two-thirds of the game and meant new twists could be added as the game entered its final moments.

One improvement to the puzzles, at least for me, was the addition of lasers in the place of whatever those blobby energy balls were meant to be. It just made a lot of things clearer when solving puzzles.

Speaking of which, I really appreciated the difficulty curve on this game. There are so many elements to think about in this game when it comes to the latter puzzles, but a lot of the time things feel pretty second nature. The way that the game actually teaches the player reminds me a lot of The Witness. I mean sure, there are times where it ramps up or you miss the solution completely, but every puzzle feels conquerable and that is what’s needed in a game like this.

Seriously, this is one of the best games I have had the fortune to play. It’s smartly written, beautifully put together and makes you feel like you are doing extraordinary things. Would I like a Portal 3? No, I think they should leave it with this.

Level One – Batman: Arkham Asylum

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 64/100baaheaderTitle: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Original Platform: PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Year: 2009

Games like Batman: Arkham Asylum are why I should never start a new game before I have exhausted the previous game I was playing. I am about 50 hours into Skyrim and 40 into Pokémon Moon and figured that I would think of Arkham Asylum as just okay. Shows what I know because I love it.

I use the present tense of ‘love’ because I have nowhere near finished this. I am quite far in, but this is a game with such a well integrated set of collectables. Seriously, it takes a lot to get me keen for completing an in-game collection; so far I think only the National Dex from Pokémon Platinum, the gold bricks of Lego games and the many collectables of Saints Row IV have really brought out the completionist in me.

What helps is that the collectables are actually interesting; well, as long as you are into the Batman universe. This is one of the things that makes Arkham Asylum work. So much care and attention has gone into the scripting, world building, easter eggs and the storyline. You can tell that people who love Batman were heavily involved in the making of this game and, therefore, Arkham Asylum plays like a love letter to fans.

So many people have mentioned this already, but isn’t Mark Hamill just amazing as the Joker? Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting on the whole is fantastic (Arleen Sorkin is also a standout as Harley Quinn: my favourite villain), but this game really does belong to Mark Hamill. Such a world apart from anything I have seen Mark Hamill do before – which gives away the sad truth of my never having seen the Batman animated series.  Shameful, I know.

One other character I really want to highlight  is Scarecrow. As a character this guy is one of the scarier villains because of his extreme detachment and his ability to turn your psyche inside out. In the game this ability of his is weaved in with some rather unsettling sequences. Now, I know that the bit where Scarecrow makes Batman relive the murder of his parents is probably meant to be the gut punch. However,  the whole ‘haunted morgue’ bit was so fantastically creepy that a lot of the scenes that occurred immediately afterwards felt remarkably tame.

Honestly, this is a game that makes me wish I knew more about the Batman comic books. I get so many references because of geeky osmosis, so I can only imagine just how many Easter eggs are on display for this with the knowledge. It also makes me wish that I had actually watched the animated series. I mean, I was probably not the right age when it was on originally, but not seeking it out as I have grown up is ridiculous. This needs to be rectified.

Level One – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 63/100Title: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Original Platform: PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Year: 2013

As a frequent consumer of Reddit and other online message boards I know how late to the Skyrim party I am. When playing this game I was just waiting for that first guard to tell me about that time they were shot in the knee or asked if I was feeling dour because of a stolen sweetroll.

So here we are over 3 years later and I have finally united my copy (a Christmas gift) with my Xbox 360. I could have just gone for the remastered edition… but I am more than happy to sample it on the original system. I think ‘more than happy’ is an understatement here, I bloody love this game.

As of writing this I have already spent more than 20 hours in this game and I feel that I have only just started to scratch the surface. Strange how with games like A Link To The Past I started to wonder when it would end and yet with games like this, Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas the hours just seem to melt away.

If you live on the underside of a rock or have no interest in games you won’t know what this game is about. Essentially, it’s a fantasy action/RPG where you roam around a snowy landscape completing quests, killing dragons and (I am guessing) eventually help end a civil war.

This game is a winner because it is just so incredibly open. Sure, if you go down the wrong road you might end up being killed in one blow by a giant, but the point still stands. Both myself and the hub are playing this game simultaneously and are having completely different experiences.

Since we both have all the DLC for Skyrim there is one uniting factor: hunting for materials to make door locks. Feels a bit silly when you write it out, but it’s amazing what becomes important when immersed in the gaming world.

It’s just one of those games that makes me truly glad to be a gamer.

Level One – Resident Evil 4

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 62/100Title: Resident Evil 4
Developer: Capcom
Original Platform: Gamecube
Year: 2005

If I found it hard to play BioShock then what chance did I have with this one? Pretty much none to be honest.

The video games list is, emotionally, one of the hardest for me to complete because of the survival horrors. I have tried twice in my life to play this and both times ended with me dropping the controllers and turning the TV off. One of these times I was at a friend’s house and I just started shaking… to someone who just plays these on repeat I think my behaviour looked like that dog in the pound who has chunks of fur missing.

So, knowing that I would not be able to play it long enough (I tried, I really did) I figured the next best thing would be to watch my husband play for his blog. No dice. It made me feel sick with worry and the shaking started once again. The only way I was able to watch it without an extreme reaction was to find a sarcastic Let’s Play on YouTube.

I don’t think I have been so affected by a game before. I mean, my husband actually enjoyed it and said that he could see how Resident Evil 4 would end up on such a list. As an observer and a player I was extremely tense. The music cues, the limited ammunition and the crazed enemies are all part of the Resident Evil DNA. What changes things is the POV.

From playing and observing Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 it is easy to see how the most annoying thing are the fixed camera angles. In Resident Evil 4 they changed things by having the camera behind the characters shoulder and allowing you to more easily aim and maim.

Movable camera angles had been a while with games like Super Mario 64 acting as a trailblazer and you had other shooters like Tomb Raider having the shooter in the middle of the screen. Resident Evil 4 and it’s over-the-shoulder view was fairly revolutionary to the point where most shooters tend to offer this sort of view, or at least have this as a view alongside a first-person option.

I wonder know that this is an odd way to cross off, but I can’t play this otherwise. I am probably going to need to resort to this when the pyramid-heads of Silent Hill 2 rear their pointy heads. I also wonder… will I be able to play The Last of Us without freaking out?