It is very hard to be successful and recognized in today’s gaming market. There are hundreds of new titles released each and every year, and while most of them are as mediocre as they can get, there are still some games / franchises that should not be forgotten. A lot of young gamers who came in for fun are running in circles, hunting for games with the best graphics and the best ‘movie feel.’ While graphics and ‘overall feel’ are important, there is nothing more important in games than their gameplay. In this article I will look into some titles that deserve to be remembered. Most of them will be old, and perhaps you may have never played them. My goal with this article is to show you that age and graphics are irrelevant to good gameplay mechanics. After all, there is nothing quite like the following games.
It is impossible not mentioning Ultima Underworld – and the whole “immersive sim” legacy – when trying to talk about System Shock. Immersive sims are games in which there is a simulated world (often with physics), letting the player play via a first person perspective (to further enhance the immersion). This means you can choose your own pace, and your own approach to any given situation. System Shock is an old-school game in every way. Which means that it is hard. But this “obstacle” is solved so elegantly that makes me wonder why this system has not been further used by all other titles – you can choose the difficulty of Story (time countdown on or off), Combat, Puzzles and Cyberspace (no I won’t tell you what that is, and yes it is awesome).
In System Shock, the story is unfold via some audio logs you find on the Citadel Station and by the environment itself. You are a hacker who has been given a new fancy cybernetic interface (cool way to explain HUD) and wake up alone in a station. Finding out what to do next is your primary objective if you want to survive this … well let’s not spoil the fun, right? System Shock was one of the first games with proper physics, leaning abilities and complete freedom of 3D movement. This gave you a totally new level of immersiveness, along with the ability to back-track at any given time (objects stayed in the same place, no matter what), to crouch and to crawl. It is also a game with one of the best (level) designs ever; its levels were huge and hard to navigate without a map, its HUD was complicated but was necessary in order to stay alive, it had lots of weapons, it had very cool and important upgrades for your interface (like a rear camera) and many other cool stuff like hacking through Cyberspace (I spoiled it, damn).
To put it simple, this is a game that needs to be played. Let the beautiful intro set the mood, digest the graphics for an hour and get immersed in one of the best game experiences you can ever have. Ultima Underworld was a fantasy classic title. System Shock is a sci-fi classic with a great story and unbelievable atmosphere. This is a game I replay every year.
Another System Shock you say? Yes, but this one is different. I would not say it is better than the first one; both of them are superb. This is another immersive sim whic equals to… wel… another masterpiece. The debut game of Irrational Games, that was co-developed with some folks of Looking Glass Studios, System Shock 2 is among what many players considered to be the best games ever created. If you’re asking why, look no further. Running on Dark Engine (see also Thief 1 and 2), System Shock 2 has incredible atmosphere thanks to its non-matched level and sound design. It is a horror game that does not rely on jump-scares. In fact, it actually does the complete opposite thing as you always hear what is around the corner. The fear of confrontating that ‘thing‘ and your own vulnerability is what makes this game so tense.
The story is told in a similar way to the first game, and manages to keep you engaged while at the same time offering you the ability to ‘choose your own pace‘. It is described as a FPS/RPG hybrid and you will find it difficult to play it if you’re used to the “run-to-their-face-with-shotgun” mechanics of most modern-day shooters. Levels are huge and beg to be explored to the tiniest bit. Ammo is limited, and everything you find may have some value now or later in the game. You are constantly choosing what to keep in your inventory and what to leave behind. Every weapon has different modes, and ammo-based weapons have different ammo for different situations. You can find many useful things that can be combined together. Your character can be developed through upgrades via your cybernetic interface (cool in 1st, much cooler in 2nd) by finding cybernetic modules.
What makes this game so great – apart from its design and atmosphere – is its RPG elements. You can choose any gameplay style you want to. Do you want to be a weapon expert? No problem, but be careful with your ammo and weapon degradation. Do you want to block your enemies or confuse them with your PSI-powers? Find out how and nothing will stop you. Do you want to be fast and run through the levels? Do it. Do you want to become invisible? Be my guest. Do you want to hack into armory to get the best gear? Can do. Do you want to research enemies organs or weapons to know how to get them or use them? Again, not a problem. System Shock 2 can be played the way you want to, and that is something truly amazing.
I could write another article, solely focusing on the different ways you can play this game. The best way to approach it is by thinking first and acting later. Get this game and the only thing you will regret is not playing it before. And after you beat it, try some of the available fan missions, as they are of really high-quality.
The Dark engine was first introduced with Thief The Dark Project, and was something revolutionary back in 1998. That engine had andincredible audio system, lighting system, ‘real‘ AI and the way your character moved was unlike anything I’ve seen. Thief was the first – and so far the only for me – real stealth game in which you had to know your surroundings and avoid the game’s bright/lighted places. It was a game with a unique character, a unique steampunk / fantasy / medieval / victorian setting and a fantastic story. It was also a horror title and an immersive sim at its best. After an hour of playing you were no longer controlling your character; you were the character.
Thief gives you so many options, so many options to face any problem you may encounter. It is a game that rewards exploration, patience and non-agressive approach. It is not only known for its immersiveness, but also for its sound design (guards footsteps were becoming louder as they came near to you) and levels (like Sword). Thief 2 improved over the first one – while staying true to the series – and introduced some new elements like camera systems or more surfaces to traverse. Its gameplay will never get old thanks to the awesome fan-made missions that are currently available (like T2X Shadows of the Metal Age fan campaign).
What may get old over time are the visuals, but then again there is The Dark Mod for Doom3 engine. This mod is of top quality, showing how a true next-gen Thief would look and play like. It has better physics, dynamic light sources, complex AI and much more modern-day features. Missions like A Score To Settle, Old Habits,Tears of St. Lucie, In The North or Heart of Lone Salvation are perfect examples of awesome gameplay and level design.
To be honest, there is really nothing I can say to do the Thief series justice. So let me conclude that it is my most favorite game series of all time.
OPERATION FLASHPOINT/ARMA SERIES
I still remember that Christmas evening when I unpacked my deluxe edition (it was an ammo box) of Operation Flashpoint (now known as ARMA: Cold War Crisis) that featured some maps, a flashlight, a raincoat and that beloved disc that I immediately inserted in my CD/DVD Drive in order to install it. The first mission I played was Steal the car. Just a basic mission of killing a patrol and getting the car into the next checkpoint. «Pff, easy stuff» I told to myself. After I loaded the Campaign though, I realised how hard and unforgiving this game was. It was realistic, when back then all other games were trying their best to be as unrealistic as possible. No other game put me in situation like this – I lost my unit and heard a tank coming from a far away.
I realised I had to go to cover, but the tank kept coming closer to me. I had a heart attack when it stopped near me and enemy soldiers jumped out of it. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, after a while, they gave up and ran away. But it was not over. I had to run over the forest to get to my base that was 5 km away. I looked at my map and found out that those 5 km are about 10% of the whole island. I began to run and it was getting dark. I saw some movement in the forest. Was that a soldier or my imagination? Or just a bush? I did not want to open fire and gave away my position. So I crawled and crawled. And there I was, only to find out that there was nothing there. I was scared. I crawled through the entire forest, and then ran away with my heart pounding. I finally got to the base, only to realize I was actually sweating. What a relief it was when a officer told me I had to return with some tanks and helicopters, and take no prisoners.
I realized that this game is huge, that this game is a simulation of being in the army, that I can go into any vehicle and shoot with any weapon I wanted to. I was hooked into the ARMA series. Next installments introduced gameplay-driven campaign where you could complete secondary objectives that further helped you on the objectives of your next missions. Operation Flashpoint / ARMA is a series driven by its community; a series that also rewards you for thinking first and acting later.
So I think that should be enough for today. I will get back to you with some other interesting titles later. Hope that you guys enjoyed it.