December 24, 2019

Gaming In 2019 Review

Here’s a little summary of the computer games that we’ve played through this year, in roughly chronological order.

Hollow Knight

The three of us played this together, with me on the controls. This was quite an enjoyable collaborative experience, and we felt like we were playing it together, rather than me playing and Karen and Bernard watching. We loved the environments but found some of the boss fights a bit too challenging, and eventually rage-quat on the Soul Master.

(sigh) Bah pe nada.

Shift Happens

A very entertaining two-player co-op puzzle platformer. Each of the two controllable characters can be one of two sizes, but importantly at all times one will be large and the other small. A core element of the game is timing your changes, and communicating with the other player, because changing size at the wrong time can mean death. We tried to play this using a rotation system, where we take turns to sit out each level, but Karen started to feel like she was slowing the team down, and ended up handing over the controller with increasing frequency until it ended up just being me and Bernard playing. However, she does say that she still found it funny to watch.

Portal 2 co-op

We replayed Portal and Portal 2 last year (Bernard and I had both played it before, but last year was Karen’s first time seeing it) and this year we did the co-op levels. Again, this was one that was mainly for the benefit of Bernard and I. I didn’t dig this quite as much as the main single player campaign – for me, while the puzzles in Portal and its sequel are great, it’s the storyline that weaves throughout that really gives the games their edge.

Karen says: “occasionally drew me in as you two played”

Grand Theft Auto V

This was one I played on my own, unsurprisingly. I’ve been dithering on this game for years – my XBox 360 died a matter of weeks before its initial release in 2013, and by the time it came out on PC, my initial enthusiasm had dissipated and I decided to wait a few years and grab it in the sales. However, what with the success of the online game, the price stayed high, and it wasn’t until the tail end of last year that I managed to get it for a sufficiently compelling discount. I enjoyed it a lot – it was pretty much the spiritual successor to GTA San Andreas that I’d always wanted, though it utterly failed to make use of the diverse game world in the way that made San Andreas so magical. I logged 80 hours in this and got 100% in the single player story. Gave the multiplayer a quick go but it was utterly devoid of any charm whatsoever.

Return Of The Obra Dinn

This is one of our favourite games of the year. It’s a sort of murder mystery game that takes place aboard a ship, and it’s unlike anything else we’ve ever played. All three of us were engaged throughout, even though only one was holding the controller, as we discussed our theories and deductions. An absolute gem.

Karen says: “took a while to figure out what we had to do, and then was unputdownable.”

Subnautica

This game wasn’t really working for us as a collaborative project. We abandoned it, but a few months later I picked it back up and tried it on my own. It worked much better in this context, and I ended up playing to completion with 35 hours on record. This is an absolutely stunning game. If I had one criticism, it would be that there is a period around the mid-game where it can be unclear what you’re supposed to be doing next, and I found that my enthusiasm started to waver around here. However, I powered through, and I sure am glad that I did.

Grid 2

I picked this up to scratch my itch for a good driving game after finishing GTA V. I’ve been on the hunt for a good racing game for a while, and last year even contemplated buying an XBox One to play Forza Horizon 4, which looked very relevant to my interests. Grid 2 was okay for a bit, but started to feel quite repetitive after about 12 hours – just the same tracks with slightly different cars. Still, considering it only cost me a few quid, that represents decent value for money.

Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons

A nice little single player game that we enjoyed together, quite linear but with a very strong story and with the twist that you control two characters simultaneously on one controller – one with your left hand, the other with your right. It seems to have had very little impact on Karen though, as she can’t remember anything about it.

Castle Crashers

This is the first three-player game that we have tried and it was a roaring success. Utter chaos as the three of us fought our way through hordes of cartoony enemies with various weapons and magic attacks. All three of us felt completely involved throughout, and when we finished it we immediately wanted more like it.

Karen says: “a barrel of laughs”

Borderlands / Borderlands 2

I picked up Borderlands in the sales and started playing it, before thinking “hmmm, I wonder if Karen would like to play this co-op?” I have put it on hold while we play Borderlands 2 together, in which we’ve logged about 15 hours, but we haven’t played it in a few weeks now. I’m finding both games to be a bit repetitive, and am starting to doubt whether I will finish them.

Heaven’s Vault

We started playing this as a trio but Bernard lost interest so Karen and I finished it without him. It’s an interesting albeit slow-moving game, with copious player choice and a very novel linguistic element where you have to decipher an ancient language by inspecting written fragments in context, gradually working your way up from short simple phrases to longer sentences. The ending was a bit of an anticlimax, and I gather that it’s the sort of game that rewards a second playthrough, but to be honest it’s just too painfully slow-moving for me to find that prospect appealling.

Karen says: “kind of hard work and repetitive, but oddly compelling. I felt like I was waiting for some big twist that never happened”

The Witness

This was a magnificent game revolving around exploring a beautiful abandoned island and solving many many geometric grid-based puzzles. All three of us were immersed and this sucked up 13.5 hours of our time with consummate ease.

Karen says: “loved this. Simple and effective”

Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime

Our second foray into three-player games, and possibly our most successful to date. In this game, your team is in charge of a spaceship, and you have to fly through the worlds shooting baddies and rescuing friends. The fun here is that you control the characters within the ship, running between the various stations as required. I spent most of my time in charge of the engine, Karen often on the shields, and Bernard usually running between the multiple gun turret stations. This game got quite challenging in places, but never frustrating. And it’s incredibly cute.

Karen says: “probably my fave of the whole year, would play again tomorrow”

Tacoma

A “walking simulator” by the makers of “Gone Home” which was one of the first games that the three of us played together. Karen was baffled by “Gone Home” as I hadn’t really prepared her for what a “walking simulator” entails, and so it is now known as the “picking things up and putting things down” game. Since then, she’s far better educated, and this game hit the mark quite nicely, though Bernard’s attention wavered here and there.

Overcooked

Another three player co-op game, this one was chaotic and frequently infuriating. We got 13 hours into it, and quite close to the end, before deciding that we just weren’t having fun any more, and put it on the bench. The sequel is on my Steam wishlist but I haven’t been able to bring myself to hit the button yet. I might need a while for my stress levels to reset first.

Karen says: “fun but frustrating, mainly because it made us shout at each other”

Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine

A splendid little co-op heist game that I’d entirely forgotten I had in my Steam library. We managed to get about 5 hours of fun out of this one before the difficulty curve overtook us and it stopped being fun.

Karen says: “Frustrating. Felt like we were missing something”

The Wolf Among Us

This is another story-based game with some elements of interactivity and player choice, delivered in 5 episodes which we played back-to-back. We were absolutely wowed by the first episode with its bombshell cliffhanger ending, but unfortunately the way that this was “rolled back” in the first few minutes of the second episode meant that our trust in the game was undermined, never to be restored, and the remaining four episodes were lacklustre by comparison. Every single story twist lost its impact, as we now found ourselves questioning the reality of what we were being shown.

Sleeping Dogs

After I finally finished Subnautica, I started playing this game as my solo project. It’s an open world game in a similar vein to Grand Theft Auto, but set in Hong Kong and with a bias more towards hand-to-hand combat than guns. While I do have some criticisms about the game (the DLC missions were uninspiring, the UI for managing your wardrobe and garage could have been improved, and a lot of the story missions were very prescriptive in how you were permitted to approach them) it was a good game with beautiful, varied environments and a substantial, meaty plot.

Death Squared

Another two-player co-op game, reminiscent in many ways of Shift Happens that we played at the start of the year. Not awful, but not terribly compelling either, and our enthusiasm just bubbled away within 3 hours.

To The Moon

This is another “walking simulator”. If you’re not familiar with that term, it refers to a highly linear game where there’s no challenging gameplay. It’s more of an interactive way to experience a story. This one has a fantastic story that really tugs on the heart strings, and the snarky relationship between the two main playable characters is very sharp and funny indeed. Another one where Bernard’s attention was a little shaky in places.

Adios Amigos

Another little puzzle game, with a similar spacey theme to Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime but not as well executed. It’s ostensibly a three-player couch co-op game, but it doesn’t quite work, because for a lot of the time you’re in your spaceship and during these sections only one person is controlling it, and the others have nothing to do.

GAMES IN PROGRESS

Metro: Last Light

Another game that I’m playing solo, I really enjoyed Metro 2033 when I played it a few years back and so this one’s been on my todo list for a while. It’s a nice tight FPS with a strong story.

The Crew 2

I bought this to sate my still-present desire for a game like Forza Horizon 4. So far, I’m very pleased with how it’s hitting the spot, though I do find myself fast-travelling to the various events a lot, and not really getting to enjoy the enormous open world.

Life Is Strange 2

We played the first 2 chapters of this a while back, and are now binging our way through the final 3. In my opinion, I found chapters 1 and 2 a little underwhelming compared to the standard that was set by the original Life Is Strange and Before The Storm, but chapter 3 was brilliant and has restored my faith for the remaining two.

Ultimate Chicken Horse

This is a competitive puzzle platform game that can be played with up to 4 players, either online or locally. Bernard loves it, but Karen quite quickly got frustrated because she felt like she never had a chance. The nature of this game is that to score points, you need to complete the level while at least one other player doesn’t, so it was disheartening for her to get no reward for her efforts, just because Bernard and I also finished the level.

Pete

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