Game Notes

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Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999) *** ★★★★★★
I spent untold hours at this game (and a related forum) in the early 2000s. It helped develop my interest in history, and was probably – more than anything else – what brought me into gaming. I still have plenty of pleasant memories about covertly planting Goth barracks near enemy bases and overwhelming them with bands of Huskarls.

*BF* Battlefield 4 (2013) ★★★★
#showerthought: BF4 = 1984. The three superpowers – the US, China, and Russia – fight an endless, materially expensive, and heavily scrutinized war over the same territories on their imperial borders, making no advance. I prefer the hardcore (higher damage + no marking) servers, since the standard version is too gamified IMO.

*BF* Battlefield 1 (2016) ★★★★
The action moves to a fantasy version of World War I, complete with Ilya Muromets bombers, Dreadnoughts, and airships. No real flaws, as can be expected of mass market AAA-rated games, but same considerations apply as above.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (2012) ★★★
Mount & Blade: Warband mechanics are far better – also, by the time I started playing it, the good players already knew all sorts of ridiculous hacks.

*civ*
Civilization II
(1996) is, together with Civ 4, my favorite in the Civilization series – though perhaps that is on account of it being the first one I recall playing. I recall finding Civilization III (2001) rather ridiculous – spearmen could take out modern armor in defense, making the end game an insufferable slog. In the interests of completion, I did at one point try out Civilization I – while acknowledging its preeminence, multiple aspects of it were understandably ridiculous (remember the trick of extending your naval reach by building out “rivers” of cities inland?).

*civ* Civilization IV (2005) ★★★★★
An extremely addictive game and a definite improvement on Civ III. Three big problems, however. First, they’ve encumbered it with far too much graphical eye candy at the expense of functionality. As someone who would choose functionality and minimalism over cluttered beauty every time, this did not appeal to me. Second, I have a lot of quibbles about how they implement many historical elements (the economy, political systems, war management, etc) – many elements are redundant and unnecessary, while some major ones are lacking. Third, the add-ons are low-life money-pinching schemes. That said, like all Sid Meier Civilization games it is extremely addictive (“just one more turn!”), so despite my multiple complaints with its implementation I can’t really over-criticize a game that kept me up until 5am on several occasions.

*civ* Civilization V (2010) ★★ FULL REVIEW (2015)

*civ* Civilization VI (2010) ★★
Apparently, this one is even more of a trainwreck than Civ VI. At best, this is a glorified board game, not a strategy game. Pass.

Cossacks: European Wars (2001) ★★★★★
Second favorite RTS game after Age of Empires. The large formations of riflemen were quite the change from the other game, which couldn’t handle more than a few hundred units on the same map. Reducing enemy cities with massed mortar fire was a most vicarious affair.

*cs* Counter-Strike (1999) and  Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012) ★★★★ The Counter-Strike games are – of course – classics; as is one map, de_dust. Never spent much time on them. They’re OK.

Crusader Kings II (2012) ★★★★★
Unfortunately, I never really got deep into this game. That said, I loved its depth and attention to historical detail.

*deus ex* Deus Ex (2000) ★★★★
I only completed this game after Deus Ex: HR, so I don’t have the fond recollections of it that made it into a cult classic. It’s cool how they (inadvertently) predicted 9/11.

*deus ex* Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) *** ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

*deus ex* Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016) ★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Dishonored (2012) ★★★★
The Empress has been assassinated, and power has been seized by the evil Vizier Spymaster, who makes himself Regent and rules in the name of the Princess Emily. You, Corvo Attano, have been framed for the murder, and are due to be executed. Fortunately, Le Resistance frees you and you get some cool superpowers from the Outsider, who is possibly a world-bridging daedra. Now you set up setting things to right. Gloomy steampunk ambiance, gaslamp fantasy, electric fields, soul-infused robots – all powered by whales butchered for their oil. Features mad Russian scientist Anton Sokolov, who more or less single handedly launched the industrial age in this world.

*doom* DOOM (1993) ★★★★
This was another huge step up for graphics, this being the first major game to enable movement in three dimensions. You are a Marine in outer space tasked with single-handedly saving humanity from the hordes of demons unleashed when UAC teleportation experiments go awry, opening up an inter-dimensional rift into hell. This game became infamous for the numbers of sad people who set astounding speed run records, even through the hardest Difficulty levels which are beyond the skillz of mere mortals to complete.

*doom* Doom 3 (2004) ★★★★
Revamps the old linear shooter with excellent new graphics. You are a Marine on Mars in 2145, working for the UAC (United Aerospace Corporation), a military-industrial conglomerate conducting scientific research into esoteric areas like teleportation, biological research and advanced weapons design. However, the teleportation experiments inadvertently open a gateway to Hell, resulting in a catastrophic invasion by demons. As one of the few survivors, you must fight through the base and find a way to stem the demon onslaught from making it to Earth. Very atmospheric… good use is made of darkness, ominous noises, weapons caches, scattered PDAs (personal data assistants) lying in pools of blood from slain UAC workers, etc. Though this is taken too far by the “no duct tape on Mars” problem (you’re not allowed to simultaneously use a gun and a flashlight).

*doom* DOOM (2016) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2017)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) ★★★★★
Classic game which introduced several phrases into popular culture. I am not a fan of the standalone, but mods improve it radically – the right set of graphics and Quality of Life (e.g. sorting) mods move it up from ★★★ to ★★★★★. In particular, I am a big fan of the Requiem overhaul.
It is amusing to see that racial stereotypes/prejudices are generally accurate (Dark Elves and Argonians really do account for a disproportionate amount of shady characters), and how one can play for an implicitly ethnonationalist faction (“Skyrim for the Nords!”).

Europa Universalis 4 (2013) ★★★★★
One of my favorite strategy games, complete with Paradox’s usual attention to detail. It was very amusing how it had a quasi-HBD mechanic, in which non-European civilizations struggled to develop technologically.

*fallout* Fallout: New Vegas (2010) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

*fallout* Fallout 4 (2015) ★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Far Cry (2004) ★★★★
An excellent game with stunning graphics that follows Jack Carver, a US Special Forces operative who is stranded on a tropical archipelago after the boat he was on gets blown up by an RPG. He needs to find and rescue a female journalist who was with him at the time. Dark forces stir within the white-shingled beaches, lush rainforests, fetid swamps and volcanic outcrops… Protected by mercenary camps and hidden amidst the verdant lushness of these isles, the mad scientist Krieger has been busy assembling bio-engineered horrors the likes of which the world has never seen before.

*gta* Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002) ★★★
I dimly recall hating that helicopter drone mission with a vengeance.

*gta* Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) ★★★★★
You’re Carl “CJ” Johnson from the hood in the state of San Andreas (California), out to gain respect from your niggas. To do this you need to travel around Los Altos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Vegas) completing missions like robbing banks, making hits on rival gangstaz, and other anti-social behavior. What’s so entrancing about this game is that the environment is so immersive and malleable; you can drive (or fly) around the map for hours on end, while at the same time running over innocent bystanders and gunning down police officers if the fancy takes you. One bro’s ardent pursuit of the American Dream…

*gta* Grand Theft Auto V (2015) ★★★
Can’t really go wrong with its budget, but failed to leave a strong impression.

*HL* Half-Life (2001) ★★★★
A particle physics experiment goes very, very wrong. There appears an inter-dimensional rift into Hell through which all kinds of monsters pour into the research base you’re working on. You have to don your Hazmat suit, strap on your countless weapons and go forth and kill those alien bastards. The feature allowing “Barnies” and other friends to tag along with you in a fire-team is helpful, but in general the AI is quite disappointing. Though I know it was only 2001, I still think RtCW was a much better game at that time.

*HL* Half-Life 2 (2004) ★★★★★
What is there to add? This is a classic that deserves its status.

Hearts of Iron 4 (2016) ★★★
I was new to this game when it came out in 2016, so I took a small, manageable country – Belgium – to learn about the mechanics until I was inevitable overrun by Germany. Instead, I ended up steamrolling most of the Nazi Empire with just infantry attacks by 1944. So yes, the AI is quite bad. Some of the mechanisms are rather questionable (e.g. counterespionage, approval), though I will give credit to the production system (where unit costs fall as factories gain experience in making them). On the plus side, in my second (and last) game, I took control of the Soviet Union and fulfilled my alt history dream of launching a coup against Jugashvili and recreating the Russian Empire under Rodzaevsky.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002) ★★★★★
You are a genetically engineered hitman tasked with silently, stealthily killing your enemies: a perfect hit makes you a “Silent Assassin”. Unlike simple shooters, you need to carefully consider your surroundings to accomplish your mission –  if you go in with guns blazing, you will probably die (unless you’re really good). If you are silent throughout several missions, you are rewarded with bonus weapons like a sawn-off shotgun and dual silenced silverballers. Oh, and the suit with the red tie is really classy. #47 sure has a great fashion sense! I remember the Saint-Petersburg mission with fondness, as well as assassination by fugu fish in Japan. That said, the game does have bugs/stability issues.

Insurgency (2014) ★★★
I actually likes this game better than Counter-Strike due to its greater realism/less gamification.

Loom (1990) ★★★★★
This game of fantasy landscapes, rich dialog and mysticism is possibly the closest thing to art amongst its DOS brethren. The magic system involves the intriguing idea of playing different notes to manipulate the fabric of reality. The year is 8021, during the “Age of the Great Guilds”. The story follows one Bobbin Threadbare, a gray-cloaked outcast from the Weavers Guild that controls the Loom – an object which is both a reflection of the world and a portal into its future.  Accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Bobbin journeys through the lands of the glass-makers, the shepherds and the blacksmiths in a quest to save the world from the evil Cleric – a megalomaniac who wants to raise an army of the undead and rule the world. To do this he must acquire the Scrying Sphere (crystal ball) of the glass-makers, the swords of the blacksmiths and the distaff of the Weavers with which to perform the incantation. He captures Bobbin and acquires his distaff, using it to rip open the fabric of reality across a graveyard. This unleashes Chaos, who slays him. Bobbin has to fix the damage and battle Chaos for control of the Loom and the world’s destiny. He splinters the Loom, leaving Chaos holding sway over one half and providing a refuge for the Weavers in the other.

Manhunt (2003) ★★★
This is one very, very disturbing work. This was perhaps the only game to ever give me nightmares. Say what you will about the effects these games have on the moral fabric of society (or whatever), but I loved the storyline. You are John Cash, a brutal felon condemned to lethal injection; however, you are only sedated, “rescued” by a sinister, shadowy figure called the Director…who directs snuff movies. You are going to be the new “star” in his films. You need to fight your way through the post-industrial wasteland of Carcer City (supposed to represent a collapsed Rust Belt city), performing “gruesome executions” on the common gangstaz, bounty hunters, white supremacists, occult members and plain psychotics for the benefit of the Director’s security cameras who record your stunts for his clients and personal enjoyment. The more “gruesome” your “executions”, the more points you get. You foil the Director’s plan for your own demise and turn against him, but find that even the city police and SWAT are on his checkbook.

Mirror’s Edge (2008) ★★★★
This is a lovely parkour game set in a clean, crispy white technopolis that has turned into a high-surveillance dystopia that evokes Singapore. You are often running against time, hunted by security forces and helicopters, so maintaining momentum is critical if you want to survive to the next level. The rooftop chase sequences are interspersed with the occasional indoors platform puzzle and gun battles.

Mount & Blade: Warband (2010) *** ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

*portal*
Portal
 (2007) and Portal 2 (2011) are brilliant puzzle games that deserve their cult classic status. “The cake is a lie!”

Prince of Persia (1989) ★★★★★
In this classic you have to battle the evil Jaffar, the evil Vizier of Persia who seizes control of the empire while the King is away and imprisons his beautiful daughter. She is threatened with execution in one hour unless you, the Prince, escape the palace dungeons and rescue the Princess. To do this you need to battle the assorted perils of the Orient: a plethora of lethal traps, immortal skeleton swordsmen, the fat dude, your own mirror image and the dastardly vizier himself. You have to complete all 12 levels in one hours, or the princess dies. The record-holders are two really sad Dutch dudes who finished it in a little more than 17 mins. My best record was 29 mins, which is also pretty sad.

PUBG (2017) ★★★
What a Chad name for a video game. Never really got into it, had some fun in the few matches I played, but you need to invest a lot of time into studying the maps and mechanics to have any chance in these battle royale games. The melee system leaves much to be desired, and off road driving should be made more difficult (realistic) for standard vehicles.

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) ★★★★★
American post-apocalyptic RPGs: Here’s a nuclear bazooka, go have fun. Russian post-apocalyptic RPGs: Here’s a knife, a pistol, and a couple of bullets: Good luck. This is perhaps the game that more than any other popularized this quirk of comparative culture.

Tetris (1984) ★★★★★
Tetris. This game is a true classic and absolutely addictive. You have to drop differently-shaped blocks so as to completely fill up horizontal layers, upon which they self-destruct, thus clearing space for more. The speed at which they drop gradually increases throughout the game until it is no longer possible to keep up. There are many variants to this game. One that I remember enjoying had a small gay going walking around at the bottom and you had to maneuver and drop the pieces in such as way as to to not crush him.  The game was originally developed by a guy called Alexei Pazhitnikov who was working in a Soviet computing R&D facility. There were a lot of ugly squabbled over proprietorship of its IP, about which you can read more here.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon (2001) ★★★★
This game infamously “predicted” the South Ossetian War of 2008. I recall playing it in 2003.

Underrail (2015) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2019)

Universe Sandbox 2 (2015) ★★★★
This is great for playing around with to discover the answers to questions such as what will happen if Jupiter was to fall into the Sun, or how hot the Earth would become if it was to share the orbit of Venus. In particular, it is invaluable tool if you are draft certain space sci-fi scenarios and want to give them a plausibility check.

*wolf* Wolfenstein 3D (1992) ★★★★★
This shoot-em-up featured revolutionary graphics for the time, that is, rudimentary 3D (which they boasted about in the title). You are B.J. Blazkowicz, a captured US special forces soldier who must escape the prison at Castle Wolfenstein, kill the Nazis and their dogs, steal their gold, eat their chicken, thwart their twisted experiments and eventually assassinate Hitler. Observe a crazy speed run through Episode 1 here.

*wolf* Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) ★★★★★
After you (B.J. Blazkowicz) escape from Castle Wolfenstein, Allied intelligence debrief you on rumors of ominous Nazi experiments in the the occult, advanced weaponry and bio-mechanical engineering. You end up traveling across Europe battling undead Saxon warriors, terrifying bio-robotic Super Soldiers and the resurrected Dark Knights of ancient Teutonic legend. When it came out I even wrote a short fanfic about this game (which I will not release as it’s rather embarrassing).
If you live through all that, you can download the free follow-up Enemy Territory, an excellent multiplayer where you can join the Axis or the Allies and fight to fulfill certain objectives within a limited time period.
This game used to be one of my “solitaire” replacements.

*wolf* Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) ★★★
Back to killing Nazis in this Tarantino movie of a game. Graphics and mechanics are superlative. The mech battle was really cool, but only happened once. Characterization was excellent – Bubi, the repentant Nazi; Irene Engel; and most of all Deathshead, an extremely memorable villain.
On the negative side, the timeline mechanism was questionable – cheap way of bumping up replay value. The dialogue with Anya during the submersible mission was intrusive and annoying. Stealth is completely broken.
That said, so much money was sunk into it that it can’t help but be good, but it won’t – and didn’t – stick in my mind like previous titles.

Zombie Panic!: Source (2007) ★★★★★
One of my favorite games of all time – this was my “solitaire” before it was displaced by Mount & Blade: Warband. Despite advances in graphics, no zombie game has since recreated the sheer horror, spookiness, and atmosphere of classic maps such as Aquatica, Cinema, Laboratory, Resident Evil, and Space Station.