Legend of Grimrock 2 on PC (9/10)

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The second Legend of Grimrock takes the retro dungeon crawl mechanics that worked so well in the first game and expands them into an open world RPG experience. You are still confided to the grid, but now that grid is decorated with a variety of natural environments and dungeon types.

While much of the game remains the same, there is a greater emphasis on puzzles. I generally enjoyed the environmental challenges that relied on exploration and trial-and-error. There are, however, a number of riddle-based puzzles which I was not as keen on. Maybe I’m just a big dummy because found myself turning to the Internet to get past a few of these.

If you are not familiar with games like Dungeon Master, the combat can seem weird. You are constantly shuffling back-and-forth to avoid damage, but still clicking characters in a turn-based style to fire off attacks. Casting spells becomes a frantic race to draw symbols on the screen, move around, and maintain the health of your other characters. It’s weird, but I find it very satisfying and would highly recommend trying this series out.

Ion Fury: Aftershock on PC (8/10)

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Technically this is just an expansion pack for Ion Fury, but this is a full-game’s worth on content. The most notable additions are the new weapons, monster types, and a “rotorcycle” vehicle. The vehicle levels were the weakest part of the game for me. I’m just not a fan of the racing style combat. But everything else is pure 90s shooter fun that fits in nicely with this already excellent game.

Quake II: Remastered on PC (8/10)

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Decades ago I played through Quake II and I remember being quite impressed with the opening cinematic. Starship Troopers was still fresh in my conscienceless and that feeling of being part of a botched invasion and left alone on a hostile planet really struck a chord. With the fancy 3-D graphics, it all seemed so real… and brown. Seeing this new remastered version, despite its many improvements, reminded me of just how primitive this game is compared to what we have today.

Fortunately for Quake II, the actual mechanics of the game are what made it so great. This is the definitive (I loathe this term) Boomer Shooter. Fast motion, twitchy gunplay, barely any attempt at story. The main drawback of the game is its drab and repetitive level designs. This remaster includes a huge, newly created mission pack that proves that the engine is capable of some more creative and non-brown environments. This bonus pack is worth the cheap $10 price tag, but, if that wasn’t enough, you also get the N64 version and two other expansions. Admittedly, by the end of the last expansion, I had quite enough Quake II for this lifetime.

This remaster has widescreen support, better enemy A.I., better lighting effects, and, most importantly, an in-game “quest arrow” system to help you find your way to the exits.

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) on PC (5/10)

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Are all indie games style over substance? I guess this game is okay if you are playing it as a school assignment to learn about the history Inuit peoples. It’s a step up from Oregon Trail. The game itself is an easy 2.5-D platformer with a little bit of puzzling as you switch between the two main characters. But for the most part it’s just run to the right and occasionally jump. Instead of cutscenes you can watch documentary footage of people explaining the folklore. Whoopie!

SiN Gold on PC (3/10)

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This game absolutely sucks. The graphics are just what you’d expect from a `1998 Quake engine game. The problem isn’t the visuals, it’s the sluggish, stilted game play. The weapons are painfully underpowered. You will spend several clips at point blank range to kill the most basic of grunt enemies.

This was a failed attempt at building an FPS around story and characters, The story feels like a Mountain Dew commercial and the characters excrete 90s extreme ‘tude. Somewhere in the process they forgot that video games are supposed to be fun. It includes such genius design quirks as being killed by closing locker doors and rats. The last third of the game starts with one of the worst water levels ever designed. I eventually just turned on an invincibility cheat and finished the game. Even that was tedious.

Broforce on PC (8/10)

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I didn’t immediately warm up to this platform shooter. For one thing, it’s very twitchy, chaotic, and brutally unfair at times. Broforce feels like it’s another, more-stylized version of Super Meat Boy. One wrong step and you are dead! You’re expected to try, try, try again. I was prepared to just rage quit this game but then a routine game patch intervened. The game just stopped working for me and I set it aside. (Citrix Workspace and the Unity Engine don’t play nice together)

Fast forward a year or two or ten and a new update to the game was released that fixed my problems and added half-a-dozen or so new bros. I thought it was time to revisit Broforce. In the interim, I had discovered that I like unrelenting bullet-hell shmups. I’m now team spaz-gaming! My attitude had been adjusted and I think I am a Broforce convert.

So, the game isn’t quite as perfection-based as I thought it was. There is a huge random element in terms of which of the twenty or so characters you are forced to play. Once you start to understand the abilities of each of the bros you begin to learn how to use their skills to combat the seemingly overwhelming odds against you. Certain characters are useless on some levels and you just have to die and try again. But when a particular character clicks, it’s invigorating!

The one thing that I loved about this game, even when I hated it, was the Randy “Machoman” Savage-inspired narration. There’s something about the screams of, “YOU CAN DO IT!!!” that tickles me every time. Also, the game has multiple endings based on how you approach the final task that are a direct descendant of Jordan Mechner’s Karateka. Well done and hilarious.

XIII on PC (4/10)

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I really wanted to like this game. It feels almost like No One Lives Forever in it’s hip spy aesthetics but falls flat on almost every other level. First and foremost the controls and gameplay are sluggish and incredibly unsatisfactory. 90% of the time is just your character slowly reloading his weapons. It was sold as a stealth game but the stealth portions are just lame. They consist you you walking around with wooden chairs in hand, cocked to eventually smash on the head of your enemies. The story is focused on a set of super criminals who are all numbered. When number I is finally revealed you have no idea who he was anyway. Props to the cell-shaded graphics and Adam West’s hammy voice acting. Other than that, this is garbage.

Ion Fury on PC (9/10)

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Ion Fury is more than the nostalgia cash-in that its marketing might suggest. It an FPS that gets to the core of what a great FPS should be: a combination frantic firefights in environments that test a player’s skill and clever level design that rewards exploration. Missing from all this is a deep and thoughtful story but I didn’t really miss it. Too many games these days try to be movies instead of games. I appreciate the effort, but the writing in video games rarely is even on par with a Disney channel sitcom. Gameplay is king and Ion Fury has it in spades.

The game is built using an updated version of the 3D Realms Build Engine. It still looks like Duke Nukem 3D but the resolutions are higher, the controls a much smoother, and the sheer amount of stuff in the game is increased. You are still mainly just looking for key cards on your path to the final boss battle(s). And, you know what, I didn’t care. The levels are incredibly designed, the enemies are just smart and varied enough, and there are plenty of stat challenges to shoot for. Finding all the secrets without a walkthrough is probably impossible but when you do find one is a truly rewarding. This was an unexpected gem.

Control on PC (7/10)

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In Control you are in control of Jesse. She’s been plunked down into a giant, oppressively designed government building and there are glowy monster-men attacking her. Not much else is explained. Only after a few hours of playing do you start to get a feeling for what’s going on. Something about a long lost brother, a voice in her head, and a mysterious force called The Hiss.

It’s not terribly engaging but at least the combat mechanics can be fun. You have a selection of weak pistols but mostly enemies are taken down with Jesse’s multitude of psychic powers. The most useful of which is her ability to launch objects at enemies. It’s pretty much a gussied-up version of the Half-Life 2 gravity gun. There’s also a shield, a dash, possession, and levitation but those are only have limited use. It’s a bit of a Metroid thing where a few zones are only accessible with a specific power.

In the end I was mostly just frustrated with the third-person perspective and all the running around. Apparently there is some sort of Alan Wake tie-in and that would explain the similar game play feels. But there was just too much obtuse story telling for my tastes.

Dishonored 2 on PC (8/10)

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It’s time to return the steampunk world of Dishonored in which you sneak around and strangle everyone who crosses your path. Dishonored 2 should be commended for allowing players to complete their goals in a variety of ways. I usually prefer the stealthy, non-lethal approach, but if you want, you can murder everyone in sight or even ignore the enemies and run to the end of the level.

As you play you begin to acquire super-powers allowing the player to teleport, see through walls, etc. The teleportation power is the first one you get and it is by far the most useful. I felt like I was cheating because I was allowed to zap myself above and around obstacles. The challenge became trying to collect all the charms strewn throughout the world without ever being detected or using lethal takedowns.

Once again I finished the game without ever killing anyone, but I still was tagged for 2 or 3 deaths along the way. I wish there was a progress screen so I would know mid-level if I accidentally hid a sleeping enemy in a killer rats nest or whatever. There was also a glitch where bodies weren’t where I left them when loaded a save, causing them to be detected by guards. I really don’t have the patience to replay the game and attempt a perfect run especially since the various endings are just quick voiceovers that change slightly based on your actions. I got my “good” ending and that’s enough for me.