I have a love-hate relationship with gaming these days. As I’ve gotten older and my free time has been eroded by the demands of adulthood and my own bull-headed ambitions, I’ve become more picky about the titles I play.
Nowadays, I shy away from the expansive digital game worlds that implore you to explore them for hundreds of hours. And, as the newfound, curmudgeonly Time Lord of my life, I’ve also developed a particular distaste for games that waste my time with repetitive gameplay and mundane mechanics.
But over the years, I’ve also amassed a backlog of unfinished games. Whether I purchased them through Steam sales, got them when I was younger, or paid full price at release, the guilt of knowing that these titles lie unfinished and unrequited on some hard drive or shelf somewhere often prevents me from buying new ones.
So, perhaps it’s not so strange that all of the games I finished in 2019 were oldies (and not necessarily “goodies”). That’s right — this list doesn’t contain a single title that was released in 2019.
Image sourced from Reddit user Bromancer20
1. Fallout: New Vegas — Dead Money (PC/Steam – 2010)
Dead Money was the first title I finished in 2019, a piece of DLC for Obsidian’s western-style take on the post-apocalyptic Fallout series that originally released in 2010. However, since then, gamers have hardly left New Vegas in the dust.
Today, New Vegas has attained reverential levels of praise from critics and hobbyist gamers alike. The title gained even more retrospective adoration when critics juxtaposed New Vegas with Bethesda’s polarizing Fallout 4, revealing the newer title’s downgrade in writing quality and player choice compared to Obsidian’s effort.
Sadly, much of what makes New Vegas highly esteemed isn’t present in Dead Money. Obsidian’s eccentric creative fingerprints are all over Dead Money’s world and character design, which is an adept blend of bleak survival horror, sci-fi oddities, and playful humor. However, at just a few hours long, Dead Money didn’t have the time to invest me as deeply in its world with the consequential gameplay decisions, colorful factions, and moral ambiguity of its base game.
2. Metroid Fusion (GBA – 2002)
I originally got my hands on Metroid Fusion as a child when it released back in 2002. Apparently, it’s taken me 17 years of on-and-off efforts to beat this game. Pretty wild, right?
In actuality, Fusion isn’t necessarily hard: its haunting space station corridors are much more linear than the other labyrinthine games in the Metroid series. Instead, most of its challenge stems from its trial-and-error design.
Right from the get-go, you’re free to traverse most of Fusion’s colorful sci-fi game world as you please — and it’s a real treat due to some great pixel art. Most of Fusion’s enemies won’t put up much of a fight. But once you encounter a boss, you’re up shit creek. Either learn the boss’s attack patterns and prey on their weaknesses to promptly defeat them, or die a terrible death at the result of inexperience. Then, Fusion provides you the pleasure of replaying the unsaved portions of the progress you made since your last (manual) checkpoint.
Remember how I wrote about disliking games that waste my time? Yeah… Fusion is a prime offender. It’s a shame, too, because aside from core gameplay that I’m not crazy about, it’s a well-made game.
3. Killzone Shadow Fall (PS4 – 2013)
I loved the gritty, visceral combat of Killzone 2 & 3, so I was looking forward to playing through the latest title in the series, Shadow Fall. But boy, what a disappointment this was.
Shadow Fall’s sleek current-gen graphical veneer can’t hide the fact that this title plays worse than similar PS2-era titles like Project Snowblind and definitely worse than nearly all other big-name current-gen console shooters (Halo, Gears). Shadow Fall attempts to evolve its winning formula by introducing open-ended gameplay, stealth mechanics, and themes of wartime ambiguity, all while being a good Killzone title. It misses the mark on all four, becoming a shambling, soulless corpse of a game that was “done-up” with glitzy graphics so it could shuffle down the runway at release and get away from the critics relatively unscathed. That may have worked in 2013, but it’s 2020, and this title is fouler than ever.
Perhaps Shadow Fall’s shortcomings are the result of Guerilla’s team splintering to work on Horizon: Zero Dawn, a highly-acclaimed title that began development in 2011 and would release several years later. Regardless of the explanation, Shadow Fall feels like a death blow to a franchise that originally felt secure with its identity.
4. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC/Steam – 2017)
Holy Mother Mary’s muff, we’re three games in, and I’ve been a real negative nancy, haven’t I? Worry no longer: the next game on the list is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and it’s a real butt-load of fun.
Machine Game’s previous title, Wolfenstein: The New Order, felt like the evolution of retro FPS done right. Despite their infancy as a studio, this team of talented Swedes (and others) decoded the DNA of excellent shooters and delivered a sequel to a legendary FPS franchise with exceptionally exhilarating and satiating gameplay. In my opinion, The New Order’s combat even outclasses nearly all other big-name FPS titles released that year, including Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Titanfall, and Destiny. That’s no small feat!
Wolf II is largely a continuation of everything that works about its predecessor, but with some gameplay tweaks that I really appreciated. For instance, where The New Order frequently relied on bullet-sponging enemies, Wolf II’s gameplay feels fresher and more varied.
All-in-all, Wolf II is a bombastic retro-futuristic romp that, for me, was reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Just don’t expect B.J. Blazkowicz’s relationship with his father to resemble the strained-but-loving dynamic of Last Crusade’s Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.
5. Road Redemption (PC/Steam – 2017)
After taking a break from games in mid-2019, Road Redemption’s blisteringly-fast arcade-style racing was largely responsible for jumpstarting my interest in gaming.
The title is perhaps best described as a post-apocalyptic endurance motocross with melee and ranged combat. You race across a series of increasingly-challenging environments to complete various objectives while going head-to-head with AI competitors.
The ability to unload firearms at other passing riders or bash their brains in with bats and swords gives you plenty of ways to secure your victory. However, your competitors also have the same abilities, which fuels Road Redemption’s fantastic and intense risk-reward-based gameplay. If you move in to knock out the leading racer with a pool cue and take first place, you’ll need impeccable timing — anything less, and he’ll retort with his own blows and send you hurtling off your bike into 8th place. Or, you could depend solely on your driving skills — and the collection of a few conveniently-placed nitro power-ups — to cross the finish line.
Sadly, despite receiving excellent reviews from critics and customers alike, it seems that Road Redemption didn’t get the attention it deserved. If you’re into high-octane arcade-style racing games, I highly recommend checking it out.
6. Fallout 3 — Operation: Anchorage (PC/Steam – 2009)
Fallout 3 was one of my favourite last-gen titles and utterly captivated me as a teenager back in 2010-2011. Now that I’m somewhat older and standards have changed, the game’s shortcomings are a little more apparent. Nonetheless, I find myself coming back every few years to revisit Fallout 3’s wonderfully bleak-but-dimensional post-apocalyptic world — and I never leave disappointed.
Fallout 3’s DLC, on the other hand, is decidedly less praiseworthy. Back in 2009, Bethesda used the DLC format to experiment with various self-contained content, such as thrusting the player into contact with aliens in Mothership Zeta or tightening up some narrative screws in the epilogue piece Broken Steel.
However, Operation: Anchorage was Bethesda’s first foray into the world of Fallout DLC, and it shows. Anchorage seems to eschew everything that made Fallout 3 compelling — open-ended gameplay, player choice and consequence, and moral dilemmas (albeit, binary ones). Instead, it’s a predominantly linear shooter that builds its gameplay foundation on one of Fallout 3’s weakest elements — the combat.
I played through Anchorage for the sake of completion. But really, it was about as fun as pretending to be my neighbour’s dog by nakedly rolling around on a shit-muck carpet.
7. Fallout 3 — The Pitt (PC/Steam – 2009)
If Bethesda’s Operation: Anchorage was a misstep, The Pitt was the studio regaining its footing. As the second piece of DLC released for Fallout 3, The Pitt takes you to the firey industrial remnants of Pittsburgh, a city repurposed by raiders and built on the backs of slavery. Upon arrival, you’re stripped of your gear and put to work at a local steel mill. Under the watchful eye of the overseeing raiders, you begin covertly working with the other slaves to plot your escape.
Even a decade later, The Pitt itself feels masterfully conceptualized and executed. You can practically feel the heat emanating from the city’s steel structures and smell the stench of sweat in the stuffy industrial workshops. The whole package is a testament to the power of atmospheric design, and for me, The Pitt’s brooding cityscape was as immersive as many current-gen titles.
It’s also worth mentioning that this DLC is strung together by a morally ambiguous storyline that’s reminiscent of Obsidian’s later efforts with Fallout: New Vegas. In The Pitt, righteous wasteland crusaders akin to Liam Neeson’s character in Fallout 3’s main story are seemingly extinct, and both endings are bittersweet at best. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Obsidian drew inspiration from The Pitt when conceptualizing New Vegas.
8. DUSK (PC/Steam – 2018)
As a game, DUSK is a delightful homage to so many things: retro FPS design, backwoods cultist mythos, Lovecraftian horror, and intentionally clunky aesthetics. But unlike other titles that set out to replicate past successes, DUSK manages to transcend its creative influences and stand on its own two feet.
DUSK’s journey begins on a quaint note, with you, the player, investigating a quiet rural town. But, as you descend further down the rabbit hole and the story begins to unfold, the game’s levels become increasingly twisted and unorthodox. DUSK’s designers’ toy with the player as if they’re a plaything: floors fall beneath you, levels shift and morph, and monsters ambush you from dark corners. All the while, a malevolent voice occasionally breaks the silence to cackle at your peril.
And yet, for all those moments of horror and vulnerability, you spend a large majority of time in DUSK bunny-hopping circles around large numbers of foes and blasting them away with a sizeable arsenal of satisfying weaponry. Don’t forget — DUSK is still power-fantasy retro FPS through-and-through. But by pairing these explosive moments with effective and unnerving environmental storytelling, DUSK ends up offering a more dimensional experience than its inspirations, such as Quake and BLOOD. For that, DUSK deserves the attention of old-school FPS fans — which it’ll probably get once they’re done skewering me with pitchforks for my last statement.
9. Fallout 1 (PC/GOG – 1997)
Like many younger gamers, I was introduced to Fallout with Fallout 3, a game that took the previously well-established post-apocalyptic CRPG series into a new dimension — much to the excitement and disappointment of many older fans.
Years have passed, and Bethesda now seems to be content with riding their version of the Fallout franchise off the rails. But, as a result of the current calamity, Fallout 1 &2 seem to be enjoying more retrospective reverence than ever — so I thought I’d finally check them out.
I attempted to play Fallout several times before, but I was somewhat younger then and didn’t have the patience for Fallout’s sparse visual presentation and slow game speed. Recently, though, I realized that there’s a certain allure to games that don’t spoon-feed you every detail of their worlds. And sure enough, that was my experience with Fallout upon revisiting it: the rudimentary graphics and text-reliance let my imagination wander and fill in blanks, akin to reading a book.
However, while I enjoyed Fallout’s world and atmosphere, the gameplay really tested my patience. There’s an overemphasis on dice rolls and no reattempts with mechanics like lockpicking, which led me to begrudgingly perform tons of save-scumming. Unlike the newer Fallout games, it also seems like the designers didn’t anticipate all your choices (or didn’t care), meaning that you can get stuck in all manner of unfavourable circumstances and have dead-end save games. And then there’s the wonky perspective, which makes it difficult to navigate the world and interact with useful items/objects.
So, while I can appreciate the craft behind Fallout, it wasn’t much fun as a game.
What I’m Planning to Check Out in 2020
This is mostly just for personal reference, but here are five games I’d like to check out (or catch up on) before the end of this year:
- The Last of Us Remastered (PS3/PS4)
- Voodoo Vince (Xbox)
- LISA (Steam)
- Bloodborne (PS4)
- Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut (Steam)
Games I’m Close to Finishing that I Should Finish in 2020
In order of most progress to the least progress:
- Peggle 2 (X360)
- Uncharted 2 (PS3)
- Jak II (PS2/PS3)
- DOOM 2016 (Steam)
- Metro 2033 (Steam)
- Call of Duty: World at War (PC)
- Darksiders II (PS3/PS4)
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