I’ve lost my yen for games and gaming. On top of being Britain’s Best Dad, frontman to Britain’s best slightly shit unknown beat combo, a gifted cartoonist and eating too many biscuits I am also a semi-technophobe who can’t really find the energy to give a shit about Xboxes and stuff any more.
Back in the day I did have a bit of thing for games though and, as I’ve written nothing of any interest on this blog for about 3 years, thought I’d randomly share my pick of the best games ever.
No game has ever come so close as this to my heart. Fully a decade and a half before Grand Theft Auto ‘revolutionised’ gameplay by creating an open-ended world, Elite was there. On machines as pitifully endowed as the Commodore 64, it created a virtually limitless world – which must remain one of the most staggering technical achievements in gaming.
The gameplay was broadly based around 2 elements – trade and space warfare. You began with a bog-standard ship – the Cobra Mk II. At each planet, you could trade goods. Planets had various attributes and social systems. You soon learnt that good money could be made taking foodstuffs from a poor agricultural world to a rich industrial world and returning technological goods back along the same route. Each trip would see you rack up a bit of profit and with luck and patience you could start to beef up your ship. Upgraded
Real money could be made in slavery and weapons-trafficking. But that came at a price as you would gain a wanted ranking. In civilised systems, police ships would immediately come after you and in anarchic world bounty hunters would seek to kill you for the bounty.
Ship identification was a critical part of the gameplay. If you’d taken a few hits in a battle you might seek to run to let your shields recover. But if you were fighting an Asp or a Fer De Lance then they had the advantage in speed and running wasn’t an option.
And even then the game still piled the surprises on. The game’s universe was set against a background of warfare against interdimensional beings called the Thargons. Travelling through hyperspace came with the risk of falling into ‘witch space’ – the parallel universe where the Thargons lived. There, you would have to fight the Thargon mother ships and the fighter drones they sent out. Agonising, time moved slower in witch space.
Still not enough? The various versions of the game across the different platforms contained further mini missions within the game. Should you reach a certain amount of money and skill as a pilot, the Merchant Prince of Thrun might offer you a cargoload of Trumbles – the most precious creatures in the universe.
Can you still play it? You can! Download Oolite now – a modern update on the game.
A game that is as difficult to describe as it was to master, Sentinel is one of those games that stands as its own genre, and was never repeated. In it, you controlled a robot on a patch of terrain. The robot could absorb other items in the environment – trees and rocks – and use their energy to create another robot, into which you could teleport. Meanwhile, the landscape was overseen by The Sentinel – a ceaselessly turning guardian who, if his gaze should fall upon you, would drain your energy till you were dead.
This isn’t making any sense, is it?
3. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider’s various incarnations have steadily worn away the appeal of the original (although I carry a tiny flame in my pants for Angelina Jolie’s take on the character. Or at least her arse.). Like many of the games I favour, it presented something quite solitary. During the course of the game, the only other humans you encountered were a shadowy French archeologist on the same quest as you and, randomly, some guy on a skateboard.
The ‘enemies’ you dealt with varied in scale from errant bats, to Tyrannosaurs via long-limbed loping mummies, and culminated in a final showdown against a batshit piece of creature design, but really the game wasn’t about gunplay and combat – it was all about exploration. While each level presented puzzles and an endpoint, there was an exhilarating sense of freedom to their design. Even identifying the puzzles wasn’t straightforward and you had the joy of uncovering the mystery at your own pace and in your own way.
4. Shadow of the Colossus
Probably the most powerful gameplay I’ve personally known, Colossus remains stunningly unique. You are an unnamed (and frankly rather scrawny) character who is brought to a temple in mysterious circumstances, alongside an apparently dead girl. You are offered the chance to bring her back to lift by killing 16 colossi – huge creatures who inhabit the game’s world.
Where the game really scores isn’t so much in its stunning graphics, gameplay or atmosphere but in the complexity of your response to what you are asked to do. Most games demand that you kill anyone or thing you come across just…. because. But Shadow of the Colossus subtly demanded a response from you: you had to kill for your own personal motivations. And the creatures you killed were often in no way aggressive towards you.
In most gameplay, despatching enemies quickly becomes a mechanical thing. In Colossus, the small number of enemies, the moral ambivalence implied in killing them and mechanics of the act itself (several of them require you to clamber up the beasts to find their weak spots while they thrash to shake you off) make for a truly unique and involving experience.
5. Slayer – Dragon 64
I’ve always held the belief that graphics are irrelevant to gameplay (if not the experience). Phantom Slayer is laughable now, looking at it. And yet it managed to work on the nerves – not because what you could see, but because of what you couldn’t.
Making your way around a maze, you could rarely see around each corner. However, a beeping indicated the presence of a phantom. The faster the beep, the nearer the phantom. The basic mechanics were lifted from the scene in Alien where they hunt the xenomorph through the air ducts with the aid of a jerry-rigged motion detector.
Despite the simple premise and the hilariously awful graphics, Phantom Slayer offered endless, heart-palpitating moments for anyone with the requisite amount of imagination.
Check out some sensational screen shots, for more a flavour.