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Best of the 2010s

January 18th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello. While we’ve already done one rather lengthy site retrospective so far this year, I hope you’ll permit this extra little piece of self-indulgence. With the end of the 2010s (or 10s, or whatever you call them) many chose to mark the occasion by selecting their top 10 games of the decade. My own thoughts were: I’m not sure if I’ve actually played 10 games that were released after 2010 (which isn’t quite true, although it’s close enough to be plausible).

However, though the rate of new content around these parts has slowed somewhat over the last 10 years, put together, it all adds up to a reasonably solid block of gaming to look back at. And, given that January is a generally pretty bleak time of the year, in the interests of spreading a little joy and positivity, I thought it might be worth reflecting on some of the best games I played, and wrote about, during that period, and highlighting a few favourites from each section.
 

Action – Tron 2.0

As noted recently, FPS coverage on FFG hasn’t been all that regular in recent times, but I pursued this one in a rare case of actually following up a recommendation from someone else (in this case The J Man, and I took several years to get around to it) regarding A Good Game That I Might Enjoy.

And, guess what, I did. Tron 2.0 remains visually striking (especially with the Killer App mod installed), and makes clever and appropriate use of the fact that Tron is about being sucked into an unfamiliar computer-based world, reconfiguring established FPS and RPG tropes in a subtle and effective manner.

Honourable mentions: Beyond Good & Evil (a favoured underdog of many, it seems) and Sid Meier’s Pirates! (another recommendation, this time from my Dad, who doesn’t play many games, but was nevertheless more ‘with it’ than me on this occasion).

 

Adventure – The Shivah

I rediscovered my love for adventure games through the work of Wadjet Eye Games. Technically I guess The Shivah isn’t their strongest title of those that I’ve played – it doesn’t hit the epic heights of the later instalments of the Blackwell series – but it was the one that made the breakthrough for me.

Well written and constructed, with strong voice performances, The Shivah‘s gentle difficulty curve, short playtime and multiple endings encourage repeat playthroughs.

Plus, in a decade in which gaming increasingly became associated with unpleasantness and stupidity, it was a refreshing reminder of this pastime’s more gentle and thoughtful characteristics.

Honourable mentions: Blackwell (obviously), and (less obviously) Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. We didn’t give the latter a particularly high score, but it’s a game that’s stayed with me nonetheless.

 

Racing – FlatOut 2

What, after all that Need for Speed? Look, you know I love Need for Speed, and that series’ best efforts (and even some of their middling ones) are certainly recalled with some fondness.

However, when it comes to one racing game that I want to recommend, it has to be FlatOut 2. Every time it comes on sale, I want to shout at everyone to buy and play it. Ignore everyone who says the best bits are the silly sub-games: it’s the racing itself that really satisfies.

Honourable mentions: Need for Speed: Most Wanted (the best of the Underground-era titles), the 2010 version of Hot Pursuit (in which Burnout developers Criterion gave the series some much-needed refreshment), and the cheerfully eccentric Test Drive Unlimited series.

 

RPG – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

We’ve periodically toyed with the idea of each of us venturing far outside of our gaming comfort zones for the purposes of some kind of feature, although nothing really ever came of it, and to be honest most of the time my determined efforts to tackle something unusual have ended in humiliating failure (and no #content).

But the RPG has become a more forgiving beast as it’s entered the modern mainstream, with Stoo’s favourite, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind arguably being a part of that process. When he declared he wasn’t such a big fan of the follow-up, at least to the extent that a review would one day be forthcoming, I decided to try and step in. And had a bloody good time, it has to be said.

Ok, so long-held and expressed gripes aren’t without foundation, but they don’t override the many enjoyable hours to be found while exploring and questing in Cyrodil. (And that’s a phrase I never thought I’d use).

Honourable mention: Look, I know it’s a bit cheap and shallow, but I did still kind of enjoy Space Siege.

 

Sport – Football Manager 2006

The 2010s were the decade in which I finally lost contact with the fortunes of the latest football games. Despite occasional dabbling, I pretty much stopped playing the newest entries from the Pro Evolution Soccer series (or indeed FIFA, which by common consensus took the top spot for arcade computer footy during this period), and though I enjoyed the opportunity to revisit my favourites from Pro Evo’s 00s glory days here, I’m not sure I can quite bring myself to rhapsodise again about their everlasting merits, in the manner of a myopic Sensible Soccer fan.

It may be the other side of the same coin to turn to another long-running series instead, but what I recall most fondly from the FFG sports section over the last 10 years is the opportunity to revisit Football (previously Championship) Manager. By the hefty standards of hardcore players, my 5 seasons or so of play for my review doesn’t exactly constitute material sufficient for a so-called deep-dive, but I enjoyed the opportunity to get lost in a version of the game again and reflect on what the series, in its various incarnations, does right and how it attracted (and has managed to maintain) such a devoted following. Even if the latest editions might be too complicated for some, the old ones still retain some of their considerable magic.

Honourable mention: New Star Soccer 5 was probably the best of the rest: a charming and original underdog that harked back to 80s 8-bit favourite, Footballer of the Year.

 

Strategy – Midwinter

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes during the process of revisiting an old game that you played first time around, you’re disappointed either by it and how badly it seems to have aged, or by yourself (and how badly you have aged, and how generally crap at games you’ve become), or a combination of both.

And so it is truly a joy indeed to be transported back in time so effectively, in this case to an alternative version of 1990, with all modern cynicism about crap graphics and sound erased by the fact that they still make you feel like you are actually alone and under attack on the snowy plains of Midwinter Isle.

Even better to find yourself successfully executing a plan that extends beyond simply skiing around aimlessly and giving poor Captain John Stark endless bruised and broken limbs.

Honourable mention: The Movies was a fun romp through 90s-era Bullfrog/00s-era Lionhead style territory, even if I do sort of regret the many hours spent creating my own movie, A Force for Bad.

Ok, so perhaps that’s quite enough looking back at what we’ve already done for the time being – let’s look forward to future adventures in retro(ish) gaming in 2020 and beyond! [Are you quite sure you’re alright? – concerned reader]

Review: Need for Speed: ProStreet

January 4th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello!

Happy New Year to you all.

This is one I was sure I would have time to fit in at the end of 2019, but it’ll have to be our first review of 2020 instead.

Filling a long-standing gap in our coverage of the Need for Speed series, here’s a look at Need for Speed: ProStreet.

FFG Discussion Special 2019

January 2nd, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

I hope you have had a good time over the festive season. Around this time of year, we’ve been known to publish a so-called ‘Review of the Year‘, taking a look at what we’ve been up to over the last 12 months.

As a bit of a change of gear, though, this time we thought we’d try something a bit different. Both Stoo and I had been considering looking back across the whole history of the site and looking at some stats to see if they told us anything interesting about patterns and trends over the years.

So we figured we may as well do a discussion piece on the topic. It didn’t end up being as stats-focused as we (or certainly I) had imagined, but the stats were still a good starting point for a lengthy back and forth on all things FFG, an edited version of which appears below.

Hope you enjoy it!

FFG Discussion Special 2019 continued »

Vault of Regret: Half-Life 2

December 29th, 2019

Written by: Rik

This is a strange one. Half-Life was – still is – one of my favourite games of all time: I remember completing it, in league with my long-time friend and colleague, over a glorious couple of weeks in the summer of 1999, with A-Levels completed and a new Pentium III-450 installed as the family PC.

(I’m not particularly proud to admit that I dodged a trendy boy’s 18th birthday party at a nightclub in favour of advancing the cause of Gordon Freeman – not that I was unable to pull myself away from the game: I would have happily done anything to get out of going, although it didn’t help my already low social standing when my then-girlfriend told all and sundry present that I was at home playing computer games.)

So why, then, have I not ever taken the time to get through the equally highly-regarded sequel? At the time of release, at least, I had an excuse: my PC fell short of the required spec and had an unreliable dial-up connection (although I think I was also morally outraged by the prospect of online activation – Steam? That’ll never catch on). When, eventually, I did upgrade my PC, The Orange Box was one of the first things to be purchased and installed. And I did play through most of Half-Life 2, and enjoyed it I think, but then I stopped for no particular reason and never picked it up again.

That moment itself is probably more than ten years ago now, so it seems wrong to speculate when the memories aren’t fresh and weren’t particularly strong in the first place. But I can’t help but think that if I was willing to put it down and leave it alone so easily, that, in itself, might mean something. So perhaps I don’t want to risk confirming to myself that it does; that I don’t think Half-Life 2 is all that good, actually; still less (despite the extremely low-stakes territory we occupy in our quiet corner of the internet) commit to those thoughts in a review.

The famous and still-ongoing delays to later entries in the series (the recently-announced, VR-only, Half-Life: Alyx will not, apparently, continue the story) were a contributory factor, too, with the proposed 2007 release of Half Life 2: Episode 3 coming and going, and being followed by an extended fallow period, with little more than rumour and speculation filling the silence. If the full tale hadn’t been told, and wasn’t likely to be, why even bother? It would be like starting a box set of a cancelled series that never even got the chance of a farewell episode.

Still, what this all means is that my knowledge, experience and, well, enjoyment of FPS games has been stunted somewhat, stuck in the mid-00s, around 3/4 of the way through Half-Life 2. Although there are no rules about such things, and we’ve been cavalier in our attitude to chronology elsewhere on the site, it nevertheless feels as if writing about later 00s FPS games shouldn’t happen without such an important game being given priority. (At the time of writing, we only have a handful of post-HL2 first person shooters, all of middling quality and significance, featured on the site).

The Vault of Regret is usually meant for games, memories and feelings that belong in the past and are unlikely to be revisited: I might play Command and Conquer, or X-Wing, again, but I probably won’t; I definitely won’t be going back to Zone Raiders. However, I do still retain a lingering hope that one day I will withdraw this one from the vault, dust it off, and produce a write-up for the site.

(And I should also point out that Stoo *has* played and completed Half-Life 2, lest I besmirch his good name by allowing you to think otherwise).

But, given that there has been no review so far, it must for the moment be consigned, if only temporarily, to the same dank dungeon as all of the mistaken purchases and barely-played titles of our gaming past.

Soundtracks: Homeworld

December 20th, 2019

Written by: Stoo

Rik has graciously allowed me to contribute to his new soundtracks series, so today we’re looking at Homeworld, the epic space-based RTS where fleets of starships clash in three-dimensional battles.

I’m possibly stretching the premise of these articles a little, as there’s only one licensed song in Homeworld, plus a new recording of a classical piece. They do both, however, bring some real emotional impact when they are played. A word of warning, spoilers are necessary to explain their contribution to key moments in the story.

Soundtracks: Homeworld continued »

Soundtracks: Need for Speed: Underground

December 12th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Soundtracks is a series where we take a look back at the use of licensed music in games. Go here if you want to know a little more.

Today’s game is Need for Speed: Underground, the point at which Electronic Arts’ long running racing series transitioned from middle-aged Top Gear territory into a street racing game aimed at the cool kids.

We were possibly a little too glib in our now rather ancient appraisal of its merits, but if the review is of interest you can read it via this link here.

For more about the music, however, read on below!

Soundtracks: Need for Speed: Underground continued »

Review: Test Drive Unlimited 2

December 7th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hello! I hope you’re all well.

Somehow it’s December already – I know, right? Well, to take your mind off the cold and dark winter season, here’s a review of a game about hanging around in sunnier climes: it’s Test Drive Unlimited 2.

Reissues, remakes and belated sequels

November 16th, 2019

Written by: Rik

This has never been the place to come for gaming news [or anything else – FFG reader] but amongst the avalanche of announcements and new releases, I noticed a couple of things relevant to our interests here:

Firstly, the cel-shaded shooter XIII is back on GOG, having previously been de-listed for some reason or other, presumably tedious rights issues. It’s been some time since I played it, but I have reasonably fond memories: I enjoyed the setup, the visual style, and the fact that being ‘stealth’ meant creeping up behind people and hitting them over the head with a chair.

Presumably related to the original’s sudden reappearance, a remake has also been announced. It was initially supposed to have been released around about now, but has now been pushed into next year. Details are relatively thin on the ground, although a handful of screens have been released and it (obviously) looks a lot smarter, and I’m glad to see that the chair-to-head smashing feature apparently remains intact.

(Image from GOG.com)

It looks like this is just going to be a new game also called XIII rather than the original game touched up a little bit for modern gamers. I’m not sure the latter would really work: I increasingly feel that whatever the technical shortcomings of a particular title (in this case, checkpoint saves and quite small levels), they should be considered part of what makes the game what it is and places it at a certain point in time. (Patches that make them work on modern systems, or add a widescreen mode, are of course welcome!)

Under the heading of massively belated sequels, a follow-up to Beneath a Steel Sky has been announced. The original is beloved by many adventurers, and I often wonder whether I was a bit too harsh on it back in the day. As with Revolution’s main franchise, Broken Sword, I did remember it being tonally all over the place at times, mixing dark, dystopian sci-fi themes with broad sitcom humour, with characters cracking wise at inopportune moments (much like our tactless friend George Stobbart). It’s one that I’m tempted to revisit at some point.

Anyway, the sequel, Beyond a Steel Sky, looks to be far removed from its predecessor’s point-and-click origins, which is a bit of a surprise given Revolution’s mixed experiences with 3D in Broken Sword games 3 and 4, and ultimate decision to return to 2D for the fifth game. They also seem at this stage to be distancing it from the first game by claiming it isn’t a sequel and emphasising that you don’t need to have played the first game to enjoy this one. That’s perhaps less surprising, given that the characters in Broken Sword seem to begin each new game with few memories of what transpired previously.

It certainly looks nice enough, based on early footage, though, utilising a visual style not dissimilar to XIII. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.

Soundtracks: FIFA 2000

November 3rd, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hello and welcome to the first in a new series of articles looking back at the use of licensed music in games. If you want a little more background, there’s a piece here explaining what it’s all about.

Today’s game is FIFA 2000, not a particularly standout entry in the series in terms of great computer footy, but notable for a few other things, not least the prominence of a major UK pop star, who not only provided some music but featured in the game’s intro and provided motion capture for goal celebrations. If you want to read more about the game, we reviewed it here.

Soundtracks: FIFA 2000 continued »

Implanted memories and a four year lifespan

November 1st, 2019

Written by: Rik

A bit late to this, as usual, but as it’s now November 2019, it seems like as good a time as any to mention that Blade Runner is now supported by ScummVM.

Until recently, the game was technically playable on 64-bit Windows, and I personally found the jiggery-pokery here sufficient to get things up and running on my own machine, although that doesn’t seem to have been the case for everyone, and some have claimed that playing on a modern PC messes up one or two timing-specific puzzles later on in the game.

I haven’t played Blade Runner all the way through for a long time, although it’s a game I think about often. It was the first review I submitted to FFG and, some years later, I wrote about how it was one of the first games that left a significant mark on me. That piece involved playing through some of the early stages again and I was sorely tempted to keep going.

I didn’t, though, so I can’t comment on any gameplay issues the workaround may or may not cause. I understand that playing through ScummVM is a safer bet in this regard, although again I can’t vouch for that myself. There’s also an option to experience an alternative version of the game featuring some restored content that the ScummVM team unearthed during the (long) quest to get it working, and I’ll be interested to try that out.

The main thing you need, of course, is a copy of the game, which isn’t that easy to get hold of legally unless, like me, you still have your original discs. An official re-release via GOG or some other platform is unlikely due to fairly complex rights issues, but I dare say you’d be able to find it on some abandonware site or other.

Even if it’s a flawed game, it’s also an interesting one, and I’m personally glad more people will be hopefully now be able to experience it. Thanks, brainy internet boffins!

[Edit: As befits someone with their finger on the pulse of modern and retro gaming news, I was of course completely wrong about the lack of a re-release, and shortly before Christmas, GOG.com added the game to their library. Huzzah!]