Mini Game Reviews

Beautiful Desolation

Screenshot of Beautiful Desolation

Some of the earliest games that I played while growing up was the graphical adventure game series King's Quest. These games are top-down games where you control a single character as they adventure through the world, solving puzzles and advancing the story. King's Quest V and VI in particular were games that I played through multiple times, and greatly enjoyed back then for the challenge and wonderful stories they told. As time went on, these types of games became less popular, and my own habits moved on to other genres that had many of the same elements while still providing a completely different experience.

This game is one I did not even know about until after it's release, and I gave it a go because it looked interesting. While it had been a long time since I last played this style of game, I remembered my fondness for them and wanted to give it another shot. Sadly, the game did not stick for me. I have played it for a few hours, enough to get a sense of what it is like. To its credit, it feels a lot like the old adventure games of the 1990s. The presentation is a bit low-budget, but not out of place for a game harking back to previous entries in the genre. The voice acting is well done, and it plays well on the PC. Unfortunately, I realized that these types of games do not hold my attention for as long. While I love the idea of adventure games that involve puzzle-solving, doing so in a first-person format is more immersive for me. Playing top-down I can still enjoy for RPGs and strategy games, but for adventure games it has lost its appeal.

The one element of the game that I do enjoy is the music. In fact, Beautiful Desolation came to my attention because Mick Gordon composed the soundtrack. Upon first listen of it, I was in love, as it took a lot of the ambient elements of his Prey soundtrack but without the horror sounds. It's a peaceful album, and my favorite part of the game. I have listened to it multiple times, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys ambient soundtracks.

Black Mesa

Screenshot of Black Mesa

Black Mesa is a game that I waited 15 years for. When it was announced in 2005, I was excited to play it, due to Half-Life being one of my favorite first-person shooters. As time went on, it seemed like the game would never be released. When Crowbar Collective released a version of the game up to but not including the last act of the game (when you explore the planet Xen), I decided to wait until the final version. I wanted to experience the game whole, and not wait years more to finish it.

Half-Life is an important game to me. Not only was the singleplayer experience phenomenal, the multiplayer experience shaped my gaming habits for many years due to mods such as Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Sven Co-op, and Team Fortress Classic. I had high expectations for anything that aimed to recreate the original Half-Life's story, as it is so ingrained in my memories. And Black Mesa surpassed even my high expectations.

What makes Black Mesa a brilliant remake is that it is faithful to what worked well in the game, but was not afraid to alter what did not work. There were many small changes to the Black Mesa facility portion of the game that helped improve the flow of the gameplay and injected lore that was introduced later in Half-Life 2. As an example, the characters of Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance were central to the plot of Half-Life 2, but they were based on the generic scientist models in the original. Black Mesa made them specific characters that you run across, and altered the rest of the scientists to not look like them.

The largest change Black Mesa made to the original was with the planet of Xen. In the original Half-Life, this is a one hour excursion that felt out of place with the rest of the game. The design was simple, the platforming annoying, and the final boss not very fun. Black Mesa changed all of this, and for the better. Xen's scope is now increased, leading to a four hour experience now. Platforming and puzzles are improved, the history of the Vortigaunts is now integrated into the story, and the final boss, while still not perfect, is more fun to fight.

Overall, Black Mesa is a prime example of how to do a remake properly. It is so successful of a remake in my mind that whenever I feel like playing through the series again, I will play Black Mesa instead of the original Half-Life.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Screenshot of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The first beta of the original Counter-Strike was released back in 1999. I did not play this first version, instead hopping in a few betas later. The original Counter-Strike is a great game, and was a core game that I played throughout most of high school years and into college.

What impresses me the most about Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is that it is the 3rd major iteration of the game, and it sticks to the formula that made the beta versions of the original Half-Life mod so successful. The game has experienced technological upgrades, but the core gameplay loop is the same was it was 20 years ago. Unlike other game series, the technology around the game modernizes while the gameplay itself is still the same.

This is emphasized by looking at the game's most popular map: dedust2. The original dedust2 was released in 2001, and quickly became a mainstay on servers. It is a well-balanced map that has not needed any major gameplay tweaks since the original version. In Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Source, there were servers dedicated to playing the map 24/7. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive honors this by having a map group dedicated to solely playing de_dust2, giving the same functionality.

Counter-Strike is a game that I still enjoy, although I am nowhere near as good as I was back in high school. But it is still fun to play, and something I see myself going back to every so often just to experience it again. Valve's stewardship of the Counter-Strike series is impressive, and I hope that they continue to not make any fundamental changes to the series as a whole. Counter-Strike could easily remain one of the main games that everyone will have played decades into the future, if Valve continues to treat it as it currently does.

Dear Esther

Screenshot of Dear Esther

Dear Esther is one of the first "walking simulators", and still one of the best. Everything about it is beautifully done, with a wonderful art design, somber haunting music, and a perfect narrator throughout. The underground caves that appear midway through the game are an especially memorable section of the game, with a wonderful dance between the music and the visuals creating an experience unlike most games.

For those who do not like ambiguous artsy stories, Dear Esther might be found lacking. The narrator is both unreliable and appears to be jumping between multiple viewpoints, making it difficult to realize the nature of the story in one playthrough. I have played the game multiple times now, and have learned new details each time that were not presented in my previous playthroughs. The game is short, taking about an hour to complete.

Diablo 3

Screenshot of Diablo 3

Diablo 2 is the quintessential action RPG. Many other games are modeled after what Diablo 2 did well. Of Blizzard's catalog of games, Diablo 2 is the one that I think holds up the best and has few weak points to it. So naturally, Blizzard approached creating a sequel to the game by changing the gameplay, music, and visual style that Diablo 2 had perfected.

There is a lot I dislike about Diablo 3, but there are two main points that create the core of my problems with the game. The first point is that random drops have been replaced by random everything. Not only are items pulled from a list of unique and static items, but now even the unique items have randomized stats. In Diablo 1 and 2, if you wanted a particular piece of equipment to drop, your journey was over for that item. In Diablo 3, it is possible to get a specific item to drop with random stats that are horrible, or to get the proper stats but always know that another drop with another random roll might make the stats a little better. The second point is that Diablo 3 scaled everything up: damage, item values, health pools, etc. Damage is now shown in numbers that pop up on the screen, showing how well you are hitting. As you progress through the game, the numbers continue to grow larger, reaching ridiculous levels like thousands of points of health and millions of points of damage. Both of these points combine to make the game feel like a digital slot machine, where you move your character around, click your mouse, and see how big the numbers are that show up on the screen.

Despite improvements and new content that Blizzard has added to the game since launch, they have been unable to turn it around into a game that I can enjoy. It is one of the few games in my life that has put me to sleep before due to how boring it was. This is such a stark contrast to the excitement that Diablo 2 was. Given Blizzard's business moves in recent years, Diablo 3 is the last chance I'll be giving the studio on a game in the Diablo franchise.

Doom (2016)

Screenshot of Doom (2016)

Very few games surprise me to the extent that this reboot of Doom has. The last id Software game that I would consider great all the way through was Quake III Arena, and that was released in 1999. Doom 3 was a decent shooter, although such a departure from the original series that it felt like another series, and Rage had great technology and good action, but average everything else. Doom's development history did not help with expectations, as it had been in development since 2007 and had gone through a few reboots before release.

Doom is a back to basics game for the series. The gameplay is straightforward running around and shooting at a very quick pace, just like the original Doom games. There are some new mechanics added on top, but they do not alter the flow of gameplay. The story is present, but self-aware in that while the story presents itself seriously, Doomguy does not care for whats going on and just rushes past it. This is a Doom game afterall, not a series expected to have a deep story. The music also returns to the former metal glory of the original, with a new industrial metal soundtrack by Mick Gordon. The interplay between gameplay and music is something more games should aspire to, with the music always perfectly matching what is going on in the game and pumping you up even more.

Doom is the first id game built without John Carmack's software expertise. Despite the change in leadership in this area, Doom excels in ways most game engines don't. It is one of the first to use Vulkan heavily for rendering, and shows how Vulkan can be a performance improvement over DirectX11 and OpenGL.

This game is one of the finest first-person shooters I've played in a long time. I have already played through it multiple times and expect to give it more playthroughs in the future.

Doom Eternal

Screenshot of Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal is a game where I have two opinions of it. The first is grading it as a general first-person shooter, in which case it plays well. The combat is fast-paced and tight, the controls are responsive, and there is a lot to do from level to level that it makes for a fun ride. But my second opinion is that it is not a good Doom game, as it deviates from most things that made the previous games so timeless.

When I think of Doom, I think of a game that gives you lots of weapons and expects you to blow your way through the level in whatever manner you please. The levels have a lot of exploration, as you need to find keys to open up the way to the end, which leads to a lot of slower periods of gameplay and backtracking through the worlds. The story is minimal, just enough to give you a reason to do all of this. And there is a rockin' metal soundtrack blasting the entire time.

Doom Eternal skips all this. Encounters are now designed around using a bunch of extra abilities in addition to weapons. These abilities are on timers, which makes it feel more like Destiny than Doom. Level exploration is no longer required, as completing a mission is just a straight corridor through, one fight arena after the other. The only exploration is for finding easter eggs and bonuses, and even these typically do not require much exploration, just looking in the right place at the right time. The story also takes itself seriously now, unlike Doom 2016 which present the story but showed that Doomguy did not care about the shenanigans of humans. Long cutscenes are out of place in a Doom game, yet they are here regularly.

At least Mick Gordon's soundtrack for this game is just as good as the previous entry's, even if the official soundtrack has a less than stellar audio mix.

Florence

Screenshot of Florence

Florence is a very different game from most of what else is written on this page. It is a game with little gameplay, instead being focused on the story. It can be completed in about half an hour, with little reason to replay it. Even the story is about a normal relationship that many people will have experienced in their own lives. No epic tale, no huge moral to the story.

But even as a "bite-size game-like experience", it is worth checking out. What Florence does, it does well. The story is told in a minimal style through a hand-drawn storybook aesthetic. The soundtrack fits the light-hearted nature of the visuals. It is not the most memorable soundtrack, but it isn't bad either.

Beyond that, there is not much to say about the game. A short review for a short game, but a positive one.

Gris

Screenshot of Gris

When I was playing through Gris, I was reminded of my first playthrough of Journey. The sense of wonder that the world had combined with the emotional experience of the game to create an unforgettable experience. The game's theme is presented in an abstract manner, but my take on it is dealing with the loss of a loved one. As the main character progresses through the game, she explores the depths of her own depression. Hints of this are seen in the game's achievements, which are named after various stages of grief.

The most memorable part of Gris is its visuals. Ever since the old platformers of the 1990s, there has been a hope of having games that look like a piece of hand-drawn art brought to life. Gris accomplishes this goal beautifully. All of the art is hand-drawn, with the characters having a pencil-drawn look, and the world being created through splashes of watercolor. Environmental effects look like paint spreading across the screen, creating a very otherworldly effect.

The gameplay of Gris is satisfying, albeit not the highlight of the game. The platform mechanics are lacking compared to other platformers. But since this game is more about the emotional and visual journey, the lack of strong platforming is not something I hold against the game.

Half-Life: Alyx

Compilation of Half-Life: Alyx screenshots

This game breaks the 13 years of waiting since the last Half-Life game, and 9 years since the last game to take place in the same universe with Portal 2. The summation of the game is that the wait was worth it. Half-Life: Alyx is a phenomenal game, one any Half-Life fan should play.

Since this is the first virtual-reality game that I played, I will focus on that aspect of things. There are many aspects of virtual reality that I understood on an abstract level, but experiencing them first-hand has made virtual reality the manner in which I want to play all future games. Full-body virtual reality especially creates an experience that nothing else has matched. Being able to duck beneath enemies or objects flying at you is incredible. When your character is talking to others up close and having to look up or down to match their gaze, which is tracking back at you, gives the game a realistic element that nothing else has matched. In fact, this is the one element of virtual reality that I love. Even if the characters are not photorealistic, their feeling like human-sized persons gives conversations and battles a whole new feel. This extends to true height and depth of the environments. Buildings can feel tall, and being on elevated ledges gives a stronger sense that falling will have catastrophic results.

The whiskey factory portion of the game shows how different a game can be in virtual reality. So many of the elements, from using both hands for different actions, to constant ducking, catching objects as they fall, and using the increased head mobility to be aware of your surroundings. Much as how Ravenholm is remembered from Half-Life 2 for its ambiance and level-design, the whiskey factory should be remembered for how different it is from any other gaming experience that was previously released.

Half-Life: Alyx is the first virtual reality game I have played, and already I have experience how its control scheme is superior to many other titles. Valve went through the effort of allowing complete customizationm in how the game is played, with support for both finger-tracked controls and typical buttons for interactions, to different settings for standing vs. sitting gameplay. The player is allowed to play with as much or as little body motion as they would like, which is great not only for personal preference but for accessibility resonse as well.

This game is a landmark game. Every aspect of it was great, and particular elements will stick with me for a while. It has sold me on the concept of virtual reality as a gaming platform, and I hope that more developers develop with this format in mind.

Heroes of the Storm

Screenshot of Heroes of the Storm

The MOBA genre is one that I have always liked more in theory than in practice. The original Defense of the Ancients was a regular entry on my list of custom Warcraft 3 maps, and Heroes of Newerth was a favorite at some old-school LAN parties I went to, but the genre has a number of gameplay mechanics that I find more tedious than fun. Last-hitting is the worst of these, but also the concept of carry characters that require protection early in the game to turn around and act as uber strong destroyers late in the game.

Where Heroes of the Storm's strength lies is in doing away with the MOBA mechanics that I dislike. There is no last-hitting mechanic, and all characters on a team level equally. Characters are not perfectly balanced against each other at all levels of play, but none need to be protected while they bloom into something that can hold their own. With mechanics that promote faster gameplay, Heroes of the Storm has a heavy emphasis on group fights. While I am not an expert on Dota 2, the matches I have watched had nowhere near the amounts of up-close fighting as when I play Heroes of the Storm.

In typical Blizzard fashion, Heroes of the Storm is a visual and aural treat. The graphics are in the typical art-style of Blizzard games, but with a higher level of detail than any of their other games. It looks beautiful in action, and native support for 21:9 and higher framerates allows it to feel more modern than some of their other games. The music includes orchestral rock versions of songs from all of their games. They're great remixes, and all fit together cohesively.

One of the negative aspects of development that Blizzard has with World of Warcraft also applies to Heroes of the Storm: endless and needles changes to balance. World of Warcraft famously revamps most classes every expansion, and Heroes of the Storm does the same with its characters. Every patch makes fundamental changes to how one or two characters play, changing their abilities and altering their skills. This included a larger change to the game by the introduction of lootboxes, the addictive gambling mechanic that Blizzard has been in love with since Overwatch's launch.

Out of all of the MOBA games available, Heroes of the Storm resonated with me the most. I enjoyed my time playing it, but with Blizzard wrapping down support for the game, as well as major overhauls to some of my favorite characters, I have little desire to ever play the game again. With the MOBA genre starting to lose favor to the battle royale genre, I do not see myself investing heavily in any other MOBA games after having played Heroes of the Storm.

Journey

Screenshot of Journey

I originally played this game back in 2012, when it launched near the end of the PlayStation 3's life. What made the game unique at the time was how the player was paired up with another random player. The only communication between the two players were through songs that you could sing using the controller. The identity of your partner(s) were not revealed until after the game was complete.

On my only playthrough on the PlayStation 3, I was partnered with a single person for the whole game. There are plenty of opportunities to lose your partner throughout the game, but we managed to stay close together and completed it together. We both messaged each other afterwards, and it was a pleasant experience with a person. I never played the game again because the game was complete for me, and while that partner did not turn into any sort of friendship, it was an experience I wanted to let sit on its own. That one partner went by the PSN name XXFairyTalesXX, and despite not knowing the person, I look back on the experience fondly.

When the game was released on PC, I concluded that I wanted to do a single playthrough again, and see how the experience matched the original playthrough 8 years prior. The game is just as engaging and gorgeous as I remembered, but there was one distinct difference: instead of completing the game with a single partner, I completed it with 5 different players. I did not realize how many there were at the time, although I knew there were at least 3. The first player I was connected with ran off without me at one point, and another was disconnected, with him crouching down and just disappearing before my eyes.

While unintentioned, the difference in playthroughs represented well where I was at each of those stages of my life. My first playthrough was back during my college years, where my connections to people I had known most of my life were strong. My circle of friends was expanding, but they were all long-lasting connections. The second playthrough summed up the changes that have come from further adulthood, with having multiple people for just parts of the journey of life, relying on more and more people to help get me through all of the challenges presented.

This difference has solidified my decision to not play through Journey again, despite my love for everything about it. The experience is truly complete now, and anything further would just muddy it down.

Quake Champions

Screenshot of Quake Champions

The Quake series has always been one of my favorite series of games. Quake 1 and 2 are masterful singleplayer experiences, and Quake 3: Arena is the first PC game that I upgraded my graphics card for. With this background, I was looking forward to playing Quake Champions, despite some reticence over the decision for heroes to have timed special abilities.

The game hits the mark when it comes to fast-paced deathmatch. Quake 3 is one of the faster deathmatch games out there, and Quake Champions is close to it in speed. It feels like a proper Quake game with gorgeous gothic graphics and a wonderful industrial soundtrack by Chris Vrenna and Andrew Hulshult, while still modernizing with new mechanics such as character customization. Despite the hardcore competitive nature of the game, the overall community is positive. There was little trashtalk and immaturity during my time playing it.

Quake Champions is not without flaws. The game's art direction is perfect for a Quake game, but the engine does not hold up to the technical brilliance of previous entries. Performance slow downs and netcode hiccups are a regular occurrence. It is the first Quake game to not use an Id Tech engine, and it shows. Despite Doom having support for Vulkan, the developers have stated that Vulkan will not be coming to Quake Champions. It is also hard to get past the issue of lootboxes in the game. There is an option to purchase the game with all current and future characters unlocked, but all of the customization options come from loot boxes. These can be earned easily while playing, but between duplicates and the sheer amount of items available, it is likely specific looks for characters will need to be purchased for real cash. Unlock Overwatch and other similar games, individual items can not be unlocked with an in-game currency.

Unseating Quake 3: Arena as the king of arena shooters is a difficult task, and Quake Champions does not do that. Still, it is a solid entry into the Quake series and I am happy to have spent time playing it. As of this writing, the game is still in beta, and features are added regularly. The one feature that I miss from the game that will hopefully be added in the future is a Capture The Flag mode. This was my favorite mode to play in Quake 3, and I would love to play it again here.

Resident Evil 2 (2019)

Screenshot of Resident Evil 2 (2019)

Up until this game, the Resident Evil series is one that I have not given a serious try. I briefly played the original Resident Evil 2 back in high school, but I did not get very far with. The remake was not on my radar until I tried the demo due to the rave reviews it was receiving. I was hooked instantly. Since I do not have much experience with the original game, I can only judge it based on what I am experiencing as a new player.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is that the overall area to explore is small. Once all of the doors are unlocked, it takes about a minute to run from one spot to any other spot there, but the journey to unlock it all is fun. It's a maze of puzzles and locked doors to get through, while also avoiding the endless stream of enemies. It is also rich with small details that are a joy to find. Many other games being created these days include large expansive worlds that are not filled with details. It is expected that a person will just run as fast as possible to their destination and not worry about the journey there. Resident Evil 2 takes the opposite approach, with most of the maps have something to discover in every nook and cranny.

Resident Evil 2 does a great job of making the environment feel dangerous. Areas without lights are truly dark, with your flashlight being the only way you can see. Binaural sound plays a huge role in hinting at where danger is about to pop out at you. This is especially true when Mr. X is stalking you through the police station. Listening to the direction his footsteps are coming from helps to avoid him.

The best part about this remake is that a lot of care was given to every detail of the game. Everything about it felt great, and I had a blast playing through both playthroughs of the game. While I do not feel the need to try and get every unlock, I enjoyed my time immensely and recommend anyone into horror and/or survival to give it a go.

StarCraft & StarCraft: Brood War

Screenshot of StarCraft

StarCraft is a difficult game to talk about while completely ignoring its legacy. This is the game that showed that e-sports can be successful, that competitions and tournaments can have hundreds of thousands of people watching. But my relationship with the game exists outside of this area, as it is a game that I only played singleplayer or with my closest friends.

The story of the game is an average story, but it is made memorable by its execution. The way the story intertwines with the missions, and told through the voices of the amazing cast, puts the singleplayer up there with the all-time greats. All of the characters are unique and memorable, with a lot of nuance to the differing sides.

Multiplayer is fun, but due to the lack of customizable controls and my being left-handed, I could never be competitive. This led to most of my multiplayer time being spent playing against the AI, in what was called "comp stomps". The most commonly played map was Big Game Hunters, which is the most memorable RTS map I have ever played.

Going back to this game after so many years has been difficult. The lack of customizable controls makes it difficult for me to get back into, especially after what was allowed in Red Alert 3 and StarCraft 2. But even 20 years later, I can see what I loved about it back then. Blizzard's 2017 remaster of the game did a great job of updating the visuals while leaving everything else the same, preserving what made the game so unique for its time.

Subnautica

Screenshot of Subnautica

This is a game that surpassed my expectations in every way possible. Before Subnautica, the closest thing to a survival game that I played was Metal Gear Solid 3, which was more stealth-action with some light survival elements. The idea of having to "waste time" gathering resources to eat and heal took away from the action, which was more to my liking. The main reason I decided to give Subnautica a chance at all was due to Unknown Worlds Entertainment creating it. They created Natural Selection, one of my all-time favorite online games, so knowing the quality they are capable of pushed me to purchase the game and give it a shot.

What is most striking about the game to me is the art direction of it. Subnautica is a gorgeous game. I often found myself just idling about, enjoying the scenery. Many times I would sit on the top of my escape pod and just watch the sun and then rise again. All of the underwater caves have a unique feel to them that reward exploration. The abandoned bases that you come across are eerie and really feel like something that was built by another person. Sounds plays an important part in the game. As would be expected for a game focused on underwater locales, there are many areas that are nearly pitch black, requiring the use of sound for successfully navigate or to warn of incoming danger. The music adds to the overall ambiance of the game, with a soundtrack that is enjoyable to listen to both in and out of the game.

Subnautica does a great job of giving hints of the way forward without ever forcing you to do so. The world is open to exploration at the player's leisure. The one catch to this is that resources in the game do no respawn. A part of the ocean can be over-fished, or mineral resources tapped completely. This pushes the player to try and live more sustainably, or to go to further depths to explore. There are a lot of options available, all equally right in how you want to approach accomplishing your goal.

Unknown Worlds Entertainment created an amazing experience in this game. By the end, I was happy to have explored the game so thoroughly, but sad that it was ending. I know it will be hard game to go back and play again, as much of the mystery will be gone. But the memories I gained through my first playthrough are still vivid in my mind, even months after playing. No other game has had exploration that felt as rewarding as this one, nor created a world that will stick in my mind for a long time to come.

Tyranny

Screenshot of Tyranny

Tyranny concludes a trilogy of CRPGs that for me started with the Pillar's of Eternity duet and continued through Torment: Tides of Numenera. I am glad to have played the game, but have come to the conclusion that I am ready to be done with this breed of CRPG for a while.

Where Tyranny shines is in its story and characterizations. The game does not cover as broad of a story as Pillars of Eternity, instead focusing on a smaller subset of the world. Sections of the world are confined to 4-5 areas, each being roughly the same size as an area in the original Baldur's Gate. These areas are used for one or two quests, and then you will move on.

As the world is smaller, so too is the selection of characters to act as party members. There are only 6 characters to choose from. These characters are written well, with excellent voice acting. The only problem is that much like the world does not offer many less-traveled areas to explore, the characters do not have additional depth that takes probing to learn about. For example, there is but one story for the character of Verse. Whether she is loyal to you or fearful of you matters little for how it plays out. Just an hour or so of questing and that is the additional depth to it. In fact, the lack of optional content that is present in the game is both a pro and a con. On the pro side, the game is short compared to other titles in the genre. I completed my first playthrough in 21 hours, and that included time exploring side quests. A future playthrough in under 15 hours sounds doable if I focus on the main story. The con to this is that having more to explore would have been great. Tyranny's world is unique compared to many others, and the characters have a solid base for future expansion. Unfortunately, this looks like it will never come to be.

While the world was enjoyable, the combat of the game is lacking. It is typical CRPG combat, but in such high volume that it detracts from the story as the game goes on. Certain segments of the game include longer dungeons full of fights, and by halfway through the game, I turned down the difficulty just to progress through them faster. The combat is not bad, as it was in Torment: Tides of Numenera, but it is not great either.

Tyranny feels like a budget Obsidian title. It has all the hallmarks of a great game, but everything is cut short or lacks polish. The expansion packs in particular offered the hope of being able to dive further into the world, but are unfortunately bug-ridden to the point where quests stopped progressing for me. Since patches ceased for the game at the end of 2016, it is unlikely to see any further refinement in this area. Tyranny is both a good game for what it was does, but disappointing in that I wanted more from it and was not able to have it.

Unreal

Screenshot of Unreal

There are three first-person shooters from the 1990s that I consider essential: Doom, Half-Life, and Unreal. All three influenced the genre in ways, while each being their own unique game.

Of the three, Unreal is my favorite to go back and revisit. Whereas the other two are more action-packed, Unreal is slower, with a stronger sense of isolation. Within the game, you are a prisoner stranded on a foreign planet. The sense of being out of place is strong, as local inhabitants react to your presence in both friendly and cautious ways. Some of the world's languages can be translated by your computer, but other parts of the world the player has to piece together to understand.

Unreal is one of the first games where lighting felt like an important facet of the world. The world has a realistic variance in lighting levels, including some sections where the only way to see is by using a hand-held torch. Unreal is not the first game to have multiple colors of lighting, but it uses it more effective than any before it. By modern standards, Unreal does have a soft quality to it, but the art direction still provides a strong sense of wonder to the whole world. Levels are large and open, with a lot of minor details present that help you feel like you are in a world, not just a game.

The music of Unreal stands in stark contrast to many other shooters. Alexander Brandon and Michiel van den Bos created a more ambient soundtrack that melds into the world. It changes tempo to match the mood of the gameplay, but never distracts from what is going on. The soundtrack is great to listen to outside of the game, as there are a lot of interesting textures used to create the music.

Doom and Half-Life get a lot of the glory for 1990s first-person shooters, but Unreal is the one that I have put the most time into. Every year or two, I go back and play through it again, and enjoy it just as much as I always have. Few other games match the mood set by Unreal, which is why I do not think I will ever grow tired of it.

What Remains of Edith Finch

Screenshot of What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch is the best narrative walking simulator that I have played.

The game is structured as a series of short stories. Each one is about the life and fate of a member of the Finch family. Some of the stories are told in a straight-forward manner, but some are told in a more unique manner. For example, Barbara Finches story is told like an old 1950s horror comic, with the camera moving between comic panes. This is fitting for her character, as she was renowned for screaming in a horror movie, and her death involved an unsolved home invasion, making it ripe for mimicking the style of a Tales from the Crypt-styled comic.

What separates this game from others is its visual acumen. The game is the most visually appealing walking simulator that I have played, with a wide range of graphical styles present. From the realistic visuals of the house, to the comic styles of Barbara's story, to the imaginary dream world of Lewis' story, there is much to enjoy in this department. Additionally, Jeff Russo does an amazing job with creating a soundtrack that fits the overall theme of the stories being told.

Like most games in this genre, it is short. The whole game can be experienced in about 2 hours total, and it is best played through in one sitting.