After much delay, I have finished part 3 of my countdown of my top twenty favorite console games from last gen. Today we cover numbers ten through six.
I like to think that when the development team of Split/Second sat down to brainstorm their game, someone in the room said “You know what we don’t have enough of in racing games? Explosions.” The premise of Split/Second is that you are participating in a televised racing league where the race courses are rigged full of explosives. The racing season is broken into multiple episodes with several events per episode. These events range from standard races, time trials, and elimination races to more exotic things like trying to pass large trucks throwing explosive barrels at you and dodging volleys of missiles from a pursuing attack helicopter. As you compete in events you gain points with the goal of winning enough points to make one of the top three spots by the end of the season. The defining mechanic of Split/Second is, of course, the ability to blow up various objects in and along the race course. By drifting, drafting, jumping and dodging hazards you build a meter that can be used to trigger events called power plays, which are split into two levels. Level one power plays cause things like making a parked car explode or having a construction shovel hurled across the track. Level two power plays do more dramatic things like breaking a dam, crashing a jumbo jet on the track and other things that can change the route of the course. Knowing when to use a power play and whether to expend your meter now or wait to build up enough meter for a level two power play adds a bit of strategy to the experience. Whether you play conservative or aggressive with your power play meter, Split/Second is a good time. The sheer spectacle of the racecourse being lit up with explosions and the insanity of trying to drive really fast through the chaos are at the core of what makes Split/Second fun and distinct.
|The journey begins.|
Named the 2012 game of the year by several video game publications, and ripoff of the year by a friend of mine, Journey doesn’t fail to bring out strong opinions from those who play it. Journey is just that, a journey. You play as a nameless, faceless being with a single objective; reach the summit of a mountain in the distance. The reason behind the journey is not important; what matters is the experience of the journey itself. Made by the same developer that created Flower, (#17 on this list) Journey is similar to its predecessor in its lack of traditional game mechanics such as lives and scores. It also has no dialogue, no text, no narration and yet tells a strangely moving and dramatic story. Music and visuals set the mood of each part of your journey. You go from the elation of surfing sand dunes to the fear and despondency of trying to making your way through a cavern while being hunted. Journey is also a strikingly beautiful game. Like the work of a master painter, Journey’s visual appeal does not come from an attempt at realism, but in the usage of light, color and texture to bring the world and its magic to life and inspire awe from the things you see (a quality shared with #13 Prince of Persia). The game’s breathtaking score compliments the visuals and audio plays an interesting role in the game itself in that your character uses a musical “shout” to do certain things. These shouts stay in tune with the background music and usage of them helps advance you along your journey. The journey itself is fairly short; the game will last you only about 2 hours unless you decide to explore every last nook and cranny. And yet in those 2 hours Journey delivers a stronger experience than most other games deliver in 10 hours or more.
Vanquish’s story is uninspired, its characters are generic and the dialogue is cringeworthy in a few spots. All that is rendered completely irrelevant by some of the best third-person shooter gameplay ever created. There’s some sort of story in Vanquish about evil Russians taking over an orbiting space colony and using the colony’s giant microwave energy generator as an massive space cannon to attack America, but you won’t care about that because you’ll be having too much fun destroying the army of Russian robots in your way. You play as Sam, an agent of DARPA that has come along with the space marines sent in to retake the colony. Equipped with his Augmented Reality Suit, or ARS, Sam has the ability to slow down time and rapidly boost across the field of battle. These abilities, combined with the arsenal of weapons available to you and a strong cover system, are what makes Vanquish’s gameplay so strong. You’ll shoot some robots, boost across the field to flank other robots, go into slow motion while vaulting over cover to headshot another robot, boost over to another robot to finish it with a melee attack and then dive for cover to avoid the onslaught of bullets and recharge your suit, and all within the space of a few seconds. Vanquish also provides a potent visual treat with its futuristic settings, hectic firefights and even the workings of Sam’s own suit. The game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, which is impressive with everything that is happening on the screen. If you really want to see what I mean, a fun little challenge is to enter slow motion during a firefight and try to keep track of everything that is going on while watching all the bullets slowly move through the air. The sounds of Vanquish are fittingly loud like a blockbuster action movie with explosions, gunfire and robots coming to kill you buffeting your ears. Fast, furious and unapologetically over the top, Vanquish is one of those games that grabs you by the throat and throws you headfirst into the fire. Ignore the absurdity of its storyline and just go nuts maxing out your suit’s abilities.
|Why are we driving off a cliff? Because it’s’ MotorStorm.|
If you hadn’t deduced it from my entry on Split/Second, I prefer my racing games crazy. Games like Gran Turismo and Forza that try to simulate a realistic driving experience look cool but have never held my interest. I knew MotorStorm Pacific Rift (referred to hereafter as just MPR) was something special because I downloaded the demo for it and just kept playing it over and over again. After awhile I bought the game and to this day, almost five years now, I still come back to it from time to time to enjoy it. At its core MPR is fairly simple off-road racing game. There are eight vehicle classes to choose from and each one has its own ratings on various characteristics such as speed, endurance and maneuverability. Each racecourse features multiple routes that play to the various strengths of each vehicle class and offer the player a chance to experiment with trying different paths to find the best way through each course. Mud, water, foliage, man-made structures and even lava come together to create varied racecourses that provide both excitement and fair amount of danger. You’ll have many close encounters with cliff edges, lava flows, larger vehicles and other dangers as you race across the island, though, as a friend of mine put it, sometimes crashing you car can be as much fun as the race itself. There’s no actual story in MPR, and that’s completely fine. You’re given a context that everything you do is part of a large off-road racing festival that has come to this tropical island, but you don’t play a game like this for storyline. MPR is what it is; a crazy and fun off-road racing game that I keep coming back to.
|The Chimeran invasion has arrived.|
Alternative history has been something of a fascination for me in media; creating worlds that are similar to our own but with a few important changes. The games in the Resistance series exist in a universe where World War 2 never happened, America became staunchly isolationist and (most importantly) an alien virus lands in Russia, turns humans into alien soldiers called the Chimera who further spread the virus and in turn overrun most of the planet. Resistance 2 continues the story of Nathan Hale, an American soldier who survived being infected by the chimeran virus and in the first Resistance game helped expel the Chimera from Britain. Several years have passed since then and now the Chimera have launched a full-scale invasion of North America. Hale is then thrown into a desperate struggle to slow the Chimeran advance and try to find a way to stop the Chimera for good. The story of Resistance 2 takes you across an alternate history 1950s America to fight a war that is steadily being lost. Thankfully you won’t be left wanting an arsenal to fight this war. Resistance 2’s developer, Insomniac Games, once again showed off their creativity when it comes to weapons with a wide range of guns and explosives to fight the Chimera with. Each gun also has its own secondary fire option, giving you even more ways to deal out death. And need these guns you will, because the Chimera have no intention of killing themselves and Hale himself is running out of time before he finally succumbs to the Chimeran virus and becomes part of the invasion he is trying to stop. In addition to its strong singleplayer campaign, Resistance 2 featured a very fun multiplayer suite, with my personal favorite being the cooperative missions where you and up to seven others team up to complete a series of objectives which are remixed each time you play. You select one of three classes to play as, each with its own strengths but also dependent on the other two classes to function effectively. This forces cooperative play between the players and ensures everyone has a valuable role on the team. Even though there are only about seven total maps for this cooperative mode, I never got tired of playing it and leveling up my character classes. There is also a solid suite of competitive multiplayer options, with the chaotic 30 vs 30 team deathmatch being another favorite of mine. It’s rare to find a game that does many things and does them all well. Resistance 2 is one of those games.
We’re now almost finished. The next and final post of this series will reveal the top five, so check back for the big reveal.