Tag Archives: PC games

Best of 2016

Better late than never!

I found last year about as good for games as it was reasonable political discourse and beloved celebrities. Hell, my annual top tens, shortened to top fives in recent years, now find themselves shortened to a three-game single-post list – and still there weren’t many notable leftovers. These were basically the only ones that gave me the butterflies that a true GOTY contender should bring.

I enjoyed Fire Emblem Fates but disliked its split across three games; the long-awaited The Last Guardian came close but fell short due to technical issues that were somehow worse than its 2005 predecessor, Shadow of the Colossus, making it my least favourite of the series; Pokémon Go was among my most-played games but I don’t think there’s enough actual game there for me to put it up there with these three; Battlefield 1 was reliably fun and surprisingly polished for a DICE game at launch, but couldn’t hold my interest for long. I liked Project X Zone 2 as well, but I can’t ignore the fact that its main hook for me was the presence of Ryo Hazuki.

With most of my gaming time spent on retro these days, I had worried that my declining interest might have been terminal. But my document listing potential GOTY nominees for 2017 is already longer than the below, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is coming, so maybe it was just a crap year.

3) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

The most technically impressive reason to own a PS3 continues the pattern on the PS4. Uncharted 4 is stunningly beautiful, as I’m sure you’re aware – probably the closest we’ve come to a playable CG movie, so polished in its performances, cinematics and attention to detail that it makes everything else look amateurish. Frankly the visuals would have been enough to drag me through it, but it’s one of the strongest adventures in the series, and deserves credit for being the only mainline Uncharted game not to shit the bed with annoying supernatural enemies in the final act.

That said, I’ll be disappointed if we get Uncharted 5. ND’s done well to wring another top release out of this series and I’d like to see it turn those remarkable skills to something new.

2) The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

Yes, one third of my already-truncated list is an expansion. I said it was a bad year.

Blood and Wine, though, is the first expansion in a long time – maybe since the GTA IV episodes – that’s an actual expansion. Not a handful of missions wrapped up in poor-value DLC. It’s new environments – on a similar scale to the already vast original and arguably the most beautiful locale yet – hosting a new scenario, new gameplay styles, new characters, an almost entirely new story.

It’s also probably the best part of the game. It was fun to take part in a smaller adventure, where you’re not fighting for the fate of the universe, that doesn’t use narrowing the focus as an excuse to skimp on the production values.

CD Projekt Red has fast become one of my favourite developers; one that – like Naughty Dog above – commands my full attention simply by announcing a new game. Only this is done without the financial and technical powers of a first-party publisher behind it. Is it simply lower costs of doing business in Eastern Europe, or an unexpectedly vast bounty coming from the admittedly brilliant Good Old Games? Who cares as long as Cyberpunk 2077 can come close to this?

1) Doom

I could probably have guessed at the beginning of 2016 that new releases from Naughty Dog and CD Projekt would be there or thereabouts when I was compiling my favourites of the year, but a new Doom? No way. I don’t think id’s games have been hugely relevant since Doom 3 got overshadowed by Half-Life 2, and the multiplayer and E3 demos didn’t instil confidence.

What I got, though, was a shockingly fun old-school shooter that revelled in its status as a game, and a Doom game at that. It has the visual design of the classroom doodles of a 14-year-old angsty teenager – but that’s a good thing. It’s about speed, responsiveness and blasting demons without only token gestures towards providing depth and a storyline for motivation – but that’s a good thing too. The soundtrack is awesome, no caveats required. The whole thing pressed the buttons I’ve been trying to touch with a recent retro fixation, reminding me why I grew up loving games above any other medium.

It’s brilliant, pure and simple. The excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order – based on an id property but not developed by the studio – reminded us to pay attention, but it was only the herald for the true return of id Software.

Best of 2015 #4: Rocket League

Rocket LeagueConventional sports games haven’t done much for me in a while, the limitations of real sport striking me as unnecessarily restrictive on gameplay design in an effectively limitless medium. Real sport is for playing or watching in real life. If you’re going to turn it into a video game, let me fire a missile at the other participants or take them on with full, 360-degree movement.

Rocket League is grounded in reality – people play competitive games with real RC cars, after all – but, as I like it, with some of the limitations removed. You can boost yourself up walls with rockets, flip through the air, even fly to an extent if you have the patience to master it. This is a sport that I wish really did exist.

Either way, Rocket League was tremendous fun, certainly the best indie game of the year, and thanks to it being given away to PS Plus subscribers, one of the few multiplayer games that isn’t Call of Duty to have maintained a healthy population of players. It’s a fun, accessible party game with split-screen – remember those? As a free game for PSN subscribers it was, of course, a no-brainer, but even at the current price of £9.49 it would be one of my first recommendations for the post-Christmas glut of new PS4 owners.

Returning to the Resident Evil remake

I know I’ve complained about the preponderance of recent remasters, which makes my current enthusiasm for this, the 2015 remaster of the 2002 remake of 1996’s Resident Evil, as well as the long-awaited Majora’s Mask 3D, seem odd. I’ll defend my position, though, since neither of those games has been seen on shelves in more than a decade and at least two console generations – they’re retro, in other words. I’ll be less enthusiastic about a 1080p remaster of Resident Evil 6, should that arrive, believe me.

Resident Evil HD: The mansion lobby

This is a game that I always respected and wanted to like, but timid little 2002-vintage me never made it much beyond the appearance of Crimson Heads. A couple of hours, in other words. A humiliating admission for such an ardent horror fan, but sadly not an isolated one in my gaming back catalogue, which is a who’s who of abandoned horror classics. But while the years might have blunted the absolute dread I felt when playing this to the point where it didn’t really give me The Fear at all, like when I played through the original Silent Hill, though, time has left the solid mechanics alone. It’s a phenomenally well-designed game.

But where Silent Hill, being (a) a PS1 game and (b) doing in real-time what Resident Evil resorted to pre-rendered backdrops to accomplish, looks really rough now, the Resident Evil remake (REmake hereafter) still looks incredible. It’s genuinely one of the most beautiful games ever made, even on a GameCube, and quick polish for a new generation of systems has only enhanced it. Some FMV and dark backgrounds that can look somewhat over-compressed aside, the game looks almost flawless. A handful of rooms are apparently now rendered in real-time, and it’s absolutely seamless – meaning we had a game on the GC that could stand up alongside games from two generations on. Amazing.

Resident Evil HD: Jill Valentine

I’m continually blown away by the details in the visual and story design of this game. The Spencer Mansion, ridiculous as its gems, metal objects and death masks may be, is an iconic location, brimming with memorable rooms and scares. Lisa Trevor and her family add a harrowing subplot that’s significantly more disturbing than any number of exploding heads. It has fun in playing with your expectations, so that you can imagine the designers smiling as famous moments like the dogs through the window are subverted, or when the aforementioned Crimson Heads turn cleared rooms into dangerous ammo sinks. The voice acting still has B-movie charm without being impossible to take seriously like the original, while those touching up the script and removing some of the more egregious howlers had the good sense to leave alone some of the best writing.

As much as I love RE2 and 4, REmake is my favourite in the series. It’s pure survival horror, which, brilliant as it is, Resident Evil 4 isn’t. It’s also tight, creepy and self-contained, which the bigger and crazier RE2 isn’t. It’s also a lesson for newer games in how to do a lot without a huge abundance of content, supporting two stories, multiple endings and a series of enjoyable unlocks in a game that can comfortably be finished in five hours.

Best of 2014 #3: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of MordorHere’s another late addition, which I admitted to missing out on barely a month ago but have since fallen for in a big way. I wish I could say it wasn’t the Assassin’s Creed ripoff that I called it back when it was unveiled because, gameplay-wise, that’s essentially what it is. But it’s polished nonetheless – that’s something you can’t say about this year’s Assassin’s Creed – and has enough tricks to stand out.

The Nemesis system was the cleverest for me, in that it’s a somewhat procedurally generated system that doesn’t stand out as being so – you might not realise that Goroth Plague-Bringer, against whom you had a long-running feud, was a creation of the game itself. The way it would cause some uruks to run away and others to return from the dead, hell-bent on revenge, allowed the game to create something approaching the personal, unique stories that typify the best open-world sandbox games.

Monolith seems to have a way of coming out of nowhere with impressive games – think the Condemned, F.E.A.R. and No One Lives Forever series – without picking up the following of some of the better-known studios. After this, and following my frequent complaints that so few studios are making games that aren’t safe, ridiculously budgeted annual sequels, I’ll keep an eye on what it does next.

Best of 2014 #4: Dark Souls II

Dark Souls IIThe consensus on Dark Souls II seems to be that it’s the weakest of the three games in the tenuously linked Souls series, so perhaps I’m unusual in finding it more immediately engaging than its direct predecessor. I admittedly lack the patience to go all that far and sample their full depth, so the “immediately” part may be where a connoisseur could tell me I’m wrong.

Honestly, I feel like a bit of a dilettante discussing it when there are so many writers who can be far more authoritative on these games, so I’ll just say that I had a blast with it. I’m safe with my complaint that it’s another of those games that suffered from pushing ageing hardware too far, this time to a controversial extent that makes the inevitable PS4/XB1 upgrade seem more cynical than usual. But beyond that I enjoyed the bleak world, the minimalist storytelling, and the creative bosses.

If this is Souls without its soul, the series director Hidetaka Miyazaki having been reduced to a mere supervisor by his role on the upcoming Bloodborne, I can’t wait to see how that game turns out. I’ll reserve a spot in next year’s list, shall I?

Did you hear that the Souls games are quite hard, by the way? I think I’ve seen it mentioned.

Running classic PC games on a Mac with Wineskin

I’m in love with Good Old Games. They distribute classic PC titles, getting them running on modern operating systems, bundled with extras, and all without DRM.

What I like most about it, though, is that GOG is up there with Valve in its efforts to make Mac gaming less of a wasteland. When it comes to retro computer games, DOS isn’t too much of a hurdle because the hardware requirements are trivial and apps like Boxer make emulation simple, but the Windows ultra-dominance of the late 90s through late 2000s are a dark spot. If you have fond memories of a PC game of that era and it’s not from Blizzard or id, odds are it didn’t get a Mac release.

I recently noticed that GOG was offering Mac versions of PC-only Black Isle RPGs like Planescape: Torment. My curiosity over what witchcraft was enabling this led me to Wineskin, which now has me running stuff like RollerCoaster Tycoon natively in OS X. And it works with basically anything short of the latest and greatest. Here’s how it’s done.

You will need…
  • Your PC game
  • Wineskin Winery (download)
  • Enough hard drive space for the install plus about 150MB
A little background

I’m going to be doing this with the GOG version of RollerCoaster Tycoon. GOG makes it easier because the games are mostly a single installer and have no DRM to worry about, but disc-based games can be done too by copying the contents of the disc to a folder on your computer, so do that first. As long as the game doesn’t require anything newer than DirectX 9.0 or host particularly invasive DRM (e.g. StarForce), chances are it’ll work.

This all works using Wine, with Wineskin bundling the installed game and a Wine compatibility layer in one Mac app. It’s not emulation, strictly speaking, so what you’re getting is a Windows game running at native speed on OS X.

Wineskin WineryGetting started

Fire up Wineskin Winery. You’ll first need to download an appropriate engine for the game you’re running, but thankfully people will have done the legwork for you. The Wine Application Database is where users document their experiences of running software with different Wine engines, and its entry on Rollercoaster Tycoon notes that the GOG version runs with platinum compatibility (“flawlessly”) on 1.6.2. Therefore that’s the version I’m going to download.

With that downloaded and the latest wrapper downloaded, hit the ‘Create New Blank Wrapper’ button and give your new app a name. In this case, I creatively opt for ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’.

Let the process run. It may ask you to download a version of Mono and/or the Gecko engine. Old games will almost certainly not need Mono but may use Gecko; use your own judgement, or just go ahead and install them since it’ll ensure a trouble-free conversion.

When it’s finished, click ‘Show Wrapper in Finder’ and you’ll be presented with a generic Wineskin app, ready to be turned into your chosen game.

Installation

Run this new app to be presented with the following window.

Wineskin

Click ‘Install Software’, then ‘Choose Setup Executable’, and point it at the installer from GOG. This is where things start to look interesting.

Wineskin installation

That looks suspiciously like a Windows installer on a Mac, doesn’t it?

Once the installation process is complete, resist the temptation to play the game for now and click ‘Exit’. You’ll see the following window, which lets you tell your Wineskin which executable it should run on launch. In this case it’s correct and I’ve never seen it need changing, so go ahead and click OK.

Wineskin executable

Wineskin iconThe Advanced menu that you can see mentioned can be accessed by right-clicking the newly created app in the Finder, clicking ‘Show Package Contents’, and then double-clicking the Wineskin icon in the resulting folder. Among other things, this allows you to change the app icon; find an appropriate ICNS file from a site like VeryIcon and select it in there to get things looking more official (see right).

Rollercoaster Tycoon on a Mac

Isn’t that a beautiful sight? You end up with a self-contained OS X app (by default located at ~/Applications/Wineskin), created through a process that works on basically any game. No fiddling with Boot Camp or Parallels to run an old favourite that hasn’t been ported, and none of the performance penalty that comes from emulation. Lovely.