Sat in the confines of my hideously cramped lair (or intimate boudoir as I refer to it when I try to kiss girls), wallowing amongst a sea of macaroni cheese encrusted crockery, desperately trying to conserve body heat by positioning myself in front of my PC’s heat extractor fan, I realise one thing; the chances of me purchasing a games title released anytime in the last six months are akin to those of Mr. Berlusconi adopting the lifestyle of a monk. I therefore have the choice of attempting to resurrect my floundering social life and congeal into the corner of my local watering hole with a pint of tap water, or of dusting off a few retro titles and reliving some of my personal pinnacles of gaming experiences. Needless to say I deployed a good old fashioned sense of reason and spent the last week or so doing just that (the latter, of course).
A small selection of the results of my trip down memory motorway, I decided to record below for your inspection. Some titles may be well be old and limited by today’s standards of gaming and others still may be a little obscure to the mainstream crowd, but I assure you each and every one provided me (and still provides me) with hours of enjoyment and nowadays cost less than lunch. I believe this makes it almost criminal to pass up such testaments to the high points of computer entertainment during the last decade or so – in other words, I guarantee a whole lot of bang for your stretched buck.
DEFCON-Everybody Dies (2006) – Buy here
Remember the film “Wargames”? Specifically the “Global Thermonuclear War” game central to the storyline? I challenge anybody to say they didn’t want that game at home. The self proclaimed “world’s first genocide ‘em up” certainly occupies a unique genre, but does so with such fun and simplicity, it’s hard not to want to come back to this game again and again. The game takes place on a simplified map of the world, presented on the iconic neon style of the aforementioned film. The world is split into six continents; each assigned an equal number of battleships, submarines, aircraft carriers, airbases, radar stations and silos. The basic mechanism of the gameplay is an extension of the idea of rock paper scissors, in which for every unit type, there is another which is devastatingly effective against it, forcing the player to maneuver their forces for both maximum effect in defense and offence. The real fun of DEFCON arises when players compete online, resulting in tense negotiations and standoffs, often leading to memorable maneuvers both on the field and in the politics of the game. Although inherently sinister; invoking serious questions of the liklihood of such an event occurring in real life, as well as the faceless “deaths” of millions; the game manages to avoid these issues to a great extent simply due to its detachment from anything graphic – using its presentation as a sort of shield for the player from anything too harrowing, whilst at the same time keeping an extremely haunting atmosphere. In short; a cracking blast of a game, and proof that when it comes to nuclear war, there is always a winner.
Uplink (2001) – Buy here
The creators of DEFCON; Introversion Software strike again with another simple yet massively enjoyable title, in which the player immerses themselves into the world of a freelance “hacker”, hired by clients through the player’s central employer, doubling up as a shop, where hacking software can be purchased with funds gained from missions. The game lives up to the highly stylised Hollywood image of hacking, the interfaces being as glamorous and sleek as in the movies. The missions themselves vary from erasing unwanted computer logs to destroying an individual’s life by altering criminal records, in turn implicating them in a crime. With each target, the player faces increasingly tough countermeasures, to which faster & more versatile software must be bought. Ultimately the aim of the game is to carry out the missions without being traced, which can be displayed in the corner of a screen as a timer, making some missions extremely tense, as the player desperately tries to download a file/steal money/erase records as the trace timer approaches zero. The awkward saving system makes the game fairly unforgiveable, and the lack of any real tutorial can mean that you spend a few games trying to learn the ropes – but after the initial frustrations, the game offers a fulfilling experience of entertaining gameplay and a compelling plot and environment. In the end, much of the fun originates from living the heavily glorified existence of a computer hacker, though its sheer originality keeps you coming back for the odd hack into the global international bank.
Hidden and Dangerous 2 (2004) – Buy here
Picture the scene: your section has just made it through the assault of an Italian airbase, low on ammunition, and much of its equipment expended. One lad is down, piling on the pressure for the rest of you, and all that awaits you is a long stretch of desert road with only landmines, enemy air attacks and burning tank husks to keep you company. Preparation, patience and planning wins the day here – mixed in with a good dose of effective decision making and all out shooting action, combine together to create one of my personal favourite wartime titles to date. The main distinguishing features of this game arise as the following; firstly the ability to equip yourself in however you see fit. Think Band of Brothers meets Rainbow 6; the flexibility in your team is astounding. Silenced weapons, handguns machine-guns, snipers, sub-machine guns, the list goes on. A well balanced team is normally a good call, though there will be times -such as when fighting in the open arctic, or within the confines of Japanese underground bunkers – where you will have to streamline your team to a specialised task. The second most distinguishing feature in my opinion is simply the atmosphere of the game. Many times you find yourself (unintentionally) re-enacting scenes from the most famous war films, fending off an entire brigade of baby killing Nazis from a sniper’s tower in the middle of a desert oasis, while your mates secure the entrances with landmines and sub-machine guns. This really is only one example and on almost every mission you’ll have to fight to stop yourself from playing the “Where Eagles Dare” theme tune while you play. Smaller details such as being able to shoot through doors with your Thompson add to the immersive experience, as well as the fact that as your load-out changes through each mission, often it is saved and carried on through to the next phase of a larger campaign, giving more responsibility to the player as the squad leader. One final note is that the expansion pack is well worth purchasing through which (as well as extra missions) comes the massively enjoyable coop mode, allowing your mate to take over from the sometimes inept (though largely impressive given the engine and time of release) AI teammates.
Gangsters-Organized Crime (1998) – Buy here
Gangsters, though not without its faults, provides an entertaining strategic experience allowing you to run your very own criminal empire through whichever means necessary to gain the edge over your rivals in the big city. A rich, somewhat tongue-in-cheek United States prohibition era package provides the backdrop for a remarkably complex game in which anything from violence and intimidation through to hiring police escorts and downright legitimacy can be used to reach the end-game. Graphically, the game is dated. Having been released in 1998, aesthetically the city looks dull and drab, although specific buildings are easily recognisable. A typical game begins with a recruitment drive of gangsters from working class areas and bars, leading to mass extortion of the local area, generating base profits. Money is, as ever for a gangster game, integral -and can be used to purchase the tools of the trade, ie cars and guns, as well as hiring lawyers and bribing judges. Tenement blocks can be purchased, using legitimate businesses as fronts for gambling dens and brothels. The game itself is not particularly fluid, in that orders of the week must be issued all at once, and viewed as the week progresses from a bird’s eye view of the city. The viewing system can be awkward, and the player is largely helpless during the running of the week, save a few basic commands such as “run away [from]” and “kill[ing]” any opportune targets. In order to carry out all of these unscrupulous tasks, you would be wise to divide your gangsters into teams, each specialising into one or two areas of expertise. Each gangster holds a one to five star rating on various skills such as intimidation and organisation, making it vital that you pick the correct team leaders and equipment, and assign jobs to each team accordingly. Since the game was made in the late 90s, the AI can sometimes be frustrating, and any larger scale jobs such as bombing the town hall, or kidnapping can be almost impossible to pull off without a healthy dose of luck and internet trawling. The overall strategy of the game, though, has been somewhat unparalleled since its creation, as many games lack its scope and ambition. Finally, although there is a multiplayer mode available, it can be almost impossible to utilise with today’s modern operating systems. That said, you may struggle to run the game on anything past Windows XP, though with a large backlog of user support online it is well worth the extra effort, especially since the cost of the game is almost negligible.
Deus Ex (2000) – Buy here
For me, this is the big one. My personal favourite game of all time and a title I come back to play again and again, Deus Ex provides the complete experience. Its storyline is compelling, gameplay diverse and challenging, and environments made with care and detail. The game oozes originality and provides a creative playground of experimentation. The free roaming environments are a breath of fresh air from the linear “on rails” style of game donned by the Medal of Honour series, and the interactive conversations and relationships with NPCs extends to the aforementioned plot – so superbly put together, it could have been adapted from a novel. At its core, Deus Ex is an RPG, mixed-in with other game styles, largely decided by the player. The area in which Deus Ex triumphs is in the sheer freedom of choice presented through the carefully thought out quests and environment development. A common example would be a locked door. In any other game a key would perhaps need to be found. In Deus Ex however, you may find a key, or find a lock-pick, or hack a terminal – allowing you to open it remotely and switch the automated defence system to target the guards on the other side. Alternatively, you may simply decide to blow it open using charges or rockets – that is of course if you choose to go through the door at all! This level of experimentation and freedom of choice, in my opinion, has remained remarkably absent through the vast majority of mainstream titles over the last decade. Although some games do deliver on specific aspects such as the level of character customisation in Oblivion, or the level of destructible terrain in Red Faction, very few games indeed manage to combine all of these with the cohesion and fluidity of Deus Ex. I realise I have given you very little to go on here, but I fear that if I delve any deeper I may be writing for far longer than most people will be willing to read. In short, if you play one new game from the last ten years, make it this one, and with such a strong modding community online, there is ample opportunity to spruce up those old textures, providing you with an unforgettable experience so-far unsurpassed by any game certainly I have ever played.
So there you have it, a small selection of some of my favourite games from the past, none of which need a supercomputer to run – and all will improve your confidence with women. Agree or disagree? Up to you, let me know in the comments below!