Like a lot of you (I'm guessing), I've never even tried the multiplayer modes in the terrific Stalker series, but it's good to know that I'll be able to if I ever get the itch. GSC Gameworld's post-apocalyptic horror shooter games are the latest to be rescued from GameSpy oblivion, via automagical Steam patches, or if you don't own the games on Steam, one equally magical manual multi-patch for all three games. This will switch the multiplayer servers over from GameSpy to GSC Gameworld's own, slightly less risky ones (it's not entirely clear who's running them, as GSC was dissolved in 2011).
If you've accrued an impressive set of statistics in Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky or Call of Pripyat, those won't be saved, but if the post-apocalypse (and more destructively, the decline of GameSpy) has taught us anything, it's that nothing lasts forever, not even your kill-death ratio.
Previously on GameSpyWatch: Dawn of War, Battlefield 2/1942, Halo: Combat Evolved, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and various Civs and Borderlandses' multiplayer modes have all been saved. Crysis and Crysis 2's multiplayer shenanigans have not.
Have a read of Ian Birnbaum's recent GameSpy article to see the full scale of the problem, and to meet the players fighting to keep the games alive.
Microsoft is rolling ahead with its plan to discontinue the Games for Windows Live service. This, of course, stands to affect a number of games, including Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition. Capcom has prepared for the GFWL service's inevitable downfall and has detailed a formal transition to Steamworks.
Machinima is no stranger to premiering programming that caters to video game fans, including last year's second season of Mortal Kombat: Legacy. Today, the site is at it again, giving us another video game-oriented series to gaze upon with Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist.
One of the pleasant parts of writing about games is just meeting the people who share your weird career. I went to a media dinner at PAX East this year and had the chance to get to know some editors that I hadn t met before. The guy sitting next to me happened to be primarily a console gamer, but that actually ended up being a neat opportunity for us to have a kind of cultural exchange. I got to learn about the state of Kinect games and Halo, and he got to hear me explain the appeal of Arma, a game that inspired me to memorize the NATO alphabet.
I took his business card and emailed him a few of my favorite Arma videos by Dslyecxi and CHKilroy later that night, hoping they would give him a sense of the beautiful coordination that s possible in a systems-driven, moddable, massive-scale multiplayer game. A few days after PAX East, I got a wonderful reply our conversation and the videos I d passed along had inspired him to build his first PC in 15 years.
I love being a PC evangelist. With my colleague s note, though, came a tough question: What are the three PC-only games I missed in the last 15 years that I absolutely have to play?
Daunting, right? These are the games I recommended, pasted verbatim from our email exchange:
From: Evan Lahti Sent: Tuesday, May 5, 2014 4:01 PM To: James Videogames Subject: Re: ARMA WONDERS
Late follow-up here, but whoa, how exciting! Let me know if you need a hand with the build. Happy to pitch in or mail along one of our PC building issues.
Glad to hear you re willing to dig through some of PC gaming s wondrous past. Give GOG.com a gander for most of that. Fallout 2 is a must; building a grounded, variously amoral character in that setting holds up well. Deus Ex demands a bit of modding to make comfortably modern, though there are some great guides out there. TLJ is a wonder.
But man, this is a dream question. It s the gaming editor s equivalent of being visited by an alien, then asked to provide the three products of humanity they re most proud of. The approach I ve taken here is to suggest three games that are deeply representative of what there is to love about PC gaming as it exists right now. I don t know if I can say that these are absolutely, individually the best games ever made and I remember you mentioning not being particularly interested in MOBAs, so I ll omit those but as a group I think that these games form some good kindling for what ll hopefully be a passionate relationship with PC gaming going forward.
Play these games:
Civilization V Civ is two things to me: the best board game in the world (that you can happen to play alone) and history, reverently presented in an elegant, entertaining form. The care with which Firaxis animates its tiny, tiled Earth and digital figurines does so much to make its subject matter vibrant. Beyond that, it s a wonderfully arranged set of rules that sets up meaningful decisions around how you develop your civilization. You have to zero-in on short-term and long-term goals while bumping up against the cultural, political, and territorial ambitions of the other civs in your world; it s one of the few experiences where I can drop a dozen-some hours into a game, lose, and enthusiastically start a new game the next second, certain in my new, improved plan to achieve a science victory.
My best advice, if you aren t big on history, would be to dig up a mod for whatever your favorite fandom might be LOTR, Game of Thrones, The Elder Scrolls Avatar: The Last Airbender? A weird amalgamation of Blizzard properties? My Little Pony? I don t know what you want. Perhaps your lifelong dream was to found a civilization dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Play as the Geth for all I care.
Papers, Please A lot of the publishing friction that used to exist for individual and small game creators has been removed over the past few years, and it s a trend that s invited more weird, thoughtful, emotional narrative and systems-driven games. Papers, Please is my favorite from the past year; Lucas Pope takes a depressing setting (a fictionalized stand-in for a post-USSR Europe) and an uncomfortable subject (poverty and totalitarianism) and molds it into dystopian Oregon Trail told through rubber stamps and passport photos.
You play an immigration checkpoint officer, reporting into work each day to check over documents for errors. Each person processed correctly earns you money that goes towards maintaining the survival of your family (expressed as an end-of-day score screen where you pay to heat your squalid apartment, for example), but there s only so much time in each day to earn this money, so there s a real pressure to analyze quickly. Without spoiling anything the mundanity of all that is undercut by a series of moral decisions you have to make; in my review, I described it as the intersection of efficiency and intrigue. The need to focus on paperwork to detect forgeries while weighing your conscience and the need to collect your meager paycheck to support your family. The confluence of all that is brilliant. Another quote: A paperwork sim might sound mundane, but spotting a mislabeled gender or a forged stamp produces real pride, and Papers, Please keeps boredom at bay by gradually introducing incentives for bending or breaking the rules.
When you re done, do Kentucky Route Zero, The Castle Doctrine, The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and The Swapper.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat + the CoP Complete mod Despite being our designated shooter guy, I made the mistake of waiting years to try STALKER. Pripyat is the third expansion, and the Complete mod dials up the production quality of the game s skyboxes, textures, and other assets to modern standards without altering the story or gameplay. Complete is what I d recommend for a first playthrough, but feel free to give Misery a look if you re feeling especially masochistic.
Other than Arma, and with FEAR as a close second, the most memorable firefights I ve had in video games have been in STALKER. Imagine fighting on open terrain, in the dark, with limited ammo, against an unknown number of bandits that are crawling around in some beat-up, abandoned factory. Pripyat prompts you to play with a ton of spontaneity, and that scrappy quality of its firefights distinguishes it from anything else in gaming. The closest approximation might be clearing out a dangerous, random bandit camp in Skyrim, but that s always felt more like an exercise in picking apart an outpost at my own pace rather than being forced to fight on the fly.
STALKER isn't afraid to leave itself unexplained, and you realize how rare the experience of encountering enemies with zero introduction to how they operate is in modern gaming. In other words, without the heavy-handed explanation and focus-tested tutorialization you d get from many Western shooters. That doesn t mean STALKER is tough per se I d describe it more as a game that trusts you enough to feel around in its (haunted, radioactive) world with your arms extended, make mistakes, and learn through that experience. This approach to design is also part of the DNA of DayZ and Arma. Have fun fighting invisible radioactive monstrosities in swamps during a lightning storm!
Mechanically, too, STALKER mixes fidelity with playability in some nice ways; guns degrade and require specific types of ammunition, but every rifle and pistol feels as comfortable as a Call of Duty weapon.
FTL, the pinnacle of the current roguelike craze. I suppose it s out on iPad, too.
Skyrim + mods, most of which are single-click installs these days through Steam Workshop (http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/browse/?appid=72850&browsesort=toprated)
Something like Skyrim Unbound is especially good for a second playthrough, as it makes how you enter the world selectable from the outset. You can cut the Dragonborn aspect of the game out completely I wanted to play as a completely martial, magicless atheist, so this was especially helpful. http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/10/27/mod-of-the-week-skyrim-unbound/
Evan Lahti Editor-in-Chief, PC GAMER firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/elahti
From: James Videogames Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 7:01 AM To: Evan Lahti Subject: Re: ARMA WONDERS
Great catching dinner with you too, man. It's a rare treat to pick someone's brain who's deeply ensconced in granular PC gaming. I know folks who experiment with ArmA and EVE Online, etc. but no one who plays seriously. These videos are fascinating especially the half hour one. I don't necessarily know if I'm tempted to play now, but it's certainly reinforced my fascination.
Your selection of highlights did, however, inspire me to purchase components to build my very first PC since ye olde Packard Bell I had back in '97. Pretty excited about it to be honest. My question for you: What are the three PC-only games I missed in the last 15 years that I absolutely have to play? Archaic mechanics and aesthetics don't frighten me, so don't hold back. Fallout 2, The Longest Journey, and Deus Ex are already at the top of my list.
On Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 10:55 PM, Evan Lahti wrote: Hey! Great having dinner with you. Here's a few Arma videos that'll give you a sense of why folks get into it:
Some gritty, tough, guerrilla-style PvP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI7fxwy0Llo
A sizzle reel of moments http://youtu.be/iylW68mwYIg
A longer video that shows a large-scale infantry battle with a bunch of new (but relatively experienced) players, basically like a training mission for recruits against AI http://youtu.be/BguGRjPqCtM?t=5m6s
Around seven months after the release of Misery 2.0, its team are back with a new update. Misery 2.1 might not be a big change numerically, but the STALKER: Call of Pripyat mod has received some major revisions to AI, weapons, gear, economy, interface and difficulty. It's such a dramatic overhaul that the creators now consider it to be "a completed modding project", and, as such, are moving on to something else.
That something else is a Kickstarter project for The Seed: a post-apocalyptic interactive novel set in Eastern Europe. They're looking for 15,000 to finish their 2D psychological story.
For Misery, the team have produced a typically gloomy trailer.
You can see the full mod patch list over at the Misery site, and download version 2.1 at ModDB. And, if you want to know more about The Seed, head over to the team's Kickstarter page.
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Remember when buying a game didn’t feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn’t simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?
With a quick mod – Frostfall in this case – you’re forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That’s just one example, and over the next couple of pages you’ll find plenty more. These aren’t mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy’s hit-points, they’re full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they’ll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.
Misery Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat Link: ModDB
All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet – who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you’ve got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.
Project Nevada Fallout: New Vegas Link: Nexus Mods
Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It’s also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There’s a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.
Brutal Doom Game: Doom Link: ModDB
Despite what modern ‘old-school’ shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience – fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We’re talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It’s compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don’t get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection – including the BFG’s big brother.
Full Combat Rebalance 2 Game: The Witcher 2 Link: RedKit
This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt’s adventure might have played out in the books. He’s more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he’s in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that’s claimed.
Requiem Game: Skyrim Link: Nexus
Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you’re standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.
Radious Total War: Shogun 2 Link: TWCenter
Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There’s even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It’s as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.
Game of Thrones Game: Crusader Kings II Link: ModDB
Real history doesn’t have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn’t simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters’ traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It’s best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you’re absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.
Realistic Weapons Game: Grand Theft Auto IV Link: GTAGarage
Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko “You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don’t need to goon for assholes” after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren’t written with that in mind, obviously, but there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn’t expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.
The Long War Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown Link: NexusMods
You’re looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don’t cheat as much.
Ziggy's Mod Game: Far Cry 3 Link: NexusMods
Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.
Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it’s not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there’s enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.
Synergies Mod Game: Torchlight II Link: Synergies Mod
This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class – the Necromancer – more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way – including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It’s the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it’s still in development, and has a few rough edges.
Civilization Nights Game: Civilization V Link: Steam Workshop
While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It’s a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don’t expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it’s also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.
Ultimate Difficulty Mod Game: Dishonored Link: TTLG Forums
This makes Dishonored’s enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored’s second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy’s face and be politely ignored. He’s now much more likely to be spotted – especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider’s gifts rather than the Overseers’ continued lack of a local Specsavers.
Hardcore Game: Deus Ex Link: ModDB
New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to ‘Realistic’ mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to ‘Unrealistic’, which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he’s meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.