After last year’s odyssey through the vast lands of Skyrim was completed, I was craving some lighter forms of entertainment. Luckily, it was time for the annual Steam holiday sale, and so I was able to pick up a number of titles that had been on my wish list for a while.
Last year’s sequel to one of my all-time favorite titles couldn’t quite live up to the hype. The game continues the story of the mute, female protagonist (hey, it’s a valve game after all!) trying to escape through a set of ever more difficult puzzle rooms while being taunted by a mad artificial intelligence named GLaDOS. Over the course of about 10 hours you get to explore the enormous Aperture Science complex and find out more about its origins, whilst fighting new enemies and making unlikely allies.
Despite the solid puzzle mechanics, I felt Portal 2 could never quite pass the high water mark set by its predecessor. I think both the story and atmosphere of the first title were superior, and as is often the case when trying to explore a fictional world in more depth, the result is ultimately disappointing. Sometimes it’s better to just hint at things, and not to spell everything out. That being said, I still have to play it in coop mode, which I hear is a lot of fun, so ultimately my opinion may still shift.
This game is a stylish, bite-sized piece of fun. You control an unnamed boy in search of…well, that’s actually never made quite clear. In fact, there’s no real story to speak of, only some subtle glimpses that you can interpret in different ways (which harkens back to my previous point about the story in Portal 2). As you move around the 2D world, you’ll find yourself constantly trapped, attacked, and mutilated by all kinds of contraptions and creatures. The mood is fittingly dark, with a nicely twisted sense of humor. Despite of its short duration of only about 5 hours, the game delivers the goods with its fast-pace, non-stop gameplay as well as some challenging puzzles. Good stuff.
Next up, another indie game which I had meant to check out for a while. In Solar, you start out as an asteroid adrift in space. By crashing into other rocks, you can gain mass and develop into a small planet, and further into ever larger cosmic bodies until you become a black hole and swallow the universe whole. I feel the game in some ways resembles the original GTA: you have the top down control, using the WASD keys to avoid obstacles and move around a large game world; you can decide to take on missions which involve stealing planets and beating timed challenges; or, you can also just look at the game as a giant sandbox for physics nerds. Overall a good game if you’re looking for a quick distraction without too much of a learning curve.
Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012
Finally, a title that I just started playing this week, but which I so far like a great deal. Duels of the Planeswalkers takes the well-known card game and faithfully recreates it on the computer to allow you to play against AI or other human players. Despite having overcome this particular addiction sometime in high school, and subsequently having forgotten a lot about the game, I was able to pick up the basic rules within a few minutes of the tutorial. There is a campaign that slowly introduces you to the different decks, which is a great way to learn different strategies. Then, once you start unlocking more and more cards, you can customize your deck to take on greater challenges. As I said, I’ve only spent very a fairly small amount of time in the game, but so far I like everything about it. Highly recommended for anyone that wants to check out magic without buying any actual cards – just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into…