In Games Worth Playing I take a look at noteworthy games released each month. This feature focuses on new games that are worth playing, but also contains an obligatory list of highly anticipated games that may not necessarily be worth playing.
I try to play a lot of the games I mention, but some will invariably escape my attention and be featured on the basis of reviews and player comments. These games will be accompanied by a no hands-on experience notice.
August saw few new releases, but most of what came out was quite interesting. Mafia 2 follows in StarCraft 2’s footsteps as a long-awaited sequel that truly managed to capture the spirit of its predecessor and present a great modern story-driven shooter. Elemental: War of Magic was the next most prominent release, but saw a messy launch and isn’t quite in a recommendable state just yet. Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse finally unleashed its season finale and combined with the Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars re-release that makes for a strong adventure game showing this month.
More follows below.
Game of the Month
A story-driven third person shooter set in 1943-1951 in the fictional city of Empire Bay, Mafia 2 puts you in the shoes of Vito Scaletta, a World War 2 veteran. It follows Vito’s rise to a made man as he goes from selling bootleg smokes to actual shootouts and assassinations. This is all augmented by stellar production values with excellent voice work and great graphics that require a fairly hefty PC to run when PhysX is activated.
Most impressive about the game is how it uses an open game world that oozes the atmosphere of a 1940s-1950s American city as a backdrop for its engaging narrative. It may appear to be an open world action game similar to GTA, but Mafia 2 is actually a story-driven shooter similar to the original Mafia and uses its open world segments only to support this engaging narrative with a lively game world that feels authentic and greatly improves the experience.
Some reviewers apparently got hooked onto this minor facet of Mafia 2 gameplay and have thus scored it down for not being GTA 4. Indeed it’s not GTA 4, because it features a much more compelling, well-paced and varied story that drives the game forward. It doesn’t dilute this experience with cab drives, inane sidequests, or anything else that would distract from the driving narrative.
It also tackles the fundemental flaws of its predecessor, with a cover-based combat mechanic that works perfectly, contrary to the clunky first person combat of the original. Similarly the police is no longer an ever-present force of uber racers with a penchant to kill for crossing red lights and driving cars is much more exciting now that the series has advanced to a later era with faster cars and seemingly better handling. Mafia 2 does still rely on checkpoint saves, but these are far more common and much better placed, so it’s a much less punishing ordeal than the original game.
The resulting game is an excellent story-driven shooter, but a poor open world action game. Mafia fans – and anyone who enjoys story-driven shooters like Half Life 2 – will adore this game and recognize it as a superior gaming experience on nearly every front, but it will not appeal to fans of open world action games or reviewers with a GTA fetish. This is illustrated in the reviews which swing wildly between high 90s and low 50s.
A review on GameDrone is forthcoming.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut - no hands-on experience
This is a remake of the original Broken Sword game that was released in 1996. It’s been retouched with improved graphics, a help system for when players are stuck, a whole new story arc, several revamped puzzles and a diary that logs the experiences thus far. This makes it both great value for newcomers as it’s more accessible, while veterans can find new content that spices up the story.
That story revolves around American tourist George Stobbart, who experiences a bombing at a café and sets out to investigate its cause along with photo-journalist Nico Collard. Soon they travel across the globe to uncover a conspiracy surrounding the Knight’s Templar.
It’s an excellent adventure game that’s well worth playing, but it’s not quite as fancy looking as LucasArts’ adventure game remakes.
Puzzle Quest 2 – no hands-on experience
Joining the adventuring and storyline of a role-playing game with Match 3 puzzle gameplay isn’t the most likely of combinations, but Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords proves that it can work. Puzzle Quest 2 continues the tradition and lets you create a character, choose a class and puzzle your way through combat encounters, chest locks, doors, etc.
It differs from the original game by providing actual dungeon exploration, an item system and a new multiplayer mode called Tournament which lets players choose 4 monsters from the game and pit them against the other player’s selection. The usual head-to-head mode is also included and augmented by cloud saving, achievements and statistics on Steam.
The game may not offer a very compelling fantasy story, nor particularly innovative puzzling gameplay, but it’ll soon manage to hook you into an engaging form of puzzling RPG gameplay that just works.
Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse
With the release of The City That Dares Not Sleep the third season of these humorous Sam & Max adventure games is now complete. Telltale Games introduced some interesting new elements to the franchise as Max gained a few strange paranormal powers, like ventriloquism, that need to be used to solve overly simple puzzles.
Any fan of the adventure genre should already own these games, but with its simplistic puzzles and humorous storyline the Sam & Max games also form a great stepping stone for people new to the genre.
Worms returns to its 2D roots in Worms Reloaded. It’s much prettier than it’s predecessors and introduces a slew of new features, but the core game mechanics have remained identical to Worms Armaggedon. This means forming a customized team of cartoonish worms and having them annihilate opponents in exciting turn-based action games on destructible maps with crazy weapons like holy hand grenades, exploding sheep, tommy guns, napalm strikes, etc.
Reloaded comes with two massive singleplayer campaigns, extensive tutorials, a glorious bodycount mode that pits a single worm against a neverending sea of increasingly powerful worms and of course 4-player online and local multiplayer. This comes packed with achievements, leaderboards, friends lists, unlockable hats/weapons/missions/maps, a map editor,
61 weapons, 70 crazy worm voices and numerous different game modes.
It may not depart much from the classic Worms formula, but why should it? All 2D Worms games have been a hilarious blast to play, especially with friends in multiplayer, and Reloaded is certainly no different. The only qualm I have with this is its high price tag of 19,99 euro, but considering the fact that it’s good for hundreds of hours of worm-blasting fun even that can be overlooked.
Highly Anticipated Games
Elemental: War of Magic
The latest game from Stardock’s niche title factory is Elemental, a mixture of turn-based strategy and role-playing game elements. Players create a sovereign, found a city and attempt to win the game by means of diplomacy, military might, a powerful and rare magic spell or a grand quest.
It’s a complex game with many interesting features like a unit editor, quests, hero units, tactical combat, magical spells, limited resources, varied tech trees, hidden stashes, extensive in-game mod support, 16-player multiplayer, roaming monsters and useful marriages that produce offspring who turn into powerful units capable of performing magical spells. It sounds exciting, but the game was released several months too early and suffers from some poor design decisions.
So Stardock has dedicated itself to working on Elemental exclusively for at least the next year. This will involve fixing all the bugs (most of which have actually already been resolved), reworking the entire magic, dynasty and tactical combat systems, introducing a proper tutorial and gradually improving the AI to the point where not every singleplayer game should be a default win for the player. This was all outlined in a recent update schedule that looked to have it all done before 2011.
But Elemental is hard to recommend in its current form. It would be best to wait for the demo to arrive sometime after the 1.1 patch hits in October. Besides, Civilization V is out now and is certain to attract anyone even remotely interested in Elemental as well, so that should tide you over quite nicely until the Elemental demo hits.