Games I Have Played

These are all games I have played through from start to finish, which is to say I completed all the main story missions without necessarily achieving 100% completion in games with a lot of 'optional' content such as GTA: San Andreas and GTA IV.
All-time favorites
Borderlands (Windows)
To me, this is the violent video game distilled to its brutal essence. Constant killing, mostly with guns. I also enjoyed the crass and tasteless humor.

I was going to say this is a Grand Theft Auto style game where you can roam the world freely, taking missions when you want. But there's a little more to it than that. In Borderlands, you can pick up more than one mission at a time. So you can be running around with 10 different missions in progress. This is the most efficient way to play the game, as it gives you the opportunity to work multiple missions in the same area and cut down on traveling back and forth.

Only one vehicle, though a few more are added in 'The Secret Armory of General Knoxx'. This is a pretty generous game with lots of missions and lots of territory to cover. And if you really like it, you can do the 2nd playthrough feature. At first I kind of scoffed at this feature, but in the end I found myself doing it.

The gore factor is moderate. When someone is destroyed in an explosion, you can see body parts flying through the air, and afterward you might find a hand or a foot on the ground. When you make a successful head shot there's a fairly realistic decapitation. However, there are no lingering, slow-motion close-ups of people's bodies exploding or being ripped to pieces with surgical realism, a la Dead Space. I like it that the body parts don't just fade after a few seconds, so in certain situations you can make a heap. No severed head soccer, though.

As you level up, the bad guys level up with you. I understand why they did this, but sometimes it doesn't quite feel right. For instance, during a certain phase of the game, any time I was in the neighborhood, I'd drop in and kill Motorhead. For a long time he was a pushover, but towards the end he got quite tough to kill. It was just counterintuitive.

There are some side missions that are hard to find. I almost overlooked the Thirsty The Midget missions.

It's a little scary how obsessive this game can become. I'm still a little taken aback that I did the 2nd playthrough, lured on by the siren call of better loot (i.e. mostly guns).

Dislikes: I tried multiplayer one day and discovered afterward I'd picked up a bunch of missions that lingered on in single-player. This resulted in my playthrough 2 game getting totally stuck. I was unable to complete the 'kill 5 skags' mission for Dr. Ned because I had another mission that required killing skags. Even after I finished the 25 skags required for that mission, it wouldn't credit my kills to the easier Dr. Ned mission. I had to edit my save file and delete these missions with WillowTree to be able to proceed.

The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned: a fun, zombie-themed add-on.

Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot: I found this rather tedious. You need to finish 5 rounds of 5 waves apiece of various attackers in each of 3 arenas. There's no real story, just wave after wave of attackers. Getting killed sets you back to the beginning of the previous round, which can be up to 9 waves. You have to finish an entire arena in one sitting. The first arena took me something like 8-9 hours. I don't like being pinned down like this where I have to put my real life on hold to finish a stupid game, or start all over again.

Another annoyance is that you don't gain experience normally for all the hordes of enemies you mow down (over 1000 kills was typical for me).

The Secret Armory of General Knoxx: This is a big add-on, almost like a second game. There are 2 new vehicles. This add-on is also noteworthy for Crawmerax the Invincible, the toughest boss monster in the game. It is said that the best guns in the game can be had from killing Crawmerax.

Claptrap's New Robot Revolution: Another so-so add-on. The boss monster at the end is pretty tough.

Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas (XBox)
Likes: huge, rich imaginary world. Amazing variety of vehicles from a bicycle to numerous aircraft. Tells a story. Great music.

Dislikes: the "Learning to Fly" mission. This held me up for like a month before I finally beat it.

Half-Life 2 (XBox, Windows)
Likes: dark humor, general grim and morbid atmosphere, weird, offbeat story line, relentless violence, varied game play with a number of different vehicles, nice selection of weapons.

Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two: The story continues. I found these slightly less edgy and intense than Half-Life 2, but well worth playing.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast: Very short, more of a demo than a real game.

Halo (XBox)
Great game. Tells a story. Good variety of vehicles and weapons. I actually replayed this one at a higher difficulty level about 5 years after playing it the first time.
Great games
Call of Duty, Modern Warfare (Windows)
Great game, ended too soon.
Call of Duty, World at War (Windows)
Likes: Kiefer Sutherland, the flamethrower, the torrents of hatred towards the Nazis spewed by Reznov, bonus zombie-killing game. If you look closely towards the beginning you'll see some little jokes like 'Private Pyle' and 'Private Ryan'.
Dead Space (Windows)
Razor-sharp, photorealistic EXTREME GORE!!! Many of the enemies are hideously mutated former humans. When you get killed (and this will happen a lot) the camera lingers lovingly on your cinematic bloody decapitation and/or dismemberment. Dismemberment is key to defeating your opponents, as opposed to the usual head-shot-is-best rule.

'Repetitive gameplay' narrowly averted. There's quite a bit of just slogging from room to room killing monsters and collecting powerups, but they did throw in little games like the shooting gallery and Zero-G Basketball, plus the occasional mission blasting something outside the ship with heavy guns. Zero-G and vacuum also add a little variety. There are a few little trams and trolleys but no real vehicles you can control beyond an on/off switch.

There's a device that's very reminiscent of the Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun. It's mostly for puzzles but occasionally useful as a weapon. I often felt like this game wanted to be Half-Life 2, but fell a little short.

They threw in a few half-hearted puzzles, but it felt like their hearts weren't really in it. Mostly fairly obvious stuff like pick up a battery off the floor and plug it in.

No jumping. A six-inch ledge stops you cold.

A big part of this game is managing scarce resources. Also there are 6 weapons but you can only carry 4, so there are some tradeoffs to be weighed there.

There's a fairly cool backstory. Apparently many of the crew were members of a religious cult. You see videos and a few actual survivors gloating about the golden age they are about to usher in with the artifact they brought up from the planet surface, which actually caused the horrible transformation. No matter what happens, the cultists cling to their delusion, oblivious to the horrors all around them.

Fable: the Lost Chapters (XBox)
I'm not generally a fan of Fantasy RPGs, but I was watching my wife play and we wound up playing it together.

Likes: the magic and the fighting systems worked together pretty well. Grand Theft Auto style game where (after the early training levels) you can roam the world freely, taking missions when you want.

Dislikes: the game tells you that your choices for good and evil will have important consequences, but the consequences are only cosmetic. The big important missions, without completing which the game does not move forward, all count as good deeds making it impossible to maintain a purely evil character.

Grand Theft Auto 3 (XBox)
Classic. The game that made me fall in love with GTA.
Grand Theft Auto, Vice City (XBox)
This sequel had a few small improvements such as the map. In other ways it felt like a step backwards. Look at the water effects in GTA 3 and GTA: Vice City... GTA 3 is more realistic. Once you get access to helicopters, which can be pretty early if you use the early exploration technique, it's more like 'Grand Theft Chopper'.
Grand Theft Auto IV (Windows)
For sheer hours of game play, this leaves all the rest of them in its dust. I spent about a year on this, not counting the extra missions.

Dislikes: Screen occasionally locks up. Usually the game recovers but a few times I had to cycle power to get going again. This generally stressed my hardware more than any other game. I invested in a more powerful CPU fan to keep it from crashing due to overheating.

Technically it is possible to play this game with mouse and keyboard, but it's frustrating. If you're playing on Windows and don't already have an XBox controller, plan on spending a little extra money for this accessory.

The whole 'activites with friends' part of the game was stupid. I was going for 'Endangered Species' but came up short with 199 flying rats.

In general there was a feeling they were going for quantity rather than quality. The game throws a lot of time-consuming activities at you, but a lot of it wasn't as fun as it could have been.

This world felt impoverished in a lot of ways compared to GTA: San Andreas and the earlier GTAs. The huge assortment of vehicles was cut way back. Changing your body through diet and exercise went away. There were no ambulance and fire-engine missions; no tanks.

Half-Life (Windows)
I'm in awe of this 1998 game. I think it compares favorably with Doom 3 (2004) or certainly Max Payne (2001). I wanted to go 5 stars but a couple of things got in the way. First, for all the twisted creativity that went into this, it's still a 14 year old game. The sound and graphics are primitive by today's standards. There are a few crude vehicles where you're moving on tracks. So, 5-6 years ahead of its time, but still pretty retro today.

Then there's the elevator bug. You're riding an elevator and when you reach your destination, your feet get welded to the floor. You can't move, then you start losing HP until you die. You can work around this by jumping just before reaching the top or bottom. Even so, towards the end of Half-life there are some puzzles that involve jumping from elevator to elevator where this seriously gets in the way. I understand this bug is not in all versions, so your mileage may vary. The elevator bug seems at least partially fixed in Blue Shift. I have gotten stuck on the elevators but without the HP loss and was able to free myself.

Opposing Force, Blue Shift: these Half-Life extensions are basically more of the same. There are some cool new weapons in Opposing Force. I really liked the barnacle grappling hook. Occasionally you will see some familiar scenery but mostly it's new. I think they improved the barnacle-spilling-its-guts animation. Totally worth playing. The ending of Blue Shift seemed a little abrupt. Blue Shift annoyingly requires you to have the CD in the drive to play.

Halo 2 (XBox)
Likes: Generally a faithful sequel to the original. Dislikes: switching back and forth between the human and Covenant player didn't do that much for me. It just felt like a gimmick.
Mercenaries, Playground of Destruction (XBox)
Likes: GTA style game where you can cruise around the map freely, choosing missions when you're ready. Almost anything (i.e. buildings and such) can be destroyed if you can muster the firepower.

Dislikes: Throughout the whole game, it's teasing you with the $100,000,000 you will earn when you complete the final mission. So, I finally finished the game with visions of how in 'Playground of Destruction' mode I'd be able to spend this money hand over fist, flattening every little roadblock with a fuel-air bomb. But no. Apparently it just goes in your Swiss bank account or something. You will never get to spend this money.

Quake 4 (Linux)

Likes: Mayhem, dark humor, Stroggification, vehicles, boss monsters. Id software rules for making this available for Linux as well as for Windows.

Dislikes: I thought the second to last big battle was too hard. I was totally discouraged by this for a long time but finally came back and beat it. Similar experience to "Learning to Fly" in GTA: San Andreas.

Stranglehold (Windows)
I'm a huge fan of Hard Boiled, directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun Fat. The Stranglehold protagonist, Tequila, comes from that movie.

Likes: the unique style points scoring system. Earn power-ups based on the cool manner in which you kill your enemies. E.g. shooting while sliding down a banister or swinging from a chandelier. Good implementation of 'bullet time', better than Max Payne.

Dislikes: repetitive game play. There's one brief mission where you're door gunner in a chopper, otherwise you're basically walking from room to room shooting people the whole time.

Good, worth playing
I enjoyed the game but couldn't quite go 4 stars on this one, mainly due to the too-infrequent intervals the game allows you to save off. I understand the designers goal to present a more lifelike experience by preventing arbitrary saving, but this really went too far. When the game only lets you save at intervals of an hour or more, that is starting to intrude too much into my real-world life. Halo handles this a lot better by allowing you to save after each checkpoint (usually after a battle or some other story milestone).

Likes: Lots of mindless killing.

Dislikes: Number 1 dislike is the checkpoint/mission system. There are 8 missions and the only opportunity to save your game is after completing a mission. The final mission took me about 5 hours. I really would have liked to save off and do some other things, but I couldn't without losing all the progress I had made that day. When you hit a checkpoint, then get killed, you can restart at the checkpoint instead of restarting the whole mission, but it doesn't save anything to disk. Repetitive game play. The only thing setting this apart from, say, DOOM or Duke3D is some breakable walls and stuff. No vehicles, no boss monsters. The final few missions build up towards the ultimate goal of killing this rogue CIA guy. I was chucking around a lot of grenades and there were a bunch of explosions at the end, but I never saw this guy face to face which was rather unsatisfying.

DOOM 3 (Linux)
This is a lot like original DOOM, with better sound and graphics and a few other little improvements like PDAs instead of the red, blue and yellow cards. But for the most part you're still walking from room to room killing monsters and collecting guns, ammo and first aid. The guns and monsters are mostly recognizable from original DOOM. Repetitive gameplay is my main complaint about this game... it just needs more variety. As with Quake 4, some of the boss monsters are pretty hard and there have been times when I got held up for a long time trying to beat a tough boss monster.

Again, my hat's off to Id for releasing Linux versions.

Max Payne (Xbox)
This must have seemed like a really cool, cutting edge game when it came out in 2001. Ten years later, it's showing its age but still pretty fun.

Likes: Gritty film noir atmosphere, homages to John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, the comic book panels.

Dislikes: Repetitive game play. Walk from room to room killing bad guys with a few puzzles thrown in. The amount of masturbation going on in the early part of this game seemed a bit excessive and wasn't that funny after the first couple of times.

Pokemon Red (Color Gameboy)
Pretty fun for what is really almost a text game.

There are a number of different ways you can play this game:

Solo, just trying to finish the game and beat the final four.
Collector, trying to get as many different Pokemon as possible.
Competitive, trying to build a powerful team that can beat other players' teams.

If collecting, you really need to have a buddy who also plays the game, because some Pokemon can only be acquired by an evolution that occurs when you trade with another player. Collecting can motivate you to do some semi-cheating things. For instance, at the beginning of the game you have to choose one of three Pokemon to be your starting Pokemon. Afterward, there is no way to acquire the other two that you didn't choose (and the additional four more they evolve into). And fat chance anyone is ever going to trade you his unique starting Pokemon. The way to get all three (plus the 6 more advanced forms they evolve into) is to sit down with a second Color Gameboy with red or blue cartridge and start a new game on it, over and over, until you have generated and traded all three starting Pokemon. There are additional Pokemons that were only available as promotions or at special events that you basically are never going to get.

When you are playing this game to build up a powerful team of Pokemon to defeat other players, it becomes really not fun, because you need to spend countless hours leveling up your Pokemon. The most efficient way to do this is to battle the final four over and over again. Thank goodness the game designers set an upper limit on the Pokemon level (100). When I finally stopped I had about a dozen level 100 Pokemon, representing probably hundreds of hours of boring repetition of this same final four sequence. To me, this is one of the things that marks this as a game for kids... you get ahead by sacrificing huge chunks of time out of your life, a tradeoff that doesn't appeal so much to adults.

Flawed, lacking something
Mercenaries 2, World in Flames (Windows)
While I was still in the middle of playing Mercenaries on the XBox, I saw Mercenaries 2 for Windows in an Office Depot. It was in a discount rack of $10 CDs, 2 for the price of one. In spite of all the problems I had a lot of fun with this.

Likes: GTA style game, roam the map at will performing missions when you like. Funny. Nice long game, it probably took me 60-80 hours. The grappling hook was cool (you can jack a chopper in flight).

Dislikes: I found the whole fuel thing a bit annoying. The final mission is a total dud. This game has actual bugs. Hall of mirrors effect in crowded areas. Sometimes paid-for supplies, vehicles and air strikes aren't delivered. I was not able to do a save game after completing the final mission.

Now Playing

Borderlands 2
The adventure continues...

A few I didn't finish

Gun Valkyrie (Xbox)
I was expecting something violent with a lot of shooting, but this was more of a puzzle game.
Terminator 3: The Redemption (XBox)
I enjoyed this at first, but it kept getting harder and harder until I reached a point where I was playing for hours and not making any progress. There are some power-ups you can earn but they didn't really seem to help much. I may come back to this at some point.
Full Spectrum Warrior
This is an extremely realistic simulation of squad-level tactics in the US military. It was rather cerebral as shooters go. I stuck with this for a while but eventually had to admit I just wasn't enjoying it that much.
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