Retrospective Games

Earlier this millennia, I was obsessed with computer games. I played them almost virtually back to back, and today I am both proud and ashamed at the same time that I have completed more than 500 games on the PC. These days it has calmed down to an idling breeze – I barely play one game a month anymore.

The weird thing about this gaming hobby was the way it started. It wasn’t something that came over me as soon as I could hold a joystick. In the 80’s and 90’s, I was almost solely into programming and composing music on home computers. Games just passed me by, and for the most part barely noticing them.

But as is the case with many hobbies, the desire to program and compose eventually turned to dust. I then fiddled a bit with playing and collecting Half-Life maps, created a few of my own, but ultimately also gave that up. The year was 2000, and that’s where I turned to PC games and had an epiphany.

It was like hitting a switch, and I was on fire.

To begin with I played a lot of the contemporary games. No doubt the 3D revolution was part of the reason I was finally grabbed by games, but as I got even more involved in this hobby, writing long diary sessions about each completion, I started to wonder about the classics I had missed out on.

I was judicious enough to reach back in time, fetch a lot of the great ones from before 2000, and complete those too. Some I even had to dig out of the bottom shelf of video game shops.

It had its advantages. I bought a lot cheap – way back when Steam was just hot air. Physical boxes.

There were the single games like Aliens versus Predator, Bad Mojo, Blade Runner, Descent 3, Die by the Sword, Duke Nukem 3D, Drakan: Order of the Flame, Final Fantasy VII, Kingpin, Normality, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, Outcast, Outlaws, Postal, Realms of the Haunting, Redguard, Requiem: Avenging Angel, Shadow Man, Shadow Warrior, Shogo, Soul Reaver, Urban Chaos, and The Wheel of Time.

And I completed the entire series of Blood, Blood Omen, Doom, Quake, Half-Life, Heretic, Jedi Knight, Little Big Adventure, MDK, SiN, System Shock, Thief, Tomb Raider, and Unreal.

Being a fan of adventure games, I also played a lot from the late 90’s – too many to mention here.

And as I later learned to play RPG – starting with Dungeon Siege in 2002 – I also completed Arcanum, the Baldur’s Gate series, the Diablo series, the Fallout series, the Gothic series, the first Icewind Dale and its expansion, Morrowind, Neverwinter Nights and expansions, Nox, and Planescape: Torment.

I did a decent job at catching up with the classics, wouldn’t you say so? I think it was okay.

Most of the classics I played was worth the trouble. Gaming was still a novelty to me and I understood how to accept the limitations of older games and enjoy what made them special. I had some trouble getting a few of them to run on my PC at the time, but I usually always found a way to make it work anyway.

The thing about me and this hobby at the time was that I absolutely had to complete the game, if I had embarked upon it. It sort of became a project to me. I prepared a notebook page with a list of keys, I took notes of the interesting details, and I saved a lot of screenshots. Save games were collected and put up on the internet afterwards. And as the game was completed, I noted it down in an Excel worksheet.

One more notch in the belt.

This of course led to a few predicaments where I really disliked certain elements of a game, yet I somehow felt obligated to complete it anyway and get another notch. It wasn’t always all fun and… well, games.

Repulsive games

If I could enter a time machine just about now and travel back to meet myself in the year 2000, I would probably bring a list of PC games that I should definitely skip. Too aggravating, too boring, too difficult to get up and running – there could be a lot of reasons.

Even though the list probably won’t ever make it back, here it is.

Aliens versus Predator
1999 by Rebellion Developments
Genuinely scary, but very frustrating. Start with the second game by Monolith instead, it’s better.
Aliens versus Predator 2: Primal Hunt
2002 by Third Law Interactive
Oddly balanced and requires trial-and-error. Too many reused corridors from the main game. Uninspired and short.
American McGee Presents Scrapland
2004 by MercurySteam Entertainment
Mix of 3PS and 360° space ship action in big and trafficked robot cities (combat and racing). Difficult and repetitive.
Auryn Quest
2002 by Attaction
Short 3D first person non-violent game. It’s imaginative, but puzzles are hard because of jump control not always obeying.
1999 by Jumpstart Solutions
Looks like a Myst-style adventure, but also a simulation. I didn’t like having to keep track of food, thirst, sleep, etc.
Carnivores: Cityscape
2002 by Sunstorm Interactive
An FPS with dinosaurs in the Serious Sam 3D engine. Second rate graphics and gameplay with an annoying lack of saving.
2003 by Techland
FPS with vehicles, big open world levels and inventory/augmentations. Fantastic visuals, but hard and bugged.
Command & Conquer: Renegade
2002 by Westwood Studios
War FPS with nice vehicles, but bad AI, a mediocre 3D engine, and the last two missions were much too difficult.
Dead Man’s Hand
2004 by Human Head Studios
Easy in spite of mission saves. Short, mostly linear levels. A few on horseback. Felt like playing a shooting gallery game.
Delta Force: Black Hawk Down – Team Sabre
2004 by Ritual Entertainment
Varied and spry as the main game, but also hard and protracted. Some dependency mission failures.
Die by the Sword
1998 by Treyarch
Barbarian game with VSIM control (lifelike mouse swing). Tomb Raider puzzles. Excellent SFX but very simple graphics.
2014 by Digital Happiness
I wrote a blog post about it.
Dungeon Siege II
2005 by Gas Powered Games
Horrible EverQuest-style corpse runs and excessive spawning. A lot of minor annoyances. Feeble party banter.
Dungeon Siege III
2011 by Obsidian Entertainment
Consolized and surprisingly hard. It has a bland story, unsatisfying loot, and it’s short for an RPG.
El Matador
2006 by Plastic Reality Technologies
Max Payne-style 3PS among drug lords in Colombia. Monotonous shooting against all marksmen. Mediocre techno.
Enter the Matrix
2003 by Shiny Entertainment
Felt unpolished with ambiguous goals in certain levels, bugs, and a few overly hard levels.
The Eye of the Kraken
2002 by Absurdus
Short adventure on a restricted ship. No voice overs and annoying music. Fun dialogue at times, but obscure puzzles.
Fable  [Adventure]
1996 by Simbiosis Interactive
Good graphics and voice overs, but the inventory grows too big and the ending is completely lame.
Farscape: The Game
2002 by Red Lemon Studios
Great graphics and atmosphere, but oddly balanced. Ammo is wasted too easily, and it’s short.
The Great Escape
2003 by Pivotal Games
Impressive variety and including Steve McQueen’s voice, but the train level is downright hateful.
2005 by Neversoft Entertainment
Sort of a Grand Theft game in the wild west. Too many annoying dependencies and timed missions for my taste.
Hitman: Codename 47
2000 by Io-Interactive
A stealthy classic, except it has no in-game saving and is much too hard. Annoying abrupt cutscenes in one boss fight.
I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike
2003 by Innerloop Studios
Impressive 3D engine with vast landscapes, but too hard stealth balancing. A lot of minor annoyances. Good sound, though.
Line of Sight: Vietnam
2003 by N-Fusion Interactive
Beautiful 3D engine with big jungle levels. Unfortunately, it’s nothing but jungle all the time and difficult to see.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2003 by EA Redwood Shores
Although pretty, well animated, hectic and with brilliant movie sound, it is exceedingly hard.
2003 by Rockstar North
Promising to begin with, but soon insanely hard. Very bloody and vicious.
The Messenger
2000 by Index+
Sneaky 360° spherical adventure with Thief elements. Limited inventory, tedious pixel hunting and a few timed sequences.
Missing on Lost Island
2001 by Mayhem Studios
An oldskool adventure game with unimpressive graphics and music.
1997 by Running With Scissors
Rampage shooting action in ugly 2D isometric areas with lots of blood. Short and oversimplified. The sequel is much better.
Project I.G.I.: I’m Going In
2000 by Innerloop Studios
Huge levels with vast areas, but reuses prefab buildings. Good music and SFX, but unacceptable lack of in-game saving.
2013 by Ed Key and David Kanaga
Nothing but walking around in a pixelated open world with changing seasons. It should have been free.
Quake: Q!Zone
1996 by WizardWorks Software
Amateur level design and lousy new monsters. Most of the time too easy, sometimes unbalanced and hard.
Red Faction II
2003 by Outrage Entertainment
Shallow FPS that felt like a shooting gallery in spite of the good variety of vehicles. Play the first one instead.
Shadow Ops: Red Mercury
2004 by Zombie Studios
Felt like a budget shooter in spite of the Hollywood story. Too samey and aggressive, but good music.
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Silver Earring
2004 by Frogwares
Crystal clear backgrounds with 3D models, but too much talk, a boring story, annoying stealth sequence, and a timed maze.
SiN Episodes: Emergence
2006 by Ritual Entertainment
I wrote a blog post about it.
Spider-Man: The Movie
2002 by Gray Matter Interactive
Graphically excellent and with original movie voice overs, but with an annoying 3D camera. Varied, but often frustrating.
Tomb Raider Chronicles
2000 by Core Design
Unnecessarily overly hard, especially the last two levels were a chore. 3D engine way too old. Severe bugs in the last level.
Tribes: Vengeance
2004 by Irrational Games
Colorful and skillfully designed, but the last half was so strikingly ruthless that it made me want to quit my hobby.
Vietcong: Fist Alpha
2004 by Pterodon
Seven new levels, the last two with unforgiving stealth that fails the mission if spotted. Much too hard and tiresome.

Redeeming games

But there were also those games that had received a bad rap that I actually found to be all right. Maybe a game had scathing reviews all around, players were slating it in forums – or it was just never mentioned anywhere, causing the game to silently sink into oblivion.

I won’t say that I absolutely loved all of those I’m going to list here. Some I found to be okay, others I could see had problems but I still liked certain parts of it enough to find it worth completing.

Also to be found here are games that although they may have had good reviews, and may have sold quite well too, they somehow pissed me off that they would normally have entered the previous section above, yet I liked some other aspects of it so much that I still found it to be worth my while.

So here’s to those I believed were judged too harshly – the games I found had redeeming values.

Arcania: Gothic 4
2010 by Spellbound Entertainment
Generic, uninspired and with bad dialog, but it looks quite good, it’s easy and it has a sensible UI. Gated zones.
Assassin’s Creed: Director’s Cut
2008 by Ubisoft Montreal
Large medieval cities with tower climbing. The sequel was a vast improvement, but this is still a compelling entry point.
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason
2009 by Action Forms
Awesome ice/cold effects (warmth is health). Enemies are mostly easy, but some freeze or past time events are agonizing.
Dragon Age II
2011 by BioWare
Yes, it has horrible spawning and a blatant reuse of level prefabs, but I really liked the story and the quests were nice.
2000 by Computer Artworks
Long levels in wonderfully weird alien landscapes with Starship Troopers fights. RPG-like mutations for four genohunters.
Gothic 3
2006 by Piranha Bytes
The awful melee combat hurt what could have been a classic. Three gigantic zones to explore with nice quests and music.
Iron Storm
2002 by 4X Studio
Generally too hard, but great graphics and level design in an interesting alternate reality World War I 3PS in 1964.
K. Hawk: Survival Instinct
2002 by Similis Software
Great radar with vision cones and detection circles. Good level design and variation. Deserved way better reviews.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
1999 by Crystal Dynamics
Painful 3D camera and often tedious, but it also had good stuff like two realms, block flipping, and impaling of vampires.
Little Big Adventure / Relentless: Twinsen’s Adventure
1994 by Adeline Software International
A totally unfair combat system and a ludicrous save system, but undeniably also quite charming. And non-linear too.
Little Big Adventure 2 / Twinsen’s Odyssey
1997 by Adeline Software International
Innovative and varied with static 3D rendering of outdoor scenes. The combat system was still completely lame, however.
2000 by Shiny Entertainment
Didn’t work well in Windows XP, but a unique gameplay with possession of organic beings made for wonderful puzzles.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul
1999 by Quantic Dream
70% 3PS adventure and 30% action. The latter could have used an overhaul, but the adventure part was truly fascinating.
Severance: Blade of Darkness
2001 by Rebel Act Studios
Bloody and beautiful battles with marvelous SFX and precise shadows, but I also found it to be extremely hard.
Shadow Man
1999 by Iguana UK
Too big, too non-linear, too much backtracking, too bugged. Wonderful atmosphere and puzzles made me persevere.
Simon the Sorcerer 3D
2002 by Headfirst Productions
Unduly long and bugged adventure with frustrating action and hard puzzles, but had a terrific story, dialog and voice overs.
1998 by Ritual Entertainment
Very ingenious FPS, sort of a preliminary study to No One Lives Forever and Deus Ex. Sadly also very bugged at the time.
Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
2003 by Core Design
The annoying controls killed this game, which was a shame as it had great graphics and an okay story and puzzles.
Urban Chaos
1999 by Mucky Foot Productions
Annoying lack of in-game saving, but I liked the unique 3D engine with details such as “crinkles” and reflecting puddles.
The Ward
2001 by Fragile Bits
A science fiction adventure with no voice overs and some rough puzzles, but with a good atmosphere and oldskool music.

Riveting games

Stepping up, there’s the absolutely fantastic games I loved completing. The 10 out of 10 games. Maybe they were not perfect and still had a few annoying levels or a questionable user interface, but that’s not really the point. The point is that I was completely consumed by the style and atmosphere of the game and always looked forward to playing it again with sheer joy.

The list of the games that were top notch for me looks like this.

2001 by Ion Storm
Took me 32 hours. Wonderfully detailed and populated worlds. Bugged, but too good to let it bother me. Great humor.
2012 by Amanita Design
I wrote a blog post about it.
Deus Ex
2000 by Ion Storm
Exceptional FPS with unmatched freedom and engaging RPG elements. One of the very few I completed twice.
The Dig
1995 by LucasArts
One of the best adventure games I have ever played, with musical cues that created a true sense of wonder.
Fallout 3
2008 by Bethesda Game Studios
Outstanding atmosphere, varied and well designed. Completed it in 82 hours including all five DLC.
1998 by Valve Corporation
Amazing game that deserves its status as an all-time classic. It had a unique atmosphere the sequel couldn’t quite capture.
The Longest Journey
2000 by Funcom
Extremely beautiful, long and satisfying adventure game with some great dialog, although sometimes inelegantly profane.
1999 by Appeal
I wrote a blog post about it.
2002 by Microïds
Beautiful graphics, good interface, moving story, emotional moments, and great puzzles.
System Shock 2
1999 by Irrational Games
An absorbing game with a creepy atmosphere. Well designed and with excellent SFX. A thinking man’s Half-Life.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2015 by CD Project RED
I wrote several blog posts about it.

There are honorable mentions among the games I gave 9 out of 10 and I actually also started adding them here too, but the list grew too massive so I abandoned it. You’ll have to resort to my full list to see them.

Renounced games

And finally, there are the ones that escaped. Perhaps the user interface in the game was too archaic at the time I got into the hobby, it was in a genre outside my sphere of comfort and knowledge – or I just plain never got around to giving it a chance and now it feels like it’s too late.

Whatever the reason, it’s a pity I never got the chance to experience these games.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
1996 by Bethesda Softworks
I’ve done Morrowind and everything else since then, but it’s a shame I didn’t do Daggerfall before it got too primitive.
Icewind Dale II
2002 by Black Isle Studios
I completed the first one and its expansion, but I heard the sequel was tougher which eventually kept me from playing it.
The King’s Quest series
1987-1994 by Sierra On-Line
I wasn’t into these games when they were hot and past year 2000 it just felt like it was too late to bother.
The Last Express
1997 by Smoking Car Productions
A real-time adventure game on a train that I kept postponing. I have it on Steam today so there’s actually still a chance.
Leisure Suit Larry
1987-1996 by Sierra On-Line
I laughed a lot while watching a friend playing it, but again, it was before games meant anything to me as a hobby.
1999 by Sony Online Entertainment
The first game was before I got into MMORPG and also too ruthless for my taste, but I felt lost in the lore of the sequel.
The Quest for Glory series
1992-1993 by Sierra On-Line
I barely noticed these at all back in the day, and when I got into RPG later, they still didn’t come to mind.
The Space Quest seris
1986-1995 by Sierra On-Line
I poked at a few and even completed the fourth game in the series, but I ought to have had all notches in my belt.
Star Control II
1992 by Toys For Bob
I watched a friend play this and enjoyed its humor and music, but parts of the game looked like it wasn’t my genre.
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
1992 by Interplay Entertainment
I was almost solely into Picard’s crew in the 90’s which made me skip out on this classic adventure game. Silly me.
Star Trek Online
2010 by Cryptic Studios
Being a Star Trek fan I have pondered trying it several times, but always held back because of the lukewarm reviews.
Star Wars Galaxies
2003 by Sony Online Entertainment
I was not into MMORPG when this was hot, but I always regret not having tried it out. Especially before the big overhaul.
Trespasser: Jurassic Park
1998 by DreamWorks Interactive
Actually slaughtered by critics, but it was so innovative too that I still wanted to try it out. Sadly, I never saw it in retail.
The Ultima series
1986-1999 by Origin Systems
Another series from before I was into games. Today they’re too archaic for me. Probably my biggest gaming regret of all.
The Ultima Underworld series
1993-1995 by Looking Glass Studios
I completed the first System Shock (same 3D engine) but I never got around to trying these dungeon crawlers either.
The Warcraft series
1994-2003 by Blizzard Entertainment
I was never into RTS, but again, I always felt I missed out on interesting lore while playing World of Warcraft.
1988 by Interplay Entertainment
Always wanted to play this (especially after the sequel was made) and also tried a few times, but the UI is too primitive.
The Wing Commander series
1990-1998 by Origin Systems
Cutting edge at the time of release. I was impressed, but still too interested in coding AdLib music players instead.
Wizardry 8
2001 by Sir-Tech
I heard a lot of good things about it during the years, but also that it’s really hard. You can probably guess the rest.
The Zork series
1982-1989 by Infocom
I completed two of the graphic adventures, but never played the early text ones. I was intimidated by the walls of text.

It’s also a a pity that I’ve never played any of the really awesome console exclusives such as the Uncharted series or The Last of Us, but after my very brief time with PlayStation 2, I decided to be strictly PC only and not allow myself to be vexed by these games not appearing on PC.

I did watch the “movie adaptations” of the first three Uncharted games and it was actually okay as sort of a substitute, but after trying it with a few more classics I decided that it just wasn’t rewarding enough. I was missing out on not actually being there and really playing it. So I gave that up.

So, what are your repulsive, redeeming, riveting and/or renounced games?   Not all at once, now.

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