I’ve spent a great deal of time in the negative space between the onslaught of video game releases ignoring my backlog in its entirety, as any true gamer does, and have been playing games from the past, like some kind of carpal tunnel archaeologist. So I guess you could consider this post my museum, because as Harrison Ford taught us, if you find a priceless artifact of a forgotten time, IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM! And by forgotten time, I mean 2004, which is where all the good games come from anyway. I’ve spent the past few weeks of anticipation rolling through some older, obscure games and wanted to talk about them a bit, because not many people I know seem to know that they even exist, so collected here for any interested gamer is a small list of video game treasures celebrating their 10th birthdays this year. Also it’s been a while since I posted a list of any kind and I’m really in the mood to do one. Also also I kind of couldn’t stop myself. because I’m weird like that, so here is a list of three games that you’ve either probably never heard of, or had completely forgotten about until I just mentioned them. Either way you should seek out and play them immediately, it’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks.
1) Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines
This one is a no-brainer, or at least it is if you’ve ever heard me talk about it. Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, aside from being the game I’m currently playing through, is probably best described as a flawed masterpiece. It had the potential to be, and very nearly was, a genre-defining role-playing game. It’s one of a very small amount of games that I’ve played more than once, and one of an even smaller amount of games I’ve played through, to quote myself; “shitloads” of times. There are a great many things wrong with the game, as it was released by Troika Games at gunpoint, rushed to release by Activision with numerous bugs and many aspects of the game unfinished or unpolished, compounded by the fact Troika went slowly broke while attempting to patch the game, leading to their involuntary abandonment of the game in early 2005. This didn’t stop Bloodlines from being a must-play title. When this game is at its best it’s absolutely far and away one of the greatest RPG’s ever made. As far as immersion goes VtMB is one of the most immersive RPG universes ever committed to a video game, easily jostling for the title with the likes of Skyrim.
This is mostly due to the terrific writing. Troika takes full advantage of, and has full understanding of, the World of Darkness and populates the moon drenched streets of Los Angeles with so many worthwhile characters you’ll spend your time attempting to start conversations with every NPC that walks by. And the occasional stop sign. There is not a single quest or storyline in this game that is boring, and you’ll find no “kill X goblin” quests either. Whether blowing up warehouses, breaking into museums or murderising vampire hunters this game is packed full of interesting stories and great level design. VtMB is full of life (ironically) and character, which easily allows it to stand out amongst other RPGs. This cuts right down to the player character, when faced with a choice of clan (or class, for want of a better term), two of the potential choices alter the gameplay entirely, whether by forcing you off the streets by choosing to play as a hideously malformed Nosferatu, or by giving you an entirely different set of dialogue options (and legendary arguments with stop signs, as above) to match your insightful madness as per a Malkavian character (you haven’t truly played VtMB until you’ve played as a Malkavian).
The best part is Bloodlines is more popular now than it has ever been, even in the weeks and months following its release, thanks to a 2009 Steam re-release and a modding community that has been actively enhancing the game for 10 years and counting. The VtMB modding community has been hard at work squashing bugs, plugging in and cleaning up cut content, adding new quests, characters and storylines and even enhancing the gameplay with new weapons, clans, gameplay mechanics and so much more. Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines was a great game back in 2004, but it’s actually a fantastic game in 2014, and unfortunately it’s also a game the like of which we may never see again.
2) In Memoriam (aka Missing: Since January)
In Memoriam is a strange game that almost defies description. Ostensibly it’s an adventure game, but that’s not quite what it is. It’s been described as an alternate reality game that did an admirable job of blurring the lines between fiction and real life. In Memoriam casts you (that’s you for real, as you’re not playing a character in a game) as the main investigator tasked with finding out what has happened to journalists Jack Lorski and Karen Gijman, who disappeared while investigating a series of bizarre murders in Europe. This is of interest because their agency recieved a CD-ROM containing some disturbing videos, some footage shot by Jack and Karen and some puzzles and data, and have decided that you are the person they need to decipher it all.
The game progresses in a series of fascinating ways. The primary mode of interaction is with the puzzles that are contained in the game. Completing each one will yield a new clue, that will have you tracking down information through either Google searches or on planted websites, sites that were made specifically for the game by its developers. It’s up to you to decipher the clues and sift through the information you uncover to figure out who “The Phoenix” is, what he wants and where the missing people are before they become another couple of murders attributed to the serial killer. But it’s not up to you alone, as you’re aided in your investigation by other people connected with the agency who are also investigating The Phoenix and the disappearance of Jack and Karen. When you unlock clues they’ll be on hand to analyse them and will occasionally e-mail you (yes, you, you’ll receive updates directly to your actual inbox) with helpful information. Very occasionally you’ll also be given phone numbers you can actually call and hear pre-recorded messages. See what I mean about blurring lines?
In Memoriam is the type of game that I wish had become a mega-hit and taken off, but sadly it remains a quirky footnote in video games history. It’s developer, Lexis Numerique, renowned for creating different types of video games, went bankrupt recently, and since 2004 no-one has really attempted to create this type of alternate reality adventure game again, at least not on this scale. It’s not the easiest of games to get a hold of, although at the time of writing this Amazon still has some copies in stock for a reasonable price, but it’s definitely a worthwhile experience if for its novelty value more than anything. Be warned though, the atmosphere on display in the game is supremely creepy, and you’ll occasionally receive some fairly unnerving emails while playing it…
3) Tales of Symphonia
This one is a slight cheat as it was recently re-released on Playstation 3 earlier this month, but that just means that it’s super easy to pick up. Back in 2004 it was released as a Gamecube exclusive, and was a game that insanely difficult to find mere weeks after its release (I will never know how my parents managed to find a reasonably priced copy, but will always be thankful that they did). I’d spent months obsessed with finding it after a friend of mine in college described the game as “better than Final Fantasy VII.” He was wrong, in my opinion, but he wasn’t far off as Tales of Symphonia was a remarkable RPG. I’ll admit that quite a lot of its details have been lost to the mists of time in my head, and I’ve only recently begun to fool around with it again after almost 9 years, but there are certain elements of this game that have stuck with my for almost a decade. This will probably be short.
There wasn’t much that was wildly different about Tales of Symphonia from first glance, certainly not a lot that set it apart from most other JRPGs. It had a familiar combat system, a familiar exploration system and even a familiar narrative hook, that being a collection of misfits, outsiders and underdogs set off on a journey to save the world from an evil force. What set ToS apart was its instantly likeable main characters and their brilliant interactions with each other. Specifically the three you meet early on; main character Lloyd and his friend & love interest Colette, who I remember was actually destined to save the world (which made a nice change of pace that the controllable character wasn’t the chosen one), and Lloyd’s best friend Genis, whose name I totally didn’t just Google. ToS also had an absolutely glorious art style, and its combat was real time, which back in ’04 wasn’t the norm for RPGs that were almost married to the turn-based systems found in the likes of FF VII. Most importantly Tales of Symphonia nailed what a lot of RPGs about saving the world fail to grasp, it was an epic game, telling an epic story.