- The Sims 3 (2009, PC) – 44.8/60
Building your world and telling your own story is something The Sims pioneered, capitalizing ultimately on Maxis’ original intentions when they created the Sim____ franchises in yesteryear. I enjoyed this particular version of The Sims over previous editions because graphically it could finally offer a bit more than what was on the surface. It’s unfortunate that EA is behind this, because I don’t want to give them any credit, but I love being given a relatively clean slate in games and letting the chips fall where they may. It gets a lower score here because the game has tons of loading problems and can get laggy as hell when overburdened, even on a powerful machine.
Fatigue – 7.2
Sims 3 has held up over the years pretty decently, even in light of a sequel. EA monetizes the shit out of this franchise, and with that mentality comes a seemingly endless amount of expansions that give the standard adventures of your Sims new flavor. I only really would get sick of playing once the game would get too laggy, and I ended up having to fight the settings more than anything just to enjoy it.
Music – 7.5
Considering how much time you spend in menus and in the construction layouts, the music never bothered me. I’ve probably listened to the delicate and agreeable instrumental tunes 1000 times over and never once felt like shouting “OK SHUT UP!” Sims music always aims for combinations of sweet and bustling, and it works just fine. Admirably, really, all things considered.
Style – 8.2
As The Sims evolved over time, the character models became a bit more cartoony, the Simlish language more exaggerated and fun, the world more colorful and kooky, and of course the iconic nature of the mood-revealing diamond thingy (known as a “plumbob” by the by) all make for a world that’s not too much of a replica of our own. After all, we can’t have whoopee with ghosts and birth ghost babies, right? Right? Anyone? I need to know. For a friend.
Challenge – 3.9
This isn’t really ever supposed to be hard by design, but the challenges lie more in resisting the urge not to cheat. If you play it straight, which I don’t think anyone ever really does, you’ll have to earn promotions at work, constantly rebuild your digs to be more pimped out, all while regularly relieving your bladder, eating, and sleeping. It can be grindy in the early stages, but anyone can play this game. And that’s fine.
Meat – 9.6
There’s so many different things to do in The Sims world. Expansions certainly add to that, which I accounted for, but there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own regular family and seeing what happens. Alternatively you can buy an empty lot where you and your dog can sleep on benches and root through dumpsters. You can have a Sim live in the basement alone forever painting without ever coming outside (or make his decision easier by taking the stairs away). You can torture your Sims until they die. You can build your Sims mansions and vast estates. You can do basically anything, and that is amazing. At least until the stupid game starts to lag.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1995, PC) 45.2/60
Gameplay – 7.9
Red Alert is a hell of a lot of fun to play, and during the era of RTS games, they were among one of the best. Mine some ore, build your units, base up, and take out the opposition. Like AoE2 before it, I didn’t play the campaign very much. I’d rather just play against the AI, but what I have played of the campaign mode wasn’t bad, just not for me. The score here is dampened because I’d get frustrated with maps, being placed near resources, and the amount of time it takes to get to the real meat of the game can sometimes feel like a drag. That said, you can adjust all sorts of sliders to make the experience better, so maybe I should’ve been more merciful. Eh.
Fatigue – 5.9
The times I’ve played Red Alert were pretty darned fun, but because it wasn’t really anything my friends played, its time came and went relatively quickly. I’ve wanted to play it again for a while, but with the release of Red Alert 2 they’ve essentially stopped promoting or supporting the original. I can probably get it to function in Windows 10 but I haven’t tried too hard. Also, as mentioned earlier, the way skirmishes played out was often so random that it could get wearisome.
Music – 8.1
“Hell March” still makes me want to lead an army of flamethrowers into my enemy’s territory and slaughter countless hordes of various troops of a different color. The music is a ton of fun and makes the game high energy, even if you’re sucking Cheeto dust from your fingers and quaffing your 4th Mountain Dew of the day, your head bobs aggressively as a team of pixelated helicopters charges toward the objective.
Style – 7.3
I dug the alternative history angle behind Red Alert, and taking 40s/50s/60s tech, adding some more oomph to it, giving weaponized Tesla coils and some GI Joe-level army materials to your array of standard military fare. It was close enough to grounded ideas we expected from a Command & Conquer title, but it wasn’t such a major departure that you were playing Starcraft.
Challenge – 7.6
A lot of the challenge I had with Red Alert was randomness. I’d have a pretty solid army get decimated by pillboxes and the like, and then my ore-gathering trucks would have to go miles and miles away to find those precious resources, often getting destroyed by enemies in the process. I’d have no money and have to concede. It’s stuff like that which aggravates me about this game, which is a shame because it’s terribly fun to play 90% of the time.
Meat – 8.4
The campaign, for as little as I played it, was unique and flavorful. Tons of odd cut scenes, complete with god-awful CG and meager actors, told the quirky narrative from either side. A guy is buried alive in rocks, for God’s sake. The game itself has a ton of goofy weapons/units, so go wild.
- Super Mario World (1990, SNES) – 45.4/60
Gameplay – 9.8
Packed in with my first video game console ever, I put the cartridge into the Super and it was immediately captivating. My dad famously said after I was 30 seconds into Super Mario World that he’d never see me again, and I only half heard him because I was too busy making Mario hop on Yoshi for the first time in my life, knowing things would never be the same again. The gameplay is basically perfect, but I had to dock .2 for the obnoxious laggy nature of some of water levels where numerous Rip Van Fishes and Chargin’ Chucks would be present, making my sprint to the finish a matter of survival. I hate Rip Van Fish.
Story – 7.1
In typical Mario fashion, the story is nonsensical in all the best ways, classically rushing through Bowsers familial obstacles to save Princess Peach. I don’t ask questions when playing Mario titles, and damn if it isn’t a delight to blissfully immerse myself in the colorful worlds provided for me to jump through.
Music – 9.2
From pillar to post, Super Mario World has an endless torrent of fuzzy and memorable tunes that may not be iconic on their own, but in the overall scope of the game meld to form a happy nostalgia fluff you can stuff into your ears over and over again.
Style – 9
The game is absolutely lovely to look at, full of vivid characters and levels that hop nimbly along different branches of the color pallet. After completing Star Road, the world transforms into an Autumn-y, purple/orange variation across the entire game that makes re-visiting some of the other worlds more interesting. Even some of the enemies change, to give it a little extra pumpkin spice.
Meat – 6.3
The extras of Super Mario World aren’t so much extras as supplemental tools to make beating the game more fluid. Star Road is where the real challenges lie, especially the infamous Tubular level, but even then, most seasoned platform-familiar players can knock it out without much hassle.
- Civilization V (2010, PC) – 45.6/60
Gameplay – 7
Immensely satisfying, Civ is equal parts slow as it is dramatic, granular as it is broad, boring as it is engrossing. There’s not a lot in the way of actual interaction, really – you move units around, start cities, dictate combat, and spread/grow as you will – and when units fight, it’s a 10-15 second animation that ends with a musical chime and a notification. Essentially you’re managing a virtual tabletop game. The knocks I have on the gameplay are the obnoxious (but necessary) nature of barbarians, the rather linear paths to take from the outset of the game as you race toward wonder building, and the unsatisfying nature of finishing a game of Civ. For a game with such epic scope, the endings are often kind of a wet fart sound that makes you feel like you just lost many, many, MANY hours. Plus, the AI is never all that great, but not nearly as bad as Civ 6.
Fatigue – 6.7
One of the charms of Civ games is the “just one more turn…” thing which of course leads you to playing another 300 turns and suddenly it’s 4 in the morning. The thing is that once you play a few games of Civ in any format, you realize quickly that certain Civs aren’t worth playing as, and experimenting with different strategies will often put you behind more difficult AI very quickly.
Music – 8.3
While none of the Civ 5 music is as good as its sequel, the themes and menu music were memorable, epic in some regards, and no expense was spared in their recording. I appreciate the effort put into making each culture’s music unique, adding a dollop of immersion to what can be a relatively dry experience.
Style – 8.1
Considering how often you’re staring at what is essentially a grid, Civ 5 is pretty to look at. Rich and carefully crafted, the sprawling grass, mountains, tundra, plains, and architecture give you some eye candy. Menus and overlays are also pleasant, and really it just looks good. Don’t argue with me. Play it.
Challenge – 7.5
All depends on how you play it and which civilization you select, but can be a tedious grind if you’re trailing in culture and wonders.
Meat – 8
So many hours. I’d fire up this game when I’d get up on a Saturday morning, starting fresh, and before I knew it, the clock would read 2PM. Tons of DLC for this one (the modern era of gaming unfortunately), but the DLC is of high quality, adding further civ variety, more maps, and different mechanics like religion, tourism, etc.
- Red Dead Redemption (2010, X360) – 45.7/60
Gameplay – 9.3
The only real failing point of RDR’s controls is with duels. It was a very un-fun and often ignorable aspect of the game that I felt added little and came off like an afterthought. Otherwise, Red Dead is a masterpiece. The best western video game of all time, at least until the sequel comes out. A complete and incredible experience.
Story – 10
One of the best video game plots ever made, it was a sheer pleasure to ride through the west as John Marston. The supporting cast adds emotional range, exploring different aspects of Marston’s life and personality, giving each mission and endeavor into the wild further breadth, nuance, and weight.
Music – 7.8
The weakest part of the game is the limited amount of music, but that’s mostly by design. The game is often encouraging the player to absorb the quiet, only adding music to particular rides into Mexico or on the ride back to your homestead toward the story’s end. What music IS in the game, however, is very high quality and suitable for the atmosphere of New Austin.
Style – 8.9
They fleshed out the world of New Austin based on all of their and our favorite western movies, and it looks breathtaking. The first thing I did after I got through the initial introductory portion of the game was ride out into the desert, and the sky opened up into a thunderstorm. After a spell, I came across several folks sitting around a campfire in the dead of night who urged me to pop a squat and share a yarn or two. Granted all of these interactions are limited, but they add so much to the experience.
Meat – 9.7
RDR’s storyline is fantastic enough to play through on its own, but so often I’d take enormous breaks to simply wander. Maybe I’ll ride down to Mexico and play a few games of blackjack after gathering a few wild flowers for my collection. Afterward I’ll take the train around the high plains, occasionally stopping to humor a poker game and shoot down some vultures. Liars Dice in Thieves Landing is always a good time, and once you’ve got some change in your pocket, see if you’ve got the gumption to hunt a few grizzlies in the Tall Trees.