The 8 Ball 12.10.13: Top 8 Winter Games
Posted by Marc Morrison on 12.10.2013
From SSX and Skyrim to World of Warcraft and more, 411's Marc Morrison ranks his Top 8 Winter Games!
Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball. With winter in full swing around most of the country, Liana and I decided to tackle games that evoke the season in our view. I tried to pick games that make you think about winter, or snow, and the various things associated with it. Some of these games have a Christmas-bent, but only a few. Let's begin:
8. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
The entire point of Lost Planet was that you're on a planet frozen over and that heat is the commodity. "T-Eng" (Thermal Energy) in the game is used to power your mech and stop your character from freezing up. You get more by finding it on the ground, killing the Akrid enemies, or destroying things in the environment (barrels, crates, vehicles). The thing about Lost Planet is that it actually does simulate the freezing temperatures of cold weather/blizzard conditions. For a launch 360 game, it actually holds up fairly well also, and still looks good.
7. World of Warcraft
The Feast of Winter Veil has been around for 7 years now and is still one of my favorite events in World of Warcraft. The event has changed over the years but it has boiled down to three basic things: rescuing Metzen the Reindeer, take on The Abominable Greench, and getting the yearly gifts from Greatfather Winter. Rescuing Metzen used to be a real pain back in the old days, having to fly out to Tanaris to free him, but they moved him next to the Greench a few years ago. I enjoy this event because everyone has a fair shot of actually getting the event gift/trinket. As opposed to the Halloween one, or Direbrew, everyone can get the unique item. It feels refreshing and not feeling like a waste of time, something the Halloween Event continues to foster even at this year.
A good chunk of Skyrim's map feels like it is on a glacier. The land is all white, icebergs dot the waterways and it snows like crazy in some spots (the mage school for one). More than that, when you do venture up around these parts, the world can feel desolate and isolated from the lower areas. The game does a good job of making it feel empty, at least until you are jumped by wolves, a Dragon, or some Frost Atronachs. There wasn't a lot of outside variety in Skyrim, either being no temperature or the hellish blizzards, but it got the point across well.
5. Dirt 3
Dirt 2 is generally considered a better game by most people (me included), but one area Dirt 3 surpassed Dirt 2 was in its weather effects, specifically the snow tracks. When it is snowing on a track, it dramatically alters how the car handles and drives, causing you to almost spin-out non-stop. You had to be even more on the ball when it came to racing on snow because one wrong turn could ruin the race for you. Racing in cockpit view at night is practically impossible, which is actually very close to real life. Like with the other games on this list, all the snow effects look superb which is what you want from a heavy snow shower.
I've never been a huge fan of the SSX series, but I figure if I put Amped 3 on a list again, people might complain. I think the problem I have with SSX (as a series) is that it is basically a racing game with some tricks thrown in. Still, the game has a definite sense of style, both with the characters and the levels contained inside. It's also a very fast game that can get your adrenaline pumping. This game might move too quickly for you to enjoy all the graphical touches contained within though. SSX always seemed like a good party game to me, especially SSX Tricky (on the Xbox). Once you got the Tricky meter filled out and Run D.M.C. "It's Tricky" starts playing, you and everyone around you is in for a good time.
3. Bully Scholarship Edition
Bully's Scholarship Edition added a few wrinkles into the Christmas event they did in the original game. In that one you just collect an ugly green sweater from the mail room and go on your merry way. In the new version, you do special tasks for the drunken bum dressed up as Santa Claus who only wants you to wreck Christmas for everyone else. These tasks include throwing snowballs at random people, wrecking the town Christmas display as you fight off some elves, and taking pictures of kids as they sit on the bum's lap. And really, what better way to say winter than beating up a bunch of angry elves?
2. Parasite Eve
A lot of people don't remember that Parasite Eve took place in the winter, specifically around Christmas, from Dec. 24th to Dec. 29th. The game had a great look to it, both from the real time perspective and from the FMV sequences. Parasite Eve came out right when Square was near the height of their powers, and this game showed their attention to fine craft and detail. It looked great wandering around the park as it was frozen over, trying to find the winter concert, or showing the white snow in contrast to the bright red of Eve's bio-monsters coming forth.
1. Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice
What I love about Grubbins on Ice is just that it is just more Costume Quest, set in a monster-filled winter wonderland. This time though, *you* are considered the monster and everyone else is afraid of you. Grubbins on Ice offers the same combat, and gameplay as the original Costume Quest. A bit of a simplified RPG experience but one that requires good timing and can get a little challenging later on. The new costumes were fun, the pirate, the Yeti, and the Eyeball Monster fit well into what was going on. Grubbins on Ice is a perfect game to boot up when it's all snowy outside and you can't go outside, so you can go on a fun quest with some kids trying to rescue their friends with magic costumes.
The Better Half with Liana K
Top 8 Games Featuring Winter
This week, various parts of Canada got hit with extreme weather, be it deep freezes, high winds, or snow. Before I wrote this, I was up in cottage country, which, in the winter, is "colder than a witch's tit" country. And in Ontario, where I live, winters are damp as well as cold, so we tend to drink and eat a lot and get grumpy. Okay yes, if you're Toronto's mayor, you also, perhaps, smoke some rock and charge press scrums like a linebacker. But I digress. Winter is very much on my mind, because I really really hate the cold. But winter as an artistic device is a completely different story, and therefore I can wholeheartedly endorse a digital salute to winter and all its evolving uses in video games. My picks this week run the gamut from the early arcade days right up to this year, because – pun alert – in gaming, winter is always "in season". Ha! I kill me! On with the list!
8: Amped 3
Amped 3 is a perfect example of a game that could have been terribly pedestrian. I mean, on the surface, who wants to play a snowboarding game. I understand wanting to go out and snowboard, but snowboarding in a video game? Seems pointless. But with a bit of creativity and a lot of insanity, Amped 3 was indescribably awesome! It wasn't just the super random cut scenes that made it great. It was the overall choice to forgo realism and focus on making the game fun! That being said, the cut scenes... well just watch the YouTube link. They're insane.
7: Dragon Age: Origins
At first I thought this week's list would be safe from my Dragon Age obsession, because I didn't remember snow in that game. But I checked, just in case, and sure enough, the ruined Temple of Andraste in the Frostback Mountains is full of snow! Since the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest is a pretty important one in terms of game lore – and Leliana pitching an epic fit if things don't go her way – Dragon Age goes on the list!
I loved the crap out of this ice block kicking penguin game in the eighties. It's classic arcade gems like Pengo, with their simple concepts, 2D graphics, and elegant if limited game design, that stop me short of completely embracing facebook games. I understand that facebook games have to be simple, but would a little bit of cleverness in the concepts kill King and Zynga? The guys who made those eighties arcade hits had almost no system resources to work with, and they created ideas that have endured decades. Facebook games... just copy existing arcade games, but dumb them down. Long live Pengo!
5: Icewind Dale
I don't remember very much about the Icewind Dale games, but I remember they had Yetis and Yuan-Tis in them, and there was so. very. much. snow. The greatest artistic achievement of Icewind Dale may have been the diversity of environments, because snow tends to make everything look the same. Furthermore, I think if I lived in a place that constantly cold, I would resort to hacking things apart with a sword too. Final point: any game where Jim Cummings does voices is a good game. In case you don't know, Jim Cummings was the voice of Darkwing Duck AND Negaduck AND Winnie the Pooh AND Tigger AND Minsc from Baldur's Gate, making him six kinds of awesome. What does this have to do with snow? Well, nothing, but every hamster has his day.
4: Assassin's Creed 3
As much as I love historical costumes, I know I never would have survived to adulthood prior to about 1950. The way Haytham and Connor trudge through snow and climb across ice-covered trees reminds me that the weather in colonial America was as oppressive as the Redcoats. I guess the cities would have smelled a lot better in winter back then, but still, I'm not sure what's worse: the snow-covered version of Colonial Boston, or the waist-high snow drifts out in the frontier.
3: Uncharted 2
Uncharted 2 reminded me of all the reasons I hate being cold. I can't even watch the snow level where Nate is climbing around in calf-deep snow, hanging off icy walls with no gloves, without feeling a sense of hideous revulsion. Then they add walls of ice and wind and blowing snow and falling icicles of death, and... I want to throw up because at least the puke would be warm. The Himalayas as depicted in Uncharted are, indeed, a beautiful but brutal environment, even without the goat monsters. But they contain Tenzin, and Tenzin manages to be an awesome character despite not speaking any English... or any other common language. This is why I love Naughty Dog: although they're a studio known for their visual achievements, they don't lose sight of story and character, and they introduce new people who suit the places they inhabit. In Tenzin's case, he's tough, but he's quiet, because showboating in avalanche zones will get you killed.
2: Super Mario Bros 3
Super Mario 3 is still one of the greatest video games ever made. I tended to rage in World 6, AKA Iced Land, because I always slipped and fell into holes, but the level designs were incredible and at least Mario came prepared for the weather: either he had fire flowers, which made him, um, fiery, or he had leaves, which turned him into a furry raccoon. There's no definitive word on whether Princess Peach is into yiffing, but at least Mario's dressed for the weather!
1: The Last of Us
No joking on this one: The Last of Us uses the seasons as narrative metaphors as well as gameplay modifiers, and it works so very well. Winter in The Last of Us starts with an adorable white bunny getting arrowed in the guts, and it only gets more brutal from there. The imagery of Ellie killing for food is powerful enough, but the extended metaphor of the hunted deer becomes a symbol of her enduring trauma from the events that unfold in winter. Meanwhile, Joel's frantic search through an intense blizzard when he realizes Ellie is gone is a visual indication of his sense of helplessness. Anyone who claims video games can't be art should be forced to watch The Last of Us.
There are a lot of games with winter/snow in them, that didn't quite make my list. My honorary 9th pick might be Arctic Thunder, the arcade version. It had a neat air-conditioned fan that would blow on you as you raced. But here are a few other games that didn't make it: Assassin's Creed 3, Cryostasis, Nightmare before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Super Mario 64
The General Roundup
Some of the comments from last week I'll address, and some Liana can address. To the person who pointed out I got the system prices wrong, good call. I did have them $100 more than what they actually are so that was off. Liana also wanted to say something, so here is her response:
Liana here. Last week, a few commenters claimed that Marc was being a pervert, and that I was ignoring him and only cared about a new computer. This, obviously, wasn't the case. Marc and I don't see each others lists in advance, so we know that we're not influencing what the other person has picked. His list goes first because he's the more senior contributor to 411 Mania. The interesting thing for us, as people with very different tastes in games, is where the overlap points are. People may not have realized that we don't, as a rule, refer to the other person's list, and therefore, there was the appearance of dialogue where none exists.
But I think some other commenters were just taking cheap shots, because when a person expresses sincere emotions on the internetz, that's just what you do. I get it, but in light of some of the stuff that we now know about online bullying, I don't feel comfortable just letting it pass on that personal a level.
Marc has had an incredibly difficult year. He doesn't talk much about his personal life on this column because it's not the place, but he's been braver and more stoic than most people could ever have been under the circumstances. I won't dump his personal details into cyberspace, but sometimes life just decides to shit on someone to see how tough they are, and Marc has proved he's pretty tough. Through it all, I didn't really think I did much, but last week's column was my first real understanding that I actually helped. That's not a boy/girl thing and it's not a sexual thing. A person's life isn't an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Gamers are fans of the most powerful, emotional stories in any medium, and we don't just watch them. We're an active part of them. And yet we still behave like predatory asshats when it comes to real world emotion. It's getting better though, and guys like Marc are the reason it's improving. I couldn't have written what he wrote and put in online, because I'm too influenced by gamer norms to show any weakness that isn't wrapped in a joke. But I hate that sincere compliments or expressions of emotion are equated with being a pervert, implying that men aren't allowed to have brains or hearts, and every motivation must come straight from the penis. Yes, you don't expect to see heartfelt stuff on a site that has boobie pics of Kate Upton, but have you ever stopped to ask yourselves why?
I'm probably changing no one's mind with these comments, and I don't intend to. I do intend to make it clear that I had no intention of seeming like I was ignoring Marc. If it means anything, I thought what he did was very sweet and very brave, which is very much in character for him. The least I can do is match his bravery, and be glad he's a person who understands friendship... even though he's discovered I'm the most unreliable multiplayer gamer in the world! In the digital age, you don't have to be geographically near someone to play a role in their lives. I'm grateful that I made enough of an impact on him this year for him to say so in his column.