by Mihail Bonev, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 22nd June, 2018
Good Old Games, also fondly referred to as GOG games, are imperfect titles that have long exceeded their rightful time in the limelight and yet - sometimes for intangible reasons - are still greatly celebrated, by a small remaining fanbase.
They are games that still inspire people into digging up installation discs from garages, in the hopes of rekindling fond memories of what for many people, seemed like better times.
GOG games are the games that introduced all of us into gaming as a hobby, regardless of age. If you're 50 now and the first game you ever played was Moonstone, if you're 40 now and the first game you played was the original Age of Empires, if you're 30 now and the first game you played was Warhammer40k or you're 20 or less and the first game you ever played is something along the lines of an Elder Scrolls game or a Prince of Persia game, these are all games that are deeply rooted in our childhood.
These are the games which our parents played when they first got their Pentium type of PC (when laptops didn't even exist, let alone smart phones), the games our uncles or older siblings played on their PlayStations, or even PlayStation 2 (with the vibrating controller!) and the first games most of us played while on a summer school break on our sibling's college laptops or our parent's business PC's (many times undercover as they would be distrustful towards our ability to not mess with their documents and similar "important things" while all we ever wanted to do is play games).
We would play games such as Age of Empires where most of us learned more about history than we actually learned in a history class. Games such as Warcraft 3 in which you, as a holy who Paladin smites evil and fights for his people or an Elder Scrolls game where you build your character to your exact desires and just go on a 8 to 10 hour gaming journey, exploring the world, talking to NPC's (Non Played Characters), exploring their personalities, uncovering conspiracies and trying to save the world from an impending doom in your own, customized style - whether it's a magic caster that smites enemies with elemental spells or a who handed axe wielding barbarian with heavy armor, overpowering enemies and crushing through their whole lines.
This would naturally last until our mother, older sibling or wife/spouse would notice that we've not even gone to pee in the last 10 hours and interrupt our gaming adventure, only complying with their demand simply because we didn't want to push our limits and wanted to repeat the same exact thing again, tomorrow!
The point that I'm trying to make is the fact that what these games lack in graphical appeal, mechanical execution or gameplay design compared to modern games, complement fully something which newer games can't ever hope to achieve; our sense of nostalgia, the feeling of an easier time in life when life was more peaceful (regardless if that's true or not but such is the idea in the head), the feeling of a time where the "concept of gaming" is totally new and exciting.
Unlike today where we for an example might have dozens of games on steam perhaps and still don't know to what to play, at that time we had one or two games which we played with utmost fervor, with no pressure to be competitive, no desire to get faster to the new mission or quest, no desire to beat the game so we can check out another one because we already got bored of it and so forth.
These were times when we explored these functional universes, all different from each other with an open heart and a free mind, absorbing every inch of the aesthetics that the games provided, regardless if it was graphical appeal (good for the time), astounding soundtrack and epic VA (Voice Acting), the option to customize our character to our fantasy desire without bothering if our "spent skill points are optimally placed or not", to explore the game's world and mechanics regardless if there was any type of reward or an official achievement for it or not, except for the personal achievement that you adored every single moment spent in the universe the game presented.
The appeal of GOG games is the fact that it reminds us of times when our minds were freer not in a literal sense but in a sense of how we perceive games. GOG games are games that we played which totally absorbed us in their dimension with no premeditated desire, goal or striving except to simply playing the game however you wanted, doing in it whatever you wanted, exploring every inch of possibility (instead of just reading a professional online guide nowadays), with every discovery being an Eureka!
In a time where you played RTS games (Real Time Strategy) just to experiment with every strategy possible instead of worrying about your APM (actions per minute), when you played RPG games (Role Playing Games) not to mathematically optimize your character to overpower everything in your path but to naturally develop and experiment and even when you battled your friends in multiplayer games you didn't actually do it to beat them but simply to share an experience and have fun; THAT was the time when you played games the way they were meant to be played; to be absorbed and fully enjoyed. After all, it's the experience of the journey that matters, not the benefit of reaching the destination.
Regardless if you didn't have high enough APM to play an RTS optimally, you would simply turtle up (play highly defensively) until you get that awesome high-end army and steamroll your opponent eventually.
Regardless if you got lost in a cave and got killed three times by cave trolls or goblins, you'd still enjoy finally killing that goblin magician and taking his staff, just so you could continue exploring the same dungeon, even though you initially were stuck in, now seeking for secret treasures and secret passages. Regardless if your friend beat you three times in a roll in a multiplayer game, you'd still enjoy having the experience of playing with someone more experienced than you and probably even ask him or her for tips on how to improve. Things were much simpler and probably more innocent back then.
Before we start highlighting specific game titles, there's an important distinction I want to highlight between "GOG" games and "Retro" games.
As I've said, GOG games are literally just really old games that simply don't hold up to the standards of the gaming experience we'd expect from a modern game nowadays, but are highly valued subjectively by people who played them during their childhood or early adulthood, leaving an unforgettable memory.
Retro games in retrospect, are also older games (many times as older than GOG games) but are either really famous, and made initially by indie companies that are now huge enterprises, or were somewhat overplayed later on, much later after their official release. For example "Vampire Bloodlines The Masquerade" was initially underplayed and failed to succeed financially. So much so that it bankrupted the company which made the game, but later went on to became a timeless classic: so popular that people who dabble in programming released a free and a non official patch on a voluntary basis, just so they could help revitalize the game and solve some of the issues, glitches, and bugs the game initially had.
Now, GOG and Retro games aren't mutually exclusive concepts; a game can sometimes fall into both categories at the same time. However, in most cases there's a clear difference between a GOG game, who's main appeal is the praise of the small playerbase it had 10+ years ago, who still play it simply because in some sort it's "their first gaming love" and Retro games that even though were old and are outdated as of now, had a huge playerbase from the very beginning or their sequels were so popular that people went back to play the Retro prequels just so they can more fully experience the storyline of the game or just to "fill in on what they missed by jumping directly into the 3rd sequel" and simply see how the game evolved to the modern masterpiece they initially played and were so impressed by.
Most Retro games are considered "timeless classics" and at this point people who maybe know nothing about the game, nor have even played their sequels, go out of their way to purchase and play an outdated game just so they can see what the fuss was all about.
While there's nothing wrong with that, this type of approach to old games is more a form of reverence for the history of gaming intself, as opposed to being attached by personal memories.
To further simplify things, Retro games are games like Diablo, Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft (vanilla, aka the initial release before any expansions), Halo, Super Mario Bros, Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, the original Warcraft 3 DotA, Need for Speed, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, StarCraft, Unreal Tournament, Quake, Half-Life, Team Fortress, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Heroes of Might and Magic III and so forth.
To further clarify, I'm not saying that these games are bad; in fact, these games are so good that they were so successful in their own time that made the small companies that made those games into enterprise giants today who continue to pump out triple AAA+ games today.
However, while GOG games didn't quite hit the Business Hall of Fame, they certainly did hit the Hall of Fame in the hearts of many people, becaming a living part of the personality of every player they touched, to the point that even though fundamentally flawed in some aspects and definitely not optimized or on par with today's games (or even Retro games), people still go back to them and play them just to revive that feeling they felt playing them all those years ago.
Moonstone is an action RPG (Role Playing Game) which was released in 1991, and it was converted to DOS a full year later, now with both in-game sound and music (yep, it's that old!);
Moonstone takes a really heavy influence from the DnD (Dungeons and Dragons) tabletop game in its game mechanics, with the distinctive difference that it's an action game and not turn-based. As such, the combat is in real time and it requires you to execute your plays precisely, timely and efficiently if you want to progress unlike in a turn-based game where you can take your time to plan out your move.
As such, even for such an old game, it's mechanically challenging. The DnD elements are present in the fantasy setting and in the Attribute distribution system which you can put into Strength, Agility or Stamina as you gain experience with killing enemies to improve your knight in the aspect you desire.
The original Age of Empires is the OG of the OG RTS games when it comes to nonfictional space. It was released in 1997 by none other than Microsoft Studios with an actual purpose to get people into gaming and to help them master their new Operational System, Windows. As such, they did put a lot of work it in and ultimately, it's a beautiful game.
Besides the skirmish mode where you can play vs an AI or a human opponent, there's also a full-fledged campaign with as accurate historical scenarios as they could make them. Plus, before every campaign mission there is a large description with a detailed map of where the battle was taking place and what your objective was. Needless to say, it truly felt as you were a warring battle general.
Age of Wonders is a turn-based RPG, released originally in 1999. Even though the game wasn't that successful, it did produce two sequels with the 2nd one having multiple expansions but the 3rd one being a total overhaul of the game mechanics and being the most recent and naturally, the most played one. Regardless, of all the GOG games, this one is my personal favorite. Age of Wonders is a game in which you play either as a legendary Keeper (peaceful path) or a vengeful Stormlord (dark path).
However, the lore is so complex and intertwined, regardless of which path you chose from the start, you can end up anywhere, from a pure good ending as a Stormlord to a pure evil ending as a Keeper or anything in between. The soundtrack of the game and the general visual aesthetic are truly timeless and I still play it up to today. On top of everything, every single unit in the game has around 100 words flavor text description behind its story, how it came to be and why it has the abilities that it does. I usually spend more time reading the lore of the units rather than playing the game.
Age of Mythology is an RTS, just like Age of Empires with almost identical mechanics but integrates some, well, mythology in it. Instead of fighting accurate historical battles, you battle mystical monsters and their followers with some benevolent ones at your side as well. It was released on October the 30th, 2002.
Warhammer40k; Dark Crusade is a full-fledged expansion game to Warhammer40k; Winter Assault which is then an expansion of the original Warhammer40k, which is an RTS game based on the Warhammer40k tabletop game. So if Dark Crusade has so many predecessors, why am I talking about it? Well, because when the OG Warhammer40k first came out, the devs weren't really sure if was going to get an expansion. After receiving positive feedback, it got the Winter Assault expansion but more as an expansion rather than a full-fledged game.
Having it as well resulting in positive rating, they went on their way and released the first full-fledged Warhammer40k game, the Dark Crusade expansion which not offered the most expansive skirmish mode when compared to the other games, but it also included all (well, almost all) main races from the table top and an amazing campaign where you could play as any of the factions and duke it out on a tabletop style of battle map with each faction holding a "Stronghold" territory.
While most of the battles were just normal skirmish maps with you against the faction to which the territory you attacked belonged, the Stronghold battles had a whole story behind them and were beautiful, borderline handcrafted, playing on the strengths of each faction, giving it an exceptional authentic feeling to the whole campaign. On top of everything, the voice acting in the game is one of the best I've heard and without a joke, sometimes I use VA quotes by specific units as a personal ASMR treatment to help me go to sleep, simply because the units and the heroes in the game are so well voice acted, the VA sucks you in the Warhammer40k universe and makes you feel like you've just teleported to another reality.
The first Prince of Persia game was published in 1989 (yes, THAT long ago, to the point that now you either need to emulate it to play it on a modern laptops or just play the Flash mobile version of it. Prince of Persia is an action platformer where you play as a Persian Prince, convicted to death on his journey throughout the dungeons to reach the princess's room and save her. The game has a sixty minute timer which supposedly the enemy Sultan has given the princess time to decide whether she wants to marry him or die.
Naturally, if you don't beat the game in one hour, the prices refuses and the Sultan kills her. Even though the controls were a tad rigid, for its time the game was a masterpiece and a true adventure to go on to while playing it, supporting high replayability in order to learn the maze, learn the secret location of health potions and eventually manage to beat the timer (and the Sultan along with his goons) to save your beloved princess.
Prince of Persia; The Sands of Time is a third person action platformer inspired by the original 2d Prince of Persia game where you play as the son of a warring Sultan who's attacking an enemy castle. In the battle, you steal an artifact called "The Dagger of Time" which unleashes a form of Armageddon, turning everyone into "Sand Monsters". These new adversaries can only be beaten by an execution move with the dagger, and their death fills up the dagger with the essence of time, giving you the ability to rewind it! It's an amazing game with no real closure, but that's why it got two expansions which resolved the plot issues this original game in the upcoming trilogy left unraveled.
Prince of Persia; The Warrior Within is a direct sequel to the previously mentioned Sands of Time game. This time, the prince is no longer a boy but a man, tortured by his past actions with a desire to change history by going back in time and preventing the Sands of Time from ever being created so he can stop the events that happened in the first game. This game has one of the most beautiful soundtracks of all time (a combination of Arabic/Oriental heavy metal) and a really dark ambient. The prince is been relentlessly haunted by the Dahaka, the invincible guardian of time who wants to stop you from meddling with, well, time.
The game is amazing with a never before seen assortment of different combat combo moves and executions available, with the "Time Reverse" mechanic expanded, now the Prince having even more powerful sand based abilities. As the Prince travels to the "Island of Time" and defeats the Princess of Time, he discovers that as she dies, she actually releases the Sands of Time and creates them, meaning that the Prince is the one that led to the creation of the Sands of Time even before he first used them as the Island has time portals which allow him to travel back and forth in the future. This is why in the opening cinematic, an old Sage tells the Prince that no matter how hard he tries, no man can change his destiny. What a plot twist!
Neverwinter Nights is a third person RPG, released in 2002. Neverwinter Nights is everything that a DnD game is, but animated. Having all of the DnD available classes, the ability to multiclass, the standard DnD stats distribution system and in-depth lore, as even when in combat, as your character fights, what you would manually do in a normal DnD game with the Dice Rolling for Fortitude Saves and Attacks of Opportunity, the game automatically mathematically calculates and shows it on the side.
The game is absolutely beautiful with an incredible storyline and the soundtrack written by none other than Jeremy Soule, the video game music composer who also made the soundtracks for all the Elder Scrolls games and even the Crysis franchise. The opening theme of Neverwinter Nights is so captivating and beautiful I actually have the theme on my phone as an alarm for when my battery is low, just as when my battery is low and my phone is close to "dying", so is the theme representative of the former jewel city of Neverwinter, plagued by a mysterious plague but still presenting hope for both the Crown City in the Northen Lands and for my phone to actually get recharged.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is an action role-playing game, originally released in 2004. While it was initially a financial failure that led the company that made it into bankruptcy, later on there was an unofficial patch released that fixed many of the game breaking issues for the game which led to the game becoming a timeless both GOG and a Retro classic.
It's widely recognized as one of the best vampire games out there, a game in which you play a vampire but in the modern day world where you try to prove yourself as a worthy neonate member of the vampire society while not exposing the existence of vampires to the world, thus not breaking the "Masquerade". Just as in the tutorial section with your first vampire friend named Jack says "In the land of cell phones and cameras, slips ups aren't allowed".
The game is beautiful, has a really in-depth complex storyline and character optimization availability, with a multiple of"clans" of vampires to choose from, every single one with unique powers and flaws and even multiple possible endings. A thing to note is that the game IS NOT PG13, so be respectful and follow the rules. Either way, expect some really explicit stuff in every aspect possible.
The Elder Scrolls franchise is rather a large one and the game I'm alluding to is already the 4th one in the series, with only ES V; Skyrim as its only successor. So why am I accenting this one over the others?
Well, while ES IV; Oblivion is the 4th game in the franchise, it's actually the first one to allow an open world exploration with a multitude of side quests, secret brotherhoods and limitless of caves, dungeons and Oblivion portals to explore and plunder. While its successor, ES V; Skyrim is also an open world action RPG, it's not really a GOG and all of the predecessors of ES IV; Oblivion are arena based sandbox games instead of open world ones. The most recent predecessor, ES III; Morrowind; tries to be an open world RPG but the development of that aspect of the franchise is ultimately truly accomplished with ES IV; Oblivion.
ES IV; Oblivion is a beautiful game with astonishing graphics (even for today's standards!), available for modding and having one of the best soundtracks in the game, composed by, again, none other than the legendary video game soundtrack composer Jeremy Soule. The game offers total character customization, fully voice acted NPC's, a main quest, tons of side quests, secret brotherhoods and what not. For me, it's the first open-world RPG I ever played and just as I turned on the game and saw the intro cinematic with the impeccable opening theme, I knew even before I clicked the option "Start a new game" that I was already hooked. Without a doubt, the game is truly a masterpiece.
Kingdoms of Amalur; Reckoning is a relatively new game for a GOG but still falls in that category, being released in 2012. The game is an action RPG in which the mortal races are fighting for survival against the immortal Fae, with a war that's eventually going to end with the extinction of all the mortal races. You, however, are miraculously reborn from the dead by a machine made in a secret village by a gnome with a goal to help the war efforts of the mortal races by giving them what the Fae have; immortality. Just as you rush through the piles of dead experiments and reach the Professor, the facility is assaulted by Fae and ultimately destroyed, leaving the reason for your miraculous resurrection a mystery with no means to reattempt the process as the whole facility is destroyed.
The game is graphically beautiful, the soundtrack is on par with the works of Jeremy Soule even though not his, with full NPC voice acting and an interesting twist to the "Elves versus Mortals" lore. The game offers a multitude of fighting styles, split into three categories; Strength, Finesse and Might. As you level up you can spend points in either one at your desired rate and as you spend enough, you gain "destiny benefits" regarding how you spent your points. You can be a full-on brawler, a battle mage with a mix of Strength and Magic or a blademaster with points in finesse and strength both. If you're willing to experiment, you can put in all trees and you can even be a "jack of all trades". The thing is, the more widely you spread your points, the better "destiny benefits" you receive as the game doesn't want you to have to put points into one or max two trees, but in all if you want and still remain viable and powerful. It's just the game's way of telling you "Thank you for experimenting" and I really appreciated that in my playthrough.
While Plants vs Zombies is ultimately a children's tower defense type of game, released initially in 2011 on PC and then later on both iOS and Android, the ingenious humor that the game provides with the actual depth in your options to choose which "plants aka turrets/towers" to take in battle makes it interesting even for grown people who want to play a laid back single player tower defense game. As you progress through the game, you unlock new plants, tougher enemies and even new game modes (for an example, in the night time mode you can't use your normal plants as they're asleep/idle but need to rely on nocturnal plants to do the job, totally shifting the pace of the game). You can also select a set number of plants per mission, so you'll need to plan your picks carefully.
Last but not least, we have Jets'n'Guns, my favorite 2d "shoot-em-up" action scroller which is all about, well, jets and guns. You play as a FULLY CUSTOMISABLE freelancer space pilot, hunting down pirates, slavers and bioterrorist with your jet, equipping it with more and more powerful guns as you progress through the game and also improving your ships characteristics such as giving it more health or faster "cooling system" which allows you to fire more frequently. Eventually, you can even equip it with rockets, bombs, guided missiles, a bounty hunter license, an income investment making your credits gains larger by a % and even a camera to broadcast your carnage in an in-game live show where people watch you demolish bases of futuristic bioterrorists and aliens while cheering for you and giving you money if you put up a good show.
And trust me when I say that it's really hard to not put up a good show. While the game is not technically a "bullet storm" game, there is A LOT OF SHOOTING, AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF CARNAGE and the greatest amount of explosions I've seen a game allow me to put out with a limitless arsenal of futuristic weapons from rapid firing futuristic dual miniguns to laser beams with width about 1/5 of the screen when fired and 2/3 of your cooling capacity per one shot.
If you just want to kill some time with the most action packet, loudest, bloodiest 2D scroller shooter out there in existence, backed up by an awesome soundtrack that makes you feel like a real bounty hunter who's really enjoying his job, this is definitely a game you should take a look at.