So aside from laying around sick for most of my vacation, I did manage to accomplish a few other things, mostly before I fell ill. I solved two games, Call of Duty 2 and Gothic II Gold (which includes the Night of the Raven expansion pack). Call of Duty 2 was superb. It brings basically nothing new to the first person shooter table, but it’s consistently entertaining, superbly executed, has excellent graphics, and absolutely fantastic audio. In fact the closest it comes to innovating is in the audio department – it’s the most immersive first person shooter I’ve played and this is largely due to how well done the audio is. It’s quite nerve wracking to play, as your teamates shout in anger or pain, bullets whiz by, things blow up around you, and the screen shakes with the impact of various explosions. The multiplayer is a letdown though – very few maps, spastic bunnyhopping gameplay, and rampant cheating. I barely bothered with it. Highly recommended nonetheless – best shooter I played this year by far.
Gothic II goes down as one of my favorite games of all time. I loved the original and the sequel is more of the same plus better graphics, a longer story, and a much larger area to explore. I got to the end of chapter 5 when the game originally shipped then went through a machine rebuild and lost my savegames due to a snafu during the rebuild. When I started playing the gold edition I wasn’t sure I would be able to play through so much of the content again, but the expansion pack material plus the quality of the game made it if anything more compelling than the first time through. If you’re not familiar with the series, imagine starring in a mediocre quality epic fantasy novel, with full speech for the characters in the game, a somewhat living world (people wake up, go to work, eat, sleep, argue, wander around, remember you if you do them harm or help them), a huge 3d world to explore, arcade combat tied to your character’s statistics, and a variety of skills you can learn (alchemy, different schools of combat and magic, animal skinning, lock picking, plus several others) and enhance over time. The plot won’t win any awards but it’s at least equal to most of what the genre typically offers and it features a nice twist at the end that sets things up for Gothic III, which will ship sometime this year.
If you played the original but not the expansion pak, it’s worth a look. The pak adds another large region to explore, fleshes out several factions, fills in some holes in the plot, and re-balances the combat and experience system to make things more challenging towards the end of the game. An unfortunate consequence of this is that things are much tougher in the beginning.
The game series is consistently criticised for its control scheme. It never bothered me. Maybe it’s because I play so many games and find it easy enough to adapt to a variety of control schemes, but I don’t even get why people complain. It takes less than 10 minutes to adjust and it’s not like it’s complicated – compared to, say, trying to master the control system in something like Tekken 5 or insert your beatemup of choice, it’s trivial. The game is also available for under $20, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better entertainment value. All told I spent almost 40 hours running around inside gothic II’s little world, and I loved almost all of it. Check it out if you’re a fan of fantasy rpgs.