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4 Steam Games That Actually Stood The Test Of Time

On December 31st, 2016,  the winners of the first annual community-voted steam awards were announced. In a shocking display of the failure of democracy, the “Test of Time Award”, presumably intended to showcase the greatest classics of gaming’s rich history, went to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game barely 5 years old and still readily available on current-gen consoles. Having spent the intervening time raving hysterically about the unfairness of it all, I have now set out to remedy this terrible injustice to the games of the past by compiling a handy list of just some of the classic games that still hold up today and that you can buy, right now, on Steam.

If you’re an old hand, you’ll probably recognize at least some of these. If you’re a newcomer, you might find some new favorites. If you voted for Skyrim… well, there might still be hope for you if you read this list.

 

1.Rome: Total War

Originally released in 2004, Rome: Total War remains one of the best strategy games ever made. Placing the player in command of one of the noble houses of Rome (or at the helm of various other unlock-able nations), it tasks them with a single goal: To conquer the ancient world and eventually seize the city of Rome itself. Like the other games in the Total War series, Rome combines turn based grand strategy with real time battle tactics, creating an immersive and addictive experience.

Each turn begins with you viewing an impressively huge map of Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, replete with cities to besiege and territories to conquer. There’s a lot to do here: You’ll need to construct city upgrades, train units, move armies, adjust tax rates, negotiate alliances (a generally futile task given the rabid aggressiveness of the AI, but quite handy if you can manage it) and keep an eye on the movements of your enemies. The game strikes a perfect balance between depth and accessibility, with most tasks being accomplished with only a few clicks of the mouse. For players who just want to skip all this nonsense and get to the bloodshed, many tasks can be automated, though the AI is prone to making some dubious choices on your behalf.

Once your constructions are built, your armies prepared, and your taxes set, it’s time for the real action. Battles play out in real time, with your forces lining up against the enemies in numbers that few games can match. Even with the games now dated graphics, hundreds of soldiers crashing into each other is an impressive sight. There’s more to the game than just watching the mayhem though, as strategy plays a key role in the proceedings. Positioning and morale and the two most important factors to watch. A cavalry unit surrounded by enemy spear-men is little more than a speedbump, but that same unit charging the enemy flank can send their whole army into  disarray and hand you an easy victory. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, and learning to exploit them and throw numerically superior foes into a panic makes you feel like a real general.

You’ll be learning for a while, as Rome‘s wide variety of units is one its most noticeable features. Each army has its own fighting style, ranging from the disciplined infantry advance of the Romans to the wild charges favored by barbarian armies, so you’re sure to find one that suits you. Most of the armies are fairly well balanced against each other as well, so victory is determined by who can best analyse their opponent’s vulnerabilities rather than just by who picks the best army. Of course, creating all these varied and interesting armies sometimes necessitated a departure from historical accuracy (I’m not sure throwing severed heads at the enemy has ever been considered a viable battle tactic), but that’s a minor issue when the game is this much fun.

Other Total War games may come and go, but Rome endures as a monument to the heights the series can achieve.

 

  1. Worms

There are a lot of old games in the world, but how many can claim to have started a series that remains essentially unchanged 20 years later? Worms, released in 1995, can make that claim, being different from it’s 2016 descendant Worms:WMD only in the details. Click play on this old relic, and you enter a world is still immediately recognizable: two (or more) teams of worms face off over a randomly generated, fully destructible, landscape. Armed with bazookas, grenades, dynamite, and a variety of other weapons, they attempt to blast one another from a distance in turn based shootouts, accounting for wind and geography to land the perfect shot. When hit, they utter squeaky catch-phrases before exploding, leaving behind a tiny grave marker. A player could leap from the most modern Worms games all the way back to the most primitive, and find the core ideas nearly identical.

Admittedly, there have been a few changes in the two decades since the release of the original Worms. New weapons have been added, expanding the Worms arsenal with giant donkey statues and exploding bishops. Graphics have been enhanced, replacing hideous, low-detail, sprites with attractive, colorful, characters. Occasionally, the series has even experimented with new mechanics, such as the vehicles found in WMD.

With all these updates and refinements, it might seem that there’s not much point to going back the series’s roots, but the first game still has its charms. The limited weapon variety makes the game feel more focused: Instead of wildly hammering away with absurd super weapons, you have to rely on the classic bazooka, so learning its flight trajectory and explosive potential takes on a great deal of importance. Battles feel a little more like tests of skill and accuracy than the anarchic chaos often seen in later games. They are also a little shorter, making this the perfect game for Worms fans who only have a few minutes to kill.

Worms probably isn’t a game you’ll play everyday, or even that often. It just feels too unpolished compared to the games that came after. Give it a chance though, and you’ll find this piece of gaming history is still very playable.

 

  1. YS Chronicles

Technically, Ys Chronicles was released on the PSP in 2009. This release, however, was a remake of the original Ys I:Ancient Ys Vanished-Omen and Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished-The Final Chapter, which were released way back in the late 1980’s. It’s a testament to the quality of the game that, even after almost 30 years, the core gameplay still feels fresh and unique.

Ys is a JRPG, but uses real time combat instead of the more common turn based battles.  Unlike most real-time JRPG’s though, Ys doesn’t bother with anything so pedestrian as an attack button. The hero, Adol Christin, faces his enemies the manly way: by running head first into them. Hit the enemy off-center or from the side, and Adol will quickly devastate the foe with a flurry of sword strikes. Misjudge your angle, and you’ll feel the pain as the enemy’s retaliatory strikes wipe out a huge chunk of your health bar. This “Bump Combat” system has never, to my knowledge, been seen in any game since, which is a terrible shame as it’s a lot of fun. It produces what may be the fastest paced RPG of all time, with Adol careening wildly around the dungeon, crashing into enemies in battles that are determined in the blink of an eye. Quite a departure from the norm in a genre known for it’s plodding, slow paced, combats, but one that more games should seek to emulate.

Even the boss fights are rapid affairs, rarely taking more than a few minutes. If you can beat them that is, which is far from guaranteed. The Ys series has a reputation for brutally difficult bosses that is clearly well earned. Pinpoint accuracy, lightning reflexes, an ability to memorise attack patterns, and a high tolerance for failure are all prerequisites if you want to have any chance at al of seeing the end credits. That said, the bosses are rarely unfair. When you lose, which you will, it’s almost always because you made a mistake, rather than because of dumb luck or cheap attacks. Every boss is thus a chance to hone, test, and show off your skills, which makes each well earned victory extremely satisfying.

Finally, no discussion of Ys Chronicles would be complete without a mention of the soundtrack. The already acclaimed, though now rather dated, soundtrack of the original game has been tuned up for Chronicles to produce what can only be described as a masterpiece of video game music. An intense barrage of electric guitar solos more suited to a rock concert than a video game, it contains some of the most inspiringly epic tracks you’ll ever hear. Blasting through a dungeon and mowing down enemies is fun enough on its own, but combine it with such a great soundtrack ad you’re looking at a game that has truly earned its place in history.

 

  1. Jet Set Radio

The Dreamcast was home to a lot of “cult classics”, which is to say “games that no one played, but that a couple of people on the internet thought were really cool”. Jet Set Radio was one of those games, and it’s not hard to see why. Every inch of this bizarre platformer/skating game oozes a unique style that can only be described as “funky”. Or perhaps “radical”, “groovy”, or “gnarly”. Basically, it’s extremely nineties, despite actually being released in 2000.

Stepping into the ultra-cool skate-shoes of a graffiti artist named Beat, players leap, skate, and race their way across the streets of Tokyo-to, attempting to impress other equally hip youths with their graffiti skills. In practice, this mostly means performing a series of timed challenges in which the objective is to explore the the games large, open levels to find other gangs graffiti, which can the be painted over using spray cans that are also found throughout the stage. Matters are complicated somewhat by Tokyo-tos extremely aggressive police force, which responds to your youthful shenanigans with riot squads, tear gas, and helicopters. The police are just the start of your problems though, because sinister forces are at work in Tokyo-to, attempting to conquer the world through some ludicrous plot involving a cursed vinyl record. Authority is bad, skating is good, and everyone dresses like an explosion in a bad nightclub. Like I said, it’s very nineties.

Honestly, the game-play feels a little rough these days. Like many experimental Dreamcast classics, not everything was as polished as it could have been, and control issues and difficulty spikes might leave less patient players feeling cold. When it works though, it really works, and there’s no better feeling than soaring gracefully from rail to rail, grabbing paint cans, tagging the walls and running circles round the cops without ever stopping for breath.

Game-play aside, the real draw for a modern audience is the aesthetics. Jet Set Radio was an early pioneer of cell-shaded graphics, giving the game a bright, cartoony vibe. The city feels vibrant, the character designs are distinctive, and the outfits thread the line between cool and ludicrous. The soundtrack is equally great, a mix of hip-hop, jazz and dance music that really brings the action to life. You don’t see many games that look or sound like this anymore, which makes Jet Set Radio well worth playing even if only as a relic of gaming’s strange, quirky, and slightly embarrassing past.



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