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Gaming In Isolation

The Covid-19 lockdown has been hard for some of us. People have had to deal with it in a variety of different ways. I know personally I have had some very challenging days but I’m lucky in that I have my wife and Rocky to keep me company. As the lockdown is ending in some places and restrictions are being loosened in others, there are still some areas that have strict guidelines in who we can and can’t meet. I’ve decided to put together a small list of single-player games that I enjoyed, some I’ve played during the restrictions period, and others I’ve just sank hours in to.

Dragon Quest XI

Let’s get the obligatory JRPG out of the way (it won’t be the last one I’m afraid). Dragon Quest XI is a traditional JRPG from Square Enix. Originally released in 2017, the game sees you take control of the Destined Hero as he sets out on a journey to discover his past. Along the way you’ll meet a whole host of characters, from the charming Sylvando to the deadly Jade. The plot itself is basic enough but there are some interesting twists and to truly finish the story, you’ll need to play the post game content too.

Game-play wise, the game is your standard turn based affair. You control up to four characters in battle, each with their own unique set of skills. You can also customise your character using the Skill Panel. The Skill Panel allows you some degree of freedom when building your party. You can allocate points to certain weapon skills, allowing your characters to become more efficient in one style initially before branching off into another. This then helps you unlock new skills and spells to utilise in combat.

Graphically, the game looks gorgeous (as you’d expect) and has all the Dragon Quest charm you’ll come to know if you’re a fan of the series. The sound department is where the game has flaws. The version I played used MIDI instead of a real orchestra. While not overly noticeable, there are moments where it can stand out. For a full explanation of the sound, I’d recommend Stop Skeletons From Fighting’s Post Mortem episode on it.

I easily sunk over 100 hours into this game, doing everything in order to get the Platinum Trophy. Some areas can feel tedious, like the blacksmith, but overall I really enjoyed this game and it’s probably my favourite JRPG of this generation.

Available on PlayStation 4, Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Metal Gear Solid

You could literally pick any entry in the MGS series for this. I’ve gone with the original as it’s a great place to start. Originally released in 1998 (or 1999 in Europe), the game sees you take control of Solid Snake as you sneak around Shadow Moses. The game-play encourages you to be stealthy, trying to avoid combat as much as possible. It also has some excellent meta moments, from the code on the back of the CD case to the Psycho Mantis boss fight.

At the time, the game looked amazing. I still think it looks great and is probably one of the few PlayStation games to have aged well. The music is riveting and haunting in places. The camera is often well placed, allowing you to see obstacles and the mini-map is a great help when locating security cameras and guards. In the Twin Snakes remake on the GameCube, they added in a First-Person camera similar to Metal Gear Solid 2. Spread across two discs, the game is not the longest on the list but it’s still a blast to play through.

This is one of my favourite games of all time. From the stealth game-play to the inventive boss fights, I loved every minute of it. The plot can be a little convoluted at times but that’s all part of the Kojima charm. Just remember to save often. You don’t want Revolver Ocelot reminding you that you haven’t saved in a while!

Available on PlayStation, PlayStation 3 and GameCube

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

To truly understand this masterpiece, here’s a quote from one of the game’s most memorable characters, “I am the Great Mighty Poo and I’m going to throw my sh*t at you!” Is that enough to get your attention? Good. Released on the Nintendo 64 in 2001, you guide Conker as he makes his way home after a night on the sauce. That’s pretty much the plot. You’ll get into all sorts of hi-jinks along the way, including helping a bee, fighting against Teddys and battling the Great Mighty Poo. The game is full of pop-culture references too.

Released late in the N64’s life, the game holds up surprisingly well today although it is recommended you play the Rare Replay version for a number of reasons. The world itself is colourful, as you’d expect from a Rare game, but the language is also “colourful” (which is a bit of a departure from Rare’s norms”). The music ranges from chirpy to orchestral to spooky and compliments each level well. Unlike the Banjo games, Bad Fur Day is not a collectathon so it won’t take you too long to get through.

Personally I love the crass humour and the movie references. The game controls well on the N64 despite having only one analogue stick. There are moments when it can be frustrating, such as the lava race, but never enough to make you want to stop playing. Sadly, the original N64 cart is expensive but this version is a part of the Rare Replay compilation on Xbox One. There is Live & Reloaded on the original Xbox that did have some graphical enhancements but there was some censorship so it’s best to try the Rare Replay version.

Available on Nintendo 64, Xbox and Xbox One

Mass Effect Trilogy

This one is a bit of a cheat but I always play through all three games to get the full experience of the Mass Effect universe. Each game has its own strengths and weaknesses but the shared character data makes it a must to play them together.

Mass Effect is the most dated out of the three (it makes sense since it’s the oldest). The game-play is more tactical RPG than straight up third-person shooter. Getting to grips with each character’s strengths and weaknesses can make the difference between life and death, especially on the higher difficulties. Graphically, the Xbox 360 version (the only one I’ve played) suffers a lot of texture pop-ups. The story is well put together and certain scenes can play out differently depending on what skills or items you’ve acquired. The side-missions can range from fun to annoying, especially the Mako sections.

The second game improves on a lot of aspects of the original. The combat is much more smooth yet retains the tactical aspect. The graphics look a lot crisper and the Mako is gone. Each character has a loyalty mission, which can make a difference to the suicide mission. The side-quests add more narrative than the first game and it’s great to see some returning characters.

The final entry in the Trilogy refines the combat even more. The graphics look even better than the previous entry and the music is delightfully haunting as it signals the climatic end to Sherpard’s journey. The side-missions come in two forms, large narrative driven ones and smaller traditional side quests. It’s also interesting to see how the decisions made in the first Mass Effect can have an impact on this entry. A lot has been said about the controversial ending but the game has a lot more going for it and is well worth playing through.

Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Steam

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

I’m going to put my hands up and say I haven’t played this one but my wife has spent many an hour on it. The amount of time you can spend making your island feel like an extension of you is amazing. Looking through some of the layouts on Twitter, it shows how much attention and care people can put in to this game. This also means that, while the graphics are colorful, the detail of your island is entirely up to you.

Released this year, New Horizons is another entry in the highly addictive Animal Crossing series. You can play this one on your own, catching bugs to sell and getting materials to build up your town, or you can visit a friend to see how their island is turning out. My wife insists on getting up early on a Sunday so she can get to the market to buy some turnips. That has to be a good level of dedication, right? You can also import your own unique designs into the island to give it a more personalised feel. I’ve seen some incredibly creative designs, ranging from Final Fantasy to the character select screen for Super Mario Kart.

Available on Nintendo Switch

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Well, I told you Dragon Quest XI wouldn’t be the last JRPG but this one is more action based. A Remake of the 1997 classic, you take control of Cloud and co. as they start their epic journey. The game is based entirely in Midgar, a small section of the original game. However, the city has been fleshed out and there are new areas to explore. Graphically, the game can range from absolutely stunning to average. The character models are fantastic but the generic NPCs are the typical Square Enix template. The game also suffers from some texture issues every now and again.

The extra content is enjoyable, especially the Train Graveyard section. There is some filler in the chapters, for example I found Chapter 17 to be bloated, but nothing too severe or off-putting. The side quests range from fun distractions to annoying fetch quests. The prime example of these annoying fetch quests would be one at the beginning where you have to find three cats for a girl. Materia also returns from the original game and is both necessary as a battle mechanic and a stats booster. Sadly, maxing out the materia no longer causes it to create a duplicate.

The main characters have been wonderfully fleshed out and their voice cast really do bring them to life. The addition of new scenes also makes you more invested in the other members of avalanche. The combat is incredibly smooth and a joy to engage in. On Classic, you are given more time to plan your actions tactically. On Hard, you still have to work out a strategy but you must conserve your MP wherever possible. I loved most of the game except the last chapter. However, this shouldn’t diminish what the rest of the game does fantastically well and you may even take a different stance when you get there.

Available on PlayStation 4

I hope you enjoyed these suggestions. Do you have any recommendations that helped you during the lockdown or that you think people should experience? If so, you can let me know in the comments.

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