A quick overview of the games I have played recently…

Far Cry

Pure bliss.  This game is absolutely gorgeous in 1600×1200 with all
details turned on and it offers a tremendous amount of variety.  It is also
surprisingly long and I thought I had finished it a couple of times until I
realized that the plot was unfolding further.  I also liked the scenario,
which starts with a simple plot and slowly turns into a full-scale Doom-like
adventure.  But what keeps you going and going is just the constant hunger
to discover where the next level will take you… Dune buggy?  Glider? 
Patrol boat?  Jeep?  Carrier?  Helicopter?

Interestingly, the show "Lost" that is currently airing reminds me a lot of
Far Cry…

Doom 3

Undoubtedly a fantastic technical achievement but after Far Cry, Doom 3 bored
me pretty quickly.  I gave Doom 3 a fair chance to get me hooked and I
played about one third of it until I simply got tired of wandering in dark
corridors, waiting for the next alien to jump me from behind a closet.  I
didn’t install the "duct tape" mod, which allows you to have your flashlight on
at all times, since I wanted to play the game the way it was designed, and I
honestly didn’t find it to be as frustrating as some other players have. 
Having said that, while the constant darkness is guaranteed to make you jump on
your seat on more than one occasion, the sad truth is that it probably hides
most of the game’s technical brilliance.

Experts will probably argue that Doom 3 is one generation ahead of Far Cry
(which is at least chronologically true) but I’ll take fun and variety over
technical brilliance any day.  Especially since I think Far Cry certainly
holds its grounds visually.

Exit Doom 3 then…

More recently, I have had a renewed craving for a good old Real Time Strategy
(RTS) game that would match Rise of Nations, so I looked in the direction
of Rome: Total War (RTW) and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (DOW).

Rome:  Total War

I spent a few hours on RTW, playing a battle and trying to get a feel
for the campaign map but I can’t say the game took me in.  Maybe I need to
spend more time on it but my initial impression is that mixing battlefield and
campaign doesn’t work very well, especially since you can automatically resolve
the battlefield campaign.  I am curious to hear from veterans RTW
players:  do you still play the battlefields at all after many hours?

I also had a hard time getting a good grasp of how certain key concepts of
the games are connected and how they play out together.  Maybe I am missing
out and I should spend more time on it, but I distinctly remember feeling very
much connected to Civilization right away, and its manual weighed a hefty 120
pages…

So I switched my focus to Dawn of War.

Warhammer 40,000:  Dawn of War

It’s pretty easy to be seduced by the sheer beauty of the game.  It’s
fun.  Pure, unedited, mindless, childish fun.  A lot of colored units,
great voice-overs, detailed animations that even now I find myself zooming into
(especially when a mech eviscerates a whole platoon).  And the combat
scenes…  oh my.  Lasers, missiles, grenades, and this is just in the
very beginning, I bet more sophisticated units will be coming up for even more
eye candy.

But is it the real-time strategy game I am looking for?

Certainly not.

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First of all, the missions are very directed.  It’s not an all-out
battle with one team in each corner of the map and letting them duke it out. 
There is a story line and the levels follow it.  A frustrating aspect of
this is that some technology that is available at a certain level might be
grayed out at the next level.  This goes against my intuition, and against
simple common sense.  The best RTS games will not only provide you a gentle
tutorial but the missions themselves will slowly bring you up to speed with the
units you can use, and this progressive learning is the only way you can truly
master even an RTS game as complex as Civilization or Rise of Nations.

But overall, I just find that a simple way of winning at DOW is to rush. 
Plain and simple rush.  If it doesn’t work the first time, fall back,
regroup, reconstitute your army and try again.  Watch over your resources
and your energy, and you will inch your way into the computer’s field, who
doesn’t seem to be smart enough to reconstruct while you are rebuilding your
army of minions.  That’s disappointing.  Or maybe I should play at a
more difficult level.

Until then, I find myself going back to DOW once in a while because it’s
mindless, doesn’t need to much thinking or too much context and you can dive
right back into a game that you left several days ago. 

If you liked Warcraft 3, you will love Dawn of War.  If
you are more the Rise of Nations type, the title of best RTS to date is
still up for grabs.

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Myst 4 : Revelation

And finally, I have found myself being suckered into Myst for the
fourth time (well, a bit more than that if you count Uru and its
extension packs).

Myst 4:  Revelation is a pure gem.  It’s by far the Myst
episode that strikes the best balance between jaw-dropping sceneries,
mesmerizing ambiance and reasonably hard puzzles.

Contrary to Uru (which would deserve an entry of its own), Myst 4
is not in full 3D.  It uses the same navigation technique as the previous
three episodes (discrete moves) but each location can be fully viewed in 360
degrees and above you (in other words, you can look around).  While I was
quite disappointed by this apparently step back from Uru, I got used to
it pretty quickly and since the familiar Zip locations are present, it’s fairly
easy to move around (with a notable exception, see below).

As I said above, what I like most about Myst 4 is this impression that
the puzzles are actually solvable by a non-lateral human thinker (that is: me). 
Uru was disappointing in this, as I found that I could never have solved
some puzzles in my lifetime other than by reading the walkthrough. 

Myst 4 is the opposite, and the very first puzzle you will face
(restoring the power of your base of operations) will give you a good idea of
what lies ahead.

But you need to have a very good eye for details.  And in doubt, not
hesitate to take a picture, because most of the time, it will come in handy
later.

Myst 4 takes you through several ages, each more beautiful than the
previous one (I am almost done with the third one right now) and while the size
of each world is daunting at first, it’s only a matter of time before you get
familiar with the various areas you can explore and you figure out how they
relate to each other.

Unfortunately, this also happens to be the only bad thing about Myst 4
it’s easy to get lost.

And I don’t mean losing yourself, I mean:  overlooking certain locations
because finding your way is everything but easy.  If there is one thing
missing from this otherwise-perfect adventure game, it’s a way to tell what the
possible paths are every time you reach a new location.

Barring this, the puzzles are quite enthralling and always logical.  If
you didn’t miss any location, an idea of how each age level will slowly form in
your mind as you discover new pieces of the puzzle and nothing is more thrilling
than when you can finally put your theory to the test and see it work (I even
found myself writing down a finite-state automaton once, although obviously, you
can certainly solve this problem differently and the only thing you really need
is simple common sense).

Overall, Myst 4: Revelation is one of the most immersive games I have
played in a long time, and I recommend it to not only Myst lovers but you
anyone curious to try something new.