Silver

Silver is a bit of a cult-classic among RPGs. Unfortunately, because it was released around the same time as Baldur’s Gate 2 and Diablo 2, it never really got the widespread attention it deserved. The game was also released on SEGA Dreamcast in 2000. In recent years, the original PC version had become buggy and downright unplayable on modern machines, but there is now an updated version available on Steam.

Story
The game is set in the world of Jarrah. David, the protagonist, is introduced when his wife Jennifer is kidnapped along with all the other women in his village to satiate the desires of the evil sorcerer Silver. While trying to rescue his betrothed, David gradually learns of Silver’s true goals, and how those do not necessarily involve a fun time for the rest of Jarrah. The story itself is not all that special, but it serves the rest of the game well. Many of the dialogues are well-written, and there is a very rich cast of memorable NPCs.

Graphics
The game combines two different techniques to craft its own unique graphical style. The player, the NPCs, enemies and most of the interactive game objects are represented by a low-poly 3d model. While these obviously look rather dated, their animation is still surprisingly good. The main graphical feature, however, are the monumental, pre-rendered backdrops. The image quality of these has faded a bit over the years, but the designs are still amazing.

Controls and UI
The controls are quite different from a lot of its contemporaries and still feel fresh and responsive. Silver uses an elaborate input system of mouse clicks and swipes that allow you to perform several different types of attacks. As long you perform the correct input command, you can slash, sweep and lunge in any direction as well as block incoming attacks. (But why equip a shield when you could dual-wield swords? Madness! Madness, I say!) The system is pretty intuitive as well, so it really is a major bonus and one of the main reasons the game still has a dedicated fan base today.

Sound
The sound design is excellent. In many regions of the game there’s no real background music, but there’s always some appropriate ambient sound (e.g. chirping birds, leaking sewage pipes). When the background music does appear, it’s always dramatic classical music, which really adds to the epicness of the scenes. The voice acting is outstanding, which lends most of the NPCs bucketloads of character.

Gameplay
There’s combat with mobs of enemies, boss fights, puzzles and a bit of exploration in the game. Combat is the main course, though, and it’s usually a bit on the easy side. The enemy AI isn’t very aggressive and as a result combat tends to be rather easy. Some bosses are a bit more challenging, but overall the game is definitely on the easy side.

When a PC-game is close to two decades old, things starts going wrong. The original PC version had become literally unplayable, but the steam version runs very well on modern machines. However, I have experienced a crash or two. Both times this happened right before a save point, which was a bit frustrating. Because of the spacing of the save points, you rarely have replay more than 10 minutes, though.
More annoying is the fact that at a certain point in the game there’s a timing-based puzzle. Because modern machines have increased the frame rate, what used to be a fairly easy puzzle has become a veritable nightmare. I passed it after around 10 minutes of trying, but I’ve read accounts of people being stuck for hours. There’s only one such puzzle I know of, and with some help from YouTube you should be able to complete the puzzle too.

Verdict
Even two decades after being published and in a world with an incredible amount of competitors, Silver is still worth your time. The controls are still innovative, the graphics hold their own, the music is as good as ever and the few times the game did glitch out never prevented it from being a really nice experience. The game is super cheap so you have no excuse not to play it.

Firewatch

Firewatch is a first-person point-and-click adventure released in 2016.

Story
It tells a story of grief and loss that will appeal mostly to people aged 30 or more. The main story is told through a series of radio conversations between Henry, a man in his early 40s, and his supervisor, Delilah. The game does an admirable job in having both Henry and the player quickly form a bond with what is essentially just a voice on the radio. This is in no small part due to the excellent voice acting. Suspense keeps the story moving and makes sure it doesn’t become stale. There are several interesting story lines throughout the game, but unfortunately the ending doesn’t manage to conclude these properly.

Graphics
The game’s cartoony style works surprisingly well for nature, and the lighting is excellent. The environments you encounter are also quite varied: you’ll spend time in the forests or by the lake, hike through a canyon, go spelunking in caves, there’s something here for everybody. The engine can be a bit choppy at times, but it’s not so severe that it breaks the magic.

Controls and UI
The controls and interface are quite barebones, which allows the player to focus more on the story. You’re eased into the controls, but the game sneakily withholds telling you that you can run until later on, once you’re already used to the more laid-back pace of walking around. You can even hide what little user interface you do have. One thing I’d recommend is turning off your location on the map, this makes the game much more immersive and realistic.

Sound
The sound design is excellent in its minimalism. There’s the occasional subdued guitar at key points in the story, but really it’s mostly wind, birds and silence.

Gameplay
The vast majority of the game is spent walking from one place to another, and that’s exactly the point. Walking through the woods and enjoying the way the light plays through the leaves is what it’s all about. Firewatch embodies the journey being the destination. You just walk, occasionally consulting your map and compass. You might stumble upon supplies, or if you’re of the lawful good alignment, the game even lets you clean up other people’s trash.

Unfortunately, exploration both in the physical world as well as through dialogue options is rather linear. While you can sidetrack, wander around a bit or change how Delilah responds depending on what dialogue option you chose, ultimately the game always shepherds you in a single, preset direction. Many people expect to make meaningful decisions and that is something you just cannot do in this game.

Verdict
Both the games industry and its audience have matured to the point where a story about grief and loss in a package that is mostly devoid of any action can still turn heads. While the game has its flaws, the graphical style, excellent voice acting and general atmosphere of the game will make sure you’ll revisit the forests of Wyoming more often than you’d think.