Tell gamers they need to remain indoors and keep “socially distant” from other people and you won’t hear any complaints. We’re a solitary lot.
Since March, some of us at the Inlander have finally been able to log time into some of our favorite games. Some are indie classics that continue to stir our imaginations (like the appropriately plague-themed Pathologic 2). Others are major releases you’ve no doubt heard of before (Doom Eternal). All of them we highly recommend.
Maybe when we’re given the all-clear and life resumes to normal, we’ll go outside. Maybe…
Here’s what we’ve been playing:
Ever since the world started going to hell, I’ve become more and more fascinated with leaving it. Lately, I keep coming back to Surviving Mars, a real-time strategy game based on establishing a permanent colony on the red planet. Each Surviving Mars game begins with a rocket ship loaded with a customizable list of drones, rovers and prefabricated buildings. Players must first develop self-sustaining infrastructure for their colony, such as energy, life support, and building materials. Once established, it’s time to start populating! But which applicants do you bring first? Astrogeologists? Botanists? Doctors? Surviving Mars is a critical thinking game that keeps your brain humming on the possibilities of space even after you turn it off. Plus, its faux radio station the “Red Frontier” has a bangin’ playlist full of original sci-fi Western tunes. Available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
Pathologic 2 is the video game about a plague that is blowing my mind right now. Set in the early 20th century in a small town on the Russian steppe, you play a doctor who has returned home after receiving a disturbing letter from your father. There’s a sickness overcoming your town, and it’s up to you to stop it. The haunting atmosphere and gloomy visuals plant this game firmly in the horror genre, but there’s more to it than that. Pathologic 2 immerses the player in a first-hand study in death, disease and folklore. Try as you might, you won’t be able to save everyone. Your decisions (or indecisions) will follow you wherever you go. This is a tough game to play, and it will have you second-guessing everything you do. That’s all by design, though. There aren’t many games that dig into your soul the way this one does. Available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
Subnautica has done to me what no other video game has. Despite its bright blue tropical colors, this game is pure nightmare fuel. This game plays like a space exploration game, except that almost all of it takes place under the surface of an ocean planet. Replace those majestic celestial bodies floating in the distance with highly aggressive alien leviathans. Your space ship crashed on an ocean planet. You are the sole survivor. But before you can build yourself a rocket ship to escape, you have to search for wreckage hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface. Subnautica reaches down and touches two of our most primal fears: darkness and isolation. I’m equally allured by the game’s open-world exploration as I am terrified by what I might find. Available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
Why avoid the plague when you could just be the plague? At least that’s the idea in Sea Salt, a game that combines retro 16-bit graphics with the stylings of H.P. Lovecraft. You are Dagon, one of the “old gods,” and you have been denied a sacrifice from your worshippers. Reclaim it. Dredge your minions from the seafloor and set them loose on the town. Choose from leeches, crabs, fishmen, cultists, zombies and more. The gameplay is a little unusual, but if you like gross, creepy stuff, you’ll probably like this. Available on Xbox, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Any fan of sci-fi seriously needs to play Stellaris if they haven’t. It’s a grand strategy game where you manage a space-faring empire that you can completely customize to your heart’s content. Everything can be modified, including what your people look like, what the popular ideologies are and how your government works from the broader level down to the most narrow policy. Perhaps your empire is a warlike dictatorship, looking to conquer and dominate the galaxy, or maybe it’s a representative democracy that would rather engage in tactful diplomacy. Every characteristic reacts with one another, affecting things like elections of your empire’s leaders or structures in your society. As complex as the system sounds, the intuitive interface makes the game easy to follow and accessible for new players to jump in and start forging the destiny of their people through the cosmos. Available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
Survival in the wasteland depends on your ability to multitask. In this first-person shooter survival-horror based in Russia, the last of humanity has retreated from a nuclear winter to the safety of cramped and dark metro lines in Moscow. Mutants regularly plunge down into the tunnels to attack the human settlements. The situation is worse on the desolate surface, but it’s also where the game really makes you feel like a survivalist. You need a gas mask, making it harder to see and hear things. There’s a watch on your wrist telling you how much time is left on the mask filter before you begin suffocating, and there’s a lot of self-management through switching out your filters or wiping your mask free of blood or other guck, all while you’re trying to not get eaten by irradiated beasts. Available on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Nintendo Switch.
In war, there is an endless amount of roles that need to be filled. Perhaps the most obvious are the foot soldiers at the front line and the commanding officers governing them. Less obvious are the logistical teams driving resources to the front, or the quartermasters keeping track of inventory. In Foxhole, hundreds of players fill out those roles and do whatever they can for the PvP war effort. There isn’t any matchmaking or queueing for multiplayer lobbies. You simply choose a side in a persistent war that typically lasts for literal weeks. It’s always fascinating to log in and see players interacting with one another, coordinating the next push on the enemy position or loading a truck with supplies. You’ll have a satisfying experience through your individual contributions to the war so long as you remember to keep your head down and your helmet on. Available on PC.
CoD: Modern Warfare
Quarantine gets in the way of socializing with pals, but Modern Warfare is easy to hop on with friends. It’s one of the most popular series of first-person shooters because it caters to casual and hardcore gamers and it’s relatively easy to get into. There are traditional game modes like team deathmatch or capture the flag, but Call of Duty has also been stepping into the battle-royale scene to compete with the likes of Fortnite and Apex Legends through its newer gamemode, Warzone. Season four of content also just went live on June 10, featuring free weapons and skins as well as new characters to play as. There’s also a single-player campaign, but I usually enjoy the multiplayer because It’s mindless fun with your friends, which is something that we all need in these socially distanced times. Available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
The choice to introduce a convoluted backstory to the shooting Doomguy is eyerolling, but the sequel to 2016’s bitchin’ reimagining of Doom still has the incredible rhythm going for it. Forget cowering behind a slab of concrete waiting for your health to recharge like so many modern shooter games. In Doom Eternal, you win by constantly flinging your self headlong into the fray, ripping out demonic eyeballs, tearing apart imps limb from limb, spiking grenades into gaping maws and zipping on your spiked grappling hook to get close enough to blow a fiend’s head off with your shotgun. Just explain to your religious mom that it’s “spiritual warfare” and maybe she’ll let you keep playing. Available on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC.
If Doom Eternal sends you down to the pits of hell, Hades does the opposite. You’re Zagreus, wry and rebellious prince of the underworld, constantly running away from home to get out from under the thumb of your imperious father. And so you ascend, with a lot of help from the Greek pantheon of gods along the way, from the flames of Tartarus to the gleaming halls of Elysium aiming from the wind-swept surface until you die. But the funny thing about death in the Underworld. You just end up back right back where you started, walking out of a bloody pool right back into dad’s throne room. But a couple minutes later you’re back to escaping. It’s fitting, then, that you keep running into Sisyphus. He’s used to it. Available on PC.
Now let us pause to celebrate Goro Majima, the jester-troll of Yakuza Kiwami, the ridiculous remake of the first game in the hit Japanese Yakuza series. Majima, your crazy eye-patch-sporting frenemy, pops up everywhere, constantly forcing you to fight him at the most inconvenient times. And by “pops up,” I mean that literally. Like a wackadoodle wack-a-mole, he springs up out of trash cans and from manholes — sometimes armed with a dagger, sometimes armed with a bat, sometimes armed with nothing more than the power of dance. He doesn’t really want to kill you. He just wants to make you stronger. Available for Xbox, PlayStation and PC.
The highly anticipated Minecraft Dungeons is here, offering an exciting new dungeon-crawling adventure for fans of the blocky, sandbox-focused original (which I never get tired of playing, either; ask me about my "cat house"). The game is a charming homage to the Minecraft universe without being too violent or difficult, making it a fun, all-ages experience. There's online and local co-op play, too. The gameplay is reminiscent of genre counterparts Diablo, Torchlight and Gauntlet. As players hack and slash through procedurally generated levels — defeating skeletons, creepers, zombies and evil Illagers — they’ll find new weapons, armor and special items. The initial release is a quick play, but more levels have already been announced. After you've beat the first full play-through, you can keep going at higher difficulty to unlock secret levels, too. Available for Switch, PS4, Xbox and PC.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
Since the "gathering" element of the favorite nerd pastime Magic: The Gathering is currently on hiatus for the foreseeable future, players like me have found refuge in Magic's marquee online home, Magic: The Gathering Arena. The digital version (free to download and play with in-game purchases) of the 27-year-old tabletop collectible card game offers a pretty sleek and easy way to digitally shuffle up a deck and battle fellow wizards online in various game formats of casual and ladder-based play. For those not already bringing armies of elves, goblins or mages to the battlefield, the game's most recent set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, is a world where mega monsters roam the land, becoming friend or foe to potential sources of prey; human or otherwise. The game's annual core set, Magic 2021, is bringing 250-some new cards to Arena and paper formats later this month. Available for PC.
— CHEY SCOTT