November was a month mostly dominated by retro games, as I played a mix of old favourites and titles from yesteryear that I missed at the time. I caught up with the classic stealth game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005), revisited forgotten strategy Rise of Legends (2006), and the flawed tactics of Star Trek: Away Team (2001). On the more recent side, I also continued my exploration of a long-running series, filling in a gap with Sniper Elite 4 (2017).
Despite this retro focus, I also covered some new games - including the excellent third-person action game Evil West, another product of the busy team at Flying Wild Hog. And following on from my review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, I also braved the battle royale battlefield of its free-to-play spinoff Warzone 2.0.
Evil West (2022)
Developed by Flying Wild Hog, published by Focus Entertainment
It’s a point of pride for me that I’ve covered all three of the big Western-themed games that have come out this year. I tackled action-RPG Weird West in March, tactics game Hard West II in August, and then Evil West in November. Of the three, Evil West is easily the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Polish team Flying Wild Hog did a superb job with this streamlined third-person action game, which remarkably was the third game they released in 2022.
Evil West wears its bloodied heart on its sleeve - it’s a game about slaying vampires in the Old West, and makes no bones about it. Like Shadow Warrior 3 before it, it’s blessedly stripped-down and all non-essential features have been ditched. No open world, no side quests, no loot - just linear but varied levels, spiced up with surprisingly elaborate pre-rendered cutscenes. The combat is the main focus, and is a thrill from start to finish. Main character Jesse Rentier combines super-powered gauntlets with blazing six-guns, and it’s a heady and challenging combination. Evil West captures the supernatural frontier vibe superbly, and the enemy designs are some of the best I’ve seen - and slain.
Some will see the game as a bit old-fashioned, but to me that’s one of its big selling points. A lot of third-person action games have become desperately bloated in recent years, and Evil West is a great antidote. For more of my thoughts on it, check out my review on Entertainium.
Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 (2022)
Developed by Infinity Ward and various support studios, published by Activision
Having recently reviewed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, it seemed logical that I should also play its little brother. Warzone 2.0 is the new and improved version of the series’ free-to-play battle royale spinoff, in which 150 players at a time are dropped into the sprawling Middle Eastern region of Al-Mazrah to fight down to the last man or woman. Yes, the mainline Call of Duty games are expensive and never get properly discounted, but Warzone 2.0 is a very generous and extremely fun freebie.
I’ve mostly played the solo mode, facing Al-Mazrah’s dangers by myself. In a sense, this could almost be classified as a horror game, because being surrounded by another 149 angry operators is frequently terrifying. Success means scrambling for the best weapons and equipment that you can find, keeping a low profile, and only engaging other players when conditions are most favourable. Almost every match generates at least one magnificently tense moment, and at least one absurdly silly one. However low the chance of winning, Warzone 2.0 keeps me coming back just as a free-to-play title should. Al-Mazrah is a great creation, full of distinct locations, and the gunplay is peerless. A great experience, and definitely at the right price.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005)
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Milan, published by Ubisoft
For a long time, the Splinter Cell series has been a major blind spot in my experience of stealth games. This month, I decided to correct this by picking up the third entry, which is often thought of as the best and most important. Sure enough, I’ve had a great time with Chaos Theory. A major technical breakthrough in 2005, which seriously taxed the PCs and consoles of that time, it still looks surprisingly good today and plays very well indeed.
In this particular entry, black ops hardass Sam Fisher is called in to defuse a cyberterrorist conspiracy designed to provoke war in East Asia. The expectedly Tom Clancy-esque plot takes Fisher to some memorable locations, including Hokkaido, New York City, and a North Korean missile base. While I find the secondary objectives to be quite bland, the actual missions themselves are consistently exciting and it’s a pleasure to guide Fisher around these locales. What surprised me is the quality of the writing, which extends to amusing conversations between Fisher and the guards he holds at knifepoint. To be fair, I'm sure it's difficult to meet people in the black ops business so Sam has to make friends how he can.
While a remake of the original Splinter Cell is apparently underway, there’s something more unusual you can enjoy in the meantime. Oddly enough, BBC Radio 4 have commissioned a radio drama adaptation of Firewall, a recent Splinter Cell tie-in novel by James Swallow. It's actually quite good.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (2006)
Developed by Big Huge Games, published by Microsoft Game Studios
This one is a bit of an obscurity and one of my personal cult favourites. A follow-up to the very successful strategy game Rise of Nations (2003), Rise of Legends was a bold gamble that largely failed to pay off. The developers scrapped the real-world setting of the original and created a novel fantasy backdrop for their fully-3D RTS with three diverse factions and three story-driven campaigns. Rise of Legends plays quite unlike anything else, and stands up well after all these years, but eventually fell into a legal black hole and can’t be purchased through any digital storefront.
The real beauty of the game lies in its three unique and appealing factions which are influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci, One Thousand and One Nights, and “ancient alien” pseudoscience, respectively. Combat involves clockwork men, fire-breathing lizards, alien gods, steam-powered mechs, genies, and much else besides. Best of all is the wonderful soundtrack by Duane Decker, who also worked extensively on the MechWarrior games. If you can get hold of Rise of Legends, I strongly recommend that you give this neglected strategy gem a go.
Sniper Elite 4 (2017)
Developed and published by Rebellion Developments
If Steam provided a flashy end of year summary, like Spotify and Letterboxd do, then Rebellion would be in the top spot on mine in 2022. I’ve played four of their games this year, including the third, fourth, and fifth Sniper Elite entries and the co-op third person shooter Strange Brigade (2018). Most of this has been done in co-op with fellow Entertainium scribe Gareth, and most recently we’ve tackled Sniper Elite 4 (2017). This particular iteration took sharpshooter Karl Fairburne and his head-popping antics to Italy in 1943.
The very large mission areas allow our diametrically opposed styles of play to emerge. I’ve always leaned on the series’ stealth systems and try to ghost past guards, while Gareth likes to hang way back with his rifle, shooting anything that moves - or that might explode. As ever, one of the best things about the game is those large and attractive environments, which are very varied and which anticipate the even better ones we got this year in the fantastic Sniper Elite 5.
Star Trek: Away Team (2001)
Developed by Reflexive Entertainment, published by Activision
Right now, there is more Star Trek being made than ever before but almost all of it is on the small screen. While there are five TV shows in production - Discovery, Strange New Worlds, Picard, Lower Decks and Prodigy - there hasn’t been a film since 2016 and no notable games since Star Trek Online over a decade ago. It wasn’t always so; at one time new Trek games sprang up like hungry tribbles. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them were later forgotten and that includes Star Trek: Away Team. Happily, GOG re-released it in late 2021.
With this project, Reflexive and Activision were clearly trying to cash in on the success of real-time tactics game Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines (1998). Several games attempted this around the same time, and Away Team is about as clunky and dated as the others. Enemy AI behaves unpredictably, the missions feel too claustrophobic, and there is a confusing excess of characters and gear. Despite these issues, Away Team is still playable for Star Trek fans because of how deeply it engages with that universe. Data and Worf show up in the story, and the missions involve fun locations like Starfleet Academy, the interior of Federation starships, and a Klingon outpost under siege.
Star Trek: Away Team isn’t close to the best of its genre but it is an interesting curio in the history of Star Trek games. It would be great to see this concept attempted again, but sadly that’s highly unlikely to happen.
That brings the curtain down on November. December will likely focus on older games, as new releases slow down towards the end of the year. However, I will be covering another indie shooter in the shape of the gruesomely-titled Impaler.
Also, I'll be publishing my list of the top ten books that I've read during 2022; in the meantime, you can read my favourites from 2021. Lastly, keep an eye on Entertainium for our end of year coverage, in which we'll be crowning a site-wide Game of the Year and shining a light on our own personal selections.
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I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.