Although I love flight simming through and through, there are days and nights when I don’t have the brain power to get all of my gear setup or where the mood just takes me in a different direction. When those times happen I will sometimes play other games that are out there from the mainstream to the niche and I thought I’d have a bit of fun and write an article about what I’ve been playing recently.
I’ve likely never mentioned it here but I’m actually a pretty big Halo fan. I watched the original Mac World demo presentation and I’ve played most of the Halo titles that have been released over the years with the exception of the fairly recent release – Halo 5: Guardians. Halo: Infinite has managed to pull me back in.
Multiplayer is free to play with all of the usual cosmetic upgrades requiring the purchase of various premium passes to get more visual stuff. Fortunately, the core of it is pure Halo with a classic feel interrupted by some smart additions. Most of the original mechanics of gameplay (gun, grenade, melee) still in place together with a few fun upgrades like a tossable shield wall, or, my favourite, the grappling hook which lets you scale tall buildings and hillsides and move around in an unpredictable fashion.
Multiplayer has fun small and large team battles. The quick match usually gets you going into a match in just seconds and that usually means I can play a couple of rounds in just 10-20 minutes before I have to go and do something else. They are fast, smooth and fun to play.
However, as good as multiplayer is, it’s the single player that’s really captured me since it released. Halo: Infinite’s single player campaign is a very interesting mix of old and new. The story takes a bit of a skip over some major events following the end of Halo 5 that you need to piece together. It also feels like a homage to the original Halo: Combat Evolved in many ways.
Although more recent titles streamlined a lot of gameplay into a linear path, this version of Halo takes it in the opposite direction. Although parts are linear, much of the experience is open and that means you can use some creative means to defeat your enemies. Approach through the front door? Sure. Or go around and come at the objective from the top of a ridge line (with sniper rifle in hand!) or bring a tank to the party. I like that openness! The boss battles at the end of the campaign are more linear and were the most disappointing part for me. Everything else has been incredible.
With a vast map to explore, few loading screens, only a few set piece funneled experiences, and very fun multiplayer, this version of Halo has really been great to play. As mentioned, multiplayer is free for all while the campaign is $60 USD (or if you have GamePass then you’re already in).
Another FPS game on my list. I had kind of given FPS games up until recently and found myself looking for some new experiences. I knew nothing of Insurgency: Sandstorm until a few months ago I stumbled upon it thanks to a video by DCS World YouTuber Opreator Drewski. His clip featuring a custom SCAR-H DMR/sniper build had me interested at once and a few more follow-up videos got me buying the series during Steam sale.
It’s been a while since I played a tactical FPS game but this one gives me vibes of the old Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield. Fast enough to be fun but tactical enough to require serious thought to positioning and having the right gear. A single bullet can down your soldier in many situations so you have to play in a smart way to survive.
I have played some player versus player modes which are very competitive but my favourite way to play is the array of co-op scenarios. Survival, where you capture a point and are assigned a random gun with limited ammo, is one of my favourites.
The graphics are very good and the audio is superb. Notably, VOIP is not confined to just one team so, if they are in range, the enemy team can hear you too. The gun list runs the range from battle rifles like the G3A, assault rifles like the M4, M16 and AK-74 to some more esoteric options like the Kriss Vector. It’s a good mix of modern, mid century, and even a few WWII types. The same can be said for other gear including various types of optics and attachments. It also features an array of night vision goggles for night missions with some fancy full colour options mixed in with your traditional “green” NVG.
The setting is generically middle eastern without specifically naming any one place. There are scenes that are reminiscent of Afghanistan while others are likely intended to be based on other places in that part of the world. I do appreciate that the developers have done a lot of work on their level design portraying quite a bit of variety with luxury hotels and modern buildings contrasting with traditional and sometimes even ancient buildings and castles.
Insurgency: Sandstorm can be summed up as being not quite as involved as ARMA or Squad but not as twitchy or fast paced as Call of Duty or Battlefield. It exists in a middle ground that I appreciate when I want to have a few rounds in a tactical first person shooter.
It’s normally priced at $29.99 USD but it’s on sale frequently for lower making it a good deal considering the free updates that have come from the developers. Worth a look if you like this sort of thing.
This has been a favourite of mine for years now. Cities: Skylines is a spiritual successor of the old Maxis SimCity series. Build a city from the ground up with just a few residential, commercial and industrial zones to start and then make sure that the cities key amenities are provided for including water and sewage, garbage collection, fire, police, health, and education. Then from there, the sky is the limit to the city that you can create.
The challenge is to keep the city functional when you add several thousand simulated citizens all running around and doing their own thing. Each person in your city is simulated. They either arrive or are born, they go to school, have a job, grow old and then dies. They drive cars, ride bikes, go to parks, take transit, and ultimately need to be sent to a cemetery or crematorium at the end of life. Yes, it is possible to have an existential crisis playing this game.
Additional DLC packages add things like disasters, more transit options, more detailed industries, parks, and university campuses. I don’t have all of the DLC but I’m closing in on having them all at this point. I find Cities to be a very relaxing game to play and really fun to unleash your city building creativity.
Cities: Skylines base game is relatively inexpensive at $29.99 USD but packaging all of the DLC together can get pricey. Buy them on sale, however, and you can get a lot of bang for the buck. Cities: Skylines is getting what might be its last DLC in the next few weeks before attention likely turns to an unannounced but teased sequel. This next and potentially final DLC is called Airports and I feel like it was tailor made for flight fans. I can’t wait to try it out come January 25th.
Train Sim World 2
I’ve written about it before but I love to bring it up whenever I get the chance. Train Sim World 2 is the only train simulator that I’ve invested some serious time with but I have become a big fan of this series. TSW2 is not without its faults but when its working well it has good looking graphics, a wide variety of routes and trains to try out, and, more content and improvements coming all the time.
One of the biggest problems that the series had was low numbers and diversity in the passengers at stations. To the point where a busy commuter line would only have what felt like a handful of passengers waiting around and it’d be nothing to see a few sets of triplets wearing the same clothes and looking the same. That’s beginning to change with the new Rush Hour DLC pack that added three new routes and drastically increased the numbers and types of passengers on those routes.
Dovetail have been criticized in the past for releasing routes and then never touching them again. In recent developments, however, they have split their team into two. One part of the team is focused on generating new content and features while a second team, called the “Preservation Crew,” is tasked with updating old content. It’s a good model and its enabled older routes to start getting the Rush Hour passenger upgrades, passenger information systems, and many more fixes and updates.
Right now I’m really enjoying one of the first new U.S. passenger routes in years – the new Boston to Providence line. With AMTRAK and Boston MBTA trains represented, this is a relatively fast route (when not doing the commuter run) that may open the door in the future to the Acela high speed train. I’m also playing the new Dresden route, Oakville Subdivision, Peninsula Corridor with the MP36 “Baby Bullet” and the Long Island Railroad route.
As much as I love flight sims, its sometimes good to go and do something else and some of these games have been great diversions from my primary hobby. I hope you enjoyed this small diversion from my usual programming!