Gaming for the new oldbie
September 22, 2008 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm 40ish. I know nothing about modern gaming. I used to love adventure games back in the 80s like Zak McKraken, KGB and Thermonuclear Wargames. I have some time on my hands and want to take the plunge into the modern world of gaming. Where do I start?

I had a look at those role-playing multi-user games like Second Life and I just don't see the point. Maybe I'm missing something. I like games that involve some (if not, a lot of) thinking. I guess I used to enjoy SOME games that involved a lot of manual dexterity - I did play Wolfenstein 3D when it first came out. I am not a huge science fiction fan. I like games that teach you something maybe. But again, I shouldn't put too many restrictions down - I might surprise myself. So I guess I'm looking for ideas for games and platforms to play them on. Again, I know nothing - never owned any gaming equipment before so please don't assume I actually do know what I'm looking for!
posted by vizsla to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:44 PM on September 22, 2008

Fantastic Contraption is a flash game that makes you think. Probably not what you're looking for but it's really cool.
posted by PFL at 4:47 PM on September 22, 2008

Buy, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of "Grim Fandango". Made by LucasArts, is arguably the best-written adventure game of all time. Spectacular story, spectacular music, spectacular humor, spectacular puzzles. I, and many critics, cannot recommend Grim Fandango enough. It's 10 years old (!!!) this year and it's still an amazing game.
posted by mark242 at 4:49 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anything from the Grand Theft Auto series, starting at GTA3.
posted by jclovebrew at 4:54 PM on September 22, 2008

Do you have friends who own game consoles like the Xbox360, Wii, or PlayStation? You could get their recommendations or even better, borrow the console for a couple of days and rent yourself a few games from a video store. You could do something similar with a good gaming computer and game demos, I don't know of a common rental source for computer games.
posted by Science! at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2008

If by chance you find yourself with an Xbox 360 anytime soon, pick up a used copy of Crackdown for about $15. The word "Crack" is in there for a reason - I bought it yesterday and haven't been able to put it down. It isn't anywhere near as technical as Wolfenstein, etc. but you (as a ridiculous Robocop/Terminator guy) basically drive, shoot, and Chuck Norris your way through three street gangs while jumping from skyscraper roof to skyscraper roof and throwing around 10-ton objects in a fictional city. No strong sci-fi element, controls are easy after the first hour, and your character's abilities increase as you play, making headshots and general ass-kickery easier as your opponents get more difficult and more numerous.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2008

Based on your like for war games, You could try some turn based strategy games to start. Most of the turn-based ones I've played have been on the train with my DS, however (Advance wars, Age of Kings), so I don't know what to recommend in the PC world for that genre, except for things like Sins of a Solar Empire or Civilization IV and the like, though that may be a bit overwhelming to start. If you feel that sort of thing is fun but you want to move into something a bit more fast paced, you could try Real Time Strategy games like Warcraft 3, Command and Conquer 3, or for more "real life" scenarios, Company of Heroes or World in Conflict (WWII and hypothetical 80s WWIII games respectively). If you want to play a modernized version of the archetypal Global Thermonuclear War, then have a boo at Defcon. It's inexpensive, and not really that demanding for system requirements. Plus it can be played multiplayer online.

If D&D is more up your alley, see if you can get a hold of some of the older games like Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale, both of which I really enjoyed, and you can freeze the action to catch your thoughts and direct party members.
posted by barc0001 at 4:57 PM on September 22, 2008

If you have an even half decent pc with windows, you can use gametap to try out a whole bunch of different games.
posted by jefftang at 5:04 PM on September 22, 2008

Seconding Portal and Grim Fandango.

Portal is a short, but very clever first person puzzle game with a great sense of humor.

Grim Fandango is one of the best written adventure games of all time. I replayed it a few years ago and found that's aged well.
posted by justkevin at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2008

You might do well to invest a little money in an Xbox. Not the 360, just the original. You can get one for $50, and find games for $5 or $10. There are tons of games around for cheap, so it's not that big of a risk to try a few things.

I like the Myst games on Xbox, and if you haven't played Halo and Halo 2 yet, you're in for a treat. Yes, it's a shoot em up game, but with a pretty clever plot. It's like being in a sci-fi movie.

I also like the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games. Again, they are first-person shooters, but they are more about stealth and strategy, not just running and gunning. I prefer the original Xbox versions of a lot of games because the controls are simpler, and us old guys don't have the hand-eye coordination we had when we were younger.

I'm several years older than you, and I really do recommend console gaming over computer gaming. It's more relaxing, you can sit on your couch, and you're less likely to get eyestrain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Plus, I work on a computer all day at work, then do freelance work on my computer at home. Plus, I do tons of web browsing. When I want to play, it's great to get a break from the computer.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:20 PM on September 22, 2008

Totally thirding (or whatever) Portal and Grim Fandango. Both are awesome. I also replayed Grim Fandango last year, and it held up really well.

If you loved adventure games, you could always try out some of the Telltale Games titles. They have demos (so you can try it out), and they are episodic, so it's small doses and small payments. If you like them, you can then buy a whole "season". I have been playing the Sam & Max games, which are fun, and thinking about the Strong Bad series too. But I'm too busy playing Team Fortress 2 these days...
posted by gemmy at 5:20 PM on September 22, 2008

Defcon is pretty awesome.
posted by Mach5 at 5:30 PM on September 22, 2008

Monkey Island 3 and 4 are fantastic. 1 and 2 show their age too much. You might also enjoy some of the stuff from Dream Catcher. (Longest Journey, etc). You need to play the Half Life series to have a grasp on where gaming has been for the last 15 years.
posted by cosmicbandito at 5:31 PM on September 22, 2008

2nding anything from the Command and Conquer series. You said you liked war games, Command and Conquer is exactly that. RTS games are really fun because they don't require so much dexterity as most games these days but they do require a lot of knowledge on the game controls so be sure you read the instructions. If you have been out of the gaming loop for a while than I would probably discourage any first person shooter type of game, in the past ten years the dual axis control method has pretty much become standard and unless you've been playing 1st person shooters for a while it will be very frustrating to learn. In my experience trying to teach the uh, more mature crowd, a dual axis game (using both thumbsticks simultaneously) has been very tough for them. Command and Conquer, Warcraft, StarCraft (never played this one but it's popular) are all very good RTS, once you've learned the basic concept of one of the games it roughly translates to the others.
posted by BrnP84 at 6:02 PM on September 22, 2008

Oh, you said you enjoyed manual dexterity games, my bad I thought you said the opposite. Well, I'm also seconding Portal than, freaking awesome game but wish it was longer. Halo is all the rage these days but if you go on Live be prepared to get dominated for the first few weeks, a lot of nerds on there who have nothing else to do but practice Halo (myself included). Also seconding getting the original Xbox, way cheaper games and the graphics are still pretty good. Good Xbox games are Fable, Ninja Gaiden is a must play game, all the Spider man games were decent, I never got into the Grand theft autos but they were really popular, Halo 1 and 2 (If you ever plan on getting into halo 3 than don't play halo 1, it'll mess up your game), any Splinter Cell game is a good balance on dexterity and thinking, Rainbow six is pretty fun.
posted by BrnP84 at 6:09 PM on September 22, 2008

Now is a great time to pick up a Gamecube, PS2 or XBOX (as mentioned). Of the three, you can get Gamecube the cheapest. Pikmin alone makes the system worth owning, and I actually liked Super Mario Sunshine better that Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii. So, for under 100 bucks you could have a Gamecube, Pikmin, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, plus a couple more. Quite a steal.
posted by Otis at 6:19 PM on September 22, 2008

Everyone in the Mefight Club gang would collectively yell "Team Fortress 2!" but they're all busy playing it right now. If you have a halfway-decent pc with windows (really, most are ok) you can game with TWO HUNDRED mefites every day. It's absolutely addictive to play a great game with a wonderful community. A mic and headset will be helpful, but you certainly don't need one to start with. You have to register to see the message board, but I highly recommend it.
posted by wzcx at 6:51 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you've got a rig to run it, don't just buy Portal, buy the entire Orange Box. You get Portal, which is simply incredible, but you also get Half-Life 2 and two 5-8 hour episodes, which combined is one of the best FPS shooter experiences. Finally, you get Team Fortress 2, which is possibly the best online multiplayer shooter out there (it's a lot more accessible and doesn't have the septic tank audience of Halo and other X-Box Live shooters).

If you like adventure games, Telltale's new Sam & Max episodes are the spiritual successors of the old LucasArts adventure games.

The storytelling and aesthetics in Bioshock are second to none.
posted by Nelsormensch at 6:53 PM on September 22, 2008

Small correction: we're up over 320 folks at Mefightclub now, and we do play and talk about other games, too, besides TF2 (although it is our One True Game). And don't worry about being 40 -- you won't be the oldest of us by any means. The average age is probably mid-30's, although we have active members all the way from 18 years old up to mid-40's.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:00 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like you, I used to know only of the ancient games: pickup stix, tic-tac-toe, the counting of fingers and toes, and chess. Like you, too, I found myself with a surfeit of time and felt that rather than improve myself in areas solely dedicated to the mind or body, I should dedicate myself to something which would develop both.

I've enjoyed the same games you did, and had similar characteristics of games in mind when I came upon first-person shooter games. Actually, I think I just wanted to shoot things in my spare time, but found that reloading modern semi-automatic pistols with high-capacity magazines was too difficult and required too much exertion.

That's when I came to the conclusion that I should dedicate myself wholly to mastering first-person shooter games. And now I share my experiences and insight with you.

I recommend joining the MeFight Club, as linked above, and giving Team Fortress 2 a try. It will work your body and mind, if you dedicate youself to it completely. You will learn somethings about the world, too: we have one member in South Korea and he regularly provides updates on the political situations between the two Koreas during his nightly MeFight Club Broadcast. Another member is in college now and is teaching us about what it takes to get free alcohol in some parts of the country (apparently, where he's from, by mowing his father's lawn).

We also have girls in the Club.
We also have girls in the Club.

The system requirements are nominal: ask our Club members for more advice. Lift up your hands and hold them before your face: these are your tools with which you can make friends and destroy enemies. Your voice can be heard throughout the server with the built-in voicecommunication feature.

Come, join the fun! You might even be lucky enough to chat with Zooey Deschanel in the future on our private server.
posted by herrdoktor at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

No One Lives Forever and it's sequel are great FPS's that have the bonus of being funny as well.

Duex Ex. Also maybe System Shock 2.

If you liked the Ultima series back in the day then I have to second Baldur's Gate II (or, hell, even the original) and Planescape: Torment is going to come up eventually, so I might as well do it. Also, if you're a fan of the sword and sorcery stuff Oblivion IV will consume you if you let it (in a good, still-have-your-soul sorta way.)

You need to get Half Life. Play it before you move on to Half Life II, which is also essential. Just so you don't feel let down by the older graphics, which are by no means bad but a common complaint I hear from people who played them backwards.

And, uh, Team Fortress 2. Come. Join us. Join usss...

And, no, I don't work for Gamespot.
posted by Cyrano at 7:40 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gee... Half-Life 2 just seemed like another shooter. The first one, though. That was different.

Did you play Fallout or Fallout 2 back in the day? They're righteous. Fallout 3 is coming out in a month or so, and looks like it could be equally (but differently) awesome.

I definitely recommend a console over a computer, simply so that you don't have to constantly keep hardware and software in tune and up to date.
posted by Netzapper at 9:50 PM on September 22, 2008

I recommend Galactic Civilizations II for any fan of turn-based strategy. If you're willing to apply some fan-made patches and deal with a little bit of quirkiness, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is one of the most atmospheric and enjoyable shooters around (although this will take a serious computer to run). If you like racing/driving games, you might consider Trackmania Nations Forever, which is free.

Play the original Half-Life if you haven't; it deserves it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:23 PM on September 22, 2008

I definitely recommend a console over a computer, simply so that you don't have to constantly keep hardware and software in tune and up to date.

At risk of opening the CONSOLE/PC slapfight wormcan, I couldn't disagree more strongly. Suffice to say, if you do want to play Team Fortress 2 (THE GREATEST GAME EVER) with us, you won't be able to do it with the console versions.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:35 PM on September 22, 2008

There's plenty of great console stuff. I bought my first console just so I could play GTA 3. Although I'd probably start with Vice City. I know as pretty and as awesome as GTA IV is that this might sound like heresy, but I think I might have liked Vice City the best of the last three (and San Andreas is no slouch. And they're all great if you're into that kind of gameplay.) Bully is also a really fun game in the same style as the GTA's (the technical quibbles in the review were fixed in subsequent patches.)

If you have any affection for Star Wars at all then Jedi Knight II is great and Jedi Academy is criminally underrated. But the gold standard for Star Wars games is Knights of the Old Republic. KOTOR was originally a console game, so it's all about whether you prefer a gamepad over a keyboard-and-mouse combo. And if you like KOTOR you'll also probably like Mass Effect. Which is also PC or console.

Consoles are also better for party games. If you're having a night in with a few friends and a few more beers. I suggest any NFL/NCAA football game played with what are known as Cyrano House Rules. No punting. No field goals. Fourth and fifty? I hope you picked a team with a hail mary in its playbook, because you're going for it. Much more entertaining than a straight-edge game.

Psychonauts also gets a lot of good press. I have it loaded up but haven't really dug into it, though.
posted by Cyrano at 11:29 PM on September 22, 2008

If you haven't played anything since the '80s, I think it might be difficult for you to make a jump to most games nowadays. Things have gotten a LOT more complex since then.

If you want to make the transition to a platform that has "simpler games", I'd go for a Wii or a Nintendo DS -- they're both known for their casual games as well as a selection of more hardcore stuff.

To help you make the transition even more, you can look into Flash games to get you a feeler, perhaps, of how things have evolved.

If I went from an 8-bit console to an Xbox360, I would be intimidated as hell by the controls and the depth of games. Nowadays many games require an investment of time because of the increased complexity. If you want games where you can play for an hour and put it away satisfied, I'd go for a Nintendo DS. The library for the DS is quite comprehensive.
posted by NeoLeo at 11:46 PM on September 22, 2008

Defcon looks fun as hell (cheap, too!), but I haven't tried it.

If you're in to wargaming I might recommend you have a look at VASSAL. It's a Java program originally written to facilitate playing Advanced Squad Leader over the internet, but these days just about every board wargame that gets published also has a VASSAL module.

You can find opponents at boardgamegeek or consimworld.
posted by word_virus at 6:43 AM on September 23, 2008

AGS-produced games may also be your thing-- it's a freeware adventure game scripter, and there are literally hundreds of games available for play. The quality varies from "low" to "amazing", of course, but you'll almost certainly find something appealing.
posted by ElaineMc at 7:14 AM on September 23, 2008

Maybe you're looking to expand your horizons, but in case you want to continue with adventure games, they are alive and well: Adventure Gamers
posted by softsantear at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: Looks like I came to the right place to ask this question! I have put in orders for 5 of your suggestions made above already and will see how I go. Thank you one and all.
posted by vizsla at 7:31 PM on September 23, 2008

The first thing you are going to want to do is install Steam on your computer and set up an account (completely free). Steam is the way to get games on your computer these days, forget Gametap. It will handle purchasing and updating, games are cheaper than in stores, and if you ever lose or break your computer you have rights to the games from any computer that you log in your account to. Metacritic scores are listed directly with the title, and many include playable demos downloadable directly through the service. As others have mentioned, the Orange Box (Team Fortress2, Portal, Half-Life 2) is worth picking up, and was created by the developers of the Steam platform, Valve Software.

Then get Civilization IV. If you played this game back in the day, you will be amazed at the newest iteration because of the faithful transformation it has undergone this year. If you truly do enjoy being challenged, thinking deeply, and learning something then you must give it a try. I would also highly recommend checking out Morrowind, one of the best 3-D RPGs ever produced, and easily runnable by any modern computer. The graphics are far superior to Baldur's Gate or anything of that era without being overwhelming, and the storyline and gameplay is deep and riveting. For a first person shooter experience, I would recommend Bioshock. It is a very atmospheric piece about a distopian city which received rave reviews and enthralled me personally. Also, it isn't as twitchy as something like Halo or Counterstrike, and the plot and character development goes much deeper.

I would recommend against an XBOX right away, not because it isn't a great platform, but because I think you will find many of the games there far more shallow and less thought provoking than those on PC. Also, you already own a computer, so figuring out if and what you like there first might be best. If you wanted primarily sports, fighting, or driving games then I would highly recommend a gaming console instead. Additionally, first person PC games these days expect you to be familiar with the WASD interface. That is, instead of positioning your hands on the arrow keys like in Wolfenstein, place your fingers on the WASD keys, this gives you easy access to the numbers for weapon selection as well as space, crtl, shift, etc and leaves your right hand open for the mouse. Might take a bit of getting used to, but well worth it. If you have the computer to handle it or do buy an XBOX360, watch out for Fallout 3, being released later this fall, which is shaping up to be Game Of The Year from everything I have seen.
posted by sophist at 7:50 PM on September 23, 2008

I would suggest that a console needs to be upgraded every few years, too, so the hardware argument is moot. Also, I play TF2 on an older eMachines laptop (M6805), and while it's not optimal, it is functional.

I highly recommend The Orange Box via Steam, as well. Portal would be a great way to get used to modern, first-person shooter controls. Plus, it's a blast.

If you feel like diving in with HalfLife, I'd actually recommend starting with Halflife 1 (the original) for background and to better appreciate the improvements in HL2. I'm pretty sure HL1 is included in the box.

And, most importantly, Team Fortress 2 is the most fun I've had playing a video game. There's a negligible learning curve, and most new folks are playing like old vets in a few days. And do join us in the forum. You can ask any question there (or in game) and get snark-free responses. (Might be the primary reason why this is the most fun I've had.)
posted by assoctw at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2008

Oh, I should have mentioned that most of us at MeFight Club have guest passes for TF2 to give away. You can download and install Steam for free, and once you have, you can use a guest pass. If anyone wants to try before buying, you can sign up at Mefight Club and hit the thread I'm about to make and we can sort you out.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:54 AM on September 25, 2008

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