Getting back into video games
October 28, 2016 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I haven't played video games in about 10 years. While I still don't have the time or inclination to become any sort of serious gamer, I've enjoyed games in the past and I recently came into possession of a PS4. I'm looking for The One Game to serve as my gateway into non-obsessive modern gaming -- something on which I can spend a rewarding few hours a week for a while and from which I can hopefully then branch out to other stuff I might like. A few (general, loose) criteria inside.

(1) I tend to like stuff that's a bit more cerebral, with an emphasis on story and puzzle-solving. I enjoy action too, but I'm not hugely interested in games where a lot hinges on my manual dexterity (i.e., shooting accurately, jumping just right, etc.). This latter thing is probably my most important criterion -- I will pretty quickly abandon a game where I keep dying because I can't time hitting the B button to grab that ledge, or whatever.

(2) Atmosphere would be great. I'm a big horror movie fan and love being creeped out and set ill-at-ease. I have a big-screen TV and a good sound system so I imagine I could probably have some fun with that and my fondness for the shivers. That said, I'm definitely not limiting my search to "horror games."

(3) I'm not super-interested in massively-multiplayer World-of-Warcraft-type stuff. It's mostly a time thing. I want something I can play through over a few weeks or months of casual use.

(4) I'd like something that shows off the latest-gen console's capabilities pretty well, to get a sense of What Things Are Like Now.

Thanks in advance!
posted by eugenen to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The Witness.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 11:27 AM on October 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

The best rated PS4 video games of the last 90 days on Metacritic.

You should be able to find something on that list that suits your taste.

Personally I looooove XCOM and I think XCOM 2 would meet all your requirements. Creepy, a non-realtime strategy game so it doesn't require any dexterity at all, a long single-player campaign.
posted by GuyZero at 11:29 AM on October 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you are interested in puzzle games, I'd highly recommend The Talos Principle, which is one of the best environmental puzzle games I've ever played. It's a very chill game so you can play through it slowly (as I did) over the course of a few weeks.
posted by selfnoise at 11:32 AM on October 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Last of Us. You'll think about it for days and days, and it fits a lot of your criteria. There is a remastered version that is beautiful.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:32 AM on October 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

You must must must play Inside!! It tics all of your boxes, it's extremely inventive, it is beautiful, and has an ending unlike anything I've ever seen in a video game.
posted by cakelite at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Skyrim? It's a little bit older, but they just launched a remastered version which looks quite nice. If you crank the difficulty down, fights shouldn't give you much trouble (I very much just "play games for the story" and I'm terrible at combat). The writing is nicely done, the environments are atmospheric, there's a bit of puzzle-esque problem-solving in the dungeons. And some of the places you go are, I think, certifiably creepy.
posted by Kortney at 11:41 AM on October 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Last of Us as mentioned above. It has one part that required twitch-aim and I had to enlist a teenager to get me past it, but otherwise I was fine soloing it. Great game, great game.
posted by Iteki at 12:00 PM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really liked Until Dawn and it seems to check all of your boxes. It's very pretty (the graphics for the character faces are particularly amazing), it's atmospheric as heck, it's got story and clues to find, it's horror, and it's meant to be accessible to people that maybe haven't memorized all the standard (these days) videogame controls.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:02 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Totally seconding The Witness.
posted by ldenneau at 12:08 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Witness, but a warning: if you are at all prone to motion sickness, The Witness will almost certainly make you nauseous. It's a very pretty and challenging game, but I can only play it for a short time before I get nauseous.
posted by Janta at 12:15 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Last of Us Remastered

I'm a casual gamer like you and I got months of play out of Dying Light.
posted by LoveHam at 12:17 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some suggestions:

* The Witness is very cerebral, but devoid of any story (it does have some plotmosphere elements that hint at a story or metaphorical theme, but there aren't any characters or plot). I enjoyed it, but did get a bit fatigued with the puzzles' relatively uniform format.
* The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a vaguely Lovecraftian adventure game with outstanding graphics. It's just beautiful to walk around in. The puzzles are typical adventure game fare.
posted by justkevin at 12:22 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fallout 4 feels sort of FPS-ey but you can set yourself up to use VATS which takes all the worrying about accuracy away. Good enough story (better than FO3, not as good as New Vegas). Most of the puzzle solving is of the "Do I want to do the thing, which will make Alice happy but make Bob angry?" variety, but there are some more traditional-style puzzles in some of the minigames.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:34 PM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go ahead and nth The Witness, but I'd lean The Talos Principle over it if you're only going to get one game. To my recollection, there were a few bits that required some speed and timing, but no severe twitch action like a proper FPS would take.
posted by isauteikisa at 12:39 PM on October 28, 2016

The Witness and The Talos Principle are both excellent puzzle games.

I'd also look into Bloodborne. Very gothic horror, excellent art direction, tons of atmosphere. It's combat-oriented but it's really more about timing and positioning than precision. Might want to give it a rental.
posted by neckro23 at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to suggest Witcher III. I hadn't played or heard anything about any of the other witcher games, and I was able to jump right in and get lost in the world.

The combat can get tricky at times, but you can turn down the difficulty as needed.

Overall premise is that you are a slightly supernatural/magical monster hunter in a middle earth type setting. The game, story, and characters are very adult; violent, sexy, political, cruel, etc. It was refreshing not to play a "PG-13" game.
posted by TomFoolery at 1:11 PM on October 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Depending on what kind of a person you are, The Witness is either brilliant fun or interminably dull. It may also make you feel very ill, as mentioned above, which is super frustrating if you like the game.

I might look into some of the more casual episodic adventure games, like the Telltale Games titles (Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands, etc.) or the recent King's Quest games. They don't showcase the technology to the limit, but they are very engaging and much more forgiving of basic dexterity. Until Dawn is in a similar vein, but at a much higher level, and I think it might actually be ideal given your criteria.

I would have to disagree with the Bloodborne recommendation though. It's a great game, but it's pretty punishing to even fairly dedicated gamers.

The Witcher III is fantastic and a great example of a recent AAA game, but it definitely requires a bit of commitment to master the combat system. It's not particularly geared towards a casual session here and there, but it's also not necessarily required that you give up your life to finish it.

But if you really want to see the direction things are heading, you want to try out a PSVR system. It's a much bigger investment, but it's fantastic for casual experiences and also horror chills. My hardcore gamer brother is obsessed with his, but I had a complete non-gamer friend try it, and she came away in total awe: "That was worth whatever you paid for it!"
posted by Diagonalize at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2016

I adored The Talos Principle, but I bounced off The Witness hard, precisely because of the fact that it hints at a broader story that simply doesn't fucking exist. You solve puzzles and they unlock more puzzles, and all the puzzles are the same, except occasionally the game introduces a new mechanic without explanation and fuck you if you can't figure it out. It's smug and self-satisfied and it really annoyed me.

The Talos Principle, on the other hand, is pretentious as all getout but isn't actively hostile to the player - it felt like Portal except with the comedy replaced with philosophy (and the puzzles aren't universally up to the standard of Portal but it's the closest any other game has come, I think).

You might like what have come to be known (somewhat unfortunately) as "walking games" - the aformentioned Ethan Carter, and also Everybody's Gone To The Rapture - both are creepy, atmospheric, deeply affecting and also show off the PS4's graphical chops to great effect. Also, Firewatch and Gone Home, but make sure you've got a box of tissues handy.
posted by parm at 1:40 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

You would really like SOMA. Horror, some puzzles, sci-fi with a very interesting thing going on.

Alien: Isolation is both so true to the original movie aesthetic and so scary that I cannot play it anymore. I could not bring myself to take anymore. That's a compliment. So if you like Alien movies... you can live one.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:48 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

X-COM 2 is really great if you like strategy stuff. It's easy to get in the weeds with it, but the core is very board-gamey and easy to learn. (Start on Rookie difficulty, though. Do NOT jump straight to any of the higher difficulties out of pride, like I did.)

Along similar lines but more story-heavy, Banner Saga is something to check out. Beautiful, beautiful animations, and a really engaging story.

The new Tomb Raider games might be a little past the action end of your scale, but they're fantastic anyway. The first of the reboot series (the PS4 version is called "Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition"), in particular, is just triumphant in many senses of the word.

Other than those, a lot of what I've really, really loved lately has been either MMOs or indie stuff I'm not sure is available on the Playstation Store.

Oh, Abzû! Abzû is on PS4. Get it. Swim with fishes. Cry when a thing happens.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:56 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to second SOMA. It's terrifying and beautiful. Games don't make me cry often, but I bawled at this one. It stuck with me for weeks after I finished it. I still think about it from time to time and I haven't played it in several months. In fact, I might just go play it again.
posted by blackzinfandel at 3:12 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


(It's a few years old at this point, but damn, it's one of the best puzzle games I've played.)
posted by mekily at 3:18 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Isolation is so difficult that I haven't managed to get past almost the first encounter that requires me to use a weapon. The savepoint is a good five minutes before it. I love the whole aesthetic but I totally gave up.
posted by Iteki at 3:27 PM on October 28, 2016

The great thing about both Fallout and Skyrim is that, while they are both huge, sprawling worlds with a convoluted back story and story line, they are mostly mission-based (some longer than others), so it's easy to pick up for a few hours at a time and revisit later. Bonus: gorgeous visuals and (in the case of Fallout) lots of dark humor.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:20 PM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I second the Fallout and Skyrim recommendations. They are structurally similar games, so take the one whose story and setting appeals to you more. Skyrim is amazing and the new remaster looks very solid.

Witcher 3 is a good choice if you want a more structured storytelling experience.
posted by Nelson at 5:08 PM on October 28, 2016

The Last of Us also has several difficulty settings ranging from super easy to punishingly hard, so it's good for easing back into gameplay (as well as just being a fantastic game). Bloodborne has one difficulty setting, and it's punishingly hard. (But oh so rewarding when you win!)

You might like some of the Assassin's Creed games--they have a lot of non-combat puzzles.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:01 PM on October 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm going to nth The Last of Us - this game has a great story, and the visuals are just amazing. The game is so interesting that I literally watched my husband play 99% of the game like one would watch TV or a movie. I'm part of the way through it now myself. Based on what he told me, there's only a few parts that force you to use the combat that can be tough, but otherwise, you should be able to get by on the lower difficulty settings and you can use stealth a lot.

Skyrim and Fallout 4 are fun for a bit, but they can become tedious and grindy. They are basically an inch deep and a mile wide. My husband just told me he spent hours upon hours on Fallout 4 and he felt nothing when it ended. I only spent a few hours on it and got bored because it was doing the same shit over and over. I put about 60+ hours into Skyrim back in the day and never even finished the main storyline because I couldn't bring myself to care enough to do so.

If you are willing to tolerate a shorter game, both Journey, and Flower are absolutely fantastic games and look beautiful on the PS4. Flower is the video game equivalent of a poem. Journey is just something to be experienced - it's hard to describe.
posted by FireFountain at 11:13 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I liked Unravel a lot; it's not exactly a puzzle game and there is some platforming and being careful with your button presses, but I feel like it showed off the PS4's visual and auditory strengths in a touching and arresting way.

The Witness was excellent for me as a person who mostly plays minimalist PC puzzle games, smash-explodey Lego games, and open world adventures. Its straight up style is currently unparalleled imo but some things about it really bugged me - namely how many of the puzzles have multiple solutions at first, but for deeper solutions there's only one right one and you don't always have an indicator of that until hours of gameplay down the line. Also mentioned upthread how it hints at this incredible backstory that is simply not there, harrumph.

Talos Principle was okay. The puzzles were either indescribably annoying or brilliantly satisfying though, with very little in between. I also played it when I was in a weird headspace, but I had serious trouble with the post-apocalypse (or iiiiissss it) setup and the pretension was a serious ugh. I think the writing just hit me slightly wrong, though - I don't judge anyone who loves it and would trust their other recommendations.

Honestly though with your preferences and the time you have to spend on games, it sounds like you're more of a PC game person than a console one. With a Steam account and a wishlist that'll send you an email when something goes on sale, you can play a different interesting/beautiful/creepy/funny/exciting game every week for months for the same cost as one big-name console game. There are a lot of great creepy walking simulators, point and click adventures, and strategy sims that are out on PC that don't have the financial backing to get onto a console, but are just as wonderful. Also quite a lot of games available on PS4 are out for PC as well, cost less, and have improved patches and are regularly still being updated. It's pretty simple these days to hook up a computer to a tv screen, if you still want to couch game. Things like wireless controllers and bluetooth keyboards make it easy.
posted by Mizu at 8:52 AM on October 29, 2016

I think the single best game that optimizes your criteria is Witcher 3. I understand why people are recommending skyrim and FO4, but I'm not sure they are really the best choice for a current gen open world game (and re-release or not, skyrim is really not current gen). Witcher 3 looks better than both (much better IMO, even with the updated skyrim), has better gameplay, and has much, much better plot / characters / atmosphere. The combat isn't all that difficult and has adjustable difficulty levels anyways, really the main barrier for entry is that the games' systems are very complicated and the UI doesn't hide that so much from you at the beginning. And it's huge, you can chip away at it for a few hours a week for months. I have to admit I bounced off of last of us because the combat wasn't very good combined with being very unused to a PS4 controller at the time. It's on my list to return to, but based on that experience I'm not actually sure if it's the best very first game. (It was in fact the first game I got on PS4; note that it's also not current gen, but a remastered PS3 game).

Bloodborne is probably my single favorite game on PS4, and _definitely_ meets your criteria (2), it probably has the best unsettling atmosphere of any game I've ever played. However, unless you have played a dark souls game previously and know what to expect, based on (1) I think you'll hate it and never make it out of main st central yharnam, and never experience most of that atmosphere.

The Witness is a wonderful game, looks great on PS4, and I've played through it nearly twice, but you have to really be open to maze puzzles. That's all there is there.
posted by advil at 9:10 AM on October 29, 2016

SOMA looks really atmospheric, and has favorable reviews. I haven't played it, but it was the first game I thought of when I read your list of wants.

LIMBO is a puzzle platformer with an amazing and often creepy atmosphere.

Metro 2033 (there's a "Redux" remastered version for newer consoles) has a good plot (based on a Russian novel), and is one of the few modern games that freaked me out enough that I had to stop playing and turn on the lights for a while. Very immersive, very "ill at ease" post-apocalyptic atmosphere, lots of desolate landscapes you explore with your comrades, punctuated by brief but desperate fights for survival. It was recommended to me that I play the game at night with all lights off and wearing headphones, as well as turning on Russian dialogue with subtitles, to maximize the sense of immersion. It's probably the only game I both highly recommend but also found too uncomfortable to finish.

Portal is a great puzzle game, and has a good story to boot. Portal 2 even more so, with the backstory of the first game filled in, and quality voice acting (and clever humor).

Bioshock is a bit older than what you're looking for, but it stands out as a beautiful, creepy, atmospheric game with a compelling (if sometimes predictable) story. Art Deco dystopian Objectivist romantic horror sci fi. I'm not sure if it's ported to the console you're using, but it fits all your criteria other than its age.

Another older game that may appeal to you is Half Life 2 (if you never played it when it came out). Excellent story and characters, some puzzle and horror elements. It won't wow you with its graphics (unless they remastered it), but it holds up and there's a reason it's still rated one of the most popular video games of all time.

If aiming to shoot is an issue for you with the FPS games, make sure you check the menu for an "easy" setting, and also check for "auto aim" options (more common on console ports).
posted by ethical_caligula at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does the idea of a hike through lurid 1970s sci-fi cover art sound good? You might like No Man's Sky. There is very little plot. There is very little "game". But there is tons of atmosphere. It is an ambient chillout game. Except for those moments when a pirate scans your ship and decides the stuff in your hold is valuable and starts chasing you and shoots you down and you lose your stuff. But who cares, it's just stuff. You can mine it again pretty easily for the most part. (A detached attitude towards resource collection in video games that I learnt from Bloodborne. Which is dripping with atmosphere and not a thing you want to play what with its combat being based almost entirely around careful timing.)

Dragon Age Inquisition is really pretty. The combat can be played entirely as a tactical affair with all the time in the world to make your decisions. The world's spread a bit thin though, most of the side missions are really uninspiring busywork.

Oh! Transistor! It has atmosphere dripping from every pore. Beautiful art and music, combat that's an interesting balance between action and tactics (you can play a lot of it in stopped-time combat, but some parts will force you to run around and at least dodge a lot until you build up a power bar again). Gorgeous and succinct.
posted by egypturnash at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I always forget that indie PC games like Transistor are quite often cross-platform now. Yes, Transistor is excellent.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:15 AM on October 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Transistor is great except for the level I'm stuck on. Fuck that level.
posted by GuyZero at 1:59 PM on October 29, 2016

I'm looking for The One Game to serve as my gateway into non-obsessive modern gaming -- something on which I can spend a rewarding few hours a week for a while and from which I can hopefully then branch out to other stuff I might like.

I just finished Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons. It's a puzzle adventure game steeped in story. There's a mild dexterity challenge, in the sense that you're controlling two characters, but it's really simple and forgiving. It's a short game, so maybe rent or borrow it if you can, but it's available for cheap.

If you end up enjoying that experience, the sequel to ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, Last Guardian is shipping in December.
posted by pwnguin at 10:38 PM on October 29, 2016

Try "Dangan Ronpa." It's a visual novel with puzzle elements. It has an intense atmosphere (it sort of lulls you into relaxing a little, then kicks up the puzzles). Because it's part visual novel, it's not super intense on the graphics, but it looks good.

It's available on the PSP, Vita, iOS, Android, and apparently PC.

Careful when reading about the game. At the moment, the wikipedia entry is OK, but a few months ago it was full of spoilers.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:10 AM on October 30, 2016

I highly recommend The Swapper -- it's relatively short but has great puzzles, a sci-fi setting, a lovely soundtrack, and an interesting story that has made me play it more than once to figure it out. A few puzzles I'll turn to YouTube for help, but overall I find it more fun than frustrating. I use it to chill out before bed a lot.
posted by lesser weasel at 11:26 PM on October 30, 2016

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