It is tough being a gamer at times; saving the planet from a zombie outbreak or alien annihilation, pulling off the perfect heist against overwhelming odds, or simply trying to survive as a lone wanderer in some barren and savage post-apocalyptic world. It's hard work. Fortunately, as games become larger and more open, there are more activities in a game in which we can blow off a little steam, kick back and put our feet up, and enjoy a little virtual downtime. Taking a break from what we should be doing and taking time out to do something a little less important, less mission critical.
Some see these activities as just a sort of filler, some see them as a distraction, and admittedly they can be a bit of both. However, there are times when they are a little more than that and become a game element in their own right, something that makes you feel like taking a relaxing little detour from the main course of the game. They become an activity on which we don't mind idling away a few precious moments; a timeout and a brief but entertaining diversion.
Of course, how we decide to best spend our time is down to the individual; my dad considers playing video games a waste of time, a point that I counter by reminding him that he goes out and hits a little white ball with a big stick, walks after it and hits it again until he gets it in a tin cup all in the name of golf but equally as pointless in the big scheme of things. He usually mutters something about getting out of the house, fresh air and exercise but we let it go there. With those diversions in mind, this week's Top Five list (plus some bonuses) features some of the best of those in-game pastimes, the little games that I have (mis)spent some precious gaming hours on.
Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360) - Yoga
This is something that I don't really understand in real life let alone in any virtual world. However, I can only hope that this was an in-house joke from Rockstar as wiggling the sticks on the controller to maintain a pose just seems a little dull. We should be grateful that they didn't decide to put a meditation mini-game in too; Press 'x' to light incense and sit there for fifteen minutes. When my girlfriend went off to her first lesson, I was able to send her off with the "Namaste" salutation explaining that I had learned it from one of the most violent (allegedly) video games on the market. She came back stunned, "Oh my god they really say that!" The following week I tried to send her off with "Kifflom Brother Brother", but she wasn't buying that one.
Killer is Dead - Gigolo Missions
Killer Is Dead is a stylish hack and slash action title from the brilliant but strange mind of Suda 51. Marc did a great job of covering the game in our Easter Egg piece highlighting the many joys of the title including the intense gameplay and wonderful graphics. However, partly through the game, players are invited to participate in an optional mini-game that seems rather discontiguous with the rest of the title. The player in the role of the games protagonist, Mondo, attempts to seduce a number of different girls by offering them gifts to win their hearts. However to do this, Mondo needs to pluck up enough courage, which is boosted by catching furtive glimpses of the woman's body whilst she is not looking. At one point this can even be done using X-ray glasses revealing even more of the lady in question. Whilst playing the Lothario is titillating in a schoolboy kind of way, it's also just a little bit creepy.
RAGE - Mutant Bash TV
No apologies for this as I earlier championed the cause for RAGE previously in one of our Easter Egg pieces. The game remains a firm personal favorite and I still consider it an exemplary shooter set in a grim and savage post-apocalyptic world. There were a few mini-games in the title including gambling on a sort of holographic monster game that looked like something a Wookie might play, a Magic: The Gathering type card game, and a musical (dueling banjos type) strumming game, but the real highlight was Mutant Bash TV. This murderous TV game show put had the player in a sort of arena facing off against waves of mutants and various traps for the delectation of the watching audience. Brutal and yet strangely cathartic, all supported by the great gameplay, cunning AI, and, my personal favorite, the deadly three-pronged boomerang weapon, Mutant Bash TV was great way to let of some steam after a tough day in the wastelands.
5. Red Faction: Guerrilla - Demolitions Master
First off, I have to admit that this was a game that I never quite got into as much as I would have liked; in fact it still lies pretty high up on the backlog pile and remains one that I will get around to (eventually). Perhaps it was the sheer fun that could be had with the Geo-Mod 2.0 engine that really distracted me from the main story and one of the game's mini-games took full advantage of the destructible environment; Demolitions Master. Using a massive hammer, the like of which Thor would be proud of, and any other explosive objects that happened to be at hand, the player was required to destroy certain targets. It could be a purely personal thing, but blowing stuff up always seems to be cathartic (much like popping all of the bubbles in the plastic bubble sheeting). The mini-game could actually be quite challenging as it was against a timer, but it was fun nonetheless, and one of the first mini-games that kept me going back for more.
4.Fable II - Keystone
Fable II was a delightful RPG in its own right. Great fun to play, set in the wonderfully vibrant world of Albion. With such an open world there was plenty to keep the player occupied, very much so if you were going for the bigamist achievement and had more than one wife to keep happy. However, whilst the philandering and bigamy might have kept some occupied, it was the simple pub games that kept me busy. Mulling over a hot cup of tea whilst playing a game of Keystone felt like the Albion equivalent of playing Minesweeper in your lunch break. Just like any solitaire game, it was challenging, frustrating, and yet quite relaxing. Obviously I was not alone in this, as Lionhead Studios released a standalone title, Fable II Pub Games, based on the games and nearly 28,000 of our community have played it, so I'm sure there must be some more Keystone fans out there somewhere.
3. Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360) - Parachuting
Rockstar have always, even since their earliest inception, managed to pack so much in to their GTA titles and Grand Theft Auto V was no different. From the aforementioned and ridiculous yoga, to golf, mountain biking, triathlons, darts, and tennis, even through to the more adult activities. There is simply so much packed in to the virtual world of Los Santos that the pastimes even manage to cover land, sea, and air. It must be the latent explorer in me, but I loved just being able to jump in a plane or helicopter and explore the island by air. On the other hand, I also (and I know I am on my own with this) found exploring the underwater areas looking for submarine parts in the submersible quite cathartic. However, the one activity that had me going back unexpectedly was the parachuting, whether it was from the official list of jump sites or just finding a high building and starting my own base jump, or best of all, taking a plane or helicopter to its highest ceiling and bailing out from there. There is so much more to do in GTA V, but the simple parachuting was the activity that I would start or end a session with.
2. Saints Row: The Third - Insurance Fraud
I had so much fun with this title from start to finish, I hate to think of how many hours I spent in the streets of Steelport. I know the humor could seem a little puerile at times, most of the time in fact, but it was just such good fun. As the game opened up there were multiple mini-games and challenges that became available. From the destructive carnage of Mayhem and Tank Mayhem, the deadly arena based Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, the crazy Streaking and Flashing, through to another personal favorite, Vehicle Surfing (which could also be done naked if one felt so inclined). However, it was the Insurance Fraud game which kept me in stitches (excuse the pun). The player would throw themselves in front of vehicles, collapsing like a rag doll, and be bounced and catapulted all over the place in an attempt to win a hefty cash bonus in fraudulent insurance claims. Admittedly it was crazy, stupid, asinine, or whatever or however you want to label it. Yet it was hilariously funny, and in its own way, brilliant.
1. Red Dead Redemption - Liars Dice and Horseshoes
Another brilliant open world game, skillfully crafted and brought stunningly and gloriously to life in a way that only Rockstar seem to be able to do. Alongside the great story of a gunslinger trying to atone for his previous sins, there was so much to see and do in the Wild West setting. From hunting, shooting challenges, and even going after notorious outlaws on bounty missions (another favorite activity), there were so many diversions. Whilst journeying between locations, I would stop and try my hand (continually) at horseshoes. A simple game in which the player attempts to throw horseshoes as close to a peg as possible, similar in concept to English style bowls only with clumps of iron. Using the sticks to control the strength of the throw, it was a game that I never quite mastered, but it never stopped me trying whenever I came across a game in progress. The saloons offered even more entertainment with Blackjack and Poker games, but it was the dice game that I found the most fun. Liars Dice was a simple game in which the player attempts to think and out-think their opponents whilst gambling on the faces of a dice. Like all the best gambling games, there was a little bit a luck and a little bit of skill involved, and I found it strangely compelling. There were many hours spent propping up a saloon bar and enjoying the games. I have fond memories of RDR and both of those games spring readily to mind whenever I think of it. Here's looking forward to the announcement of the sequel, sometime soon please.
The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!
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