The “backlog,” in the context of video games, is the stack of games you’d like to play but just haven’t gotten around to yet. Because playing and beating games is a huge time commitment, backlogs tend to pile on and grow year after year, and having the time to catch up on old games is difficult. However, with a lack of new game releases during the summer, August is the perfect time to catch up your backlog; the next three months will be filled with a heap of new games, like “Watch Dogs,” “Battlefield 4” and “Killzone: Shadow Fall” as well as two new consoles. With the recent Steam summer sale — during which game prices are reduced by ridiculous amounts on Valve’s Steam platform — I managed to buy too many games I’ll never end up playing, but I also actually played and beat a few of them.
The first game I played through was Klei Entertainment’s “Mark of the Ninja,” which is a huge step up from the developer’s previous work. In fact, I found it to be one of the best 2-D stealth games I have ever played, and it vastly improves upon the genre’s weakest elements, such as movement. The plot is not intriguing — all you need to know is that you are a ninja — but the systems and user interface are designed incredibly well; the game conveys the perfect amount of information to allow you to be a complete badass while still making you work hard enough to actually be one. For anyone interested in action or stealth games, “Mark of the Ninja” is definitely a worth the time, and I’m grateful I didn’t leave it in my backlog.
I then picked up and played through the 2013 reboot of “Tomb Raider,” which was critically acclaimed, though I’m not a huge fan of the series. I found “Tomb Raider” to be a mostly satisfying action-adventure game despite the fact that it is derivative of Naughty Dog’s “Uncharted” series and that the game’s plot doesn’t make much sense. While the first hour gives off a weird “torture-porn” horror vibe, the plot quickly becomes pretty ridiculous and forgettable. However, the platforming and cover-based combat are crafted well. Fighting and hunting enemies with a bow, your main weapon, is always fun — as is scaling ridiculous cliffs and walls. Definitely more “fun” than “good,” “Tomb Raider” is an enjoyable experience and worth a mindless playthrough.
Breaking away from playing blockbuster games, I tried out Edmund McMillen’s and Florian Himsl’s “The Binding of Isaac,” which is an isometric 2-D survival-shooter that is also brutally hard. Utilizing an oppressive, grotesque aesthetic that still looks great since its release two years ago, you play as Isaac, a child running through a dungeon of monsters as he escapes from his delirious mother attempting to sacrifice him. “The Binding of Isaac” implements the idea of permanent death, meaning you have to start the game over from scratch every time you die, and levels are randomized in each playthrough. The game is fair, rewarding patience, skill and strategy. Well-made but harsh, “The Binding of Isaac” is worthy of a couple hours of your time, but its masochistic nature eventually became too much for me.
The rest of my summer backlog time was spent with “Borderlands 2.” Not straying far from the original, Gearbox Software’s sequel to “Borderlands” is more of the same from the first entry in the series. Expect to shoot a bunch of mindless enemies while collecting loot and leveling up. While the story is still boring and the world is still lifeless, four-player cooperative play is exceptionally fun, and the game’s recent sale on Steam, where the price was lowered to a measly $10, hopefully means you’ll have a decent number of friends to play with. “Borderlands 2” only marginally improves the formula of the series, but I still had fun shooting things and collecting loot with friends.
As the world will soon embrace the Xbox One and the PS4, it’s time to enjoy these games, which will soon become obsolete on the new consoles. But the summer proves that even during times when there is a dearth of new games, there is always something interesting to play that you may have overlooked.