Rome’s Game of the Year Awards 2014

This year . . . bad.

Here’s stuff I liked (all old)

Best Old Game of 2014

  1. Metal Gear Solid 4:  Controversial Opinion but I like it more than 3.  I loved all the new systems, the combat, hell even the story is probably my favorite.  Considering every single game is “PMCs out of control” now, this game foretold all of that, and I think they did it in a better way.
  2. Metal Gear Solid 3: “IT’S GOOD!!!!!” <Big Boss eating a yummy snake quote>
  3. Fallout: New Vegas: I basically did nothing but play this game between December 2013 to March 2014.  The DLC was particularly immersive, and I found myself spending entire months in certain sections.   Any year where I don’t finish the Metal Gear Solid series for the first time and this wins.

Best Old Game Pretending To Be A New Game

  1. Valkyria Chronicles:  I’m glad I finally got a chance to see what all the hype is about.  I care deeply about my anime soldiers.  It might take me another year to beat it with how long some of the scenarios take, but that’s a silly criticism when I’m usually having fun for all that time.
  2. Marvel Heroes 2015:  This is a dumb game.  I can’t even really describe why I like this dumb thing.  But I do.  It’s really compatible with watching something else on TV.  Which I guess isn’t truly a compliment, but considering how many games fail to do this, well, it’s something.  There’s a lot of variety to play if you want it, or none at all if you just want to close your eyes and click.
  3. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: I had a long internal debate as to if this counted as a new game, or an old game pretending to be a new game.  It’s a tough call, because it probably would’ve been higher on my list of new games but in the end I decided too much was a remake to count it as new.

Most Disappointing Game

  1. Civilization: Beyond Earth(picture stink lines coming from it):  Boring and bland.  I can’t quite understand why this even exists.
  2. Shovel Knight: People told me this was this great platform that would remind me of Mega Man.  Unfortunately it apparently is inspired by Mega Man 2, which to me is one of the most overrated games ever.
  3. Bravely Default: The demo got me really hyped.  It was one of the better things I played during the last holiday season.  Unfortunately the actual game was a lot less interesting.  Somehow the Street Pass town was more shallow than the one in the demo, and the difference in the magic system was enough to turn me off.

Game of the Year

(This list goes ten to one.  I point this out in case you use a browser that doesn’t support <ol reversed>)

  1. Bravely Default: It’s a bad year if a disappointing game made my top ten, but there you go.
  2. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor: Some of the technical accomplishments of this game are amazing.  I respect that, especially as some time from playing this has passed and some of the anger at how shitty the story was, even if you forget how disrespectful the game was to the lore.  Ugh, I hate that I even typed that.  I never thought that I would be “that guy.”  But this was basically Sleeping Dogs: Middle Earth.  Except the game would’ve actually been better if you would’ve been able to get in a car to compensate for the shitty fast travel.  Oh yeah, there are some definite problems with the gameplay, too.  Whatever.  The Nemesis system is really what I’m acknowledging here, and I do think it’s worthy of acknowledgement, even when embedded in a shit game.
  3. Transistor:  Ultimately, I didn’t like the story.  The fact that they hid so much of it was a weird choice, but I can overlook that, because I enjoyed the gameplay, which meant I was already putting the effort in to unlock the powers that came with the story.  But I just didn’t like what I saw.  If anything the sword talked too much, or said too much that was not worth saying.  This is weird from the same company that put out Bastion.  Whatever, though, the combat is a lot of fun, and you can feel really powerful if you master it.
  4. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft: I had a decent amount of fun with this, even though I don’t really like Warcraft’s characters all that much.  I enjoyed the CCG aspect and thought the tutorial and challenges did a decent job of teaching me to play it.  I got bored after a couple weeks of it, though.  I mean to go back and try it with the single player content they added late in the year, although I don’t feel super motivated to make time to do this.
  5. Gridiron Solitaire:  “Why is Gridiron Solitaire so high on your list?”  Well, I grouped games on my spreadsheet by “Games I liked, Games I might have liked, and games I didn’t like.”  Gridiron Solitaire is the first game on this GOTY list so far that I can say without reservation that I liked.   It’s fun, it’s original, and it’s a good value.  If you like football or solitaire, give it a go.
  6. 80 Days:  This a pretty game, to look at, even on a small screen.  And, it’s an adventure game seems simple on the surface, but has a lot of subtle depth.  In a lot of ways it’s a throwback to the text adventures of old.  It’s really enjoyable to play either sitting at home or while sitting in a waiting room somewhere out in the world.
  7. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: This is silly, stupid bombastic shootman garbage.  But it’s fun, silly, stupid, bombastic garbage.  The story mode is still trying hard to top what Modern Warfare 2 did, and falls short.  But, it’s still something you could probably see in a theater without it feeling too out of place.  The multiplayer has some nice twists to it that make it probably the fairest-seeming in the series (but maybe I just feel that because I suck).
  8. Threes:  Threes is a simple, math game.  It is addictive as hell, though, and inspired a glut of clones, and left game designers everywhere saying, “I could’ve thought of that.”  But they didn’t.  Good stuff.
  9. A Bird Story:  This is a late edition to the list, so forgive the hyperbole natural to rating a game hours after I played it.  But it really was quite touching, an example of limited storytelling done expertly.  There’s limited player input, and it’s short, but I feel like the game had the perfect amount of both.  Genius and art is often represented in restraint.
  10. Dark Souls II:  I know some hardcore fans were disappointed, but this was my first experience with the “souls” series and I was really impressed.  As I said in my review, I think people overrate (or oversell) the difficulty, or the “fairness.”  But I don’t think people overrate the cleverness of the game.  Everything feels like a lot of thought went into it, and the way that gameplay often was storytelling, was impressive.  It’s a critique of the power fantasy, without making you feel weak as a player.  That’s not easy to do.  Although it was a weak year for games, I don’t feel like this was a weak winner.

Well that’s that.  Hit me up on twitter (currently  @slammermaster) if you’d like to talk about this.

 

What I’ve Been Up To

It’s been a weak year for new games.  So, I decided to fill in some of the holes in my history.

I finally cracked open my “Metal Gear Solid HD Collection” and I’m so happy I did.  What an amazing series of games.  If you haven’t played them yet, you should.   I could write a book about my experience with these games.  But, I know everyone is busy so I’ll keep it brief.

Metal Gear:  Way ahead of its time in a lot of ways, but the translation issues, and early high difficulty are going to make it difficult for some to pick up if patient.   Try it if you’re brave though.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake: It’s funny how often a game almost none of the current gaming populace has played is referenced throughout the series.  I was really anxious to give Metal Gear Solid a try so I ultimately decided to tap out of this one pretty early and watch a Let’s Play.

Metal Gear Solid: I first came to this game in 2014 and I absolutely see why it’s iconic.  If you’re on the fence about this series, and you’re not a dumb baby, try this out and like me you’ll probably end up wanting to play the rest.   Yes, the story is goofy at times, but it’s also sort of poignant and it’s really rewarding to learn the systems of the game and find your way through.

Metal Gear Solid 2:  I hated this game for about 3/4 of it.  Kojima hits you in the gut several times and turns your world on its head.  And even after ultimately coming to like the game in the end, it made me take a long break.  Yet if you think about this game, you really digest what the game is trying to say (it’s certainly not all as meaningful as the game thinks it is sometimes, but there are some really good things there).

Metal Gear Solid 3: Awesome systems, really creative bosses.  After playing this I was like Big Boss eating some rations, sayin’ “I want some more!”

Metal Gear Solid 4: It was probably the most fanservicy of the games, and it was a lot simpler than MGS3, so I can understand if people were disappointed.  And the criticism that it’s basically a long 10 hour movie with four hours of gameplay might be valid.  But in the end, I really enjoyed it.  And I think its story was the easiest to digest without having to suspend disbelief all over the place.

Now the question for me, is, do I take on all the secondary games?  I’m definitely leaning towards it. But games are starting to come out now!  So I think I’ll head back in to 2014 for a bit, then decide what to do from there.

Transistor

Transistor is a really nice to look at.  And the game play is really fun, with a ton of variety, and the game encourages (and sometimes forces) you to explore that variety in a lot of interesting ways.    The problem with the game is the obstification of the main story .  It’s actually easier to unlock the back story than exactly what is going on in the game.  I have beaten the game and have a vague understanding of what happened, but just barely.

The mechanics and the aesthetics of the game are fun enough that I’m willing to ignore it, and for the price, I would definitely  recommended  playing this.

Dark Souls 2

People have called Dark Souls a “new phenomena” in gaming.  People laud its challenge, its ambiguity, it’s fairness and its stakes.  In fact, people are calling it the most difficult game ever, too hard for the casuals.  Such talk, it dissuaded me from giving the game a shot.  When I hear about people throwing controllers or snapping discs, I just think about all the things I have that are better to do than be mad at a video game.  I honestly don’t know why I finally caved.  I think it’s because I didn’t really have anything better to do.

Now, having played Dark Souls 2, I can say that a lot of what people say is in fact true.  There’s definitely stakes to your actions.  The story is almost completely ambiguous (although it’s definitely there!).  As far as the challenge?  Well, it’s definitely not an easy game.  But where people miss the boat is thinking that this is some sort of new phenomena is where people miss the boat.  This is simply itterration on games from days past.  And if you could hang with those games, you can hang with Dark Souls 2.

Sure, sometimes–say after I was unable to reclaim lots of lost souls due to accidentally walking off a cliff or some complete cheese–I was frustrated.  Part of it is because the fairness of the game is something I think is a bit exaggerated because there are plenty of phantom hitboxes, geometry issues, and plenty of instances where the game breaks its own rules.  I suppose, though, that these instances are rare enough that I at least understand what people are talking about when they call the game fair.  Most situations are solvable, when approached from the right direction (or directions, since there are often many ways to accomplish things).  Thus, I rarely felt that the game was beyond my ability.

The multiplayer elements are fairly interesting.  The messages add a layer of life to the game, and while the shades of other player’s games is sometimes distracting, it’s usually entertaining and sometimes quite informative.  Co-op play is a lot of fun and it feels good to help someone beat a difficult boss, and it allows you to progress past bosses that might be tuned towards particular playstyles that your character might not be specced for.  At times, it does trivialize the challenge of some bosses, but you can always just choose not to summon.  And some bosses are considerably more difficult in co-op than alone.  Fans of the PVP love it, but I personally find it to be kind of pointless.   Win or lose,  I just find them to battles to be a distraction.

I don’t know if I’ve been converted to a Soulsian; I definitely don’t think I’m going to be one of these people who exclusively play Dark Souls 2 for hours upon hours.  But I definitely respect the game.  My review is a hearty “play it.”

Bottom of the Bargain Bin: Alone in the Dark

Bottom of the Bargain Bin shines the spotlight on the forgotten gems, horrifying failures and “how did this get made?” oddities which line the bottom of every bargain bin.

Alone in the Dark (2008)

As the father of the fixed-angle survival horror games which flooded every console in the 90s and early 00s, the original Alone in the Dark released in 1992 was a landmark which felt its influence in classic series like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Silent Hill. Its blocky graphics and clunky controls might render it close to unplayable today but simply from a design point of view, it’s not hard to see how important a part it played in the progression of video games in the early 90s.

The first attempt at rebooting the series came in 2001 with The New Nightmare, a by-the-numbers survival horror game which failed to do anything new with a genre that been milked dry by waves of increasingly inferior knockoffs. It was the last gasp of a dying breed of game which was finally ushered out the door when Resident Evil 4 once again reshaped what it meant to be dubbed survival horror.

After a particularly disastrous Uwe Boll film adaptation in 2005 wiped clean what remaining relevance was left for the series to a modern audience, it seemed safe to assume that the shambling corpse the Alone in the Dark series had become would be put out of its misery before more damage could be done to its legacy.

Enter Eden Games, a development team comprised of a bunch of nutty Frenchman with no notion of restraint who were given the go-ahead by Atari to breathe new life into the Alone in the Dark franchise. First announced in 2006, the game faced some delays (but not enough) before finally shuffling out onto shelves in 2008.

Fast forward six years later and their attempt to redefine a genre now sits in the bottom of bargain bins around the world for less than $5.

Most remarkable about this take on Alone in the Dark is its production values; this is a game that clearly had millions and millions of dollars pumped into it and on a purely superficial level, it feels like money well spent. The game still looks impressive years after its release and the soundtrack — a mix of weird sing-chanting, grandiose strings and tons of jingling Christmas bells — is absolutely ridiculous in the best way possible and sounds like some gothic take on the Home Alone soundtrack.

Nearly as remarkable as the amount of money dumped into this thing is how instantly unplayable the game reveals itself to be after picking up the controller. The game’s opening set piece is stunning, your character rappelling down the side of a crumbling skyscraper, an epic choir chanting goofy nonsense in the background, flames shooting out everywhere and the streets of New York erupting into chaos below you. You land on your first ledge, anxious to continue your way down the side of this towering inferno, take two steps forward and then instantly realize that you’re in for one of the most arduous experiences of your life.

There is no gradual reveal of how terrible the controls are- it’s apparent the very first moment the game asks you to step forward on that burning ledge. There’s no thought that maybe there’s a learning curve, or that you’ll just have to get used to them because they handle a little differently than other games like this, it’s very clear very fast that the game is broken beyond repair because you can never move your character with any degree of confidence. 16 years had passed between the original Alone in the Dark and this remake and yet the controls feel no less antiquated.

It boggles the mind trying to understand the gap between the amount of money and effort put into this game and its lack of playability. Was no one assuring quality? Were the moneymen not actually checking to see what their money was being used for? You’d assume that there are systems and checks in place to ensure a project could not go as far off the rails as Alone in the Dark did and yet a simple push forward on the analog stick instantly reveals a game which feels like it is nowhere near releasable quality.

We may never know how Eden Games continually managed to get the funding and resources to move forward for years on such an obviously broken game but you get the feeling that even if they had another ten years and a hundred million dollars to work on it, they’d have never been able to pull all of their disparate ideas together to make a cohesive game. It may have an innumerable amount of problems but a lack of ambition isn’t one of them.

The game’s bizarre hook is that it’s being presented as a season of television split up into episodes complete with cliffhangers and “previously on Alone in the Dark” recaps at their start. It’s a neat idea — one done better in the infinitely superior Alan Wake — but the game’s writing is so horrendously bad that any attempt to treat it as if it’s worthy of such serialization is laughable.

An example of a typical dialogue exchange:

“I taste your fear. So many questions.”

“And I suppose you’re the answer man, shithead?”

Protagonist Edward Carnby might be the most unlikable character a video game has ever seen. He is supposed to be a charming rogue ala Han Solo but instead comes off like a crass, bitter sociopath who reacts to the characters and events around him with the attitude of a petulant 16-year old. Early on in the game he yells “fuck you!” into the face of a woman recently possessed by a demon and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the game’s obnoxious narrative.

Battling those aforementioned demons is what makes up the majority of the game and you soon realize that that is where all creativity in this game went to die. Fire is your main weapon against the monsters and so this leads to the game going absolutely gonzo with its use of flame physics and weapons. You pick up wooden and chairs and sticks from around the levels to fight back, holding them over flames so they catch on fire and then be used to burn the demons into ash. There are gas cans which you can use to pour trails of gasoline onto the ground and then set off with a lighter (an idea later STOLEN for GTA5 by those treacherous thieves at Rockstar). You can throw flammable canned products and shoot them in midair to make an explosion or coat your ammo in lighter fluid to somehow make flame bullets. All of your various tools and supplies are carried in Edward’s jacket which acts as the cool inventory system. Whenever you need something, you open up your jacket and scroll through the various pockets, finding bandages to apply to your wounds or tape which you can use to work up bigger bombs.

There are such great and unique ideas at work here but the simple fact is none of them work properly. The inventory system is great in theory but navigating Edward’s jacket requires all of these elaborate manoeuvrings of the analog sticks which makes it a constant frustration. Simply getting a wooden chair into flames to catch fire is nearly an impossible task on its own so then having to swing it around with the awful controls to actually hit a monster drives you up the wall. Every single encounter with a monster is a battle against a series of broken mechanics so you spend the entire game dreading the game next it actually makes you try to do something.

To be fair though, even when you’re not fighting monsters, the game is an absolute chore. There are a series of driving sections — which of course are overcooked to the point that you actually have to slide in behind the steering wheel and hotwire the car yourself — and they are as abysmal to play through as you’d expect. There aren’t any checkpoints in them either so you can be sure to expect to drive through the same exploding street 30 times before you finally memorize the correct sequence of turns and jumps.

Adding insult to injury, everything about this game was so clearly broken that when it was finally released on PS3, it was as a slightly modified version dubbed Alone in the Dark: Inferno. That incarnation of the game claimed to address many of the control and frustration problems of the original release, problems which the developers probably should’ve noticed a few years before during production and not after it was released to scathing reviews and general disinterest. I haven’t played Inferno but I have a hunch I know whether or not it actually makes this into a good game. Hint: no.

The Alone in the Dark franchise has seen many highs and lows but the 2008 remake seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, an ambitious mess which really tried to do something grand with the brand yet still fell victim to many of the problems that has plagued the series since the start. Its earned its spot in the hallowed plastic grating of bargain bins where it can finally be appreciated by its true audience: connoisseurs of garbage.

In Honor of Superbowl Sunday

Gridiron Solitaire continues in the long tradition of solitaire variations having an over-exciting name for a game primarily played with a deck of cards all by your lonesome.  Whereas Yukon is nothing like the snowy north where one might discover Wolverine and Windigo, and Spider does not summon eight-legged hellspawn to your hands while playing, and accordion does not make you tap your beat to the latest polka jam, Gridiron Solitaire actually captures some of the essence of its namesake.

Basically, through simple opposite-color sequence tricks, you simulate a game of Football.  The more tricks you complete in a given turn (or, down, fittingly enough) the more yards you produce on offense, and reduce on defense.  Along with the tricks, you have an opportunity to call on a “big play” which either nets you another card, or a text event that may or may not be of benefit to you.

If you think it sounds simple, that’s because (at least on the surface) it is.  If you have a basic understanding of cards, you’ll pick this up quickly.  And indeed, when I saw the art style of this game (which I actually quite enjoyed) and the basic idea behind the gameplay, I thought it was silly.

But after just one game, the depth became really apparent, and after a few hours, I found myself thinking about the game when I wasn’t playing, both about the strategy involved in it, and maybe ways that the game could be made even more complex, and simulate more actual football scenarios.

Undoubtedly this is the same sort of fretting that caused the simple fun of Techmo Bowl to walk down the path that eventually led to the dry simulation of Madden.  I do think that any sequel should feature some sort of direct gameplay for special team plays, but to get more complex than that would probably ruin what’s enjoyable about the game.

And the game is very enjoyable.  It might be because, being someone who grew up with few friends, I played a lot of solitaire growing up, or it might just be that I find the gameplay to be interesting.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that everything from the art style to the music is deceptive; simple on the surface, with a lot going on once you really look at it.

Whatever the reason, I’ve already played a lot of this game, and will probably play a lot more, because it’s the perfect game to play while watching television.  Or maybe the game to play if you’re over all the “I just watch for the commercials LOL” hype and want something else to do while the big game is on break.

If I do have a problem with the game, is that sometimes I actually wish a bit more of the card-iness (for lack of a better term) was exposed.  I want to see stacks, and I want to see face cards and suits.  Plain cards get kind of boring.  Also, I would like to be able to save & quit at anytime, not just the half.  But those are minor quibbles.

My initial attraction to this game was “ok this is going to be some silly shit that maybe will be worth some irony.”  But no, my official review of this one is “Play it.”

Rick’s 2013 GotY Thing

Games I wish I played (or played more) in 2013: DMC: Devil May Cry, Gunpoint, The Typing of the Dead Overkill, Antichamber, Cart Life

 Most Overrated Game of the Year:  Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons: I guess the best thing you can say about this game is it’s bad in the same way that a lot of “art” films are.  That’s a big step for the world of gaming. That doesn’t mean I have to like this, though.


Game I Would Have Liked Even More If I Had Friends Of the Year – Divekick:  Man I enjoyed the hell out of Divekick.  Too bad it’s hard to find an opponent of equivalent skill.

 

Biggest Disaster of 2013: Sim City: No brainer.  

 

2013’s Old Game Of The Year: Mass Effect 3.  It’s weird to say this about a Mass Effect game, but the multiplayer is really one of the best online experiences I’ve ever had.  It’s simple but full of variety and you can be successful doing it a lot of different ways.  The support through the first half of 2013 kept me addicted to this game until early summer.

 Now for the Games of the Year: 

10. SteamWorld Dig is a GuacaComplex-style 2D throwback Dig-Dug game in which you dig, and dig, and dig some more, into depths almost as deep as my soul..  Except instead of finding pain and sadness as I find when exploring my own inner-self, I found joy in finding the various tools and loot that allowed me to reach the bottom.  It’s short, but that’s probably good since my hand was pretty tired from all that digging.

 

9. Resogun moved up and down my list a lot while I was trying to put together this list.  On the one hand it gave me moments of absolute pure joy and accomplishment. On the other hand, it just didn’t really stick with me long term the way these types of games usually do.  It’s basically up-ressed Defender, which, is pretty great (some people have said “Defender on a Cylinder but Defender was always on a cylinder, idiots).  The shared video of this game caused my aunt (who had an Intellevision at home that I always played when I would go to her house)  to admire my skill, which, was a nice feeling.  I have low self-esteem and need the reinforcement. 

 

8. Rogue’s Legacy zapped hours of my life away.  It was always so tempting to just try one . . . more . . . life.  I didn’t always like the controls and in the end the wasted-runs started to get frustrating but overall, awesome stuff.

 

7. The Last of Us managed to tell an interesting story about one of the most boring, overdone things in media right now: Naughty Dog Gameplay.  Damn the first 30% of this game is a major chore to play through.  By the end, the gameplay does occasionally get fun (once you have access to enough tools and they aren’t in the mood to strip the tools away from you), but I nearly quit long efore I saw that; only the interest in the story managed to keep me going.  I’m glad I did though.  Yeah, it’s a zombie story.  But it’s a good zombie story, with strong characters that the game made me care a lot about.  I’m not a big graphics guy, but the people come pretty close to looking like people, and the detail in the environment is crazy.  I was never able to get over Naughty Dog’s problems in Uncharted, but Last of Us made me finally respect them.

 

6. Assassin’s Creed IV is dumbbbb.  The missions get worse every game in the series, and the puzzles have gone from fairly intricate codebreaking in Assassin’s Creed 2, to a shitty version of frogger in Assassin’s Creed.  But damn did I enjoy playing this game. Piracy is a lot of fun, and I sunk hours into it.  After the debacle of Assassin’s Creed 3, I probably would not have bought this game if I wasn’t desperate to have any game to play on my PS4, but I’m glad I did, the series was totally renewed for me.

 

5. Ni No Kuni makes me want to say “fuckkkkk everyone who loves Drippy.”  Drippy was the most annoying thing in the game, and the part where you have to visit his town made me want to cry.  It made me feel like less of a human being when I was aware of the fact that people were non-stop raving about how funny and quirky this character was.  Giving a dude a welsh accent and making him grumpy doesn’t make him funny.  What the fuck is wrong with humanity?  Anyway, Ni No Kuni is a lot of fun.  The earnestness of the story is appealing, and it’s proof that video games don’t have to be dark and brooding to tell a meaningful story.  I love turn-based RPG, so that was fun, and it’s cool that in 2013 people are still doing new things with that, and the gotta catch them all nature of power recruitment is very satisfying.

4. Grand Theft Auto V would’ve been the game of the year many other years.  The faithful recreation of Los Angeles (where we all live) warmed my heart and made me home sick.  I thought Rockstar did a pretty good job with the stories, and splitting the narrative amongst three people was smart; some of the things that other people hated were the things I loved, which is not something you can usually write about a game.  Also, spreading the story amongst three people helped stave off the Rockstar Late Game Malaise right up until about the end.  The online isn’t that interesting, but, whatever, I don’t play these games for multiplayer (although, it is a bit of a surprise how uninteresting it was after Red Dead and even GTA IV managed to do it better).  The biggest knock on this game is “it’s not GTA: SA” but I really don’t think that’s fair.

 

3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds initially seemed like it was going to be an up-ressed version of Link To The Past, which I would have played, and would have loved, but Nintendo wasn’t satisfied with that.  Naw, they somehow worked Tom Nook into the game, which managed to completely shake up the formula, making the game feel both original and nostalgic.  The items and the exploration are all fun again, and all feel like they have a purpose; I just couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t rescue all the Maiamais.  My only complaint is that most of the dungeons were dead simple.  Maybe it was time to go back to basics, though.

 

2. Bioshock Infinite is a game that a lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to justify why they like it this year.  But they shouldn’t.  I’m not going to apologize for liking this game.  The combat isn’t as intricate as Bioshock 2, and gets a bit repetitive because of that, but I can’t think of any other problems I had with the game.  One play-through wasn’t enough, and as soon as I was finished I had to go back and beat it again.  That just isn’t the type of thing I normally do.  Booker and Elizabeth’s song beneath the saloon, some of the things you find in tears, and the ending were amongst the best moments I’ve had in gaming this year, or other years.

 

1. Animal Crossing: A New Leaf is inarguably my game of the year.  They talk about games like Gears of War with giant muscle dudes as being Wish Fulfillment.  But naw.  Naw, this is my wish: to be a cutesy, over-sized headed boy who lives in a town of animals suffering from the entire spectrum of the DSM V in the most inviting way possible.   I’m not afraid to admit that I am the type of dude who plays Farmville.  Even while playing some mothafuckin gangsta shit games, I’m still often in need of some game that involves mindlessly pointing and clicking every day.  Animal Crossing gives that mindless pointing and clicking purpose.   I guess it’s true that it’s still fundementally the same game it was on Gamecube, but I don’t give a fuck.  The few minor tweeks they made from the last game has turned this from something I played a month to something I’m still playing every single day seven months later.  I love this game more than most people I know.

 

 

Mel’s Best of 2013

10. Outlast

When Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs revealed itself to be nothing but an overwrought short story devoid of any actual scares (not that surprising in retrospect considering it came from a studio known only for previously making an overwrought interactive short story), the gap for a great horror game in 2013 was left wide open. Enter Outlast, an interactive carnival ride through a spooky asylum full of jump scares, cackling mad inmates and tons of uncomfortable full-frontal nudity. What more could you possibly want?

9. Gunpoint

Elevator Action was once proven to be the greatest game ever made by a group of scientists in Reykjavik so someone’s gotta have a lot of guts if they think they have what it takes to step up to the 2D spy platformer throne and reach for the crown. Gunpoint may not impress Icelandic scholars the same way E-Action did back in the day but it was a unique platformer all the same, one which managed to properly convey a real sense of old school espionage even with its simple 2D style.

8. The Last of Us

It was pretty good.

7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

No one thought it could be done. There was no way Platinum Games could ever craft a Metal Gear subtitle as brilliantly stupid as “Peace Walker”, a title so dumb that it sounds like it could be the title of the book Vin Diesel eventually writes about his relationship with Paul Walker. Kojima had hinted at greatness before with the incredibly stupid subtitle “Snake Eater” but “Peace Walker” made us rethink what we thought we knew about goofy-as-hell subtitles. It’s a testament to Platinum’s expert handling of the Metal Gear brand then that the bar was raised once again with “Revengeance”, a nonsensical joke of a title which is made infinitely better knowing that absolutely no one who worked on the game thought it was humorous.

Also, the game was great. You could slice up watermelons with a sword.

6. Papers, Please

Papers Please might’ve tried to disturb players with the bureaucratic horror that comes with running a dystopian society but it’s never been so much fun to be a cog in a horrible humanity-crushing machine.

5. Super Mario 3D World

In a bitter twist of fate, the year of Luigi was proven to be meaningless as Mario stole the spotlight from his older brother yet again with another classic platformer. Coincidentally, not long after its release Luigi was found naked hanging from the rafters of one of his many haunted manors with the hose of his magic vacuum cleaner wrapped around his neck in a clear case of autoerotic asphyxiation. R.I.P. Luigi.

4. Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Like all of Tom Clancy’s escapism-for-patriotic-middle-aged-men projects, the purpose of the Splinter Cell games from day one has been to empower players into feeling like the ultimate badass American who can defeat terrorism just by doing the splits between two walls a lot. Its plot and characters are boilerplate Clancy hogwash but Blacklist was one of the most mechanically sound action games of the year and made it effortless to become the gruff overpowered kill-three-bad-guys-at-once hero you want to be in a silly blockbuster like this.

3. Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I love Simpsons: Tapped Out as much as the next person but it seems to be part of a disturbing trend of games devolving into nothing but a routine of mindless time-consuming tapping in exchange for the false sense of creation. New Leaf felt like the antidote to games like that, one which appealed to our need for routine and progress but managed to do it in a way which was always engaging, charming and fun.

2. Gone Home

There’s nothing that new about Gone Home — since Adventure in 1975, adventure games have been using mundane exploration as their main means of storytelling. The measured search of the boarded cabin at the start of Zork is no different than the measured search of the house in Gone Home, it’s the same kind of atmospheric world being built up simply by the details and textures of the environment around you. The brilliance of Gone Home was in how dedicated it was to even the smallest of those details, creating a world so well-crafted that even the most insignificant piece of trash you might’ve found lying around still managed to tell you something about either a character or this universe they existed in.

1. Grand Theft Auto V  

GTAV showed more artistry in its announcement trailer two years ago than some games from 2013 did in their entirety. Gorgeous cutscenes with actual thought put into shot composition, great naturalistic voiceover from a good actor, brilliant use of the title track from the Small Faces’ eternally underrated classic 60s album “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”. In less than two minutes they managed to make something that was more cultured, nuanced and cinematic than whatever David Cage has been attempting to do his entire career.

The full game replicated that same kind of craft on a scale so immense that it almost defied believability. How thousands of people and multiple studios could make such a sprawling, multi-protagonist epic feel so singular in vision and voice was a stunning achievement. The game created a world as rich and defined as the one in Gone Home, just one that happened to be a few billion times its size.

Most impressive was how Rockstar ended the console cycle with a game which acted as a perfect summation of the leaps and bounds they grew throughout the generation. GTAIV supplied the engine which would act as the blueprint for all of the following games; Red Dead Redemption improved the narrative structure and better used the hardware to create a more ambitious world ; L.A. Noire saw them focus on the importance of acting and motion capture; Max Payne 3 addressed the problems they were having with combat. In a five-year span they managed to create five great games which built upon each other until they had polished their ideas and mechanics into near-perfection with GTAV. Now just imagine what they’re gonna do with the new consoles.

Review: Bravely Default Demo

Yeah it’s that time of year.  The time of year when even the virtual shelves are sparse with new games.  So I guess it isn’t surprising that I somehow I found myself downloading and playing the Bravely Default Demo, in hopes of finding something, anything new to play.  What was surprising was that I found myself sinking nine hours into the game.

There’s not a lot of story, the demo explicitly states that the events takes place outside of a the main game’s story, and your reason for combat is just a bunch of glorified fetch quests.  But, there is a lot of fun gameplay if you like turn-based jRPGs with job systems.  Which I do like quite a bit.  There isn’t a whole lot of fundamental difference between the job system and combat between say, Final Fantasy II.  But the game doesn’t pretend that a couple decades haven’t passed since that game has been released.  Success in the game requires some thoughtful managing of the various job roles in any given party.  The one original feature  of the game(which they named it after for some reason; maybe something is lost in translation?) is the ability to “brave” (take two turns at once) or “default” (defend and bank a turn for later).  This doesn’t seem all that interesting in the early stages of the demo, but you soon run across enemies that force you to use these systems well to succeed.  And, the enemies play the same rules, so you have to plan for enemies that might take a couple turns, or they might not.  It’s interesting.

There also is the promise that you’re going to carry certain parts of your progress in the game over to the main one.  I don’t know how that’s going to work out but it seems like a nice reason to play the demo.

There were other features that I just couldn’t comment on, but was curious about.  The game has several different social hooks that allow you to really take advantage of having friends who play, as well as encouraging you to street pass with other players.  But despite the fact that this was a free demo, I don’t have any friends playing and have been unable to streetpass with anyone so I have no idea if they work or not.

All in all, a pretty good experience for nothing.  It made me want to get the main game.  But it’s not in any stores and not in the E-shop yet.  So instead of getting my 40 bucks, now Square has to just hope I remember to buy it before I get something else.