It’s been an important year for me, mainly cause of all this. I started writing a blog as part of a New Years resolution, which morphed into this site at E3 time. We started recording a podcast which is still great fun. I discovered that talking into a camera while trying to play a game is really difficult, especially when you are terrible at video games.
Games wise it has been a mixed year. When compiling my list it felt like there were a lot more games than their actually were, but those that stood out were really exceptional. The fact that 2/5 of my top 5 are smaller indie games is amazing, and 3/5 have a real focus on narrative and storytelling gives me great hope that this will remain a focus for developers. Following the news side of the medium closer than ever has been fascinating, with the Xbox One DRM fiasco being a particular highlight. I can’t remember a story producing such a constant stream of “wait, they did what?” moments for as long as that did.
This year also brought the next-gen, and the first console cycle that I have got in on day one (except for the PSP, but that doesn’t really count), and the lineup of stuff coming in 2014 should be truly spectacular.
Oh, I also finally finished Cyberia. Finally.
The Top Five
5 – DmC: Devil May Cry
I am not a fan of the original series, fighting games, or even really character action games. I am terrible at combo systems and find pattern recognition in enemies a lazy game mechanic. All that into consideration, I loved every moment that DmC put in front of me.
It’s all down to the art and level design, and DmC is pretty flawless in that respect. Limbo, the games “other” world, is both exceptionally random while being coherent. Watching the level itself warp and shift under your feet is a sight to behold, and each stage manages to add something different to the mix. The boss battles are where the game really shines though. There is so much creativity in each one of these sequences that it’s frankly embarrassing that the previous developers didn’t get anywhere close over the course of 3 games. Ninja Theory managed to take what is great about Japanese game design, and meld it beautifully with Western originality and themes. The result is a game that has so many “have you seen that bit yet?” moments that I’m confident will be held up as a high point in design
4 – Gone Home
I’ve been writing about games and putting it online for about a year now, and never appreciated how difficult it is to properly communicate the thoughts and emotions that games can bring out in people. So it was when I sat on a two hour train journey and the words for my Gone Home review just fell from my fingers that I knew this game was something special.
The way that Gone Home managed to take me back to being scared of the dark recesses of the house I grew up in deserves infinite amounts of credit already. This is combined with a fantastically told story about love and heartbreak in high school that is emenantly relateable, and the ability to play on your expectations as a gamer by flickering lights and setting the scene up for potential otherworldly events that never transpire. Gone Home is on my list in the hope that more people will try and tell stories that are not about saving the world, and more about the things we deal with as normal people.
3 – The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable shares some DNA with Gone Home, in that it plays on your well worn instincts as a person who plays games. This title takes that to a while new level, where your enjoyment is directly related to how invested you are in the medium. It is an amazingly well designed deconstruction of games as a whole, exposing its flaws, tired mechanics, and game player attitudes, while still managing to be often hilarious and insightful. It treads that fine line between being critical without being condescending.
2 – The Last of Us
I cannot think of a better swansong for the PS3 than this. With an exceptionally well told narrative, and an ending that slams you in the stomach, and visuals that outstrips most if not all of the next gen launch titles.
The strength of the story is what pushes you forward through the admittedly poor opening sections of the game. It makes bold moves with characters, with a lead male that is in no way a traditional hero, and a fleshed out young girl companion that holds her own through the sections where you directly control her.
The multiplayer was also a surprise with how unique and fleshed out it was. It shared enough of the mechanics with the Uncharted 3 multiplayer that I loved, while adding the tension of one-death-per-round games like Counter-Strike.
1 – Bioshock Infinite
When you talk about world creation and believablity in games, nothing so far has come close to Colombia. It feels as though people walk those streets every day as they go about their lives. The amount of completely ancillary environmental storytelling throughout the levels is nigh on ridiculous, even down to the garbage on the floor, and the items found in containers.
The combat also took me by surprise at how new it felt, despite it maintaining the “gun-plus-powers” format of the previous games. When Bioshock lets you loose in one of the many expansive open arenas, the combat becomes frantic and unpredictable. You never feel like you are in control at any point, every encounter requires you to move, hide and scavenge just to survive.
All of this is combined with a pair of great characters that are embroiled in a narrative that hits so many more points than it misses. The ending takes some time to parse and fully understand, but manages to go places that were both unexpected and casts the entire series in a new light.
The “Argh I wish I had played this before I made my list award” – Brothers : A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers is the most perfect blend of mechanics, controls and storytelling of any game I have ever played. Each feeds into the other in such a spectacular way that it left me agasp for hours afterwards. Don’t let it be spoiled and go enjoy it for yourself. If you really can’t, then look for my review in the coming weeks
Best Use Of Licensed Music – Saints Row 4
“DLC Can Be Used For Good” Award – Saints Row 4
“How the Saints Saved Christmas” is not only a great title, but is the TV Xmas Special exactly what I needed this holiday season to get me in the mood. Not only do you get a Xmas Dubstep Gun, but you also get to fire coal into bad childrens houses and stick your arm up a robotic raindeer. Classy.
Best Mission Objective – Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag
Assassins Creed missed on on my top 5 this year, just because I had not played enough of it by the time we got round to writing. I should have just put it there though as any game that asks me to “Air Assassinate an Ocelot” AS AN ACTUAL MISSION OBJECTIVE probably deserves the place regardless.
Best Punch Simulation – Gunpoint
Mapping punch directly to left click is pretty smart. Punching as quickly as you can tap the mouse button is genius. The game asking you to please stop cause “I think he’s dead” is just godlike.
The “Oh Crap I Might Actually Spend Money On This” Award – Warframe
I was completely non-plussed by the PC version of this co-op third person space ninja shooter, but the PS4 version appears to have me hooked. That potential £104.99 store purchase keeps staring directly into my soul.
Best Use of Bears – Kentucky Route Zero
It’s all in the title, and I talked about it on the podcast. Go listen at the 27 minute mark.