2013: Revenge of the lists
Posted by Matt at 16:25 on 24 Dec 2013
Anyway I played some of these alleged videogames. Not all of them, because are you serious? I have a life you know. There you go, a Christmas lie. Another Christmas article checkbox ticked.
But point is, I'm gonna tell you about some of those games here. Specifically the ones that stood out to me for whatever reason. None of them were the best of the year, so think of this as something of a celebration of participation. A reunion for the runners up. A funeral for the losers.
So in absolutely no particular order: VIDEOGAMES.
"Oh boy, a game about shuffling papers and organising documents that's actually fun and addictive! Dear oh dear, I must have missed my calling as a drone in an office, filing paperwork all day, eh? eh? What a boring old so and so I must be!"
Get tae fuck.
I've seen this type of sentiment parroted literally five million times since Papers, Please came out. The claim that this game merely scratches an obsessive compulsive itch that people have does it a painful disservice, and doesn't come close to conveying how well designed it is. Your role in the game as a passport control inspector, charged with checking for forgeries and discrepancies in immigration papers, is merely the misdirection used to lure you into a far deeper and more insidious world than you were probably expecting.
Papers, Please is one of the most intense and stressful games I played this year. It's a test of memory, reactions, co-ordination and decision-making. Effectively being on quite a strict timer means you can't dawdle and take your time to check every single detail thoroughly. You have to trust your own judgement and ability to just know when something's amiss.
But more than that, the game tests your own morality, and susceptibility to corruption. The fine line you constantly tread between being able to provide for your family and seeing them starve or freeze to death, is as unforgiving as it gets, and as the story progresses (yes, there is a story) you can end up succumbing quite profoundly to the corruption that is constantly trying to sway you from all sides. Suddenly, rather than just turn people with forged documents away, you find yourself condemning them to an uncertain fate, simply because you were offered a backhander for detaining more people. It's a chilling illustration of how desperation can override a person's ethics and blur their sense of right and wrong.
And what of the underlying theme of fascism and oppression? Your decisions act as crucial turning points in the game, and demand that you decide whether your own sense of humanity is unshakable or can effectively be bought off. These turning points are as dramatic as any moral choice system found in other, bigger games, and lend a powerful sense of consequence to your actions.
For goodness sake, play this game. Don't be fooled by trite descriptions of its surface layer. It's an engrossing, thrilling game with so many possible outcomes that you'll feel your experience was truly unique to you.
What a beautiful, ambitious, surprising, boring, shallow mess of a game.
Infinite is a game that feels like it should be far more than just the sum of its parts, but ultimately the repetitive, uninteresting gameplay drags it down to a point where you realise it will never break free of the archaic design choices that suffocate it.
The story, when read back to you, is quite fascinating, and in parts it is extremely well told, but so much of it ends up as needless and poorly justified filler. The entire midsection is almost completely superfluous and deals with social issues that are far too complex to be handled in the careless, insipid manner that the game settles for. The city of Columbia too, while absolutely beautiful in aesthetic and intriguing in principal, is also utilised so thoughtlessly that for most of the game, the fact you're in a giant city in the sky is easily forgotten, which is just tragic in its waste.
It's been said before by people who don't remember Half-Life 2 that the world of this game is wasted on a first person shooter. That's only half true. More accurately, it's wasted on a first person shooter made by a developer who doesn't know how to make that type of game consistently fun and satisfying to play. There's a real sense of disconnect between the very imaginative setting and design, and the completely unimaginative combat scenarios that unfortunately make up about ninety-percent of the actual gameplay. Occasionally, you're thrown into something more interesting when the game deigns to use its sky-rail mechanic, but the vast majority of what you're doing consists of closed off area after closed off area, with wave after wave of identical bullet-sponges in each. And the game's grand finale? A fucking wave-based tower defence section.
Vigors (plasmids, in old money) can be used to try and mix things up but they never feel essential or integral to the experience, so you inevitably fall back on the same handful of bog-standard weapons to contend with the seemingly endless supply of enemies. In this instance, Infinite's combat just isn't any fun. Nothing engaging or interesting about it, and in a game like this that relies almost entirely on the strength of its combat to drive the progression and keep the player interested? That's damn near terminal, and condemns Infinite to being one one of the biggest wastes of potential in recent memory.
A world of infinite possibility, nearly all of it squandered. There's your box quote, motherfucker.
Strangely, for a game whose main pitch seemed to be character development, Tomb Raider's attempts at characterisation - including those for little miss Raider herself - are unwaveringly terrible and the weakest parts of the whole experience. Firstly, any sense of isolation or struggle for survival is jettisoned into the sun when Lara's cast of supporting walking, talking clichés show up after she's been alone on Tomb Island for all of about three minutes. I won't labour the point: they are some of the most uninteresting and two dimensional human shadows you can imagine. So bereft of personality that they're not even hateful; you just could not give one tiny shit about what happens to them.
And Lara herself is a hopeless sack of ham and melodrama. Less a pillager of tombs; more a chewer of their scenery, offering such delights as staring into a mirror and remarking that "SO MUCH HAS CHANGED." This is not to mention the ludonablahblah bollocks that comes with her distress and then immediate indifference to murder.
Then of course the story takes a nosedive into banal supernatural horseshit territory and you just want the credits to get the fuck out here before the entire game is tarnished.
But despite all of this, Tomb Raider is still quite a fun game to play. Its cues from Uncharted are clear and it mostly makes good on them with some nice traversal mechanics and cool set pieces. It even manages to be a considerably better cover based shooter than Uncharted was, and actually offers some satisfying combat that you won't feel just gets in the way of the game, as has often been the case with that other series.
Far from perfect then but worth playing around with. Just don't support the exploitative 'Definitive Version' until existing owners can simply upgrade to it, as they can with every other crossgen game about.
DmC: Devil May Cry
What a stupid name.
And an incredibly stupid game. I mean...incredibly stupid. I haven't been quite so taken aback by how dumb a game has seemed in quite some time. The characters, dialogue and story are all so...
Actually there is no word for it. It just has to be experienced. I'll be honest I still have no idea whether DmC is deliberately one of the most ridiculous things ever or if its writers and designers are actually ser- seri-
I can't even say it. It just can't be so. But what I can say is that DmC is one of the most fun games of 2013. Assume (for the love of fuck assume, or you'll lose your mind) that everything going on is one big piss-take of modern supernatural pulp nonsense, and you're free to enjoy a seriously satisfying and stylish little game. The combat is accessible and free of stupidly convoluted combo systems, but still complex and skilful enough to keep you learning it and trying to master it over the game's duration. There's a rich variety to it that I just wasn't expecting. You feel compelled to use all the tools at your disposal as therein lies the secret to the spectacle that the game pulls off so well.
The visuals and level designs are also absolute treats. The concept of 'limbo' is used incredibly well to keep you surprised and wanting to see more of the bizarre and grotesque scenes that the game is never short of. It unfortunately doesn't run quite as smoothly as you'd hope on your old consoles, but it nonetheless never feels like it's overreaching, so it's hard to complain.
Longterm fans of the series of course denounced it as the worst thing ever, but you don't want to associate yourself with such people. DmC is excellent and one of the most straight up enjoyable games of the year. If you missed it, buy it.
Persona 4 Golden
Alright, I'll admit this is an odd one. In fact I technically wouldn't have been able to include this before the recent PSN sale as I hadn't actually played the game before. I watched Persona 4 on PS2 be played through in its entirety by Jeff Gerstmann and Vinny Caravella over at Giantbomb a few years ago. It is the single most inexplicably enjoyable thing I've watched in my life. A hundred hour JRPG, played by other people.
But if that's not indicative of how goddamn good Persona 4 is then I don't know what else to say to you. This is a game that makes you love it. It's unashamedly rooted in a hundred different anime tropes at once, but even to someone such as me who usually can't abide that kind of thing, I absolutely adored everything about it. The story is interesting and surprising, the characters incredibly well rounded and realised (helped in no small part by the excellent voice acting and script), and the importance of the player's interactions with the game's world are quite unlike anything else I can think of.
Persona 4 is brilliant in its design. Just brilliant. The dungeon crawling and fighting aspects are fundamentally coupled with a socialising system and day-to-day series of ostensibly minor choices that make the game absolutely unique. In another set of hands, the attempt at marrying these seemingly unconnected systems could easily result in an absolute mess of pointless busywork, but in the hands of a developer who knows how to make that stuff work, it's masterful. Despite being an incredibly long game, all of it feels important and hardly any of it is anything less than a joy to experience. Even if you normally don't go for JRPGs, give this a go. If there's any one game that could win you over, this is it. An absolute classic.
Metal Gear Rising
Considering the troubled development of this game, it's a small wonder that it was released at all. The fact therefore that it's actually one of the most surprisingly awesome games of the year is downright miraculous, and a testament to the shrewdness of handing development over to Platinum Games.
The combat in Rising is damn near perfect for this type of game. Hacking and slashing at your enemies with no thought to strategy will yield a brick wall for you to smash your thick head against. Defence is as much a part of it as aggression; knowing how to parry strikes and counter is the secret of the game's combat system. And when you've finally realised what the game requires of you, my god is it satisfying.
Remember all those incredible cutscenes in MGS4 featuring Raiden? This game actually manages to make you feel that empowered, without having to fall back on quick time events or scripted sequences. It just manages it with a carefully and skilfully thought out combat system that never gets old.
Rising isn't a long game but it's built around the assumption you'll keep coming back to increase your level ranking, and it also manages to pack a lot into the few hours it'll take you to see it through to completion once. The plot is absolutely manic and off its head, but thankfully doesn't try to imitate Kojima's unique brand of insanity. It has its own unique identity that still feels consistent in Metal Gear's bizarre universe, and at once manages to honour the traditions of the series, and stand out in its own right. Absolutely unmissable.
Grand Theft Auto 5
GTA5 is like a 90 year old given the most expensive, professional full-body plastic surgery job ever. Everything about it seems convincing in its ability to stay fresh and keep up with the times, but then every so often its teeth fall out and it shits all over the carpet. The illusion is shattered.
It's a game terrified of losing its identity, and so clings to everything that identifies it as belonging to the series that's entertained the world for over a decade, but in doing so refuses to let go of the now ancient problems that damn near cripple it.
The control scheme is still as outdated and infuriating as its ever been. In a time when game designers are trying to immerse you in the experience and make you forget you're holding a controller, it's deeply frustrating to go back to a game whose design choices are stuck in a time when no such considerations were made. Having to still tap A/x to run for no reason other than "it's just what GTA does" is fucking barbaric, and the sticky-wall cover system is every bit as clumsy and frustrating as it was five years ago.
True, the sheer head-crushing infuriation of having to restart an entire mission upon death has been alleviated by the introduction of a checkpoint system, but this is just papering over the cracks. The mechanics that the game is built on are just as archaic as ever; you're just not being punished for their own inadequacies quite as often.
In spite of this, GTA5 is absolutely a better game than GTA4 was though. The missions, despite often limiting themselves to familiar paradigms, manage to feel fairly consistently varied and interesting, which was not the case last time round. It's also a more entertaining and funny game than GTA4 was, and I frequently found myself laughing at it. The humour is at times misguided and the game fires at pretty much everything rather than one specific target (with some occasionally troubling results) but that's a conversation for another list. By and large the characters and writing are of a high enough quality to keep you wanting to see more, which again is a quality GTA4 lacked.
And of course, the game's sense of place in its map and populace is damn near astounding at times. This is a place that actually feels alive, made possible by the almost scary level of detail afforded to everything. Particularly impressive is the variety of pedestrian types, their routines, and the ability for the player to interact with them. In the grand scheme of things, it's mere surface polish, but hell if it doesn't make the game categorically a better and more enjoyable one.
But don't think you can keep getting away with your bullshit GTA. I'll give you this one, but sooner or later you have to change or end up 100% plastic. It's a fate that awaits us all.
Oh, Tearaway. You were too good for this world.
It's quite rare nowadays that I feel as...charmed by a game, as I have done with Tearaway. No, it's not the most challenging of games and is by and large quite a linear experience. But the sheer sense of joy oozing out of every part of it is damn near unrivalled; even by masters of the craft like Nintendo. The paper-themed aesthetic is used to giddying effect; so full of imagination and wonderfully designed.
Delightfully, it feels hand-crafted. Every detail lovingly made by a real person with real, fleshy hands. The design of the environments is just a constant treat to behold. Honestly, I struggle to think of another game since my childhood that's given me that same sense of wonder and warmth as some of the scenes in this game. One part in particular took me right back to playing Banjo-Kazooie for the first time, and one of my favourite videogame levels ever: Click-Clock Wood. I properly fell in love with Tearaway at that point.
This is also the game that justifies just about every part of the Vita. The dual touch interfaces, the cameras, the...buttons; everything here is used in a way that, amazingly, doesn't feel contrived or there just for the sake of it. It's a game that couldn't exist on any other platform, and is made better by all the unconventional inputs.
So really...you have to play Tearaway. You just have to. It's an absolute joy to experience and deserves to sell Vitas all by itself.
So there's your goddamn list, you vultures. There are some notable omissions, I concede. Mario and Zelda would have probably featured here if I'd played them, but I didn't, so I dunno, write me a letter about that and mail it up your butt. Assassin's Creed 4 is another one, although I have that now so maybe I'll write my own letter and shove it up ye.
There were also some other games that I did play but that didn't stand out enough, and so were scientifically unlistable. Gunpoint was a fun little game but felt incomplete. Too many tutorial levels and not enough chances to fully utilise all the tools at your disposal.
And what of next gen? Next...when, more like. Killzone Shadow Fall was utter fucking garbage that disappointed at even the lowest expectations, and doesn't warrant talking about further. Battlefield 4 was a fun game and a marked improvement over its predecessor, but is still a modern military shooter and thus has no place in our discussions. And err...I guess Driveclub is out in a couple of months? I dunno, put a pin in this paragraph and see me later.
But don't leave yet. Soon I shall also post my game of the year that wasn't released this year, as well as the game of the year that...was. You already know what it is though, so why the charade? What have you got to hide?
I've got my eye on you.