Kenneth Cummings 's blog
click to hide banner header
My name is Ken. I have a deep passion for art and storytelling, video games in particular. You can follow me on Twitter here:
Player Profile
PSN ID:MacabreMilkman
Steam ID:
Follow me:
Kenneth Cummings's sites
Following (1)  

I wanted to start off by saying this year was a good one for gaming, but in all fairness, we had a shit ton of really shitty games. From Aliens: Colonial Marines to Ride to Hell: Retribution, we've had some bad ones. 2013 was a year that gave us gems like The Wonderful 101, but it also gave us shit piles like Final Fantasy: All the Bravest. Taking that into account, I guess I can't really call it a "very good year", so I'll just settle for "interesting". 2013 was an interesting year for gaming. Of the many games that came out last year, here's a list of the top ten that I played. Please note that I said "that I played", not "the objective list of the best games that ever came out period.", so try not to get too upset if I commit the unthinkable atrocity of not playing the game you liked.

10: Proteus

Why it's on the list: Well, it's pretty. I know that sounds shallow, but Proteus does a single thing, and it does it reasonably well. It's an escape, a chance to relax and unwind after a long day. There's very little interaction, merely exploration and serenity. Does that make it a "game", or should it be forever labelled as "not a game"? It doesn't really matter. Proteus is enjoyable for what it is, so I'm not going to damn it for what it isn't. It isn't deep, complex, or complicated, but not every game has to be. In an industry dominated by "Follow the Leader Syndrome", it's nice to see a game that just wants to do its own thing, which is to be an enjoyable little experience, for however long you play it. 

Why it's not number one: I feel that this game fills a niche that I've been looking for, small as it may be. Sometimes, I come home from a long day at work, and just want to unwind. I don't want always want to blast things to bits, and I certainly don't want to be teabagged by some twelve-year-old screaming in my ear. Sometimes I just want to escape to a beautiful, serene environment, and forget my worries. Proteus does this... but not much else. This isn't so much a criticism as it is a justification for its place on the list. It's not a game I'm likely to which I'm likely to keep returning, but at the same time, it isn't necessarily as memorable as Journey, which remains one of my best gaming experiences, even though I've only played it once. Proteus doesn't really have that many real issues about which I can complain, so I'll just say that I enjoy it for its simplicity, even if it's not all that memorable.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Non-Game of the Year

9: Dead Space 3

Why it's on the list: Despite forgoing its action horror roots, Dead Space 3 still managed to be an entertaining ride, not unlike how I enjoyed Resident Evil 5, despite being an inferior imitation of its predecessor. Despite throwing atmosphere aside, the game's core gameplay-that is, dismembering Necromorphs-is as strong as ever. The true saving grace of the game however, is its robust crafting system. Collecting resources, upgrades, and weapon parts was what kept me going through a second and third playthrough. I played this game for many hours, and I'd say most of that time was spent at the weapon bench, experimenting with the various permutations. Want an assault rifle with an underslung rocket launcher that slows down time? You can do that. How about a flame-thrower with a blade attachment that coats enemies in acid? Yeah, that's possible. 

The depth of the crafting system and the sheer visceral joy of using those crafted weapons to tear enemies apart is extremely satisfying, and is what ultimately saves it from being the mediocre experience it otherwise would be. It should also be mentioned of course, that cooperative play is a blast, with a unique twist on the co-op specific missions. Seriously, I get to dismember alien monsters with a a quadruple-barrelled shotgun that shoots fire. What's not to love?

Why it's not number one: Well, a lot actually. The story's a mess, with the character's actions ranging from impractical to the outright idiotic. Whilst the crafting system is the best part of the game, it's also held back by the somewhat egregious use of microtransactions. Every time you stop at a bench, you're reminded that you can always pay more money to cheat. Don't want to cheat? You have to wait for actual time to pass. I can't think of any examples of waiting used as a good game mechanic, but if there are, this certainly isn't one of them. 

I'm not sure if it's fair to judge a game based on its DLC offerings, but it should probably also be said that the downloadable content for this game was pretty terrible, even by the standards of a Dead Space title. Every weapon and costume you could buy was just a re-skin of existing models, and the Awakened add-on (if you can actually say that it added anything) shat all over the story with an even more confusing plot full of idiotic characters. It adds no new content except story, which was bad. It may not effect its placing on this list, but it certainly tarnishes my memory of the game.

Oh, but I did get a spear gun for eating a Slim Jim that one time. That was kind of a win-win, I guess.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Crafting System That Rewards You For Eating Junk Food

8: Volgarr the Viking

Why it's on the list: Volgarr the Viking is an excellent homage to old-school arcade games that walks the thin line between retro throwback and sensible game design. It can be frustratingly difficult, but that's also because you're a scrub and you should just be better at video games. Every misstep you make, as unfair as it may seem, is your fault. Because of this, the game creates a duality of frustration and satisfaction. Every time you fail, you're compelled to go again, because you know exactly what you did wrong, and what you can do to be better. At the same time, finally succeeding is extremely gratifying, not because it took so long, but instead because you did it, with nothing but raw skill.

Why it's not number one: Of course, it isn't a perfect retro homage. Whilst it does capture the look and feel of a classic arcade game, it would have done well to leave some of the more undesirable aspects of that era behind. At times, completing levels feels more like rote memorisation level design than mastery of mechanics. The player is also forced to play the whole game in one go, like you had to do in arcade games. However, this isn't an arcade game. It's another 2D platformer in my Steam library. After triumphing over a long, difficult level, it's nice to just take a break. Sadly, coming back to the game resets your progress, and the player is punished with a worse ending if you want to skip ahead, discouraging replayibility.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Viking Simulator of 2013

7: Grand Theft Auto V

Why it's on the list: With a large open world, an incredible attention to detail, and a metric ass-ton of content, there are plenty of reasons for this game to take a spot on this list. For the most part, the moment-to-moment events in the story were a lot of fun, and the staggering amount of detail etched into San Andreas is outstanding, rivalling a lot of single player games such as Metal Gear Solid. It's a game that definitely takes into account what the average player thinks of doing. If you shoot up one character's house with a rocket launcher, the other will text you and kindly ask you to stop. The amount of thought that went into the little things is what earns this game a spot on my list. In addition, the intricacies of the AI deserve a mention as well. I don't think I've had this much fun simply evading the law in any game as much as I did in this one. For the single playthrough that I did, it managed to justify most of my time spent with it.

Why it's not number one: Grand Theft Auto V is a game with a lot of problems. Despite an amazing attention to detail, I'd describe the overall experience as having a "frail grasp on the big picture". Despite what feels like an overwhelming amount of content, I constantly felt underwhelmed. There's a lot to do, but I never really felt interested in doing those things. The combat lacks challenge and depth, and the weapons lack impact. Shooting enemies in the face over and over again is really boring, and it really shouldn't to be. 

Despite having a plethora of missions with branching paths, I only ever did one playthrough, and only replayed a couple of missions. Whilst the moment-to-moment action can be a lot of fun, they're only fun once. Driving a crop duster into a cargo plane shouldn't get old after the first time, but the wow factor is completely lost, and with weak core mechanics, the game has very little replayibility for me.

Then of course, there's the story. It manages to build up a semi-interesting mystery at the start, but despite a fairly good set-up, the story simply doesn't go anywhere. After a string of set-pieces, the plot just fizzles out. The best way to describe the plot of Grand Theft Auto V-and indeed, the entire game-is a lack of focus. With three main characters, none of them get the time to be fleshed out. Unlike previous titles in the franchise, there was very little theming, nothing to tie it all together. The story eventually leads up to one of three disappointing endings. The first two are actually offensive in how anticlimactic they are. Ending 'C' is still anticlimactic, but less so. All of the elements of a good ending are there, but it simply fails to deliver, mostly because the storytelling wasn't very good throughout, and the combat is just so unsatisfying The story gives us several main characters with multiple antagonists (one introduced early on and forgotten, another alluded to late in the third act), but not a single interesting character.

The online mode showed promise, but it too drove me away, especially after seeing how Rockstar prioritises making a quick buck off of microtransations than actually making a good game. The gameplay of Grand Theft Auto V falls into two extremes: easy and boring, and too difficult and frustrating. The single player gives the player too much too soon, with too little effort, which led me to boredom. The multiplayer on the other hand, is far too slow paced and counter productive, which frustrated me to a point where I just got tired of all the repetition and poor design decisions, like cutting the payout for every mission in half, forever. Much like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V is a game that simply failed to live up to its ridiculous hype train. Is it a good game? Yes, I'd say so. However, it's certainly not "one of the greatest games ever made".

If you want to read more about my thoughts on Grand Theft Auto V, you can read my full review of it here. For a detailed deconstruction of how the online mode is unbalanced, you can read more about that here.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Retirement Simulator of 2013

6: Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves

Why it's on the list: Most PC gamers are no strangers to strategy games. As much as I love a good strategy title, sometimes I want to get right into the action. In this, Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves delivers, offering the best blend of action and strategy I've played since Brütal Legend. During the day, players prepare for the night's onslaught by purchasing items, setting traps, and preparing a plan of action. Oh, and I don't use the word "onslaught" lightly. The wolves will attack you relentlessly, and if you lose a single building, it's game over. You'll need to carefully plan ahead and act fast to survive and scrape together a living in this game. It takes the critical thinking of a strategy game and combines it with the frantic action of a brawler. Combine this with the clever "fear" mechanic-wherein you can keep attacks at bay for a short time-and you've got an intense nail-biter of a game. Refer to the above image. It might not look like much, but when you consider that I've got about a second left before that wolf attacks me, and likely a little more than a couple to fully reload my rifle, which only holds one bullet, it should be obvious that this game is anything but laid back. Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves combines two genres well enough that I can overlook some of its rougher edges, and enjoy one hell of an intense action strategy experience.

Why it's not number one: Like I said, the game's pretty rough around the edges. It's certainly not the best looking game, with a somewhat barren and uninteresting landscape. In addition, it's combat is fairly rudimentary, and difficult to enjoy on its own. Bashing wolves with your axe is clunky and not nearly as satisfying as it should be. Though the strategy aspect of the game is top-notch, the action side of things isn't quite as polished.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Accurate Representation of Canadian Life

5: Saints Row IV

Why it's on the list: I don't think the Saints Row franchise will ever recapture the perfect blend of over-the-top shenanigans, impactful storytelling, and an deep open world full of things to do like Saints Row 2 did. That said, Saints Row IV is some of the most fun I've had with the series in a while. In fact, it's some of the most fun I've had in a while, period. At this point, the game has all but completely shaken off its roots as a Grand Theft Auto clone, and now more closely resembles games like Crackdown and Prototype. This game takes a familiar setting and turns it on its head by giving the player super powers, with the ability to fly and spring at super speed, to name a couple. Much like Prototype and InFamous, the actual open world itself isn't very interesting; there isn't much to see from point 'A' to point 'B', most of the fun lies in simply jumping, sprinting, and flying through the environment. The world isn't so much fun to explore as it is to mess around in. Combine that with a zany plot full of laughs and a really deep customisation system, and you're left with a hell of a fun time.

The main reason however, is because you get RoboCop's gun.

Why it's not number one: Saints Row IV is a fun time, but not much else. Like other open world games such as Assassin's Creed, the gameplay is actually quite decent, but most of the entertainment lies in going everywhere and unlocking everything. Of course, there's also the baffling omission of mission replay, which can be very frustrating, considering how much I enjoyed doing those missions. I shouldn't have to re-do the whole campaign just to re-play one set-piece. Aside from that, I don't really have that many issues with the game, it just didn't consistently amaze me like the other games on this list did.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Patriotic Game

4: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Why it's on the list: Coming in at number four, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the second game on this list to start off with a Predator reference. If there's one trend of which we haven't seen enough, it's the neo-eighties subgenre, and I don't think any game this year has perfectly embodied that decade like this one. Of course, action movie allusions aren't everything. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon takes the familiar setting and mechanics of its base game, and completely reworks it into something unrecognisable and totally righteous. Like the previous entry on this list, the game is chock full of humour, which prevents the game from getting dull. The open world itself isn't much, but there's plenty to do to keep yourself busy. For such a low price, this game is another great case for why the expandalone model should continue. Simply put, it's most excellent!

The main reason however, is because you get RoboCop's gun.

Why it's not number one: Honestly, there aren't that many problems with this title, unless you just don't like the premise, in which case you are not tubular. The game is just short enough so it doesn't overstay its welcome, but the fresh take on the mechanics and environment are so far removed from the base game that it still feels like a worthwhile experience, even if you haven't played it. Would it be a cop-out to simply say it's great, but not as great as the next three games on this list? Yeah, probably.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Eighties References in a Video Game Ever

3: Divekick

Why it's on the list: Whereas Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon managed to be a faithful homage to its source material, Divekick does more than simply pay homage to fighting games. In addition to its slew of FGC references, it actually manages to pull off being a damn good fighting game in its own right. Its sheer simplicity makes it a breath of fresh air compared to the overcomplicated series of systems certain games in the genre have become. What started as a joke ended up becoming a simple, yet hype fighting game that's impossible to criticise. If you don't like Divekick, it's probably because you're a scrub who should be better at video games. You scrub.

Bonus points for being the first of many games to feature Zubaz.

Why it's not number one: It's not as good as the next two games on this list.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Salt in a Video Game

2: Metal Gear Rising: Revengance

Why it's on the list: You throw a giant robot and slice it in half... in the first ten minutes. If you've ever played a Platinum game before, you know why this is on here. The game just feels incredible, especially since its running at sixty frames per second. The sound assets, animation quality, and visual feedback all come together to create what is known as a "Platinum visual sex game". Whilst other games have a weak core covered by lots of content, Metal Gear Rising: Revengance nails its core gameplay mechanics with tight controls and challenging, rewarding gameplay. Its story is halfway decent too, straddling the line between serious and insane. However, what most impressed me about this spin-off's story is how it managed to move the universe forward in a more coherent and interesting way than its mainline predecessor. Despite it's flaws (of which there are several), it just goes a long way to show that Platinum can take anything and make a great game out of it.

Also, it easily has the single best soundtrack of the year, no contest.

Why it's not number one: Considering its fairly rocky development cycle, it should come as no surprise that this game has its fair share of flaws. The camera can be infuriatingly antagonistic on higher difficulties, the game is extremely short, and lacking in overall content, and the environments are dull and lifeless. And if you think beautiful environments and high performance are mutually exclusive, I implore you to play Devil May Cry 4. It's obvious that this game was rushed, and whilst that isn't based Platinum's fault, a difference of perspective doesn't change the game itself.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Awards: Best Character Action Game, Best Soundtrack, Best Gameplay, Sexiest Display of Cyborg Ass, Best Boss Fight, Nanomachines, Son

1: The Last of Us

Why it's number one: I'll be honest. I could have rustled everyone's jimmies by putting a game like Gone Home just for the sake of going against the grain, but regardless of the accolades showered upon The Last of Us, it's number one on my list simply because it's the best game I played in 2013. After the subpar Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, this is a return to form for Naughty Dog, sending the PS3 off in style with a game to rival its other masterpiece, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Sometimes, mainstream praise is spot on. The Last of Us is a game that nails nearly every aspect of design (with the notable exception of its somewhat lacklustre AI), from graphics and art direction to gameplay and story. It's soundtrack fits every scenario perfectly, the game looks gorgeous, and despite having an unoriginal plot at first glance, it actually manages to get away with more than one surprising twist that turns the genre on its head with one of the best endings I've seen, ever.

Unlike Naughty Dog's previous title, the pacing here is spot-on. It's quiet and reflective when it needs to be, then tense and explosive when the time comes. It's quality is unrelenting, and in my opinion, it is what every triple 'A' title should aspire to become. If you want more justification than that for why its my best game of 2013, you can read my full review here.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Beard of 2013

About My List....

If you're wondering why X game isn't on this top ten list, it's probably because I haven't played it and/or it's a shitty bad game. It's probably both. No, I didn't play Beyond: Two Souls. David Cage is a terrible writer, and I will not support his works. I did play BioShock Infinite; it's not on this list because, whilst many of the games on this list had some major flaws, they had a few noteworthy accomplishments as well. BioShock Infinite has the former in spades, and not so much the latter. The truth is, it was just far too mediocre a game for me to consider it amongst the top ten best games I played in 2013. Besides, one Troy Baker escort mission is enough.

Well, there you have it. The factually objective, unbiased, definitive list of the best ten games from 2013. What were your favourite games? Think I missed anything? Feel free to post your picks in the comments section below!

This is the first boss.

You can strip dudes in public with your sword.

You can jump on missiles, just like Solid Snake.

You can be a master of disguise.

You can cut anything you want. Don't like a certain Ferris wheel? Cut it down.

You get a talking robot dog sidekick.

You can slice cyborgs in half and rip out their spines for nourishment.


And there's plenty of tactical espionage action, too!

Photo Photo Photo

All together, the first season of the The Walking Dead: The Game is easily one of my favourite games ever made. As such, I have high expectations of season two. Avoiding all of the coverage of the game up to today, I plunged in to the second season hopeful, and came out not feeling overly excited, but satisfied nonetheless.

I will be going fully in-depth with this episode. Expect full spoilers for all of season one, 400 Days, and the latest episode, "All the Remains".

The Technical Stuff

If there's one issue that has plagued this series throughout more than any other, it's the horrible performance. This is a real shame, because it detracts from the overall experience it's working so hard to deliver. The action sequences are really intense, but this level of inconsistency in the framerate should be a high priority for the development team, and sadly, it only seems to have gotten worse.

The performance was terrible for the “last time on”, and one of my choices didn't carry over properly, though the rest seem to have. This is honestly something I expected to be ironed out-at least somewhat- in the new season. The stuttering and poor texture quality in this was worse than what I’d seen in any of the previous episodes. The performance remained steady for the next couple of scenes, but by the action sequence, the game was just running terribly. Just as the action starts and the music kicks in, the flow is ruined by the loading screen. It has the need to save seemingly constantly, and every action you make causes the framerate to plummet. When the game is working however, the action bits are incredibly tense, and very fast-paced, when they work.

As seen in the last season, the animations are still a bit stiff. Though this isn't noticeable often, it’s hard not to notice when it does happen. The art style seems to have been given a face lift, with characters being given bolder outlines, and certain characters having a whole new look. I personally prefer the bolder, darker lines, and either way, it's refreshing to see a bit of a change, if minor, from the look of the original episodes.

The Story and Whatnot

The opening scene gets tense as Clementine is being robbed at gunpoint. The game then quickly kills off one of the only surviving characters from season one, setting the tone for the entire story. I was honestly expecting Omid to last a lot longer. Despite all the sadness and death from the earlier episodes, I honestly just expected Omid to save the day. This is only the first scene, right? They wouldn't kill off such an important and well-loved character less than five minutes in, would they?

After a time skip, we get a slightly more mature Clementine, and a much more depressing and ragged Christa. The implications here are obvious, and depressing. From this point, the pacing will take somewhat predictable highs and lows, following a cycle of dialogue, exploration, and action. For the most part, it works well, with each individual component being spaced apart in such a way that it doesn't rely to heavily on one aspect of the game. The dialogue wasn't quite as hard-hitting as the previous episodes, but then again, this is only episode one. I always felt pretty confident in what I wanted to say, and some of the dialogue choices felt like obvious ones. Who can resist the Clementine sad eyes? The action scenes, as I've said, have some technical issues. However, I also felt like there were more close calls this time around, as the game introduced more quick directional swipes-which seems built for iOS-as well as mashing, which works better on console and PC.

The set-pieces this time around seem intent on hardening Clementine into a jaded survivor of the apocalypse. This episode likes to tease the player with hope, than snatch it away as cruelly as possible. The game gives us two familiar characters, one of whom is pregnant, and then kills one of them, and the unborn child in an instant. After trying to feed the dog, it retaliates and bites me, forcing me to kill it. I expected a close companion. I honestly thought Clem would have a canine companion for longer than a single chapter, but no. Even that gets taken away from her. I wasn't expecting that many feels in this episode, honestly. I was expecting a slow start that would set the stage for future feels. Instead, I got a few in-the-moment moments that actually made me tear up a little. Having to stab the dog, then mercy kill it as it flailed around, impaled on two spikes, is already one of the most horrific and pitiful things I've seen in a game.

After a short stealth section (I say stealth, but in truth, it’s no different than the rest of the game, just with a little extra added tension), you have to clean and stitch your wound, which is easily the most gruesome thing I've seen in the series thus far, rivaling the “The Lizard” scene from Heavy Rain. After another close call with a walker, we get some time to reminisce about Lee, and much to my delight, a few callbacks to the first season. There was also the irresistible option to blackmail an unfaithful pregnant woman, which is nice.

The next scene involves an argument, and depending on your dialogue choices thus far, you can choose to open up to Nick, and forgive him. It’s surprising how this game keeps you guessing with its characters. At first, I thought I’d really like Pete, and hate Luke and Nick, but by the end of the episode, the opposite was true. These characters are certainly not flat, that’s for sure.

I'm not sure how to feel about this new group yet. We've got some characters that have been nice, some not so nice, and some who are absolutely mysterious. It's an interesting group, so I'm willing to give them a chance. Still, I hope we get to see a familiar face or two join the group, to get a good mix of old and new. There's obviously not a lot to work with, since most of the first season has been wrapped up pretty tight (with the exception of Christa), but that's sort of the whole point of The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Seeing some of the characters from that episode would be a good compromise. We did get some good closure on the fate of Roman, but I'm hoping more characters seen previously join the cast. Season two can and should stand on its own, but it still should feel like a proper continuation, both for the universe and Clem's character.

The Conclusion Part

The choices this episode were light, and I wasn't all that surprised to find three of the major choices were split 90/10, with two others being 75/25. The options here felt like a no-brainer, and though the moment-to-moment action was still good, I actually think “A New Day” had better setups. Mercy killing the dog seems like the obvious decision, as does saving Nick, the guy who isn't bit. None of these decisions felt difficult to make, which is a shame. Though everyone naturally gravitated towards Carley, I feel that the opening episode of season one still had better “who should you save” decisions, because whilst the first one didn't mean anything, it had an impact on your relationship with another character, and the second at least made me feel bad.

Not a lot of your choices impacted this episode, which makes it feel like this season will stand on its own, rather than a continuation of what’s already happened. Still, the overarching goal seems to have already been put in place, which is to get farther north. Season one waited a few episodes before establishing the “get to Savannah and find a boat” goal, so I’m glad this one has already hinted at a destination. From there however, it’s not entirely clear where the series will go. A lot of the action seems to focus on the situational moments, and not the journey itself.

The purpose of this episode is two-fold: bring some closure by expanding on the aftermath of the season prior, and move forward by starting Clementine's next journey. It arguably accomplishes the former better than the latter, but I overall enjoyed "All That Remains" a little more than "A New Day", which I think I can ultimately attribute to this having an entire season to back it up. There was a lot more action this time around, and the pacing for this season seems to be moving at an entire pace. Whereas the first episode of season one had a nice, quite moment of reflection, this one ends abruptly on a cliffhanger during the climax, cutting out any falling action or denouement. This is something that we see a lot in all forms of The Walking Dead fiction, but it felt a bit too abrasive for me. On the other hand, it's a nice change of pace to see the action moving forward.

Overall, I really liked this episode. I loved Lee, but I think I'm going to enjoy playing as Clementine even more, as we see what will likely be a very profound and satisfying character arc. Like the pilot from the previous season, this wasn't anything too heavy-hitting, but that's to be expected for the setup of the story. I have a feeling that this will be the start of a wild roller coaster ride of feels.
Photo Photo Photo

Having recently gotten back into Borderlands 2, I decided to create a new character, this time playing as the Gunzerker class, Salvador. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, he's basically the tank. However, stats aren't what set Salvador apart from the other characters. Whilst I will say I've dabbled as every class in the series for at least some length of time, the Gunzerker remains my favourite. Why? Because it's probably one of the best examples of a character class in an RPG feeling noticeably different, for all the right reasons.

However, it isn't just that he feels different, because the same can said of Team Fortress 2 and Diablo III. The classes in those games have a different look and feel, because of how they restrict you. You can't be a Pyro with a gatling gun or a Demon Hunter with a two-handed pole arm. In that sense, you're sort of shoe-horned into a specific play style, making them feel different, for somewhat artificial reasons. This doesn't really apply so much to the former example as much as the latter, since that's a multiplayer game in which you have to play a specific role on a team, but it's a good example of what I mean nonetheless.

The Gunzerker class in Borderlands 2 pretty much nails it. On the one hand, his skill trees seem to foster a Gung-ho play style, but it's broad enough that you could conceivably play however you want. The gun play is the core component of Borderlands 2, and your class has no real effect over how you as a player chooses to use the game's weapons. As someone who tends to favour shotguns and assault rifles in most games, this means that no matter which class I pick, I can still play that way, but with a slightly different flavour attached. The downside to this of course, is that it doesn't force me to experiment like some other games do.

There's a bit of a wide spectrum when it comes to character classes in role-playing games. On one end, you have the more flexible systems, like the one found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which allows for organic character growth, but to the point where there aren't really even classes. This system works in that you probably won't feel pigeon-holed to the point of re-rolling halfway through the game, because your character's skills develop based on how you play. Use two-handed weapons? You get better at two-handed weapons. If you fancy yourself a warrior, but you really like to dabble in a couple different types of magic, you don't have to choose. From this, you essentially create your own class, but it doesn't really mean much to me, and I almost always end up making the same kind of character when doing a re-roll.

On the other end of this spectrum, we have more rigid character classes, where the actual tools at your disposal are limited by your class. This is often seen in multiplayer titles such as Team Fortress 2 and Mass Effect 3, but also in more traditional role-playing games such as Diablo III. In these games, you have to settle for whatever appeals to you the most. From there, you can still fine-tune your character, but the feel of the character class is mostly the same regardless of how you spend your skill points. The benefit of this sort of system is that each one feels unique in some way, which gives you a more direct incentive to jump back in as a different character, to see what you missed.

Going back to the topic of this article, the Gunzerker sits squarely in the middle. On the one hand, picking this class doesn't restrict what weapons you can choose, and doesn't even offer specific stat bonuses for certain kinds of guns. However, playing as Salvador made me think and play differently than I would with any other class, even though my play style was mostly the same. The skill tree for Salvador includes both passive and active abilities, which ultimately only fine-tunes your character. The badass tokens, which carries over to all characters, does this to an even smaller degree, meaning by the time you reach the level cap, your character is a perfect reflection of how you like to play the game. You can of course, respec at any time, so the system remains flexible. The single most defining characteristic of each class is each one's respective action skill. This can complement or shape your play style, depending on who you pick. The Siren can single out an enemy, freezing them in mid-air. This makes her an excellent support class. Zer0 has the ability to turn invisible, making backstabs, and by extension, melee damage, more important. You get the idea.

The Gunzerker can dual wield anything. This seems pretty straightforward, making him the tank class, because he has such a high rate of damage per second. After all, it's hard to compete with a character class that can fire an acidic rocket launcher and a fully-automatic flaming sniper rifle simultaneously. Whilst this sounds simple at first, it can actually change how you approach the game. You'll be using your action skill a lot in Borderlands 2, so what guns you have equipped and where you equip them does have an effect on combat. Once you unlock all of the weapon slots, this class really opens up, and numerous permutations of death-dealing become available.

The different combinations and possible permutations of dual-wielded death are what keep this character class interesting. I'm constantly swapping out weapons and trying them out-even if only for one or two fights. Salvador's most defining characteristic, his action skill, makes me want to experiment, but it never pins me into a specific play style. It simply tweaks the way in which I use my play style, meaning I can mess around with a few interesting combinations. What if I have a slag gun in one hand, and a corrosive shotgun in the other? How about two revolvers? Or two machine guns? Let's mix things up a little. Put a Bandit submachine gun in one hand, and a powerful sniper in the other, adding huge chunks of damage dealt on top of a continuous stream of steady damage per second. These are just a few of the different combinations, and each quest and gunfight feels more varied and less of a grind because of them.

Needless to say, I'd like to see more classes like the Gunzerker. The character class still feels flexible, offering a great degree of freedom to the player, whilst remaining distinct from the other classes, moreso than the other classes, in fact. Playing as the Gunzerker changes how I think about playing, prompting me to experiment with the tools at my disposal rather than restricting me to certain tools. Getting tired of Boredomlands? Maybe the Gunzerker is what you need. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shoot some engineers in the face. With a rocket launcher and a shotgun. At the same time.

Video game technology has come a long way. We've gone from pointy boobs to round ones. It's taken us from polygonal hands to fully-modelled fingers. Most importantly however, we've seen a great variety of long, flowing, manly beards. In the spirit of Movember, here's the top ten best beard I could think of.

10: Wyatt (The Walking Dead: 400 Days)

In spite of the zombie apocalypse, Wyatt manages to maintain an impressive beard, though still a bit unruly. Perhaps not the greatest beard in gaming history, but noteworthy nonetheless.

9: Trevor (Grand Theft Auto V)

Straddling the line between murderous hillbilly and drunken hobo, Trevor grows his manly mane on demand at any local barber shop. Though the "default" Trevor is clean-shaven, I feel it goes without saying that bearded Trevor is the best Trevor.

8: Max Payne (Max Payne 3)

At least half of the budget for this game went into Max's beard. Fact.

7: Hawke (Dragon Age II)

Say what you will about the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. Most of those things are probably true. However, if one of those things you said was that it's hero didn't have an epic beard, you'd be wrong. When it comes to character creators, I always custom craft my own personal hero. This game is the exception, because none of the other facial hair options matched up to the default protagonist's.

6: Salvador (Borderlands 2)

His beard is blue. I don't think I need to say anything else.

5: Agent York (Deadly Premonition)

Francis York Morgan is one hell of a man. When he's not solving crimes Twin Peaks style, he's kicking undead monster ass. His best feature though, is his beard. What makes this stubble so remarkable is that it must be grown at the expense of extra agent honor. Even whilst working for the FBI, he still manages to fight the system... with his beard.

4: Adam Jensen (Dues Ex: Human Revolution)

His beard is augmented.

3: Captain Price (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)

Let's not beat around the bush here. Captain John Price is a badass. Even if you're not a particularly big fan of the Call of Duty franchise, you have to admit that much. He goes into battle wearing mutton chops, you got to respect that.

2: Joel (The Last of Us)

Just look at it. It's beautiful. Ellie wishes she could grow a beard this awesome.

1: Big Boss (Metal Gear)

The first time Big Boss and his big beard made their début over twenty years ago on the MSX home computer, he appeared to us as a scruffy Connery-esque old man. In the prequel, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, we get to see the beard from the beginning. With subsequent sequels, we get to see its evolution, from stubble to epic mane. Though it has many iterations, it really doesn't get any better than a Fox Engine beard.

Honourable Mentions

Photo Photo

I love Grand Theft Auto Online. I really do. I've spent a lot of time with it, and I love what Rockstar has set out to do. Sadly, they're also ruining it. The mission system is becoming progressively more broken with each patch. Everything in the game is driven by money, yet missions are little more than a waste of time, for a few reasons.

As someone who's looking for a fun cooperative experience with a few friends, Grand Theft Auto Online can be an exercise in disappointment. Everyone has their preferences. Some like racing, others prefer deathmatches, etc., and they're more-or-less accommodated. If you're the type who likes co-op missions, you'll likely be getting the short end of the stick. This isn't because missions weren't given any attention, because there's plenty of content to keep co-op oriented players happy. No, it's how you access that content that's the problem.

Due to the amount of grinding done by repeating short, high-paying missions, Rockstar has opted to halve the amount of money you make every subsequent time you complete a mission. Isn't it a little unreasonable to do this for every mission? I can understand lowering the payout for missions like Violent Duct, because it's so short, and easily completed. However, halving the payout for harder, more complex missions such as Base Invaders and The Los Santos Connection results in a pitiful payout compared to the amount of work that goes into them. Indiscriminately cutting half of your earnings from every mission forever is a terrible solution, and it has some pretty hefty consequences.

As a result, it's easy to dismiss missions as a waste of time, because they fail to reward and incentive the player for doing them. Completing The Lost Santos Connection now nets less than 10,000, which is terrible for a mission of that difficulty. Compared to racing, which can earn you several thousand in less than a couple minutes, missions are a total waste of time. One game of survival pays out $20,000, which feels like a much better time sink than most of the missions.

This lack of satisfaction extends to other activities as well. Pulling off a liquor store robbery seems like a waste of time when your split of the take is only $500. Attacking an armoured truck together is risky, but the low payout and the inability to share the cash you get trivialises that danger. In-game currency is a great way to pat the player on the back and give difficult missions an extra sense of achievement to them. With no way to gain money in the game, is it any surprise people are resorting to exploits and grinding?

Worse than the poor payouts however, is just how inaccessible the missions are. Instead of something sensible like choosing from a list or going somewhere on the map, you have to call one of your contacts, who pulls a random job out of a hat. If you get a job you don't want, tough. You can ask them again, and they'll eventually pick another random job, but only after the game calls you an idiot a few times. This is especially annoying when you have five or six people in a closed crew or friend session, and you want to find a cooperative activity that you can all do. Even more annoying still, I'm getting jobs that take a maximum of only two people. Who wants to volunteer to sit around in freemode whilst everyone else does the mission?

Here's the thing: these missions are fun. I really like some of them. However, unlike every other activity in the game, I have to pick from a grab bag and hope I get what I want. I want to play The Los Santos Connection and Base Invaders again. I'm in the mood for a specific mission, so what do I do? It's extremely frustrating working with this convoluted system when all I want to do is hop straight into some action with my friends, and I can't.

There are ways around this that don't involve a single blanket pay cut for everyone. Here's a few ideas: instead of calling and getting texted a job, you open up a menu for that character, then pick the job you want to do. To prevent grinding, install a time limit that prevents players from hosting that job repeatedly. Let's just say one hour. If I host Flood in the LS River, I won't be able to host that mission again until that time limit runs out. However, one of my three other friends in the game can host it. Of course, to prevent us from going in a circle, you cut the payout for any player who's played that mission within the time limit. So if my friend hosted Flood on the LS river immediately after I did, we'd both get less money that we did before. If a new guy joined in, he could host as well, but he'd get the normal payout, whereas I would still get the reduced one. As I said, this would only last an hour or so. Hell, even an entire day would be better than what Rockstar has done, which is reduce the payout forever.

However, a 50% cut isn't going to cut it. This needs to vary from mission to mission. If I get less than $10,000 for raiding and robbing a military base, why bother? If I stickup some drug dealers for less than a couple grand, what's the point? That won't buy me much of anything, and robbing a liquor store would be more efficient. Because everything in the game is so expensive, this massive pay cut undercuts the missions by taking away the reward. Honestly, our time is better spent in survival and races, until they make those even harder, to prevent the player from actually moving up in the game.

Balancing and maintaining a massive online experience such as this is difficult. There's going to be holes in the design, and I accept that. To say that Grand Theft Auto Online got off to a rocky start would be a bit of an understatement. Though the game as a whole has been a fantastic blast thus far, and it definitely shows a lot of promise, I'm continuously frustrated by flat-out terrible game design, especially when it comes to cooperative missions. I know a lot of this has been done in the name of balancing, but all it seems to have done so far is undermine the player's efforts. Of course, heists could give us quite a large payout, but I can't shake the feeling this is being done to encourage the purchase of GTA$, before it even releases. Sadly, it's hard, if not impossible, to have a balanced economy in a game such as this when you introduce microtransactions.

Rockstar, your mission system is broken. Please fix it. Don't make them feel like a waste of time, and don't make it a hassle just to find something fun for four or five of my friends to do. Just let me jump in and enjoy your game. A lot of these missions are really cool, it's just a real shame I can't play them.
Photo Photo Photo