Well, 2014 is coming to a close. That went quick. This year has been interesting, as the path this generation of games will take is beginning to show. As of now the gaming industry remains primarily in the control of large corporations. The state of the industry actually reminds me a lot of the vertical integration that was common in the early days of filmmaking. I'm a little concerned, but hopeful, as things have gotten much better than previous years. My hope is that with more "independent AAA" titles like Hell Blade, the success of crowdfunding this year, and the rise of indie developers to larger projects like The Witness and No Man's Sky, gaming will open up to allow more creative freedom from developers. God knows we need more MOBAs and Free to Play FPSs. Or temple run clones. *shudders* [SIDE NOTE: I SPENT 20 HOURS ON SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED THIS YEAR. NEVER AGAIN.]
This is only my fourth blog, and it isn't particulary unique, but I hope to post less typical articles in the future. For now though, my GOTY list will have to do.
This might turn some heads. You know what? Your head's probably turned already.
"The Legend of Korra is as good as Bayonetta 2? No way!"
I'm not going to argue that The Legend of Korra is a better designed game than Bayonetta 2, because that would be a bald faced lie. But, I will say I actually had a significantly better time playing The Legend of Korra than Bayonetta 2. Some games don't know when to leave you alone, and quite frankly Bayonetta 2 fit that bill by constantly intersplicing minigames that merely simulated spectacle rather than allowing me to actually feel it . While Korra also has minigames, they are avoidable on repeat playthroughs unlike Bayonetta 2. (Yeah, I'm not doing that horse minigame again just to get the platinum rank on the Masked Lumen Inferno fight) Despite that, it was aesthically phenomenal (Best environments of the year...?) and continued to build on the wonderful mechanics set forth by Devil May Cry more than a decade ago.
To come back to Korra [A game which interestingly enough has a temple run mingame built in], this is a case in which the low budget elements of the game helped rather than hindered the design. As a result of having to pad out the gametime, skills are learned slowly enough that you've mastered old ones by the time you've recieved new ones. In addition, the short length insures the game doesn't overstay its welcome, something all too common in action games (and something I praise last year's Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for handling correctly). To clarify, I believe action games should be short, pure, and highly replayable. Perhaps I'll talk about this more in the future, to support my far fetched claims that a lower budget licensed title is better than Bayonetta 2.
Yeah, if somebody's making a GOTY list and they don't have Super Smash Bros on it, they're either a liar or don't own a WiiU. I was expecting to like this one, but man was it good. There's so much to talk about, from the added fighters, to the refined combat, to the gorgeus visuals, and maganimous music. The godammn music guys. The music. This Metroid remix is especially striking:
It's a crying shame I haven't been able to play more online, since some of my more unsavory activities on campus have left me without internet for my console. However, what I have played of 1v1 matches was relatively lag free and allowed me to find players of all skill levels.
One addition I especially love is the ability to turn every stage into Final Destination, given that I love flat boring stages in addition to low budget Platinum Games titiles.
Time really will tell how this game will hold up when compared withthe mechanics of Melee and the aestheics Brawl, but it's doing a pretty great job right now.
I'm fairly suprised to see how little this game has stuck. As a fan of both surrealist art and modern torture-porn exploitation flicks, I absolutely adored this game. One of my favorite things about the game is its general refusal to do give any reason to like the cast or be invested in the story. If you want answers to the plot, the game's not throwing you any bones. You have to work for it.
Fascinatingly enough, I felt very connected to the character Joseph, who follows you around for about a quarter of the game's running time:
Yeah. You wield that axe, you badass mother fucker you
Most games outside the RPG genre seem to completely misunderstand how to develop a connection with the player and an NPC. Intentionally or not, The Evil Within completely suceeded at doing so. Joseph acquired an axe a bit after jogging through clusterfuck land with me, and oh man does he use it. Given how easy it is to die, having Joseph there to rip apart enemies who were about to kill me was a godsend. He actually began to kill so many, that I felt as though I was competing with him. This kind of connection through gameplay is important if I'm supposed to care about someone who is my supposed "partner". The game furthers this later connection later on, when a health-declining Joseph loses his glasses. Saving your blind, vulnerable axe-wielding friend demands that you put yourself in harms way and sneak past a giant, legitimately frightening creature. That's building a relationship.
In addition to this minor (in the scheme of the whole game) piece of design I liked, the hellscape potrayed tickled my fancy in the most orgasmic of places. Places like the below come to life as if you were walking through some sickly twisted famous painting:
Special shout out goes to Masafumi Takada for his score.
And I didn't think it was all that scary. Very tense, and sometimes unsettling, but never scary in the way that my next game was. And honestly, I didn't expect it to be. It's not like Resident Evil 4 or Shadows of the Damned were frightening.
But you know what was frightening...? This game. This fucking game. I threw my headphones off the first time I played it. I'm proud of that. It's terrifying, and still gets to me months after playing.
When looking to the future of game design, this is where we should look. This game uses its technology not to be overly flashy and show intense spectacle, but to give life to a beautiful Ariticial Intelligence. This is the first time in a long time that I forgot that I was playing alone. At times, the Xenomorph feels like another player stalking you. It's unsettling, but wonderful at the same time. I want more games that let me interact with creatures that feel real.
That beeping sound will be the death of me. Literally.
As far as things I dislike I actually wish that this game had just consisted of survival missions given that the pacing and narrative were so weakly delivered here. As a man who's seen Alien 23 times I praise the attention to detail (Playing as Dallas is no longer a wet dream of mine), but lament the absence of sexual subtext present throughout the game. Honestly, they should've made the Xenomorph a little bit more "Rape-y". Perhaps that would be too controversial...
Fun Fact: I dressed up as Bigby Wolf last halloween.
Fables is really cool. While inconsistent in quality, it is a series I continue to come back and read. I think a big part of this is the characters, which luckily enough are handled so very well in Telltale's adaptation. Bigby Wolf is my favorite protagonist of the year. He's wonderfully filling the film noir archetype here with so much grunting and smoking and hariness and... oh my I think I may have popped something.
He's really great, and so's the rest of the game. Lots of moral choice without feeling too contrived, great visual style and character designs. Especially this guy:
I've heard quite a few opinions about the conequences of player actions in Telltales games, they're aren't many, but while playing these rarely seem like an issue. I see the point of giving you narrative choices to be allowing you more stake in the story at play, rather than being focused around a skinner box reward system.
The Wolf Among Us definitely stuck the landing as far as that's concerned. Which is especially difficult for prequels in general.
Jazzpunk probably belongs in that genre we call "walking simulators". What I find fascinating about Jazzpunk is that even though it is relatively devoid of mechanics aside from "click on this thing" or "give x things to y guy", it manages to be entertaining the whole way through. Because it is both creative and fun. I think this highlights the issue most people have with the walking simulator genre. They're not often intended to be fun, but rather artistic statements. And it is in this intention they can often lose their audience (not that they're bad, just offputting, kinda like the next game on the list). You know, cause we can have both fun and themes.
Jazzpunk also understands the little things. Each level in the game is tiny, put packed to the brim with jokes. Some of my best moments this year were discovering what the game had in store for me. Like the recurring gag of running into the drug addled Hunter S. Thompson, or throwing my popcorn at this nameless man in a movie theatre:
I would also classify it as the first comedy game I have ever played. Every winstate is a punchline, and the way to get there is usually the setup.
Drakengard 3 is a technically terrible. It's an action game that hovers around 25-30 FPS, dropping down to 15 on rare occasion. Most of the environments are visually bland, linear, and feel much more like levels than places. Drakengard 3 also holds itself hostage, demanding odd tasks from its player, like grinding to collect every weapon, in order to see the last few hours. It's broken, and plenty of people will hate it, but still I am able to find things to love.
Drakengard 3 is is easily one of the most vulgar games in regards to character interactions. I have yet to play a game that brings up sexuality and discusses it as casually as done here. And that makes me a bit sad. Some of the only people willing to broach this subject with depth are underfunded obscure japanese developers? The majority of games still haven't advanced from sex or tits being a winstate. Although I do like myself some Sylvia Christel.
I may have also implied that Drakengard 3 is without beauty when commenting on the environments earlier. The soundtrack in this game is easily the best of the year. With an incredibly wide range of variety from frenetic techno, to operatic singing, to raw and totally bizarre songs like this one:
Drakengard 3 is the one of the most vulgar, but one of the most mature titles of the year. It's rare that we get games that are willing to be as frank with dark, and very real material, and that deserves praise despite its flaws.
The "endings" also deserve special commendation. But you'll just have to play it to see!
He's a knight.
This is one of the few games I believe stands above those it pays homage to. I'll be playing this one years down the line.
Transistor has the gall to present a narrative with minimal expostition. And not only does it use that to make its world seem all the more unique, but also to deliver its emotional gutpunch of an ending.
Transistor also never looks ugly, with its wonderfully handcrafted desgin. Every frame a painting indeed:
There's also great genre-mashing here. The gameplay is a cross between Diablo-esque dungeon crawlers and turn based strategy games. Last time we had something like that was Brutal Legend, which I felt left something to be desired in the gameplay department. But here it really works, giving you the tactile and skill based action feeling, while not compromising the planning of a turn based strategy game. I'd like to to see a PvP game/DLC based off of the Final Boss at some point, but that seems unlikely.
I'd like to give special mention to the handling of the gay relationship between two of the antagonists. It wasn't flashy or made as a statement. It was just there. And that's good. Makes me feel like we're progressing.
It's also interesting to see the game shed like on some of our current advancements with the advent of "the cloud". There's a whole can of worms to be covered in mustard and eaten about this game's thoughts about the balance between humanity's need to be together and by themselves. (I believe we get a wonderfully acted villian to highlight the extremes of individualism: Royce)
Another great soundtrack as well, with this one being so integral to the plot that the developers actually discourage listening to it beforehand. I would agree!
Fun Fact for those who have played it already:
"When Red and Royce duel, Royce's Turn()s feature more prominent volume on the bass guitar, in contrast to Red's humming. Royce's studio soundtrack is a bass guitar solo. During Turn(), Royce's field circles are orange instead of teal which match the color of his studio."
Yeah, you know what. Fuck videogames! We don't need them to be number one. If I want to put the two best TV series of 2014 up as my number one game, I'll do it!
It's great to see how well mainstream animation has been developing as of late. Over the Garden Wall was a miniseries aired on Cartoon Network which stars Elijah Wood, Christopher Llyod, and Tim Curry, amongst others. It's a cross between horror folklore and late 1800's band music.
Rick and Morty has been overlooked by almost everyone I know. And that's baffling. This one's a cross between high-concept dimension trotting and family drama. It also has this intentionally broken, funny game based on it that adult swim released as marketing. Wish more shows did stuff like this:
Both shows start off clever and cute, developing into something a bit more emotional and textured as they go along. You also have no excuse to avoid them as they are both here for free and in HD:
Ah, quite rarely to we get *insert awesome noun* like this in the hundred million dollar AAA game industry. While the collectathons are strong with this one, there are many quests that are "go to x, kill y", and some bugs are hampering the launch, I'm hard pressed to find anything I particularly dislike about this game. Really most of my thoughts turn to nitpicking, like "I wish the tactical camera zoomed out more". And... that doesn't that doesn't seem like much of a complaint. Perhaps time will tell, as there is still much more content left for me to explore.
As far as things I like, it is difficult to begin... There are so many...
The new engine and tarot card style looks wonderful.
I love that the Templars are turning into abominations of their own, blurring the lines further with their opposition: the mages.
Also, mages are awesome:
The Knight Enchanter specialization for mages makes them even cooler, by giving them an arcane spirit blade in one hand, and a magic stave in the other.
The game actually works to feel epic rather than simply assuming that it comes with "the fate of the world is at stake."
The world feels legitimately interesting and grounded, everything has a name, a reason, a history. They've had more than a decade to craft this world.
This is the only game that allows me to control an army and engage in high level politics without compromising my perspective as character exploring the world and dealing with his own issues. That is a serious achievement.
The new/old companions are entertaining. I especially love everyone. But I especially especially love Cole:
Someone out there is making animations of Cole, and I love them for it.
The pace of growing your army can be felt as you play, with both the power and Inquistion perk systems giving you new upgrades, while the plot gives you access to new bases of operation.
It's nice that with all of it's money the game is still willing to stop and have moments of beauty without fear of alienating players. Too often would we see certain aspects of a game like this be cut in favor of safer bets. Examples being:
-An extended, combatless walk through a snow storm.
-Helping the small folk. There are lots of quiet quests that could have easily been replaced with killing stuff, but avoid feeling like busy work. Like taking flowers to a grave for a grieving widower.
-The game shoves poetry in your face all the time. When's the last time poetry was mainstream?! Really though. I think it's great that they care to give life to even the art within the game.
-French tavern songs:
-The effort put into making vistas and sights an organic part of the terrain rather than something artificial and momentarily flashy a la Tomb Raider or Uncharted:
-And the frequencies and intimacy of character relationships on display. You really don't get this much of stuff that's this good unless you're playing Persona 3/4. That dialogue and character dynamics has been raised up with the budget, rather than being reduced, seems like a big deal to me.
-Also, I hit on a girl and she rebuffed my affections! Progress Bioware. Progress.