Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Game of the Year Awards

As the year comes to its end, game journalists everywhere are pushing out their Game of the Year awards. Why not join in with them? In the interest of transparency, I'm pushing out a list of the games I know I played this year. Since I didn't have a chance to play many of the bigger titles and took a nearly four month gap from playing anything for school, I felt it prudent. This means many major titles will be left out entirely. The full list of what was considered includes games that were not necessarily released this year...but games I played for the first time during the course of the year.

Every game taken into consideration:
Retro City Rampage
The Cave
Hitman: HD Trilogy
Hitman Absolution
Tomb Raider
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Hotline Miami
BioShock Infinite
BattleBlock Theater
Papa Y Yo
Deadly Premonition: Directors Cut
FarCry 3: Blood Dragon
The Last of Us
Civ V: Brave New World
Papers, Please
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Grand Theft Auto V
Lone Survivor
Scribblenauts Unmasked
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1
Need For Speed Rivals
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Gone Home
The Stanley Parable
Brothers: A tale of Two Sons
Race The Sun

Guacamelee – This was a major contender, until the game hit a certain point. It was a great metroidvania style game, that encourages the player to fully explore the game world. It's art style is outstanding, and its references to other video games are extremely well done. The major thing that pushed it out of this list is that the latter part of the game becomes a series of frustrating timing based jumping puzzles.
Need for Speed Rivals – It's pretty astounding that the series keeps getting so close to greatness before dropping the ball. The open world design of the game is fascinating, but somehow manages to come off as restrictive. I'm forced to always join a server, and I can't really choose which or change them. This ultimately ends that in a game of 6, I'm typically playing alone. There's no way to pause the game if you have to get up for any reason, and getting an actual race going is nearly impossible. It's a shame, holding back an otherwise great game.

10. BattleBlock Theater
It's been said that BattleBlock Theater did for Platformers what Castle Crashers did for Beat Em Ups. I don't know if I hold the same opinion, but it was definitely an enjoyable game. The story cutscenes were amusing, though they all ran too long. The gameplay was great, and demanded repeat playthroughs of individual levels. The ability to play with friends is ultimately the most enjoyable aspect of the game. By the end, I was ready for it to be over though, and I haven't really looked back since.

9. Grand Theft Auto V
This will undoubtedly be the most controversial, due to how low I placed it. It is a perfectly enjoyable game, with plenty to do and worth sinking several days into. The story is on par with other Rockstar games such as GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption. What drags it down in my mind is just how immature the whole thing is. Large portions of the plot and surrounding world are decidedly infantile, detracting from what might otherwise be a really great game. The game shows a severe level of both racism and sexism, both intentional and, at times, unintentional.

8. BioShock Infinite
Now the second most controversial. BioShock Infinite is an example of a great story betrayed by its gameplay mechanics. The quiet moments between battles are outstanding, and I felt great exploring the game world during these moments. Once the combat began, however, that sense of discovery and wonder wore off entirely. Then combat would end again, and the world would pretend as if it had never tried to kill you. Add in the fact that the combat wasn't particularly interesting itself, and it drag down an otherwise interesting tale.

7. Tomb Raider
The reboot of this franchise was not as grand as I'd initially hoped it to be, yet still managed to a great service to the dying series. Trapping Lara on an island, and giving her some ability to explore, yet still confining her actions, was a smart decision. If it were an open world, the game would have lacked focus and urgency. However, the game could also be described as “torture porn”. Watching Lara Croft getting beat up repeatedly became hard to watch at a point. Also, the mechanics also betrayed the story, though to a lesser degree than BioShock...Lara Croft became a killing machine fairly easily, all things considered.

6. FarCry 3: Blood Dragon
It's not very often that a game expansion is better than the game itself, but this is one of those cases. As much as I enjoyed FarCry 3, this stand alone story blew it out of the water. A love letter to the 80's, the game took place in a dystopian (past) future, filled with pop culture references, neon colours, and synth music. It didn't outstay its welcome, and still provided a lengthy experience.

5. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
This is a tentative ranking, as I'm still in the process of playing this. It breaks a lot of what we've come to expect from the Zelda series. Non-linear progress, the ability to gain weapons in any order or rent them, and even a component where you can send your character into another persons game world. The story seems decent, though not as grand as what I've come to expect from the series...though that may change by the end. I'm interested in seeing how everything works out, but if nothing else, it's nice that they shook things up.

4. The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1
The only thing keeping this game as low on the list is that only one episode has been released. After playing the demo at PAX, I was slightly hesitant, worried that TellTale took what they had with Walking Dead and wouldn't be able to keep the quality up. So far, I'm wrong on that account. This is a stunning game with an intriguing story line. I've been aware of the Fables comics for some time, but only after playing this did I pick any of them up. If they can keep this quality up, along side Walking Dead Season 2, Game of Thrones, and a Borderlands adventure as well, it will no doubt be one of my favorite games of 2014, and the year will be dominated by TellTale.

3. Antichamber
The only way I know how to describe this is that its a rather profound experiment in game design. The game is never what you expect, and even when you think you have something figured out, you'll soon learn that's not the case. The game may leave people frustrated and lost, but that's all part of the fun. The second I stepped into this world I was addicted. I would consider this game a must play for everyone, even those who may not ultimately enjoy it, it will still provide an alternate view of the possibilities games afford us.

2. Gone Home
I actually put this one off for quite a while, only recently playing it. Admittedly, that may skew my viewpoint, but what I got from this was fascinating. This was everything I wanted from titles like Dear Esther, an experiment in what makes a game, though still decidedly interactive. I felt like a part of the world, like I was the character. What unfolds over the course of the game is a series of fascinating stories that left me thinking afterward. If I had to comment on one drawback, it would be the supernatural element to the game...I felt like it really detracted from the rest of the story.

1. The Last of Us
The previous three titles are all indie titles, so that should tell you something. This game, more than any other, left a lasting impression. All of the feels, all of them. This game tugged at the heart strings in ways that every other game, movie, novel, whatever, wishes it could. If you can play through this without tearing up at least once, then you are a cold, cold person. The gameplay wasn't perfect, but it suited the story and worked amazingly well together. Naughty Dog created a masterpiece, and definitely one of the best games of this past generation.

Next year I'll keep better track of what games I've played, so when I make a list, it will be more comprehensive. Feel free to fill me in on what your top 10 games were for 2013, including any I may have missed.