Our Games of the Year
It is Christmas Day as this post goes live, so I certainly hope that you have all had a great day so far and wish you all a Merry Christmas. If you need something to read in between opening presents or while you wait for your dinner, why not check out Our Games of the Year.
Super Mario 3D World, Grand Theft Auto V, Rome II, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Bioshock: Infinite, Tomb Raider the two-part DLC for Dishonored. These are just some of the titles that I have reviewed this past year on the site and all could stake a claim in some way to be my Game of the Year. If I had been able to play more of Battlefield 4, then I might have felt like that could sit in the above list, but from my limited time with it, I can’t say that it would be worthy.
I have some slight regrets over my choice for Game of the Year last year when I chose Far Cry 3, it was undoubtedly a great game, but I will forever feel like I should have chosen Dishonored. This year my concerns are much diminished, while I have enjoyed the aforementioned games, none have quite captured my attention like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. I will say that Football Manager 2014 still sits right up there and if the Dishonored DLC had been a fully formed game rather than a (excellent) two-part story, that might have taken the honours as well.
It isn’t just because of the Welsh accents (they do help though) but the fact that exploring the open seas of the Caribbean is an experience that is unmatched. The sea shanties, the combat and the balls to the wall attitude of Kenway all make for this game to be the one which has drawn me in more than any other. I have to give Ubisoft credit for turning around a series that was starting to grow stale and creating such a refreshing entry to the tales of Assassin’s and Templars.
I would suggest it is fairer to say this is an entry into the world of Pirates rather than the Assassin’s order. While I have completed assassination missions and some of the story missions revolving around the Assassin’s order, there is nothing more fun than taking the Jackdaw out to sea, finding hidden coves filled with treasure, hunting some marine life for crafting and most important of all, sinking some Spanish and English ships. Some of the core elements which are seemingly defining Ubisoft’s AAA titles (thousands of collectibles, watchtowers etc) are present and correct, but all packed in a wonderful world.
If you haven’t taken the time to check this one out yet for fear of being burned again following Revelations or III, then you are seriously missing out. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is a worthy Game of the Year.
This is a difficult one, only insofar as I’m desperately trying to find a reason not to go for XCOM.
I’ve sunk nearly 100 hours into it (despite Steam for some reason resetting my time back to 76 hours…maybe it didn’t like a few of the missions I played….) and even now I still find it fresh, exciting and deeply challenging. I think I can safely class myself as a veteran of the title and I’m definitely above average in skill-level, but even then I’ve still never managed to finish the game on classic difficulty. I can get to the last mission sure, but not with enough of a squad left to stand a chance of finishing it.
I’ve almost spent as much time writing about this game as I have playing it too; it’s an instant story generator of almost unrivalled proportions. The ability to name and to some degree, customise your squad add a layer of attachment that many other games would do well to emulate. I feel though that there’s scope for even more customisation, but maybe given the arguably insane (though very good) direction that Enemy Within took we may see some DLC in that vein.
Some people, and I have to be honest here I was one of them, thought that the expansion was a risky idea- to tinker with the formula to such an extent could ruin the experience and somehow lessen the game. In hindsight I had no reason to have worried. Again, this is something I’ve already written about, but I raise it again because of the wider implications. If they can substantially change elements of a game as finely balanced as XCOM and come up with something that’s arguably better, but still unmistakenly XCOM, then it raises some very exciting possibilities for a sequel.
The tremendous success of the title almost guarantees a sequel and the further success of Enemy Within should embolden Firaxis to take even more licence with any full-follow up. It’s quite a heady notion. Here’s hoping that flippers will play a large part in any sequel…
I think the flexibility of the template, the customisation and the punishing difficulty (with permanent loss) combine to make XCOM the superb title it is. And for that reason my game of the year is…. Spelunky.
I’ll admit, I haven’t actually played that much of Spelunky; I got most of my spelunking done several years ago with the original freeware release. However, I’ve always been of the opinion that Game of the Year is less about what I’ve been playing, and more about the games that have had an impact on gaming culture. 2013’s been all about perma-death, and everywhere I look I see one word, endlessly repeated. Spelunky. Spelunky. As a word, there is perhaps none finer, (except for possibly blancmange – a word so ridiculous in both spelling and punctuation that its very existence is an affront to language itself.) The very sound of the word ‘spelunky’ evokes onomatopoeic suggestions of plummeting from great heights into pools of dark, cool water, precisely what you spend a large portion of your time doing, if by water you mean dark, cool, pointed spikes.
If you’d have made a prediction about 2013, I can almost guarantee that it never included the fact that an indie platforming game would become a spectator sport, yet videos of Spelunky Daily challenges flood YouTube, (or at least they did until gaming videos started getting copyright claims against them.) We’ve watched as friends and colleagues have jumped, clambered and swung through the ever-changing caverns in search of treasure. We’ve cheered as they’ve succeeded, and we’ve cheered even more when they failed.
But why has this game had such an impact on gaming this year? What’s it done differently to so many other platformers that has driven it to such success?
I think it’s probably the pug. I mean seriously, have you seen that thing?
I forget when it was that I stopped keeping some kind of running tally of what my ‘top 10 games ever’ were, but I’m glad I did. The problem became that, on some quest to find the definitive experience, every new game was compared with the minutiae of my internal gaming canon. It’s a habit that’s hard to kick, however, as I demonstrated back in June when I tweeted about a superficial, utterly meaningless similarity between The Last of Us and Half-Life 2.
You see, if you ignore the inconvenience of everything else that happens, The Last of Us is a game in which you escape from a quarantined city via the sewers, visit a zombie-infested, trap-filled town that’s home to a lone survivalist, and hop into a car. Not in the tweet: invulnerable sidekick, a safe-haven powered by a hydro-electric dam and a long overdue, very welcome return to videogame voice acting for Merle Dandridge.
Half-life 2 is a long-time favourite, so even as trite as the comparison was, it was a good sign that The Last of Us was putting me in the same thoughtspace. The next positive was how little it reminded me of the excesses of Uncharted 3 and the action genre of late. Early on, Joel, Ellie and Tess go inside a leaning skyscraper – that there isn’t some kind of big-budget, largely non-interactive escape sequence where the whole thing comes down was a characteristic piece of restraint.
Much has been made of how good the story is – and it’s obviously a major factor in choosing The Last of Us as my game of the year. The emotional effectiveness of Joel and Ellie’s growth into a father/daughter relationship is deftly handled, but it’s probably the way that Naughty Dog dares us to hate Joel by the end that helps it achieve greatness.
Importantly, the gameplay is never really at odds with the narrative. Combat in The Last of Us is highly accomplished but always unsettling. The stealth is tense and enjoyable, but your takedown options are never as convenient and conscience-clearing as those available in genre classics like Thief or Metal Gear Solid.
Joel kills almost everyone he meets, via booming gunshot or suffocating chokehold, but the game doesn’t turn round and expect you to like Joel in that way you’re supposed to like other mass murdering monsters (we’re looking at you, Nathan Drake). Through this, it’s a solid example of how triple-A games can push beyond tired old power fantasies, even while returning to the genres that have traditionally serviced them.