Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

GOT.5Y 2013

Game of the Year lists tend to come out late December/early January and tend to contain almost entirely games that were released November-ish. Now, to be fair, a lot of good games come out just in time for the holidays, but I do think there is a bit of short memory span in play as well.

So with that in mind, to help keep my memory fresh when it comes time to determine GOTY 2013, here are some of my favorites of the year so far. Also, its the time of year when the Steam Summer Sale comes around, so if any of these pop up on sale, you may want to snap them up.

A couple ground rules before we get going. One, a game must have come out in the first half of 2013 – there are plenty of great games that came out late 2012 that I enjoyed a great deal in the first half of 2013, but they won’t be on this list. Two, I have to have played them – I’m sure there are great game I’ve missed, but if I haven’t played them, I can’t very well rate them, now can I? And third, this list is my favorite games – not necessarily the best or most important. For example, my GotY for 2012 would probably be Mass Effect 3, even though The Walking Dead was arguably better, and Spec Ops the Line was way more important. I’m also splitting it into two distinct categories: Big, blockbuster, high-budget, AAA games, usually costing 60 bucks; and smaller XBLA or downloadable, maybe indie games, usually much smaller in scope, usually 20 bucks or less. The “downloadable” or “arcade” terms don’t mean what they used to, but there’s definitely big games and smaller games, and it can be tough to compare the two straight up, thus two lists.

Arcade/Downloadable/Indie Titles

2) Surgeon Simulator 2013

Surgeon Simulator, for the uninitiated, is a game where you have to perform several intense surgeries, starting with an open heart transplant and getting more difficult from there, but the twist is that you control each of your fingers manually, leading to clumsy misuse of all your tools. The result is hilarious. Succeed or fail, it is all good fun, which is good, because you will fail A LOT.

In fact, one of the only things placing it at number 2 rather than number 1 is that you have to complete surgeries to unlock the later ones, and I have yet to beat the first one, so that’s all I have available.

1) Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Far Cry 3 was a pretty good game, but like many AAA shooters, took itself very seriously. Blood Dragon, on the other hand, throws itself fully into the realm of over the top ridiculous. The result is a game that cares about one thing – the player having a good time.

Don’t get me wrong, I like serious games, but sometimes all you want is stupid escapism, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon does it better than most.

Big AAA Titles

5) Gears of War: Judgment

I love me some Gears of War, and while this is probably the worst Gears so far, its still pretty fun. They’ve traded in the campaign’s long, epic levels for a connected series of bite-sized challenges. While I typically enjoy the bigger, story-based levels, it was a nice change of pace to have mini score attack levels, plus it got Horde Mode into campaign.

I hope that this remains something of an ancillary title, and isn’t indicative of the future of the franchise, but it is a fun distraction nonetheless.

4) Resident Evil: Revelations

The first Resident Evil game I played was 5. I had tried to get into the older ones, but the controls are janky, and if you go in the wrong room, you get eaten immediately. So when I heard that this game was something of a return to form for the franchise, I was a bit nervous. However, it turns out “return to form” means “lets all forget Resident Evil 6 happened, come back baby we love you”. It combines the totally playable controls of 5 with more atmospheric horror style gameplay of the earlier titles.

This game is a port of a 3DS game though, and at times it shows. There’s not a ton of variety in environments or enemies. Still, the game is fun to play, and got me into the Resident Evil back catalog again, so the game easily earns a place on this list.

3) Last of Us

Disclaimer: I didn’t actually play Last of Us, as I don’t own a PS3. Instead, I watched a 6 hour playthrough on youtube with all the cutscenes and enough gameplay to merge it into a coherent story.

It’s easily the best story of the year. It takes well-rounded, well fleshed out characters and puts them in tough situations that they need to work through. The game takes place over a year, and you see the relationships evolve. And it wraps the whole thing up in an ending that is both heartbreaking and completely satisfying at the same time.

It looked like I might not have loved the gameplay, though. There seems to be a lot of sneaking, and there are 1-hit kill enemies which tend to irritate me. The game portion could easily be frustrating to the point of it completely detracting from the story (see Bioshock Infinite). So without having played it (and I’m not going to spend 300+ dollars to do so), 3rd is as high on this list as I can put it.

2) Remember Me

This game hasn’t gotten the hype and promotion of some of the other games on this list, but it’s pretty amazing.

The game is set in a world where technology exists to store your memories digitally outside your brain. With this technology has come the ability to remove painful memories, or add other people’s memories. You play as a memory hunter who is trying to take down the corporation behind it all, and you can steal people’s memories for clues on what to do next or for access codes, you can overload their memory units to disable them, and you can even “remix” their memories so they believe they should be doing what you want them to do. It’s pretty cool.

The surprising thing is that a game this ambitious from a first time developer actually works as well as it does. The world and story are great, the memory gameplay is amazing, the art direction is fantastic (the whole game is done in a white/black/orange motif that just works). There’s a lot of ledge climbing and navigation that is reminiscent of the last generation of Tomb Raider games that I liked a lot. Combat is its kryptonite though, as the entire combo system it’s built on can be replaced entirely by button mashing x. As the difficulty curve grows later in the game, if you don’t adapt to use the longer, more complicated combos, you’ll just wind up hitting x for a loooong time. So combat fell a bit flat, but otherwise, the game was amazing.

1) Tomb Raider

How could my GOT.5Y be anything but the game that got me 100,000 gamerscore?

Honestly, I was nervous leading up to this game’s release. I absolutely LOVED the previous three Tomb Raider games, especially Legend and was none too keen on a reboot changing things. Then somebody on the game said something along the lines of “Lara gets her strength after somebody tries to rape her” which obviously didn’t sit well with me.

Having played the game, I can safely say my fears were misplaced, it is fantastic. For starters, it’s the first Tomb Raider game where the gun controls aren’t total shit. As a result, the combat/platforming ratio has been skewed toward combat, which you would think would bother me, but didn’t, because combat is actually really fun.

The story is something of an origin story for Lara, though not necessarily how you would expect. She’s not just a college student who gets stranded on an island and magically learns all her abilities because bad shit happens to her. She starts the game as an archaeologist with plenty of camping experience, but not a lot of field work, and she certainly hasn’t been hunted by crazy islanders. She has all the abilities she would need from the start, but what she doesn’t have, what you can see grow, is her confidence in those abilities. And the confidence does not come as a result of something terrible happening to her, but grows organically from herself. It’s maybe a subtle difference, but it works incredibly well. (Also, nobody ever actually tries to rape her, which is nice.)

The game starts off pretty linear, but it gradually opens up bit by bit, and by the end, Lara is ledge hanging and jumping around just like you remember.

Sure, the “twist” at the end everyone saw coming a mile away. And Lara goes from being incredibly nervous about her first kill to slaughtering 10s of dudes at a time a little too quickly for the narrative, but these are relatively small nitpicks in an otherwise pretty flawless game. Even the multiplayer is fun, and I NEVER enjoy multiplayer outside of a LAN.


What are your thoughts? Agree with my list? Am I crazy for leaving something out? Leave a comment and let me know!


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Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock infinite came out three months ago, which is like 70 in internet years. It seems like it’s been out long enough that anyone who wanted to play it spoiler-free would have had the opportunity to do so, but then again, I only finished it like a week ago, so maybe not.

Having finished it, though, I do want to talk about it, and I don’t think there’s a way to do so in a spoiler-free fashion, so very soon in this article there will be a large spoiler break, and everything after that is fair game. Before we get to that, though, a quick note to those who haven’t played it – do not get your hopes and expectations up. The game as a whole is nowhere near as good as Bioshock, and the “twist” at the end is kind of a letdown. If you go into it with reasonable expectations you may find a fun game there, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the ferver the internet had for it, at least it didn’t for me.

If you’ve never played a Bioshock game, play the original instead.


First off, let me say, I’m going to point out a lot of the game’s problems. The overall tone of this article will likely be overwhelmingly negative. But this game did a lot of things right. For starters, it’s really pretty. That may sound like i’m being facetious and showcasing only surface elements, but really, the thing I am struck with the most is that this game looks really, really good. Not so much in terms of visual fidelity, but more in terms of art style. Much of the gameplay is fun, and the story is far more ambitious than most video games, especially moreso than most shooter games.

But, like I said, I had some problems.

1) The plot is pretty nonsensical.

Let me try to explain this. You play as Booker DeWitt, a former soldier who, to pay off some gambling debts, is sent to the floating city of Columbia to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth. Columbia is a city-state being run by a man named Comstock that has seceeded from the United States and is built on top of a bunch of floating platforms in the sky. It’s also full of some pretty terible religious zealots and racists.

Booker begins to search for Elizabeth, but at the annual “throw baseballs at black folk” festival, is discovered to be a “false prophet” and suddenly hundreds of cops start trying to kill him. But, they are racist cops, so it is totally okay to murder them all.

Eventually, Booker finds Elizabeth and they try to make their escape, but a giant sentient robot bird who is tasked with protecting Elizabeth attacks them.

Somewhere around this point of the game you meet Daisy Fitzroy, the leader of the Vox Populi, a rebel group. She starts bossing you around and says some things about the white devil. (Note: at this point, I felt REALLY uncomfortable. Both the character and me personally are not terrible racists. I wound up stopping playing for about a month because I really didn’t feel like being called a racist in my free time. Logically I can separate that it’s just a game, but damn, somehow that penetrated past. This is praise – not many games could forge such a strong connection.)

You’re tasked with getting some guns to help out the Vox Populi, but the gun-maker has lost his tools. Luckily, Elizabeth has the ability to open “tears” which are like a window to another world. Either you travel to a parrallell similar world, or the world you are in is subtly changed, its not super clear. Rather than opening a tear to a world where we had an airship to escape in, or simply a tear to a world where we were never there in the first place, Elizabeth opens a tear to a world where his tools are back. Okay, fine. But in this world, the gunmaker is dead. Whoops! To solve this problem, Elizabeth opens a tear to a world where the gunsmith is alive and also has his tools. Great! Well, this world the Vox are running around killing all the racists. Despite the fact that hours earlier you were doing the exact same thing, this is considered bad. Also, Elizabeth seems to forget that she can alter reality for the rest of the game and we just hang out in this terrible timeline for the rest of the game.

Oh, and despite Booker being a Vox hero in this timeline, they all start trying to kill you as well.

Eventually, you go to confront Comstock, but oops, Booker winds up way in the future – a future where Elizabeth destroys New York City. He then goes back in time to shortly after he left from, frees Elizabeth, kills Comstock, You escape on an airship, and the bird monster is your friend now and helps you for a bit. Then you eventually need to kill him, so Elizabeth remembers she can alter reality, and suddenly you’re UNDERWATER. In RAPTURE. FROM THE FIRST GAME. GET IT? The bird monster robot friend enemy thing is crushed to death by water.

There’s some more stuff with lighthouses to show that all of the Bioshock games are in parallel universes of each other.

Then the big “twist” at the end: It turns out that Booker felt guilty after the battle of Wounded Knee, did some shitty things and then sort of sold his daughter to some wierdo time travelers to pay off his debt. Then, determined to get her back, decides to go to Columbia to get her back. Because Elizabeth was his daughter the whole time, see?

Also, it’s determined that killing Comstock wasn’t good enough, because there are alternate realities where he is alive. So they vow to kill Comstock before he is born. Instead, Elizabeth drowns Booker then blinks out of existence. The end.

Ummm…. okay?

Fun fact – after beating the game and reading about the plot, I found out that Comstock was alternate reality Booker the whole time, and he kidnapped Booker’s daughter who is actually his own daughter because he is Booker okay who cares the game is nonsense.

It tries so hard to be high concept but it is just a giant mess.

I also forgot – there’s a sizeable chunk where Elizabeth’s mom, but I guess not her actual mom, is a techno ghost trying to murder you.

2) It tries too hard to be like the original Bioshock, but does so in dumb ways. It also fails to be like Bioshock in meaningful ways.

Bioshock was a great game. was the story of an Ayn Rand type libertarian society where science can proceed without impediment from regulations. It tells the story of a society that is built on this premise and the consequences of that. It’s a plausible alternate history, and every single thing – from the world, to the story to the gameplay – all works together with each other.

Bioshock Infinite starts off as a similar alternate history. It’s again the story of a man who seceded from society and built and improbable city, this time based on a new religion. However, at a fairly early point, Columbia stops having much at all to do with the story. It’s just a wierd sci-fi magic “rescue the girl” story that doesn’t feel influenced by the world, it just happens to take place there.

Plasmids/vigors are a great illustration of this. Bioshock had plasmids, which were basically magic spells you could cast with your left had. The story of plasmids is that they are the natural result of a world where science has run amok. They turned men into gods, and the world you find yourself in reflects this. Society collapsed completely, and the populace was turned into drug addled crazies jonesing for their next fix of Adam so they can continue with their plasmid use. Everywhere you turn, the world is influenced by the inclusion of Plasmids, and the inclusion of plasmids likewise influences the world. Vigors make very little sense in the world of Columbia. You get your first vigor when somebody at a carnival gives it away to you for free. But nobody else in the world (with the exception of a few “heavy” enemies) uses them. It makes NO SENSE in the setting. The only reason they exist is that somebody decided casting spells with your left hand “was Bioshocky” and put it in the game.

With the exception of plasmids, which were explained as science and made sense in the world, Bioshock felt rooted in reality, or at least plausibility. There could have been an Andrew Ryan. That story could have happened! Infinite goes way far the other way though. There’s just magic all over. Everything from alternate reality, to time travel to mecha-birds to ghosts. It takes would could have been a plausible interesting world and just fucks it.

And by the end, they tie it to Bioshock by explaining that they are alternate realities of each other (or something). Not only did they ruin THIS world by adding magic, they retroactively add magic back to the first game. It’s just sad.

I’m not even sure the story of Bioshock Infinite is served by it being a shooter. I think with less violence, they could have told a better version of that story. But Bioshock was a shooter, so this one has to be too! Bioshock had crazy monsters leaping at you, so this one has policemen leaping at you! It feels the same.

Bioshock was a game where every story beat, every mechanic was in because it made perfect sense to be in Bioshock. Sadly, Bioshock Infinite has far too many things that make no sense or only made sense in Bioshock. It really could have benefited from the purity of design the original had.

3) The end is too damn hard.

I will be upfront about this: I am bad at video games. A lot of the time I am bad because I am lazy and don’t try. There are some games, like Trials Evolution, that require a high degree of skill and focus, and I play them for the challenge. There are others I like to pop in after a long day of work, put them on the easiest difficulty, and relax and soak in the narrative. This game falls squarely in the latter category for me.

It is a wonderfully designed world with a compelling (if not good) story to it. The plot and world and characters are incredibly crafted, and that’s what separates this game from, say Call of Duty. If I just want to shoot things, there’s a lot of games that can do that. I want to experience a crazy alt-history story. And that crazy alt-history story should not be skill-gated.

The first 95% of the game is excellent at this. If you die, Elizabeth just revives you. If you run out of ammo in a fight, she just gives you more. If you fall off a building, it just teleports you back. This allows you to almost passively experience the world and story, and it’s exactly what playing a game on casual SHOULD be. If you die, no worries, no penalty, you are exactly back where you were.

But, for whatever TERRIBLE design reason, there is a fight at the end. A “boss battle” I guess. You are on a giant airship, and you are being attacked by Vox Populi. There is a damage indicator on the screen. If your ship gets too damaged, game over. You lose. Also, this is a LONG fight. It’s almost 15 minutes, and if you fail, you are back at the very start. That 15 minutes of effort you just put in is GONE.

I tried this segment over and over again and NEVER managed to pull it off. It’s incredibly frustrating and punishing, and not in a fun way. I eventually after several attempts pulled the game out of the drive, popped it back in the box, and put it on my “never again” shelf with “Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer” and other equally terrible games. I watched the end of the game on youtube.

Do not get me wrong – I’m not arguing against having challenge in games. Bioshock Infinite has a 1999 Mode difficulty which is crazy hard and there for people who want something hard to triumph against. I get it, and I commend them for it. I love when games give you a choice! It would be incredibly self centered and wrong to suggest that everyone should play games the way that I do. Some people love hard games. I usually do not. This is fine.

What I am saying is that when you make a “Casual” difficulty, when you cater to those who want to near-passively consume your game, you damn well should build it so that they can. Bait and switching to add failure conditions at the very end is terrible, and that alone ruined the game for me.

Seriously, without this one encounter, it probably would have been a mostly enjoyable experience for me. Sure, my previous points would still stand, it wouldn’t be the pinnacle of gaming some on the internet made it out to be. But it would have been an above-average game and I would have some fun memories of visiting some one-of a kind locales, experiencing some bonkers plot twists, and mostly enjoying myself. Now my memories of Bioshock Infinite will be of that fucking airship disaster, of getting frustrated nearly to tears, of throwing my controller and nearly snapping the disk in half. I’m getting angry and emotional now just THINKING about it.

I played a bit of Aliens: Colonial Marines. That was a BAD game. I went into that game knowing it was going to be shit, and boy did it meet my expectations. Bioshock Infinite was nowhere near that bad. But it was way more disappointing. It was so close to being a great game. Fix that last encounter, shore up some plot holes, tweak gameplay a bit to better serve the world and narrative, and this could have been GOTY. But it wasn’t. It was a frustrating mess, and that’s a real shame.

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I get it, 2011 was a great year for games. Couple in the fact that a lot of the really good ones came out in November/December, it will be months before I will have had enough time to play enough of them to speak intelligently. Maybe I’ll make a “Best of 2011” list in April when I’ve finally gotten through them all.

But if I do make that list, I guarantee you, Gears of War 3 will be on it. And I’ve seen many GotY lists relased and I have yet to see it included. Rose told me she even saw it on a WORST games of 2011 list. Really? I don’t understand. Here’s 5 things Gears of War 3 did right that easily make it GotY material.

1) Emphasis on story. Lets admit it, some of the story in previous Gears of War games has been tenuous at best. But for this game, Epic hired a legitimate, well-respected novelist, Karen Traviss, to be head writer for the game. And she knocked it out of the park.

Not only did the story work well as a standalone tale, it even managed to explain some of the loose plot threads from the first two games, retroactively improving them. That takes some skill. Not only that, but it works on multiple levels. If you’ve never played a Gears game before, the story holds up. If you’ve played the first two, you get a little bit more out of it. If you’ve read the Gears of War Comic books, you get a little bit more out of it. If you’ve read the novels, you get more out of it.

2) Additional game modes. Some games you can basically just play through once, and once the campaign finishes, you don’t have much else to do. That is not the case with Gears 3. You can play the campaign again in up to 4-player co-op. You can play it in Arcade Mode, a single-player/co-op campaign mode, but with competitive scoring and respawns. You can play Horde Mode 2.0, an up to 5-player co-op mode where you face off against waves of increasingly difficult enemies, now with the ability to build fortifications to help protect yourself. There’s the brand new Beast Mode in which you get to play as the Locust (including boss monsters like Corpsers and Beserkers) and you attempt to kill COG Soldiers. And if competitive multiplayer is your thing, there are 6 different competitve modes.

Playing any game mode rewards you experience points that help you level up, and reaching certain levels unlocks various character models, weapon skins and titles that you can use in multiplayer modes. It’s all very well done, and give you incentive you to play the game, but allows you to play however you want.

3) Continued support. If all the various game modes weren’t enough to keep you playing, almost every weekend there is a special event with a one of a kind, limited edition playlist. Maybe its boomshots only in competitive multiplayer, maybe its extra tickers in horde, its some new challenge that keeps the game new and interesting.

On top of that, they’ve released several DLC packs, all of them substantial. They even released a 5 level mini-campaign that takes place prior to Gears of War 1, featuring characters from the comics and previous games. The additional content all improves replayability, and has all been incredibly well done.

4) Improved graphics. The first two Gears of War games had a very bleak color palette to them: A lot of greys and browns. I get it, they were very bleak games. But it made the games almost depressing to look at.

Gears 3 took a different path, and is vibrant and bursting with color. And on top of everything else, it just looks amazing.

Graphics aren’t nearly as important to me as gameplay and story, but its worth noting that Gears 3 did a great job.

5) Finality. Okay, I know that I already had a whole section on story, but story’s important to me! And Gears 3 did something with there story that I feel bears pointing out: They finished it.

I understand that from a business standpoint, familiar sells. This last year saw the release of the 8th Call of Duty, the 11th(?) Battlefield and the 13-2nd Final Fantasy game. Familiar sells.

And while there may be another game in the Gears of War universe (likely a prequel), this is the last game with Marcus, Dom, and the gang. We got a satisfying trilogy, and it’s not going to get drawn out into some zombie property. We got closure.

So there you have it: 5 reasons. While we can argue until the end of time what the BEST game was of 2011, Gears of War 3 clearly is merited enough to make the list.

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