Dave Lang is the BMOC at Iron Galaxy Studios, which is probably the most prominent game development studio to share a name with a Cannibal Ox track or a Soul Khan freestyle. In 2013, the studio shipped a downloadable game called Divekick, which is set to appear on more platforms next year. You can find Lang on Twitter, where he routinely receives requests to revitalize long-dormant game franchises.
Wasn’t sure I was going to include this factoid, but why not: I got Ryse for free. Before getting it for free, I read a bunch of reviews stating it was profoundly mediocre, a classic Launch Game. Pretty, but devoid of ambition and rough around the edges. A few days after getting it for free I found myself bored, so I punched in the code and waited for the download. Then, something strange happened: I played through Ryse in two sittings. Even stranger? I restarted the game immediately after finishing it the first time. I also found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing. After a few days of this odd behavior I had to acknowledge something other people have trained me to think untrue: Ryse is a ton of fun.
If you’re interested in my pro guide on how to enjoy Ryse, here goes. One: the combat in Ryse is mad timing-based, so don’t play it drunk (this is actually super important). Two: take some time and figure out how the upgrades work (they don’t explain them that well). Three: ignore the “collectables.” Four: try throwing a spear at a guy with a shield.
Now what I’m about to type may sound horrible, but I mean it as a compliment. The Stanley Parable is built around an amazing gimmick, and the entire game leans into it very hard. It’s an A+ gimmick, but it’s a gimmick nevertheless (please keep in mind that my studio shipped Divekick, so I know a thing or two about A+ gimmicks). The magic of The Stanley Parable is that the developer made their game exactly the right length, so their gimmick never becomes a third wheel. How did they do this? Lots of play testing I’d guess, but it could also be mad genius. Let’s call it genius. As for the gimmick proper…well, see, revealing what it is would ruin part of the fun and I don’t want to do that. Let’s just say that if you’re reading a top 10 list from a “Friend of the Site,” you’re probably super into video games and it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t find The Stanley Parable worthy of your time.
Do you know how I rank games? I tend not to think about them in terms of “best/worst” and more in terms of “favorites.” This is convenient because it divorces overall quality from how much I love a game, and allows me to freely adore deeply flawed games. On my GOAT list is FIFA for the 3DO, and let me be clear I understand it is imperfect. I played this game enough to drag my GPA down an entire point in college (BS in EE from Illinois, for the record. 2.8 GPA. Were it not for FIFA I’d be a Silicon Valley Millionaire). 3DO FIFA is the last FIFA game I’ve played a substantial amount of. I mention this because I want you to understand I’m not a soccer hooligan, wandering the streets looking for anyone in an Arsenal jersey to assault. I don’t really even know the rules of soccer! Despite that, every time I score a goal in FIFA, I’m grinning ear to ear for the next fifteen minutes. Does this mean that FIFA is perhaps the most casual sports game in history? I don’t know, probably not? There’s all the normal season and franchise stuff in there, and the tutorials and challenges are amazingly well put together…it all seems pretty hardcore when I’m thumbing through the menus. If all this confuses you, if you’re unsure if FIFA is a game you’ll like… well, I can’t really help you. I’m not even sure why I like it so much. Was that helpful?
Just a quick caveat: I haven’t finished DMC, In fact I probably haven’t played half of it yet. If you buy DMC on the strength of this recommendation, and the second half steals your girlfriend you have my condolences in advance. In strictly an academic sense I understand why this new Dante is divisive, but, and I mean this as a friend talking to a friend here, if you’re actually mad that they covered Dante’s junk with a slice of peperoni pizza for a gag in the new DMC then you should switch to decaf immediately. Seriously, it’s not worth getting upset over. On top of that, if you can manage to quell your rage for a few moments you might discover that the combat in this new DMC is actually amazing! Is it easier than the PS2 games? I don’t know, that depends if you consider “fair” to be a synonym for “easy,” I guess. Short version: DMC is what DMC should be in 2013, and if you’re not down with that then Alt-F4/Command-Q now because the rest of what you’re about to read here will probably make you puke.
A fun fact: the first time I played Blacklist was with Matt Pascual during his Extra Life charity stream. We played some co-op missions for an hour or so, and once I remembered how to play a Splinter Cell game I started having tons of fun. I mention this because the co-op is important in (partially) understanding what makes Blacklist awesome: Blacklist is actually three games in one. There’s the normal: “Sam versus the world” story missions, and these are Capital G Great, but there’re also co-op missions and horde mode-style maps meant to be enjoyed with a friend, and these, while Less Great, are still Great and should be consumed. If you’ve ever loved donning the three-lens specs of Sam Fisher, know this game will not disappoint. Plus, the PC version looks as good as anything I’ve played this year if you’re into that sort of thing.
Man, I really liked Ghosts. Sue me. Looking forward to more, in fact (remember when I said you’d puke? This is some of what I was referring to).
Moment. As in, “That Moment.” You can’t talk about Brothers without immediately turning it over in your mind again. It’s the one thing we can’t talk about in front of people who haven’t played it as to not rob them of the experience (for the record my top three gaming moments are from: ICO, BioShock, Brothers). It’s easy to obsess on that moment and forget the entire game is bursting with its authors’ craftsmanship. Remember that level when you’re making your way through the valley of Giants? How great was that? Remember the Aurora borealis? Man that went south quick, huh?
Easily one of the best trends in games (to me, anyway) is the renewed interest in expanding the emotional palette for the medium, i.e. not being content with games merely being “fun.” The last few years there’s been a fair amount of titles, both large and small, that have focused on plucking at gamers’ heartstrings. Of these games, almost all of them have done this primarily through cut-scenes. What separates Brothers from the pack is how Starbreeze manages to emotionally destroy the player through mechanics, not storytelling. In Brothers, I didn’t shed a tear when I hit a button and witnessed the result. I shed a tear the moment I realized I had to hit a button. This is True Power. Thank you Based Starbreeze.
Real talk, I first played Spelunky on the 360 and I didn’t like it. Didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I re-bought it on Vita, primarily to find out why everyone on said platform had stopped buying Divekick, and that’s when Spelunky wrapped her tendrils about me. Once you accept that every bad thing that happens to you is your fault and yours alone, the game’s genius is unfurled. Many restarts later you’ll be giving Tunnel Man a shotgun to clear out the lower levels (even though you always start in the mines). Spelunky is relentlessly fair, and each time you die you learn something new. This makes dying kind of awesome, and if that’s not genius game design I don’t know what is.
Sad is tough to do right. They don’t make sad movies for a reason. If Uncharted were a movie it would be released during one of those big Hollywood weekends, like Labor Day or The 4th of July. TLOU would get released at “select theatres near you” in the middle of October. It’s for adults only. Bad shit happens and there’s rarely clean resolution. It manages to do this without being trite. This is really hard to do, and for this feat alone TLOU warrants a place on my list. The correct way to “enjoy” TLOU is to limit your sessions to one hour in length, then knowingly set down the controller with a nod towards the world at large (which is unfair), and complete this ceremony with belt of scotch (Highland Park 18).
How about the game-proper you ask? It’s really good, and often great. Plus, it does something truly remarkable, and I can’t really think of another game that does this. It builds, and builds, and builds. Once you get done with the roller coaster they hilariously call “Prologue,” you are cast as Joel and set off to till the Infected fields. For the first few hours the only reason I kept playing the game was because the bit I just finished was better than anything I had previously seen. Taken one instance at a time this is not remarkable, but Naughty Dog crafted each new section of gameplay so that it leapfrogs the previous parts. I don’t know if this was intentional, I suspect it wasn’t, but regardless if you see TLOU all the way through, you will be rewarded. And deeply, deeply saddened.
1. Divekick (Vita)
Divekick. That’s right, Divekick. If you didn’t see this coming then you simply haven’t been paying attention. Remember when I said you’d puke? This is it, full-on projectile vomit time. Get it all out. I’ll wait… OK, so faster than you can scream, "shill," let me defend myself? I helped make Divekick (and by "helped make" I mostly mean “paid for,” but cut me some slack). I am insanely proud with how it turned out. I still play it every day. I still get bodied, and get furious about getting bodied, every day. In terms of mechanics I think it’s the purest game of all time (move aside, Joust). If you think leaving this in my top 10 is bad form please bear in mind: I love Divekick more than anyone in the world and I’ve got the scars to prove it. If you still think it’s bad form ask yourself this: If a developer isn’t willing to say "that game I worked on is my favorite game of the year," then what the fuck are you listening to them for? They are probably communists.