By aurahack 12 Comments
Ladies and Gentlemen!
That concludes our tour of the public bathrooms.
But seriously, folks, welcome to another year of user-created award ceremonies, of which I handily make my own as an excuse to design pretty banners and express pretty opinions about things I love and hate. It’s been a wonderful year in sequels, and I’m excited to share what I picked as my favorite games of this year, but we first take a stop at the second-annual random shit awards.
I started these awards last year because of a sound effect in NFS: Hot Pursuit. It was so great, I felt I needed to express this opinion in a formal manner, and created an entire award-thingy around it just to give it praise. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s probably been done before. But I had fun doing it, so here I am, a year later, doing it again. So without further ado, here is what I nominate as things that games accomplished this year:
Just in time for holidays, the PS3 and 360 have reached a point in their lifespan where graphical development is at somewhat of a standstill. With Battlefield 3 and Skyrim, this year’s two biggest PC titles, looking leagues better on the PC than their console counterparts, the wallet-cringing question starts to arise on message boards: “When is Sony/Microsoft going to release their new console?”
Well, I don’t know. I do not hold the answer to that question and I am not entirely sure I want to, either. Then I’d have powers, and that entails a world of responsibility I am not ready for. What I do know, however, is that an older console forces developers to work hard around a platform’s architecture and get the most out of their game. For my money, no developer has done this better than Naughty Dog. Uncharted 3 is an absolute masterpiece of technical accomplishments. A big or small area will have an equally massive amount of detail to them, the game runs beautifully without any hiccups, and characters look and animate in jarringly realistic manner. I have no idea what the Naughty Dog team is being fed, or how they are being bred, or if that workplace is actually just a group of wizards with astonishing programming skills. Whoever they are and whatever they are doing, they continue to set an example of what a talented team of developers can accomplish. They deserve more credit for it than I could ever give them here.
I’d make some comment here about how well-written some of the games this year were, and how most of you will most certainly have picked Portal 2. But you know what? Fuck you. Portal 2 didn’t have enough dick jokes in it. So I won’t talk about any other game, I will just talk about Shadows of the Damned because man, that game is funny. Like, real funny. The interactions between Garcia and Johnson are always brilliant, the storybooks will have you in stiches and there are so many god damn dick jokes that I’m pretty sure I can never take any mention of a penis seriously anymore.
… Ehh… ew.
Shadows of the Damned is brilliant, and the goofiness of its story and the ridiculousness of its characters make it pure gold. There is so much to love about the game—a lot if it that you should, no, need to experience it for yourself. You really do. After all, how can you refuse a guided tour of the Underworld by Johnson in the company of Garcia Fucking Hotspur.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: Duke Nukem Forever came out this year, the Vita was not announced to be $400 and the 3DS flopped. All the surprises out of the way? Sweet. Now I can get to the real one-- Driver: San Francisco. If you told me, I don’t know, a year or two ago that Driver would be relevant again, I would have thrown whatever food I was eating into your face. … Well, honestly, I like eating too much, so I probably would have laughed and/or assaulted you.
My point is, Driver 3 and Parallel Lines were about as broken and soulless as video games get, so that the series would have any potential of coming back seemed unlikely. With no attention paid to the game since its ridiculous E3 announcement, (Tanner in a coma?) it already became a huge surprise to hear Jeff talk so positively about it on the Bombcast. I hated the single-player demo, but maybe the full game had something that made it special. And it did. Oh my, how it did.
The Shift mechanic to jump between cars is loads of fun and continues to be for the duration of the game. But the real thing here that’s worth playing for is the story. There are some moments in Driver: SF that are absolutely bananas and it’s the Shift/coma trappings that lets them pull this off. It’s brilliant. The end-game of Driver: SF really is a must-see, only by virtue of it being so completely out-there and different from anything else you’ve even come to expect out of a game in its genre. The great dialogue, terrific controls, fun side-missions and silky-smooth framerate really just add on to how surprisingly great the game is.
I honestly think L.A. Noire deserves some kind of “runner-up” prize for this category, avoiding the full award ceremony thanks to the fine folks at BioWare. I initially liked Dragon Age II a whole lot--so much so that I felt I was the only one defending that game anywhere on forums. While I can appreciate how old-ass-school-ass Dragon Age: Origins is, I really didn’t care for any of the characters or conflicts thrust upon them. The game reeked of generic fantasy tropes and I wanted none of it.
Dragon Age II seemed like the perfect fix to all of those problems. Streamlined combat, (because I, unfortunately, do not possess a powerhouse PC and played it on PS3) a main character with an interesting narrative (and voice!), a far more interesting cast of companions, and a story with actual drama and intensity. And DA2 absolutely had all of that. Its art-style revamp also was welcome, with the look of Hawke and the general art style really helping the game to gain an identity. Unfortunately, a lot was sacrificed to achieve this, with actual content being the biggest thing missing from the game.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a repetition of assets as egregiously prolific as Dragon Age II. I can count the game’s total environments on both my hands. No seriously, watch.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Done.
This an open-world RPG developed by a high-profile studio with a long-lasting pedigree of quality in this genre, and they made a game where I can count the number of environments on my hands and still have three fingers left over to pick my nose with. This is also mirrored with character equipment, with armor and weaponry featuring barely any variety. I played through the game as a Mage and found myself always equipping a plethora of broken-looking branches the game called “staffs”, alongside a riveting choice of ugly, anti-color coordinating robes. The engaging and streamlined combat system also gives a great first impression, until it continues to be the exact same thing 15 hours into the game. Differences in class specializations are so minute that playing a Healer Mage or Arcane Mage will have no difference in combat style. The entire game, no matter how compelling the story or characters, ends up feeling like a drag.
But this still pales in comparison to the complete lack of an open-world. Dragon Age II has no scope and the repetitive re-use of assets only worsened this. DA2 is disappointing in every possible way, sacrificing what was great about the first game to make way for improvements on what it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the sacrifices it made were crucial to its overall quality, and Dragon Age II will be remembered for years as the game Bioware wrong because of it.
In all honesty, El Shaddai should be here. I’ve only played about an hour of it, though, so I can’t really call it as a winner here. What I did play, however, is a metric fuck-ton of Skyrim. As a gamer, the art style is not the first thing I’d think of when I am engrossed in Skyrim’s world. But as an artist? It’s the first thing I see every time I play. See, I played more Oblivion then I will ever play again (225 hours, last I checked) and during all that time, I couldn’t stand how generic-fantasy everything was. All of the character and monster design, along with the architecture and presentation, fell into almost every stereotype of fantasy. It made for a bland, repetitive game. … visually speaking, of course.
Skyrim does little to change any of the core designs to its lore, such as monsters, races and objects. It keeps the base for all of that, but throws a thematic curveball with the Nordic theme. The design of the architecture, weaponry, armor, clothing… it all looks like it should, only everything has the slightest hint of “different” in design thanks to its northern influence. It makes all of this stuff that should be standard fantasy… different. New and unique. Skyrim has a look to its own and this, coupled with the incredible variety of locations in its landscape and scenery, makes for a game that continues to feel fresh, even if you are 60+ hours into the game. It’s an amazing feat that anyone can recognize, but one that I am especially floored by on a personal, artistic level.
Man, fuckin’ shooters…
We are in a weird spot with first-person shooters, with the most notable games offering campaigns that either hit every possible blockbuster-movie checkmark, or completely suck ass. If you could pick out a modern genre that’s had the creative and imaginative life-force of the 90’s sucked right out of it, it would hands-down be first-person shooters. It’s difficult to argue against, because consumers have proven time-after-time that it’s what they’re looking for in a game, but you really have to wonder what any of these guys would be capable of, should they be given a little room to express the insanity of a game developer’s mind. Fortunately, People Can Fly got that chance.
I had tepid expectations for Bulletstorm, with my only real excitement for it being the presence of “dicktits” somewhere in the dialogue. Pretty neutral on everything else about it. With a campaign that was constantly exciting and a cast of characters that I grew to appreciate in a really dumb way, Bonestorm Bulletstorm managed to put a smile on my face that’s been missing from first-person shooters in a long time. All of the writing in that game is insane and immature, with it totally working every time it throws a concocted curse word at you. The characters are preposterously silly, the world is surprisingly colorful for an Unreal game, and the gameplay is loads of creative fun.
The “kill with skill” thing is interesting, with the Skill Point system being a great motivator for trying out a variety of murderous acts in style. It lets you play around with the game’s weaponry without being punished and finding different ways to combo certain weapons or environmental hazards is always a blast. The only issue I had with it is that about halfway through the game, I started to care less and less about unlocking different skill shots because I really just wanted to get through the levels. I still played around with the weaponry and Leash, but not like I did at the start of the game. It would have been nice to see some way of getting you to play around for a bit longer with that stuff.
But really, that’s just nitpicking. The reality is that the gunplay was still a ton of fun, the dialogue to accompany it had me laughing a whole bunch, the locales were all varied and great looking, and the characters had me legitimately anxious to see the plot’s development. I had a ton of fun with Bulletstorm, and in a year where gaming is plagued with bullshit shooter campaigns, it’s an astonishingly soothing breath of fresh air.
I am really conflicted about L.A. Noire. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I played it and I’ve come to the realization that... I don’t know where I stand on it. When I played it, I was baffled by the technology it was presenting. It has never been done in games before and I really think that it’s the next step in making games look closer to realism than extra shaders or lens flare will. The game itself was also fun. I love crime stories, and the detective part of the game was a refreshing change of pace from it’s third-person brethren. The setting, the tone, the music--all of it top notch.
But looking back on it is also where my opinion on it starts to fall apart. See, while the face-capturing technology was mighty impressive, the rest of the game was pretty ugly. It wasn’t disfigured-level ugly or anything, it just didn’t have the polish that most other Rockstar productions do. The open-world was uninteresting and the vast majority of the game’s assets, be it buildings, bodies, cars or weapons, were bland at best. I understand that building the entire city was an authenticity pull, and it works, but to fill it with little-to-nothing in the way of interest to actually explore what they built... I felt like there should of been something with a little more substance other than unwatchable movie reels. The face-capturing tech also had its drawbacks, as it really is impressive when you see it for the first time, but the game very quickly dissolves into staring at their faces to see their smiles or eyes crunch in a bizarre manner, or accusing them of lying to see their reaction, then promptly backing out.
The more I think about it, the more the game just seems really devoid of variety. L.A. Noire boils down to some very core gameplay trappings, and the novelty of the technology and setting heavily mask this. It was a fun and different experience, but one I do not think will hold the test of time very well, even a year from now. It makes me really indecisive on what I think of the game, because I did enjoy it. I just don’t know if that would hold, should I play it again.
It seriously bums me out that I can find nowhere to put Dirt 3 on my list. If I could be “that” guy and have 11 slots on my game of the year list, Dirt 3 would take that spot, no questions asked. I just wished it did more than what it actually offered. Not that it is disappointing in any way, because it’s an improvement over Dirt 2 in every facet imaginable. It’s just… kind of the same.
That’s not to say that Dirt 3 hasn’t changed. The physics, for one, are vastly improved. The game’s controls feel a lot tighter, and the handling of cars has significantly improved. The slot car-feel of previous Codemasters racing games is finally gone, replaced with a physics engine that heavily relies on terrain differences and independent suspension. There’s still that good-ol’ touch of arcadey-ness in there, but you feel so much more in control without ever feeling like the game is sacrificing realism to give it to you.
The presentation also continues to be one of the game’s strongest suits. I heavily recommend you go see the game’s art director’s portfolio, because his past work is just as brilliant as his current work in Dirt 3. The game oozes with style, from its golden-modern main menu to its typeface. Its soundtrack also shines, with a well-versed mix of electro, bass, alternative and hip-hop.
Dirt 3 also has a host of new events, some of which unfortunately relying on Ken Block’s inexplicable Gymkhana craze. It’s fun, but it’s not what I really want out of a rally game—much less a racing game. Tony Hawk in cars never sounded like the greatest idea, but at least it works. Thankfully, all of the mixed-match race hybrids and other various disciplines all take a backseat in Dirt 3. Point-to-point rally is back in full effect, and this makes me fucking ecstatic. The Colin McRae Rally series of old continues to be some of my favorite racing games of all time, and the rally events in Dirt 3 are the best throwback to those games that I could ever ask for. I know it’s not what most players are asking for with the newer entries of the series, but it makes me so god-damned happy. Because of that, it deserves a ton of merit from my part.
Thanks, Codemasters, for caring about point-to-point. <3
If you want to talk about sequelitis, then you need look no further than the Yakuza series. What was once a brilliant mix of brawler combat, RPG elements and a well-realized world and plot is now… well, it continues to be all of this, but the problem is that it hasn’t become anything more. It’s to be expected, I suppose, that franchises originating from Japan tend to iterate very minutely from game to game, as “more of the same” goes down a lot smoother there than it does here. I understand that, but there is something to be said for just how little Yakuza 4 actually “improves” upon its predecessors.
For one, there’s the story. The inclusion of four playable characters for the main story is a smart move, and it made the plot a lot more engaging than another tour around Kamurocho would of otherwise. The plot structure remains largely the same, however, and the new characters have about as much personality as Chex Mix, especially when compared to Kiryu. The story goes in the directions you expect to, with the government being involved and betrayals happening left-and-right. It’s standard affair for the series, and that three new characters change little-to-nothing speaks volumes to how tiring it is getting to be.
Second comes … well, the game itself. Presentation and gameplay are carbon copies of Yakuza 3. Yakuza 4 suffers horribly from the similar presentation, feeling more like an over-priced expansion pack than a sequel. The menus are identical, the HUD is largely similar, the combat is the same, the moves are the same, the unlocks are the same, the mini-games are the same—it goes on like this for a while. The new characters all have their different fighting styles, bringing a little change to the combat, but will eventually grow into the same fighting patterns that you’ve used with Kiryu for the past 3 games. There is a change, at least, with the leveling system, which now works with tokens that you spend instead of the usual experience points. It’s neat at first, but in the end, it’s just a different way of giving you experience for punching jerks in the face.
The third, final, and biggest issue comes with the setting. I will say this: I love Kamurocho. It’s an incredibly well-realized piece of Japanese culture and environment. They’ve iterated on the setting a lot since the first Yakuza game and it feels a lot like a home now. It’s a great feeling when you set foot in it, but it’s one that wears off quickly into Yakuza 4. 3 had the benefit of moving into the next generation, allowing you to experience just about all of the city without any loading screens. That novelty is gone now, and all that’s left is an area that is incredibly familiar, has changed little since the last time you saw it, and instills a feeling of fatigue that will really get to you in the late-game. By the end of my run through Yakuza 4, I had absolutely no interest in any side-quest. I didn’t want to run around chasing dudes, or fight jerks in the streets, or play blackjack or any of that stuff. I wanted the game to end because I wanted to see the end of the story, nothing more. If the series is going to continue, it needs a new environment and central setting, because I am not entirely sure I’d be on board with another visit to the never-changing sights of Kamurocho again.
It also wouldn’t hurt to switch graphical engines because man, is that series starting to look rough around the edges…
Guys, Saints Row is so dumb. Like, unbelievably dumb. With that in mind, let me explain to you why it’s the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year. I need to preface two things to do so, though.
The first is why I am so surprised I love Saints Row 3. The shortest of the two answers starts with me telling you that I fuckin’ hated Saints Row II. It was a broken, unfunny and immature attempt to capitalize on the serious direction of Rockstar’s GTA franchise, and I didn’t connect with it at all. That might be reading a bit much into it, but by the time my game had glitched out 50 times, had no laughs whatsoever and was shooting poo at people from a truck, I decided that I had seen my share of stupidity and that I’d be better off not playing this insanity. It left me unexcited to play Saints Row: The Third, and it’s probably those lowered expectations that led me to having such a great time with it. Or, at least, part of the reason why.
The second reason why is as simple as me growing up in a time where games were just games. Games weren’t this thing trying to tell you this story, make you experience you never have before or transporting you to some fantasy world you feel like you live in. More than anything else this year, I feel like Saints Row: The Third goes back to that “games as games” mentality. Cars handle way too responsively, you can upgrade your character (already a throwback) to have infinite ammo and become invincible, the game’s plot is nothing but an excuse to do insane things and every bit of it is as fun as a game should be.
If there’s one impression I get from Saints Row 3, it’s that at no point did the words “No, we can’t do that” come up during the game’s development. There is so much shit crammed into this game, all of it more bombastic and fun than the last.
The game goes all out and fills the whole disc with insane moments everywhere. I love it. I love Saints Row: The Third, and I love Volition for thinking this was a terribly great idea. Those guys are heroes, and we should all thank them for making videogames fucking videogames again.
See you tomorrow for Part 2!