By CJduke 2 Comments
This was a really great year for games. I liked it a lot more than last year, mostly because the top 5 games of my list could each be a game of the year winner and two of the games were some of my favorite this generation. Anyway, onto the list.
10. The Swapper
I don't play too many puzzle games, as I often find them to be tedious or that the puzzles aren't good enough for me to want to press forward when the story is lacking (or non-existent). The Swapper however, had such striking visuals and interesting gameplay mechanics that I had to give it a try. Thankfully, The Swapper is a tremendously engaging game at all levels, with easy to learn but difficult to master gameplay and a very interesting story laired over it. While all of the puzzles were quite creative, I found myself most impressed by how well the game teaches you everything you need to know about the mechanics in order to solve the puzzles without beating you over the head with instructions and without leaving you in the dark about what to do or how to do it. I also really appreciated the ability to do the puzzles in the order that I wanted, because I often got stuck and wanted to take a break from the puzzle that was giving me trouble without entirely quitting the game.
Beyond the puzzle solving, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. A lot of the visuals and the colored lighting reminded me a lot of Dead Space 2 (which is a really good thing) and the isolation I felt while running around the space station was brought on by the wonderful sound and somewhat creepy story. The story itself is often told through text logs, but what character interaction you do get in the game is excellent. The story leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and the ending was very well executed. Although it was frustrating at times, I felt a great sense of accomplishment with every puzzle I completed, something no other game gave me this year.
9. Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem Awakening was my first foray into the Fire Emblem series and I found it to be highly addictive. Just like last year's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Awakening forces you to be patient and to pay attention to the positioning of all your characters. The enemies are ruthless and quickly taught me to not rush forward into combat. I had a few incidents early on of sending my flying units or my weak healers to close to the enemy and they would immediately target them down. Just like in XCOM, I didn't restart the game unless my entire party wiped and being so cautious really allowed for some rewarding gameplay. Unlike XCOM however, Fire Emblem gives each character in the game a personality and a storyline, especially if you are building relationships with them. Instead of being nameless characters they were all part of the story and if they get downed in combat you miss out on future conversations with that character. I lost somewhere between 10-15 of the characters when I played including the one Dancer class the very second I got her. It was frustrating to lose people, but I always knew it was my fault.
The leveling system in the game was much different from other tactics games I have played and required a lot of thinking as to which characters I wanted to pair up and get married and what classes I wanted to evolve my characters into. It was a really interesting system that required a bit more thought and decision making than a lot of similar games do. The story was fun, but fairly generic JRPG stuff. Where it shined was in the characters and the writing which was always at least interesting and often times extremely funny. While it wasn't my favorite tactics game ever, I really enjoyed my time with Fire Emblem.
8. DmC Devil May Cry
As a huge fan of the first Devil May Cry game I was fairly interested in the new reboot of the franchise. While character action games have never been my favorite, I've enjoyed my fair share of God of War games and after hearing Brad talk so highly of the game I decided to grab it on a sale earlier in the year. The first thing I loved about it was how smooth it ran on my pc, as it always kept itself around 60 fps. Furthermore the environments were all really awesome and creative. The Raptor news boss fight and the dance club level really stand out as fun level design from a gameplay and visual perspective. While the story would often get out of hand or just be completely stupid, I still appreciated that the game didn't take itself too seriously. I also didn't mind the new Dante, as I thought his cocky attitude fit the role very well.
Of course the combat is obviously where this game shined the most. The system Ninja Theory created really fits the idea of simple to learn, difficult to master. Most of the combos were the basic combos you see throughout character action games and nothing was incredible difficult to time right or to memorize. Where the game really brought everything together was in its smooth transition between weapons that allows the player to create their own combos. The ability to switch between different weapon types right in the middle of combos really gave the combat a lot of depth and the enemy design often encouraged players to be creative in order to defeat them efficiently. I also really appreciated the fact that Ninja Theory made the game have tons of replay value by using new weapons and abilities to unlock secrets Metroidvania style, the arena mode, and gameplay remixes of all the enemies on new game plus playthroughs. This was one of those games I never expected to play this year and was happily surprised by how much I liked it.
7. Gone Home
Gone Home was one of the more interesting game experiences I've ever had and one of the few games I feel is worth having a lengthy conversation about in terms of game design and story expectations. I think the thing Gone Home does best, especially early on, is atmosphere. The game gets you to feel alone and to also feel a little worried about where your family is and what happened to everyone. As you get deeper into the sister's story you really feel like something horrible must have happened, yet since you don't have a car and the phone is out, you are just trapped in this spooky house trying to piece together whatever you can about where your sister could be. The way the game built up all these emotions, along with the fact that I am so used to games having big plot twists or huge emotional moments, I got to the end of the game and was extremely disappointed. All I could think was, this is it? After all that this is how it ends? What was the point?
I had my girlfriend play the game to see how she felt about it and since she never plays games I wanted to hear her opinion on the ending. While she was playing, we discovered a bunch of things I didn't on my first playthrough and I put things together that I did not understand my first time through. When we got to the end, I liked the game much more and my girlfriend was disappointed. Interestingly enough though, we talked about the game for a few days after she had finished it and the more we talked about it, the more we liked it. We decided that our feelings of disappointment were not the fault of Gone Home's, it was more that we just constantly expect big plot twists and dramatic endings from other forms of media. Gone Home stripped away a lot of the craziness that comes with most stories and gave us a story that for once could have actually been a part of real life. The game is about a lot of serious issues and handles them all well and if you pay enough attention, you can piece together some very interesting stories about the family. I really have to give credit to a game that can make me like it more days after I've finished playing it, and Gone Home really was a fine example of how games can portray real life issues.
6. Rayman Legends
Rayman Legends is just pure fun. I hadn't played a pure platformer in a very long time, and Legends is one of the best I've come across. The game looks amazing and the level design is phenomenal. I really enjoyed how they kept adding in new gameplay, rather than just having you jump from platform to platform level after level. I got addicted to trying to grab all the teensies, and since I hadn't played Origins, it was amazing to have all that game's content right in Legends. I even took part in the daily and weekly challenges for a fairly long while.
Of course, my favorite part of the game was the music levels. They were just awesome to play, and each time put a smile on my face. The game just has so much charm and so many great ideas that even when they didn't come together perfectly (touch screen bits weren't that elegant with a controller) I still loved the challenge everything presented. It was also really nice to play a game that reminded me of old school gaming. It was fun and relaxing, and is a must play for anyone who loves great platforming.
5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
I could only come up with four games that were better than Brothers this year. This game surprised me many times, gave me lots of emotions and had some really interesting game play mechanics. Going into the game I was not expecting such brutal violence. I found myself being somewhat shocked multiple times by some of the things the brothers encounter during their quest. It led to a lot of unexpected moments for me and I was always eager for and a bit fearful of what was going to come next. The art design really captured the essence of what I imagine a fairy tale world to be, and the way the environments seamlessly transitioned was really impressive.
In terms of controls, I found them to be somewhat frustrating but also very interesting. I have used video game controllers for years, but controlling two characters independently at once was quite the challenge and was a good exercise for my brain. In the end though, Brothers is this high on my list because of its story. While the overall plot is pretty predictable, it didn't stop me from feeling emotional multiple times throughout the game. It did an excellent job of demonstrating the importance of family relationships and the lengths people will go to save and protect the ones they love. It also is a great example of how games can tell stories in ways other mediums can't, by making the controls fully intertwined with what happens with the brothers. This is a game well worth anyone's time.
4. Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V brought me back to the good old days of Grand Theft Auto. Doing things like driving around and memorizing the city, spending multiple hours diving in the ocean to collect items that are completely unrelated to the rest of the game, and doing rampage missions reminded me why I loved the old PS2 games. Honestly, it is absurd that this game lets you dive under the ocean and explore. Rockstar put so much work into the fine details of the world that it's very hard not to be impressed. Even when so many aspects of the game seem entirely pointless, I can't help but partake in the various activities and craziness because it's just amazing to me that Rockstar went to such lengths to bring the world to life. From being able to take people to a cult for money, to having a pretend facebook where various characters from the game regularly update their status, to an entire economy system based around a stock market, the game is just filled with so much stuff it was overwhelming trying to see it all.
While the gameplay is still classic GTA for the most part, the characters really create a story that is hilarious and entertaining. The writing is top notch, and I really enjoy having three protagonists, each with extremely different personalities and motives to keep everything feeling fresh. Franklin, Michael, and Trevor each have their own feelings and opinions on everything that happens and that made the game even more interesting. While a lot of the game seems a bit old at this point, Rockstar still proves they are one of the best in the industry at world building. I mean, I role-play the characters by what vehicles I have them drive, the clothes I have them wear, and the music they listen to. I know it's a bit crazy, but it is also impressive that GTA V gets me to play it in that way.
3. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
What an amazing surprise. I've always been a huge fan of the AC series but after how much of a slog 3 was (although I did enjoy some of it) I was sure Black Flag was going to suck. Fortunately, Ubisoft actually took this series in the right direction. The new protagonist, Edward Kenway, is such a fun character and really gives lets the series move away from all the serious Assassins vs Templars nonsense. What really made the story great is that it was actually about Edward as a character and how he changes over the course of the game. I'm all up for the usual craziness of AC plots, but I really appreciated the direction the story took with Black Flag. Outside of the animus was also really awesome. The fact that you are creating the game you are playing and are able to rate the missions you play is a really cool and hilarious idea. The game also doesn't force too much of that stuff on you, so the moments when you have to be out of the animus are completely worth it.
As far as gameplay goes, no other series gets me to play a game like Vinny more than Assassin's Creed. Black Flag has tons of collectibles on various islands and in underwater shipwrecks and caverns. I explored and found almost everything, leaving my synchronization at close to eighty percent. The world was just so well made that I found it fun to just run around collecting items. The boat combat is was also tons of fun and the sea shanties are one of my favorite things in any game ever. When it comes down to it, Black Flag is just a really fun game to play and it succeeded all my expectations. Once again, I am excited about Assassin's Creed.
2. Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite is a masterpiece of storytelling. There are very few games ever that have gotten me to scramble throughout forums, desperately searching for answers to things. I was excited to learn the truth about the story and to understand it especially while I was playing it. Playing Infinite was like reading one of the best books ever, as I kept pushing forward to beat it just so I could know what was going to happen. The most masterful part about the game is that the answers were right there with you the whole time the game just hid them so well and had such good foreshadowing that I never saw any of it coming.
Such an amazing story wouldn't be anything special if the world and the characters weren't amazing as well and Bioshock has some of the best of both. Infinite is the reason why I didn't say Rockstar is the best at world building with GTA V, because Irrational games created such an original world with Columbia. I found myself exploring (at least what I thought to be) every nook and cranny just to see everything the world had to offer. The music bits were also incredible and I had to stop and look up songs multiple times wondering if they were actually old songs.
Even though the actual gameplay itself was lackluster at times, and the audio logs were disappointing because they held such important story moments that I missed, Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that I will remember for a very long time. I wish people would stop trying to pick apart the story now that it is months later, and just remember how exciting the game was at the time and how fun it was to discover what the world of Columbia had in store. While I wouldn't be sad if this was the last Bioshock game because it ends so well, I would really enjoy to see where the series went next.
1. The Last of Us
The argument that movies and books can always tell stories better than games can be proven wrong with The Last of Us. This game could have been a book or a movie and it would have been amazing, but as a game it does so much more than those other mediums can. Similar to The Walking Dead, The Last of Us is a zombie apocalypse story that isn't about the zombies, but about the people. The world is filled with realistic characters who have realistic personalities and emotions, brought brilliantly to life by an amazing cast of voice actors and incredible character animation. The story itself is very generic, but the way it tells that generic apocalypse story and the way the characters interact and make the decisions they make just makes it unlike any other zombie game or movie I have ever seen. The main protagonists, Joel and Ellie, have such an interesting relationship that changes over and over again throughout the story, and they each have their own personal qualities that make them stand out much more than any other survival story characters.
Joel at first seems to be a classic antihero, yet as the game progresses and you see more of the type of person he is and why he does what he does, you begin to wonder if his somewhat villainous ways aren't completely justified and necessary. Ellie is there to counter him in a lot of ways and together they really create the best character duo I've ever experienced in a game. The game is filled with such moral ambiguity that I always found myself wondering what I would do if I was in Joel and Ellie's position. It also made me question a lot of things about survival and if at a certain point, if enough things went wrong and you lost everyone you loved, if it's just not worth living anymore. The game is quite depressing in that way and in a lot of other ways too. This game doesn't have too many happy moments, but when it does they are incredible.
In terms of gameplay, I loved it. I can completely understand why someone wouldn't like it as it is slow and requires a decent amount of trial and error, but the game keeps its promise in letting you decide to handle each situation how you want to. You can sneak by without killing people, or stealthily kill, or run in guns blazing (which is often times a big mistake). Rather than playing it like I play most stealth games and restarting as soon as I got caught, I played out every sequence no matter what happened. I felt playing it that way fit the story better and allowed me to enjoy all the different ways combat can play out. I enjoyed the crafting and feeling low on resources, and I felt like the game did an excellent job of making you feel like a scavenger hunting for supplies rather than just placing them right in front of you.
The multiplayer was also amazingly fun. It's difficult and the metagame of keeping your group of survivors alive made every single match more difficult and more intense. If you want to unlock stuff in the multiplayer you have to play well which is something I really appreciated. The game also requires a great amount of patience and good team work, which is something I feel is lacking from most multiplayer shooters these days. Every kill is rewarding as in a game like counter strike because the stakes are high and winning or losing is meaningful. I really want to get back into playing it, but I'm afraid I will be so terrible that I will cause my whole survivor group to die.
The Last of Us is a great achievement for video games. It proves that games can tell stories that are equal to or better than great books and movies and it creates a world that is filled with real characters and real emotions. The beginning and ending scenes are the most powerful parts of any game I have ever experienced and should not be missed.
Honarable Mentions: Saints Row IV, Tomb Raider, Batman Arkham Origins