Ten games released this year (2013) wot I disliked the least

As it’s the week before I go home for Christmas and work is a bit slow, I thought it acceptable to collate together ten (10) games I played that were released this year and rank them in order of which I liked the most/disliked the least. Two things: I appear to have only actually played ten (10) games that were released this year so it was more a case of ordering them rather than actually narrowing down a right big list. AND I didn’t truly enjoy most of these in the conventional sense of the word, but taking into consideration the previous sentence I’ve not really got much more to work with.

X - Thomas Was Alone

I got this little doozy for free with the ol’ PS Plus subscription that keeps insisting on renewing itself without my consent. While I’ve owned the same PS3 since it came out in 2007 I’ve ended up using the Xbox a lot more over recent years, so many of my free games go unplayed for a considerable stretch. Part of this, I think, is because the HDD in that launch PS3 is only 60GB, which isn’t very helpful if one likes playing more than two games at a time. Anyway, I played TWA for about ten minutes and was instantly charmed by every aspect of it. The pretty and colourful blocky characters are heart warming, as is the slightly forlorn narration. I’d like to play it a bit longer before I make any more judgements though, that’s why it occupies this position.

IX - Remember Me

Remember Me isn’t a very enjoyable game. The only redeeming quality it has is squandered on all the other bad ideas it insists upon throwing at the player, resulting in a rather upsetting experience. A few early locations look truly beautiful, its setting and overall concept is interesting and exciting and the whole project was clearly inspired at some early stage. It doesn’t play badly either; it’s just really, really normal and that doesn’t do anything for me these days. Combat is serviceable, enemies are bleurgh challenging and level design is linear and boring to look at. Remember Me is the perfect mid-tier game, it’s just nowhere near as entertaining as the B-grade magic of Binary Domain.

VIII - Saints Row IV

I reckon Saints Row IV is lovely. It’s a lovely video game made by people who truly enjoy making video games. I also think that it’s a bit of a boring one when you actually get down to playing the story. For a long while I was almost exclusively pursuing the side activities with mind to complete every single one of them. I did this in no time and then went on to collecting the 1255 orbs like them from Crackdown. I got all of those as well and felt a little dirty and pathetic after doing so; I’d just spent fifteen (15) hours of my life collecting things for no justifiable reason. It was fun, however, so it at least says something about SR IV when it’s cooking on gas and letting you fly, and jump, and run around like a maniac.

The rest of the game - the actual game it could be argued - is dead boring. While I was messing around being a compulsive collector I was able to upgrade a load of skills and guns to ‘customise my experience’. Many of the story tasks, as I learned countless times to my dismay, don’t really care about any of this and instead regularly lock off powers and many, many of your guns. This, combined with lifeless, repetitive and right tiresome objectives, slowly wore down my enjoyment and turned the game proper into an ‘orrible slog. This came as a surprise to me as I never enjoy ancillary objectives more than the main game, especially in Saints Rows of the past. The freedom you are given while roaming the open world is regularly undermined by the arbitrary whims of the story missions, and that just didn’t sit well with me, hence it ending up as my third least favourite game released this year that I played.

VII - Grand Theft Auto V

Before this came out I was steadfast in my insistence that I didn’t care about GTA V one jot. As is usually the case with massive titles, my resolve weakened about a week before it came out and so I decided to order it from the Amazon after all. There really is something powerful around the video game zeitgeist; that crushing need to play a game as soon as possible, even if you aren’t planning on talking about it to anyone else. As it transpired many people had also ordered it from the Amazon and so Royal Mail found it rather difficult to get all their deliveries made that day. This resulted in me standing in the rain chain-smoking fags, staring longingly at red vans and postmen like some grownup orphan who never gave up hope of finding his lost parents. I played Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City instead and eventually received my GTA a number of days late.

GTA V is a really impressive condensation of the mundanities of all our lives. It is a game set in a wonderful representation of the modern world and its beauty and detail are really rather impressive. Like SR IV it’s really boring as well. Once I got over the scale of the world and had driven around for a decent time I started tiring of the repetitive and archaic mission design. In the end GTA V is, for me anyway, a more mechanically sound GTA III and almost nothing more. Everything about the game is really great except the playing of the story, which I just found to be dull for the most part. As with every GTA I’ve ever played I’ve had to take a long break, though I’ll likely go back and finish it next year.

VI - DmC: Devil May Cry

I don’t like the other Devil May Cry games because they are too hard. I played this one on easy and had a very enjoyable time, all told. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes ‘wow’ and only a little bit frustrating. The beginning is uninspired and the end is uninspired but the middle is absolutely fantastic. The upside down world, the TV ident and the slow-motion-jumping-chase are three of the most memorable bits of art direction/level design I’ve encountered this year. It’s a shame that the last third of the game is so boring and drab with its ‘caverns and corridors’ approach, because that really soured me on the whole experience.

I tend to button bash a bit too much, but DmC made me want to learn as much as my feeble hands could manage, so I ended up enjoying the combat quite a bit, even on that pathetically low difficulty. Also, my good friend Martin did QA on this and features as one of the first people to be seen in the video next to the credits. His mum was dead happy when I pointed that out and he showed her.

V - Bioshock Infinite

I got bored of the first Bioshock because it’s pretty boring and that map is one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. The linear nature of it and the voice-over-the-radio-telling-you-where-to-go constantly reminded me of Red Faction; it’s something I just couldn’t shake and it soured the entire experience. Egg on my face, however, as it seems that Bioshock is one of them ‘pivotal moment’ games, and as someone wot writes about video games I feel a bit foolish for only having played about three hours of it.

Infinite, from what I can gather, is like Bioshock but in the sky. Its general mechanics are almost identical except now you can also zip around on wires - albeit about five times in total - and you have a weak little girl at your side who is actually pretty strong when it comes to throwing you guns and making things out of thin air.

The game is a fitting encapsulation of the latter days of this console generation in many ways. It is iteration down to a t in terms of mechanics, storytelling conventions, character interactions and presentation. It’s also a shallow game when you look at it with any scrutiny: while it attempts to tackle big, important (escalating) themes like racism, destiny and multiverse theory it is always more interested in being a game where you shoot lots of people. Whether this is the case because most people are stupid (there were a lot of ‘explaining the ending’ videos created) and would get tired and bored with a more contemplative pace, I don’t know, but Infinite undermined itself by being too long, repetitive and just a bit silly.

I though the ending was hilarious, ‘btw’, and have created a game about Orson Welles inspired by their combined bravado.

IV - The Last of Us

Just like the game above (but below on this list) I got right sick of playing The Last of Us. This might be an intentional thing to bring the player in line with the characters’ emotional states, but it could also just be a symptom of audience expectations of a modern blockbuster video game.

What I do think it did well was creating a great sense of desperation and vulnerability, at least for the first few hours. Early on the game makes it perfectly clear that you are but a man with a child in a very unfriendly world that will kill you in a second if you try and be a hero. Because of this you spend most of your time skulking around and sneaking past as many enemies as possible. My favourite part of the entire thing finds you emerging into a train station filled with things that can kill you if they hear you even a little bit. The theatre of conflict-avoidance is all shadowy and filled with stuff you can throw to distract these blind adversaries, so you must make your way very slowly and very quietly through this 50 metre long space. While it would take one a matter of seconds to traverse such an area under normal circumstances, the pressing imperative to go unnoticed means this becomes a stressful and harrowing experience, not unlike the wardrobe scene in the original Halloween. It’s dead effective and shows the exemplary pace and sense of dread the early parts of the game are steeped in.

As you progress ever further into the ‘adventure’ so too does your character, Joel, and he goes from being right fragile and believable to a world weary man-tank within the space of a few hours. This all happens through a completely unnecessary upgrade system that governs player stats and weapons. I understand that in this brave modern age, games need to have countless hooks to keep players playing, but I found this constantly increasing proficiency to distract from the more important human aspect of the story. By allowing - almost obliging - Joel to improve over time the game must compensate by increasing its difficulty, lest it lose all sense of danger or challenge. Thus, we encounter more and more enemies, more gun combat and more boredom as the game continues. What begins as a tense sneak through the decimated landscape of contemporary humanity, devolves into lots of shooting at men with slightly longer beards, and it is for this reason why I don’t like The Last of Us as much as I wish I did.

III - Tomb Raider

Have you played an Uncharted game? Yes? Good, you know exactly how Tomb Raider conducts itself then. I initially thought this was a bad thing, but having played a few other Triple A games this year I’m going to go back on my word. TR is genuinely really fun. It has everything you’d expect from this sort of game - an Uncharted one - except the guns feel more precise and thus rewarding to shoot. The game’s quasi open world also adds a bit of variety to the proceedings, allowing you to nip back to most areas and look for collectibles (I got them all, again), kill animals and even raid a few simple puzzle-based tombs as well.

I didn’t like all the unsexy ‘look at Our Lara while she dies with something inside her’ bits that pop up when you don’t do what the game wants you to do, and these are clearly the game’s weakest element. The story as well, while it is somewhat empowering for the character, was a bit flat and predictable, and there are many, many allusions to Lara getting raped or men planning on raping her just before she breaks their little heads open or mashes their willy up a bit.

Besides all the nastiness it’s a perfectly serviceable entry into the Uncharted series, and probably the best thing that could have been done with the license at the present time. It’s ultimately uninspired, but I found it significantly more entertaining than the other games I’ve also called uninspired in this list.

II - Papers Please

Papers Please is one of them ‘real life is horrible’ simulation games that have become all popular in recent years. Taking on the role of a border crossing administrator, you have to check migrants’ papers (please) and make sure that they are eligible to enter your dystopian Eastern Bloc nation. As with reality, there are only so many hours within which to work so you are forced to balance processing people quickly and maintaining high standards.

The game is depressing, stressful and demoralising and it completely succeeds within its chosen genre in making you appreciate your own pathetic existence a little bit more. It is in no way fun to play and for this I commend it. Every one of the previous titles in this list attempts to be fun to some extent, and each of them (with the exception of TWA and TR) failed in this to different degrees and for different reasons. PP doesn’t fall at the fun hurdle because it never tries to be anything but a chore.

It is mechanically simple, yet varied enough to never become boring. Its strict timescale means it never ceases to be a harrowing experience, which is further exacerbated by the dual responsibilities of keeping your family alive and protecting the people within your grey, concrete borders. It’s number two because it dares to be different and isn’t as horribly patronising as Cart Life.

I - Flower

Flower is the best game ever made.

It was released this year on the PS Vita - I don’t own one - so I can comfortably stick this at the top of my list. I love Flower above all other video games because it is the most beautiful, life-affirming, charming, hippy-nonsense-filled and downright lovely thing ever produced.

You play as the wind and fly around fields, plains and urban streets bringing the colour of nature to these lifeless landscapes. Read that sentence again. Yes, Flower is lovely. You fly by holding a button and tilting the controller - sorry Vita - around; once you get used to it you’ll be quickly soaring into the Heavens, swooping through tall grass and pulling air-doughnuts.

It’s a stunningly beautiful game, the music is wonderful and its conservationist message, while very, very obvious is pointed and important. The game is still available on the PS3 and now it’s on the Vita and PS4 as well. If things keep going like this Flower could easily be released on every Sony platform until we either destroy the planet with our dirty fossil fuel fuelled greed, or all return to nature and have no more need for digital entertainment products.

Flower is the best game ever made.

There we are. Some were good, some were boring, some were silly and some were only on there because I didn’t play enough games released this year. They were all video games though, and I cast my opinionated eye over all ten (10) of them and then said wot I think. That’s all you can really expect from anyone in the end. Merry Christmas.

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