By onimonkii 3 Comments
It's that time of year again. I have opted out in years past, but now I feel like participating in some game of the year fun. Not content with a list, and inspired byand his classy business, I decided to write a bunch of words about games I've played, make some shitty images, and throw the whole thing up as a blog post. Let's get to it!
Diablo III was a disappointment. I didn't even want to put it on this list at all, back when I couldn't put together 10 games to make a list. Now that I've graduated to a blog, I feel I should include it if only to explain. I have basically no nostalgia for Diablo II, I didn't even play it for the first time until late 2011, so it's not even an "I liked it better before they messed up all my favorite stuff" type deal. I really was just disappointed with how fast it got to the point I didn't want to continue playing. People played Diablo II for like 10 years, and while irrelevant to someone who didn't play Diablo II, I feel like the fact that Diablo III never even came close to 2 months for me and my group of friends is indicative of a huge misstep somewhere.
The first play though the game, I was pumped, having a decent time playing with some friends, my monk felt powerful, there was meaningful progression to be had. After completing the game once even, I was excited to start over, I felt I had only scratched the surface, and yet, the more I played, the more everything I liked about it washed away.
Soon every new skill or rune unlock felt not as good as something I already had, and I was dying pretty much instantly in certain encounters, which were becoming more and more frequent until I stopped playing. Overall I feel like it's a well made game, and I would like to give it another shot at some point to see if any patches have addressed my issues with it, but it's the bottom end of things I played this year.
Guild Wars 2 is similar to Diablo III for me, which is why it takes the 11th spot on this list. I have no love for Guild Wars, I actually bought it at launch, and ended up giving away my account to someone I played City of Heroes with, I cared that little about it, I just gave it away. Going into Guild Wars 2, I had pretty much no expectations, at that point I couldn't even remember what Guild Wars played like, and I hadn't been paying any attention to the pre-release hype.
My first experience with the beta was a bad one, it was the game at it's worst, 70 dudes in an area all rushing the same objective it would take 2 dudes to complete at the most, with horrible lag and rubberbanding even trying to fight or move. At launch, the technical issues had been addressed and there were good times to be had, but for me at least, they didn't last. The skill system probably was the biggest contributor to me just getting bored of the game. As you use weapons, you unlock new skills for that weapon, which fill out your hotbar. This is cool, until level 5, where you've unlocked everything, and switching weapons on the fly is hardly worth it in regular PvE.
I got to about level 37 until the game just started to feel like a series of checklists. Enter an area, look at the map, check off all the boxes on the map, move to next area. The combat in between lost it's shine for me once I unlocked all the utility skills I wanted to, and there were at least 40 more levels to go after that, with nothing to look forward to but checking off more boxes to make a number go up.
That's pretty much where it ended for me. It's a well made game, and it has some good ideas, but it just lacks any incentive to actually play it.
I am horrible at competitive first person shooters. I avoid games like Call of Duty and Battlefield because I have zero fun just being a target for someone else, and I don't have the twitch skills and awareness to spot and kill someone before they do the same to me. Planetside 2 is no exception, but where it is exceptional, is in it's scale. The basic premise is: Battlefield in space, with three factions, and three huge maps where the game never ends.
The scale of the continents in Planetside 2 is kind of amazing. I had most of my fun with the game just being alone, exploring the world, and seeing what kind of trouble I could get into. I had some great times just stumbling into an outpost that was undefended, taking it all by myself, and waiting for someone to come and take it back. Or maybe it wasn't actually undefended, and there was a tense showdown for a few moments until one of us could take the outpost as their own.
I wish I could enjoy Planetside 2 more, it's got smart progression and unlocks to keep you playing for a long time, exporing the world is fun, and the shooting feels good. But the game breaks down for me when I need other players to get anything done, and the more players you add, the easier I get lost and lose interest. Seeing a fleet of galaxies close in on a bio lab or a line of tanks roll up on a facility is an amazing sight, I just don't want to be anywhere near it when it hits, on either end, and that is the crux of the experience.
Syndicate was a surprise to me. I knew nothing about the original, and still don't know anything, aside from the fact that it's not a first person shooter. Hot off of the heels of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I was ready for more games in similar settings though, and Syndicate scratched that itch. That's not to say they're comparable experiences though.
Syndicate is very much a linear setpiece shooter, but there's nothing wrong with that if you have an interesting setting and a story to tell. The gunplay is really tight and the additional powers make encounters more interesting than in most shooters. The campaign only took me about 5 hours to complete, but it was just the perfect length for the story they were trying to tell.
Admittedly, I don't actually own the game, I borrowed it from a friend, and as such, I didn't get a chance to dig into the multiplayer part. I wish I had, but with just the single player campaign, I feel like it deserves a spot on this list.
Wizorb is a really unique, charming game. Sure, somewhat similar concepts exist, such as Sequence and Puzzle Quest, but this feels very much like it's own thing anyways. If you're unfamiliar, Wizorb is a 16 bit style RPG where you're a wizard trying to collect coins to help rebuild a town. To collect coins, you travel around playing Arkanoid, only instead of powerups, you're collecting mana potions, which let you cast your sick wizard spells.
Another use for your coins is item shops you can bounce into inside of levels, as well as visit in town. You can even buy a wall at the bottom of the screen that will last 3 hits to help you through levels. It's a challenging game, I had to kick it down to easy just to get past the first set of levels, but it still took me about 7 hours to complete. I still haven't completed 100% of it, and will definitely go back and do so someday.
Because of my time with Wizorb, I'm looking forward to Tribute's next game, Mercenary Kings. But until then, you should probably play Wizorb.
Super Monday Night Combat is a rare case for me. As of right now I've got 338 hours played according to steam, which doesn't count time spent playing in the beta, easily bringing it up over 400 hours. That is probably the most I have ever played any game that isn't an MMO, and I spent it in a competitive 3rd person MOBA. It really shouldn't have happened.
But it did, and there was a lot to love about the game. The mechanics were simple to understand, you don't need to worry about most of the things you need to worry about in RTS style MOBAs like League of Legends or Dota 2, all you need to know is, you need to shoot their robots. Sure there are some map specific hazards, and the annihilator, but those all take about one game to get to know about, and then you're back to what's important, shooting robots.
I guess you kill dudes too, but that's so far from the focus of the game, it's entirely possible to win a game without killing anyone, or at least not having more than 1 kill per person on your team. Matches are deigned to last from 15-25 minutes, which makes it way more accessible than other games in the genre to me, and even then, you can have some epic hour long stuggles where the teams are pretty much even, and that is some of the most fun you can have in the game.
The style, the humor, the personality, and the fun gameplay all came together into a really compelling experience that kept me wanting to play more. So it's a shame that eventually, the community dwindled down to the point where I didn't want to play anymore. Hopefully someday it picks back up again, because I'll be ready, but at this point I doubt it. The developer has largely moved on since getting like 2 million in kickstarter money for another game, and SMNC updates are light, and pretty much months apart now.
I will admit, I haven't actually played too deep into Scribblenauts Unlimited, I'm on like the 3rd level or so, 1 hour into the game. But just from having played that, I know it belongs on this list. This is my first Scribblenauts, and while it took some getting used to how things worked and what I could and couldn't do, now that it's clicked with me, I'm having a great time collecting starites.
One example I've told a few people about already that I will recall here, because it was pretty much the defining moment for me, is early on. Some kids ask you to get their baseball back for them, but they tell you that you have to stay off the nearby old man's lawn. So naturally i walk directly onto his lawn, only to have him spring up out of the chair and grab their ball angrily.
I click on him and try to steal it and he backs away from me, so I quickly think to myself "How can I get this ball from this old man?" and as if a lightbulb had gone off over my head, I clicked the man again, and this time went to my notebook. Add Adjective. D E A D. Enter. The old man falls over dead, and I walk over and collect the ball, and return it to the kids.
The fact that this was a viable solution, and I was not somehow punished for coming up with it, let me know that I'm in for a lot more fun with Scribblenauts Unlimited.
Another recent addition to my library, but still deserving of a spot on this list, is Super Hexagon. I'm still on the first set of 3 stages, and haven't finished any of them yet, I've only even played for 45 minutes total. But this isn't the kind of game you just play through a campaign and you're done with it. This is pretty much a drug.
You can boot the game and start playing in not even 1 second, and you're immediately assaulted by the pulsing colorful visuals and catchy, pounding music. This is how it hooks you. Your only objective is to survive, there is shit coming at you, you need to get out of the way of that shit. There's not a lot to it, but for some reason, when you die (and you will), you just instinctively and immediately press the "let me do that again" button, and you're right back in.
It's this addictive quality that's earned it a spot on my list. It's so fast and so light (32mb!) that I can see myself keeping it installed just to boot up whenever, over and over again for a long time to come. The built in leaderboards could definitely help with this, should more of my friends buy it.
It's weird to talk about atmosphere in a top down 2D game, but Hotline Miami has amazing atmosphere. I'm sure everyone is sick to death of hearing how amazing the soundtrack is at this point, but it really is that good in the actual context of the game. As a collection of songs that I casually listen to, it's more hit or miss, there's only about 4 songs that fit that bill. But in the game, it's actually brilliant, and amplifies the mood of the experience that much more.
But Hotline Miami isn't just a soundtrack, it's an incredible game experience as well. While some would decry the gratuitous violence, to me it exists in the same realm as the soundtrack, to add to the atmosphere. It's not like you're some psychopath for enjoying a tight gameplay loop, even if that tight gameplay loop revolves around efficiently murdering every dude in a building.
I think that is why Hotline Miami hit me so hard, it's like the perfect run in a stealth game, without needing any of the stealth. You just hop from body to body without having to worry about hiding what you're doing, just hiding yourself from harm, since you are actually very fragile, you can't just stand and fight like you can in most stealth games should things go rotten.
As someone who loves stealth games, this seems like a different take on them to me. A sped up, stylish, and unique take on them, that is capable of tricking people who might not like those games into seeing it's charms.
Like I mentioned, I love stealth games, and coincidentally, I also love ninjas. The Tenchu franchise is one of my favorites, even before I had any kind of personal bias towards it, and even after, though I've not played some of the more recent entries on consoles I don't even own or ever plan to. That brand of exacting planning and execution is one of my favorite things in videogames.
Mark of the Ninja isn't exactly that, but it's about as close as you can get in a 2D sidescrolling game. The stealth mechanics are easy to understand, everything is presented to you in a way that you're never surprised when you're spotted, it just means you failed in your execution somehow. Like Hotline Miami, you have a flow or a pattern you start going through in a level, retrying to really get it down and perfect.
I love this kind of thing in games, even if some of the games it's present in aren't exactly the best, they're some of my favorites. Mark of the Ninja is not a game I'd have any trouble recommending to someone because they're not also a fan of stealth games. The visuals are impressive, the animations are fluid, and the controls are super responsive. I'm not sure about the longevity once I complete everything, but it almost doesn't matter when I'm having this much fun with it.
If you're surprised to see this game up so high, so am I. Let's back up for a second to explain why. It's 2009, Age of Conan has come and gone to me, I'm back playing City of Heroes, and I hear that the developers of Age of Conan are going to make a new MMO set in modern times called The Secret World. I think "well that sounds like a trainwreck" and laugh and go about my day. A couple trailers come out, I think at PAX? and they look decent, so I sign up for their beta/newsletter/whatever.
Fast forward to May 7th of this year, I get my beta invite, and proceed to give it away to a friend, because I wasn't in the mood for a new MMO, and I'd heard from some people who had gotten in before me that it was kinda janky and needed work still. 2 months later it launches, the friend I gave the key to ended up buying a lifetime subscription, he says it's awesome and I should give it a shot. It does sound cool but I still have no need to really and he's the only opinion I've heard on it at the time, so I go on ignoring it.
More and more people I know start playing, City of Heroes shuts down, and The Secret World makes the switch from a subscription model, to the Guild Wars 2 style "buy it once and you're set forever" model. I figured now was as good a time as any to jump in, so I picked it up for myself for xmas and installed it. The character creation was ok, I wish it was a bit deeper, but your character still feels unique once you're finished. You get 3 names, a first name, a nickname, and a last name, and all 3 display in game, a feature I think is pretty cool.
Once I got in game, I realized this isn't really a standard MMO. The first guy you talk to has fully voiced conversation options where you can just sit and listen to backstory on subjects of your choosing. This isn't uncommon, I find out as I get further in, a lot of NPCs have this. You don't need to listen to it, it's all just fleshing out the world and the characters if you want that, and it helped set the tone of the game for me.
Mechanically, it is kind of a standard MMO with some of it's own unique business. There are no classes, there are no levels. Your XP bar fills to represent how close you are to the next Ability Point or Skill Point, you can equip 2 weapons at a time, and take any abilities you want until you have 7 active and 7 passive abilities on your hotbars. Attacks operate on cooldowns and resources, the combat is fun, and unlocking more of the skills lets you equip stronger weapons and armor.
But what stands out the most to me is how it is pretty much the opposite of Guild Wars 2 in a lot of ways. They came out around the same time, but they go about things quite differently, aside from subscription model. Unlike GW2 where there aren't really "quests" outside the story missions, pretty much every quest is a story mission, with at least some kind of lore or dialogue worth seeing or hearing.
The Secret World limits your amount of active quests, which sounds shitty until you play with it, it usually puts some relevant/nearby side missions next to a main mission area, so you can tackle them quickly on your way to do the main mission. They can be off the beaten path a bit, so you end up exploring for hidden sidequests, instead of just seeing boxes to tick on the map to watch your % complete go up. And where GW2 peaked early for me, I already have more abilities than I know what to do with in TSW, with so so so many more to unlock over the course of my career still. Which has a ton of possibilities for trying out new things should I get bored of one set or another.
I know this is a lot of words about a game most people who read this (lol nobody is reading this) don't even care about, but I feel like I have to go out of my way to explain what makes this game so good that it's above all these other amazing games from this year, and explain that I honestly didn't think I would like it this much either. It's overall quality and how quickly it hooked me is one of the biggest surprises of the year to me, and that puts it in my #2 spot.
Like most people, I loved Borderlands. I went into that game fresh, I knew nothing about it and was pleasantly surprised. I had high expectations for Borderlands 2, and leading up to it's release, I wasn't so sure they would be able to meet them. I was actually worried because my friend was still in super hype mode, and it was all just kind of hitting me and falling directly to the ground. I didn't want to pump this game up so much I would be let down.
But it worked out in my favor in the end I guess, being reasonably cool on Borderlands 2 at release let it blow me away that much more. It helped that I had gotten the itch to reinstall Borderlands just before it released to wrap up some achievements (which I still don't have, and fuck them), so I could make a more direct comparison. Borderlands 2 blows away Borderlands so hard that I can't even sit here and tell you that Borderlands 2 is just more Borderlands.
Borderlands 2 is more of a reinvention of Borderlands from the ground up. Sure, they look the same, and have the same ideas, but everything about Borderlands 2 is so much more polished and refined, it makes it painful to go back to the original. The UI is smarter, the world doesn't look as muddy, the gunplay is greatly improved thanks to the gun manufacturers having their own style now, and the improved AI that doesn't just stand there or run directly at you.
A lot of these things aren't immediately apparent on the surface. You could look at them side by side and say "yeah, that sure is the sequel to that, they look the same", but it's probably the most drastic changes to a sequel I've seen without going in a blatantly different direction. Imagine if Call of Duty next year didn't FEEL like the typical Call of Duty gunplay. Something felt different in how the bullets behaved, or how looking down the sights felt, you would notice immediately. That's how Borderlands 2 is compared to Borderlands for me, but it's a good thing.
On top of the mechanical upgrades, they got rid of the shitty gamespy of the original and used steamworks, which let them integrate the co-op so much better. You could just boot up the game and see a list of everyone you know who is playing it, what level they are, what quest they are on, and how many people they have. Just that simple menu is one of the most powerful additions they could have made, making it so much easier to get into an ideal situation for maximum enjoyment.
Personally, Borderlands 2 hit me in a special way because of the circumstances surrounding it's release. I had installed it, and was fully prepared to play in co-op with my friend as a Siren, just like I had in the first game. Until tragedy struck, and I was left without internet from September 20th to October 10th. Not wanting to mess with my co-op progress, I made an Assassin to solo through the game hoping my internet came back soon. Eventually that turned into a Commando, and then a Gunzerker. I had finished the game 3 times and gotten to around level 33-35 with each character before I got internet back.
I never wanted to play the first Borderlands alone, it was boring, and I had even less desire to play classes that weren't Siren. But here I was in Borderlands 2 doing both at the same time, and still having a blast with it. Once I got internet back, the Mechromancer was released, and I took one of those through the game in co-op, and now I'm finally working on my Siren, slowly but surely.
I still don't have a level 50 character in Borderlands 2, so I haven't seen any of the "endgame" bosses, and I haven't purchased any of the DLC, so there's still hours of content out there that I have yet to experience, and I've already played and enjoyed 95 hours of it. The Secret World probably has it beat on overall longevity, but Borderlands 2 was the game I enjoyed playing the most this year, and probably will continue to enjoy into next year.