Corey May is one of the main creative forces behind the Assassin's Creed franchise, having been the lead writer on Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed II, and Assassin's Creed III, while also providing writing support on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin's Creed: Revelations. He probably looks forward to thinking about something other than Assassin's Creed for a little bit.
Slick, responsive, and maddening (in a good way)--this one came out of nowhere for me. I hadn’t followed its development and may not have grabbed it when I did if it wasn’t for Twitter singing its praises. Glad I heeded the Internet’s advice (for once). Smart art direction, responsive controls, and lots of interesting tools and skills at your disposal. My one issue is that I had to play each level in chunks. I’m a completionist, so I had to fill in all the little medals and crap. Which meant I sometimes spent hours on a single level. But the feeling of mastering a level--of pulling everything off perfectly--was worth it.
There are a couple of PC titles I consider my personal classics. Dungeon Master is one of them. I replay it (and Chaos Strikes Back and Legend of Skullkeep) at least once a year. Every so often I’d hear about “Dungeon Master-like” games via the Dungeon Master Encyclopedia. When Grimrock was first announced, I took to following its development religiously. Each new screenshot and news item sounded more promising than the last. So naturally I started to worry. Were the developers over-promising? Would it turn out to be vaporware like most of those that had come before? Fortunately the answer to both questions was no! It released. And it was amazing. It captured the spirit of the original almost perfectly.
I love platformers. Fez is a platformer. It’s really that simple. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple, but it’s pretty close. Surreal environments and player-controlled perspective shifts make this one special. And the meta-game puzzles felt more cute and clever than pretentious. I really hope to see more games from Phil in the future. I’m willing to wait another five years if it means something as interesting as Fez.
From start to end it just filled me with a sense of wonder. I love exploring virtual worlds. And I love grinding. So here I had this epic adventure set in a totally insane universe filled with massive environments and tons and tons of side-missions. I would spend hours hacking away at the various side quests, killing mobs, and retrieving rare drops. It definitely felt a lot like a single-player MMO. And maybe some people don’t like that. Me? I can’t get enough of it.
I don’t care that this didn’t come out in 2012. It’s a game I played in 2012 and a game I absolutely love. I only play Soraka. I have played thousands of matches of every version of Soraka. What you call nerfs and buffs, I call opportunities. I don’t care about Sona pokes or Nunu’s AS buff or Taric’s stun. Good for you. If you like them, play them. I’m instalocking Soraka and you can either deal or dodge. Also, in spite of playing thousands of matches, I’m not very good. Fortunately for everyone involved, I mostly only play with people I know. So the raging and AFKing is kept to a relative minimum. I do wonder how the hell it is that after so many matches, I am just not getting any better. At all. So here’s a game where the map is always the same, I always play the same character, I’m not any good, and people can be mean (my friends included). And yet I keep playing. All the time. So it goes on the list.
5. The Room
Tore through this game in a single sitting. The puzzles were compelling, relatively intuitive and just the right level of difficulty. Sure it’s not particularly long. So what. It’s good. It’s fun. I’ve spent a lot more for things that are a lot longer and nowhere near as compelling. Games like this (and the stuff Spiderweb is doing, and the Beamdog port of BG) show that the iPad can do more than just endless runners, word games, and tower defense. Not that I don’t love those things. I’d probably put Kingdom Rush on this list if The Room hadn’t come out.
Why are both of these games on the same line, you might be wondering. The answer is I loved them both for the same reason: GRIEFING. I’ve got three friends scattered across North America who I don’t get to see nearly often enough. And so it falls to four player co-op games to bring us together. We spent dozens of hours working our way through the campaigns, but it was also a great excuse to hang out and shoot the shit (while shooting shit). I guess I could text or call or visit them--and I do. But you can’t grief your friends in real life in quite the same way (although trust me, I try). For example, in Borderlands 2 I was able to make elevators leave people behind, run off and encourage goliaths to level up, not tell people when grenades came out of the slot machines, and snatch weapons my class couldn’t use (insisting that someone else did it). Halo 4 was all about grenades in airlocks and elevators, shooting people and trying to blame the enemies, and forcing team wipes back to checkpoints. Demerits to Halo 4 for that feature that tells my team I’m the one the who griefed them. But I think hosting the campaign made it impossible for them to boot me. Both games also allowed me to race to the driver’s seat and crash vehicles/drive them off cliffs. That was probably my favorite. Oh, and honking the horn. Nonstop.
I loved this game for so many reasons, but what put it over the top was when I had to step away from the console during episode five. I knew (well, thought I knew) what was coming. And I didn’t want it to happen. And so at that moment I decided that for me, at least, it had captured the “interactive entertainment” experience more completely than anything that had come before. It’s better than the TV show, in my opinion. A lot better. I bet I’d like it more than the shown even without the interactivity. That you actively participate in it just puts the whole thing over the top. It also makes me happy to see Telltale’s vision vindicated. Here’s a group of people who have been working their asses off for years now to establish their own special take on the adventure game genre. They’ve succeeded. And the results are fantastic. They inspire me.
Loved this game. Went for a mostly stealth playthrough and the game was totally cool with it. Never once did it frustrate or betray me. When I screwed up it was my fault. Any game that causes me to blame myself for fuckups is pretty special. (Dark/Demon's Souls are similar in that regard). Fantastic art direction, plenty of powers to experiment with, and a ton of emergent gameplay opportunities make this one of the year’s best for me. I was also pleasantly surprised by the way it manipulated my emotions. When I reached that point in the game where things change, I switched from stealth to combat and cut my way to the end. It just felt like the right thing to do. The game didn't force me to do that. Or encourage it, even. It was just how I chose to respond to the twist. From talking to my friends, I’m not the only one, either. So I thought that was pretty cool – that the narrative caused me, as a player, to change my tactics. Also, I moved this from #3 to #2 simply because Arkane made Arx Fatalis--which is sort of like an ambitious, underrated love letter to Ultima Underworld.
An important achievement. Never mind that it’s a fantastic, brutal experience with an irresistible gameplay loop. Or that simply being able to rename and customize your squad adds a whole new level of attachment and engagement. Most people already know (and love) these things. But beyond being an incredible game it’s an excellent reminder that just because something is “old” or “hardcore” or “slow-paced” (I prefer “classic” “challenging” and “tactical” myself) doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for it. Because here’s a secret--there’s always an audience for good shit. Also I know it’s technically XCOM, but really, it’s X-COM.