This was probably the year I had the least free time to dedicate to games in my life. It’s a big change for me. I’ve gone from marathoning games in a weekend to pecking at a game whenever I smell a free minute instead of a dirty diaper. Luckily, as my life changes games have changed with it. There are now plenty of smaller games out there and games that lend themselves to shorter play sessions. That doesn’t mean I still don’t enjoy my epic adventures, but it’s part of the reason you won’t see Divinity: Original Sin, Far Cry 4, and Dragon Age: Inquisition on this list. They are all games that I will probably love, but at the time of this writing I haven’t sunk quite enough hours into to render a solid opinion.
With all that said, I was still able to enjoy plenty of games this year. Truth be told, I’d probably have a number one and number two and then a tie for three through ten, but I’ll try and order them as best I can. Here come the games:
10. Hack ‘n’ Slash
This one comes in at number ten probably because I love the concept more than the actual game. While I still think the game is solid, the idea that you are tinkering with the game’s actual code still blows my mind. Even as I write this. BOOM. There goes another brain cell. Mucking around and changing variables to solve puzzles, or more often than not break the entire game, just speaks to me and makes me giddy. I really hope we see another shot at this because I still...BOOM. Ok, I’ll stop before my brain is completely gone.
Somber. That’s my word association winner with Banner Saga. The bleak narrative mixed with the familiar-yet-refreshing art style and animation just worked for me. I found some of the battles to be a bit rote, but I was more interested in moving the story along than the combat. Not to say the combat was terrible. It’s not! I just like a good tale told well and that’s what kept me marching my weary caravans on and on and on…
This should be one of those games I mentioned pecking at in my opening paragraph. It wasn’t. I pretty much marathoned my way to unlocking every ship piece because I just couldn’t stop playing. I’m not here to tell you why I physically couldn’t stop. I’m no doctor. It was just fun. OK, you may call be Dr. Fun if you really want. The music is great. The art is great. The physics are great. The great is great. It’s all just...pretty great.
There’s something extremely satisfying about charging into someone who has been waiting seconds, possibly tens of seconds, for you to engage him in one-on-one combat. You race towards your opponent. He stands ready. Waiting. He lowers his sword (épée?), but thinks better of it and raises it. You are a mere breath away. It has all come down to this encounter. This meeting defines his existence. You roll underneath him and keep running. Nidhogg wins again.
I backed Broken Age on Kickstarter, so take that as you will. I am the person who wanted companies to keep making traditional adventure games. I grew up with them. I still enjoy them. So when Double Fine said “You folk who keep saying you want adventure games, put up or shut up!” I put up. Now I could have kept running to Germany every time I needed my adventure game fix, but Day of the Tentacle ranks pretty high on my all-time favorite games list, so I was extremely excited to see what Tim might make. I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t wait to finish the game… someday.
Many years ago I produced a podcast with Greg Kasavin at GameSpot called Designer Threads and we hosted Ron Gilbert. He talked about the difficulty doing comedy in games. The timing is all off. The player has too much control. Finally, he just said “the real problem is that game developers just aren't that funny. And I really think it's that simple.” Jazzpunk is a funny game. It made me laugh. It made me want to show it to people and make them laugh. It’s clever, absurd, and relentless. It isn’t perfect, but it isn’t trying to be.
Speaking of hilarious games… Dark Souls II. Around the office a lot of us were pretty excited about the next Souls game. I don’t think Dark Souls II hit the formula quite right this time out, but it still managed to provide me with a heck of a lot of entertainment. Maybe it was the way the world was laid out. Maybe it’s that there were too many trivial boss encounters. Maybe it’s just that Dark Souls II is my third game in the series. I’m not sure, but once I finished I was ready to put it down for a bit. I still love the world though, and those games do something that hasn’t been replicated yet. So now that I’ve had some time away, I’m ready to get back into that DLC.
I haven’t watched South Park regularly in years. I was in college when The Spirit of Christmas got passed around, and that was like… man… that was a long time ago. I always thought South Park was pretty funny. Sure, it can be incredibly offensive, but it always seemed to offend equally and with a wit or insight that took the edge off. It wasn’t ignorant. All that said, I thought The Stick of Truth was one of the best times I’ve spent with South Park in a long time and made we want to get back to, what I hear is a pretty great season of the show. I found the combat and gameplay to be more of a vehicle for the humor and story and not really engaging on its own. But that’s OK. I’m a collectibles and story guy. What do I care about actual gameplay?
2. The Fall
For something that popped onto my radar without warning, The Fall is probably the game that stuck with me the most this year. It could be because whenever I mention it, nobody knows what the heck I’m talking about it and I feel like I need to evangelize for it. I like Science Fiction. I like adventure games. I like a good story. The Fall also looks fantastic. While we’re really only talking about the first episode of the game, it’s a great start. And it’s short too. You should try it.
Well, this is it. This is video games. This is your power fantasy realized. The story is kind of a mockery of Tolkien, though the bit of insight into the making of the rings is interesting. But this is what happens when one man has “all that power.” Cherry picking from some of my favorite franchises (Batman, Assassin’s Creed) and then streamlining everything and adding in the Nemesis system was like a designer drug made just for me. Well, maybe it’s just well-designed since plenty of other people seem to really love this game as well. The upgrades were meaningful, the collectibles felt meaningful, and heck, even death seemed meaningful. Like I said when I opened this list, I don’t have as much time to play games as I used to but that didn’t stop me from doing nearly 100 percent of Shadow of Mordor. Congratulations. You took the most time away from my family. You monster.