It's December now. Time to start thinking about Game of the Year junk and all that. While Giant Bomb will no doubt grace us with some amazing, overproduced video magic nonsense and 4 hour podcasts involving grown men arguing about the quality of games that involve the word “Brothers” in the title, I'll be over here, making my two usual holiday lists and accompanying write-ups. But I'll be taking a break from video games (and thus this website) for a while sometime early next year, so I figure there's no better time than now then to discuss the true stars of 2013. No, not Bioshock, not Grand Theft Auto the Fifth. The Last of Us? What is that? No. We're talking about the baddest and most questionable video games I played this year. You may recall the list I made, or perhaps the blogs. But I think it a bit crude to rate them in a top 10 list. No, all of these gems are bad or questionable in their own special way and I think it's time everyone gets a trophy. Thus, special achievement awards.
Most Disappointing 3rd person shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Dead Space 3.
Dead Space 3 is a game that dies the death of a thousand corporate mandates. Most of the things that make that game bad can be traced to poorly-advised attempts to make it mass-market viable. Like the naked suggestion that you should pay them real money to make your probes come back faster, the shift to universal ammo (ensuring that you'll never run out) or the entirely unnecessary addition of co-op.
But even without those things, Dead Space 3 would still be inferior to its forebears. It starts out promising enough (, the first 1/3rd or so of the game on that flotilla of long-abandoned ships is pretty alright, nothing special but certainly still enjoyable. But then you touch down on the Ice Planet... and everything suddenly becomes progressively lazier and progressively worse the further down you go. Any sort of tension evaporates as you realize that Necromorphs will always appear out of the places you expect (a vent, probably behind you), when you expect them to (usually when you press a switch or something) in environments that look oddly similar to the environments you passed through an hour ago (dilapidated old military buildings). It certainly doesn't hurt that you've got ammo for days. Resorting to the plasma cutter because you're out of everything else? Pish posh. Now that ammunition is universal, who is going to stop you from blowing shit up with a grenade launcher/chain lightning gun at all times? (answer: NO ONE) Actually, I will give it this: the weapon customization system is really neat and I'd like it in a better designed game please and thank you. I haven't even mentioned the story, which reaches a level of colossally dumb that most other games can only dream of. I'll just leave it at that. NECROMORPH MOON.
Least Disappointing 3rd Person Shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Resident Evil 6
Now let me be entirely blunt: Resident Evil 6 is only the least disappointing because I had very low expectations going in, given the pretty widespread condemnation that title received when it came out last year. I was pleasantly surprised, and by pleasantly surprised I mean that I didn't entirely hate it. Oh, it's a bad game; endemic of everything wrong with “AAA” and Japanese game development today, but in some ways I applaud its deluded ambitions. Resident Evil Revelations, which I also played this year, is a much better game, but this is a far more honest indicator of where the series is now, maybe for the better, certainly for the worse. The story is the usual brand of nonsense you'd expect from the series but much like Resident Evil 5 I feel that the raw amount of money thrown in its general direction makes something that would otherwise be super cheesy and lame quite watchable. I willingly played through parts of it again cooperatively with a friend on his copy (which I gave to him, because I'm a bad person). I even think the basic shooting mechanics are alright, overly-close camera notwithstanding.
It's everywhere else that RE6 falters, though at least you can say its failures come in different flavors. Leon's Campaign is the most playable and reminiscent of the older games in the series; RE4 specifically. Chris' is a questionable attempt at something resembling Gears of War, Jake's consists of a lot of really bad scripted set-pieces and Ada's... well Ada probably has the worst of the lot with what might be one of the single worst stealth sequences I've seen in a video game. All of them contain moments that make you go “Was any of this playtested?” (every single boss fight comes to mind) and a generous barrage of insta-death QTEs for good measure. But still, I think I'd voluntarily replay the entirety of this game than have to slog through the mediocrity of Dead Space 3, because at least Resident Evil 6 tries. Oh sure, It's the effort of a Japanese company trying to make a game that appeals to Western audiences without understanding what makes something like Gears of War good, but it's a far more interesting failure because of it. Or maybe my love for previous Resident Evil games has subconsciously blinded me and I'm simply crazy.
Best game that I still fully acknowledge as being not-great/guilty pleasure award: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.
After almost giving Dishonored my Game of the Year last year (and some days I'll tell you that it is my GOTY 2012 and XCOM is in the #1 spot by accident), I figured I had to know what Arkane had been up to previously. While my eventual playthrough of Arx Fatalis hasn't happened yet, I did play this little “gem” earlier in the year. I'm not going to tell you that Dark Messiah is a game of considerable quality, but I had fun playing it. While its RPG, stealth and exploration aspects are a bit half-baked, as a first person action game where you kick things into other things it cannot be beaten. All the ancient weapons and magicks of Ashan are no match for your mighty foot. Enemy is near conveniently placed spikes? Kick them into the spikes! Enemy is near a ledge? KICK THEM OFF THE LEDGE. It's a clear indication of when that game was released, since physics were all the rage in 2006 instead of just being something you passively acknowledged and continued onward. The story is also dumb, but of course it is.
Worst game that I'm surprised didn't kill the franchise then and there: Devil May Cry 2
While I question if the first Devil May Cry necessarily holds up all that well with its Resident Evil-esque camera angles and comparatively stiff controls, it's clear that it is at least an important, influential title that has laid the groundwork for many of the character action games that have come after it. It's sequel, on the other hand... might be the worst game I played to completion this year. It's as shallow and bland as Devil May Cry 3 is nuanced and flashy. You don't get any new moves, and all of your melee weapons handle the same with slightly different stats. Guns are absurdly overpowered and you'll need that because of how poorly designed a lot of the bosses are. The game is around 5-6 hours long, and that was playing through both characters' stories. There is an egregiously bad underwater segment at one point. Capcom barely acknowledges its existence, and that's probably for the best, given how it all feels like a second-rate imitation of Devil May Cry rather than any sort of sequel. Still, this is the team that went on to make 3 and 4, so I'll at least give them credit for learning from their mistakes.
Worst halloween-type game from a developer I otherwise respect: Grabbed by the Ghoulies
I guess I could have put Costume Quest for this category as well, but Costume Quest is a $15 downloadable title clearly aimed at actual children (because I can't see how any adult in their right mind would find Costume Quest's repetitive brand of ultra-shallow “My first RPG” enjoyable past the first 30 minutes of its 4 hour playtime) made by Double Fine, a developer not exactly known for making stuff with great gameplay; Brad Muir's tower defense/shooter/copyright infringement machine aside. Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a $50 retail title made by Rareware, also known as the people responsible for like half of my favorite childhood games, and it's also openly aggravating at times instead of just mind-numbingly boring. Ghoulies is... I guess a brawler type game where you have no moves and instead just point the right stick in the general direction of your enemies. It's also basically a series of challenge rooms with conditions like “Kill X Enemy” and “Don't Kill X Enemy”, with difficulty varying wildly from one room to the next (because your health also varies from room to room, naturally). There's very little nuance to the combat in a game that is all combat, and if the repetition doesn't get you the random, frustrating difficulty spikes will. Along with Kameo (Another game I played this year, the highest level of praise for which I can muster being: “It's alright”), it's clear that Rare didn't become a soulless husk of a company that only puts out kinect games by accident. And, as always, that's a shame because Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was the shit.
Worst game that I didn't finish because of how bored I was by the time I gave up: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning
The best thing I can say about both Devil May Cry 2 and Grabbed by the Ghoulies is that they're over quickly. Kingdoms of Amalur is a Single Player MMO that runs out of steam long before you get anywhere near the finishing line, as I found out around the 25 hour mark. It's a title with a lot of really interesting ideas and systems that aren't capitalized upon well enough to last its entire running length. Part of that simply has to do with a bad power curve: it becomes incredibly easy to cheese the various gameplay systems at work, be it through maxing out sagecrafting in order to socket health regeneration gems into every single piece of armor or simply spamming the handful of powerful attack skills at your disposal. But even then, it doesn't have enough content to justify its length. Stuff starts repeating heavily around the halfway mark, and the writing isn't good enough to justify the usual “Kill X” or “Go to X” quests that populate the world. It's a pity there will never be another one, because I could have seen a sequel really delivering on the promise shown in Reckoning.
Worst Bioware Game that isn't that Sonic RPG/Most controversial item on this list: Jade Empire
I wanted to like Jade Empire, and in some ways I feel like I would've loved it had I played it when it came out in 2005. It was Bioware's first attempt at original IP, a mish mash of Asian culture and mythology with a different twist on the usual Good/Evil axis. It has a pretty great supporting cast, some really good individual vignettes...and a really abysmal combat system compounded by shallow, imbalanced character progression. If you've noticed a theme running throughout these awards, “monotonous combat” is one of them. Still, Jade Empire isn't bad. It has its moments (one featuring John Cleese as a stereotypical European imperialist being a particular highlight) and I can see how someone could have liked this game had they played it when it was new and relevant. As it stands I didn't, and I think it's outclassed by everything Bioware has made before and after. Though, if this is their low point then I'd say they still have a pretty good track record as a developer... well, besides this next game.
Worst Bioware Game that is that Sonic RPG -- Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
There is no blog because I found this game un-entertaining enough that I have yet to finish it. Don't worry, that will change one day, probably when I need to feel bummed out about life again.
The Alpha Protocol Award for “Game that I liked until it fell apart at the seams”: Assassin's Creed III
I probably liked Assassin's Creed III more than some of you, given that I did continue playing after the protagonist switch and the 6-hour long tutorial, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's sort of a mess. As I mentioned in my blog, it throws a ton of side activities at you but disconnects them all in such a way to not really give the player any motivation to do them, leaving me to just barrel through the main story, far too much of which consists of eavesdropping, forced stealth and chase sequences, all of which were sort of bad when Assassin's Creed 1 did them 5 years prior and somehow worse now. The final chase of the game is one of the worst things I've seen in a long time. It's good that Ubisoft seems to have found their footing again with Black Flag, but they should probably slow down and take a long, hard look at where they want this series to go.
Best Blog about the nature of Time Travel in Chrono Trigger/Game my Computer hates the most: Might and Magic IX
That first award is there mostly as a reminder that 90% of my blogs don't reach more than 20ish comments. My most commented on blog this year was the one about Might and Magic IX (and King's Bounty: Crossworlds, but that game is actually good so it won't get a mention here), but unfortunately due to some offhand thing that @video_game_king probably said, it somehow became dominated with a discussion about Chrono Trigger, which is also a good old game and that reminds me: I should get back to Chrono Cross. My second award is a reference to the fact that my computer now refuses to run Might and Magic IX, despite being able to do so previously. I'm guessing I played more than half of it, so I can say with certainty that regular human beings should not play Might and Magic IX, a game that is staggeringly competent despite the fact that it was shipped in a very broken, very unfinished state. As a fan of the series I needed to play it (and I'll need to complete it) for my own sake. For the rest of you: Just play Might and Magic VI or VII. Or Wizardry 8. Wizardry 8 is still great.
And that's it, at least for now! I'll probably have my more legitimate awards lists done next week or so, so if you found this lengthy bitch-fest a bit too dour, you have nothing but positivity to expect moving forward! I'm pretty close to finishing Saints Row IV, and that game is pretty great, though I may play something else as a palette cleanser before going back to Assassin's Creed. Like.. I dunno... Arcanum or Fallout 2? You know, my CRPG white whales. Speaking of Fallout, it and its sequels are free on GOG until like... saturday Catch that hot old school RPG action and get some old games on sale while you're there.