NOTE: These are my own, personal opinions and they will be stated in a direct, unflinching fashion. If anything I say offends you, feel free to inform me of it, but try and keep it constructive and on-topic. It is likely that this post will be somewhat personal, as that is after all, it's intent.
I've decided, quite impompto, to lay out a list of my personal games of the year. Why, you ask? I ask that, too, and the conclusion I've come to is somewhat surprising. After these myriad of experiences, plethora of adventures, I want to find that vital string that will have the ball of yarn, that has been gaming this year, unravelling and hopefully giving me some insight into what it is that I've truly appreciated across all these different games. I also believe that I want to find some closure, a hopeless, elaborate attempt at making games more than the sum of their part as an entertainment medium. I want to believe, at the end of the year, that gaming has meant something more to me than just "fun".
I'd also like to point out that there will be many games on this list that were not released this year, hence the somewhat enigmatic title, but they are all games which I played this year for lack of time, opportunity or simple interest. Right, let's get started.
10: Black Mesa
It started out as a combination of two different mods and two people; both intending to recreate Half-Life 1 by using the sourge engine. Over the course of it's 8-year long development, the team working on the project has grown to a good lot of 40 different developers working actively on the game. It's easy to tell, as the quality of the experience is something you'd have expected straight out of Valve themselves. It's that good.
Black Mesa strikes an almost uncanny balance between wonderful nostalgia and fresh gameplay ideas, managing to, at the same time, throw one back into what is undeniable a milestone for gaming, and at the same time, propel one to a place where imagination rules supreme. Black Mesa plays as good as any other shooter out there. It's also many, many, many times more complex, a good twenty hours longer than any other shooter out there, and despite both these factors, remains incredibly consistent in terms of quality, excitement and design.
View it as a museum for gaming history, an intricate, incredibly well-paced adventure, or just as a high-quality remake of what is possibly the best game ever made. Black Mesa is worth your time. Did I mention it's free?
9: Dear Esther
"Dear Esther, I’ve begun my voyage in a paper boat without a bottom; I will fly to the moon in it. I have been folded along a crease in time, a weakness in the sheet of life. Now, you’ve settled on the opposite side of the paper to me; I can see your traces in the ink that soaks through the fibre, the pulped vegetation. When we become waterlogged, and the cage disintergrates, we will intermingle. When this paper aeroplane leaves the cliff edge, and carves parallel vapour trails in the dark, we will come together."
Dear Esther is a short experience, lasting you no more than a few hours at the most, but during these few, short hours, it left a mark on me. The surroundings are violently beautiful, horribly serene and frighteningly calm. It's a wonder to look at, but a wonder that leaves an unpleasant taste in the back of your throat despite the serenity of it. The story is handed to you, piece-by-piece, in a selection of almost nonsensical quotes filled with bitter, dramatic and yet strangely contemporary poetry. It's a game that's meant to be replayed over and over, as each time you do, a different selection of quotes will be given to you and there are different things that you will see on your journey, a journey that will amaze you time over and again.
Despite that it always ends the same way, you'll take away something new each time.
"GRAAAYYAAAGAGAHAHAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHAHaahahhhhhhhaaaAAAAAH!" - Mason Knight
It's Battlefield, but with swords. Putting it like that is probably the best way to summarize Chivalry; yet it doesn't do the game justice by far. The "Team Objective Mode" is fitting to it's grim, dark portrayal of the time in question, tasking one team with one atrocity after the other, depending on which map you're tackling. Pollute the water-reservoirs with corpses, burn the fields, pillage the farm and kill the filthy peasants! It's novel, it's exciting, and even without being so tongue-in-cheek with it's incredible amount of machevellian brutality, it'd be a blast. As it is, it's just fun unparallelled.
The combat system, at first novel, turns out to be truly complex, and incredibly skill-reliant the further you delve into the game. Having to adapt and twist your view to the side in order to block the smile of an axe only to to duck beneath said axe-wielder's wild, horizontal swings as he grows restless, following up with a bash to his face and an overhead stroke to neatly cut his head from his shoulders; knowing veeeery well that his camera-perspective is still locked into the head rolling down the stairs, not only inducing a sense of shame in him, but also "bloody" nausea.
Chivalry is just the most amount of FUN I've had with a game, this year. It's a game with a shocking amount of depth AND the ability to chop someone's leg off and then shove them down a bridge whilst your character makes a Monty Python reference. Do I need to say more?
Dishonored, is in my opinion, the true successor to Deus Ex. For it provides you with a gameworld that is yours to tackle in almost any way you wish. The options on how to progress through each stage are truly staggering in number, diversity and in sheer abstractness. Let's, for example, possess a fish and swim up the sewers whilst crossing our "fins" that someone isn't currently using the toilet you'll be plopping out of. I mean, COME ON! It's a fever-dream, not a game. Or at least it shouldn't be. For in today's gaming market, it's far too rare to see a game that dares to do something completely new; and that is what Dishonored is. It's the most refreshingly novel and original game that I've seen for far too long, and I love it not just for what it is, but also for what it represents.
Now, ontop of everything; the atmosphere in the city of Dunwall is just spectacular! The combat is GREAT! The way the world around you adapts to your choices is nigh-on brilliant. I'm not sure whether I want a sequal for this game or not; for while there is so much more that could be done with the formula, I feel that it's uniqueness is it's true virtue.
I want to refrain from referring to Journey as minimalistic, for while there are aspects of it that certainly fit the description; such as the gameplay and the story, the game itself is so full of life that it'd be almost a crime to name it any less than epic. It's a grand story written in very small words. I think that most of us have experienced Journey by this point, and I think that most of us have loved it. I think that most of us have recognized so many of the feelings that each individual area of the journey gave us; the worried start, wide-eyed and yet on-guard, the sheer exaltation as we slipped down the shifting sands, our cares forgotten for a moment, the drop at the bottom, and the deep, ever-growing nervousity beneath. The chill of the long climb, helplessness clinging to us as we're rendered inpotent; and finally, release.
Journey really is that; a journey. One that manages to convey so much through so little. Another great example of this is it's fantastic online function; which allowed a random player trecking through the same expanse as you to join your game, or you his, it was quite hard to discern which was in fact happening as it all was so seamless. And this companion became important to you, for though no way of communication was possible except for the nonsensical "bleeping" noises the small creatures made, you felt that you shared something together. And that goes a long way.
5: To The Moon
I think I can best summarize this gem by using the official description of the game:
"Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts have rather peculiar jobs: They give people another chance to live, all in their head. But due to the severity of the operation, the new life becomes the last thing the patients remember before drawing their last breath.
This story follows their attempt to fulfill the dream of an elderly man, Johnny. With each step back in time, a new fragment of Johnny's past is revealed. As the two doctors piece together the puzzled events that spanned a life time, they seek to find out just why the frail old man chose his dying wish to be what it is.
And Johnny's last wish is, of course... to go to the moon."
To The Moon is beautiful in every way. It is, in a lot of ways, nothing but an interactive story. But oh, what a story it is. To The Moon is mysterious, enigmatic; and it understands, oh so well, the concepts of regret and tragedy and what these things are capable of doing to the human mind. Repressed memories, paranoid and obsessive behaviour, the fear to lose the little beauty you have left inside. It grounds it's deeply sentimental story in these heavy, heavy aspects, and surrounds it with disturbingly amusing humour, among the best music I've ever heard in a game and a truly unconvential way of experiencing said tale. It's refreshing and nostalgic at once.
DOTA, give me my life back. Yes, go on. My life, I know you've got your fat, little grubs on it. GO ON.
There hasn't been a single, other game that I've spent so much time on over the course of the year. And probably last year, too... DOTA refuses to let me out of it's clutches for reasons that I, sometimes, have issues discerning. Looking upon it from an objective stand-point, it's quite clear to say why. There's probably no other game out there that offers such complexity and variety. Every game is different. Every hero is different. Every build is different. Every team-set up is different. Every fight is different. And with a constantly increasing repetoire of heroes, the game is only growing ever-more complex and challenging.
Looking at it from an emotional perspective; there's just such a variety of emotions to be had during a game, ranging from frustration to unadulturated joy. I often sit up and talk to my friends on skype while playing the game and we find ourselves laughing our arses off time and time again; shouting in excitement when something of note happens, and abusing force-staffs at every single opportunity we're given.
There is ofcourse a flip-side; that being a community whose average intelligence rivals that of brittish lower-class (That's right, I went there). Meaningful updates that have been coming far too rarely over the last half-year. And incredible frustration over games going poorly, especially considering there's no "surrender" option.
But in the end, I love DOTA so much that I don't need a reason for sticking with it. It'll take years for me to get over it. Hell, it's still just in Beta, and there's no other game out there whose future I am so anxious to see.
I hadn't actually taken the opportunity to play Bastion, which in itself is a grave crime, but finally came to my senses and picked it up during a Steam-Sale earlier in the year.
When I first sat down with it, I thought to myself that it must be impossible not to be let down given how much praise the game had been given since it's release, especially from the bomb-squad themselves. I think the highest praise that I can give Bastion is that, despite an unhealthly amount of exposure to the game and to praise of it, my expectations weren't simply met, they were rendendered obsolete. For the game accomplished so many things I'd never dared to think it could. Seldom have I been so emotionally invested in a game, and I think a lot of that has to do with how honest it felt. It was less a product, and more a labour of love.
Everything from the excellent, truly excellent music to the constant companion, the narrator, at your side, grin on his face, clever words on his tongue and knife in his hand served to make the shattered remains of the world you witnessed unique. There was a fragility to it, a clinging shadow of tragedy hovering above even this broken kingdom in the skies that cast a dark reflection on what seemed, at first, light-hearted and unsincere. Atmosphere, in a word, is what Bastion accomplished.
The Walking Dead received far more coverage than I'd ever have dared assume that it would. To me it seemed like a fabolous gem, one I'd be babbling on about to my friends over the next few years, praising time and time again in it's way to convey a deeply interactive tale. But fuck, it looks like the entire god damn internet got there ahead of me; there's little I can say about the game other than what's already been said.
I've always claimed that games have the potential to be the single, most exciting media through which you can tell a story, simply based on the fact that it allows the player to make decisions and as such, make the tale far more personal than any book or film could ever hope to accomplish. Unfortunately, not a single game has managed to do so yet, except for possibly "The Walking Dead".
And here we are; my game of the year. Last year's "Superbrothers - Sword & Sworcery EP". I had close to no expectations going into this game; I'd read a number of reviews, all of which were universally positive, claiming this and that lofty thing about what seemed to me to be an incredibly simple one-button action/adventure game.. Oh, boy. Never been so happy to be wrong.
Sword & Sworcery is so many different things; but above all, it's just wonderful to behold. It's mysterious, it's tragic, it's atmospheric, it's funny, it's solemn and serene and leaves you with a feeling of warmth down in your chest. A typical tale told in a very untypical way.
It's also an extraordinarily clever game that pushes you to use your imagination in ways you'd certainly not expected. You'll be raising sea-levels, splitting trees with lightning, parting mountains, and having weird chats with a nudist bi-pedal boar. You'll laugh, sway to and fro along with what is the best sound-track I've heard in a game, period, and likely cry before your journey is at an end.
The game refers to itself as an experiment; a social one at that. By using the so-called "Mega Tome", you can read the thoughts of others you have met in your journey, their thoughts updating as via twitter posts in order to give you hints on your next objective, or just in order to give you something to gape at. "Dogfella" thinks "Bark bark bark", and "Logfella" thinks "I'm a lumberjack and that's okay." Yes, I'm actually quoting the game. Speaking of quotes; the game chooses very strange language to express itself in, the characters exclaiming a mix between high fantasy nonsense and pure every-day nonsense without even blinking, for example: "And so, I turned my eyes skywards and beheld the magnificent thingymabob & thought it was pretty rad." It's just brimming with charm.
Infact, there are so many aspects to the game that explaining them properly comes across as nearly impossible; for there are so many metaphors inside the game-design that also serve as comments on society. Maybe I'm reading too much into it; maybe I'm not, but it doesn't matter, for Superbrothers - "Sword & Sworcery EP" is what you make of it.
And what I make of it is simply the best game I've played all year.
Honorary Mentions: XCOM - Enemy Unknown, Far Cry 3, Max Payne 3, Diablo 3, The Witcher 2 - Enhanced Edition
Alright, three days and 19 hours have passed since my initial post. (Feel free to take random, unpleasant guesses at where I live in order to keep things genereally awkward.) Feeling a bit exhausted with all the fireworks, cheer and general come-ons from the opposite gender, I'm making a tactical retreat from the hordes of man in order to have a few moments for myself, yet it's a time that really doesn't offer much in the ways of sitting still, so I opted to take a look at this here blog. And as promised, I'm now finalizing this list with a short summary of my overall impression.
First of and foremost, it's been an excellent game for yearning; ah, wait, I mean, a year for gaming. My idiosyncratic GOTY list containing mainly sentimental, story-based games has no influence on my thinking, at all. I promise.Honestly, I'm a bit surprised; and I think, to a degree, that we all were. Gaming in the last couple of years has simply ceased being exciting for me. It's something I do to pass the time when I'm not occupying myself otherwise. The golden age has long since passed and gone, yet I found myself weirdly emotionally attached to this year's offering of releases. There's a number of games I didn't include in my GOTY list, and I'd like to adress them quickly.
1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown - I wasn't done with this game by the time I wrote this list. If I had, it'd been on there. I'd probably have placed it somewhere between "Journey" and "Chivalry", between the 6th and 8th place in other words. A title that somehow managed to tickle almost every fancy I have in modern and classical gaming. The fact that the developers managed to so seamlessly attach layer upon layer of complexity is astounding to me. Usually, for games of this calibre, making an entrance into it's world is difficult, as it is with, say, Baldur's Gate, Starcraft or DOTA. Yet XCOM manages to retain this complexity, couple it with cinematic flair, and streamline it without losing any part of what makes it so unique, challenging, and simply, thoroughly enjoyable. I loved it, and I assume I'll be replaying it quite soon. Also, now that I beat the game I can say; "FUCK YOU, CLASSICAL IRONMAN, YOU AIN'T SHIT, YOU WERE NEVER SHIT!"
2: Far Cry 3 - A truly, truly strong title. As with the Walking Dead, I feel that people have blabbed on about it ceaselessly, and as such, I really can't bring myself to delve deep into what made the game special for me. Besides, a look is all that is required in order to see what is special about the game. What isn't special about it, however, is far more my concern. The gameplay, while being solid in each respect, didn't offer much in terms of variety which is an all-too-common fault found in modern shooters in my opinion. The story took a nose-dive after the second third, or shall we say, the second act, and while still giving off a generally good example, didn't even come close to fulfilling it's initial promise, therefore being proving all the more disappointing.
3: Max Payne 3 - I felt Max Payne did everything right. The gameplay was sounder than I've seen in possibly any 3rd person shooter; allowing for experimentation and fulfilments of weird Matrix fantasies without making you feel like a complete ass. The story held such great promise, managing to maintain the human element even throughout the ridiculous chaos that ensued. Not to mention that the game was gorgeous to look at. In the end, I felt that it departed too heavily from the initial Max Payne games in terms of atmosphere. It felt more like a by-product of a GTA experience than it did a story of Max Payne. It's hard for me to really put my finger on what it was that annoyed me, as I found each aspect of the game to be splendid in it's own right. I think it's my own nostalgia that's at fault here, rather than anything else; yet I haven't seen the game crop up on many other GOTY lists, which hints towards that the departure from the dank streets of New York had been as troubling for others as they had been for me. Still, I feel this game deserves better, I just can't be the one to give it anything better.
4: Diablo 3 - It ain't got nothing on El Pollo Diablo. I was underwhelmed with Diablo 3. I loved it, but I couldn't take it as seriously as I had Diablo 2. I'd like to think that's because of that gaming has grown in the middling years as opposed to the ridiculous DRM and the dumbed down talent-trees, yet I can't shake the feeling of that Blizzard viewed it less as a labour of love and more as a product of labour. I'm excited about the upcoming expansion and I suppose that's as final as I can be about a game like this. "I'd like to play more of it."
5: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition (Sheesh) - My GOTY, last year. Would be this year, too, but I don't dare risk growing that boring this early in life. The additions to the game were superb, offering not just a better conclusion, but a more fulfilling overall experience. The fact that PC gamers got all said upgrades for free, with an additional batch of visual updates, was so generous that it almost disgusts me; this isn't the gaming-world as I know it.
This isn't the gaming world as I know it, huh? I mentioned already previously that I felt that what I understood under the term "gaming-world" drastically changed this year. Gone was so much of my bitter cynicism and instead, strangely, I found myself staring with wide, open eyes even as I rampaged through Journey for the twentieth time. Most of the games in my list are sentimental, they're atmospheric and they rely very heavily on, not necessarily their story, but the feelings that their story want to transmit, pass on, to the player, and I realize that this means the game design takes a step back in order to let it's other aspects shine, yet that observation is an objective one that I feel almost no connection with at this point. For I found the games I played this year to be great. No "buts", no "ahms", "howevers" or "meows"; I just didn't have any issues with gaming at large this year, and that was, to me, extremely refreshing.
Now, don't get me wrong, there's plenty I could say about the community of gaming, it's endless streams of sophistry and inconsidered hypocrisy, but fuck it; genuinely "fuck it". I enjoyed games this year, as individual experiences, and as a whole medium, and I find myself hopeful for next year and what it it has to offer. Anyhow, I got a party to return to.
Infact, here's to a happy, new year.
What's happy and what's new about it? That's up to you to find out.
This is the Do_The_Manta_Ray, being cool at your school, signing out. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Any opinions are welcome here, so feel free to express them.