By ArbitraryWater 5 Comments
Alright y’all, it might be late, but it’s time for the REAL game of the year list. You can take those cowboy simulations, dying cells, and drug tetrises elsewhere. After taking a year off, it’s time to talk about the best games I played in “two thousand eighteen” that did not come out during said calendar year. In some ways, I actually like putting this list together more than the other one. For as much as my playing habits have shifted over the years towards more current stuff, there’s still very much a part of me that enjoys messing around with a varied collection of archaic nonsense. I got my start blogging about old (usually PC) games that I happened upon for the first time. It’s likely no coincidence that the three blogs I managed to put out this year were partially or entirely about random-ass old games from “like 2004, or something.”
These games are in descending order, starting at 10, though honestly don’t take most of the ranking very seriously. At some point, this is more an exhibition of my weird, esoteric backlog habits than anything else.
Personal video game rabbit hole of the year: Doom 64 Retribution (and Doom source ports in general)
While I’ve certainly played some OG Doom in my life before, I’d never thought to dip my toe into the frankly endless, somewhat terrifying abyss of various Doom mods and source ports. This year changed that, and there was a brief period this summer where messing around with them was basically all the gaming I did. Brutal Doom is, to be perfectly frank, very stupid. It takes what was already a poster child for violent adolescent power fantasy and escalates it to the point of absurdity. As a way of replaying Doom, it’s a lot of fun, and for whatever it loses in purity it makes up for in intensity and a hilarious over-abundance of features. There’s something to be said for mowing through a bunch of imps while dual-wielding SMGs, watching their body parts fly everywhere in a way that feels like it shouldn’t be happening in an engine from 1993.
In similar non-pure experiences, playing Doom 64 via source ports seems like it would be much more enjoyable than playing the actual game with a N64 controller. It’s a strangely designed game that feels surprisingly different from the PC originals, with unique enemy sprites, fake N64 colored lighting, a moody, atmospheric soundtrack, and far more contained maps. It leans a little too close in the direction of “gotcha” teleporting enemy spawns and bullshit puzzle map design than I like, but it was a fun contrast after decapitating pretty much everything in Brutal Doom. I don’t think I’ll play it again, but it might be worth a look if you haven’t seen it before.
AAA Game from a decade ago of the year: Gears of War 2
My brother-in-law and I were looking for games to play together after finishing all of Bungie’s Halo games last year. Deciding upon Microsoft’s other tentpole franchise of the last generation, we… only managed to get through Gears 1 and 2 this year. While I had played it once before, going back to the original Gears of War a dozen years later feels like accidentally stumbling upon a parody of every single “grey and brown dudebro shooter” that became something of a reductive criticism during the 360 and PS3’s lifespan. Even moreso than Halo: Combat Evolved, with its slow pacing and recycled environments, Gears 1 is a slog. It doesn’t so much have a story as it has things that happen. The core shooting is obviously solid, mind you, but it all sort of mushes together from one sequence of waist-high walls to the next.
By contrast, Gears 2 is a pretty marked improvement in every way. While still very grey, brown, and dudebro, there is a lot more variety in its mission design and set-pieces. You’ve got sequences with razor hail, automated turrets, vehicles, and no less than two giant monsters who need to be destroyed from the inside. I cannot take any of its characters or story even remotely seriously for the life of me, but I had a lot more fun and am even vaguely looking forward to Gears 3.
Obscure Bullshit Computer Role-Playing Game of the Year: Wizards and Warriors
This is my list, dammit, and I can put Wizards and Warriors on here if I want to. Of everything, and I mean everything else here, I think this might be the game I’d have the hardest time selling to another person. A CRPG released in 2000 by Heuristic Park (a small team led by D.W. Bradley, who was the lead designer on some of the later Wizardry games) it’s a janky, ugly, decidedly low-budget take on the first-person party-based RPG (or “blobber”) that feels like an interesting cross between the sensibilities of Might and Magic and Wizardry. Like Wizardry, it has a heavy emphasis on deep character progression and (sometimes gratingly obscure) puzzles, while its movement speed and general pacing is arguably closer to the brisker Might and Magic. Even the bizarre pseudo turn-based combat, which I would generously describe as “sort of like SuperHot” feels like a cross between both those influences.
If your eyes are already rolling back into your head after I referenced no less than two dead RPG franchises, that’s okay. Even in its time, it doesn't seem like W&W was much of a hit. It didn’t review especially well, had trouble running on operating systems newer than Windows 2000, and never really obtained the same kind of cult status as contemporaries like Arcanum or Wizardry 8. Finding comprehensive walkthroughs has been… surprisingly difficult, and the number of full, or mostly full playthroughs I could find on YouTube number in the single digits. In some way, it feels like I’ve stumbled upon a new, old game, something that I would’ve written a blog about if it was still 2011 and I didn’t have a remotely modern PC. To be perfectly frank, if I were to recommend a game of this type to someone, it’d still be Might and Magic VII or Wizardry 8, but in the context of finding something new it’s been a pleasant surprise. Maybe I’ll even try to finish it.
The “why didn’t I play this earlier” of the year: Devil May Cry
As a fan of character action games, it’s sort of remarkable that the original Devil May Cry didn’t click for me until this year. In a lot of ways, it feels like a rough proof-of-concept, a scrapped version of Resident Evil 4 turned into its own thing. It lacks the depth of later Devil May Cry games (well, maybe not DMC 2.) and occasionally betrays its age with some of those camera angles and repeating boss fights. Even then, however, I found it to be a pretty good time. The controls are still tight and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’m not really planning on replaying it anytime soon, especially with a new DMC on the horizon, but as a historical curiosity it was worth my time.
Obscure Bullshit Fire Emblem of the Year: Tear Ring Saga
Developed by the creator of Fire Emblem after he left Nintendo, and then subject to successful legal action from Nintendo because of its similarities to Fire Emblem, it’s fair to say that Tear Ring Saga might as well be a Fire Emblem in all but name. As “guy with Fire Emblem avatar” I’ve finally started doing my due diligence by playing through it. If you thought Fire Emblem was already a series with little regard for balance, have I got a game for you. Tear Ring Saga makes Genealogy of the Holy War look restrained by comparison, throwing around characters with ridiculous personal weapons left and right. Why does Shigen have a sword that literally revives him when he hits 0 HP? Wait, does that light spell really hit all enemies in a 3x3 space? Why are axes complete ass? Does this map really only have two enemies? Tear Ring Saga feels a little like a ROM hack with all of its esoteric hidden content, but in a lot of ways it also feels like old-school Fire Emblem with the limiters taken off.
Similarly, while main lord Runan’s tale might as well be every other Fire Emblem game ever made (especially the SNES ones, with their “Game of Thrones but anime” proper nouns and politicking) his buddy Holmes is an asshole bow user who goes around doing radical pirate stuff. And if you know anything about me, it’s that I’m very into any game involving radical pirates. If I have a serious problem with the game, it’s that I’ve basically been keeping my eyes stuck on a guide the entire time because of how much optional, missable stuff there is. Similarly, I think the map design is sometimes lacking, being more concerned with looking vaguely plausible than being fun to navigate around. Given that a translation patch for this game’s sequel, Berwick Saga, is finally being worked on, I can’t wait to see what the hell that game brings to the table.
Potential franchise hole of the year: Tales of Symphonia
I’ll just put my blog post here so I don’t have to re-write everything. In summation, Tales of Symphonia was a game I wanted to play for years. When I finally did, it turned out to be right up my alley, and now I’ve gone down a horrible dark hole where I want to play multiple games in the series despite already having a massive backlog and a questionable attention span. Hooray!
Best Bullshit 3D Collectathon Platformer of the year: A Hat in Time
I’ve said it before, but I actually kinda liked Yooka-Laylee in a very guilty pleasure sort of way. For as much as that game felt like it missed the point of what made Banjo-Kazooie and friends memorable in the first place, it filled a very primal need of mine to collect random bullshit and do butt stomps on switches. A Hat in Time, by contrast, aims to capture the feeling of those sorts of games without necessarily attempting to recreate a Nintendo 64 design, warts and all. It has a lot of variety to its various challenges, a goofy sense of humor, and is only a couple of hours long.
Best multiplayer experience of the year: Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
In what might be the most direct effect Giant Bomb actually had on my gaming habits this in 2018, I picked up Rainbow Six Siege partially due to Dan Ryckert’s enthusiasm. When everything clicks into place, it’s the kind of tense, fraught experience that reminds me of when I used to play League of Legends, but concentrated into 5 minute rounds. When it doesn’t click, maybe my team is incompetent or otherwise getting steamrolled… it also reminds me of when I used to play League of Legends. It’s a game of high highs and low lows, and while I sometimes want a more mindless online shooter experience, there’s nothing quite like R6 Siege when I’m actually on the ball.
I am, to put it lightly, pretty terrible at it. I don’t wear a headset as often as I should, I still pick Rook like 75% of the time on defense because his game plan is really simple, and sometimes I just end up getting wasted because I was doing stupid shit or running around without any idea of where to go. It’s okay though, because despite being a game all about communication and map knowledge, it turns out the majority of people playing unranked on PS4 aren’t much better than I am. That’s encouraging, right?
Best Game from Irrational that doesn’t have “Bioshock” in the title, of the year: SWAT 4
I’ll just direct you to the blog post I wrote about SWAT 4, but this game was a pretty big surprise. If you want the case for why I got into R6 Siege in the first place, SWAT 4 probably also had something to do with it. After playing a bunch of Doom, it was nice to try something on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, a slow-paced tactical shooter hung up on procedure. Nothing quite feels as satisfying as flashbanging a room, constantly mashing F to yell at people, then pepper-spraying them when they don't comply. Police work!
2018’s 2017 Game of the Year: Divinity Original Sin 2
I say with all sincerity that Divinity Original Sin 2 is probably the single best thing to come out of the “CRPG Renaissance” of the past few years. Admittedly, I might have a little more personal affinity for Obsidian’s takes on the Infinity Engine, and I’ll shout from the high heavens that Tyranny deserved more attention than it got. However, I think Larian Studios has put forward the strongest case for the kind of systems heavy, mechanics heavy role-playing games in a modern context. If you want involved tactical combat, a staggering variety of viable and flexible characters builds, and the ability to approach quests and combat from a bunch of different angles, it does that incredibly well. Like the last one, it’s probably a dozen hours too long for its own good (as my 60+ hour playtime suggests) but that’s more a problem with my desire to complete all things than anything else.
However, perhaps the biggest improvement of Original Sin 2 over its predecessor is the quality of the writing. While I still can’t claim to care all that much about the world of Rivellon as a setting, the overall quality of prose and dialogue is so much better than the often jokey, weirdly irreverent tone of previous Divinity games. It’s a pretty serious step-up, and I’m very interested in seeing how they manage to follow it up.
Replays of the year: Heroes of Might and Magic III, Dark Souls
It turns out I not only was capable of playing video games that didn’t come out this year, but also capable of playing games that I’ve played before! In particular, I beat the vanilla campaign for Heroes of Might and Magic III for the first time, and found it a pleasant experience. I’ve already talked at length about what that game means to me and defining my tastes, but I will continue to reiterate that Heroes of Might and Magic is pretty good.
Using the fancy-pants remastered version as an excuse, I replayed Dark Souls this year and can confirm that Dark Souls is still pretty great. There’s something to be said for going back to it with all of the acquired knowledge from the rest of the series. In 2011, it was this inscrutable, arcane, niche thing that no one fully understood. Playing it 7 years later, with everything fully documented and no less than 4 other From Software souls games under my belt was a little like doing a victory lap. I hadn’t seen the DLC areas before, and if I might brag for a second, I definitely beat Artorias on my second try. Gotta love that Crystal Soul Spear.
Worst Game I played to completion this year: Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World
No other game this year entranced me with its profound stupidity as much as Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. The closest runner-up was probably getting around to finishing The Evil Within 2 (which, man does that game go some weird places) but even that can’t match the bizarre parade of lazy fanservice and “direct to DVD” level of effort that Dawn of the New World puts forth. You only have two permanent party members to worry about alongside a pokemon-esque monster capture mechanic that barely matters. The combat, while still serviceable, feels way floatier than its forebear. The world map has been replaced with a menu of locations, and the plot… well, it has one. Feel free to read my full blog if you are so inclined, but this was definitely an experience that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
And that’s it from me, I think. If I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t know if I’m going to end up finishing that anime blog or not. I’m honestly pretty tired of writing stuff after multiple papers for school and these two GOTY blogs, so if I do end up writing it, consider the whole thing a bonus. If I don’t end up writing it, all you need to know is that Fate/Zero is the only great Fate anime, and the seasonal anime rush is for chumps. Oh, and you should watch Hunter x Hunter.