Game of The Year 2014 Users Choice

Will be filling in with text later for future reference. Also, to laugh at myself in a year's time when I look back and think about how crazy I am for making these decisions.

List items

  • Alright.

    Let’s see how long I can go on before talking about the Nemesis System.

    Uh.

    I like Assassin’s Creed traversal stuff kind of and the Batman combat is great. Shadow of Mordor has both of those in probably their best iterations. Probably. I actually kind of felt like some of the traversal stuff was a little janky. And the combat was sometimes unintentionally overwhelming.

    Okay. That Nemesis System.

    It’s a gamechanger. Like, in the least arguable of a ways.

    At some point open-world game developers took a look at themselves and at the culture of open-world development. And it was more or less unanimously agreed upon that, unless you’re going the Rockstar, psychopathically-detail-oriented approach to crafting your world, the best way to differentiate your game is via something mechanical. Sleeping Dogs and Batman have these incredible combat systems; Assassin’s Creed kickstarted the third-person parkour trend; even games like inFamous give the player immense freedom through which to interact with the world.

    Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System, then, feels like this grand gesture in the opposite direction. It inverts the relationship. The open world suddenly has license to interact with the player in weird, creative, completely unfamiliar ways. It remembers the things you do. It remembers the way you operate in particular situations and creates texture. Mordor’s gamespace is one of rivals, of defeat, of retreat and reprieve. Mordor is the abyss’s returning gaze made manifest, a living and breathing thing waiting for your next move.

    The Nemesis System reminds me, more than anything, of Left 4 Dead’s Director—a Wizard of Oz behind the curtain drawing pulleys and moving pieces into play by its own whims. Just when you’ve had enough of the game’s hardships, Mordor brings forth an old enemy bearing the scars of the past. Scars you delivered in hews and slashes. On this field your history together makes this battle and the battles you’ll continue to have an increasingly feverish arms race. Who can get to the peak of their powers first? Whose will to survive (or in your case, dominate) will prevail?

    Honestly, it elevates what is otherwise a well-crafted, if unmemorable, game to transcendence. The Nemesis System in this application isn’t perfect—the system is too easy to game, too easy to miss altogether if you’re a Batman combat veteran—but the potential it beckons is unmistakable. Cut and paste the same system into Destiny or Skyrim and those respective worlds begin to carry the same impressive vitality.

  • I keep thinking about Luftrausers hoping to eventually really get it. Not, like, in a derisive way. I mean “get it” in the sense that, man, I just don’t know what it is that keeps bringing me back to this game.

    Luftrausers is punishing. So punishing, in fact, that I’m not even entirely sure I’ve ever finished the first level. I’m not quite sure there even are levels. There’s just, I don’t know, planes and battleships and shit and sometimes those fucking fighter jets and every once in a while that war zeppelin shows up and it’s at that point that I’m always screwed beyond all repair.

    It’s a game whose difficulty is kind of beside the point, honestly. Reminiscent of old arcade games—side-scrollers and bullet hell shooters, quarter-hungry and ravenous—Luftrausers is the sort of game players come to having signed some implicit contract. You understand ahead of time you’ll be seeing a lot of the Game Over screen.

    For me, the ways Luftrausers keeps that culture of failure incidental have much to do with its surprisingly refreshing unlock and modification system. As you’re playing and dying, playing and dying, playing and dying, you’re completing dozens of side objectives. Kill a hundred of these guys. Stay underwater for X minutes. And as these tick boxes get checked you’re getting engines and weapons platforms and chassis models with unique properties. You’ll go from shooting pellets to shooting death rays. From dying in a whimper to detonating upon death with force enough to clear the screen of enemies. The combinations are manifold and the corporeal gameplay effects are doubly so. It’s immensely satisfying to find your ideal build and to one-up your high score over and over.

    Ultimately, Luftrausers doesn’t overdo it in any way save for one really welcome array of options. It’s quick, it’s exciting, it’s a transplant from another era with a bunch of neat modern twists.

  • For me, the age of the great multiplayer shooter has come and passed. And I’ve got the same excuses as everyone else: my reflexes have gotten slower, my pool of time has dried scarcer, my interest—respectfully—has weathered away.

    Frankly, Titanfall has a lot in common with the games it outwardly appears to subvert. Player-on-player competition is still largely a matter of who-sees-who-first. Most of the game’s weapons handle rather like weapons in other popular shooters. You’re even driving up an experience meter to the point of resetting your progress.

    But Titanfall adds wrinkles, wrinkles upon wrinkles, to that formula. Jump jets and wallruns. Three-story mechs. And, maybe most gratifying of all, AI combatants who roam around the battlefield waiting to be picked off. In fact, by populating the gamespace with not-entirely-inept bots, Titanfall lowers the barrier for entry by several magnitudes, laying the foundation for a game that even the least skilled of shooter fans can enjoy.

    It’s a satisfying game in, like, half a dozen respects. It’s fast, it’s aggressive, it offers players a load of ways to have fun with its systems. Mostly, it’s welcoming. And while I understand why most competitive shooters choose not to be, I certainly appreciate the one that is.

  • Three games in to the series, not one of the entries bearing the inFamous name has honestly, truly hooked me. Second Son came the closest. In the jump to a fresh new generation of Playstation, inFamous gets the opportunity to show off with some serious flourish. Just speaking plainly--it's one of the best looking games I can remember ever seeing. Whether ogling at fuschia neon contrails or staring entranced at rippling radiowave gargoyles, I found myself repeatedly awed by the vibrance that thrums along throughout this game.

    When it comes to content, to the playing of the game itself, there isn't much about Second Son that roots itself more memorably than the consistently-pleasing traversal system. Your powers dictate your pace. And while everyone might have their personal favorite--scaling the walls like the Flash, zipping from satellite to satellite with radio wings, or simply but effectively clambering up buildings--the real beauty of navigating the environment is a result of mixing and matching abilities. Sprint up a skyscraper, soar from a rooftop, and divebomb enemy emplacements with a variety of abilities, and suddenly inFamous begins to feel like something more than the sum of its parts.

  • I came into Watch Dogs with a singular advantage:

    At no point in the run up to its release did I follow any of its press coverage.

    At some point the court of public opinion had turned heel against this game. It didn't look as good as it was supposed to, they said. Its scope didn't live up to its promise, they said. It's a modern Assassin's Creed with a half-baked story and some high school-level Rage Against the Machine anti-establishment overtones, they said.

    I'll say that last one too, I guess. But this is a game that's easy to pick on, yet it has some occasional moments of wonder. The open world is a vehicular playground, the shooting feels REALLY crisp, and the hacking interface gives you a creative--if limited--way to influence the environment in real time.

    For me, the hook was in multiplayer, which took pages from Dark Souls' unique formula and allowed players to invade each other's singleplayer experiences. Sometimes without warning. It felt tremendously satisfying to be the world's ultimate cyber-creep, to peek into someone else's game and shadow them. From an invisible proximity, I flipped traffic lights and activated road block and blew steam pipes under the street. The player I'd invaded knew someone was there, but not where, and not who.

    Watch Dogs takes the unconventional stealth concepts from Assassin's Creed's multiplayer and applies them in a unique way. It felt alive and threatening and, in one respect, completely maximized the potential of always-online connectivity between players, even players isolated away from each other in their own respective worlds.