Game of the Year 2014
Work in progress.
Work in progress.
Not long ago, I felt ready to write off 8-bit throwback games forever. The trend was cute and exciting for a while, but then it started to feel like it had run its course. Then Shovel Knight jumped onto the scene and almost convinced me otherwise. Shovel Knight can be described as a Greatest Hits of the 8-Bit Era that still manages to feel like its own thing. With plenty of charming characters, a great sense of humor and a difficulty that is almost perfectly tuned, it dug itself straight into my Top 10.
You know, I’m not the slightest bit jealous of the Dark Souls II development team. Making a follow-up to such a beloved game must have been a daunting task to say the least. However, I think they mostly pulled it off. The combat in general still is every bit as nerve-wracking and palm sweat-inducing as its predecessor, thanks to a few very interesting tweaks. The quality of the bosses is overall weaker, but I can forgive it since The Looking Glass Knight and Velstadt are two of the greatest boss fights of the year. Fighting those guys were such intense and satisfying experiences that I almost considered reviving them, just to fight them all over again. When the game wants to it just exudes atmosphere and a deep sense of mystery, beckoning you to explore every little nook and cranny.
So, while the game is a bit uneven in quality and maybe just a little bit padded out, I got so much fun out of it that I immediately dove into New Game+ upon finishing it. That does not happen often for me.
I have to confess that despite being a fan of Wadjet Eye’s games (especially The Shivah and Gemini Rue) I hadn’t really given the Blackwell series much thought. One day, in the dead of Swedish winter, I decided to remedy that and played through the series, just in time for the release of the final chapter.
You know how it’s usually considered a bad idea to play episodes 3 and 4 of The Walking Dead back to back? So is going through the final parts of the Blackwell saga in quick succession. Rosa Blackwell and Joey Mallone’s story is intriguing, touching, often very funny and gets progressively sadder, culminating in a both thrilling and tear-jerking finale. Really, the dialogue and characterization in this game (and the series overall) is laudable, even for the relatively minor roles. It sure doesn’t hurt that the production values are better than ever in The Blackwell Epiphany, with beautiful background art and superb voice performances across the board. I’m sad now that the series is over, but sometimes you have to learn how to say goodbye.
Going into Transistor, I was more or less expecting a follow-up to Bastion, albeit with a completely new protagonist and a cyberpunk setting. Even though it at times looks, sounds and even feels like Supergiant’s 2011 debut, there are quite a few differences between the two, enough to make Transistor stand rather far apart from its spiritual predecessor. For example, one button makes the protagonist, Red, hum along to Darren Korb’s magnificent background music. How awesome is that?
The key difference is of course the combat. Transistor’s “pause, plan and execute” system turns it into Bastion’s more thoughtful cousin, in which many fights play out almost like puzzles. You really do feel like a tactical genius when all that careful planning comes together and you smash a whole bunch of enemies to junk in just a handful of moves. I always appreciate it when a game encourages you to experiment with its mechanics and find your own play style, and this is something Transistor does very well. Someday I will play through New Game+ (sorry, Recursion Mode) with a bunch of Limiters activated and just try out all the crazy combinations of Functions I can come up with.
I do wish I could’ve learned just a little bit more about the beautifully designed dystopian world, but that’s only a minor complaint. After all, the game has what might be the coolest final battle of the year. And it has a dedicated hum button. I don’t believe I mentioned that before.
When I say the words “first person shooter”, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? You might be thinking a lot of things, but I’m willing to bet that “great worldbuilding” is not one of them. Surprisingly enough, Wolfenstein: The New Order stands out because it has that. Some creative license has of course been taken, but Machine Games still paints a very convincing world in which Nazi Germany won the war. The game is littered with details, revealing piece by piece how the world fell before the Nazi war machine. In a Europe that lately seems very eager to embrace far-right ideologies and outright fascism, this alternate history feels all the more frightening.
So how is Wolfenstein: The New Order as a game then, you might ask? Pretty damn good actually. The shooting feels really tight, the weapons are varied and the levels are packed with stuff to discover. Oh, and it has very nicely rendered cups of coffee.
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