The 'Shroom:Issue LXX/Critic Corner
So in case some of you haven't been keeping up, Marshal Dan Troop (talk) resigned from Virtual Console Reviews, and marioboy14 (talk) was fired from Marioverse Reviews. While we still have two Non-Marioverse Reviews sections, we have no reviews covering Mario games anymore, so it'd be great if we got that corrected sometime soon. You know, just in case any of you are interested.
Potentially, this could be the last issue in which I'm a core staff member, meaning someone else could be directing Critic Corner for 2013. That's only a possibility, of course; whoever wins the election may want me back, who knows? Either way, it's been a great experience for me, and hopefully it has been for you blokes too. Now I'm going to go back to sippin' tinnies on me verandah now, January is a hot month where I am.
Critic Corner Section of the Month
Tinnies can wait, here's the results of last month's section of the month, although a somewhat predictable result with Should Have Been by MrConcreteDonkey (talk) winning by a landslide! He went over his thoughts on Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, which I found a bizarre choice since Christmas isn't cold, it's always really hot.
And runners-up were meself for my guest section of Marioverse Reviews blasting Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Marshal Dan Troop (talk) for his review of Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom in Virtual Console Reviews. And no one cared.
1) Should Have Been (MrConcreteDonkey (talk)) – 14 votes (%46.67)
2) Marioverse Reviews (Crocodile Dippy (talk)) – 7 votes (%23.33)
3) Virtual Console Reviews (Marshal Dan Troop (talk)) – 5 votes (%16.67)
Dippy uses his Level 3 Super to take down PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
Crocodile Style Reviews
|PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale|
|Publisher||Sony Computer Entertainment|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita|
This should come as no great surprise to anyone who has crossed me on an internet forum before, but I'm not exactly much of a fighter. I can argue and whinge, but when time comes to throw punches I'm better off just bending over and taking it good up the arse, which naturally makes it difficult for me to enjoy the Fighting game genre. I understand the appeal of doing nothing more than beating the ever-loving shit out of your mates and/or petty grudges from your oh-so magnificent social life, but I think I'm the wrong kind of person for randomly mashing the controller until its reduced to fine plastic paste on the off-chance it might possibly allow you to use the simplest special attack.
I generally try to avoid discussing fighting games for that reason, but from an outsider’s perspective, things look a little bleak. Every few years I come back around to the neighbourhood for a humble visit and see ol' Steve McFighter wearing increasingly obnoxious shirts and indulging in bizarre street performances aside an upside-down bowler hat, and it makes me deeply concerned for his well-being. I mean, when was the last time a new fighting IP broke ground in the industry and made a real commercial dent that wasn't sold on the tits of 2D anime girls? Seems like a lot of developers have decided to take the mascot fighter route, perhaps because nostalgia has proven itself to sell far better than a stripper made of pavlova, or maybe that's just my fantasy. And if it worked for Nintendo, Marvel, Capcom, and Namco, it'll damn well bloody work for Sony, even if they have to tack as many extraneous “brotastic” words to the name until it starts to sound more like a fucking arraignment instead.
So on that we have PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, which by this point is probably far more accurately known as Sony Smash Bros, and let's not kid ourselves here. As I said in my E3 article last year it was inevitable that Sony would eventually jump on the bandwagon of crossover fighters, it's just hilarious how late they actually are to the party no one ever invited them to seeing as how their main competitor has already had three hugely successful releases under their belt and has absolutely no reason to be worried about a rival equivalent with almost fifteen years of catching up to do and a pool of far less iconic characters. Because as much as it pains me to say it, Sony are nurturers of well-known brand names, not well-known characters; after all, everyone knows Twisted Metal and KillZone, but how many people who aren't core fans know who Sweet Tooth and Radec are? Oh but I'm sure everyone was anointing Sony's feet with the finest of Syrian perfumes and ointments to have Toro the Cat added as a playable character.
I've never actually thought about it before, but Sony has been making a far stronger effort to market and establish brand new IP over the past ten years than Nintendo, who have largely been spending that time hazed out on the couch subsisting on cocaine and jelly beans. Although Sony did have to outsource for third-party characters to fill up their roster which probably made things extremely awkward when the mascot to one of their most beloved third-party franchises was already snatched away by Nintendo. You know those school soccer games where the two captains have to take turns picking the other students until the only one left is the kid who eats polyester and stares at people in the toilets? That's pretty much what happened to Sony with Raiden.
Four paragraphs in and I've barely even spoken about the game, but I find the surrounding politics far more interesting than the sleepy dross of the game itself. It's a mascot fighter designed for nostalgic pillocks who just want to see their favourite characters beat each other up, possessing the same no-brainer gameplay of Super Smash Bros. wherein you just wail on everything until gravity gives up on them and turns them into the space shuttle Challenger. Except actually this time it's wailing on everything for twenty minutes to fill up a metre that allows you to use a Super attack, which is kind of like a Fatality but instead it's the only way to get any kills. Ignoring that this basically boils any sort of strategy and player skill down to arbitrary attrition based more around who can unlock the omega awesome super move first; it's just an absolute fucking drag.
Matches can take forever since most of the basic Super attacks are terrible, and only about half of the level three ones are of any use. Fat Princess or Ratchet's level three Supers are as reliable for racking up kills as a fat cat is as a pack mule, while you may as well just not even bother defending yourself when someone uses Cole or Sly Cooper's. You could always argue that as just being a matter of skill difference, but if anyone can honest to goodness find a way to defend the decision to make a few of the level three Supers instantly kill every other fighter on the map no matter what, then I will personally spend the money to fly over to your house and castrate you because you are a fuckwit.
So with that ends all I can honestly think of that's any kind of interesting to talk about. Everything else is just familiar territory; generic challenge mode, repetitive arcade mode campaigns that go nowhere, online functionality barred by the bloody online pass system again. Thaaaaaat's pretty much it, actually, they don't even have an encyclopaedia or a trophy bonus feature to educate people on all the games and characters represented in the title so it's not even a good insight into the company's history. I know that these games are usually only sold on spectacle rather than genuine substance, but you can at least be ambitious with your spectacle! As overbloated and repetitive a mess as Brawl's story campaign was, at least it was something quirky and interesting that could keep people's attention beyond the prospect of hurting the mascot of your least favourite franchise. There's being a little underweight, and then there's pathetically dragging your corpse-like body through the hallways to scrounge off the dirty crumbs of the meaty feast that your other, much more respectable associates already finished eating hours before.
I find something has gone wrong with my gaming experience when I'm actually looking forward to turning the console off and getting ready for work, and keep in mind that I clean toilets for a living. It's laggy, uninspired, hastily made, and as unintuitive as fighting games get, and the sheer lack of content gives one the impression it was all designed by the director's son in a single afternoon to save on labour costs. Having said that, it's at least made me remember to revisit several lovely games from my childhood like Ape Escape and MedEvil, so consider that a point in its favour. But with how little effort seems to have been put in, I find myself wondering why a mere museum display of far better releases would sell for full retail price when you could get a far more pleasing experience from sticking your head in a freezer for a few hours then smashing it against the pavement for the bargain basement price of not having to play Sony Smash Bros. and a missing thalamus.
So, the holidays have passed and I’m guessing everyone is having a great time just playing with their new toys, I’m guessing. The beginning of the New Year means a lot of things, but one of my favorites is always the game of the year lists websites post, because for the most part they always show me some awesome game I may have missed that year. That said, turns out this year it’s my turn to do one of these lists, so below you’ll find my favorite games released on the year of 2012. However, keep in mind my guidelines for the list:
- I’m using the North American release dates, so if the game already came out in other region years ago, or the game hasn’t been released in your country yet, keep this in mind.
- NEW GAMES ONLY, no remakes or ports. That means no Batman Arkham City Armored Edition or Devil May Cry HD Collection or things like that.
- I only have at my disposal a Wii (no Wii U), a Playstation 3, a Nintendo 3DS, a Playstation Vita and a somewhat old PC, meaning no Nintendoland or Xbox games, sorry.
- No one is paying me to do these, meaning all the games I could review these year came out of my pocket, so games like Dishonored are excluded by the fact that they cost too much or I had other priorities.
With that out of the way, let’s start with number 5:
First off, let's start with some context. Spec Ops: The Line is a third person shooter made by some guys (Yager Development), supposed to be another game in the Spec Ops franchise, the game ends up being more or less completely unrelated to the others. If you want more details on it, my boss Crocodile Dippy wrote a review of it earlier this year.
The reason why this game is making my list is simply the story. Now, some of you people may be starting to shout “BUT GAMEPLAY IS ALL THAT MATTERS YOU IDIOT! CARING TOO MUCH ABOUT THE STORY IS WHAT’S MAKING THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY A CLUSTERF-“. Now, normally I would agree with you, but this game is not focused on being the best shooter ever, it knows that going against Call of Duty or Battlefield would be a big mistake, so instead the developers have focused on delivering a top-notch story that makes the player see the truth behind their power fantasies and AM3RICA FUCK YEAH games, a story that makes you actually think “…why the fuck am I doing this?” and shows you the reality of what being a super soldier that survives everything and supposedly is always right would be.
The gameplay, while fun, is just the means to an end. It just serves to make the later story moments more shocking and true. While you may be thinking “If I wanted to pay for a good story, I would get a goddamn book, now let me jump n' shoot”, the thing is that this story wouldn't work on any other medium. Now, as a rebuttal to that, you'll think “But, the story is based on a book that was already adapted into a movie!”, but the truth is that the story on Spec Ops is not really all that related to neither Heart of Darkness nor Apocalypse Now apart from certain non-important points. Without the interactive parts in which you're shooting people or punching them or rocking out to The Doors while doing the other two things the story wouldn't be as effective as it is in subverting the player's expectations nor showing its message.
To conclude this entry, more or less, this is one of those games that doesn't need great gameplay, and while the gameplay that it has is decent and serves its purpose of not boring me or making me want to play another game, the reason why it's number 5 on my list is because it is one of those few games that nail the story, and atmosphere to almost perfect levels, and it's certainly one of my picks from this year, and I really recommend you pick it up, I'm pretty sure it's gotten to 15$ levels of cheap, and for that price you won't regret it.
Same as before, first let's introduce this title, but more fully this time since no one reviewed it previously. Gravity Rush is a new IP made by Sony Japan for the Playstation Vita, released in June of this year. The game is about a woman named Kat who one day wakes up not remembering who she is (where have I heard that one before?) or why she is where she is, and suddenly BAM! gravity powers. You see, she has a cat companion named Dusty that grants her the power to control the direction in which gravity goes, along with the usual super strength, combat abilities and power to pick up stuff. What follows is a tale of why she's there, meeting some really unusual characters along the way and doing awesome superhero stuff.
In case [[The 'Shroom:Issue LIX/Caiman Gamin'|my first review] didn't clue you in, I'm a superhero fan (not necessarily a comic fan, just the concept of them), so finding a good superhero game is always a delight for me. The actual gameplay is a delight, with fully responsive controls that never feel like a chore and combat that doesn't get boring and the graphics are really good, with the cel-shading adding a ton of style to the already good gothic-inspired town.
Now, why is this game in the #4 spot? Simply put, it's the complete opposite of why Spec Ops up there is in the list: it has awesome gameplay. Sure, the story is a fun ride that doesn't make me vomit, but this year I've yet to find a game that lets me just more or less fly around its city doing whatever I want without feeling bored. Like I said, the controls are mostly perfect, the only thing to blame is the Vita itself, and it's somewhat unresponsive shoulder buttons, and when you decide to go and be Peter Pan, flying all over the rooftops, suddenly seeing something you like and then stopping and quickly changing the gravity to whatever you want in one quick move, you just feel happy that finally one game has nailed the feeling of freedom that flying deserves. The game also has charm coming out of its ass, with Kat being a really likeable protagonist (again, total opposite of Spec Ops), and almost everyone you meet having some kind of charm to them. There's also a ton of content, including costumes and challenge missions, and even though the main story is completed quickly, it's still an enjoyable experience. In short, it's a great game and worthy of the number 4 spot on this list.
Writing something coherent is hard, I know because I've spent the better part of the past few days trying to put how I feel about video games into words, and that's something the video game industry hasn’t given a shit about since the beginning of time. Sure, there have been a few exceptions like BioWare pre-2012, Valve, or Square before going completely insane sometime in the late 90s, but for the most part they've been ignored because most of the people in charge of the game industry think only pew pew pew games will sell, so they eventually also turn into mindless shells of their past.
That's where The Walking Dead comes to save the day. This is it, a game that just goes “Story is all that matters and we've chosen video games because it'll enhance our story” and actually delivers on the promise of being a mature story that takes itself seriously. But first, CONTEXT TIME. The Walking Dead is a comic and TV series made by Robert Kirkman around the year 2003 and published by Image Comics. It was a great success, so AMC TV, already famous because of series like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, came swooping down and said “let's make this shit a successful TV show” and so they did and it's now going for the 4th season. The comic and TV deal with the adventures of a cop named Rick Grimes in a zombie apocalypse, however I guess it got special because it doesn't actually treat the zombies as much of a hassle, but more or less focuses on the relationships between people and how society changes when zombies come.
Fast forward to the year 2012, now it's Telltale Games' turn at turning the franchise into a cash cow by turning it into another form of entertainment: video games. Now, Telltale has already done successful adaptation of comics and movies, including Back to the Future and Sam and Max, but their most recent work was a really bad QTE-fest named Jurassic Park, so everyone is cautious about this game. Fast forward to the end of the same year, and it's become clear that Telltale made one of the finest games of the year, and it's now my turn to say why. (context time OUT)
First off, the game stars a *gasp* black guy named Lee (I put gasp because, really, when was the last time you didn't play as a bald white guy?) Turns out he did something bad and is now going to jail, when suddenly ZOMBIES. So he escapes the police car, kills police zombie, and eventually meets up with an eight year old named Clementine, and he decides, since her parents are probably dead, that they should team up because it's better for survival. That's more or less the only thing on the plot that I'll say here, because everything else could be considered spoilers. However, I CAN speak about why the story ends up being effective. To start, like I said earlier, zombies are considered mostly a minor nuisance, like I imagine they would be in real life, and the real problems come from the fact that, since most people are now zombies, food, gas, and other vital things for living are going extinct, and society has mostly crumbled, so other human beings end up being the problem for your survival. This leads to a really gripping story, because you choose what your character says most of the time and other characters would react mostly how anyone would, and unlike other choice-system based games, your decisions don't just affect one side or the other of an imaginary bar that once filled will unlock shit, but are always equally valid things to say or do that just impacts how other characters react to you. Unlike other choice-system based games, there's also the fact that, without spoiling anything, there's shit that IS going to happen because you can't control the relationships between other two characters, so you are not the master of the universe and everything you do affects it.
The other incredibly beautiful aspect of this game is Clementine, to keep it simple. This is a great-written character: smart, resourceful, brave, without feeling like a load, but still being a normal kid that you protect not because you NEED to or the game FORCES you to, but because you WANT to protect her. By the end, I found myself not making choices based on what will benefit me more, but on what will benefit her, because in the end she's a kid that has all her life ahead of her, so if the zombie apocalypse ends someday (Image Comics runs out of business), she can actually live. You may be thinking “bro it's just a video game chill”, but that's how I genuinely felt, and a testament to the Telltale writer's abilities to make a story worth listening to. I could go on, praising how the adventure game puzzles never feel like something incredibly complex that would never work in real life, how (almost) every scene feels perfectly paced, or how FUCK THE ENDING (but in a good way, not a Mass Effect 3 way), but Word is telling me that I've almost spent 900 words talking about it, so let's move on to the next entry.
Holy shit guys, an actual, normal game in a Nintendo system in a top 5 games made for a Nintendo-dedicated website! You see, that's the beauty of it, Kid Icarus doesn't feel like a normal Nintendo game (in a good way), and that's why it's almost the best game I played in 2012 (that was made in 2012), and it's a shame most people are turned away from it because of its control scheme, because after 2 or 3 missions I was already a pro at it, without even using the ridiculous stand.
So, for those who don't know, Kid Icarus was a franchise made by Metroid creator Gunpei Yokio, back in those NES days in which Nintendo actually was completely cool with making new IPs (I'm an hypocrite for saying that, because this same game was actually a completely new game before they slapped the Kid Icarus name on it), and people liked it but no one ever got past the first stage, so that's how the main Kid Icarus theme is now the Underworld theme. But, apart from a minor sequel on the Game Boy, the franchise laid dead until Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Smash series, while making Brawl came and said “well that's a bitching character, that pit guy, let's completely redesign him and put him in the game”, which revived him in the eyes of the public. And now, 25 years after his last title, the same guy, now leader of Sora Ltd., made him a new game.
Why do I like this game? Well, to put it simple, I've never seen a game so happy to just…exist. It just takes itself seriously and at the same time pokes fun at almost every trope in itself, which is delivered by excellent dialogue and voice acting, which is really unusual for a Nintendo game, but when Nintendo wants to do something right, they fucking blow it though the roof. But, in an action game like this, the gameplay IS actually the most important thing, and Sakurai clearly didn't forget that. From the fast-paced flying sections to the also fast-paced ground sections, every single part of the 25-chapter (opps) package feels tight and it shows that a lot of care was put into every single section of the game. There’s also a shitton of replay value, with an actually pretty fun multiplayer that pits (heh) you against other players using your personalized loadout, to the hundreds of weapons you can find, to the nine difficulty levels the game provides for single-player, it is a really great package. Now, I know compared to the entry above it seems like I really don't have anything to say about the game, but that's the thing: I could talk about the entry above a lot because analyzing a story and their characters and why it affected me is easy, but more or less the only thing I can say about this game is that it's REALLY really fun. How would you describe fun? That's up to you. For me, simply the wonderful presentation, the happy-to-be-alive tone, the fun dialogue between missions, and the tight gameplay makes it a wonderful pick for number 2, even if I can't exactly describe why.
I actually don't know how to properly express myself for the most important entry. Just fucking go play it. Buy a Playstation 3 if you need to, or go to a friend's house while he's not there and play it. My point is, this is not a game that you could talk about because it just isn't the same as playing it. You know how I said up there that I couldn't describe why Kid Icarus' gameplay was fun apart from a simple “because it is”? Well, apply that to the whole game and that's more or less Journey. It is, like the title says, a journey, a unique experience.
OK so what is it about? That I may be about to say. Journey is a game by ThatGameCompany released this year for Playstation 3. In it, you play as a robed red figure that has one goal: reach the top of the mountain, so that's what you need to do, by going though some puzzles in about 7 different stages. What makes it unique is its simplicity: you only have two actions apart from moving: jump/fly when your magical scarf has magic left, and sing, which attracts things that refill your magic and is the only communication in the games' most important aspect: multiplayer.
Multiplayer in Journey is a unique experience. (It's of the co-op kind, so don't expect to strangle anyone to death with your scarf.) First off, I suppose you would expect to see who you're playing with, but the game doesn't actually show you who the other robed figure is…so you would expect to be like “meh, this anonymous guy over here, what the hell do I care about him?”, but you actually just end up being partners with the person, simply because the simple controls and premise makes screwing up mostly impossible, and being close to your partner actually refills your magic gauge. So, the experience ends up being one of bonding, because you end up experiencing a really nice journey with your new friend, and at least in my opinion, the game eliminates the need for communication, because your actions always speak louder than words.
I swear I would like to describe this game better, but I seriously can't find the words to describe something so beautiful. Like, say you're an astronaut and you see planet Earth in all its might. You could try to describe the experience, but you know that the English language is not enough to properly express how it feels, and that's honestly how I think about Journey. Everything about it: the artstyle, the soundtrack, the design, everything blends in to create a wonderful experience that just reminds me just how awesome video games can be. That is why it's my pick for the number 1 spot.
I really should make a video review someday...
Hey guys, hope you're enjoying the New Year! I have too, what with all the 2012 releases I've had to catch up with in order to make this month's section concerning my Top 5 Games of 2012. I'd say 2012 has been one of the most important years for gaming, displaying a tremendous deal of maturation in the way games as an artistic medium are being treated to deliver important messages about us as people and the world around us; the sexism debate has finally become something everyone is taking seriously now, which will do wonders for opening this medium up to everyone without discrimination or exception; and we've also formally entered into the next generation of gaming with the Wii U released at the tail end of the year, and the announcement of two Android-based consoles, and Valve's PC console. But at the heart of that news rests the games themselves, so on that let's honour those games of 2012 that have made impressive strides in the industry, whether that be by innovating gameplay, story, characterisation, writing, aesthetics, what have you.
Keep in mind this is only games I've played, so I'll just say early that some releases getting huge accolades that I've not yet had a chance to sink my teeth into; Far Cry 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Mass Effect 3, Hitman Absolution, and Torchlight 2. Right then, let's go.
|Developer: Klei Entertainment||It's probably universally known by this point that my favourite video game genre is stealth, but it's become a bit of a rarity to find true stealth experiences that balance the formula perfectly. Enter Mark of the Ninja, a small but wonderfully designed independent title that shows one of the best understandings of what makes an engaging stealth game.
It's everything a stealth game should be, with large, sprawling levels for the player to decide the best form of approach, various ways to take out or creep past enemies so players can decide for themselves how violent they wish to be, clear indicators of sound and visibility; all within a simple 2D sidescrolling platformer perspective. Every resource the developers had was pooled into building up on the core stealth mechanic to make the experience as rigid, flowing, and focussed as possible, with the equation including progressing through corridors and rooftops, hooking on to ledges, sticking to the shadows, moving through vents, and employing special equipment to either distract or kill enemies, with enough challenges to make it hugely satisfying to accomplish a level with a No Kill and No Detection bonus.
I can think of few games that would be a better entry into the stealth genre for gamers who've never tried out a stealth release before, and I know for sure it'd be a great intro for this site due to everyone's familiarity with side-scrolling platformers. It plays absolutely amazingly and looks pretty good to boot, so definitely try it out if you want to take a break from charging in to battle. It's cheap, too, so no excuses!
Mark of the Ninja
|Genre(s): Stealth, platform|
|Platform(s): XBox 360 (XBox Live Arcade), Microsoft Windows (Steam)|
|Developer: Arkane Studios||I went into Dishonored not expecting much at all, but little did I realise it would be one of the most enjoyable triple-A releases of the year. Not quite understanding characterisation and writing was a major thorn in the game's side, but the beautiful, unique world with rich geographical and socio-political detail was only the beginning of what I found so endearing about this release.
Borrowing heavily from the non-linear action role-playing games of the early 2000s such as Thief and Deus Ex, Dishonored delivers a solid open-ended experience in which the player's freedom is expressed through exploration and varying options. Admittedly the binary morals choice is shallow and adds very little to the game, but it's effectively just framing the various methods of accomplishing the missions as the player is given enough power-ups and equipment to decide whether they want to go in full-force, take the stealthy approach (either by killing, passively neutralising, or going completely undetected), through trickery and deceit, or even by summoning a horde of monstrous rodents to devour enemies alive.
It's gruesome in many ways, but the option to do the altruistic thing and spare their lives is what makes this game feel really open to the player and their own choices. The story isn't much to speak of, but it's told well enough to maintain the player's interest, and it does an amazing job at framing the sublime gameplay mechanics. I'd put Dishonored higher on the list if the characters and morals choice weren't so shallow, but definitely give Dishonored the respect it deserves, if not just for being a great stress relief.
|Genre(s): Stealth, action role-playing game|
|Platform(s): PlayStation 3, XBox 360, Microsoft Windows|
|Developer: Telltale Games||The Walking Dead isn't a game with a particularly impressive pedigree behind it, but Telltale took the stale zombie genre and realised that competing with other action-based zombie games would be ludicrous, so they instead filled the niche of emotional character-driven games focussing on the struggles one would realistically face in a zombie apocalypse. And boy does it pull it off, displaying a fantastic understanding of how to make a point and click adventure engaging in the modern world, and how to be a genuinely emotional and tearjerking experience that doesn't have to rely on cheap thrills.
Focussing on a core cast of colourful, developed characters, the player, through the shady but likeable protagonist Lee Everett, is put into various scenarios where their own personal philosophies are challenged with the full knowledge that your actions mean the difference between life and death for the other characters. Conversations are flowing, alternating between slow-paced, quiet conversations to the really tense and panic-stricken arguments, forcing the player to make swift and difficult decisions on a whim, some of which they may regret later on. But there are no right or wrong choices, just inevitable consequences of your actions that you'll have to deal with.
With enough believability and realism in the atmosphere and the way its characters and their struggles are portrayed, these are challenges that test you directly as a person, not as a player. At the heart of all this rests Clementine who remains one of the best-written and most compelling child characters in any medium. This is a game that does everything a good interactive drama should do, pulling all the punches for the long-since stale point and click adventure genre to truly meet brand new potential. If you're a fan of brilliant narrative and developed characters in an interactive medium, you'll be doing yourself a great disservice by not trying out The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead
|Genre(s): Point and click adventure, survival horror|
|Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, Mac, PlayStation 3, XBox 360, iOS|
|Developer: ThatGameCompany||Talk of games being a new, albeit infant, art form has grown increasingly prevalent in the industry over the years, but people stereotype so-called “art games” as being overly pretentious and incomprehensibly abstract to the point of meaninglessness, and there's certainly truth to that. But this is why Journey gets this high on my list for defying that and proving how you can perfectly reconcile player engagement and a deep, meaningful experience.
Effectively a game about walking around a variety of environments, Journey manages to keep itself engaging not only from its air of modest elegance and the existence of an overarching goal ensuring players know there's a point to their journey, but by actually being a game even with its minimalistic approach, with puzzles, platforming, and probably the greatest aspect of it, the simple player interaction aspect. With a streamlined approach to multiplayer hurling away identity and formal communication, the game displays the enjoyment of simply being with another person, adventuring with them, and sharing their experiences, all through the gameplay mechanics alone. You can even guide newer players through the game if you're so inclined, all of which comes together to create a true emotional attachment to your fellow players, as if you've made a truly positive difference in the lives and experiences of other people, an effort I think deserves all the respect in the world.
A gorgeous look, a gorgeous sound – which is being nominated for a grammy award, mind you – a gorgeous atmosphere, a gorgeous tone, and overall a gorgeous everything, this is a game that shows just how sweet, endearing, and meaningful a game can be while still being fun. It's not a game that can be fully appreciated through second-hand knowledge, definitely try it out for yourself if you have a PlayStation 3, it's worth every cent.
|Platform(s): PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network)|
And from there, we get to witness my all-time favourite of this year! A game that gave me just as strong an emotional response as Journey, but on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, and also one that made a far more profound statement on the nature of the gaming medium as it stands. Without further ado, that absolutely sublime release is…
TOP GAME OF THE YEAR
|Developer: Yager Development||I think most people on this site can agree that military shooters are stagnant and offensively tedious these days, spouting paranoid fantasies of American dominance and superiority over everyone else through sheer firepower alone, removing themselves so far from the truth of war. Which makes it a momentous occasion that this year saw the release of Spec Ops: The Line, a game of admittedly rather dull, tiresome gameplay that only aided the harshly critical socio-political commentary the game made about military shooters and the general apathy and disrespect gamers display towards the real nature and horrors of warfare. This was made effective by establishing the message as a direct personal experience with the player rather than something that we're just supposed to empathise with, allowing Spec Ops to shine as a true gem of interactive narrative.
Spec Ops is a game that, even half a year after its initial release, I'm still able to get into deep discussion about concerning the hidden meanings and clever subtleties that all went into making this the most profound gaming experience I've ever had in my sixteen years as an avid gamer. A fantastic story with a brilliant character arch illustrating the genuine mental damage and post-traumatic stress that real warfare can cause, all this is expressed through the players actions, implicitly putting forth the question of how far you're willing to go to become a hero, how far from reality you're willing to push serious world issues just to validate your need for purpose.
It might sound a bit silly when written here, but trust me, the execution is beyond description. At this point I'm gushing, but that's why this game is so fantastic; I can still keep talking about it so ardently long after its release. It's not a very fun game in the conventional sense, but being one of the most engaging and interesting video game releases ever made is more than enough to justify playing it, and it would be a great insult to the guys at Yager to dismiss Spec Ops: The Line. It's a fantastic game, and absolutely deserves to be played.
Spec Ops: The Line
|Genre(s): Third-person shooter, drama|
|Platform(s): PlayStation 3, XBox 360, Microsoft Windows|
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