My Favorite Games of 2013

January 1, 2014

2013 has been considered one of the weaker years in releases.  I suppose that’s what happens when a console generation lasts well past what it was probably supposed to.  Still, plenty of highly enjoyable games came out.  Despite the lack of big releases, indie games like Stanley Parable, Gone Home, State of Decay, Rogue Legacy and Gun Point, have me feeling less qualified to put a list up than most years.  Despite there being less AAA games out than usual, there are still plenty of games left for me to play from 2013.

10. Tearaway

“This game is charming as fuck.” pretty much sums it up for me, but there’s a lot more going on with Tearaway. Lovely art style, genuinely clever gameplay mechanics based around Vita’s functionality, and simple to do arts and crafts that directly affect the environment, it’s hard not to have a smile on your face while playing this game.

9. Super Mario 3D World

Just when I’m out, they pull me back in! Nintendo really brings it with this installment. It has a lot of things I loved from other Mario games (Princess Peach can float!), and adds much needed creativity to Mario. The worst thing I can say about this game is that I find the way Mario meows annoying.

8. Tomb Raider

This scratches that Uncharted itch for me. I enjoyed Tomb Raider despite it being a huge departure from the original series that I loved. I’m really hoping the sequel has more tombs to raid. Those were my favorite bits in this game and there simply wasn’t enough of them.

7. BioShock Infinite

It’s a fine shooter, but the game’s story is really what makes this game special for me. I really enjoyed the twisted Disney princess setup used to introduce Elizabeth and enjoyed Booker’s relationship with her quite a bit.

6. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers tells an affecting story with visuals, voice inflection, and music, despite the characters speaking gibberish. There’s no real combat to speak of here, just environmental puzzles, exploration, and platforming. One of the few games where the mechanics of the game directly ties into its narrative. One of my surprise games of 2013.

5. Saints Row IV

If you liked SR3, it’s mathematically impossible for you not to like this one. Think Saint’s Row 3 mixed with Crackdown. The comedy is still there too, totally worth picking up.

4. Metro: Last Light

Although I enjoyed Bioshock Infinite mainly for its story, Metro Last Light strikes a good balance between enjoyable gameplay mechanics and a engaging narrative. Although the game’s more interesting survival mechanics (finding gas masks, using bullets as currency as well as ammunition) takes a back seat in the sequel compared to Metro 2033, this game’s level design, story telling techniques, and satisfying shooting mechanics made it one of my favorite shooters in a very long time.

3. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Black Flag totally took me by surprise. Assassin’s Creed III’s ending left a bad taste in my mouth but this game was good all the way through. Not only did it feed my compulsion to want to collect everything in these types of games by giving you some cool extras for doing it (like shanties for your crew to sing, and treasure maps, weapons, and costumes to unlock) but the naval combat stuff has been tweaked and made a bit more full scale compared to the previous game. Oh yea, it also helps that the game looks gorgeous on next gen consoles. It even had a companion app that was well done and added quite a bit to the game. This didn’t feel like it was rushed out to make a deadline. Its polished and full of content.

2. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

This ended up being one of my favorite JRPG’s in a very long time. Not only did this help me understand why so many people like Pokemon, but it used one of my favorite animation studios Studio Ghibli to do it. I have to go back to this and do the post game activities at some point. It’s flippin’ tidy, it is!

1. The Last of Us

Poignant, well written, honest storytelling. That’s what I took away the most from this game. Being a huge stealth fan, the gameplay really spoke to me. There were entire fight sequences I avoided by using stealth. When forced to confront enemies, I felt I had the necessary tools to have a fighting chance. I loved the honesty and audacity the game’s final moments had. There are very few games that use your own life experiences to help shape how you feel about a game’s ending but I felt that TLOU did exactly that. I think those of us that have children can empathize with some of the choices Joel had to make, but very few of us would be willing to make the same choices. At the end of the day, this game isn’t about being the hero that saves the day, it’s about being human and all of what that entails…both good and bad.

 

 

Honorable Mention

10 spots just isn’t enough to highlight some of my favorite games of this past year.  Games like GTA V, Ducktales Remastered, Batman: Arkham Origins, DmC, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, and Guacamelee were among my favorites.

 

 

I Really Liked It Despite Itself

These are games that I enjoyed despite the games having problems that others might not be able to overlook.  Even games with flaws deserved a little attention!

Deadpool-  I enjoyed this game a lot more than I expected to.  The gameplay is mostly brain dead despite there being some fun aspects to the combat and shooting.  More than anything this game cracked me up.  There were a lot of bad jokes, but for every bad joke or two there was one that was genuinely funny.

Remember Me- The art direction, graphical fidelity, voice acting, and general atmosphere of this game was great.  The gameplay however was too simple.  The edit combos together to create buffs for your character was an interesting mechanic but it wasn’t fully fleshed out.  The platforming was also fairly disappointing and reminded me a lot of Enslaved where you were simply given too much direction as to where to go next.  I also found the ending to fall very flat.  You are left thinking, “That’s it?  THAT’S why all of the things in this game happened?”.

Beyond: Two Souls-  Although the story is hit and miss, there were a few moments that were genuinely well done.  The graphics in this game are among the best of this past generation.  The problem here is that the quality of the story is uneven and the although ending doesn’t fail as hard as Heavy Rain, it does stumble a bit.  I still enjoyed my time with the game despite those flaws.

 

 

I Coulda Been a Contender!

These are games that are all quality, but I just didn’t get to play enough of them to give it their due.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes-  What I did play was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to going back.  Love all the Marvel fan service.

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD-   This will be one of the games I go back to first once the next gen drought hits me (which will be soon).

 

 

Most Disappointing Game of The Year (Brought to you by Prototype)

To clarify, this isn’t “worst game” necessarily, just one that I was really disappointed with.  Only criteria that I have for this is that it has to be a game I beat so I could properly judge the game in its entirety.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance-  I can’t deny that I had fun with this game, but I was surprised by how quickly that fun wore out.  It took me about 8 hours to beat this game and it felt like it wore out its welcome 5-6 hours in.  Fun gameplay mechanics that just weren’t fun enough to carry an entire game.  


My Gravity Rush Impressions – It’s not flying, it’s falling…with style!

June 16, 2012

Although I’m still early into the game, I’ve had a chance to play GR for a few hours now and decided to write down my impressions of the game so far (I’m on Chapter 7 right now).

Pros

Graphics: It’s not the best looking game from a raw horsepower point of view because of its jaggies, but the art direction, animation, and art style are all top notch. I love the look they went for here. Its cell shaded euro-anime look is great and the comic book panel cutscenes are very well done.  The use of the gyroscope to be able to manipulate the comic book panels was a nice touch as well.

The framerate is rock solid and the game does look very pretty, can’t ask for much more.

Gameplay: The way this game uses gravity as a gameplay mechanic is pretty great. It’s not super graceful, and it’s not meant to be considering Kat doesn’t really know how to use her powers all that well. I like that flying from place to place is a little bit clunky by design. The controls during flight feel unique and non-conventional and I like the use of the gyroscopes to aim. I find myself doing the same thing I did in Uncharted: Golden Abyss where I aim the camera with the R stick for most of the aim and then use the gyroscope the rest of the way to fine tune my aim. Most of the gravity stuff feels satisfying once you get the hang of it and when you level up your powers. Gravity kicking from bad guy to bad guy feels pretty rewarding as well. You have minimal control over Kat during her actual flight, but you can stop her in mid air and change directions. I applaud SCEJ for trying something different with this game. It really gives it a unique feel.

The City: Being able to fly anywhere really makes you want to explore the city. There are a lot of nice details and architecture…not to mention gems you can collect to level up your character. You can also unlock challenges by helping to repair the city.

I’ve found the challenges to be a lot of fun although I’m holding off on trying to get gold medals in all of them until I completely level Kat up. It seems almost necessary, since I’m coming nowhere near the top goal. At least this will give the game some longevity as I get closer to beating it (I still have a while to go).

Music: The music is pretty great. It matches the visuals and mood of the game really well and there are more than a few tracks that I’ve really enjoyed so far.

Characters/Plot: I’m really enjoying the characters/story although it’s a little thin so far. One of the things I like so far is that this game totally brings the whimsy. It’s light hearted fun, and the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. It does seem like they are planting seeds, building up to when Kat finds out what’s going on. Until then, I’m having fun going with the flow.

Cons

Camera: It seems to me like right stick control of the camera can get a bit unwieldy at times. Some of it has to do with me not being used to how sensitive the right stick on the Vita can be (although I am finally adjusting to it a bit), but another reason is because the camera movement speed is way too high by default. I ended up lowering it by quite a bit to get to a point where I felt comfortable with it.

The camera also gets a little wonky if you are flying in tight spaces. Almost every game that allows you this kind of freedom of movement (namely every Spider-man game) has had this same problem so I find it hard to really take Gravity Rush to task on it.  It’s something you kind of have to work with, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Positioning During Combat: The one problem I have with gravity kicking dudes is how your flow can be completely ruined. After you gravity kick an enemy, the force of the kick makes Kat sort of backflip backwards after the attack. This is actually pretty useful because you can aim your next kick while shes doing this and then go right into another gravity kick. When done right, it feels really good and gives you a nice sense of control.

The problem is that sometimes you go backwards and end up behind a lamp post or water fountain. This breaks up the momentum you have going in because you will either kick the object instead when you attempt the kick or you have to fly to the side a little bit and completely preposition yourself.

This becomes particularly more frustrating with certain enemies that take more than one gravity kick to dispatch. I found myself getting frustrated when I aimed the first kick and then ended up behind a lamp post and couldn’t follow through with the second kick…leading to me having to re-position myself and have to find a different angle where his weak spot wasn’t concealed.

This doesn’t happen every time, and as you upgrade your gravity kick I’ve found it a little easier to avoid this, but it’s still a valid complaint.  I just thought of using the dodge manuveur to get out of the way of the way of objects as a tactic.  I’ll give it a try and edit my impressions once I see if that remedies my issue.

Gravity Slide: I will admit that perhaps it’s because I haven’t upgraded this ability very much, but I’ve found it hard to use the tilt functionality to control your slide. I think a lot of the problem comes from you being able to pan the camera up and down using tilt, causing you to become disoriented enough to throw you off if you get into it and aren’t paying attention to how you’re holding the Vita. It also doesn’t help that you jump when you gravity slide by shaking the Vita. This makes it really important that you make sure not to tilt the Vita up and down too much when you attempt a jump. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done in the heat of the moment.

Luckily, the use of this mechanic has been optional thus far. I’m hoping it will get better once I level it up.

Overall

I am really enjoying Gravity Rush so far.  Outside of a few camera quirks the game as a whole comes together and feels fresh, making it a joy to play.


My Alice: Madness Returns First Impressions

June 17, 2011

 

Shooter fatigue has set in for me.  After playing through Call of Duty Black Ops’ single player campaign amongst other various shooters, I need a break from them.  Not really being a fan of the series (and after playing some of Alice 1, not a fan of that particular game) Alice: Madness Returns was an opportunity for me to play an IP that would be new to me as well as something that doesn’t involve military cover ups or moments that promise consequences of dude bro-like proportions.

The game’s reviews have been all over the place so I didn’t know what to expect.  Initially, the game doesn’t make a big first impression from a visual perspective.  The first initial area you are in has a few muddy textures and the typical Unreal 3 jank of textures popping in and out.  A lot of that changes when you finally are outside in the streets of London.  The world substantially comes to life with vendors selling things on the street and people walking around the world doing various things.  This intro portion to the game is a slow burn for sure where you aren’t even allowed to jump, which is kind of weird for a platformer.  Still I understand the reason the approach was taken and it makes sense within the context of the story.

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to state that Alice ends up in Wonderland.  This is where the game feels like a breath of fresh air.  Just like People Can Fly and Bulletstorm before it, Spicy Horse does a wonderful job of differentiating the game’s look from what you come to expect from a game that has Unreal 3 running under its hood.  The vistas are beautiful, the art direction dark and unique, and the color palette bright and colorful.  More than anything I was impressed that they were able to give the game a dark look without feeling like something that came out of a 1990’s Todd McFarlane comic.  It’s safe to assume that the game will have a dark and “edgy” look to it simply based on the series but it does a great job of displaying that look without feeling derivative of that approach.  Despite the fact that the texture work can be inconsistent at times, the great art direction more than makes up for it.

Enough about graphics, how does the game play?  I’m happy to say that it plays nothing like Alice 1.  The game does offer a double jump with a float mechanic and it feels really good for the most part.  I didn’t have a big problem judging distances, falling, or dying repeatedly once I got used to the jump mechanics of the game.

The one issue I did come across is that the camera can be a little spotty at times, but does a better job than a lot of platformers out there.  The only time it’s given me any kind of trouble is when you are cornered by multiple enemies in a small space, but that could very well be situational since I think most games have camera problems when put in that sitation.  The game has yet to give me camera problems while platforming.

The combat in the game is streamlined and simple so far with a butcher knife for melee and a pepper grinder gun for shooting.  The lock on feature in the game is VERY generous for those that aren’t good at aiming while the game still offers you the ability to shoot manually if you enjoy lining up shots for yourself.  I found myself switching between both and enjoying them about the same.

Although the combat is on the simple side, it works great for this type of game where the combat isn’t the main focus.  The knife works nicely and you can string up a simple combo and can use a dodge maneuver to either slide behind enemies to make the killing blow, or just give yourself some breathing room if you get overwhelmed by enemies.  The pepper grinder is very effective against flying enemies as well as enemies that are off in the distance although it overheats a bit too quickly.  You can upgrade both of these weapons, so I’m assuming that a faster cool down time for the pepper grinder will be one of the upgrades.

The game does have a wealth of collectibles for you to search for between pig snouts (which help open up new paths in the environment), memories (think audio logs like in Bioshock) that help flesh out some of your backstory, bottles (which I’m honestly not sure what they do yet, LOL), and teeth (which act as the games currency to purchase upgrades).  Although it sounds like there’s an overwhelming amount of things to collect, the game hasn’t gone out of its way to tuck any of it away yet (at least not yet).

The soundtrack to the game has been really great so far.  The music fits right in the with mood and atmosphere of the game, and there’s a few tracks that stand out even now after I stopped playing the game.  Sound effects are well done and the pepper grinder has some real bass to it which gives it a good feeling of power.

I’m only a few hours in so some of my opinion could very well change, but I’m really enjoying my time with AMR.  It’s refreshing to not only play something that’s not a shooter by nature, but also something that stands out in a genre that’s not used to having M-rated games in its ranks.