Because new content is always worth posting.
Having a good December? I’m not. December is bullshit but nevermind that right now, you’ve got a list to read. GOTY lists are always subjective, just like every single opinion ever, so as always if you disagree that’s perfectly fine. But these are the games that I personally really enjoyed this year… and it’s been a fairly slim year, all things considered. Quite frankly some of these probably shouldn’t have been mentioned, but since the bar is remarkably low so far…
Note: I still haven’t properly played through Assassin’s Creed 3, so please don’t scream the house down if I haven’t included them. I’ve only played the first 5 minutes or so of AC3, so I’m not going to include it.
10: FTL: Faster than Light
I really don’t have a lot to say about FTL except that it’s a fun semi-roguelike set in space. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s quite entertaining. I don’t really know why I enjoy it so… that’s it I guess. Well done guys?
9: Crusader Kings 2
This was a surprise! Normally these grand strategy games annoy me because some of the concepts are a bit too abstract for me to get into, but this one really grabbed me. There’s your standard armies and map conquests but the real meat of the game is in the dynasty management – casting a suspicious eye over all of your courtiers, playing kingmaker where required, plotting the downfall of a hateful brother… at times it’s a bit like Game of Thrones (which is probably why someone modded it in) except that you’re somewhat directing the story. It’s a mix of history and your own will, and it’s remarkably compelling provided you have the patience for it. An exceptionally good game for anyone interested in grand strategy focusing on the people, not the armies.
8: Far Cry 3
I didn’t expect much from Far Cry 3. The first Far Cry was basically a playable techdemo with a terrible story which gave the illusion of freedom, and then Crytek abandoned Ubisoft and went off to basically make the same game as Crysis, except with North Koreans and aliens instead of mercenaries and biohorrors. The second one could have been great but fell over a bit by outstaying its welcome and having respawning guard outposts (which meant there was no real progression). FC3 fixes a lot of the problems with the second one and then some. Whether you’re quietly picking off patrolling pirates or stalking a tiger through the jungle, FC3 is a joy to play, with lots to see and do. The story is absurd, but so is needing a leopard skin or something to make a goddamn syringe holder. It’s nice to see that in a world of cover shooters and indie hipsters, there’s still someone who goes “Fuck this shit, let’s have a batshit crazy pirate capture these rich kids and burn an island to the ground!”
7: Hotline Miami
HLM is fairly polarising. Initially I didn’t want to play it because pretty much none of the reviews ever explained what the game was about. It just seemed to be a retro-themed murdergame with Nintendo-hard difficulty settings… and I hate Nintendo-hard, it’s not inventive or clever, it’s just unfair. After playing it though I really started to appreciate the game. It has a sort of enigmatic storyline going on, but unlike pretty much every other indie art game that tries to be enigmatic (and instead fails and comes off as confused, like a hipster) HLM is an actual game, that you can play and stuff, and it’s remarkably good fun. It can make you tear out your hair in frustration, but pulling off a vicious attack flawlessly feels good. The warped nightmare storyline (if you can call it that) is remarkably unsettling, and sits as a nice opposite to the gratuitous violence in the gameplay. I really can’t recommend it enough, and I usually hate these retro-style indie games. Mostly because they’re often pretentious, but also a lot of them just aren’t very good as games. Don’t have it? You’re mad.
6: Planetside 2 (Kind of)
Yeah, I’m cheating by including this, but so what? It’s my list. Planetside 2 is exciting. I never got to play the original, and now you can play this version for free if you really like. I’m not aware of many other games where you can take part in a 20-tank column with gunships clattering overhead on their way to take a biolab or something. PS2 looks like chaos at the best of times, but the remarkable thing is that it works. It really does feel like you’re all fighting a three-way war with armies clashing together at various points over the map. Is there any real purpose to your fighting? Sure, to capture territory! Why do you want it? I don’t really know, so maybe there’s a meta-commentary on war in general. Or maybe I’m just being pretentious now, like Tale of Tales or something. Um, anyway, it’s an MMOFPS with three decent-sized islands (“continents”) to fight over. Grab your rifle and get out there, the Terran Republic needs you! (Note: If you’re Vanu or NC and on Briggs, we’re enemies so I’ll have to ask you to leave right about now)
5: Borderlands 2
I’m not sure why I enjoyed Borderlands 2 more than BL1. BL1 was… tiring. I played it with a friend who wanted to run non-stop through the “story” (absolutely exhausting me in the process) and I didn’t have a lot of fun. In fact, I was bored for the majority of the time, with no feeling of progression. BL2 really doesn’t seem to do anything different, but the game world seems a bit more alive and the characters are more entertaining and feel more alive. Maybe that’s all it needed to make it feel like a better game.
4: Mass Effect 3
There are really two reasons why ME3 seems to have a low score. The first is the outrage over the Prothean DLC, which was going on before the game even released, and just goes to show how absurdly emotional and vindictive the gaming community can be. The second is that the ending wasn’t what people were expecting… which apparently means it must be given the lowest score possible even if you enjoyed the rest of the game. The thing about ME3 is that right up until the end, it’s fantastic. It brought back the good parts of ME1 while keeping the superior combat of ME2. No, I don’t care what you say, ME1’s combat was shit, it was not good, it was boring, heat management was not a good idea, the inventory was absolutely useless, ME2 was an improvement on that part. ME3 brought back weapon customisation, brought in more guns, and had a fairly strong story which was going places right up until the final segment. For all of that, it earns a place in my GOTY list.
To be honest, I’d say that Dishonored got a lot more praise simply because it wasn’t Call of Duty and not because it’s a good stealth game. Graphically it’s fairly muddy, and the stealth mechanics aren’t exceptionally fantastic (particularly once you get a few powers, at which point avoidance becomes fairly trivial if you’re patient and observant enough). But we seldom get such a game, so it’s worth encouraging these efforts even if they fall a bit short. Dishonored had an interesting game world which was different from what we normally see, along with a fairly entertaining storyline. The stealth mechanics might have been only average, but otherwise it was a good game which brought a bit of thinking back into gameplay.
2: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)
This one very nearly made the top spot, but it just lost out at the last second. Firaxis had a monumental task ahead of them to not only make something worthy of the XCOM game mechanics, but to also carry the XCOM title. Nobody else, with the exception of the Xenonauts team, have managed to come close to the original. Firaxis did an outstanding job. Yes, purists will argue that it doesn’t do X or Y like the original, and there are some missing pieces which I would have liked to have seen (like base attacks), and there are a few flaws. But the original had flaws as well, and Firaxis nailed the asymmetrical warfare and escalating conflict elements that brought the core gameplay to an entirely new fanbase. It’s an outstanding game on its own and a worthy successor to the Gollop brothers’ masterpiece. Outstanding job, fantastic fun to play, but not quite there…
1: The Walking Dead
This one was the other surprise for me. When I first heard about TWD I wrote it off as a big quick time event simulator of absolutely no gameplay value. And I guess if I’m honest, it really is all about QTEs. But what it may lack in deep gameplay mechanics, it more than makes up with storyline. Telltale Games have managed to develop attachment to the characters and the horrible situation they’re in, something that very few games ever manage to pull off. Lee is probably one of my favourite protagonists of all the games I’ve ever played. It’s quite well acted as well, though the engine’s animation support lets it down occasionally. The art style is striking with its comic-book looks. It’s thanks to the strong story and characters that an otherwise boring game can go to the top of the list. The Walking Dead is my Game of the Year.
And… some of the worst:
4: Guild Wars 2 (Kind of)
Before I get into trouble, let me clarify – GW2 isn’t really a bad game. I did have many numbers of hours of fun with it. Same with the original. But I lost interest after a while. It didn’t even manage to keep me around till level 80, I stopped somewhere around 40 or something. The problem was that I never seemed to be making any progress, and I think that’s the biggest issue with GW2’s levelling system. Yes, it’s great that I can still go around questing in the low level zones and still get decent XP. But it’s also absurd that I can be level 40 and rip into those zones, but then go back to a level 20 area and still be under significant threat. I never felt like I was getting anywhere because every zone was scaled, so there was no real progression. I totally get that it means that all the zones are viable places to go even at high levels, but I wish I could toggle it on or off. Sometimes all I want to do is go out getting crafting materials in a low-level zone, at level 40 I shouldn’t be trying to avoid or fight off level 5 Smell Beasts or something.
3: Sniper Elite V2
Granted, it’s not really a bad game, but did it really need to be made? Also for a game about sniping, you sure do spend a lot of time screwing around infiltrating bases and quietly killing people up close and not actually sniping. About all I can really say is that the body cam shots that show the internal damage look really good, but the rest of the game is pretty stale.
2: Max Payne 3 (In part)
Max Payne 3 isn’t necessarily a bad game. It’s forgettable in many ways, though it does have that hopeless despair and “no more heroes” element where everybody, even the good guys, are horrible people who frequently screw up and fail. People can complain as much as they like about cover mechanics and so on, but I have a better complaint: too many cutscenes. If you want to make a game, make a game. If you want to make a movie, make a movie. Don’t wrench me out of the game to play a cutscene that makes me feel like I should have a bag of popcorn and a drink with me. No, I’m being honest here – sometimes I’d go “Oh a cutscene? Okay, might as well go take a piss or something, it’ll be here for a while.” Endless periods of Max just thrashing about in agony gets old after a while.
1: Carrier Command
Quite simply, this was not a good release. The glimmers of hope that emerged from the public betas were quickly crushed by no apparent attempt to fix the driving AI, which entirely crippled the game and made it impossible to play. We all complained about the terrible driving AI during the beta. They did nothing, or if they did they didn’t do a very good job of it. It’s absolutely critical and they failed. It’s ironic (or perhaps telling) that the BIS name is attached to Carrier Command and to the ARMA series, which also have driving AI that can’t navigate an open field to save themselves. AI is hard, I get that, but if you can’t get it to work right on a game which desperately relies on it, then it might not be a good idea to keep working on that game. An incredibly disappointing effort which should have been so much more. For shame, guys.