That’s another year behind us. We’ve had our highs, our lows and our awkward middles. Hopefully you’ve all done things that you’re ashamed of. The reason I hope this is because, instead of living my life I have spent most of this year playing videogames. Contrary to the frankly, dodgy opinions of bitchy preteens/teenagers on message boards this actually turned out to be a great year for games and game mechanics.
On this list you will not see any ‘modern military shooters’ or populist tripe such as that. These are the game I think have been truly worthy of note this year. As such, if you think I’ve left anything out you are wrong and so are your opinions. In the words of Roger Murtaugh, “Go spit!”
10. FTL (Available on PC, Mac)
This game is not easy. In fact, even on the “easy” setting this game is far from easy. I haven’t even finished it. Usually that would preclude a game from being on a list such as this, however this game is an exception. For those not in the know, in FTL you take control of a ship on the run from a rebel fleet that is chasing you across the galaxy, going from sector to sector and encountering random events, some good, some bad.
All the while you are running your crew around the ship trying to put out fires, fight borders, shooting down enemy ships and every now and then opening the airlocks to flush people into space. It is crazy, crazy hard but that is strangely part of it’s charm. Every time I got my ship destroyed or lost all my crew I would curse and swear at the screen… but immediately start again!
And the end boss? You should find out for yourself.If you ever beat it you are either very lucky or have spent too much time playing this game. Either way, you’re a winner
9. Dishonored(Available on PS3, XBOX 360, PC)
A long time ago there was a game called Thief. It was really fun and atmospheric first-person stealth game. Then it’s sequel Thief 2: The Metal Age came along and has, since then pretty much been considered the pinnacle of the genre. I’m not saying that Dishonored has taken that honor (no pun intended) but it has done some very interesting and fun things to alter the formula in a way that makes these games relevant again. The addition of the ‘Blink’ mechanic is really what sets this game apart.
The ability to silently teleport over short distances really opens up the world and puts a variety of options in your hands that would not otherwise be available and, unlike most stealth games, when you are discovered the combat is put together well enough. This means that rather than just giving up and restarting the checkpoint because you are inevitably going to die, you can pull out a sword and slaughter your enemies in a terrible bloodbath that can, after all that sneaking around, prove to be very satisfying.
As fun as this all is though, I don’t feel I can put this game any higher on the list as there was another stealth game this year that really took the mechanics of the genre and made them seem fresh again and that game was…
8. Mark Of The Ninja (Available on Xbox Live
That’s right! Even with Dishonored’s fancy 3D environments and pointlessly all-star cast, it couldn’t quite push ahead of this magnificent 2D platormer.
Developed by Klei Entertainment, (responsible for the pretty but ultimately unsatisfying Shank) this masterpiece of game design did not immediately jump out at me as being anything special. Initially I was impressed by the visuals. They are slick and smooth, with a very distinctive art style running through the whole game, but the polish on this game goes much deeper than that.
In a lot of games where stealth is the focus, the player often finds themselves using the trial and error approach, blundering through a level once or even twice to get the lay of the land while setting off alarms and alerting guards, remembering your mistakes and then going for your “real” run through after that. In Mark Of The Ninja all of the mechanics are surfaced so well and the feedback to the player is so well expressed that it is very easy to distinguish when you are hidden, when enemies can see you and how well they can hear you.
As a result, when I was playing this game there were several occasions on my first time playing a level were I was able to meet all of the stealth criteria of not being seen, setting off alarms or killing anyone, and it wasn’t because the game is easy, it’s because the feedback was such that I had confidence in everything I was doing.
I really hope that anyone making a stealth game in future would do well to take a lesson from this game.
7. Dust-An Elysian Tale: (Available on Xbox Live
Marketplace/XBOX 360 only)
The attention this game got when it came out really pissed me off. Mainly because most of it was from negative assholes on the Internet referring to it as being “a game for furries”. This is a huge shame and unfortunately really hurt this game at it’s launch.
Yeah okay, it’s got talking animal people and it’s drawn in an anime style, but that is the end of the comparison. The combat and combo system in this game is a huge amount of fun and the “Metroid-Vania” open world and side-quests really give this game longevity, not to mention the fact that it is, stylistically speaking probably the best looking game of the year.
But the most important thing about this game, the thing that makes it being overlooked and misjudged a real shame, is that the story is truly excellent! It is much, much darker than the art style would suggest and goes in some very unexpected directions. Couple this with some of the best videogame voice acting you will probably EVER hear in an indie title and you’ve really got something special.
Do yourself a favour and check this out, it really deserves to be much more highly lauded that it has been.
6. Mass Effect 3 (Available on PS3, Xbox 360,
I can already hear the screaming and arguing and gnashing of teeth at the mere mention of this game, but it’s already been talked to death. So lets be brief.
I like Mass Effect 2. It’s probably the best game in the series, but recently someone told me that Mass Effect 3 was their favorite game in the series and I’m starting to come around to this.
The combat is excellent, the acting and script are fantastic and the set pieces were somewhat mind blowing.
Yes, okay, the way the DLC was all stuff that should have been in the game to begin with and the way the choices at the end of the game were presented was rather contrived and typical of EA milking a franchise to death, but I have to say that it’s one of the games I had the most fun with this year and that is no small compliment.
5. Journey (Playstation Network/PS3 only)
When Thatgamecompany released Flower in 2009 it sparked huge discussion in the industry about games as art and what constitute “a game”. Earlier this year those bastards did it again when they released Journey.
Never has a game been so appropriately titled. By the time you get through this game you really feel as though you have been on a journey. It’s arduous, it’s slow, it’s fast, it’s constraining yet ultimately liberating. One of the most effective “interactive experiences” that there has ever been.
Not only that, but the multiplayer was very special too. By limiting communication to a short or long chime, it completely eliminated the “random online asshole” variable that is the curse of so many online experiences. In fact, most people I played with were very helpful and one guy even took me around to show me all the little hidden secrets. It really felt like a shared experience and, at certain points in the narrative, like a shared burden.
It is nothing short of being truly unique.
4. Sleeping Dogs (Available for XBOX 360, PS3,
I thought I’d had enough of the open-world crime-games. I was wrong.
I really enjoyed GTA IV when it came out, but once it was over I didn’t really have any itch for more. Saints Row: The Third just felt empty to me and I really thought I was done. Then Sleeping dogs came along.
What made this game really interesting was that, while the Saints Row games had taken the ridiculous parts of GTA and expanded on those, taking them to their logical extreme, Sleeping Dogs went the other way. It’s gritty, it’s serious and it’s brutal. It’s a Hong Kong action movie in game form and that suits me just fine.
On top of all this the combat is just excellent. By focusing on melee and limiting the availability of firearms, it really forces you to get right up in peoples faces and beat them to a terrible pulp and it couldn’t be more satisfying. I don’t know what they’re going to do with GTA V, but I think they’d do well to take a look at this game and maybe take some lessons from it.
3. Far Cry 3 (Available for PS3, XBOX 360, PC)
When it comes to open world games it can be difficult to keep things interesting. Having a bunch of sidequests that basically amount to the same thing over and over again can really drag a game down. Far Cry 3 avoids this by setting all of these quests in a dynamic and “living” open world. I’ll give you an example:
I was walking up the road and I spied, up ahead an enemy patrol. Being low on health and having no items with which to replenish it I decided to hide in the bushes. Safely ensconced within some ferns I watched as the enemy passed by. Just then a pack of wild rabid dogs came running out from the jungle and killed the entire enemy patrol. I took off running as I knew the dogs would soon smell me and I would be done for. As I ran through the trees I came out of some bushes to be confronted by an angry bear. I very quickly chose another direction and ran very very fast, the bear hot on my heals.
Bursting out of the jungle I realised I had stumbled into an enemy outpost. Eight pirates turned and trained their guns on me only to fly into a panic as the bear burst from the undergrowth behind me. They clearly decided the bear was a bigger threat and chose to attack it instead, giving me time to run off to the top of a nearby hill and watch from afar as the bear worked it’s way from pirate to pirate, gouging, biting and killing. With one pirate left the bear finally dropped. I fired one bullet into his head with my sniper rifle from about 400 metres away. Outpost taken. Side mission complete.
That is just one example of the fun one can have with Far Cry 3. It’s a real testament to the quality of this game that, despite all of the characters you have to rescue being terrifically hateful, it somehow hold your interest and remains exciting to the end. It was tough pushing this one back to number 3 but it had to be done because…
2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Available for XBOX
360, PS3, PC)
This was, right up until a few weeks ago, my game of the year.
The original X-Com: UFO Defense was a fantastic game and many were worried at the news that it was to be updated as a first-person shooter. Luckily these fears were allayed when it was announced that none other than Firaxis, the studio made famous for their Civilization series, was handling a separate game much more in the vein of the original.
Still it was easy to see how they could have ballsed this up.
Fortunately this game turned out to be a triumph. Perfectly balancing the management of resources and time with a fantastic turn based strategy game, it was nothing short of brilliance. So many systems interplay in this game that it should feel terribly complicated but at no point did I ever feel overwhelmed, just mildly worried… constantly.
That’s the weird thing. Playing this game was really stressful, but for some reason I just couldn’t stop. Constantly afraid of losing my best units I would hold my breath when they would run around corners and scream and shout in absolute despair when one of them went down. But somehow, this was fun. It’s strange.
On top of this, I would name each of my units after one of my friends. As such, it was genuinely upsetting when one of these guys would go down. This probably just means I’m emotionally disturbed and socially starved but who isn’t…?
Anyway, there isn’t much story to this game but that doesn’t really matter because there’s just enough to tie the whole thing together and that’s all you really need. This factor holds it in the stark contrast to the top game on this list;
1. The Walking Dead (Available on Xbox Live
Marketplace, Playstation Network, PC, Mac,
A lot of people might question putting this on the top spot, arguing to what extent this is a “game” or if it counts as interactive fiction. The assumption that there is a separation between these two things is false. A text adventure on a ZX Spectrum is still a game. And what a game this is.
By the time I got to the end of the final episode I felt truly affected, in a way I had only previously experienced through books and films.
The greatest thing achieved by this game is the illusion of player agency. All the way through I was convinced that much of the terrible things that were happening were somehow my fault. They may not have been, but the important thing is that I believed it.
But not only did I believe it, I accepted it.
Unlike most games, if I didn’t get the result I wanted, I didn’t just load my last save and try again. I kept going. I let the chips fall where they may because, despite the fact that perhaps things didn’t go as I wanted them, the tone of the whole experience was such that it always just felt as if that the very human mistakes being made were what the whole thing was about.
This skillful writing is what really sets this game apart from every other modern adventure game out there. It’s been something of a tough journey for Telltale, given that most of the lessons that led to this game being so good were learned from the rather terrible Jurassic Park game, which came out late last year, so it’s good that they were able to pull something like this out of the bag when they really needed it.
I have always been a huge fan of adventure games and this has become the benchmark in the Genre by which all subsequent games will be judged. And rightly so!
These are games that may have made this list but for reasons of misfortune or just plain space in the top 10, did not.
Tokyo Jungle (Playstation Network/PS3
This game is completely nuts! It’s a hunting survival game in which you take control of a variety of animals attempting to survive in Tokyo shortly after the human race has “disappeared”. Dealing with hunger, predators and breeding it’s just damn weird, but hugely fascinating. I haven’t quite played it enough to feel comfortable putting on the main list and it’s esoteric as all hell, but I would really recommend this to anyone who wants to try something a bit different. Also, there is a story mode that is just completely mental.
Fez (Xbox Live Marketplace)
On it’s face, this seems like a 2D platformer with an interesting 3D shifting mechanic, but those with the will to sit down with a pad and paper and decode whats really going on in this game will find themselves falling down the rabbit hole and ultimately having a more rewarding and deeper experience than pretty much anything else out there. Again, this is one that I haven’t yet put quite enough time into to put on the main list, but I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wants something a hell of a lot deeper from their “retro” platformer. A true electronic masterpiece.
Hotline Miami (Available for PC, soon on
Mac. Possible console release planned)
This is an odd one. It’s a top down action game, but also kind of a puzzle game and also a sort of feverish nightmare. It is unforgiving in it’s brutality and has a plot that ends up being a lot deeper and darker than it initially seems. It’s available on Steam at the minute for £5.24 and is totally worth the asking price. Go traumatise yourself.
Puzzle Agent 2 (Available for PC, I-Pad,
Very much a “Professor Layton” -style game, it’s strengths lie in it’s humor and charm more than anything else. The puzzles are fun and interesting though they may not be as varied as you’d like but I would highly recommend it for the story and humor alone. Though you should really play the first game before delving into this as they are essentially one story. A fantastic little game.
Well, there you go. Those were the best games that came out this year. Call Of Duty and Halo 4 did not get a look in on this list and that’s fine. They’ll get theirs on a thousand other ones that are kicking around at the minute or will be springing up over the next few days. They don’t impress me. You’re very welcome to disagree with this list as you please, but know this: If you miss any of these games I believe you are missing out. Here’s to another year of great games, moral quandaries and less bitching on the Internet (not holding my breath for that one).Tags: dishonoured, far cry 3, mass effect 3, sleeping, walking dead