(Well, here we are, at the end of the recap road as far as commentaries go; since this was last year I don’t know if I’ll have too much to say about this commentary, but we’ll never know until we get into it.)
Mark B.’s Top Ten
2.) XCOM: Enemy Within
3.) Metro: Last Light
4.) Saints Row IV
5.) Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
6.) Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
7.) Dead Rising 3
9.) Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
10.) Dead Space 3
(This list, on reflection, is still generally fine as is, though I haven’t really gone back and played anything that came out in 2013 as of yet. I find that I’ll probably have more of a retroactive opinion of 2014 when I go and play some things, rather than 2013, because fuck me if I can remember anything that came out last year. 2014 at least has stuff like Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 that I need to spend more time with.)
2013 wasn’t really a year that had me chomping at the bit to play a lot of games. While I certainly had some personal concerns that made it harder to focus on gaming than I’d have liked, (Getting old sucks.) the simple reality came down to the fact that a lot of the games that came out this year didn’t really work for me. The Xbox 360 had an abysmal year for exclusives, (Which was also a running trend for 2014, though the PS3 and PS4 didn’t do much better. At least the Xbox One had Sunset Overdrive.) most of the PS3 exclusives that came out weren’t things I was immediately into, and the console that pretty much unarguably had the best year, the 3DS, saw a lot of amazing releases that simply weren’t speaking to me at any point. (See last recap’s comment about handhelds.) That’s not to say that I didn’t play plenty of games I had fun with, because I certainly did, as noted above. It’s more a point of noting that, while in previous years I’ve had difficulty pairing down my list to ten games, this year wasn’t very difficult at all, and while in previous years I’ve wanted to gush a bit over the games I eliminated, this year… not so much. Still, there were some plenty interesting games that I did have the chance to play, and while I don’t have a list that’s six pages long of games I loved in some way, the games that did make my list were games I absolutely loved quite a bit (for the most part). (When I get done with college work, I tell you what, I’m going to spend a month just playing old shit.) Even if this wasn’t the year of a thousand and one amazing games for me personally, there was plenty of joy to go around, and really, that’s probably enough.
The Dead Space series, while not EA’s most fiscally lucrative series they produce, has generated some consistently solid games (well, in the core series anyway), taking the mechanics of Resident Evil 4 and cross-breeding them with the concepts of Event Horizon, but this was the first year where one of the games really surpassed Capcom’s survival horror cash cow. Dead Space 3 went in a more action-oriented direction from that of its predecessors, but did so in a way that was surprisingly interesting, between its online co-op that didn’t force the player to lug around an idiotic AI partner and its interesting weapon building systems. On its own, the game doesn’t quite hit the mark for those who were hoping for something more horror-oriented, especially after Dead Space 2 set the bar so high, but with the Awakened expansion pack it more than made its mark as both an action game and a horror game, and that gave it enough of a push to make the list after it came out at the beginning of the year. While EA might not be looking too heavily into making a sequel after the poor performance of Dead Space 3 at retail (They’re re-purposed Visceral to a new project, but they’re claiming the brand is still an important one; I’d say that once EA gets the games on their sub service we might see something new announced, but for now it’s probably on hiatus for a while.), I, for one, hope they don’t give up on the series just yet, as it’s clear the franchise is coming into its own, and there’s room for at least one more release in the series, if nothing else, which is reason enough to give it one more kick at the can.
I’m certainly one of the biggest Monster Hunter advocates on staff, so Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was almost certainly going to make its way onto my list in some form or fashion. To be honest, it probably would have been a lot higher up had the 3DS version offered standalone online play or if the Wii U version hadn’t been an upscaled version of the 3DS version, which will hopefully be resolved when Capcom decides to localize Monster Hunter 4 for the US market (I prefer to be optimistic, shut up). (They did indeed announce it not too long after this, and it should be coming out in March. Though now I’m also kind of hoping we’ll see a console Monster Hunter on PS4 or Xbox OnHAHAHA no seriously PS4, because Japan. Also God Eater 2 on Vita in the US sometime in 2015.) As it stands now, however, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is basically the best possible version of Monster Hunter to come to the US to date, so it’s hard to not be pleased with the experience to one extent or another. (Being able to play it with all of my friends would be nice.) The variety of monsters in the game is pretty fantastic, featuring both newcomers and old hands to the series, and the game is a massive amount of fun to play with a full team of hunters on board. The wonky bowgun mechanics from Monster Hunter Tri have been done away with as well, and the weapon variety and count has been massively increased as well, so even if you own Tri you’ll find this to be an excellent upgrade all in all. If you’re not on board with picking up a Wii U at all this might not be the franchise release you’ve been waiting for as the PSP titles made it much easier to play with long distance friends, but for those who have or want a Wii U, this is one of the best games available for it so far, and if nothing else, picking it up might be the push Capcom needs to make that Monster Hunter 4 announcement we’ve been waiting for. One can hope anyway. (It’s good to want things.)
It’s not often that a console debuts with a must-have title at launch; while there are often cases where a console launches with a GOOD game in its library, awesome “must have” launch titles are harder to come by. (Off the top of my head, starting from the fourth console generation, Sega didn’t have one on anything but 32X with Doom, while Nintendo had Super Mario World; the Saturn had Panzer Dragoon, I GUESS, while the N64 had Super Mario 64; the Dreamcast had one of the strongest launches ever with Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur AND House of the Dead 2 off the top of my head, while Microsoft had Halo and Nintendo had… uh, Luigi’s Mansion, I GUESS; and finally, the Xbox 360 had Condemned: Criminal Origins unless you’re Lee Baxley, and the Wii had The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. For those asking, “What about Sony?” well Sony has never had a must-have game release in three fucking console generations at launch, motherfucking EVER, and I almost had a goddamn heart attack when the PS4 actually broke that fucking trend.) Surprisingly, both Sony and Microsoft managed to make that happen with their launches this year, though in an interesting turn of events, Sony’s must have title wasn’t a physical release, but digital shooter RESOGUN. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that a big part of the appeal comes from Sony offering the game up as a free title for those who signed up for Playstation Plus; since you need the service to go online with the Playstation 4 Sony didn’t really need to make that kind of goodwill gesture, and that’s a big point in their and the game’s favor. Even without the free price tag, however, RESOGUN is one of those rare shooters that reinvents the genre without stripping away things that make the genre fun… or becoming another bullet hell experience, for that matter. Combining elements of Smash TV and Choplifter with two different types of enemy destroying super weapons and a boost for dodging bullets/killing enemies, RESOGUN is surprisingly addictive, and the game is quite accessible to players of all skill levels. To say it’s the best game available on the PS4 might be debatable depending on your tastes, but to say that it’s one of the best available certainly shouldn’t be, and if you’re aiming to pick up a PS4, this is one of the first games you should aim to pick up. (A year later that’s honestly still mostly true if we’re talking exclusives, and that’s a goddamn shame.)
On the other side of the launch competition, Dead Rising 3 is Microsoft’s must have launch title, which has less to do with its price point and addictiveness and more to do with its technical capabilities and the sheer insanity of the experience. While Resident Evil, as a series, has been kind of all over the place (overall and recently), Dead Rising generally tends to be more consistent with its releases, and Dead Rising 3 is no exception. Yes, it’s about a zombie outbreak in a large area. Yes, it’s notably easier than other releases in the series. Yes, it still has a lot of the same Dead Rising flaws the series is known for. That said, it’s honestly one of the best written Capcom games… probably ever if we’re being honest… (It’s a sad but true point: the best written Capcom games are always the ones that weren’t written by anyone working at Capcom.) and any game that lets you create an armored tank out of a car and a backhoe, drive it through town, then jump out and start beheading zombies with a weapon made from a Chinese dragon mask, a katana, a gas can and an umbrella basically will never stop being fun to me. If you don’t find any part of that sentence enjoyable, that’s fine, but I don’t think we play video games for the same reasons, and that’s kind of depressing. (Sunset Overdrive kind of makes an argument that there are at least some contenders for “best game on the console,” and Microsoft does have a bunch of realistic racing games available if you like that sort of thing which I’m told are rather good, so they’re not quite in the hole as much as Sony. 2015 promises a shitload of good Sony exclusives, though, so it’ll be interesting if nothing else.)
I’ll admit, I’d pretty much given up all hope that the Leisure Suit Larry series was going to get the chance to go out gracefully after Box Office Bust, and with good reason: it sucked out loud. (That’s a charitable description.) Never let it be said that there isn’t room for hope, however, as Replay Games picked up the license when the option came available, then did the unthinkable by hiring back franchise creator Al Lowe, getting together some cash, and actually making a Larry game that didn’t suck. While Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded was essentially just a remake of the first game with updated visuals and voice acting, to me, it was honestly great to just see that the franchise wasn’t going to go out on the brown note that was Box Office Bust, and that Al was finally given the chance to do something with the license one more time. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means; the need to earn money to progress was still a little silly, the modified puzzle solutions didn’t add much to the game and the added content was kind of mean spirited to be honest, which is why the game is in the bottom half of the list. Honestly, though, the game did almost everything I could have hoped for: it made me laugh out loud several times, gave Al Lowe one more chance to shine, and reminded me why I loved the series so much even after all the crap that had come out in its name. Even if this is the only Leisure Suit Larry game to come of the Al Lowe/Replay Games partnership, and even if Larry never sees another new game again, Reloaded was one last good kick at the can, and if nothing else, I can be happy about that much. (Robert Hubbs actually got us the opportunity to sit down and talk with Al for a bit after the fact, and while he obviously didn’t get into the specifics of the dissolution of the relationship between him and Replay Games, it’s apparent that he won’t be going back and is perfectly happy in retirement. It’s a shame too, since the big scandal coming out of Replay games, that CEO Paul Trowe apparently showed a sex video to a minor, seems less like Trowe is a child predator and more like he’s just a dumbass, Lowe made it apparent, without details, that this incident was not the only, or even primary, reason for his departure. It’s especially a shame since, with the announcement of a new King’s Quest, Sierra is officially back, but none of the people who made the company what it was are involved. I’m glad they’re retired and happy in that position, but as someone who grew up on their games it kind of sucks to see the industry just… go on.)
I know that, for most people, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the first game and Outlast, but I’m honestly not most people, and I thought that A Machine for Pigs was the best game of the lot. Jump scares don’t do a lot for me, personally; if a game can scare me with one, more power to it, but I generally get taken out of games easily and a jump scare can only do so much if I know that dying isn’t going to accomplish much. Because of that, games like Outlast don’t really have the intended effect on me, since I end up being less “scared witless” and more “annoyed that I’m training a conga line through the stage,” which is probably why A Machine for Pigs resonated with me more than anything else. (I actually uploaded a video to my Youtube account where I set a several minute long “chase scene” from Outlast to Yakety Sax, and even watching it now, it’s still so fucking frustrating. I honestly cannot understand how people were okay with this game; I streamed it in two sessions and by the end literally no one watching along with me liked the game anymore. I just don’t get it.) Honestly, the underlying metaphor in the story of pigs needing a machine to act as their God and how it played into the events of the game was interesting to me, even after I understood what it meant and how it came together, and the story told here ended in a way I appreciated more than, say, Outlast. (That is to say, the games ended in a similar fashion, but I appreciated the way it was handled in A Machine for Pigs more than Outlast.) I didn’t miss the inventory puzzles in the least, since removing them gave me the chance to really appreciate what was going on and why things were the way they were, and the plot resonated a lot more than it did in the prior games in the series because, when I got the chance to think about it, it didn’t seem stupid. If you were scared off from A Machine for Pigs because people seemed to be disappointed in it, you should really go back and give it another look; while it might not have the “I’m going to run out of fuel and die in this dark hole,” scares its predecessor had, it’s honestly still a great game despite (and to me, because of) that.
Saints Row IV, in any other year, would have easily taken the top spot on this list, because it was such an incredible amount of fun that I still kind of want to go back and play it some more, even though I’ve done almost everything one can do with it. I don’t really care much for the standard sandbox game something like GTA5 represents; I don’t care how well the narrative is structured, I need more than the standard genre tropes to really keep me interested. Saints Row IV absolutely has that “non-standard” setup going on in spades, between the plot that cares not even a little bit about being award winning or sensible and the insane super powers it gives you that completely remove the need to use cars or, well, anything else really. (Basically I just can’t do normal GTA anymore; it’s fine that people still like that formula, but for me, it’s excessive and boring as often as not, especially if I have to drive everywhere and your driving mechanics feel like they should be a punishment at Gitmo. I need something weird, like being a high school kid or a superhero or something, in order to get into the game, because otherwise it’s just the same shit I’ve played five times now, no matter how great your plot claims it is.) It’s nice that the game lets you play the way you feel most comfortable, sort of like Crackdown but with a much better sense of humor about it, and the game has a real personality and style to it that not many games can lay claim to. I mean the sing-along driving sequences, the numerous references to pop culture, the jokes that stand alone on their own merits and the sheer insanity of the game make it easy to love, and being able to give an alien the Stunner or nuke the city with a fistdrop ain’t bad either.
It seems fitting, though, that the game Deep Silver saved from extinction that I would’ve put as my top game in any other year should, itself, be beaten out for a spot by another game that Deep Silver saved from extinction that I would’ve put as my top game in any other year, which is why Metro: Last Light just barely edges into third place. I love post-apocalyptic fiction in general, and Metro 2033 was one of the best games in the genre, mostly because it took the concept and ran like crazy with it. Garbage guns, polluted wastelands, living in the subway tunnels because there is no other possible life, the game had everything I could’ve wanted and more, and it’s no surprise that the sequel did just as much to advance the concept as its predecessor and then some. The Metro feels a lot more like a real world this time around, and the gameplay mechanics work a lot better overall, even if the mystery of the first game is exposed a bit in this installment. (Anita Sarkeesian also shit on this game for having strippers in it, which is like… okay? It’s Russia. They fucking send women to Siberia for petty crimes now. I mean I get what you’re saying but sometimes that story is going to mirror reality, a little bit, and you need to pick your battles instead of shoveling everything with tits in it into a fucking video.) Artyom’s relationship with the little Dark One you meet is endearing enough to carry the plot, even with much of the mystery of the world exposed, and the expansion of the political environment and the major players in it adds a lot of personality to the world that the first game only touched on. Hopefully there will be many more entries into the franchise from here, if only because there’s so much more that could be done with the world, but even if that isn’t the case, Deep Silver did us a solid by making sure this game could come out, at least, and I can’t really ask for a lot more than that. (Pretty sure they’re working on a sequel, but they’ve just released HD, relatively speaking, versions of both games, so if you can get them on the cheap I recommend it.)
It’s not even a question that XCOM: Enemy Within would make my list in general; given how much I loved the original game, a release that expands the content provided while keeping what made the original so great is obviously going to end up on my list at the end of the year no matter what. It’s still amazing, though, how much the game is improved by the additional content, as everything that was added to the game makes it feel like a bigger, better experience in every possible respect. Sure, there are the big changes, like feuding with a faction of humans in addition to fighting the alien hordes, or the expanded alien roster, or the ability to build Mech Troopers and augment existing troops in new and exciting ways. The little changes make the game really feel like a new experience too, though, like the ability to award Medals that improve your troops, or the ability to choose the language your team members speak in when you’re directing them, and every little bit really helps the game a lot. Honestly, anyone can just add on DLC or release an expanded version of a game and call it a day, but Firaxis really went the extra mile with Enemy Within, and I respect the hell out of that. It might not be a whole new game, but it’s pretty damn close, and it does everything I would have wanted an expansion pack to do, and more. (Nothing to add here; you can make giant robot troops for crying out loud, what else could I say to that?)
Honestly, though, the only reason that Enemy Within didn’t take the top spot on my list this year is because I spent far more time and effort playing Terraria, and it would’ve seemed unfair to give it anything but top honors because of that. While the PC version came out a while ago, the console version only launched this year, and in both cases, I’d essentially ignored the game entirely because it didn’t really speak to me from everything I saw about it. It took J. Rose basically shoving a controller into my hand and making me play it to finally get me to understand what the game was all about, and once he did, that was basically it. I find that the console version is the version of the game that really does it for me, mostly because playing with the controller makes my life a lot easier, especially where combat is concerned, but honestly, the combat isn’t really what makes the game so amazing. (Because it sucks, honestly.) No, what really drew me into the game is the ability to basically build whatever the hell I wanted however the hell I wanted to do it, to the point that I built a glass bridge across my world, which I then connected to the floating islands on it, on which I built different castles out of rare blocks, just because I could. While more developers are starting to see what the big deal is, as Starbound shows, and while Minecraft is the “big” thing as far as this sort of game goes, to me, Terraria is basically a game I’m going to keep coming back to for years simply because it does what it does very well, and in a way that I’m not likely to tire of it anytime soon. Well, until Terraria 2 comes out anyway. (They patched the console version, which I discovered about two months after putting it down when the Vita version was given away free via PS Plus, and suddenly we were all back in again. I put it down again, and then the Xbox One version came out and whoops I just lost a month again. I’ve thankfully managed to put it down for the third time, and hopefully it’ll stay put down until Terraria 2 comes out, but they keep promising another patch sometime soon…)