Well, I did it again. I named an independent game that hasn’t officially released as our pick for Game of the Year. The last time I did this was a few years back for a little title a few of you might have heard about since: Minecraft. Now I’m not saying that we had anything to do with Notch’s little Lego survival game going on to to sell in excess of 35+ million copies, but… yeah, I TOTALLY did that
This year marks the first time we awarded an M rated title GOTY. Frankly, I felt a little better about doing it before I wrote up that disclaimer at the end. Good thing the post was mostly done by the time I got there otherwise I might have changed my mind.
As for the other titles in the Game of the Year deliberations, Papers, Please and Asphalt 8 were running neck and neck right up to the end. Papers, Please’s thought provoking setting and moral dilemmas married with a wholly original type of puzzle game pressure and capped off with one of the most nail-bitingly intense endings ever certainly puts it in a class of its own.
On the flip side, Asphalt 8 saw mobile juggernaut Gameloft finally come into their own with an expertly crafted racing game that provides the most high-flying and thrilling smash ‘em up racing action on the platform. Smartphones have secretly become an outstanding platform for racing games in recent years and Asphalt 8 zooms to the head of the pack with a stunning riff on the arcade racer that gamers haven’t seen since Burnout 3. THIS is how I like my racing games: High speeds, big jumps, licensed cars, beautiful crashes, and eight-way multiplayer. Was a buck, now it’s free.
As for the rest of the gaming landscape, I’m sure anyone who follows the hobby is familiar with the 2013’s holy trinity of Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Grand Theft Auto V. All of these titles shown so very brightly, especially in a year light in big releases and loaded with far too many broken ones. GTA5 in particular demonstrated such a remarkable amount of care in its production and delivered a revolution in its storytelling and audio design that it redefined state of the art for open world games. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anyone passing GTA5 by as GOTY. I even heard one critic apologizing for picking it as game of the year explaining, “It’s like the new Ferrari. You tell everyone it’s awesome and they’re like ‘Duh, of course it is.’” Still, for someone like myself who rather hated GTA4 and most of Rockstar’s productions since (Red Dead, L.A. Noire), GTA5 was quite a surprise.
Oh, and that Xcom: Enemy Within expansion: Tres magnifique! The extra goodies provided finally gives some tactical flexibility to a game that was just a tad too balanced for its own good. Most players will probably want to bump the difficulty up a notch to compensate for the deadliness of the new toys though. I still wish I wasn’t forced to use a gamepad on the PC version due to their console styled menus that feel flat-out wrong with a mouse, but it is a small price to pay for this excellent tactical adventure.
As an extra little nugget of Mature gaming, allow me to recommend Path of Exile. This free-to-play Diablo clone out Diablos Diablo at every turn. Everything from the original setting of a penal colony where bartering items takes the place of currency to the massive spider web of a passive skill tree to the ability to program your weapons and armor using gems is simply beyond belief. After playing it I wouldn’t mind seeing Blizzard’s franchise referred to as Path of Exile clones. It is a must play for anyone who fancies (or is curious about) a point-n-click action-adventure. Also, PoE is ridiculously free. They don’t even charge for inventory slots. Buy some of those cosmetic items, will ya? These guys deserve to eat.
Finally, DmC: Devil May Cry certainly deserves a hat tip. Ninja Theory's reimagining of the PS2 classic spectacle fighter is a wonder to behold and a joy to play. The execution of a two color weapon system is perfectly integrated into both the fighting and platforming sequences adding an easily read layer of depth that goes beyond the usual combo memorization of this genre. And the boss fights… OMG, DmC! Unfortunately, this style of game seems to have fallen out of favor with the masses and the title’s fanbase were quick to deride it for making the franchise’s main man a… well, douchebag. They never got to see that Dante being a d-bag is kinda the whole point of the story as DmC tells the character’s coming of age story. If you are a vet looking to try this one, make sure to max the difficulty. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The year to come fills me with trepidation for the first time in a long while. 2013 was a year when I felt critics coming dangerously close to pronouncing gameplay irrelevant in the light of a good story. The Last of Us illustrates this exceptionally well, While a fantastic game, I believe that many of it’s major gameplay flaws were simply glanced over in light of the exceptional storytelling. GTA5’s main story missions relying heavily on a ‘go here and press a button while we talk’ motif is another troubling sign. Of course, there are far worse trends on the horizon.
Did you notice just how much stuff didn’t work this year? Megapublisher EA released and apologized for not one, not two, but THREE releases this year (Sim City, Battlefield 4, and NBA Live 14). Ashes Cricket 2013 not only missed the cricket season but was pulled from Steam shortly after release for being an complete train wreck. The Xbox One is 100% non-functional without first being connected to the Internet for patching. Sony’s new Playstation fares only slightly better with major functionality, like movie playback, being impossible without the system first phoning home.
I wish that was the only doom and gloom I saw getting out of hand. Free-to-play style microtransactions are popping up in many full priced releases. Season passes for DLC don't actually include the full season of DLC anymore. “Early access” games are now released en masse with no checks or controls for quality and no guarantee of the final product ever living up to its promises. Stable, established companies are using Kickstarters for funding.
The motto for 2014’s gamers should be caveat emptor. That and early adopters are suckers.
Of course I won’t remember any of this when I queue up for the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset
It’s nice to talk to you folks again. We love ya! Thanks for reading.