Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Year in Review, 2013!

Happy New Year! Before we start looking ahead at what awaits us in the gaming world of 2014, let's look back and see what we've already done! I've compiled a list of the games I finished in 2013, with maybe a few thoughts about each one. So what exactly was I up to in 2013?

Resident Evil: Director's Cut (PSN)
Resident Evil 2 (PSN)
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (PSN)
For Christmas I had received the Resident Evil Anthology, which included vouchers for digital copies of REs 1-5 and RE6 on the disk, so I rang in the New Year with PSN versions of the first three. Tank controls aside, these held up pretty well, though the randomized puzzles in RE3 are still a slog to this day.

Spec Ops: The Line (PS3)
This game received a lot of praise for its storytelling and for its unflinching look at the horrors of war, but as a result most of the experience wasn't terribly surprising. It also makes you take actions that you, as the player, know you shouldn't be taking, and then delights in telling you the horrible things you shouldn't have done. Reasonably effective even so.

Resident Evil 4 HD (PSN)
It's the best Resident Evil, and now it's even sharper. For being such a long game, the action flows incredibly and the variety is just great. After this game, Leon can stand toe-to-toe in the pantheon of RE greats like Chris and Jill. He's still no Barry, though.

Dishonored (360)
This one was a surprise, and the game most like Thief: The Dark Project I've played in years. The world was fascinating, and the wide-open levels with multiple sneaking routes through them gave me happy memories of Lord Bafford's Manor and Cragscleft Prison. The 'infiltrating the party' mission in this game was even better than the similar one in Thief 2: The Metal Age.

Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (PC)
Early in the year, I thought I might try playing through all of the Ultimas, as I'd never completed them before. This first one was quite good in a 'history of videogaming' sort of way, limited in the sort of ways you might expect: no set dungeons, for instance -- every dungeon you enter is randomized on entry, even when you leave and come back in. There's a peculiar space combat game halfway through this one, but the version I got on ran it well and I was able to proceed; other versions of Ultima I've tried through the years always got stuck at that section.

Quest For Glory: So You Want to Be A Hero (PC)
This was the VGA version, with clay figure style animation for the characters. It's the one I grew up with, and it's still a great experience.

Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress (PC)
Just terrible. I slogged through this one with the aid of a walkthrough and it was still a tremendous pain. Whenever Richard Garriott claims to be the best game designer in the world and that no one else knows how to do it, I wish someone would remind him that he's responsible for Ultima 2. If there were a Director's Jail for games like there is for movies, he'd still be in there, maybe with time off for good behavior (and Ultima 4). I started the third game in the series after this one, but the poor taste of Ultima 2 lingered and you won't see it on this list.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3)
I'm a huge Metal Gear fanboy and even I didn't expect this to be that good, but it's phenomenal. Short and sweet, but very gratifying swordplay and crazy over-the-top action. It has the most ridiculous soundtrack, but the songs for every boss fight are just amazing, and the way it layers the vocals on top when you reach certain stages in each fight is brilliant and really gets the blood pumping. A very strong contender for my Game of the Year, if I really sat down to think about it.

Resident Evil 6 (PS3)
This game had been patched a few times before I got around to playing through it, so many of the complaints I've seen online had been fixed already. Not all of them; it's still a very flawed game in many respects, but there's certainly a ton of game here. If anything there's just too much of it -- everything wears out its welcome long before you're done with it. Four different campaigns of roughly eight to ten hours each, and you need to play them all to really understand the story. Capcom went absolutely bonkers with making content for this thing, and I do feel bad that it was received so poorly: it's not like they didn't try. No, I think the problem with RE6 is that they tried and tried and tried and just didn't manage to execute it that well. I enjoyed my time with it and there's a good list online of the order to play all the chapters in if you want to see the whole story in roughly chronological order, which I think is interesting. "A spectacular failure, but not a failure of spectacle," - Level-Minded Lys.

Bioshock Infinite (360)
This would have been more interesting as an RPG, I think. The shooting really drags it down and the story doesn't go anywhere surprising. I wasn't as infatuated with Elizabeth as some others were; she's no Alyx Vance, though Ken Levine really, really wants her to be.

Mega Man (3DS)
Mega Man 2 (3DS)
Mega Man 3 (3DS)
Did you know you can download Mega Man games on your Nintendo 3DS? I discovered it and played through some of them!

The Bouncer  (PS2)
I didn't play this at release, but I remember all the talk about how short it was. I had no idea it was *this* short, however. Done in about two hours, this one felt awfully ephemeral. It's tough to believe this was a graphical powerhouse at the time, or that it came from the House of Final Fantasy.

Sonic Adventure  (XBLA)
I spent a lot of this year catching up on games I never played the first time, but always wanted to experience. Playing this port of Sonic's early attempts at 3D reaaaaally made me appreciate the hedgehog's more refined, modern games.

Sonic Generations  (3DS)
I only have a couple physical retail games on my 3DS (decided to go mostly digital), but this is the one that I usually keep locked and loaded. It's not as good as its big brother on the consoles, but it does provide a really solid portable Sonic experience. The last boss is awful, though, and it's the sort of fight that means you can get stuck and have no idea how to progress: it feels like you're doing everything right, but it just doesn't work. I eventually had to look up what I was doing wrong. A sad blemish on an otherwise solid game.

Dead or Alive 5  (360)
I've always liked the ridiculous storylines in fighting games, and this one doesn't disappoint. It turns out that taking the approach to campaign from the new Mortal Kombat and transplanting it into other fighting games works just as well, as long as you don't mind playing more than one character throughout the story. Works great here.

Resident Evil: Revelations  (3DS)
This was one of the first 3DS games I played that felt like it could have been a full-blown console release, and what do you know? HD ports of it appeared this year as well, so I wasn't alone in thinking that. It's a surprisingly long and effective Resident Evil, and Raid Mode provides a lot of grindy fun too.

The Last of Us  (PS3)
The Walking Dead, Season One  (XBLA)
Two "zombie" games, and though the zombies are quite different, the emotional beats they tackle are similar and extremely well-done in both. I wrote about The Last of Us earlier. As for Season One of The Walking Dead, just know that of the comic and the TV show, the videogame seems to be the very best Walking Dead related media.

King's Quest I  (PC)
King's Quest II  (PC)
I wrote about these as well! They were fun to revisit.

Sonic and the Black Knight  (Wii)
This game is supposed to be terrible, isn't it? Well, I'm here to report that yes, it is sort of terrible, but for some reason (change of pace? Bargain-basement price? Low expectations? Take your pick!) I really enjoyed the experience and played a ton of it. The controls are pretty awful: you waggle the Wiimote to swing the sword that Sonic wields in this one, which means that you end up swinging your arm for most of the level. There's very little of the usual Sonic trappings (no Robotnik, though there are some short remixed levels that contain old-school enemies and spring-boards you can unlock if you play enough). Boss fights are terrible too. But the music is fantastic, possibly one of the best Sonic soundtracks in years, and while the graphics are Wii-muddy, some of the level themes are visually pretty interesting. It's by no means one of the "good" 3D Sonics (Sonic Generations, Sonic Colors, and... not sure I'm ready to put Sonic Lost World here yet), but I still had fun with it.

Bayonetta  (360)
Finally got around to getting through this! Very enjoyable, with crazy bosses and over-the-top ridiculousness in every level.

Saint's Row IV  (PS3)
Speaking of ridiculous, I also finished Saint's Row IV. It's the best Matrix game ever.

New Super Mario Brothers U  (WiiU)
The big discovery of this game was how much my four-year-old daughter Naomi loved to play too. Her familiarity with touch screens (via her mama's iPhone or my iPad or even her own LeapPad) meant that she could use the WiiU Gamepad to create platforms for Mario very intuitively. For daddy it was a very fun (if familiar) experience, much like the NSMB games on DS and 3DS, but a little bigger in scope and more polished.

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse HD  (XBLA)
A fun stroll back down memory lane. Not essential, but a good way to spend an afternoon. I believe the company was shut down either immediately after or shortly before this was released, but I would have loved for these guys to take a crack at Quackshot, my favorite Sega Genesis Disney game.

Steamworld Dig  (3DS)
I loved this on 3DS, and it's apparently out now on other systems. It's a good "exploring deep for minerals to get more money to explore even deeper" sort of game, and it has robots. Lots of fun, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it actually has a story to tell. I wish an endless mode with random challenges unlocked when you finished. Maybe in a sequel!

Grand Theft Auto V  (360)
This one's a behemoth. Ridiculously massive, with stuff to see and do absolutely everywhere. Some of Rockstar's attempts to shock you feel as obvious as they have in past games, but I really enjoyed the story in GTA5 - the setup and execution of the heists, in particular, was really interesting and well-done. A stunning game with memorable characters, but by this point in the series you really have to know what you're in for. If you're not a fan going in, you most likely won't be a fan going out.

Beyond: Two Souls  (PS3)
Sonic Colors  (Wii)
Injustice: Gods Among Us  (360)
Ryse: Son of Rome  (XBONE)