Game of the year 2014

2014 was not a year in which I found it easy to find interesting games to play. When I changed jobs in August my gaming habits changed, from previously being predominantly a console gamer, I edged closer to the PC with my steam account receiving increasing amounts of activity. That said, the joy of Steam is discounts on older games and so I only played 5 games that came out in 2014. This small list is partly down to frugality, however, I also think that the year represented a weak year in gaming. The new consoles were finding their feet and it appeared that the market was fairly barren. 2015 looks interesting, it looks to be the year that the new consoles (PS4 and XboxOne could finally begin delivering. It also looks like this could be the year that Nintendo’s consoles shine, the year is starting with a revision to the 3DS, and the Wii U lineup for the coming year is pretty strong, even if it does suffer from the usual third party game drought. Here is how I would rank the five games I played in 2014, looking back, I am not sure what else I would want to pick up:

5. Banner Saga – An enjoyable turn based indie game with an interesting multi character story.

4. Grid Autosport – Finally a touring car game that gets close to allowing me to enact a BTCC season (well 4 rounds out of 10).

3. Far Cry 4 – Sticks to the formula of Far Cry 3, very pretty game that doesn’t do a lot new, however, there is nothing wrong with that in this case.

2. Wolfenstein: The New Order – The best shooter I have played in years, the controls feel tight and the story is suitably bonkers.

1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor perfected a system that was brought in by Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games, with a simple and engaging combat system that grabs you and pulls you in. In addition it did some great and innovative things. The main one of these being the nemesis system where you are confronted by Sauron’s army and can pick them off one by one, allowing you to create your own story as you build up your own feelings about various captains and chiefs. When an orc defeats you, it remembers and torments you about it at your next meeting. If you defeat them, they are not guaranteed to be dead, they can come back seeking vengeance. Then later in the game you can take control of orcs and turn them to your will, this allows you to take down their hierarchy from the inside. It allowed me to build a powerful story and made for the best game I played in 2014.

Game of the year 2013

A Slight change to the format this year. Previously, this category only involved games that were released in the calendar year in question, instead I am changing it to games I was introduced to during the past year as some of the games played over the last year should get recognition.

It was also helped by my only playing seven games that came out in 2013, this was the year that I finally got a PS3 and so I have a whole juicy library to catch up on.

5. Far Cry 3 – PC – 2012
Far Cry 3 was the game that I sunk the most time into this year. I loved the exploration of the island and while the story didn’t really hold my attention, the gameplay was great and made for a fantastic experience. I had less fun on the PS3 version due to annoying controller glitches that reared their ugly heads during combat and often led to my demise.

4. Bioshock Infinite – PC – 2013
The most beautiful game I have ever played and I really enjoyed the storyline, the combat just felt tagged on and ruined the experience for me.

3. Xcom Enemy Unknown – PS3 – 2012
This is second only to Far Cry in the number of hours I have sunk into it and I suspect it will eventually eclipse the Ubisoft game over time. The ability to create my friends as an alien killing super team and then have them wiped out just after the point in the storyline I got to in the previous playthrough always  gets me reloading and beginning again. The turn based controls work wonderfully with a controller and the experience is superbly put together.

2. Splinter Cell Blacklist – Xbox 360 – 2013
Purists can keep bleating about how this and the preceding Conviction are not real Splinter Cell games. While that may be true, I don’t care, this is much more fun. I love being able to sneak through levels unseen but at the same time, I love that the game allows you options if you do get spotted. Or if you are in a bad mood, you have the chance just to go in guns blazing without dying immediately.

1. Grand Theft Auto V – PS3 – 2013
Considering the size of the game space it is impressive how good GTA5 looks. The gameplay is tight and the driving controls are sooo much better than GTA4. The story may be poor and often trying too hard to be controversial, but I have such a good time just driving around exploring the island that I can ignore it. Rockstar have taken great elements from their other games of the past few years and created a masterpiece. They have created my game of the year for the second year in a row.

 

Past winners:

2012 – Max Payne
2011 – Portal 2
2010 – Mass Effect 2
2009 – Colin McRae: Dirt 2
2008 – Mass Effect
2007 – Super Mario Galaxy

Game of the Year 2012

While it was a great year for movies in 2012 it seemed to be a fairly lackluster year for games. I am also finding myself with gradually less time to play the big releases when they came out. It seemed to be a year when small games could shine though. In a year when I played just 12 new games the bottom of my top 10 may not exude quality but the top games were all ones I have greatly enjoyed.

10. Worms Revolution – PC

9. Catherine – XBOX360

8. Fez – XBOX360

7. Mark of the Ninja – PC

6. Mass Effect 3 – XBOX360
The first two Mass Effect games were my Games of the Year and the first game was my game of the last decade. Mass Effect 3 was therefore a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t just the terrible ending, it just felt dull compared the supreme second entry. The series went further away from its RPG roots as the series progressed and ended up mainly as a Shooter. This diluted what made the series interesting in the first place.

5. Thomas Was Alone – PC
A nice little Indie game that makes you care about little blocks with its charming narrative and fun puzzle gameplay

4. Trials Evolution – XBOX360
I loved Trials 2, the only problem was that it was single player, Trials Evolution added an exciting multiplayer that had my friends and I chuckling away. The user made multiplayer tracks just added to a great experience.

3. Spec Ops the Line – PC
A great narrative makes some for some occasionally iffy shooter mechanics, you want to keep playing to find out what happens next.

2. F1 2012 – PC
The third time is a charm for Codemasters’ F1 series, the first game was good because it was the first entry for years. The second didn’t really hold my interest as it largely fixed the bugs from the first game while confusing with an odd menu system. The third game does away with the menus altogether and seeks to just get you racing quicker. The controls take a little getting used to but once you do they feel pretty tight. I am enjoying this game.

1. Max Payne – PC
After LA Noire lost me with its narrative and repetitive gameplay Max Payne did a great job of building my trust in Rockstar again. The controls are tight and exciting, the narrative is interesting and keeps you playing and the bullet time effects are great fun. All that plus it is a great game to look at and has a lot to offer. It is my game of 2012.

image from Rockstargames.com

Games of 2011

I feel like I missed out, the biggest two games Skyrim and Skyward Sword I have yet to play. In fact I only played 9 games that came out in 2011.

5. Dirt 3 – Xbox 360
Dirt 3 removed the few bad parts of Dirt 2 and introduced some great tracks and racing. The return of split screen gaming was fantastic and the multiplayer added a lot of value. Its just a shame they had to shoe horn in gymkhana nonsense.

4. F1 2011 – Xbox 360
This years game may be slightly buggy but this is a much more playable game than the first one and is actually enjoyable to play with friends. As above Codemasters saw the sense and added split screen multiplayer.

3. Batman Arkham City – Xbox 360
The first Arkham game was fantastic, I loved everything about it. The new game was very good but still felt disappointing. The new environment was not generally as good and the boss battles were not so strong. It was still a great game though.

2. Dark Souls – Xbox 360
I will be honest, I am not a long way through this tricky game but I can tell that it is fantastic and despite being very hard I have had fun with it so far.

1. Portal 2 – Xbox 360
A great game, the story is great and the gameplay is still very very enjoyable. It is rare for a game to make you laugh but this has humour in spades. Valve does it again.

Wii Frustrations

The Nintendo Wii in March became just the second system ever to die on me. The first death was entirely my fault as I tried to escape GCSE revision to play PS2 games. Having had the power lead confiscated I decided to plug the power lead from my printer into it. It fitted, what could possibly go wrong? Well it fried the PS2 and surprisingly I still passed my science GCSE despite forgetting about amps, volts and wattage.

The Wii, however, died likely from age. It suffered from a problem faced by many a disc spinner with either its laser giving out or it losing the will to spin wii discs. It still played gamecube games just fine but thats not helpful when you are enjoying De Blob 2. I was annoyed but the Xbox gets most of the play time these days and it was after all a launch console. A replacement was needed though.

Having decided that the prices for a new console were just too high I started looking at the used ones available. Of course if the price cut by Nintendo dropping the price to £100 had happened a couple of weeks earlier I may have thought differently. Game had a pretty good deal whereby you get a used wii for £70 with a controller. With this as my benchmark I hit avforums and ebay to see if I could better that. After a couple of days searching I bid on an ebay Wii which came with the console, two wiimotes and two nunchuks along with two games in Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles (going for £10 on amazon used) and New Super Mario Bros. I
figured that this at marginally less price than the game offer was a great deal and so bid on it and managed to pick it up.

On the payment screen I noticed that the address was wrong (ie old address) and so I clicked change and gave my new address. I then repeated the payment process with the new address and thought nothing of it. 5 days later I was getting a little worried as there was still no sign of my lovely new console. I emailed the seller and he quickly got back to me with a tracking number. Turns out the package spent three days in Cornwall where he is before heading north and eventually finding its way to Kent on Wednesday night.

On Thursday afternoon I checked the site again and found that delivery had allegedly been refused. I then went, checked again and saw that Ebay had given the old address despite my changing it. I called Interparcel who were handling the delivery and changed the address. They said I would get it tomorrow. Friday came around and again I had a negative answer "courier could not gain access to property". I figured fair enough as Beth was out. I called the Interparcel who told me that HDNL were delivering my parcel for me. I asked them to tell them I wanted to collect the parcel from their depot. Interparcel then told me that HDNL do not allow pickups.

Deciding that this was a load of rubbish I told the lady that they did and it was mentioned when I phoned yesterday that it was possible to do so. The lady changed her mind and said it was fine and HDNL would call me. I have had experiences with HDNL before and none of them have been positive. Amazingly though HDNL did actually call me that evening and gave me their address and opening hours.

The next day (Saturday) I headed off to pick up my parcel at 9am. On receiving it I found that the request for a change of address had not been done on my Thursday afternoon call so the Friday attempt had gone back to my old address again. This led to more cursing about HDNL and now Interparcel. Still at least I had it now and it only took 6 days for it to get from Cornwall into my arms… or 10 since my original order.

On getting home I was eager to open the box and get set up. I did not realise that I was about to get my second round of frustrations. These I shall number:

1) You cannot copy Wiiware or Virtual Console games between consoles. This to me is maddening. I have spent at least £60 on game purchases from the Wii shop channel and now they are not allowing me to move them. Sure DRM makes sense on consoles but this is ridiculous. On my Xbox360 my purchases are tied to my online account so if I move my profile I get access to my games. Why is this so hard for Nintendo? Now I have to keep my old wii around and plug it in every time I fancy playing one of my downloaded games.

2) Copying game saves to an SD card takes time and is a pain in the backside. It needs to be done one by one and then even more annoyingly Super Smash Bros Brawl saves cannot be copied. No reason is displayed it just saves 'save cannot be copied'. FU Nintendo I want my Smash Bros save. The reason apparently is because it has online functionality. I think anyone who has tried the Smash Bros online functionality would dispute that and why should that make a difference (except Nintendo have screwed everything up with friend codes).

3) Copying games from an SD card is even more time consuming and tedious. To copy a game from an SD card the console needs to have seen the game before. This meant a process of putting game disc in, entering the menu, going to the sd card, copying, restarting the wii, removing the disc, repeat 15 times till all games are done. Is save game piracy really something Nintendo needed to plan against?

This all smacks of a company either thinking their hardware is unbreakable or sticking two fingers up to their customers. The experience will certainly make me think twice before even considering a future purchase of a nintendo system, though the 6 month periods with no games and poor online functionality had already made me wonder.

Other companies that don't come out blameless then are ebay for letting me change the address and then not bothering to recognise it (though I accept I should have checked the receipt after the payment went through). Interparcel and HDNL also get the naughty stick for conspiring to make sure I didn't get my package in a timely fashion by ignoring the change of address request I put through and then also lying to me about the possibility of my collecting the package from the depot.

Now that this rant is off my chest I can look at the positives, the wii is here, I have put the wii shop out of view and am not hooking the wii up to my network. I have my save games and miis and I can now play wii games. Overall I still think I got a better deal than if I had gone through game but it came with a lot of frustration.

It also leaves me with the following controversial statement – man I wish Royal Mail handled all deliveries in this country (and never striked)…

Games I’m looking forward to the 1st half of 2011

De Blob 2 – Wii – 25 February
The first de blob game was brilliant. It had a very unique style, the graphical style was great for wii and the sound design was fitting as well. I played through the first game with a rental copy, this time barring any huge issues in the reviews I will buy it on day 1.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn – Wii – 25 February
I put Kirby down in my last list… turns out it only got a 2010 release date in the US and Japan. We schmucks in Europe have to wait till the end of February. Oh well, reviews have been good for this latest kirby game which to me makes it a must buy… Kirby is awesome!

Homefront – Xbox 360 – 11 March
I saw a preview for this game over a year ago, I immediately liked the idea behind the game and the visual style (reminding me of the brilliant Half Life 2). The story revolves around America being invaded by Korea (of all countries) and sees you taking on a role in a resistance of guerilla fighters to win back the country. Heres hoping they pull off a decent storyline to supplement the action.

Shift 2 – Xbox 360 – 25 March
I played the first Shift game for precisely one weekend and while I enjoyed it I wasn’t drawn to play it again. Everything I have seen of this second game looks like an improvement though and so I am optimistic that it could be a good sim racing game… If it has Brands Hatch again like the first did then I am even more likely to be buying it. I won’t make my father try this one though… Who would have thought he was slower at racing games that my mother and my wife… I think I know where I got my racing gaming ability from, my mother is pretty darn good at them.

Portal 2 – Xbox 360 – 22 April
The first portal was fairly well hidden away, it came as an anonymous looking puzzle game in a compilation called ‘the orange box’ which contained the half life 2 episodes. It turns out that this fairly short game could be counted as one of the best games of all time. You are given a portal gun with which you are able to define two portals. Walk through one and you come out of the other. The physics engine made the thing what it was andthe whole thing was beautifully framed by the idea that you are working through a testing facility run by a computer called GLADOS who may well be insane… The sequel promises to be a full length version of this game adding a more fleshed out storyline and some adjustments to the formula. This is the must buy game on this list and will be coming on PS3 and PC as well.

Dirt 3 – Xbox 360 – Q2
Dirt 2 was an odd racing game, in 2009 I gave it my Game of the Year awards. When I say odd I mean so stylistically. The graphics were slightly sepia while the menu system was trying to be perhaps a little too hip and occasionally got in the way but the driving was sublime. The AI was good to drive against and the stages created for the game were great. It also tried to add variety basing itself around the X games. This time out they are going back to their roots a little more. This sounds good to me, improved graphics, improved physics and more of what makes a rally game work? I’ll sign up for that… another day one buy for me.

L.A Noire – Xbox 360 – 20 May
Last year I was very happy to find a decent western game come out (though I have yet to buy/play it). The Leone Spaghetti Western’s are some of my favourite films and the genre had been dying for a decent game to represent it. Another poorly service genre of choice for me is crime. There are not many decent games out there where you play the cop, more often than not you are against the law. This is easier to portray and being the right side of the law in games where its done badly gets boring very fast. The indications are though that LA Noire is a game done right. I really hope so.

The 3DS and its games do not yet make this list. For me the announcement of the console was brilliant. It seemed like such a neat idea but in the 6 months since its unveiling each piece of news has only lessened the hype for me.
First came the news that the 3d can damage your eyes. Sounds to me like the virtual boy all over again. Granted they only mentioned it for children but the effect would be the same for anyone with an extended play.
Then more recently they announced the battery life. The best thing for me about my DS Lite is I do not feel tethered to a charging point, I can happily forget about charging my current DS for months and it will still have juice thanks to a meaty 15 hour battery. The 3DS… is a third of this, which is poor. That wouldn’t even sustain me for a flight to the US thus making it worthless.
Now the price, announced yesterday at $250, while I understand that Nintendo likes to make a profit on every hardware unit they sell this is too much. This is more than their home console and at a time when handheld gaming outside of the mobile phone market has gotten a little tenuous. So what if the 3D is cool, it is still a gimmick and is likely to be turned off fairly quickly by the majority of users.
So I will, as I did with the DS, be waiting for the inevitable lite version. It may take a few years but the updated looks and likely improved battery will make it worth the wait. DS rant over…

I hope that you have enjoyed this list, if there are any games you are looking forward to in the next six months let me know below.

To round out this blog post, you want to watch this video:

As you can see most of my images were taken from ign. Ign rocks yo! De Blob from gamezone

Just a little notice as well… this was my 1000 published blog post… Maybe I should do a celebration post next week.

Vanquish – Xbox 360 review

Some demos do a great job of selling their game. The demo for vanquish showed a tricky and busy shooter with very strong controls and some interesting mechanics. I was sold and was excited to get it after christmas. I managed to pick it up in the post-christmas sales for £13.

The game harks back to America’s love of Russia. Russia have used a big ole space station to destroy San Francisco. They have threatened the destruction of New York next unless the US bow down to their demands. Your job is to stop this threat and destroy the pesky Russians. The Russians are not embodied in human form but are comprised of a series of mechs that are rather overpowered especially in boss form. This game has easily the best boss battles I have played in years possibly ever. That said in a very Japanese way the enemies’ weak points are easily highlighted with nice red lights but their size and strength makes them very formidable. The other enemies are largely similar to the geth from Mass Effect and they do a good job of keeping you on your toes largely by their strength of numbers.

I would say the graphics are pretty but that is something of a given on next gen consoles these days and the sound design does a great job of building the pressure. Both do their job and the space station seems feasible as a future place for civilisation although you never get a proper idea of its layout due to moving from battlefield to battlefield. The best thing about this game and the thing that makes it great is the controls. They are tight and perfect. You always have the ability to win with quick weapon changes, strong agility and a very good bullet time effect. It is usually possible to escape from enemies attacks if your reactions are there and the cover based fighting system is very well implemented. That said the odds are often against you as the missions go on and this game is hard as nails at times.

With little time to play through games these days I appreciate controls that work. Often seeing a game described as having a good story but bad controls is enough to stop me playing even if it is promising. I just don’t have time to fight a control scheme. That is what made me love vanquish, the odds may be against you but you feel you can get it done. The story may be daft and a little unimaginative but it is largely just a vehicle for the fighting and that is where the game excels. Mammoth boss fights seal the deal and I hope that the open storyline does lead to a sequel.

Rating: 8.5/10

Games of 2010

2010 was a good year for video games. So good that I haven’t had a chance to play them all. Fallout New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption were both games that I was looking forward to but I have yet to get to them. Their times will come but they miss out on this best of list.

5. Super Meat Boy – Xbox Live
Super Meat Boy is a good little downloadable game where you play as the titular Meat Boy trying to save your girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil Dr Fetus. This is platform gaming at its best, but also at its most difficult. The best thing is when you spend twenty minutes trying to complete a level and finally do, the sense of achievement is great and the replay showing all your little meat boys trying to get to the end with just the one meat boy making it.

4. Alan Wake – Xbox 360
Alan Wake is a good game where you are attacked by the darkness, the game world is based on Washington state and includes some wonderful forest scenes. The game itself is pretty spooky as well and the controls and physics work wonderfully to help build the suspense.

3. Split/Second – Xbox 360
This game does what burnout did all those years ago when it first arrived. Its another racing game where anything goes. This game though employs strong rubber banding in its racing which makes it more difficult to dominate but also makes it more fun with a group of friends at different levels. The crunch to Split/Second is its power plays, build up your power bar and you can make things explode around/fall on other racers hence the name of the game. This game lives on its split screen multiplayer, when you narrowly avoid a girder thrust in your direction by your friend only for them to be taken out by it, that is what games are about. That it is made by Disney made me laugh but this game is the best of the racing bunch from 2010.

2. Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii
This game improves on everything the first game did, the controls are tighter, the graphics are even better, the music is still fantastic and Nintendo continues to prove that they are the masters of level design. The game is absolutely wonderful and an enjoyable experience throughout. Other improvements include a less annoying hub world where you can quickly get between levels or play around on a planetoid shaped on your face. Mario Galaxy the first narrowly missed out on my best game of the decade last year to the first Mass Effect game, annoyingly for Galaxy 2 it misses out to…

1. Mass Effect 2 – Xbox 360
Yup you guessed it. Mass Effect 2 came out early in the year but it blew me away. The story continues wonderfully from the first game and the characters and their back stories are fun to discover. The graphics have gotten better and then game has become slightly less of a hardcore RPG and has moved towards the mainstream. This is largely for the better as the controls are now much improved on consoles (the original was a pig). I need my fix of Mass Effect 3 but for that I must wait another 11 months…

I did play a lot of games this year but these five shone out above the others. F1 2010 was my most anticipated game of the year but then, I am like that. Unfortunately it let the side down in places with some sloppy coding but it set the stage for 2011 and it will hopefully make this list next year. Also good were Professor Layton and Super Scribblenauts both for Nintendo DS but they just missed out.

Games to look forward to in the second half of 2010

So earlier in the year I made a list of the games I was looking forward to in the first six months of 2010. That list was populated by a lot of games that should have seen release last year but were scared by Call of Duty. In comparison the second half of 2010 is looking slightly empty but I am still catching up on the last six months so I don’t mind.

F1 2010 – Xbox 360 – 24th September
Codemasters first attempt at an F1 game ended badly last year with a poor product arriving on wii in November. This year they debut on the HD consoles and the game is looking siiiiccckk. All of this years drivers and tracks, the best console F1 graphics ever and what is reported to be very good handling. This is the game I am most looking forward to over the next six months.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn – Wii – Q3 2010
Everybody loves Kirby right? The little pink blob is coming back to wii this Autumn and the art style is looking awesome. I probably won’t buy it immediately but Kirby games have always been fun.

Super Scribblenauts – DS – Q3 2010
So the original scribblenauts disappointed me. It was an amazing concept done badly. This year though the developers have taken note of the complaints and fixed the control issues. They have also added a lot more words and also adjectives. For example this year you can put in something odd like a ‘pregnant car’ and be given a pregnant car that will eventually give birth to a baby car… Will let these guys fool me twice but if this years game sucks then I will forget about this series.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future – DS – 2010
Professor Layton represents a brilliant story with amazing artwork and tricky puzzles to melt your brain. The first two games have been superb and another will not go amiss.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Wii – Q4 2010
Sonic the Hedgehog got me into gaming. We had sonic on the master system back in the day and I loved it. Unfortunately his 3d adventures have sucked with stupid gimmicks ruining the gameplay. Sega have gone back to basics with Sonic 4 a return to the game we all remember. Really looking forward to it.

So those are the games I am most excited about in the next six months. There is also a new Assassins Creed game coming which looks pretty darn good and also a Call of Duty game… which will be worth a rental. What are your most anticipated games?

A late comer

A couple of weeks ago I announced the games that I am looking forward to over the next six months, well Nintendo being the cheeky people they are have announced that a game I thought was coming out near Christmas 2010 is actually coming out this May and so makes this list…

Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii – 28th May 2010 (wouldn’t be released on a Sunday like in US so picked the next Friday)

The original Super Mario Galaxy is by far the best game on the wii so far, I voted as such by making it my second favourite game of the decade. It is also my favourite ever mario game (I preferred Sonic in the olden days). The game proved that platforming can be amazing in 3d when done properly combining the best graphics on the system with brilliant physics and a masterful soundtrack. Galaxy 2 promises to be more of the same with similar locales, slightly improved graphics and a typically marioesque daft storyline. Sure this might make Nintendo lazy but surely more of the same isn’t always a bad thing. The first game was so good that I would happily take more of the same. Bring it on Nintendo, this time I’m going to preorder…

In other news Split/Second from my previous list now has a new name and a release date. The game will now be called Split/Second: Velocity and will be release on 21st May.