2014 : A year of Gaming 3/3

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Just Cause 2: I was not really a fan of the first game, but I had heard good things about the sequel and at first it was a very fun, over the top experience.The first time you do some of the crazier stuff, you really get a kick out of it, but that feeling fades away by the 50th time you have to do something. I didn’t care about the characters or what they wanted, and most of the things they wanted me to do were boring. I started rushing to finish it, which is never a good place to be with a game, but I had committed so much time to it at that point, I just wanted to see it through to the end. Suffice it to say, I thought I wasn’t going to play any open world games for a long time afterwards.

Shadowrun Returns: When I first heard about this game, I was hoping that it was going to be like the version that was released on the SNES, and while it does have a narrative connection to that, the combat is more akin to something like XCOM, which isn’t a bad thing. My major complaint is it is relatively short, but in buying it, you are also getting a toolset to create and play other people’s scenarios and stories, so that vastly increases the content that is available to you as a player. I’m hoping to play a much longer story that someone has created with those tools in 2015, as there are a lot of assets and I know the modding community for most games can create amazing things.

Ikaruga: When they said this was a hard game, they weren’t joking. It doesn’t mess around. Given my prowess at Beat Hazard Ultra, I thought that I might be better at this game, but nope. It kicked my ass. I made it to the second level a few times, but I was never able to advance beyond it. But it was still an experience worth having, even if I was unable to master it.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+: This is a great short session game, and just watching the trailer makes me want to play it again. The speed of the game is exhilarating, as it slowly ramps up, and you start doing things faster than you thought you were capable of at the beginning. The way I played it, it was more like a side dish to another, more substantial game… the kind of game you play to refresh yourself, to take a break with and it’s really good at filling that role. It’s a fitting successor to Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man for sure.

Tomb Raider: This was my first real experience with the Tomb Raider series, and I have to say, it made quite the impression on me. I enjoyed it very much, and I loved the fact that in many ways, it felt like I was playing through a horror game rather than a pure action adventure one. I felt much the same way playing this game that I did last winter playing Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was the perfect difficulty for me, so when I failed to do something, it was entirely my fault, and the construction of the world and discovery of each part of it felt natural. If it wasn’t for another game on this list, I would probably have said it was my game of the year.

A Wizard’s Lizard: Another rogue-like, procedurally generated game that was released this year. This one feels a lot like A Link to the Past in terms of your movement speed and the way levels are designed. And like Rogue Legacy, as you play it, you can slowly build up resources which make the game easier and more varied as you go through the dungeon, so with every new life, you have more options to work with, and you can start to find a playstyle and loadout that really work for you.

Scribblenauts Unlimited: A fun little game. If you’ve never played a Scribblenauts game, the object is basically to solve people’s problems by using your magic notebook to write down something that will help them. The database of things you can use is huge, so your solution will likely be very different from someone else’s, which is great. And it is fun to play around, just thinking of the craziest thing you can and seeing if your collection of adjectives and nouns will pop into existence. However, like my experience with Lego Marvel Super Heroes last year, I don’t really feel the need to revisit this franchise as I’ve gotten my fill of the mechanics and humor from just one game in the franchise.

Super House of Dead Ninjas: A procedurally generated action platformer with an 8/16-bit aesthetic with short, fast games in mind. It was fun (and as one of the first Adult Swim games released on Steam, my description seems to match a lot of the kinds of things that their games are known for), but ultimately, it didn’t keep my attention for long. Good mechanics and charming retro feel for sure though.

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed: A Kart-style racer featuring mostly Sega characters. It is a great game, though again, the Mario Kart franchise is still the king. But for a game that appeared on every other non-Nintendo platform, it is really good. I enjoyed the fact that the game wasn’t limited to just driving, as most courses also had air or water elements, which allow for different racing techniques. I especially loved the inclusion of Wreck It Ralph, and while they didn’t get John C. Reilly to relive the part, the substitute is pretty good. I think the fact that the stages were all based on Sega properties hurt the title a little bit though, since some of the properties didn’t lend themselves to that particularly well, and some non-licensed tracks would have added some variety and spice to the game. But I still had fun, and that is the important thing.

Skyrim: Wow, what an experience. The fact that I waited so long to play this game makes me sad now. How much did I like this game? I played it and only it for 4 months and I loved every second of it. And this wasn’t the first time I had visited Tamriel since I had played Morrowind a few years back, and I was deeply enthralled by that, but it did not prepare me for this experience. It was completely engrossing, and any time I might have gotten bored, there was always something new to try, someplace new to explore, and it kept finding ways of taking me in new directions. Put it simply, t wasn’t just the game I enjoyed most this year, but it is arguably the best game I’ve ever played. I’m saying that without hyperbole. Usually when I play a game, there is a moment where my enjoyment starts to trail off, a moment which tells me that perhaps I should start playing another game or start moving towards the end of the narrative so I can stop playing. I never had that experience with Skyrim. After playing it so long, I made a decision that after I accomplished certain things, I would stop playing. But I didn’t. I kept finding new things to do and new experiences to try and I kept getting achievements (I ended the run with 72 out of 75 of the possible achievements). I decided that I would rather stop playing it having loved it so much than ruin the experience by playing it until I finally got sick of it, and I think it is healthier that way. I could always go back if I want to experience that world again, but parting with it was hard, but it is better this way.

Olli Olli: For my first game after Skyrim… it wasn’t going to go well for any game that came right after that. But Olli Olli did act like a good palette cleanser for what was to come next. It is a 2D skateboard game with tight time windows to do tricks and it starts difficult and just gets tougher from there. I respect it, but it didn’t wow me… but again, the circumstances could have been better. It was like a rebound game. I played more ETS2 right after this, and that helped me get ready for the next game on this list.

Payday 2: I generally don’t play multiplayer games, so when I bought Payday 2 and most of the DLC during the Steam Summer Sale, I was actually mad at myself because I thought I would never play it and I had wasted my money (my other concern was the install size, which at the time of purchase looked like it was around 25-31GB, something that was also tweaked so it takes up a lot less hard drive space). But still, I wasn’t convinced… but the new DLC kept being on sale, and I told myself, well, if it was on sale for another day, another week, maybe I would buy it… and inevitably, it kept doing just that. So, when everything for the game was on sale during the Fall Sale, I was keyed up… I was ready and excited to play this game. How excited? I played over 100 hours of it in 2 weeks. How insane is that for me? I don’t think I played a game that much in such a short period of time since I was in high school. To put that in perspective, I played Skyrim for 4 months and racked up around 240 hours and I did 150 hours of Payday 2 in about a month.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition: I bought this in the summer sale with the belief that Namco-Bandai would ultimately drop Games For Windows Live and migrate it fully to Steamworks, and that came true, so my only objection to playing it disappeared by the end of the year. I was prepared for this to be a punishing game, and I’m slowly making progress in it. I don’t know if I will ultimately beat it, but it certainly is fun trying at the moment, and satisfying when you do make progress or discover the secret to beating an enemy you thought was almost impossible to harm, let alone defeat. But we’ll see how well my resolve holds up when I can no longer make progress… because that will likely be a breaking point for me. It seems like a good game to finish the year out with as well.

This year, I think I have to grade the list of my favorite titles on a curve in a way because I loved Skyrim so much that it doesn’t seem fair to pick it and then 4 other games, because again, I’m on the record saying it was arguably the greatest game I’ve ever played and that is using a long, long history of playing games to judge it against.

What I’m going to do is make a list my top 5 games aside from Skyrim and I think how it shakes out in that context is this:

  1. Tomb Raider
  2. The Walking Dead
  3. Payday 2
  4. Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages
  5. Euro Truck Simulator 2

Number 5 was sort of a toss up between Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Mark of the Ninja, but I gave the former the edge because of the number of hours I played it and the fact that I revisited it after Skyrim and it held its own for a decent amount of time in that slot.

So how did I do on my to-play list for this year? Pretty good I’d say.

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