Welcome to part two of Our Year in Games, you can check our part one over here. Hopefully everyone is starting to get in the festive spirit as Christmas and a new year draw ever closer. Enough of the intro though, hit the break to see what else we have to say about our past year of games.
A true highlight of the past year on a personal level has been the game shows I’ve managed to attend. Rezzed was my first of the year where I was able to meet up with Nick and see some great indie games and talk to Cliff Harris from Positech. It was a lovely little show, fairly small but there were some great opportunities for the small development teams to show off their stuff. If it wasn’t for Rezzed I wouldn’t have heard about Beatbuddy which was quite an enjoyable game.
Soon after Rezzed was the turn of the Wales Games Development Show in Cardiff’s Millenium Centre. I probably didn’t make the most of this show as I somehow managed to miss the doorway to the other half of the show floor until it was time for everyone to pack up. It was though a really insightful trip where I was able to see some of the great local development talent that doesn’t always get to make it to the bigger shows. My favourite part of the show was talking to Stuart Ball about Kodu in what was an extremely insightful discussion.
Finally I took some time out at the end of September to go to the Eurogamer Expo at Earl’s Court. It was, as ever, an amazing time, though scarily expensive. I saw so many different games and consoles and was able to meet up with a few old faces and some new ones. The scary thing is though that there was probably more that I could have checked out if I had the time.
I love attending these shows and I am certainly looking forward to more next year.
Last week I established that I spent 2013 dodging my responsibilities as a consumer. So what was I doing instead of keeping up with gaming’s Joneses? I’ve mentioned it in a previous week, but I lost a couple of months to Super Meat Boy when I realised that Steam Butt hadn’t retained my first 30 hours of progress from 2010. Those big, empty statistics pages taunted me, and once I’d got back to where I was, I found the lure of 100% completion impossible to resist, for some unfathomable reason.
I also caught up with some of 2012’s indies and other big titles from smaller studios – Hotline Miami, Thomas Was Alone, Mark of the Ninja and The Walking Dead got played in intense bursts and every one of them is now a favourite. I also corrected one of my bigger gaming oversights by finally dipping into Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I still don’t find the studio’s output particularly appealing, but at least now I have a better idea of why.
In the end, I think rather than getting hung up on the need to stay current in what I play, I’ve had a lot more fun filling in the gaps in my knowledge and seeking out stuff that passed me by entirely. SEGA’s back catalogue has been a particularly rewarding to explore in the last year. Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed was the surprising trigger. Frankly, even among a group of gamers in our late twenties, everyone I’ve played it with has found themselves all a little bit lost in the game’s allusions to arcade and home console hits.
With the help of Hardcore Gaming 101’s SEGA Arcade Classics Volume 1, a shelf full of Master System ports and a dash of M2’s insanely exacting emulation work, I’m starting to fill in the blanks. Just don’t ask me what the f*** Burning Rangers is yet.
Since I missed out on last week’s year in games, here’s a double one from me – the PS4 and Xbox One. In terms of console gaming, 2013 has been absolutely dominated by the build-up and hype of these next-gen consoles, and it’s shown in terms of the recent current gen releases. Despite this though, both seem to be pretty lacklustre at launch (and I know how lacklustre launches can be, I made the mistake of buying a Wii U on day one – a decision that’s only just starting to pay off). Sales have been extremely strong for both consoles, but to me there seems to be no compelling reason to buy either right now apart from the prestige or reputation of owning one. Perhaps in a year when quality exclusives start being released and the Xbox One actually allows its media features to be used in the UK, they may become attractive propositions. But, and as a lifelong console gamer it pains me to say this, it seems the best overall gaming experience can be had on a PC.
This realisation has been slowly dawning on me throughout 2013 as I spent more and more time filling up my Steam library while my PS3 and Xbox 360 lay gathering dust. It’s become so that the only time I pick up a Dualshock is so I can play Super Meat Boy on my PC. For me consoles always offered two advantages over PCs, the ease of playing games and console exclusives. Nowadays I find it much easier to play games on PCs, as whenever I try and play a console game I have to wait for the disc to install, then for the updates to download then, if it’s an especially bad day, for a firmware update. In terms of hardware, consoles have lost what made them so appealing – their ease of use. That’s why I’ve spent most of 2013 either on PC, or with a Mega Drive controller in my hand. But more on that next time.
The Stanley Parable was confused. Mainly it was confused as to how a video game could actually experience confusion, or indeed, any experience whatsoever, but also due to the fact that until recently it had been completely absent from Nick’s draft game of the year list.
It had tried everything – leaving polite notes around the place describing its remarkable winding narrative, a post-it on the fridge with a subtle reminder about its almost incomparable nature, and a bunch of flowers with the words ‘Don’t forget the Stanley Parable you complete idiot’ written on the card.
Sadly, nothing seemed to be working. Despite being one of the finest pieces of interactive entertainment of the year, it looked like The Stanley Parable had been forgotten about. Nick had apparently forgotten all about the magnificent way The Stanley Parable strolled backwards and forwards through the fourth wall, the thought-provoking nature of its writing and the sheer number of awards it had been nominated for.
If only there was some way it could get on the list. Some way that, despite Nick being incapable of remembering games he’d played more than a week ago, he could be reminded just how great The Stanley Parable was.
The Stanley Parable reached for a pen. Putting a neat line through a rather generic shooter franchise Nick had been considering for Game of the Year, The Stanley Parable wrote its own name at the bottom of the page in letters slightly larger than the others. After a moments consideration, the remarkable game underlined its own title and put a circle round it. Finally, a large arrow was added, with the words ‘this one’.
Oh, and an exclamation mark. No, better make that two. All right, three.
After half an hour, The Stanley Parable sat back and surveyed its handiwork. Thinking about it, the glitter and LEDs were probably a bit much, but it was too late to change that now.
Yes, that should just about do it.
As I mentioned last week, I was in a fairly dark place gaming wise until I played Bioshock: Infinite. You see Infinite is one of those unique titles that paints a world so well that you can’t help but be pulled into it. I think though, the eureka moment came with the inclusion of the sky-rails.
Initially, I was rallying against their use because, I, who knows best, thought they were a daft addition. As such I avoided using them at all costs and the combat and overall feel of the game suffered greatly as a result. I was getting dangerously close to writing the game off and it wasn’t until I was in one of the larger arena battles that for no particular reason I can recall, I used the sky rails to move around the battle quickly. It clicked.
The system I had been rallying against out of some misguided ‘higher reason’ was undermining the game and my enjoyment of it. Once I had embraced that mechanic, the stale, repetitive battles turned into fluid, exciting bouts of repositioning and lightening fast strikes. Constant movement, danger and excitement replaced humdrum cover battles. Something quite literally clicked in my head and it changed the way I viewed games from there on in.
Infinite itself, is one of my top five games of all time. The brilliant sense of place, the visceral combat and an A.I. Companion that is easily the best since Alyx all conspire to give you an experience that is difficult to match, let alone beat. Sure it had it’s issues, but they’re certainly nowhere near as bad as many other writers like to make out. I don’t know, sometimes it becomes fashionable to dislike a good game, who knows. All I know is that it is one of the most memorable titles I have ever played with an ending that I genuinely thought was clever.
It’s a must-play title and has to be one of the greatest gaming experiences of this year, if not my gaming life