Hello to anyone who still takes the time to read my very occasional blog. I am still alive and kicking and I do still visit the site regularly, but my blogging days seem to sadly be mostly over. I have 12 more blogs to go to hit my 700th blog and about 8 months to go before I hit my 10th anniversary on the site. I have done some sort of Game of the Year blog every year for the past, I dunno, at least 5 years if not more. So I wanted to at least do something quickly this year.
I sadly didn't get a chance to play nearly as many games as usual this year. I ended up playing a lot of very lengthy games which limited the total number of games I could play. I spent well over 100 hours playing through most of both Dragon Age games. I spent an additional 30 hours playing most of Risen. I also spent a ton of time playing some turn based strategy games like Shogun 2, EU3, Warlock Master of the Arcane, X-Com, Settlers and a bunch of other games with no real end game. I did, though, manage to get through about a dozen games this year although only half actually came out this year. There are still a huge number of worthy games I haven't played, but with no next-gen console and a lengthy PC backlog I don't imagine I'll be getting to most of those games any time soon. So basically my list will be culled from PC, 360, and PS3 games.
I've thought a lot about format and such and basically I've decided a Top 4 list is in order. Why only 4? Because I only played 4 worthwhile games this year. Like I said, I didn't get through all that much. With each entry I'll also note any sort of superlative element, such as best graphics or best story and so on and so forth. Okay so here be the list.
BEST: Action Game, PC Performance
THOUGHTS: When it was announced, DMC earned the ire of fans for changing Dante's haircut and being made by British people. Luckily the British people did a good job and included an unlockable skin that let you make Dante look like the old, ugly, version if you wished. The secret, though, is that the new Dante was better written and better drawn than the old one. His story was more relatable, his world more original. On consoles the slow framerate caused some fans to lament the loss of the super smooth controls of the previous games, but the incredible PC port ran at a constant 60 fps at max settings in 1080p without fail. The platforming aspect of the game was vastly improved with the addition of chains that pulled Dante towards objects, or them towards him. A controllable and reliable camera helped with this. The combat may not have been as deep or as technical as DMC3 or DMC4 but it was far better than anything Ninja Theory had done before, and was at the very least comparable to the God of War series. I really don't have any flaws to mention. One might say that technically it is not as impressive as the best looking Unreal Engine 3 titles, but framerate is important here. You could also argue that the facial animation here maybe isn't as good as previous Ninja Theory games, and the same might be said about the story. Overall, though, DMC easily takes my prize as the best action game of the year, beating out Metal Gear Rising, Remember Me, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge and God of War Ascension.
3. Tomb Raider
BEST: Hair Physics
THOUGHTS: Tomb Raider was the other reboot released this year that had people worried. Like DMC, though, the worry was mostly for naught. Tomb Raider is a solid action adventure game. It combines Uncharted style set pieces with side missions, open areas, and RPG style upgrades. The story could use a bit of work but it isn't the misogynist mess people would have had you believe before its release. Unlike Uncharted's Nathan Drake, Laura reacts remorsefully when she has to butcher largely innocent people and animals. She feels pain and lets you know it. But Laura is far from weak. In fact she overcomes her initial insecurity and ends up rescuing all the big burly men who wanted to protect her. And she does all this while keeping her hair perfectly flowing, a physics defying feat that proves that she won't let little things like the laws of nature hold her down. While performance on consoles was a bit iffy, on PC Tomb Raider was a lovely looking game all around with solid if not spectacular performance and great art direction.
2. Bioshock Infinite
BEST: Graphics/Art, First Person Shooter, Use of a Song, Most Thought Provoking, Sequel
THOUGHTS: Bioshock Infinite was announced over three years before its eventual release. In those three years the hype for the game grew almost immeasurable. The end product was one of the best games released since the original, although it didn't quite live up to the quality of its predecessor. The greatest success of Infinite was its stunningly realized world. Rapture is one of the most iconic settings in a game, and Columbia managed to be every ounce its equal. The world was truly a thing of beauty, with a deep and layered backstory that had more social commentary than the rest of this year's AAA games combined. The solid Bioshock combat returned from the first game with the addition of the skyhook and Elizabeth. Ah yes, the classic damsel in distress. Elizabeth is quite literally a princess locked in a tower who the player is sent to rescue. But as it turns out, Elizabeth is far more powerful than either her captors or savior. Director/Writer Ken Levine takes Elizabeth and Booker's journey in an entirely unexpected direction and the conclusion has lead to some of the most fascinating discussions amongst gamers I have ever seen. With an incredible story and characters, a beautiful and awe inspiring setting, and solid gameplay vastly improved over the original, Bioshock Infinite is about as close as one can get to a perfect game without being there, and the heart warming scene which sees Booker and Elizabeth singing Will The Circle Be Unbroken proves to be one of the best scenes in gaming for quite a number of reasons.
1. The Last of Us
BEST: Game, Music/Score, Actor, Actress, Character, Story, Third Person Shooter, Original IP
THOUGHTS: It seems that the key to making a great game this year involves having Troy Baker play a middle aged man redeeming himself by rescuing a teen girl who ends up becoming something of a daughter figure to him. While Bioshock takes this premise in a more detached, thoughtful direction, Naughty Dog's The Last of Us goes straight for the emotional jugular. From the heartbreaking opening scene which may be the most powerful scene I have ever played in a game, to the pitch perfect conclusion, The Last of Us is a perfectly paced story filled with relatable, believable characters, written well and acted better. The outstanding motion capture technology allows the actors' smallest facial movement to be translated into the game. The result is maybe the best story a game has yet seen, or at least the best told. It isn't just the story that impresses, though. The Last Of Us is a masterful survival horror game that actually focuses on survival. Combat is brutal and death can come swiftly. The AI is some of the best in the business, flanking, making good use of cover, and generally behaving exactly how you would expect an actual person to behave in the situation. Meanwhile, the zombie portions are tense moments where even a small mistake can lead to a near instant death. All of these situations are set in levels that both look and feel believable. What's more, these levels allow you to experiment with multiple paths to the same objective. This is no Call of Duty. The Last of Us let's you choose how to get through each level.
I think in the end what really puts The Last of Us over the edge as not only the best game of the year, but one of the best games of all time is the attention to detail. It's very rare for a game to catch me by surprise these days but one moment in The Last of Us really stood out. In the scene Joel and Ellie are riding a horse onto an abandoned university campus. This isn't an on-rails situation mind you. You have free movement and multiple paths to your objective as usual. At one point I walked into a hallway with Ellie following on horse. I realized that I had made a wrong turn so I jumped up onto the horse to ride out. As I came to the doorway I realized that Joel was going to be too tall to make it through. I didn't have time to stop so I just kept riding, expecting the game to either stop me or for Joel to clip through the wall. What happened instead, though, blew my mind. Joel ducked. It doesn't sound like much, but this was the only time in the entire game where you road a horse, and the only hallway you could enter too short for Joel to get through. Not only that, there were some broken points in the wall that would have likely let me through if I had more carefully threaded my way through. No one would have taken Naughty Dog to task for not accounting for this one situation. But they did. And Joel ducked. It's the type of tiny, minor detail that raises The Last of Us from an excellent game to a classic one. If I have any critique of the game it would be the poor framerate. But considering how far The Last of Us is pushing the ancient PS3 hardware it's a tradeoff I can accept.