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Top Games of 2013

I have zero confidence that anyone will actually see this thanks to Gamespots new layout but imma do it anyways!

2013 was decent year for gaming, especially after 2012, but it lacked RPG's and had its fair share of disappointments. Here are the games I enjoyed the most in 2013 from what I have played so far.

5. Tomb Raider

I have never played a Tomb Raider game before and had few expectations of any kind coming into this year's reboot. What I found was a refined version of the formula used by the Uncharted games with much stronger gameplay but weaker writing and narrative elements. The gameplay in Tomb Raider is very solid with tight shooting, fun stealth and some of the best platforming controls and camera angles I have ever seen. The blend of shooting, exploration, scripted events and stealth was very well executed apart from an excess of quick-time events, making this one of the most consistently enjoyable experiences of 2013.

4. Company of Heroes 2

the first Company of Heroes is my favorite strategy game of all time and probably my favorite game from the last 10 years. I find the formula of Real Time Strategy mixed with real time tactics a truly intoxicating one, and I anxiously awaited CoH 2 as it went through a troubled development cycle under THQ. I even had the chance to play a very early version of the game in a closed alpha while it was still under THQ; it was not a pleasant experience but I saw glimmers of hope in the poorly optimized mess. I was relieved when Relic was picked up by Sega, and the beta showed massive improvements over what I had played previously.

Since then, the game has gradually improved with the exception of some questionable DLC practices in the form of paid multiplayer commanders. It has become my most played game of 2013, with steam clocking about 130 hours playtime so far, and I still go in for multiplayer matches almost daily. While I don't think it's a better game than its predecessor, it has the same addictive quality and the core gameplay remains stellar. It also has enough differences to feel fresh and differentiate itself.

3. Rising Storm

simply put, this is probably the best designed and most atmospheric multiplayer shooter I have ever played. It lacks the production value of some of its AAA counterparts, but the asymmetric balance, stellar gunplay and well implemented teamwork mechanics make this a really engrossing game that I keep coming back to. Many maps capture the atmosphere of Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault's better levels (especially the Guadalcanal map), and the way the soldiers talk amongst themselves about their current situation is incredibly cool. This game feels like a world war 2 game on a mechanical level, it doesn't just use it as a backdrop like earlier Call of Duty titles. I just wish there was more of it. More maps, more guns and some vehicles to add variety. These things are coming, and for free, but the seven maps available right now just aren't quite enough.

2. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag

I am not a big fan of the Assassins Creed series. Even with AC II and Brotherhood, the two previously most accomplished games in the series, I didn't manage to finish. When Black Flag was announced, I rolled my eyes, amazed that Ubisoft were rushing out yet another yearly iteration in the stagnating franchise. I was astonished then that it turned out to be a stellar open world game. The sandbox is well designed and side activities actually have a purpose now with the Jackdaw serving as an excellent focal point for the game, but more than anything it is the way in which the developers captured the Ocean that has me floored. Having spent a lot of time on boats growing up, no game has come close to capturing the feel of the ocean until now.

The most powerful moment in gaming for me this year wasn't some overwrought cutscene in The Last of Us or Tomb Raider, but a moment when I was simply sailing along with the sun setting on the Caribbean sea while the crew started singing a particularly affecting sea shanty. Black Flag won me over totally, despite some annoyances like eavesdropping missions and free-running mishaps returning from previous games.

1. Metro Last Light

This is one of the best story-driven first person shooters since FEAR and Half-Life 2. I found it totally enthralling for its duration, particularly the above surface segments that showcased the amazing weather effects. That atmosphere is just incredible, something that the game inherited from its predecessor, but all other elements have been improved hugely. Encounters with humans are highly enjoyable using both stealth and action, monster variety is much improved, and the pacing is largely excellent. The game remained in my psyche for months after playing it, and I plan on returning for another run through after recently purchasing the ranger mode DLC on sale. The game feels like a labour of love coming from a smaller, less wealthy studio, and it shows.

Honorable Mentions

The Last of Us - I wanted to enjoy this game more than I actually did. I loved the story and the characters, and the weighty and intimate feel of the combat. Sadly I just found large parts of the game rather tedious, particularly the stretch of gameplay that took place in Pittsburgh. The strong writing and relationship between Joel and Ellie had me stay through to the end however, and I was impressed with the mature storytelling and character development even if the gameplay side of things often left me less than satisfied. I feel I would have enjoyed it exponentially more if I could have played it with a mouse and keyboard since the sluggish controller aiming was a major source of frustration for me.

Arma 3 - Mechanically, this game is extremely impressive. Considering the scale and complexity of the series, the fact that everything works as smoothly as it does is amazing. The gunplay is fantastic, the weight of movement and various stances is just perfect for style of gameplay the series is going for. Right now it feels more like a platform for future mods and developer made content however, as there really isn't a lot right now. I look forward to seeing how this title develops in the coming years.

Splinter Cell Blacklist - I never played SC Conviction, so my initial impressions of Blacklist were very negative. However once I got used to the cover system and started unlocking various gadgets, the game shone. Some levels in the middle of the game are really good, and I ended up having a lot of fun with the game despite some annoying action sequences in the second half.

The Stanley Parable - I don't know if this game is as deep and prophetic as some people claim, I found it incredibly funny though.

Antichamber - An interesting puzzle game that has a bit too many moments of "hah! you failed because you didn't know something you couldn't possibly know!" I know that is partially the point of the game but I found it got irritating after a point. Still a nice mind bending experience though.

The Swapper - the puzzles are clever, but it's the amazing atmosphere that makes this a very special experience. The finnicky puzzles toward the end of the game are a huge pain though.

Bioshock Infinite - I enjoyed the first half of this game immensely. The setting is fantastic and the combat is much tighter than in the first Bioshock. However the pace drags in the second half and the story moves away from the themes that made earlier parts of the game so interesting.

The Alpha's and Beta's of Gaming in 2013

While 2013 has already provided us with some great high profile releases like Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, most of my time over the last few months has been spent in a variety of Alpha's and Beta's for games slated to release later in the year. Here is a rundown of the game's I've been playing for dozens of hours despite their not having been released yet, and what I think of them so far.

Rising Storm

I'll start with Rising Storm, the stand alone expansion for Red Orchestra 2, since it is the most recent beta I have been playing. I loved Red Orchestra 2, and eagerly pre-purchased Rising Storm for 12 bucks when I learned it would get me into the beta right away. Despite somewhat tepid first impressions, I have since become totally hooked on the game. It keeps the basic mechanics of RO2, but it feels totally different mostly due to the change in map design, difference in play style between the two sides and presence of the glorious Banzai Charge. This involves the Japanese screaming their heads off and sprinting at the enemy lines, which suppresses them making it hard for them to aim. The more people involved in a Banzai charge, the more dramatic the effect of the suppression. This results in some pretty epic moments of last minute ditch efforts to capture points.

     Creeping through the dense jungle on either side is super intense, especially since it can be really hard to determine if someone you see moving in a bush 100 yards away is a friend or a foe. After getting used to the new mechanics and learning the maps somewhat, I'm having the more fun in Rising Storm than I've had in any competitive online shooter since Bad Company 2. People really seem to using teamwork which can be really involving, especially since servers hold 64 players. At this point, the community is thriving and there are loads of populated servers, something that was often a problem with Red Orchestra 2. If you are tired of the lack of teamwork in BF3 or have an interested in a really authentic WW II game, you should absolutely check this game out.

I currently have 1 spare beta key for Rising Storm for one lucky winner, first person to ask for it in a comment gets it!

Company of Heroes 2

Continuing with the WW II theme, I had the chance to play the Company of Heroes 2 closed multiplayer beta for about 30 hours, and came away largely pleased. CoH 2 is the game I am most excited for since I know it will provide a lot of play time for me, and I can already tell from the Beta it will live up to this hope. While the balance between factions is currently a bit dubious, the gameplay is as good as ever, with matches becoming more and more intense as they progress. The weather effects on the winter maps really force you to think of new strategies to deal with the cold, and some of the tweaks to the base game work really well. The best change in my opinion is the way points are captured. Instead of having one squad go cap a point, forcing them to become ineffective in combat and not allowing another enemy squad to cap a point, there is now a ring around each point. You must clear the ring of enemy soldiers in order to start capturing a point, a mechanic which serves to further increase the frequency and intensity of the fighting.

I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the final release of CoH 2 when it comes out later in June.

Arma 3

I have always liked the idea of the Arma series, a large-scale military sandbox full of flexible missions and gameplay, but I have never been able to really get into the games. I spent loads of time on mods for Arma 2, namely Dayz and Wasteland, but only ever spent a few hours in the base game. I decided to pre-order Arma 3 since it was cheap and gave access to the Alpha, and I put about 15 hours into it. The clunkyness of Arma 2 has certainly been reduced, and I had some fun with the multiplayer, but I'm still uncertain about the game. The amount of content that shipped with the Alpha is pretty small compared to what the full game will have, so I am interested to see how the title progresses as it moves into the Beta phase down the road.

Trackmania 2: Stadium

I poured a ton of hours into Trackmania 2 Canyon, a game that set itself apart from others in the series with its epic drifting mechanics. Stadium is the second environment coming to Trackmania 2, and it is currently in open beta accessible through steam to anyone. To be honest, its exactly the same as Trackmania Nations Forever apart from some minor graphical improvements. The handling is the same and in multiplayer most of the tracks are the same since they are being ported directly from TMNF. Only difference is that TMNF was free and TM2 stadium will cost 10 bucks when it comes out. Not too impressed with this new environment, hopefully Valley proves more interesting. 

Why Bioshock Infinite Doesn't Live Up to its Narrative Potential *spoilers*

     As you may or may not know, I am not the biggest fan of the original Bioshock. I thought Rapture was an great setting and I really enjoyed the first few hours as a result, but once the wonderment had worn off, I thought the rest of the game was pretty poor. The combat was extremely unsatisfying, the pacing was awful, and the main points of the story were lifted straight out of System Shock 2. However Bioshock lacked all of the tension and interesting role-playing elements of that game. After the famed 'twist,' Bioshock fell to shambles in the final third as the most interesting aspects of the story had been told and the gameplay had become beyond stale.

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     So as you might expect, I was pretty skeptical going into Infinite. I reluctantly bought it after hearing nothing but unanimous praise for the game, and overall, I thought it was great and a huge improvement over the first Bioshock. The setting is just as interesting as Rapture, but the combat is hugely improved and while the pacing still isn't perfect the narrative drive kept me intrigued and entertained until the end. The story is quite good if not a bit cryptic in its telling, and the characters are generally interesting. The game also sounds and looks great; the soundtrack is very similar to the film 'There Will Be Blood' which is a good thing.

     However, despite really enjoying my time with Infinite, I think it could have been even better. The problem I have with the game is this: you are presented at the start with an extremely rich setting, and exposed to themes of religion and racism. Interesting quotes are displayed prominently in the environments; "what is Columbia if not another arc for another time?" And people yell at you to "go back to the Sodom from which you came!" After a few hours of being exposed to these ideas and messages, I was incredibly interested to see where the story went. The game reminded me at this point of HBO's Carnivale and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, a show and a film that both took place in the early 20th century that dealt with religious themes and have in my opinion some of the best stories ever told in their respective mediums. I was thrilled that Bioshock Infinite seemed to be following in the footsteps of these masterpieces.

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     Yet as the game progresses, the focus is pulled from the themes of religion and racism, and instead is placed on... multiverse theories and quantum physics. Yea. It turns out that these are the narrative elements which Bioshock Infinite hangs its hat on. While the second half of Infinite that focuses on these elements is really interesting and full of cool moments, I can't help but feel that the narrative would have been more meaningful and memorable if it had focused on the aspects of Columbia that make it so strange and enthralling. The character of Comstock is not explored on any meaningful level, yes you can make some inferences about him once you learn that he is Booker later in life from an alternate universe, but you only learn tidbits about how and why Columbia was formed. Why does Comstock consider the world below Sodom, and Columbia an arc? How did he become racist and a proponent of slavery? How did he convince a huge number of people to come live in his city in the sky? We can assume perhaps that his experience fighting aboriginals in the battle of Wounded Knee and exposure to the Boxer Rebellion painted his picture of the world below, but these are things that could have been much more fleshed out.

    We are given glimpses of some very interesting themes and ideas that are swept aside to make way for a complex and convoluted but hardly deep or meaningful science fiction tale. Racism, religion and slavery take a back seat in the narrative to quantum physics and somewhat gimmicky plot twists. Singularity, a game that borrowed heavily from Bioshock and was not aspiring to provide a fresh and exciting video game narrative had many of the same story elements as Infinite; they really aren't as novel or exciting as some people seem to believe.

     These twists and ideas are interesting in and of themselves in the context of Columbia, but they are poorly explained, and have you mulling the ending over not because it questions accepted ideas surrounding the three aforementioned themes but because it is cryptic in its presentation of the ideas. Would people consider the ending brilliant if it was told more plainly and was easier to figure out? Probably not, people like the fact that they need to put the pieces together so that everything makes sense. The final 'twist' is something of a narrative low blow and does not add any richness to the story, and you are left trying to figure out how a low-key guy who doesn't seem to like attention turned into the religious fanatic-come-quantum physicist that Comstock is. Maybe they will flesh that out with DLC, which would a even less appetising possibility.

     Perhaps I am not being realistic in my hopes that developers will challenge directly more mature and adult themes such as racism and religion. Rockstar has in a few games hinted at some interesting ideas like the struggles of immigrants in America with GTA IV, racism against aboriginals in Red Dead Redemption and the class divide in Sal Palo with Max Payne 3. Will there ever come a time when these issues are tackled head on in main stream games, or will they forever be relegated to thematic backdrops while more conventional video game story tropes take center stage?

The first few hours of Bioshock Infinite hinted at something of great narrative significance and depth which I hope one day will make it into mainstream games. Sadly it didn't quite deliver on that potential. 

A tale of Trials, Uplay and Cloud saves

     

So Trials Evolution Gold has finally arrived on the PC. I was a big fan of this series back when it was on the PC, and I was really looking forward to a fun, straightforward game like Trials to distract me from end of semester stress. I bought it on Tuesday planning to have it pre-loaded and ready to go for its release date, which is today (the 21st of march). I was initially dismayed to find it was published by Ubisoft and used Uplay alongside Steam. I didn't have many problems with the service when playing the Assassin's Creed games so I wasn't overly concerned, and was then surprised to find I could already play Trials. Apparently there had been an open beta for those who pre-ordered, and they were letting people play the beta until the game released.

     I spent a bunch of time playing the game on Tuesday and Wednesday on my desktop, finishing the beginner, easy and medium tracks and amassing about 120 medals. The game had some performance problems; stuttering whenever the frame rate dropped below 60 and awful screen tearing that forces you to use Vsync. The day one patch didn't fix this either, and even though it doesn't look all that great, the game still stutters and runs poorly on my powerful gaming PC. Despite this I have been greatly enjoying the game.

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     I decided to try installing the game on my laptop because it seems like the kind of game I can mess around with for short periods of time when I need a break from studying or essay writing. I installed the game and booted it up, only to find that my save games hadn't carried over from my desktop. I found the save game file on my desktop, copied it onto a USB key and transferred it to my laptop. Still my progress did not carry over. I figured Uplay was probably the cause of my frustrations, so I started looking around in the settings. I noticed that cloud synchronization had defaulted to 'on' for my laptop, but 'off' for my desktop. I turned it on for my desktop, hoping it would ask me if I wanted to upload the files from my desktop onto the steam cloud so my progress synced. Instead, it overwrote the progress from my desktop with the progress from my laptop... which is no progress at all. Four hours of play time lost in an instant, thanks to a broken service that never should have existed.

I've always disliked Ubisoft as a PC publisher, they predictably delay PC games and bundle them with terrible DRM, loads of bugs and performance issues. After repeatedly accusing PC gamers of pirating their games 95% of the time, they recently said they wanted to improve their relations with PC gamers. Well Ubisoft, if you want to rebuild the bridge that you burnt so eagerly and vigorously over the past several years, purge Uplay from existence, optimize and bug test your games, and maybe then we will stop pirating your products.

Trials Evolution is a great game. I encourage anyone who reads this to steer clear. 

Wasteland, Another Geat mod/mode for Arma II

As indicated by my best games of 2012 blog a couple months ago, my favorite game of 2012 was actually the mod 'Dayz' for Arma II Combined Operations. Recently I have been playing another mod that isn't quite as big of a deviation from the base game as Dayz, 'Wasteland.' Wasteland is sort of like a mix of Minecraft, Dayz and well Arma II. Basically there are three 'factions' you can join when loading into the game. Two of the factions are like traditional teams, but the third faction is 'independent' which means everyone on this team can either group up amongst themselves or simply go it alone, killing anything and everyone (including independents).

A bit like Dayz you initially spawn at a random location with just a pistol, map and compass. However instead of loot spawning in Dayz-style, the server will randomly spawn vehicles in towns and they will contain weapons. There are also weapon-crates which can be found. If you choose to side with Blufor or Opfor, you can spawn on any town that has team-members and no enemies. If you choose to play on the independent team, you can go it alone or make a private group. The idea of Wasteland is to build bases, complete objectives, compile weapons and vehicles and launch attacks on enemy bases.

Base building is a key component of Wasteland. Base parts, such as sand bags, walls and bunkers are scattered around the map, mostly in towns. These structures can be placed into vehicles, driven to your base, and moved into place. Once there, the object can be 'locked' so that no one can move it apart from you. Weapons caches can be moved and locked in similar fashion.

The group of guys I've been playing with recorded some of our endeavors, here is a video of our group building and defending a base (I am Mr. Gorbachev in these videos):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_m0BE1K1Og

Once you have a base and some basic weapons, you can try and tackle some of the objectives. There are main objectives and side objectives that pop up every 10 minutes or so. Usually these involve a vehicles such as a tank or helicopter in primary objectives or a special vehicle such as a SUV with a machine gun or a weapons crate in side objectives being dropped at a random location on the map. The vehicle will be defended by a handful of AI soldiers, but you will also need to contend with enemy soldiers going for the objective at the same time. To make things even more stressful, the vehicles will usually be in poor conditions, and you will need to refuel and repair them before you can drive to safety.

Once you have some decent weapons and vehicles, you can try and mount assaults on enemy bases. These are in my experience some of the most exciting moments of the game as you co-ordinate with your group and come up with strategies to clear the enemies out of their base. If the base is not in a town, people can only spawn in if there is a spawn beacon which can be destroyed.

Here is a video of our group raiding an enemy base: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLFyQBzsofo

Wasteland isn't quite as intense as Dayz since you know everyone outside of your group is hostile, but there is no shortage of tension and excitement to be had in this mod. Dayz gave me great appreciation for the gunplay and PvP of Arma II, and it really shines in Wasteland. 

Dark Souls gets a second chance + Natural Selection 2

Since there aren't many games coming out in January and I've worked my way through most of my back-log from 2012, I decided to give a couple of games a second chance, namely Battlefield 3 and Dark Souls. Returning to one of these games caused a great deal of frustration and a subsequent uninstall, while the other has me at least partially change my mind about the game.

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Despite the continuous stream of hate coming from me in the past, the game that has me changing my mind is Dark Souls. I previously bashed it for the lock-on system and camera in confined spaces, as well as the bosses being in small arenas and glitchyness of the movement and combat. While some of these complaints I still think are valid, I have started enjoying the game quite a bit. I stopped playing a few months ago after beating Queelag in the bottom of blight town because I had grown weary of constantly re-treating the same areas in order to progress. One evening for whatever reason I felt the urge to continue, and I figured that since I hadn't played in a while, I should try and be slow and cautious. Turns out being slow and cautious is the trick to success, and I have had a much easier time progressing through the game. I'm sure playing a bunch of Chivarly: Medieval Warfare has also helped with my combat skills. I tackled the moonlight butterfly after Queelag and killed it on my first go, then took out the Stray-daemon, a bit tougher but still got it on my third try, and have killed countless mini-bosses. I then fought my way through Sens Fortress, killed the Iron Golem in a few tries (mostly failed due to rolling off the platform, still hate the lock-on system) and have started exploring Anor Londo

Even though I died a lot in Sens Fortress, I haven't been getting frustrated. Each time I seem to make it a bit further and discover something that will make the next go a bit easier. The slow, careful approach is ultimately the faster one funnily enough, and I'm finding progressing through the game in this deliberate way quite rewarding. I'm still annoyed with the way the lock-on system, camera angles and movement mechanics interact with the narrow bridges and swinging axes in Sens Fortress, but it's not ruining the experience. I wouldn't say I'm in love with the game, but I think at least I am able now to appreciate it as something a bit different, and I can understand why some people love it so much. After so much time being angry at DS and having a grudge against it, looking forward to playing more is an odd but welcome sensation.

As for Battlefield 3, I picked up the Aftermath DLC after hearing a lot of praise for it, and didn't enjoy the relatively brief time I had with it. The map layouts seemed overly chaotic, with the ruined buildings conducive to campers. Trying to use tanks resulted in being destroyed by infantry hidden in the various nooks and crannies, and teamwork was as minimal as ever in the games I played. BF3 has some great mechanics, but I just can't come to terms with the anarchic nature of the matches. It strikes a remarkable balance between that of dullness and frustration. I hope to god EA add VOIP and commanders in BF4, otherwise I don't think I'll even get it at this point.

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Unnecessary mini-BF3 rant over, I'd like to talk about another multiplayer game that seems custom made for me. Natural Selection 2 is the game in question, and it plays like a combination of Starcraft 2 and Left 4 Dead 2. That means it is a combination of asymmetrical first-person competitive multiplayer and real-time strategy. An unlikely combination, but one that Unknown Worlds absolutely nailed. The level of teamwork in this game is fantastic, some of the best I've seen with only Left 4 Dead 2 being comparable. The community is great, most people use mics and constantly communicate. A good strategy from the commander who plays the game like a RTS is as important as good reflexes, and it's incredibly rewarding to see a risky or unusual strategy pay off in the end. I'm really excited about indie developers making games like this and Chivalry Medieval Warfare that aren't concerned with fitting into a pre-existing market or genre, for genre-blending or unique games are often the most interesting.

For my full thoughts on Natural Selection 2, check out my Review at New Game Network, and while you are there, have a gander at our recently posted Game of the Year awards.

The number of releases coming in February and March is pretty incredible, so hopefully a few of those games turn out to be winners.

2012: The Best, Worst and Most Notable Games

Thanks to some early sales and kind people, I've had a chance since my last blog to finish or at least spend a good amount of time with every game from 2012 that I had an interest in playing. Some of these games I loved (Xcom, Natural Selection 2), some of them I didn't (Hitman), but I feel I can sum up my thoughts on the best and worst games of 2012. Overall the year wasn't great, with a number of games falling short of their potential, but a number of solid retail releases and some amazing mods kept me busy throughout the year.

Top 5 games (and mods)

5.

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Dishonored - The story in Dishonored left much to be desired, and I'm sure some will criticize it for being too easy, but the flexibility of it's gameplay and the level of polish that accompanied it was second to none this year. Dunwall was a very compelling setting and learning about its history and current plight was highly engaging. I played through it once going stealthy and started another playthrough killing everything that moved, and I plan on finishing that playthrough and doing at least one more after that when I have time.

4.

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Mass Effect 3 - Despite the shadow cast over this release by the controversial ending, the third game in this excellent series was in many ways the best. The combat was very good - some of the best cover-based shooter combat around in my eyes - and the story was very well paced and moved forward nicely despite the considerable length of the game. Playing through Mass Effect 3 was an absolute pleasure, and I just don't understand the people who think ten minutes at the end ruined the entire series. I started a second playthrough and got maybe a third of the way through before getting side tracked and I look forward to returning to it.

3.

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Max Payne 3 - I had high expectations going into this game, and Rockstar did not disappoint. Not only did they deliver a stellar PC version of their vision of Mr. Max Payne, they also released what is in my eyes the best third person shooter of the generation, as Max Payne 1 and 2 were the best third person shooters of their time. I can understand how some people were put off by the incessant cutscenes and linearity, but I bought into Max's plight and new way of life bait line and hook. The action was simple yet super tight; some people criticized it for becoming a cover shooter, but I shoot-dodged my way through the entire game on normal and rarely became frustrated or stuck. The plot itself wasn't anything to special, but the setting of Sal Palo and the issues raised around the inequality of those in Sal Palo were very real and made for a very rich backdrop to the character study of Max Payne. I lapped up every bit of dialogue from this character, Mr. McCaffrey did an outstanding job as Max, and even though its structure was quite different from the old Remedy games, it still felt like a Max Payne game.

2.

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Black Mesa - A few years ago I attempted to play Half-Life 1, I made it about a quarter of the way through but got stuck at one bit and never got back to it; part of me was waiting for Black Mesa. Playing through this game was a near religious experience, like with Half-Life 2, no single element made it stand out, but instead the incredible ambiance that was created by all of the different game mechanics and visuals working together in harmony. The level design and pacing is just top notch, with the updates to the gunplay and visuals really eliminating any feeling that I was playing a game made over a decade ago. The team behind this mod did a stand-up job, and it made me even more anxious about Valve's plans for the franchise moving into the future.

1.

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Dayz - This mod came out of nowhere and took over my life for a couple of months back in June and July. I have never felt such strong emotions in a game as in Dayz, there were a few times when I actually stopped playing because I thought I might have a heart attack or something. Never before have I had such strong emotions tied to fictional locations in a game; at one point in my Dayz career, simply approaching certain locations would get my heard racing and give me sweaty palms. I will never forget my first visit to the North West airfield, or the time I crawled into Stary Sobor, legs broken and falling unconscious from blood loss, when someone I was playing with braved escaping a building surrounded by bandits to give me morphine and a blood transfusion. Even though the game is relatively simple, I played it for over 100 hours, because the unpredictability of the situations you get yourself into just makes it so compelling. I did burn out on it eventually, and I'm skeptical about whether or not the stand-alone will make things feel fresh once again, but I'm never going to forget the great times I had with Dayz.

Honorable Mentions

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare - GYAAAAaaaaaaAAAAAAaaaaAAAAAAA! FOR THE ORDERRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! YEAAAARRRRRRRGGGHHHHH!

Darksiders II - A great sequel to a underrated gem, Darksiders II is bigger, better and more varied than its predecessor. It has fun combat, loads of well designed dungeons filled with fun puzzles and bosses, as well as a really superb soundtrack.

Xcom - Enemy Unknown - Had Xcom been less buggy, It would have come in near the top of my top 5 list. The overall design is just awesome, with soldiers' deaths being so significant that with each turn you are begging the gods to land your 45% hit chance shot. Sadly the way line of sight works and the tendency of Aliens to shoot through walls makes it a rather frustrating and almost broken game at times.

Borderlands 2 - A fun and substantial sequel to one of the most addicting games I have ever played. BL 2 is incredibly funny and is in general a very well made game, it just doesn't do quite enough different from its predecessor to really stand out.

Far Cry 3 - A surprisingly slick sequel from Ubisoft, FC 3 has some great action in the form of a open world sandbox that allows for stealth as well as shootouts. The hunting system is great, and the island looks fantastic. I did experience some weirdness with enemy AI, detecting me through walls made of cloth and discovering my exact location under dubious circumstances. The story and the story missions also falter in the second half, although the excellent design of the world gives you so much to do outside of the story it's easy to ignore its short comings.

The Darkness II - I never played the first Darkness, but I really enjoyed the sequel. The action was excellent and it really makes you feel like a total beast going around eating people's hearts and slashing them with your crazy tentacles. The story was also quite awesome, forcing you to doubt the sanity of your character with some really great moments brought about by the amazing voice work of Jackie's Darkness. I really need to go back and play the first game.

The Walking Dead - A well told story with some good characterization and some really memorable moments, although the actual gameplay is rather minimal. Better than the TV show overall despite sagging somewhat in the last two chapters, this was probably the biggest surprise of 2012.

The Sh*t List

Assassins Creed 3 - A superbly crafted setting and great visuals and animations totally ruined by clumsy gameplay and a convoluted story with a broken economy system and ridiculously inconsistent difficulty.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted








YOU CRASHED









Dark Souls - I really wanted to like this game. The idea of a combat-focused action RPG with precise skill based combat and a big atmospheric world is extremely appealing to me. I really struggled to get used to the mechanics of gaining souls and slowly leveling up, but I originally became very frustrated with the bosses which trapped you in corners or stumbled you and took away control leaving you helpless. Around the second bell I finally came to accept the difficulty, design and the repeated death, but quickly realized once you take these things away, DS is a dull and repetitive game that takes place in rather empty feeling world with glitchy combat and a **** lock-on system.

Hitman: Absolution - I've never been a huge fan of Hitman, and wasn't upset about the new direction IO was taking the series in. What I am upset about is the ridiculous disguise system, terrible save system, and score meter in the top left corner that directly contradicts the game's informing you that you should play Absolution any way you want. Coming from Dishonored and Far Cry 3, the stealth mechanics feel contrived and clunky, and the god awful story doesn't do the game any favours.

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Despite these disappointing games, 2012 had enough games to keep me busy throughout the year. 2013 looks much more promising with games like Company of Heroes 2, Rome 2, Metro Last Light, Amnesia a Machine for Pigs and many others.

Rounding out the Year

As the tide of fall releases is finally beginning to recede, I am merrily playing my way through the last few major releases of the year while planning on catching up on some of the game's I've missed (Xcom and Hitman) over the next month before classes start again in January. It worked out that I only have two final exams this semester so I actually have a bit of free time on my hands. It seems like I've been playing a new game every week or two for the past couple of months, and I want to talk about a good number of them, so strap in folks, this could be a long one.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare - This must be the biggest surprise of the year for me. Chivalry is a kickstarted and greenlit first-person multiplayer Medieval combat game for those who don't know, and it's absolutely awesome. It was half-broken on launch with a bunch of terrible bugs and glitches, but these have been largely ironed out by the developers in patches. Chivalry is easily my favourite multiplayer game of the year; even though I liked mount and blade the combat always felt floaty and impersonal, while Chivalry just nails the weight and feel of swinging a big heavy melee weapon around. I think this is a game everyone should try since it's so utterly different, its fast paced, brutal, in-your-face and incredibly satisfying. If Dark Souls had combat like this on the PC, I would probably have loved it. Going from Chivalry's combat to some of the other games I'm going to talk about *cough AC3 cough* was incredibly difficult.

The Walking Dead - My dislike of the TV show (the first two seasons anyways, 3 is legit) had me totally ignoring this game. Finally the unanimous love being showered upon it got through to me and I picked it up around the time episode 3 came out for 15 dollars. It turned out to be a better written and more interesting story than the one of the TV show (again for the first two seasons at least), with episodes 2 and 3 being of particular awesomeness. I've never been a big player of Adventure games, but I had a great time with The Walking Dead, and look forward to season 2 of the game.

Dishonored - Even though this game fell fairly flat in terms of its plot and characters, the superb gameplay and setting more than saved it. It has been a while since I've played such a polished AAA game at launch, apparently some people had issues with glitchy guard AI, but I had no problems with it. The stealth is very smooth and exciting, while the various deadly tools and abilities you are given makes for some great action. Its maybe a bit too easy on Normal difficulty, but if you turn up the difficulty and turn off some of the player assists, it becomes much more challenging and engrossing. One of the best games of the year for me, highly recommended.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted - My first major disappointment of the fall, Criterion tried to make a mash-up of Burnout: Paradise and their version of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and the result was surprisingly mediocre. The singleplayer was short with a wacky car unlock system, the slow motion crash-cam was annoying as hell and triggered way too easily, and the multiplayer encourages you to crash into other players to 'take them down' which again initiates another slow-motion crash cam. The driving mechanics are good and the game looks fantastic, but it has a handful of problems that make is incredibly frustrating and annoying.

Various cheap steam games - Hotline Miami was the first I picked up, it has some solid twitch-action that was brought down by bugs. The highlight of this game is the absolutely stellar soundtrack which is probably one of the best I've ever heard in a game, as well as the crazy atmosphere of a 1980's cocaine-fueled murder spree the game propagates.

Mark of the Ninja is a stealth game with some really good ideas and tight controls, but I'll be damned if the save system didn't ruin it for me. On one level you are required to remain undetected for a minute or so while a door slowly opens and guards and dogs patrol the area. I failed my first attempt, and the game respawned me for some reason in a hiding place right beside a dog and multiple guards. I simply couldn't succeed from this position, so I quit the game. When I restarted the game later on, a huge chunk of my progress through the game had been lost, maybe three levels worth, along with my motivation to finish it, which is a shame because it is solid.

Assassins Creed 3 - at the start of the 2012, this game looked to be one of the best of the year. It failed miserably in most regards, I've never been a huge fan of AC games due to their cumbersome and awkward gameplay, and AC 3 is no different. Only it doesn't play to its few meagre strengths, instead forcing you into broken action sequences. Cities are awful due to the number of redcoats; do anything slightly suspicious and you start a chase with half the loyalist army following you around. The frontier was a bit better, but the hunting was pointless, as was the whole economy, since the combat is already so easy with the basic gear. The stealth is absolutely awful, the story starts well but becomes muddled later on, and Connor isn't much of a leading man. The only two good points are the visuals, which are amazing on the PC, and the naval battles, which are surprisingly fun.

Far Cry 3 - I was one of the 7 people that actually liked Far Cry 2 due to its diagetic HUD, immersive qualities and varied setting, but I wasn't really paying a lot of attention to its sequel. Turns out its one of the best shooters of the year, with great open world design and very solid gameplay. I'm about 10 hours into it, just about to leave the North island, and so far it has been quite good. The AI can sometimes be a bit odd when trying to be sneaky, and the story missions have varied wildly in quality, but the open world and its activities all jive together very well. The randomness of the NPC's and wildlife is very stalker-esque, and the hunting, crafting and exploration aspects are handled very well. I with it had taken the diagetic elements from Far Cry 2 in regards to the map and what not, and I still feel the Savannah is a more interesting setting than a random tropical island, but in every other regard, Far Cry 3 is a better game than its predecessor.

That's pretty much everything I wanted to cover, not that anyone has actually read this far through my ramblings. In a month or so once I've caught up on all of the games I want to play I'll post a 'top games of 2012' blog, expect to see more love for mods than retail releases. I hope you all two of you that read this have a good December.

A Tale of Sleeping Dogs, Dark Souls and Excessive loot

As the summer dry spell of games came to a close, I suddenly found myself with more games than I had time for. After finishing the excellent Darksiders II, I picked up Dark Souls and Sleeping Dogs to help make the wait for Borderlands 2 a bit easier. Then I also ended up pre-ordering Torchlight 2, which also came with Torchlight for free. Thanks to Green Man Gaming sales and the cheap price of Torchlight 2, I got all of those games (Borderlands 2, Sleeping dogs, Torchlight 1/2 and Dark Souls) for about 120 bucks. Who says PC gaming is expensive?

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Dark Souls

I'll start with Dark Souls, which was a game I was very much looking forwards to on PC. I was really annoyed at the developers for dropping the ball on a proper PC port, especially the lack of proper mouse and keyboard controls. As a result, I didn't even want to buy it since I didn't want to spend money on a gamepad just for one game. However I eventually I figured out a way to use my PS3 controller with my PC, and some of the other issues with the PC version were resolved by modders, so I ended up grabbing it anyways.

Sadly I can't say it is a game I enjoy. I find the whole bonfire/souls system makes it feel drawn out since you have to do so much backtracking, and the camera/lock-on system causes some real issues. I love some aspects of it; the weighty feel of the combat, the cool enemy designs and the organic level design, but I just find it frustrating and clunky mostly due to the imprecision brought about by a controller, and the small areas the early bosses are fought in (although the bosses after Capra showed signs of improvement). Such a shame the game doesn't have proper keyboard and mouse support. I made it a good ways into the game, I just killed Quelaag and have escaped from Blighttown, but my desire to continue is limited. I wrote a angry review and posted it on Gamespot, but due to GS's broken HTML I was unable to use paragraphs and as a result the review is just a great big angry wall of text.

Read at your own risk.

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Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs was a game that I wasn't too enthusiastic about since it looked a bit too much like Saints Row the Third in terms of structure, and I'm not a big fan of John Woo type movies, so the setting and story didn't do much for me. After a lot of praise from both critics and fans I decided to pick it up on a GMG sale and ended up enjoying it. I thought the controls felt a bit weird using a keyboard, but I appreciated the good hand-to-hand combat system, solid plot, and varied quests. It didn't light my world on fire but I'm glad I ended up playing it, although I still need to finish the story line.

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Torchlight series

I bought Torchlight 2 on pre-order at the last minute since I noticed I would get the first game for free as well since I missed it when it first came out. I didn't play Torchlight 1 much because I quickly got distracted by other games, but I did enjoy what I played. I've put about 4 hours into the sequel, and although I didn't think too much of it at first, it has been growing on me and I'm starting to look forward to playing it more. I haven't had a chance to try the co-op yet, but I will in the future, and I can see that being a ton of fun. I'll give credit to the developers, this game is superbly optimized, I think it looks quite good and I'm able to run it on my laptop which has relatively low end hardware with all of the settings turned up totally smoothly, which is more than can be said for Diablo 3.

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Borderlands 2

Last up is Borderlands 2, which was one of my most anticipated games of 2012 since I got a ton of playtime out of the first game. In short, the sequel while a bit conservative is very good. It takes everything that made the first game fun and improves on it. The dialogue is incredibly funny and the narrative is much more interesting. Enemy and level variety is also much improved. It won't do much to earn new fans, but for those who liked the first game this is a great sequel. I've already dumped about 35 hours into it across two characters and still play it regularly.

For my detailed thoughts check out my review.

I'll be busy in October so I won't have quite as much time to play new games, and right now it looks like I'll only be getting Dishonored, although November and December look to be packed with big releases so I'm kind of glad to have the chance to play all of the games I got in september a bit more.

Unnecessary Upgrades/Darksiders II

A while back I mentioned I was considering upgrading my aging but still potent ati HD5850 to something with a bit more punch for upcoming games such as Metro: Last Light, Crysis 3 and Company of Heroes 2. Wise people dissuaded me, and I left it for the time being. However, one day while bored at work I was checking the NCIX website (where I buy my PC parts in Canada land) and noticed the Evga GTX 670 FTW edition was on sale for $409 (down from about $480). I remembered that when I was doing research on GPU's a couple months before hand that this card was branded as one of the best for price/performance, given that it performed equal to, or even better than, a GTX680 in most games. I found a website comparing performance of different cards, and found that the normal GTX670 would give me roughly double the frame rate in most games, a pretty massive improvement. The deal was on for the entire month, and after some deliberation and going over of finances I decided to jump.

670_FTW_image_650.png

It took nearly a month to arrive, but the new GPU is finally here. I was surprised to find that it was actually about 1cm shorter than my current card, which is especially surprising given that the FTW edition of the GTX 670 is on a 680PCB with a 680 cooler. Fortunately size isn't everything, and this new card has proven to be a real beast in games. I tested it on the three most demanding games installed on my PC, Crysis 2 (with the high res texture/dx11 patches installed), The Witcher 2 and Battlefield 3, all maxed to the max running at 1600x900 ( I also sometimes game on my TV which is 1080p).

The results:

Crysis 2: bridge earthquake level (can't remember the proper name) I was getting 60-80fps consistently, spiking to 100 when the action slowed.

The Witcher 2 (ubersampling off): Battle for Vergen level, 70-80fps, very consistent for the 10 minutes that I played, which saw a lot of rain and particle effects on screen.

Battlefield 3: Caspian border - was only in the game for a few minutes at the base before the match ended, was getting 100-110fps. The map then switched to Operation Firestorm, I grabbed a anti-air vehicle and drove around getting into firefights, the lowest I saw the frame rate go was 75, usually it stayed well above 80.

So pretty staggering performance in all of these games. I got a new 620 watt Antec PSU since I wasn't secure in using my 500w one with the new GPU, and I used the new power to overclock my i5-2500k to 3.7ghz.

To Metro Last Light, Crysis 3, and whatever other demanding games are coming out in the next year I say this: come at me bro.

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Since there were very few game releases during the summer, I continued to pour time into Dayz. I have well over 100 hours logged on the mod, much of this time being spent with Nickprovs and some other Swedish fellows we met in game. I've had some great times in the mod, some of the most intense and memorable gaming moments I've ever had have been in Dayz (Nickprovs made a video of some of our shenanigans), but as with all games I am starting to losing interest.

The most compelling part of the game has always been finding new loot, but I have simply played the game so much that I know low-risk places that I can readily find the best loot in. Finding/repairing vehicles is fun, but I feel I have done pretty much everything there is to do in the game, and right now playing on high-population servers that usually have more exciting encounters will also involve playing with hackers who might decide to just kill everyone on the server. I still look forward to the stand alone, but after having my personal best 48-day survival run ended, I think I'm pretty much done with the current build of Dayz.

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The one game I did pick up in August is Darksiders II. The first game was solid, but didn't do any one thing well enough to really stand out. The sequel improves on the predecessor in pretty much every imaginable way, despite being a pretty bare-bones port on the PC. The gameplay is just a ton of fun, with fast and fluid combat, clever puzzles and great platforming segments. The amount of content is pretty staggering, it took me over 20 hours to finish on my first playthrough which is a really impressive length for a linear game with pacing as good as this. I had so much fun with it that I might even go back to it eventually for the New Game+ option so I can try some more skills and better look.

Read my excessively long review here.

Take my word for it folks, this is one of the best games of 2012 so far, don't let the lack of graphics options stop you from picking this up for the PC, you will be missing a really great game.

Today I picked up the Walking Dead games, having heard that they are great, even though I dislike the TV show I figure I'd give them a shot since steam was selling season passes for 15 bucks.

On a side note, I am quite upset that Dark Souls, a game I had a ton of interest in, is apparently unplayable on the PC with a mouse and keyboard. Can anyone confirm this? How about frame rate cap - does the game feel sluggish at 30fps?