Happy New Year!
Yes, my ‘game of the year’ thing involves an actual calendar year. I’m looking at you Golden Joysticks. May to May my arse.
This has been a quite mixed year, from the heady heights of Heavy Rain down to the dismal depths of dire, over-hyped ‘indie’ nonsense.
So, game of the year was most definitely Heavy Rain, for almost all of the reasons in the review. A more polished complete package was not released that year, and then layering an, at times brilliant, story on top of it and still maintaining that level of interaction and ownership of characters that Heavy Rain reached was a touch of genius. Usually in a game, the first thing I will do when entering a new area is to explore the boundaries, to see where I can take my character. In Heavy Rain, I didn’t. I just wanted to play on. That isn’t really genius of course, still very clever, but not genius. We see this level of emotional roller-coaster in decent film quite frequently, but video games have always been capable of much, much more than mere cinema. So a story that would have been short, sweet, and reasonably effective on the big screen becomes something greater when the player interacts with the game over the course of play-time Heavy Rain has to offer. Hopefully more games will take the story-line generation this seriously whilst not forgetting that games are supposed to be enjoyable experiences.
The release of Amnesia: The Dark Descent must also get special mention because it surpassed every expectation I had about it. The level of cohesiveness and polish was staggering and a great surprise, doubly so since this is an Indie game (an actual one too, not a retro game made by a published studio at the behest of a behemoth). From Indie games since they have such disadvantages, we have an expectation that they’re a little rough around the edges, that the graphics and music are going to be competent, but nothing really special. On the plus side however they’ll stand out in ways that big developers often miss, having clever little stories or game-play mechanisms. Amnesia is both very special and very different, this game filling the niche of a Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth style game, much like their earlier title Penumbra (The review is for the first part, the one most like Dark Corners). Essentially, it’s a budget price Indie game with all the competence, polish, and game-play of a really great big budget title.
Last year’s biggest disappointment, at least in terms of an actual game rather than a trend is the lamentable quality assurance in Fallout: New Vegas which was so bad that the game was essentially uncompletable, or at least, not in the way I wanted. Sometimes it would manifest in bizarre ways, I had to have a certain hat to enter The Strip for example. At a guess I’d say it was something to do with having a fixed release date. It certainly wasn’t anything to do with the engine needing updating because it looks the same as Fallout 3. I don’t know where silly ideas like this come from, the Gamebryo engine is a bit like the Source engine, it’s constantly updated. Of notable mention are also Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, great music, great graphics, interesting story. Light on horror. Bayonetta, before this came out I was quite looking forward to a wacky over the top style game. Instead I got obnoxious, and that was just the fans. Aliens versus Predator. Take Aliens versus Predator 2, update everything, vary the levels a bit and you get a great game. Take Aliens versus Predator 2, equalise all the races so that multi-player is fair and you destroy the game. You can see where I’m going with this.
Disappointing, trends wise, we have the rising popularity of ‘Indie’ games where Indie means retro games not necessarily made by Indie developers. Games like Super Meat Boy, an attempt to replace fun with difficulty, praised for having ‘tight’ controls (I think this means that there is little latency betwixt control and reaction on screen, but who knows, a lot of these phrases don’t mean anything). This is part of a wider trend of what I call Wangling, games that are hard, because hard is fun, right? You play them so you can show-off that you’ve played them, it’s about bragging rights. The more ‘old-school’ the better. Problem being that old games were … well … kinda bad. That’s the reason things changed in modern games. Games had their difficulty turned down, because they were too hard, but that’s okay, because we got difficulty modes so everyone is happy. Except the Wanglers, they say things like ‘modern games are too easy with auto saving and auto-targeting’, and rather than simply not use them, they insist that games should be without them. Hopefully this won’t continue. Worryingly, I recently played Red Dead Redemption, apparently, having a targeting system that targets enemies and lets you switch betwixt them is Casual. That’s the name of the option in the game. Now I thought Casual gaming was when you don’t play very often, don’t really have a lot of games, haven’t bothered to become particularly familiar with less intuitive methods of control. To be honest, I see nothing wrong with that. Having an auto-targeting system is certainly not Casual though!
Let’s see what 2011 brings. There is plenty to look forward to, personally I’m looking forward to Agent, a new Silent Hill, and hopefully Mirror’s Edge 2.