Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Year in Review 2014

Here we are again, at the end of the year.  And here's all the games I finished this year, ordered from least favorite to favorite.  The titles that were actually released this year are marked with an asterisk.

Serious Sam 3
I feel bad about putting Serious Sam 3 at the bottom of this list, because I actually did enjoy it.  But despite appealing visuals, a relatively entertaining sense of humor, and satisfying combat, its many gameplay annoyances make it a very uneven experience that's hard to enjoy.  The fact that it lacks the charm and personality of the original games doesn't help matters.

There's a lot to like about Outlast, and I found it to be a pretty enjoyable roller coaster ride.  However, it's also hammy, pointlessly grotesque, artless, and unoriginal.  Does that make it bad?  No, but it adds up to an experience I wasn't particularly enamored with.

* Dementium II HD
Maybe it's because I have fond memories of old Half-life era horror games.  Maybe it's because I have an affinity for games with little money and a lot of heart.  Either way, I enjoyed Dementium II HD way more than it probably deserves, and could easily see myself playing through it again.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
A silly fun power trip with an abundance of flair and a dearth of any real meat, Blood Dragon is easy to recommend, easy to play, and barely remembered a few weeks after finishing it.  It's fun escapism for awhile.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
With many improvements across the board, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger manages to easily outstrip its bland predecessor in terms of both gameplay and story, and is quite a fun ride from beginning to end.  Shooting things is appropriately satisfying, and the story is both clever and surprisingly charming.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs 
Utterly botched horror, puzzles that aren't worth mentioning, skeletal gameplay, and barely any environmental interaction.  But the story is great!  Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a classy, artful failure of a game that manages to survive on its narrative alone, and is an immensely valuable cautionary tale for other horror developers.


* Serena (unreviewed)
It's short, it's free, it's good.  Agustin Cordes' games have some...quirks, let's say, when it comes to puzzle design.  But his uniquely subtle approach to horror is a breath of fresh air in an industry saturated with jumpscares, gore, and grotesque monstrosities.  Here's hoping that Asylum comes out soon.

More Niche than Nietzsche (buh dum tish) and loaded with features and content, SWAT 3 is a wonderful tactical shooter bordering on simulation that is far more engaging than it sounds.  Executing your missions with nitpicky attention to detail is actually a lot of fun, and it's actually kind of refreshing to play as this particular breed of rule-following good guy.


Counterstrike: Global Offensive (unreviewed)
Finally, finally, I understand Counterstrike.  There are a lot of things CS: GO does to alleviate the issues I had with CS 1.6 and CS:S.  But the biggest improvement has to be the addition of a dedicated competitive mode, where teamplay and strategy actually do occur, as opposed to the mess that was public matches in the previous titles.  To me, CS:GO is the perfect balance of strategy, reflexes, and teamwork, and it's easily my favorite multiplayer FPS of all time.


Alan Wake (unreviewed)
I'm not sure why I didn't review Alan Wake, given how much I liked it.  It has hands-down the best narrative in any action game I've played, keeping the player hooked with a constant stream of questions, some of which are answered and some of which aren't.  The atmosphere is likewise fantastic, and the combat is very satisfying.  It does lose some momentum towards the end, and the ending itself is far too vague and unsatisfying for my tastes, but Alan Wake is still a fantastic experience.

* Wrack (unreviewed) 
As a lover of mid-90s FPSs, it's hard not to be a little jealous of NES/SNES-era platforming fans.  While they get literally hundreds of retro throwbacks to their genre, we basically just have Wrack.  It's probably the most faithful retro FPS yet made, and it's got some of the smoothest combat since Doom was in its heyday.   

Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (unreviewed)
It's not without its irritations and it's a bear to get running on modern systems, but Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight is actually a phenomenal game from the Halflife school of FPSs.  Wielding both guns and lightsabers is fun, as is using your force powers, but what really makes Dark Forces II special is its level design.  Creative, complex, evocative, and full of genuinely interesting navigational puzzles, the levels Dark Forces II are some of the best in any FPS I've played.


Take the budding Roguelite genre, trim off the excess fat, and fill it with Lovecraftian goodness, and you've got Eldritch.  The perfectly balanced emergent gameplay allows you to play however you'd like, and the game feels much more like an open sandbox than a series of arenas.  The difficulty curve is likewise fantastic, making the game easy to understand, relatively painless to finish, and brutally difficult to fully complete.

E.Y.E Divine Cybermancy
E.Y.E is  overambitious, quirky, janky, out of its mind, and wonderful.  The bad parts are bad in the most enjoyable of ways.  The good parts are as enthusiastic and heartfelt as can be.  And the entire package is a thing of accidental beauty.


* The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
I expected it to be a dull slog, and it actually turned out to be my favorite game of the year.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter excels on almost every level, with only a somewhat underwhelming story keeping it from becoming one of my favorite games of all time.  As you might guess, I've got a vested interest in narrative-focused exploration games, and this one might very well be the pinnacle of the genre.