Friday, January 17, 2014

Destroyed Controller's Best of 2013

Regardless of how infrequent I post, I still play the shit out of my video games. I'd rather not drag this out any further than I need to, so I'm just going to give you a handful of my favorite games of the year, in order of release (except for the coveted Game of the Year), plus a few things worth mentioning.

Favorite Games

Tomb Raider
Released: March 5, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

Say what you will about reboots, I really do believe that the re-imagining of who Lara Croft is struck a cord with me. I have a confession: I never liked Lara Croft. Never did. There's only so many women in games, and when you think of powerful, stand-out, female power-houses, Lara is towards the top of the list (only below Samus Aran, who I feel to be the most powerful female figure in gaming). I only started playing with 2006's Tomb Raider: Legend, but seeing as the reviews for every game since Tomb Raider III have been on a constant downswing (until Legend came along, then started the downfall all over again) - and sales being relatively strong (Legend, the first one after "holy fuck, what the shit is Angel of Darkness?!", scraped by with 1.5 million, Anniversary pulling in 2.3, but a soaring 3.3 million for Underworld) - it was time.

When Square decided to announce the reboot, things were shaky. The last few games weren't all that bad; hell, I enjoyed them, and they were my first Tomb Raider games. I didn't mind for the reboot, but a lot of people just moaned and groaned: "ugh, another fucking reboot?" Square had it in their right mind to do so. Tomb Raider games haven't been great. Thing is, I walked into the reboot with low expectations. I watched a few gameplay videos, I watched a trailer, and I was following the purported "rape" controversy (even though this is coming from a man, there was nothing "rape-y" about that scene). I walked out pleasantly surprised and felt wanting more of this new Lara.

The entire game was fantastic. It made me care about Lara, and while some of the pain she suffered was too over-the-top for someone to keep going (see: rebar), the reboot was a success to gamers and critics. Tomb Raider launched March 5, 2013. Square's fiscal year ended March 31. They considered 3.5 million sold in 3 weeks to be "weak" to the point of re-releasing it on new-gen systems. You can't deny that the game was a blast to play.

BioShock Infinite
Released: March 26, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

Considering this one won my "Most Anticipated of 2012", you shouldn't be surprised that it made my list of favorite games...of 2013. I enjoyed Booker and I loved Elizabeth. The world of Columbia was an absolute treasure. While the story had it's criticisms - spanning from "not this shit again" to "overwhelming at the end to make up for a poor story overall" - I did find solace with the ending.

While some may haven't beaten it, you've had a year: spoilers be ahead!

The revelation that Booker is Comstock, Elizabeth is actually Anna DeWitt (your daughter, and whose initials you have burned into the back of your hand), the Luteces are actually the same person from a different universe, and that every possible universe exists (the multi-verse theory), including Rapture, it did seem overwhelming. I had to look up info on the wiki to fully understand what just hit me.

Sure, there were some faults - traditional "two weapons at a time" mechanic, rechargeable shields, poor enemy AI, weak implementation of Elizabeth's tears, weak plasmids - but the game was a blast to play, and absolutely gorgeous. I do know one pivotal piece of information, something we should all keep in our minds whenever the next "BioShock" is announced:

"There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man. There's always a city." - Elizabeth

Grand Theft Auto V
Release Date: September 17, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

I wasn't expecting much of GTA V, considering what GTA IV was. Yes, GTA IV was a low-point. No, I think San Andreas sucked. Vice City was the highlight of the franchise up until now. GTA V and Los Santos is an absolute wondrous city. You thought IV's Liberty City was thriving? Just head on over to Los Santos and watch your expectations be shattered.

Looking at the map of the game, you think "oh man, this is small; just one island?" The island alone is gigantic. Take a look at these pictures. Sure, a lot of it is mountains and hillside, but the city alone looks small on a map, but is thriving in the game. There is absolutely so much to do, that there might be too much to do.

I loved Trevor. So many people hate him because he's the antithesis of Michael and Franklin, but he works in this world. He embodies the bat-shit craziness of the entire franchise in one person. People hate him. I love him. If Rockstar actually did an expansion with Trevor, I would buy the shit out of it. Michael is Max Payne. There's no getting around it. The hair cut, the suit, the facial hair, the goddamned special ability that gives him mother-fucking bullet time...Rockstar just copied him over. His drinking problem may not be as intense - and he may not have a dead wife, child, and lover - but he is Max. Franklin is...generic. He's forgettable, honestly, and putting the end mission on his shoulders alone was ignorant.

Minimal faults aside, I absolutely loved GTA V: the three character mission and story structure, the hot-swapping of characters, and the sheer scope of the game make this something for other open-world games to strive for.

Pokémon Y
Release Date: October 12, 2013
System Played: Nintendo 3DS

(I tried so hard not to use box art, but it couldn't be done)

I fell off the bandwagon with the franchise. I played Red, Yellow, Gold...and that was it. I played things that would appear on console - Snap and Stadium, prominently - but it wasn't until Black came long that I broke down and got back into the franchise. Mostly due to the fact that Gold came out when I was in 8th grade, and I could do without the ridicule of being "the kid who still plays Pokemon" in high school.

Holy shit, did I miss a lot.

When X and Y were announced, I was all over it like stink on shit. I followed new Pokemon announcements, I eagerly awaited the evolutions of the starters to determine who I would pick (if you still can't decide, it's Froakie), and I theorized (briefly) on what Sylveon was, only to be led astray and have a new type announced. I wanted one of these new games, and it wasn't until just a week before launch that I decided on Y purely because I didn't want a pure Fairy-type legendary. Mega Evolutions are such a farce, but they work. I honestly wished that they were new, legit evolutions for these Pokemon; don't mix my Pokemon with your Digimon. There's a reason why that franchise died.

The 3D environments, movements, and exploration of the world is a great evolution of the franchise. I'm still holding out for a lot for the next game, or even a Wii U entry, but I know damned well that won't happen. What I want is something Nintendo will never do, but from what I got in Y, I won't have to wait long until they do something remarkable with the franchise.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Release Date: October 19, 2013 (November 15/22, 2013 for PS4/Xbox One)
System Played: PlayStation 4

I was reluctant to put this on my list. When I was forced into a naval battle in Assassin's Creed III, I hated it. Despised it, even. So when Ubisoft announced a fucking pirate-based sequel, starring the grandfather of the blandest attempt at giving the community an American Indian protagonist, set during the golden age of piracy, I stood up from my chair, threw it out the window, and jumped out after it. I hated naval battles.

Notice the tense.

I still don't like naval battles, but I've grown to enjoy them to a degree. They work very well with this world, and are a great evolution of the idea from the previous game. Ship upgrades are a bit crazy to go after, forcing you to dive to shipwrecks to locate an "elite plan" for an upgrade in one of the many chests underwater. Because when I think "fun," I think underwater missions. Regardless, as my expectations were low, the game turned out very well. The sheer size of the map, covering virtually the entire West Indies, is incredibly impressive. I even brought up Google Maps. Some things don't match up - Cuba, Florida, and the Yucatan Peninsula are not that close - but that's video games for you.

Assassin's Creed IV was a very fun game to play, but I can't feel that I have some sort of hatred towards this game, because I know goddamned well it's why Ubisoft delayed Watch Dogs: hype was building more around Watch Dogs, and they feared it would eat into sales for Assassin's Creed IV. Hell, they're right to think it; I wasn't going to buy Assassin's Creed IV, but was going to buy Watch Dogs (and the reason why I pre-ordered my PS4).

Just...if Watch Dogs is in the same universe as Assassin's Creed, leave it at that. Please don't make Aiden an assassin. Please.

Full artwork available here.
Artist: Nolan989890
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Release Date: November 22, 2013
System Played: Nintendo 3DS

This one tugged at some strings for me. More on the nostalgia, because it's been a long time since we've had a top-down Zelda game. I wouldn't consider Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks in that type, but more of...Minish Cap. Yea, I went that far back, way back to 2004.

A Link Between Worlds, while not necessarily the Zelda game many were hoping for, was very fun. I do have an issue with them effectively copy-pasting the entire game map. Sure, it's been a few centuries between this and A Link to the Past, but there had been a few centuries between Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. That was the same Hyrule, yet so different. They really could have done something to make the overworld it's own world, but the dungeons more than made up for it. Each one in the same place, but so different, it is here where the game began to become it's own entry. For anyone who hasn't played A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds will feel fresh, energetic, and phenomenal. For those have, well, you'll suffer from a "been there, done that" attitude.

The one formulaic part of the franchise that is turned on it's head is the key items. For one, there is no more ammo. Everything relies on a stamina bar. Ravio - a particular gentlemen who takes up shop in your house, doesn't pay you rent, and has the gaul to ask you to pay for things - will sell you every key item in the game. First, it's rentals: 20 rupees here, 40 rupees there. The thing is, you can rent all of them at once, and better yet, complete the dungeons in any order. Yea, that flip-turned-upside-down the entire stale mechanics of the series, and it just got fresh.

Once you get the Master Sword, you are given the option to buy them...for a ridiculous price. We're talking 800-1200 rupees. While that does seem high by Zelda's standards, the thing is...rupees are the only thing you collect. There are a few spoils, but rupees are in an absurd abundance. You can easily rent all the weapons at once - which are removed from you if you die, regardless of where you are - but to buy them all will take time. Despite this mix up, I feel for good things for how Zelda will turn out on the Wii U, and that's something I can't wait for.

The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 1
Release Date: December 13, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

This really should be classified as "Game That Should Win Something" or "Game That Made Me Cry Like a Fucking Baby," purely because it's just S02E01. Considering Season 1 won Game of the Year from me last year, it's no wonder Season 2's starter is appearing here. Sure, there's going to be some confusion come next year - "can we consider all of Season 2 for 2014 GOTY, or is it still classified as 2013?" - but yet, Episode 1 was a fantastic reintroduction for Clementine.

If you're wondering how the game can make me cry, consider "chapter 6" with the dog at the campsite. That brief few moments before Clem has to leave the campsite had me in tears (to keep it as least spoilerific as possible, "I chose to follow through"). Why? No fucking clue. Well, I sure as hell know what caused it, but it just hit something deep in me that triggered it to happen. If you haven't played it, here's the profile of the dog on the Walking Dead Wiki; be warned, it's loaded with spoilers, and sad as all fuck.

Never have I ever been stoked to play a sequel, let alone an episodic one, and I am dying to learn when Episode 2 hits.

Game of the Year

The Last of Us
Release Date: June 14, 2013
System Played: PlayStation 3

From the moment it was announced, I was skeptical. It told me it was another, generic, post-apocalyptic, "zomg, hoomans haz turned!!" bullshit game. Even with Naughty Dog making the game, I still had my reservations.

"Why do we need another post-apocalyptic game?"

"Why do we need this zombie-esque plague that's decimated the human race?"

"Does the industry really need this?"

Then I started to see the assets of the game. Trailers, gameplay, character dialogue, artwork, interviews, previews...the game had merit. So much, in fact, I bought the Survival Edition of the game. I could't put this fucking game down when I got it home, because, Jesus fuck, this is such a phenomenal game. The dynamic and bonding between Joel and Ellie sell this game more than anything.

This is Naughty Dog at their absolute best.

The first 10 minutes of the game plays like the intro to Up. You learn of your main character, his family, who he is, how he works, then...death. Joel loses Sarah, his "baby girl." Watching a grown-ass man watch his daughter die in his hands was hard. The emotional impact was even harder because the game leaps forward 20 years without anything. It isn't until he meets Ellie, who obviously begins to become Sarah in Joel's eyes, that we see more of Sarah and Joel's relationship.

Further into the game, Joel is critically injured, and you end up playing as Ellie during the vast majority of the Winter chapter, which is probably the best one of the game. You start off playing Winter Hunting Simulator 2013, tracking a deer, plunging arrow after arrow in the deer, until it dies in a scripted location. It's here that you meet, and make your stand against a flood of infected with, David. He seems like a strapping, middle-aged gentlemen, who helps you through a field of infected. It's only until you get to safety that he reveals that he's been stalking you, as you've laid waste to a group of his men, and he's ready to kill. Shit gets real fuckin' creepy when David channels his inner Jack Torrance and goes goddamned ape-shit on you. He begins to track you down in an abandoned ski lodge restaurant, but only after he accidentally sets the fucking place on fire, yet continues to threaten you and attempt to kill you while in the same building. This is the only boss fight of the game, and something I'm glad of. The droll of boss fights being that "high point" of the game where you build up towards the fight, then have to build up to the next one, it gets real old, and that's coming from a Zelda nerd.

I can keep going about this game, but I don't want to. If you haven't played it, please do. The Last of Us is a fantastic game.

Hell, I might just go back and replay it again.

Biggest Disappointment (Tie)

Batman: Arkham Origins
Release Dates: October 25, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

Here's the thing: I absolutely love the Arkham series. I never liked any superhero video game (or movie), so leave it to Batman to help curb that problem in both area. Arkham Asylum was an absolute pleasure to play, especially considering it's essentially "Zelda, but with Batman," and that's exactly what it was. Dive into City a short while later, and it improved - slightly - on the formula of Asylum; navigating the city was wonky, and it had this bullshit horseshoe, Oblivion-esque map design to make it feel "bigger." All it did was piss people off. But. BUT. Both games were extremely fun to play.

When Origins was announced, and that it wasn't going to be Rocksteady making the game (but rather, WB's Montréal studio), I renamed my expectations to "Thelma" and desire to "Louise", and watched them both go flying over the cliff hand-in-hand. I ended up renting the goddamned game, and I felt so fucking cheated by this atrocity, I felt bad for anyone who paid full price. Sure, they had access to Rocksteady's assets, but they were not Rocksteady. The game, for me, felt awful. Better yet, Montréal only had one game to their name before working on Origins, and that was the Wii U port of City.

The map design was terrible - "Hey! Let's take the city, split it in half, and make you crawl across this fucking bridge that takes 5 minutes to cross!" - the fast-travel, while welcomed, was awful: "For fast-travel, rather than take what people thought was the best implementation - Skyrim - let's make people earn that shit. Wanna fast travel? Then find these 10 things placed obscurely thoughout the map in this particular area, destroy them, then you can fast-travel. Also: eat a dick." There was also some continuity problems, especially abilities that Batman earned in City (canonically, the last to happen of the three) are available in Origins (a prequel to Asylum) but not in Asylum. I felt the game was just a cheap way of continuing pumping out more in the Arkham-universe by letting Rocksteady focus on something else, and continue using Joker as an antagonist. Because, when someone dies, they never stay dead.

Killer is Dead
Release Date: August 27, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

Something else I'm a big fan of: Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture. I started playing his games with Killer7, something that I fell in love with. Sure, on-rails action games are stupid, but for some reason, I loved it. It was quirky, and that's exactly what the GameCube needed. Then he gives us No More Heroes (and a sequel), a fantastic spiritual successor to Killer7. Then Shadows of the Damned (a great Resident Evil 4-styled horror shooter), followed by the whimsical, borderline-retarded (maybe not "window licking" retarded, but just...retarded) Lollipop Chainsaw. All of which I thoroughly enjoyed...with Lollipop on the bottom of that list.

Finally, when EA announced a partnership, I was a bit worried, but after seeing what he was doing - action-adventure, cel-shaded, over-the-top weird Japanese shit - I was down for it. Considering Lollipop, I chose to rent it. I'm soooo fucking glad I did, because I made it not even 2 hours into this game, and had to send it back. Gameplay felt weak, characters completely unlikeable (compared to his previous efforts, yes, they were unlikeable), and controls were unwieldy.

It felt unmanufactured.

...I'd reuse that ostrich clip, but even I know when to give up on mediocrity.

Unexpected Delight

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Release Date: May 1, 2013
System Played: Xbox 360

Oh man, from the cheesy 80s music, to the godawful dialogue, to the casting of Michael Biehn as Sgt. Rex "Power" Colt, Blood Dragon is something so insane, so stupid, so goddamned magical, you have to play this game.

Even if you didn't like Far Cry 3, this game only follows suit in engine and genre. It's still a first-person shooter, set in an open-world environment. It has a bit of a Skyrim-esque start, in that the game teaches you outright exactly how powerful the fucking blood dragons really are. First mission after waking up? Moving as quietly as you can through a herd of blood dragons, diverting their attention with the cyber hearts of those men you killed earlier, then watching them decimate enemies with a god-fearing laser beam of death. The sight of them should send you running in fear, but the shear sound of that goddamned beam is enough to teach you "do NOT fuck with these things." This was this game's Skyrim-Giant moment.

The end-game is a fantastical God Mode spree of you riding a blood dragon, mounted with gattling guns and rocket launchers, as you fuck anything around you with every ounce of metal you can spew out of those guns. The ending is basically Far Cry 3's ending, but on acid laced with PCP.

Biggest Surprise

The Awful Next-Gen Launch

Image via Guardian LV
For months, we've poured over the announcements and the games. We witnessed the (absolutely insane) community meltdowns over used-game DRM and always-on policies. We watched as PR teams either blow-up and crumble or shined with childish arrogance. The months leading up to E3 were rife with people getting hard-ons, ready with credit cards in hand to pre-order once they heard a price tag. The pre-E3 conferences came, and shit got weird.

First, Microsoft tells us about the used game DRM and always on spot checks. Then reddit loses it's shit and goes crazy with the Nazi-inspired images (you think I'm fucking joking?). Then Sony has their conference, Jack comes out on stage and practically jerks everyone off by stabbing Microsoft in the gut over and over. The games were shown, and promises made. While Sony stayed "true to their vision," not two weeks after E3, Microsoft reverses their policies, and the Xbox One became the Xbox 180 (you can't argue against it; it's a very fitting name). The PS4 instantly becomes the saving grace of the gaming community.

Second only to the awful launches is what happened one month before launch, with more bad news: Ubisoft announces the delay of Watch Dogs, and Sony announces the delay of DriveClub, a driving sim that was to be free on day one under PlayStation Plus. To many, this was the driving point to getting a next-gen system, and Sony took a larger blow than Microsoft with the DriveClub delay. Pre-orders were cancelled 'round the globe. Pachter even predicted that, while negligible, sales of the systems themselves were to be affected. Ubisoft's stock dropped 22% after the announcement. You can't but help to think that Watch Dogs was a major factor of the next-gen launch, because the game looked and felt next-gen.

Despite two game delays, the launch library is fucking weak. Xbox One has a terribly short and awfully bland quick-time event Roman action game (Ryse), and a sequel in a zombie franchise that's mediocre on it's own (Dead Rising 3). People are calling Forza 5 the game to own, and the reason to own an Xbox One. You're really putting your $500 investment into a racing game? Sony has a handful of (mostly) below-average downloadable indies (Contrast, Don't Starve, and Resogun), and a really awful glorified action-adventure tech demo (Knack). Your multi-plats worth playing include piracy (Assassin's Creed), LEGO (LEGO Marvel), a military shooter (Battlefield), and a racing game (Need for Speed) made by a now-defunct studio that shouldn't be (Criterion turned Ghost Games).

The absolute mediocrity that is the launch makes the Wii U look much more desirable. A year in, you have two Mario games, a long overdue Pikmin sequel, a Zelda game (regardless of it's status as an HD port), a handful of solid third-party games, and Mario Kart right around the corner. The "most powerful things ever" have shit for games to play. Releases won't start to pick up until March when Infamous: Second Son, Titanfall, and Watch Dogs (finally) come out, 5 months after the systems did.

The features the systems have do nothing to save the fact that there is absolutely no point to buy these systems until the aforementioned games do release. Twitch streaming on the PS4? TV pass-through on the Xbox? Outside of last-gen ports, there's nothing else to do on these systems, and considering there's nothing to do for me except play amazing games on my PS3 and Xbox 360, I kind of wish I held off on my PS4 purchase.

What to Watch Out For

Next-Gen in Full Force

Image via PlatformIn

Despite my bitching about launch, there is always good to come. There are far too many games for me to focus on in this list, as 2014 is teeming with tons of new releases. We have current-gen, last-gen, flourishing handhelds, and an absolutely jam-packed calendar of releases. The biggest thing to keep an eye out for is the calendar.

While, yes, Nintendo hasn't been doing all too hot in the past year with the Wii U (cutting their sales forecast by a ball-busting 69%), they have a fantastic first-party launch lineup, which will definitely help push sales. Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros., and The Legend of Zelda (officially number 18) will be games every Wii U owner will buy, and those that the millions of gamers that haven't done so already will find a reason within those three. Third party still isn't doing too hot - they at least have Ubisoft working on Watch Dogs for the system - but after the onslaught of first party, the third party games will follow. To what extent...we'll have to wait and see.

PS4 and Xbox One are now officially in their first full year of release, and there is a TON of games to look out for. The multi-plat Thief reboot is, quite possibly, the first one on everyone's mind (outside of the Tomb Raider re-release) on February 25. Titanfall for the Xbox family and PC hits March 11, and if former-Infininty Ward games aren't your thing, the prologue chapter to Metal Gear Solid V, subtitled Ground Zeroes, drops a week later. Just a few days later, Cole-less Infamous: Second Son hits, giving PS4 owners their first, exclusive, must-have game. In April, Bethesda nuts get their first MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online. While I'm not holding by breath for this one, anyone should at least pay attention to how it performs. I would like to see if it does anything to evolve the MMO genre, because I can't fucking stand MMOs. Somewhere in there is Watch Dogs, but Ubisoft isn't talking.

We have our dreaded summer of nothing notable, except for E3. This is where we'll have our first chance to see what Year Two has in store for Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo may actually show us what this restructuring business model talk means for them. We can see new game announcements, possibly new hardware from Sony (Vita upgrade?) and Nintendo (proper 3DS successor? Wii U spec beef? Nintendo Network overhaul???), and maybe even a 180 on the 180.

Destiny starts your holiday releases in early September, and if history shows us anything, Halo 5 on the Xbox One could rear it's head later in the month. I find that fucking hysterical that former Halo team Bungie's new franchise, after getting away from Microsoft, could very well go head-to-head against it's own creation in the same month. Anytime after this is your Nintendo releases of Smash Bros. and Zelda, and we know that we can expect the new sandbox Hitman, Tom Clancy's The Division may or may not release this year, and the fucking-awesome-sounding-but-could-be-the-worst-shit-ever Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor will be holiday 2014.

There is not a single, solitary thing that I can say you should wait for, because this year is so fucking busy within the industry, keeping your blinders on one're going to miss sooooo much.