Category Archives: The Gentlemen’s Awards and Praise

Lucius Merriweather’s Most Agreeable Games of 2016

As ever, my gaming time was at a premium this year, but even so I managed to plough through a fair portion of my gaming backlog, finally finding time to play games like Journey and Uncharted 2.

Despite buying a PS4 in September, I still didn’t play that many games released in 2016, yet the new games I did manage to play left a lasting impression. And there are dozens of 2016 releases that I can’t wait to play through in the coming year, among them the newly rebooted DOOM – which Sir Gaulian has been raving about in his best of list.

The Best Games of 2016 That I Actually Played

the-last-guardian-tricoThe Last Guardian

It was worth the wait. I’m currently halfway through The Last Guardian, and it has reawakened feelings I experienced when playing through the sublime ICO and Shadow of the Colossus: namely, an uncanny sense of isolation and wonder, combined with a strong emotional bond with my companion. And speaking of the companion in this game, Trico is simply amazing to behold – at times I have genuinely believed he’s a real creature that’s somehow become trapped in my PS4.

no_mans_sky_foundation_update_base_buildingNo Man’s Sky

It’s not for everyone, and Hello Games didn’t quite deliver on the rash promises they made in the lead up to No Man’s Sky‘s release, but I’ve immensely enjoying pottering around the universe they created. There’s sheer joy to be had in simply roaming the galaxy and stumbling across its many weird and wonderful creatures. And those 70s sci-fi inspired planetscapes are genuinely poster-worthy. Plus, with the latest expansion, you can now build your own space shed for intergalactic pottering.

pokemon_go_-_screenshot_of_mapPokémon Go

Despite being fairly broken at launch, Pokemon Go was phenomenally popular, and with good reason: the urge to catch ’em all in the actual real world is overwhelmingly strong. I gave up on gym battling fairly early on, but I still play the game regularly in the hope of completing my Pokedex. And thanks to frequent updates, the game is now actually stable and full of great features. Most importantly, it got me back into mobile gaming – speaking of which…

super-mario-run-toad-rallySuper Mario Run

Much has been written about the game’s divisive £8 price point – there’s a good summary here – but to me this game has been incredible value for money. Unlike the initially broken Pokemon Go, Super Mario Run has the extreme polish that you’d expect of a fully fledged Nintendo game – and Toad Rally is utterly compelling. It turns out that competing against your friends for coins and Toads is exactly the ingredient that Mario needed all along. I wrote off 2D platformers earlier this year, but Super Mario Run is the game that made me fall in love with them again.

steamworld-heistSteamWorld Heist

Technically this came out in December 2015, but I’m including it here because I didn’t play it in time for last year’s list – and because it’s bloody fantastic. The universe of SteamWorld Dig is reimagined in space as a side-on, turn-based shooter – like a 2D XCOM with steam-powered robots. The design is incredible and there’s a warm sense of humour percolating through the game – I can’t wait to see what Image & Form come out with next.

BUBBLING UNDER: Deus Ex GO, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, Really Bad Chess.

The Best Games of 2016 That I Would Have Played If I’d Had The Time

fire-emblem-fatesFire Emblem: Fates

I’m gutted that I missed out on the lovely special edition of this game – I’ve been coveting Sir Gaulian’s copy. I adored Fire Emblem: Awakening, and I’m fresh from a playthrough of the GBA game Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, so I’m itching to throw myself into Fire Emblem: Fates. The general word seems to be that it doesn’t quite hit the highs of Awakening, but I haven’t played a bad Fire Emblem game yet.

tokyo-mirage-sessionsTokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Again, I wish I’d been quick enough to nab the special edition of this game. And rather than going down in price, the base game is now selling for more than its RRP in many places, reflecting the limited number of retail copies, no doubt. Still, I can’t wait to play through this unique crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem – next year I’ll be watching online game shops like a hawk, ready to swoop in when the price is right.

ace-attorney-spirit-of-justicePhoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

I was disappointed that Capcom didn’t bother localizing the intriguing Sherlock Holmes Ace Attorney spin-off, but at least we have this game, the sixth in the main series. The fifth was a huge return to form, and Spirit of Justice seems to have kept up the series’ standards, judging by the good reviews. I can’t wait to see what Maya has been up to all these years.

virginia-screenshotVirginia

I spent a good portion of this year playing through the wonderfully odd and obtuse Deadly Premonition, so what a coincidence it was when another game inspired by Twin Peaks was released at the same time I was exploring a different version of murder in small-town America. The idea of a story with no dialogue is hugely intriguing – and the fact that this game is only a couple of hours long means that there’s a good chance I might actually find the time to play it in 2017.

BUBBLING UNDER: Uncharted 4, INSIDE, Dishonored 2, XCOM 2, The Witness, Monster Hunter Generations, Firewatch, DOOM, Titanfall 2, That Dragon, Cancer, Hitman, Duskers.

[As written by Lucius Merriweather on the cusp of 2017.]

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Sir Gaulian’s Most Agreeable games of 2016

For me the year 2016 in videogames is notable for a couple of reasons.

The first is that this year marks the moment Forza Horizon shtick wore out its welcome, and that despite its slavish dedication to paying homage to Australia’s unique auto history, I couldn’t force my way through the now by-the-numbers open world racing of Forza Horizon 3.

I played the fewest games in 2016 I probably have in any other year of my adult life. Which makes this a rather hard post to write. I haven’t followed what’s been happening in the world of video games terribly closely – which has been wonderful truth be told – but if there was a year to be ‘out of the loop’ this was it.

Because although I’d made a conscious decision to completely block out video games media and coverage, when snippets did creep their way to my attention through the information cracks and crevices in modern day living, it felt like I’d been picked up and sent way back in time. A return to Willamette Shopping Mall? A trailer featuring Watch Dogs’ T-bone?  Rocket-launching Revenants? In many ways – whether it be through the return of some of my favourites from years past or the release of games long in the making – my abridged experience of 2016 felt like a year designed to remind me personally of the things I love about video games. And the things I love about video games were encapsulated perfectly in my favourite games of the year.

Doom

Classic Doom always will hold a very special place in my video game lexicon. It is the one game I’d say without reservation every human being should – if they have any interest in pop culture of any kind – at least experience once in their life.

I’d probably say the same thing about this year’s Doom.

Doom is quite simply the same as it ever was. It’s prettier sure, and there are some more modern day trappings sprinkled across the top, but Doom is now as Doom was then. It’s impossible to know what would or could’ve been, but I can’t help but feel that if the Masters of Doom had the latest technology in the 90’s, this is what they would’ve unleashed upon an unwitting society.  It’s fast, it’s violent, it’s frenetic, and it’s fantastic.  From the moment the first zombie-soldier shuffles on to the screen, it feels just as it did more than 20 years ago. The masters may have changed, but Doom is back in a big way.

DOOM_Mars

 

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 is perhaps the perfect follow-up to what I still consider one of this generation’s finest video games. Although I found Chicago the more interesting place to hack, San Francisco is clearly the more logical place for cyber-shenanigans, what with most of the world’s social media hailing from the city by the bay.

The feel and flow of the series’ storytelling also got a significant overhaul; which despite not being as brooding aired as much of modern humanity’s dirty laundry as the grittiest pop culture yarns, with gender, sexuality and racial discrimination all getting subtle yet powerful cameos in such a clever and understated way that it’s not far-fetched to hope it paves the way for smarter representation of social minorities in video games.

But it was the story about how a ragtag bunch of activists bond – and I mean really become friends who care for one another – that wins the game my highest of praise. Watch Dogs 2 is a thoughtful game wrapped in a veneer of fun and frivolity, a game that successfully tackles some of western civilisations’ greatest challenges from living in a hyper-connected world, and a game that treads that fine line between preaching and informing.

The fact Watch Dogs 2 is incredibly fun to play is nothing short of a miracle, and why it’s without a doubt my favourite game of the year.

wd2

 

So there you have it; a shorter list than most previous years, but one that is filled with two games that for mine have packed a far harder punch than any in previous memory. Please let us know your favourite 2016 games in the comments.  Happy New Year and I hope to be around these hallowed halls more frequently in 2017.

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Lucius Merriweather’s Most Agreeable Games of 2015

Better late than never. Following Sir Gaulian’s rundown in the middle of December, here’s my list of the creme de la creme of 2015 – a year in which I found myself playing my 3DS and Wii U more than anything else, despite all of the exciting goings on elsewhere. Indeed, 2015 felt like the year that the ‘next-gen’ consoles really got going, with games like Fallout 4 and Arkham Knight finally providing bona fide reasons to invest in a PS4 or Xbox One.

But having said that, I’m still working my way through tons of brilliant games from yesteryear, and if any game defined my 2015, it was Xenoblade Chronicles, a Wii game from 2011. I reviewed it back in September after spending well over 100 hours playing through its enormous campaign, and it’s easily the game I played the most last year. Other notable games I finally got around to playing included Alien: Isolation and Heavy Rain, along with the brilliant Remember Me (which I’m currently playing through and loving every minute). But in terms of games that actually came out this year, this little lot have been keeping me busy…

The Best Games of 2015 That I Actually Played

Monster-Hunter-4-Ultimate-key-artMonster Hunter 4 Ultimate

After being introduced to the series with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the fourth game, and I even got a snazzy limited edition New Nintendo 3DS XL to play it on. The latest entry is a big improvement on its predecessor in terms of the single-player campaign, and I love the new verticality to the levels. Basically, when I wasn’t playing Xenoblade in 2015, I was playing this.

affordable space adventuresAffordable Space Adventures

Few games have really taken full advantage of the Wii U’s idiosyncratic control system, but this game used every facet of the console’s quirky controls to brilliant effect. As a single-player game it’s fine, but with two or three people it becomes an absolute riot. Who’d have thought that being an engineer could be so much fun? Don’t answer that if you’re an engineer.

code name steam eagleCode Name: S.T.E.A.M.

I’m a sucker for turn-based strategy games, and the 3DS is perfect for them – Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is still one of my favourite games on the system, and I loved Fire Emblem: Awakening.  So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this: a strategy game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s monsters along with various heroes from American literature. The lack of a map was initially jarring, but it quickly proved to be an inspired decision that really encouraged careful exploration, and Eurogamer rightfully highlighted Code Name STEAM as one of the great ‘Unsung Games of 2015‘. Yes it’s a little unbalanced, and those chunky visuals are an acquired taste, but it’s still a true gem.

trailer-project-zero-maiden-of-black-water-trailer-annuncio-release-eu-18227-640x16Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water

I was tempted to put Splatoon in this slot, but to be honest I played Project Zero far more, even though on the surface it’s a ‘weaker’ game. It’s repetitive, yes, and it’s hardly revolutionary – but it rekindled my love for a genre that’s almost been forgotten, and now I can’t wait to seek out a few more survival horror games that I missed along the way. Dino Crisis 2? Parasite Eve II? I reckon they might still be worth a punt after all these years… and imagine if they remade them.

BUBBLING UNDER: Splatoon, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Box Boy!.

The Best Games of 2015 That I Would Have Played If I’d Had The Time

fallout_4_63529Fallout 4

I tramped around Fallout 3 for what seemed like years. I laid waste to Megaton, discovered creepy skeletons in an abandoned bunker, put a tree man out of his misery and got up to all sorts of larks on a battleship. Fallout 4 looks just as bizarre and wonderful, even if it’s as buggy and clunky as ever. But then again, the bugginess and clunkiness is almost part of the charm. Almost.

xenoblade-chronicles-x-wallpaperXenoblade Chronicles X

I came this close to buying Xenoblade Chronicles X on day one, having spent a good chunk of my year playing through the prequel. In the end though there are still far too many games on my backlog that I want to get through, and I know this game will be another 100-hour-plus adventure. It does look brilliant though – I’m scheduling it in for sometime in 2016, for definite.

batman arkham knightBatman: Arkham Knight

The emerging consensus seemed to be that this game wasn’t quite as good as the first two – but it still looks bloody amazing. I can’t wait to step into the shoes of the caped crusader once again, but I also feel like I should play through Origins first, if only for completeness. That there old Batmobile looks fun though, don’t it?

guitar-hero-live-screenshotGuitar Hero: Live

At one point you couldn’t move in my front room for plastic musical instruments: I played my way through about five Guitar Hero and Rock Band games before the genre seemed to fizzle out. It’s been a good long while since that happened, however, and guitar games feel like they’re ripe for a return. Rock Band 4 looked fun, but Guitar Hero: Live had the killer idea of using live concert footage to make you feel like you’re noodling away on an actual stage. I’m looking forward to making a proper tit of myself as I thrash away on this in my living room.

life is strangeLife is Strange

Dontnod Entertainment is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the hottest game studios in the business. After Remember Me was released to generally great reviews but reportedly poor sales (I can’t find any official figures, but one thread claims it sold just 140,000 copies), it was great to see Dontnod getting a well-deserved hit with Life is Strange – and it also vindicates the developer’s decision to press on with using female lead characters after their previous game was rejected by publishers who whined that “You can’t have a female character in games” (seriously). Life is Strange sounds genuinely different and innovative, and the only thing that stopped me buying it is the nagging guilt that I’m still only halfway through the equally wonderful The Wolf Among Us – a game I’m determined to see through before I start any more episodic adventures.

BUBBLING UNDER: Steins;Gate, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam Bros., Resident Evil Revelations 2, Her Story, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Soma, The Talos Principle, Just Cause 3, Sunless Sea, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

[As written by Lucius Merriweather in the miasma of the New Year back-to-work week.]

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Sir Gaulian’s Most Agreeable games of 2015

What a cracking year 2015 was. One for the ages I reckon. Marriage of course, topped that for me, as I was lucky enough to marry my teenage sweetheart. But hey, those video games really came to the party this year didn’t they, and in timely fashion too as both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 hit their respective strides in a big way. And the Wii U, well that just continues to bubble along and make itself a welcome presence in every household it has touched to date. All 10 million of them. Good bloody times all ’round, really.

But as has become a bit of a trend for this ageing chap, video game time is but a portion of what it once was, and I’ve played only a handful of games I’d have liked to have. But the games that I did play, well they were all for the most part, great.  And from that selection, there were a handful that stood a head above the rest, that were so fantastic in fact that you’d be as silly as a bum full of Smarties to miss out on.

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

I’m not sure I was ready for just how adorable the 3DS incarnation of Hastune Miku is.  I liked the vocaloid rhythm game shenanigans of Hatsune Miku on the Playstation 3, tapping along to the weird electronic pop music complete with weird synthetic vocals, all the while enjoying the music more than I know I ought to.  Enough to buy two games of it in fact.  But the last thing I thought I’d want from these fun, challenging music games, is a virtual live-in diva of my own to look after and simply just hang out with and share a drink or two.  After all, it’s all about the music.

Well as it turns out it’s exactly what I needed from a Hatsune Miku game, because over the last handful of months, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX has been at my side practically everywhere I go.  I’d replay songs not to get higher scores, oh no, but to buy premium sushi to share with my roommate Meiko.  “How about we share some sushi?”, I’d say out loud to my virtual on-screen buddy, garnering odd looks from my wife sitting not one metre away.  “How about we play some Reversi now?”, I’d ask, much to her excitement.

I’m embarassed to admit just how attached I became to my live-in buddy Meiko.  But the ‘relationships’ I developed with the adorable bunch of characters made the music that much better, and watching Meiko bust a few of her own choreographed moves on the dance floor, well that made me feel like a proud as punch parent.

Did I mention the music is also pretty good?

MeikoHM

Rise of the Tomb Raider

For twenty years I’ve been a loving and committed travelling companion in Lara Croft’s adventures, accompanying her from the mountainous heights of Peru to the Arctic Sea, and beyond.  Her exploits on Yamatai in 2013 were a favourite of mine, offering a lush and stunning world to traverse explore, with a nice glaze of combat to add just a tad more flavour.  As much as I loved that game, I’m in no way afraid to admit that Rise of the Tomb Raider is a shitload better, even if it is just a bigger, prettier and more refined version of what came before.

There’s also a lot more tomb raiding in Rise of the Tomb Raider, which serves as a nice reminder that Lara Croft is a seasoned antiquarian, and conservator of anthropological history.  Something that’s easy to forget amidst her seeming wanton destruction of artefacts and historically significant structures.

Rise of the Tomb Raider may not throw Lara into completely uncharted territory, but when the core experience is as good as this latest series reboot, sometimes bigger is just better.

 Steins;Gate

Steins;Gate is a beautiful visual novel masterpiece. Although at times it hides it behind a thin veneer of whimsy and goofiness, Steins;Gate is the greatest time travel story I’ve ever read, bar none.  Its characters are endearing, its dialogue funny, and its premise at times ludicrously Japanese: but its all in service of a story that is more ambitious and grounded than almost every other video game on the market.  Spoiling any element of Steins;Gate beyond telling you it’s about the accidental discovery of a method of time travel by a bunch of teenagers would be doing it, and your own journey through its narrative, a disservice. But rest assured if you can read, and you have the means by which to experience Steins;Gate, it is should be bloody-well compulsory to do so.

Forza Motorsport 6

Forza, Forza, Forza.  It’s become my rock at this time of year.  It is the series that keeps me out of the sun, stuck to the lounge, and glued to the screen over the summer months.  It’s the game that I’ll sneak in a race or two whenever I get the opportunity.  But most importantly for me it’s the game that just gets better and better with every entry. Forza has quite simply never been better and it’s the little things like night racing and wet weather that make it so.

Wet tracks may not seem on the surface to be a game changer, but the first time you experience aquaplaning at high speed, you’ll appreciate just how advanced Forza’s physics engine has become. And feeling your tyres rapidly lose grip through the controller’s haptic feedback is a very special experience indeed.  But it’s also a brilliant feedback loop that makes regaining control of your car, or easing off of the accelerator to avoid a loss of traction, intuitive.  The game may have driving aids for inexperienced drivers, but with the way the car communicates with the player through various sensory devices, it practically implores everyone to experience driving at its purest.

Racing is the one genre I just couldn’t live without.  But we’re almost at the point now where Forza is the only racing game I need.

Until Dawn

It’s very nearly 40 degrees celsius outside, but while surviving the terror unfolding at a snow-covered Blackwood Pines lodge, I’d have sworn it was as cold as ice.  Until Dawn sucks you in with its premise, holds you with its story, and strangles you with its atmosphere. Words alone quite simply cannot describe how expertly and lovingly crafted the game is, not only as an homage to the slasher genre, but as a progressive and revolutionary piece of interactive fiction.

Until Dawn is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.  As a horror game it was effective, playing on the tropes of the slasher film in a way that kept me second guessing myself and what the genre would expect me to do, desperately trying to keep my ragtag bunch of teens alive.  The first time your decisions lead to the death of a character is traumatising, matched only by the relief at a split-second decision that saved another’s life.  It’s a fine line between life and death for these characters, and knowing that any one of them can die at any moment, creates a tension unmatched in the medium let alone the genre.

But as an experience it was something really, really bloody special, certainly unmatched in its medium irrespective of genre.  Until Dawn wasn’t just unnerving owing to its sense of dread and terror, it filled me with a sort of psychological unease, convincing me at times that I was somewhat sociopathic and that my irrationality was playing out within the game. In  Until Dawn, Supermassive Games has not only made the best cinematic video game experience to date, but it has raised the bar for video game psychological horror, and in doing so outplayed all but the very best in silver-screen slasher flicks.  

It was immersive, it was beautiful, and it was compelling.  Until Dawn is, quite frankly, a future of video games I’d be more than willing to accept.

Simply put it’s my favourite game of the year.

While 2015 draws to a close, there are still a handful of choice cuts from the year I’d love to sink my cleaver into, from blockbusters Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Fallout 4, to a few smaller but just as tender pieces of meat such as Nobunaga’s Ambition and Wasteland 2.  But before we get carried away with next year, why don’t you let us know in the comments what your favourite games of the year are, and why everything I’ve written above is absolute nonsense.  It is the internet, after all.

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Lucius Merriweather’s Most Agreeable Games of 2014

Blimey, is it that time of year already? 2014 has flown by for me, mostly thanks to lots of travelling and working in various places, culminating in a move from London to Edinburgh at the end of the year. All that to-ing and fro-ing left me with very little time to play this year’s video games in the end. And when I have had time to play games, I’ve mostly been attempting to whittle down my games backlog – this year I finally got to the end of the Mass Effect trilogy and caught up with a ton of great 3DS games, as well as sinking dozens of hours into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, a game I’m still hooked on a year and a half after its release.

But having said that, 2014’s harvest of games has left a little to be desired, certainly compared with last year’s bumper crop. I’ve still yet to buy a PS4 or Xbox One, but there’s not a lot out there to tempt me right now. Most of the handful of 2014 games that have peaked my interest are still available on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and many of the big hitters for the PS4 and Xbox One have been delayed to 2015. Then there’s the fact that a whole litter of AAA games have met with mixed receptions, or have even been released in an embarrassingly broken state – Assassin’s Creed: Unity, DriveClub and Halo: The Master Chief Collection to name a few. Perhaps the biggest success story of the year is Nintendo, which is rather surprising considering the poor state in which it began 2014. With a slew of brilliant new games under its belt (Mario Kart 8 and Smash Brothers to name two), a fantastic E3 presentation and a rock-solid reputation for quality, bugless releases, Nintendo has ended the year on a high. I’m even thinking about buying an Amiibo. [Update: I finally caved in and bought one – Link, natch. Although a few others are tempting, too…] [Update 2: OK, I bought Marth as well. I mean come on, it’s Marth!]

The Best Games of 2014 That I Actually Played

Mario-Kart-8Mario Kart 8

Undoubtedly the best Mario Kart game ever. This was one of a handful of games I’ve rushed out to buy on day one, and it’s barely left my Wii U since I bought it. The track design is amazing (particularly Mount Wario), the music is sublime and it looks simply stunning. Plus the DLC was reasonably priced and actually offered a lot of extra content, not least of which was the ability to play as Link – Nintendo showing other companies how DLC SHOULD be done.

South-Park-The-Stick-Of-TruthSouth Park: The Stick of Truth

Flippin’ hilarious – I haven’t laughed so much while playing a game since Monkey Island back in the nineties. If you’re at all a fan of South Park, you need to play this game – it’s one of those rare TV tie-in games that’s actually good. Very good in fact. Some criticised it for being short for an RPG, but after finishing the Mass Effect trilogy this year, I was crying out for a game of manageable length for people who, you know, have to work for a living.

threesThrees

When I got my iPhone a few years back, I played through dozens of mobile games. But over the last year or two, my mobile gaming has dwindled to nothing with the realisation that most games on offer are either incredibly repetitive and shallow or have dreadful controls that don’t really work on a touch screen. Oh, and they try to get you to buy things every five flippin’ minutes. But Threes isn’t like that – there’s no hard sell, just wonderfully deep strategy that’s also perfect for playing in short periods. So there are good games on mobile after all…

The Best Games of 2014 That I Would Have Played If I’d Had The Time

Alien-IsolationAlien: Isolation

This one is winging its way to me as we speak – a little Christmas present to myself. I love the idea of the game – recreating the 1970s sci-fi feel of the original Alien film but with an unpredictable AI xenomorph that’s constantly hunting you. The idea of being hunted by an unstoppable monster has cropped up a handful of times in gaming – 3D Monster Maze on the Spectrum was probably the first one to do it – but the idea of merging that mechanic with the Alien universe was genius.

wolfenstein the new orderWolfenstein: The New Order

As Sir Gaulian said on his list, this one took many people by surprise by actually being very good indeed, especially after the last few Wolfenstein games have been a bit sub-par. The idea of setting it in an alternative 1960s is brilliant: it reminds me of one of my favourite PS2 games, Ring of Red.

hyrule-warriorsHyrule Warriors

I’ve only ever played a couple of Dynasty Warriors games, and even then only for a very short while, but I really liked what I saw. They’re criticised for being repetitive, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in ploughing your overpowered characters through armies of assailants, and I have a soft spot for Chaos Legion, which is in a similar style. Hyrule Warriors seems like the perfect introduction to the Warriors series: can’t wait to play it.

Bayonetta-2Bayonetta 2

Another Wii U game on my list of must plays – the Wii U has really had a brilliant year. The original Bayonetta was a non-stop rollercoaster ride of bizarreness and surpisingly deep fighting mechanics, and by all accounts the sequel is even better. I wonder what the end-game sequence will be like this time? Surely it can’t top the last one…

super-smash-bros-wii-u-marth-mega-man-largeSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U

This should actually be in my house right now, but annoyingly it’s currently lost somewhere in Post-Land. Hopefully it will turn up in time for New Year so I can soothe the January blues by punching Nintendo characters in the face. When this game was first announced I wasn’t particularly bothered about playing another Smash Bros., but I’ve been truly impressed by the level of detail and fan service they’ve put into this. And it’s got the Dog from Duck Hunt in it! Didn’t see that one coming.

BUBBLING UNDER: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, The Banner Saga, Shovel Knight, Child of Light, The Wolf Among Us, Destiny (although the more I read about Destiny, the more it sounds like a slightly broken, never-ending cycle of joyless grinding: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

[As written by Lucius Merriweather while preparing manically for Santa’s arrival. Merry Christmas everyone!]

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Sir Gaulian’s most agreeable games of 2014

Another year gone, and one that will for the most part probably be remembered for its broken games and its things ending with “gate”.  It was also the first full year for the new consoles, with the Xbox One and Playstation 4 vying for that early market lead that, let’s be honest doesn’t really mean a hell of a lot in the long run.  But early kudos are important for their shareholders, and on that front, I think investors on both sides would look something like The Joker at the moment.

On the Nintendo side of things, i’m not sure it’d be all smiles for those with financial interests in the company, but strong performances from Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros showed that there’s life in the Wii U yet.  More importantly sentiments toward the company have certainly improved, and ridiculous memes like the Luigi death stare in the middle of the year certainly kept the japanese giant in the headlines.  This may not directly translate into sales this generation, but providing Nintendo doesn’t take any unnecessary risks in the design of their next piece of hardware and rather focus on competing on the service and content level, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Nintendo will have an enormous rebound with whatever comes next.  For now, it’s fair to say that while PS4 and Xbox One sales have dominated the year, you can’t help but feel Nintendo’s lack of sales success isn’t reflective of just how excellent its business strategy, and the quality of its software offerings, has been.  Bayonetta 2, anyone?

What about the games?  There weren’t a lot of them, honestly, with new generation titles few and far between until the last quarter, and the last generation hardware not terribly profound either, despite not being in any rush to take their last collective breath.  But while there hasn’t been the quantity one has come to expect from the last few years of the old consoles’ prolific release schedule, the quality has been for the most part, a bouncer right at the noggin of our collective wallets.  That is to say, it’s been bloody fantastic.

Sadly as a working professional and contributor to overall society, I don’t have the time to play them all, so this list represents only a fraction of the great games that hard-working developers have brought to market over the last 12 months.  Keep that in mind as you notice the likes of Alien IsolationBayonetta 2 and Sunset Overdrive missing from this list, which I have absolutely no doubt I would’ve loved and played to death. So with that out of the way, read on to see what were my most agreeable games of 2014 (that I actually played).

Forza Horizon 2

FH2I think we’d be doing ourselves and Playground Games a disservice if we didn’t come out and explicitly say that, by any reasonable measure, Forza Horizon 2 isn’t just the best racing game of the year, it is quite possibly the best racing game ever made.  Following on from the already brilliant Forza Horizon, Playground Games took the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to the sequel, instead focusing on making everything bigger and more beautiful.  The driving is so absolutely superb and the Southern European setting a stunning realisation of places that many of us living in the southern hemisphere would have to pay top dollar to see, that its hard to see Forza Horizon as anything but a very very cheap way to experience some of the fastest cars in some of the most beautiful environments on the planet.

Watch_Dogs

WatchDogsPS4Watch_Dogs well and truly got its teeth into me.  As someone who didn’t find a whole lot to like from the marquee open world games of last year, I was a hair’s breadth away from coming to the conclusion that perhaps the open world genre had worn thin, and that I was well and truly ready to focus my attention elsewhere.  Well that all changed with Watch_Dogs, which not only did I play to conclusion, but wrung every drop of gameplay out of until there was almost literally nothing left to do.  The combination of hacking and extreme firepower led to some truly amazing passages of play, and while unravelling the game’s plot wasn’t the main driver for me, the nice little allusions to current concerns around governments compromising privacy tied a neat little bow around issues that society is tackling all around the world right now.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

WolfensteinNewOrderI didn’t expect Wolfenstein to be anything more than a solid, if derivative, run and gun shooter that was running on the fumes of nostalgia more than the strength of its gameplay.  Boy was I wrong, because not only was the new Wolfenstein a brilliantly designed first person shooter, but it was also an at times touching, but always intelligent and thoughtful, look at what the world could’ve been like had the allies’ World War II campaign gone awry.  Nazis have been Enemy #1 in videogames since what seems like the dawn of time, but I think Machine Games’ ode to shooters of yore is the only one to ever give a second’s thought to what nazism and the rise of the far-right really meant for the world.  And it is an absolutely brilliant piece of interactive fiction.  Oh yeah, and double-barrelled shotguns.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

ShadowOfMordorBoxartShadow of Mordor is pretty much how I imagined Middle Earth to be when I first read Tolkien’s works as a little fella.  Perhaps it was my overactive imagination, or my penchant for gritty and violent works of sci-fi and fantasy fiction and video games, but in my mind the world inhabited by hobbits and elves was a dark one full of cruelty and suffering.  Whether the world envisioned by Tolkien was like that at all – although its allusions to real historical struggles would indicate that it was – Monolith capture this sense of struggle between and within races perfectly in a world that is far bleaker and more deadly than anything Peter Jackson put to film.  The much lauded Nemesis system really is all that, giving real weight to what would otherwise seem like the mindless maiming of orcs across a condensed Middle-Earth.  I’m not sure there’s been any moment in any game this year has topped the satisfaction of taking down an orc captain who had killed and then eluded you for a frustratingly long time.  Revenge is worth it though, and the moment you catch them off-guard after taking down their henchmen is one of the sweetest victories you’ll have.

Special Mention: Best Portable Game of the Year – Demon Gaze

DemonGazeI am shocked as to just how little i’ve played in the way of portable games this year.  Not because they’ve been particularly good this year per se and i’m feeling like I’ve missed out, but more because traditionally, they’ve been the meat and potatoes of my gaming diet.  But with the upswing in the quality and quantity of seriously compelling titles on big boy consoles toward the end of the year – despite travelling incessantly for work – it’s been hard to find the right time to strain my eyes looking at a small screen.  But when I did find time, usually right before bed, it was Kadokawa Games’ Demon Gaze that had me pulling out the Playstation Vita for a taste of good ol’ fashioned dungeon crawling.  The popular(?) Etrian Odyssey series may be confined the Nintendo’s handheld for the moment, but as a serious alternative to those hardcorest of hardcore role playing games, Demon Gaze more than holds its own.

So that’s a wrap, although I think i’ll be playing the 2014 games I didn’t get to – like Bayonetta 2 and Alien Isolation well into next year! Have a favourite game of 2014 that didn’t make it?  Tell me in the comments!  And stay tuned for Lucius’ most agreeable games of the year sometime soon [UPDATE 20 December: now live!].

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Sir Gaulian’s Most Agreeable games of 2013

Another year with too many games to play.  Not that having too much of a good thing is a bad thing in this case, but when it comes to putting some semblance of a list together at the end of the year it’s hard to see just how many great games I missed out on.  It is a shame when games like Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, the Wonderful 101, The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds, Puppeteer and Metro: Last Light don’t make a list of my favourite games of the year.  But time is limited and time for games even more so.  So with that in mind here are my Most Agreeable games of the year (that I actually got the time to play).

Tomb Raider

TombRaiderscreen

I am as surprised by how excellent the Tomb Raider reboot turned out as anyone.  Developer Crystal Dynamics has done a stellar job keeping Lara’s adventures fresh and modern this generation, but in recognising that the series simply just needed an overhaul they have made a game that doesn’t just hold up in the modern era, but stands toe-to-toe with the best games of the generation.  The focus on combat was a smart one and Tomb Raider’s cover based shooting is amongst the best around, with weapons feeling suitably powerful and enemies intelligently moving around the battlefield.  But as with Tomb Raider of old its the excellent puzzle-filled traversal and exploration that makes Tomb Raider such an addictive joy.  Thanks to this brilliant effort Lara Croft has never been more relevant and I for one can’t wait to see what they do with the storied adventurer next.

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite screenshot 1

Bioshock Infinite has its problems but for the most part I didn’t notice them until people with greater axes to grind pointed them out.  I’m sure the narrative is a variation of something that’s come before (what’s not, after all) and I have no doubt that first person shooting has been done better a million times before; but none of that detracts from the amazing yarn Irrational Games have woven in Bioshock Infinite.  Companion Elizabeth is a delight, the player character Booker DeWitt an Enigma and their common enemy, Zachary Commstock an egregious example of humanity, and together with the amazingly realised floating world of Columbia, Bioshock Infinite manages to create one of the most interesting and complex worlds of the generation.  It may not be perfect but Bioshock Infinite is a one of a kind game that simply must be played.

Rayman Legends

RaymanlegendsWiiUscreen

Rayman Legends is the best Don’t Kill Yourself Book ever made.  The game is so gleeful it practically grabs the sides of your mouth and hoists them up with meat hooks to make sure there is no trace of a frown on your face.  It is bright, it is colourful, it is absolutely stunning to look at, but most importantly it is the best 2D platformer I’ve played this generation.  Rayman takes the best bits of 2D Sonic and Mario games to make a game that is as much about precise platforming as it is lightning fast speed and reflexes.  Most impressively Ubisoft Montpellier had the audacity to coat it all in a very European, dare I say French, art style and still managed to pull off what is one of the best looking games ever made.  It would be a travesty for you to not play Rayman Legends because whether you’re sad or not, it will make your day just that little bit brighter.

Forza 5

Forza5screen

Even with all of its problems Forza 5 is an outstanding racing game.  It may have taken a step back in almost every other area, and the asynchronous multiplayer could use some work, but the driving in Forza 5 is still as brilliant as ever. The way the cars behave on the road is second to none helped in large part by a physics engine that captures everything from the grip of the tyres to the way the weight of the car shifts as you fly at high speed around the game’s tracks.  There is certainly less game here both terms of cars and tracks, and it may not be the progressive racing game it deserved to be following on from the pedigree of Forza 4 but when you’re behind the wheel of any one of the beautifully realised super cars in the game you’ll hardly notice.

F1 2013

F12013classic

I find it absolutely amazing what Codemasters have become.  The transformation from a jack-of-all-trades developer to one with a sole focus on the racing genre must’ve made business sense, but rarely do you see a shift in focus from a developer or publisher pulled off quite so well.  Codemasters are the masters of the racing genre and you don’t have to look far beyond what they’ve done with the Formula One license to see that, and F1 2013 is the best entry in the series yet.  It still looks and plays beautifully but the inclusion of classic cars and tracks from the 80’s and 90’s was the killer blow that the series needed to make it into one of my favourite games of the year.  Codemasters’ love for the sport shines through and players can take a 2013 Ferrari F138 around the new and exciting Yas Marina, or if you prefer, the iconic Lotus 100T around the Brands Hatch. Its this passion for the sport that makes F1 one of the only annualised franchises I buy into and one that I cannot wait to see what the team do with the next generation of hardware.

The Last of Us

TLOUss

The Last of Us made it to number two on our Most Agreeable games of the generation list, but I have a feeling if Lucius had’ve played it it would’ve easily made number one.  I haven’t got enough digits on my body to count how many times I sat staring at the screen in shock throughout the course of The Last of Us.  The narrative beats that pound as the game’s story plays out will hit so hard you’ll have a headache by the end, as the developer takes you through an incredibly well crafted story of the human condition and spirit.  The characters are brilliantly realised and the world suitably bleak, punctuated by incredibly violent moments that have the player engaging in high stakes kill or be killed combat, with ridiculously violent hand to hand combat and satisfying and precise gunplay.  But its all in service of the creation of a very real world and characters, making for a landmark title that will come to define Naughty Dog as a developer, but also redefine what gaming narratives can be if a little bit of heart is put into them.

Almost there…. With so many deserving games that it is simple mathematics that something has to miss out on first class honours.  So while they didn’t quite  make it to the top congratulations to Lego City Undercover,  Killzone Mercenary, Disney Infinity , Dead Rising 3 and Zoo Tycoon for helping to make 2013 a great year to play games.

I’m cheating a little but…

Hotline Miami (Ps3/PSVita)

In July of last year I wrote that Hotline Miami for the Vita was “Bloody, bright and brutal, HotlinMiami is a loving homage to 80′s culture and pixel art that takes old school game design and injects it with the blood-lust and maturity of a modern title“, lumping praise on it for its fast action, gratuitous violence and eye melting visuals.  Although the game was released on the PC in 2012, as someone who doesn’t play PC games the Vita and PS3 versions were my first opportunity to experience the sheer insanity that is Hotline Miami, and the wait was well worth it.  The old adage easy to learn hard to master applies here almost better than anywhere and underneath what appears to be a simple arcade romp is a deep and rewarding action game with enough meat in it to keep you slashing your way through 1980’s Miami for hours upon hours

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