Love is a strong word. Because sometimes, even when we really admire games, they kind of suck.
5 – BioShock Infinite
I got bored of the first BioShock because it’s pretty boring and that map is one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. The linearity and the voice over the radio that tells you where to go constantly reminded me of Red Faction. It’s something I just couldn’t shake. But BioShock is one of those “pivotal moment” games, and as someone who writes about video games, I feel a bit foolish for only having played about three hours of it.
Infinite, from what I can gather, is like BioShock but in the sky. Its general mechanics are almost identical except now you can also zip around on wires — albeit about five times in total — and you have a weak little girl at your side who is actually pretty strong when it comes to throwing you guns and making things out of thin air.
The game is a fitting encapsulation of the latter days of this console generation in many ways. It is perfect iteration in terms of mechanics, storytelling conventions, character interactions, and presentation. It’s also a shallow game when you look at it with any scrutiny. While it attempts to tackle big, important, and escalating themes like racism, destiny, and multiverse theory, it is always more interested in being a game where you shoot lots of people. Whether this is the case because most people are stupid (there were a lot of videos that explained the ending) and would get tired and bored with a more contemplative pace, I don’t know, but Infinite undermined itself by being too long, repetitive, and just a bit silly.
I thought the ending was hilarious, though, and have created a game about Orson Welles inspired by their combined bravado.
4 – The Last of Us
I got sick of playing The Last of Us. This might be an intentional thing to bring the player in line with the characters’ emotional states, but it could also just be a symptom of audience expectations of a modern blockbuster video game.
What I do think it did well was create a great sense of desperation and vulnerability, at least for the first few hours. Early on, the game makes it perfectly clear that you are but a man with a child in a very unfriendly world that will kill you in a second if you try to be a hero. Because of this, you spend most of your time skulking around and sneaking past as many enemies as possible.
My favorite part of the entire thing has you emerging into a train station filled with things that can kill you if they hear you even a little bit. The theater of conflict-avoidance is all shadowy and filled with stuff you can throw to distract these blind adversaries, so you must make your way very slowly and very quietly through this 50-meter long space. While it would take one a matter of seconds to traverse such an area under normal circumstances, the pressing imperative to go unnoticed means this becomes a stressful and harrowing experience. It’s dead effective and shows the exemplary pace and sense of dread the early parts of the game are steeped in.
As you progress ever further into the “adventure,” so too does your character, Joel, and he goes from being fragile and believable to a world-weary man-tank within the space of a few hours. This all happens through a completely unnecessary upgrade system that governs player stats and weapons. I understand that in this brave modern age, games need to have countless hooks to keep players playing, but I found this constantly increasing proficiency distracting from the more important human aspect of the story.
By allowing — almost obliging — Joel to improve over time, the game must compensate by increasing its difficulty lest it lose all sense of danger or challenge. Thus, we encounter more and more enemies, more gun combat, and more boredom as the game continues. What begins as a tense sneak through the decimated landscape of contemporary humanity devolves into lots of shooting at men with slightly longer beards, and it is for this reason that I don’t like The Last of Us as much as I wish I did.
3 – Tomb Raider
Have you played an Uncharted game? Yes? Good, you know exactly how Tomb Raider conducts itself then. I initially thought this was a bad thing, but having played a few other triple A games this year, I’m going to go back on my word.
Tomb Raider is genuinely really fun. It has everything you’d expect from this sort of game except the guns feel more precise and thus more satisfying to shoot. The game’s quasi-open world also adds a bit of variety to the proceedings, allowing you to nip back to most areas and look for collectibles (I got them all, again), kill animals, and even raid a few simple puzzle-based tombs as well.
I didn’t like all the unsexy “look at Our Lara while she dies with something inside her” bits that pop up when you don’t do what the game wants you to do, and these are clearly the game’s weakest element. The story — while somewhat empowering for the character — was a bit flat and predictable, and there are many, many allusions to Lara getting raped or men planning on raping her just before she breaks their little heads open.
Besides all the nastiness, it’s a perfectly serviceable entry into the Uncharted series and probably the best thing that could have been done with the license at the present time. It’s ultimately uninspired, but I found it significantly more entertaining than the other games I’ve also called uninspired on this list.
2 – Papers, Please
Papers, Please is one of those “real life is horrible” simulation games that have become all popular in recent years. Taking on the role of a border-crossing administrator, you have to check migrants’ papers (please) and make sure that they are eligible to enter your dystopian Eastern Bloc nation. As with reality, there are only so many hours to work, so you are forced to balance processing people quickly and maintaining high standards.
The game is depressing, stressful, and demoralizing, and it completely succeeds within its chosen genre in making you appreciate your own pathetic existence a little bit more. It is in no way fun to play, and for this I commend it. Every one of the previous titles in this list attempts to be fun to some extent, and each of them (with the exception of Thomas Was Alone and Tomb Raider) failed in this to different degrees and for different reasons. Papers, Please doesn’t fail because it never tries to be anything but a chore.
It is mechanically simple yet varied enough to never become boring. Its strict time scale means it never ceases to be a harrowing experience, which is further exacerbated by the dual responsibilities of keeping your family alive and protecting the people within your grey, concrete borders. It’s No. 2 on this list because it dares to be different and isn’t as horribly patronizing as Cart Life.
1 – Flower
Flower is the best game ever made.
It was released this year on the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita (I don’t own one), so I can comfortably stick this at the top of my list. I love Flower above all other video games because it is the most beautiful, life-affirming, charming, hippy-nonsense-filled and downright lovely thing ever produced.
You play as the wind and fly around fields, plains, and urban streets, bringing the color of nature to these lifeless landscapes. Read that sentence again. Yes, Flower is lovely. You fly by holding a button and tilting the controller — sorry, Vita — around. Once you get used to it, you’ll be quickly soaring into the heavens, swooping through tall grass, and pulling air-donuts.
It’s a stunningly beautiful game, the music is wonderful, and its conservationist message — while very, very obvious — is poignant. If things keep going like this, Flower could easily be released on every Sony platform until we either destroy the planet with our dirty fossil-fuel greed or all return to nature and have no more need for digital entertainment products.
Flower is the best game ever made.
There we are. Some were good, some were boring, some were silly, and some were only on there because I didn’t play enough games released this year. They were all video games, though, and I cast my opinionated eye over all 10 of them and then said what I thought. That’s all you can really expect from anyone in the end. Merry Christmas.
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