Love is a strong word. Because sometimes, even when we really admire games, they kind of suck.
As it’s the week before I go home for Christmas and work is a bit slow, I thought I’d go over 10 games I played in 2013 and rank them in order of which I liked the most (near the bottom) and disliked the least (starting at the top).
Two things: I appear to have only actually played 10 games that either launched or came to new platforms this year, so it was more a case of ordering them rather than actually narrowing down a big list. AND I didn’t truly enjoy most of these in the conventional sense, but taking into consideration the previous sentence, I don’t have much more to work with.
10 – Thomas Was Alone
I got this little doozy for free with the ol’ PlayStation Plus subscription that keeps insisting on renewing itself without my consent. While I’ve owned the same PlayStation 3 since launch, I’ve ended up using the Xbox a lot more over recent years, so many of my free games go unplayed for a considerable stretch.
Part of this, I think, is because the hard disk drive (HDD) in that launch PS3 is only 60GB, which isn’t very helpful if you like playing more than two games at a time. Anyway, I played Thomas Was Alone for about 10 minutes and was instantly charmed by every aspect of it. The pretty and colorful blocky characters are heartwarming as is the slightly forlorn narration. I’d like to play it a bit longer before I make any more judgements, though — that’s why it occupies this position on the list.
9 – Remember Me
Remember Me isn’t a very enjoyable game. The only redeeming quality it has is squandered on all the other bad ideas it insists upon throwing at the player, which results in a rather upsetting experience.
A few early locations look truly beautiful, its setting and overall concept are interesting and exciting, and the whole project was clearly inspired at some early stage. It doesn’t play poorly, either; it’s just really, really normal and that doesn’t do anything for me these days.
The combat is serviceable, enemies are bleurgh challenging, and level design is linear and boring to look at. Remember Me is the perfect mid-tier game. It’s just nowhere near as entertaining as the B-grade magic of Binary Domain.
8 – Saints Row IV
I reckon Saints Row IV is lovely. It’s a wonderful title made by people who truly enjoy making video games. I also think that it’s a bit of a boring when you actually get down to playing the story.
For a long while, I was almost exclusively pursuing the side activities with the mind to complete every single one of them. I did this in no time and then went on to collect the 1,255 orbs like those from Crackdown. I got all of those as well and felt a little dirty and pathetic after doing so. I’d just spent 15 hours of my life collecting things for no justifiable reason. It was fun, however, so it at least says something about Saints Row IV when it’s cooking on gas and letting you fly and jump and run around like a maniac.
The rest of the game — the actual game. it could be argued — is dead boring. While I was messing around being a compulsive collector, I was able to upgrade a lot of skills and guns to “customize my experience.” Many of the story tasks, as I learned countless times (to my dismay), don’t really consider any of this and instead regularly lock off powers and most of your guns. This, combined with lifeless, repetitive, and rightly tiresome objectives, slowly depleted my enjoyment and turned the game into a horrible slog.
This came as a surprise to me as I never enjoy ancillary objectives more than the main game, especially in Saints Rows of the past. The freedom you have while roaming the open world is regularly undermined by the arbitrary whims of the story missions, and that just didn’t sit well with me — hence it being my third least-favorite game released this year that I played.
7 – Grand Theft Auto V
Before Grand Theft Auto V came out, I was steadfast in my insistence that I didn’t care about GTA V one jot. As is usually the case with massive titles, my resolve weakened about a week before it came out, so I decided to order it from the Amazon after all. There really is something powerful around the video game zeitgeist — that crushing need to play a game as soon as possible even if you aren’t planning on talking about it to anyone else.
As it happened, a lot of other people had also ordered it from Amazon, and Royal Mail had trouble getting all its deliveries made that day. This resulted in me standing in the rain, chain-smoking fags, staring longingly at red vans and postmen like some grown-up orphan who never gave up hope of finding his lost parents. I played Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City instead and eventually received my copy of GTA several days late.
GTA V is a condensation of the mundanity of our lives. It is a game set in a wonderful representation of the modern world, and its beauty and detail are really rather impressive. Like Saints Row IV, it’s really boring as well. Once I got over the scale of the world and had driven around for a decent amount of time, I started to tire of the repetitive and archaic mission design. GTA V is, for me anyway, a more mechanically sound GTA III and almost nothing more. Everything about the game is really great except for the story, which I just found dull. As with every GTA I’ve ever played, I’ve had to take a long break — though I’ll likely go back and finish it next year.
6 – DmC: Devil May Cry
I don’t like the other Devil May Cry games because they are too hard. I played this one on Easy difficulty and had a very enjoyable time, all told. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes “wow,” and only a little bit frustrating.
The beginning is uninspired, and so is the end, but the middle is absolutely fantastic. The upside-down world, the TV ident, and the slow-motion jumping-chase are three of the most memorable examples of art direction and level design I’ve encountered this year. It’s a shame that the last third of the game is so boring and drab with its “caverns and corridors” approach because that really soured me on the whole experience.
I tend to button-bash a bit too much, but DmC made me want to learn as much as my feeble hands could manage, so I ended up enjoying the combat quite a bit even on that pathetically low difficulty. Also, my good friend Martin did QA on this and is one of the first people to be seen in the video next to the credits. His mom was dead happy when I pointed that out and he showed her.
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.