The Perspective on Games from 2013

You may be wondering why this article is appearing in lieu of a proper review, given that I’ve now reverted back to a bi-weekly review schedule (after having reverted back to a weekly schedule that didn’t last).  The short version is that I’m a busy man, what with school work piling up and various forms of sickness to deal with.  Also, Daikatana is a crappy, crappy, crappy game that is as time-consuming to play as it will be to write about.

So, this is basically a consolation article.  In what spare time I have had, I’ve managed to play several hit games from this year that, for scheduling reasons, won’t see an official review until 2014.  Because the process required in analyzing and reviewing a game is sort of lengthy, I thought it best to just get to the bottom line and recommend which games to play and which to avoid.  I’m including my preliminary score, what about it warrants said score, and why I am unable to properly review at this point and time.  That’s not to say I won’t review any of these games, just that I won’t review them right now.

On that note, here we go.

1. Saints Row IV

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that? 

Of all the games on this list, this is one of two entries that can be defined as “pure, unadulterated fun”.  It’s the super-powered, hyper-kinetic, tongue-in-cheek wish-fulfillment adventure I’ve always wanted in a game… and I’m wasn’t even a fan of Saints Row when I started playing.  Even coming into the series fresh-faced, you can sense the love its developers have for its characters, its world, and for the potential antics one can get away with if granted super-powers.  Barring some difficulty swerving and some noticeably second-hand graphical assets, this is easy to recommend.

Why can’t I review it?

In-between the respectably awesome Splinter Cell: Blacklist and the disappointingly mediocre mess that was The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, this wonderful gem of a game was my way of unwinding.  As such, I didn’t get enough written material for a proper review, much as I’d love to analyze the hell out of Saints Row IV and see exactly why it appeals to me.

2. BioShock Infinite

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that?

At the risk of attracting scorn from other gamers and critics alike, I’m just going to throw this out there: what was the point of that ending? Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty, this one factor all but ruined the experience for me because of how scatter-brained and unfocused it turned out to be.  Setting aside that debatable issue, the core gunplay felt merely average, the level design was standard for a shooter, and the Skyline mechanic – the one true bright spot in the game design – was woefully underutilized.  It may have strong actors and an intriguing premise complemented by deceptively soft visuals, but what’s the point if the player just doesn’t care about the experience?

Why can’t I review it?

This is one of those games that you really need to dig into to properly review.  There’s multiple difficulty levels, including the nostalgia-inducing 1999 Mode, and some randomization applied to the gear players end up accumulating.  Basically, research time is needed to fully explain the game’s failings, and I simply don’t have the schedule for that right now.  Also, I’d rather keep my head attached to my shoulders, rather than mounted on a pike by irate fans.

3. Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that?

This is the other game getting the “pure, unadulterated fun” label.  5th Cell’s love, respect, and knowledgeable nature when it comes to the DC Universe meshes well with the Scribblenauts series’ “Draw What You Want” philosophy.  The resulting experience is a light-hearted adventure starring hundreds upon hundreds of classic (and obscure) comic book characters, complete with a healthy dose of randomized puzzles in each world and fun dialogue calling back to DC’s vast history.  The only real downside, aside from some missed opportunities in the form of voice acting or game-changing plot twists, is that the Mxyzptlk challenges mess with the game’s careful balance of player influence and logical puzzle design.  It hampers on the experience a bit, but it’s nothing (truly) game-breaking.

Why can’t I review it?

See my sentiments about Saints Row IV above to get the gist.  Between reviews, it was a nice and welcome diversion from very serious fare, but it was ultimately a casualty in the battle against my soul-crushingly busy schedule.

4. The Last of Us

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that?

Look, I expected to call this an over-rated critical darling, but I can’t deny Naughty Dog’s cinematic chops or risk-taking approach to game design.  Despite my minor misgivings about the ending, I’m prepared to call this an excellent exercise in balance – the beautiful visuals complement the grim morally-ambiguous narrative, the understated dramatic score fits with the cautiously hopeful tone, and the stripped-down shooter mechanics don’t overshadow the surprising sense of player progression or the variety of strategic options in gunfights.  It’s a game deliberately designed to raise eyebrows at modern shooter design, the nature of interactive narratives, and various other satire-worthy issues in the industry – and it looks pretty to boot.

Why can’t I review it?

I only just finished the campaign and I haven’t even touched the multiplayer yet (damn you, Online Pass!).  I’m one of those completionist critics who really hates not experiencing all that a game has to offer, so don’t expect an in-depth review any time soon.

5. Payday 2

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that?

This is a very interesting, but very broken game.  It’s clear from the get-go that Overkill Software really wanted to step up their game after Payday: The Heist turned out to be the unexpected success it was, and in terms of general game design this ambition pays off.  The heists are certainly more varied and complex, the dynamic events throw morbidly fun wrenches into the best of plans, and the player progression system is much more refined and user-friendly (despite the decision to make money both the currency for equipment and upgrades being, well, frustrating).  However, I can’t forgive a single-player mode with such basic friendly AI, or a multiplayer suite filled with game-ending bugs and connectivity issues.  If a game makes me cautious about going online for fear of crashing my PS3, you know something is very wrong.

Why can’t I review it?

I’m only ranked at Level Five, and I haven’t played through all the different types of heists.  Essentially, if I were to review the game right now, it would be rife with generalizations and half-baked criticisms that any writer with half my skill would balk at.  I don’t want to half-ass my reviews, so I’ll need some more time.

6. The Showdown Effect

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that?

I don’t dislike this game, I just think it should be grouped with Japanese role-playing games and real-time strategy games: stuff that sounds interesting, but isn’t meant for me.  Its love for the 1980s shines through with its colourful aesthetic and over-the-top stereotypical characters, but the core side-scrolling shooter gameplay doesn’t feel like it lends itself to balance or player progression particularly well.  Basically, it’s a “shape up or get the heck out” sort of game, but without the necessary fun or upgrade mechanics to make it relatively fair.  Also, the online matchmaking is frustrating at times.

Why can’t I review it?

It’s just not that interesting to analyze.  The time I’ve set aside for reviews is valuable, given what else I have to deal with, and a straight-forward blend of Team Fortress 2 zany goodness with mid-rate bullet hell gameplay from days of old just doesn’t come off as a priority.  That said, the New Year may lend itself to a review period when this does get some time to shine.  We’ll see.

7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

What’s the approximate score?

 

 

Why’s that?

If the issue (well, an issue) with the Metal Gear Solid series is that it has relied far too much on exposition dumps and not enough on character actions, Rising: Revengeance is a case of taking an idea far beyond the necessary extreme.  I will accept the lower-resolution graphics engine, I can get past the difficulty essentially expected of a hack-and-slash game, I can even forgive the conflict between the game’s cluttered level design and the fast-paced nature of controlling Raiden… but at what point should I start caring about the story or characters? Is the game meant to be a parody of the overly-serious yet oddly-fantastical series it spawned from, or is it just a goofier (and somehow more melodramatic) rehashing of old elements even Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4 got tired of?  I just don’t see the point beyond, “Hey, let’s have that cyborg ninja guy hack through hundreds of nameless enemies, and explain it all with a bargain-bin script based on what Kojima did”.

Why can’t I review it?

If that tirade wasn’t clear, I do have a lot to say about this sad excuse of a spin-off.  However, as with The Showdown Effect, I just don’t have the interest in reviewing it right now.  I played through most of the game in March, and I haven’t returned to it since.  Also, despite feeling irritated by its narrative the key word I’d use to describe the experience is boring (after that would be repetitive).  It just kind of grinded on me after a while, in a way that only a tedious game could.

There are also some games of which I’ve played no more than an hour .  Here is how I have felt thus far:

Dota 2 – I like this particular art style and the challenge of such a competitive MMO, but it would take more time to really get immersed (and to finish the necessary tutorials)

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – I stopped playing earlier this year, but I’ll admit the neon visuals and self-aware tone make me want to give it a second look

Knights of Pen and Paper – Its promise of back-to-basics turn-based role-playing seems interesting, but it’s not my cup of tea

Papers, Please – This sh*t be intense, and in all seriousness the tense atmosphere combined with a respectable difficulty curve makes this feel like a classic in the making

Rayman Legends – When I get the chance, I really want to progress further and experience all that the game has to offer: tight platforming, fantastical visuals, unique level design, the whole nine yards

Rogue Legacy – While I respect the passion for its rogue-like roots, I don’t know if it will have the same lasting impact on me as something like The Binding of Isaac.

State of Decay – I’ll return to this as soon as possible, partially for how it handles resource management and character progression but mostly because DAYZ is the much harsher alternative

Are there any games you’d like me to address? Do you think I’m out of my mind for one opinion or another? Feel free to leave a comment.

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