Here we are, at the end of July, 2013. What a year it’s been so far, hasn’t it? With huge titles such as Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us wreaking havoc on our wallets, there’s a wide array of games to choose from as your favourite. There are also, as always, a number of games that were horrible or just didn’t live up to expectations. The staff at Rocket Chainsaw take you through their picks of games of the year so far, and what they’ve deemed most disappointing.
Of course, we’d like to hear from you too! What have your best and most disappointing games been this year so far?
BEST: Tomb Raider
Lara Croft may have taken on a far grittier and darker tone this year, but Crystal Dynamics’ reboot is all the more better for it. An origins story that does away with the overtly sexualized character of the past, Tomb Raider explores a younger Lara who’s much more relatable, vulnerable and, more importantly, real. Whereas Lara’s previous incarnation wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the daunting trials before her, Tomb Raider is an engaging experience which tests the well-known heroine’s ability to adapt and survive. This is highlighted by a number of key moments such as Lara’s reaction upon committing her first kill, or vision of some truly brutal death sequences (that rapids scene, anyone?). Even subtle touches like Lara’s dodge animation, which plays out as a desperate scramble on all fours, add up to create a more grounded experience. In this respect the player is pulled deeper into the story. You’re with Lara every step of way as she battles on against both the island and its inhabitants, whether it’s fighting off the cold, hunting game to survive, or simply being fearful of her surroundings. A timely I hate tombs quip in particular brought a smile to my face.
In terms of gameplay, the lengthy campaign delivers a satisfying character arc whilst also providing the high budget thrills one might expect from an Uncharted game. Moreover, the Batman: Arkham series-styled backtracking gives the player a sense of progression as you conquer different locations of the overworld, while various tombs off the beaten path and a fleshed-out multiplayer are a bonus for those craving additional content.
Tomb Raider is easily the stand out for me in 2013 thus far. It’s refreshing to see a previously exaggerated character receive a set of flaws, and yet prove to be stronger because of it. Lara might second-guess herself at every turn, but overcoming her trials in the face of adversity highlights the strength of a character simply not comparable to the stereotypical icon of generations past.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Bioshock Infinite
Relegating Bioshock Infinite to the disappointment category might be a crime amongst many gamers, but my feelings subsequent to its ending were so, for lack of a better word, uncertain, that I immediately sent Booker on another playthrough to reaffirm my thoughts. Unfortunately, it reaffirmed what I’d feared: Infinite is an excellent game by all accounts, but some highly standardised FPS gamplay and occasional narrative missteps keep it from attaining the level of greatness I desperately wanted it to.
Infinite is truly at its best during the opening exchanges. The Hallelujah as Booker descends upon the beautiful Columbia for the first time is a moment I’ll treasure to the end of my gaming days. Columbia is a strange but wonderful world begging to be explored, and the mystery behind your presence there — bring us the girl and wipe away the debt — drives the player onwards with the fervour of one possessed. Who’d have thought such a simple refrain could be so effective? Unfortunately, whereas I feel the original Bioshock managed to maintain its air of mystery throughout the entire campagin, Infinite rather quickly devolves into a groove which feels all too familiar with the influx of FPS’s on the market today. Skirmishes are particularly thrilling when you’ve learned to effectively wield every tool at your disposal, but Infinite suffers as a game stuck in the conventions of a particular genre, rather than benefitting from the gameplay it employs.
These complaints are coupled with poor narrative pacing, both during the game’s extended middle which demands some questionable backtracking, and by the quickened ending that piles numerous revelations upon the player in quick succession. Whilst shocking, these end reveals are too excessive and muddled by convoluted time-travelling premises to lend any real clarity that a strong conclusion would entail. Indeed, talk amongst peers and some rigorous online research might help iron out the confusion, though I question how effectively a story is told when I’m required to seek out answers elsewhere. Likewise, you could argue that many of the minor plot details are revealed through various audio recordings scattered throughout the world, but I don’t particularly equate collect-a-thons to fun gameplay, nor do I think Ken Levine and co. aren’t capable of rising above what is a tired and somewhat lazy story-telling device.
Nevertheless, the praise heaped upon Infinite by critics and gamers alike is undeniable. In this respect, Infinite was perhaps one of those games that simply didn’t click with me. It’s a shame. I honestly feel like I’ve missed out on something great.
BEST: The Cat Lady
Traditional horror adventure games are a rare beast, so when I first heard word of The Cat Lady, I was intrigued. The game follows the trials of a depressed, middle-aged woman named Susan, whose only comfort in life is the company of the cats who come to visit her. After attempting suicide, she is forced into a deal to stop the havoc five beings called The Parasites are wrecking on society. What follows is an insightful look into the human condition, with the cast of memorable and believable characters brought to life by top-notch voice acting. The game’s striking black and white visuals highlight the frequent lashings of blood and gore. It’s all done tastefully though, as is the treatment of the subject of depression, which is done with great care and sensitivity. It’s also worth noting that The Cat Lady deviates from the standard point-and-click adventure game in that there are very few, if any, logic-bending puzzles to be encountered. A must if you love psychological thrillers.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Bioshock Infinite
Keeping in mind that ‘most disappointing’ doesn’t equate to ‘worst’, Bioshock Infinite takes the cake for me. I staunchly avoided any news or discussion of the game prior to its launch in the fear of running into anything that might sway my opinion, so I wasn’t aware of how much the game has changed… until after I had played it. Infinite started out fine and dandy, with protaganist Booker dragged into a lot of political and societal hoo-ha between Comstock and the Vox Populi while on his quest to deliver Elizabeth to some mysterious folk. It quickly devolved into wacky psuedo-science, and for those who have played it, let’s not forget the last half-hour of the game or so. Combine this with linear level design, uninspired gunplay and ho-hum vigors, and I find it hard to rank it up there with some of the other excellent titles I’ve played recently. Infinite had the potential to be so much more, but to me it’s a game that has suffered as a result of too much meddling.
BEST: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
From development hell to gaming heaven, Platinum did a predictably tremendous job salvaging Kojima Productions’ trainwreck and turning it into something magnificent, while retaining most if not all of the bullet-point mechanics that popularised Rising when it was first announced way-back-when. It’s a little extra loony, yet distinctly self aware and over the top like most Platinum games are, returning Raiden to a character with a strong, likeable identity after Metal Gear Solid 4 did its best to drag him through mud. It doesn’t last long on a single playthrough, but a finely tuned Samurai-like combat system that demands player attention and reflex, crimson gushing procedural dismemberments that never get old, memorably intense boss encounters from a suitably insane cast of characters, and break-neck pacing elevate Rising to so much more than a cheap, rushed, cash-in on the Metal Gear franchise. For as long as it last, it remains true to the Metal Gear and Platinum design philosophies, never taking a break from the fun, never regressing to mindless repetition, and always encouraging you invest just one more hour. You’ll play it once, play it twice, and maybe even three times and beyond, because the game is just that good.
Runner up: Hotline Miami Vita because it’s Hotline Miami again.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Before you rip my head off 80s action film style, I’m taking Bev’s stance: disappointment does not equate to worst. I did enjoy Blood Dragon. My disappointment stems from the parts I didn’t. Blood Dragon presents itself with a level of wit and on-point satire that shows a development team totally enveloped and in love with the chosen source material, a homage to the 80s era of action cinema, straight to VHS sequels, C-tier budgets (and that’s being generous), and all round campy action madness. I was born a little too early to experience the era directly (87 baby), but my parents ensured I grew up with the entertainment. Michael Biehn really was the cherry on top of a perfect vision. But the gameplay? When I imagine a game satirising the likes of Predator, The Terminator, Commando, and Running Man, movies built around grotesquely muscular unstoppable warriors, I expect the gameplay to empower me with a similar level of badassery. Until the tail end of the game, Blood Dragon didn’t, instead regressing to mechanics and formula almost unchanged from Far Cry 3, right down to the unsatisfying bow stealth, broken economy, open world collect-a-thon, and monotonous questing. I find it ironic that for a game that’s supposed to be built like these films, earlier titles like Bulletstorm, Space Marine, and Serious Sam 3 did a better job of playing like them.
Runner up: Wii U release schedule.
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BEST: The Last of Us
I cannot explain how much I loved Naughty Dog’s latest game. Sure, I scored it 9 out of 10 in Rocket Chainsaw’s review, but that was my objective recommendation. Subjectively, The Last of Us ticked all the boxes. Never before have I played a game that was not only entertainment, but also an experience. Joel and Ellie wrapped me up in their world so much that I personally felt part of their adventure, sensing every up and down in their struggle for survival. The portrayal of a world gone to hell, and the people within it, were grounded and utterly convincing. Naughty Dog’s trademark astonishing visuals and solid gameplay were but the icing on the cake. With remarkable characters, an immersive world and a narrative that completely captures your senses, The Last of Us is a triumph in both storytelling and interactive media.
Runner ups: Late of the party I know, but FTL is an indie gem for all aspiring space captains, and Pacific Rimfor the best non-video game video game that is actually a movie not based on a video game.
Believe it or not, I have not played a game this year that has left me disappointed. At the end of this generation, we have been very lucky with the likes of Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinite and the aforementioned The Last of Us blowing us away. I was also rather content with other releases this year, including Gears of War Judgement and Crysis 3. Now I think about it, this year has also been great for actually making us finish video games – not something that happens all too frequently.
BEST: Bioshock Infinite. No other game has gotten me thinking as much as Bioshock Infinite did this year. After the game’s long development period, it was a real treat to finally set foot in the imaginative floating city of Columbia. The game’s highly detailed world sucked me in straight away, and I wanted to explore every nook and cranny. Infinite refined the series’ combat well, and the strong variety of weapons and superpowers on offer really helped to keep things interesting. The story was the stand out element though, and I was never quite sure how it would end. Ken Levine really went big this time, and it paid off well. The gameplay supported the narrative just well enough, and Elizabeth was one of the best partner characters that I’ve ever encountered. Not only was she an integral part of the plot, she was helpful during combat, and never got in the way. The ending really surprised me, and stuck in my mind for days. Bioshock Infinite is a game that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry, that’s for sure.Runner up: The Last of Us
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Remember Me. It’s a game that I was looking forward to almost as soon as it was announced. A gritty sci-fi world with a female protagonist, Nilin, who has the power to alter people’s memories? Sign me up! When it came to playing the finished product though, I was left wanting. Although the setting held up well, the gameplay (which is rather like a combination of Uncharted style platforming and the combat from God Hand) just felt repetitive and uninteresting. Although you slowly unlock new moves for Nilin as you progress, the game essentially forces you to rely on just a couple of different combos. These are repeatedly used throughout the game. Considering that I was really looking forward to the game pre-release, the fact that I well and truly lost interest in it before the end was very disappointing indeed.
BEST: Bioshock Infinite
I’ve already said most of what I’d like to say about the game in our group review, but I’ll reiterate them here: Infinite offers up a thought-provoking deconstruction of the tropes of videogame storytelling and how we experience stories through the lens of interactivity. Coupled with a rich, visually compelling world, overarching themes and ideas not usually found in games and some impressive set pieces and you have a game that is yet to be rivalled in my view for Game of the Year.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Sim City
Argh. What can I say about this? The venerable franchise has fallen, and in dramatic fashion. Ignore, for the moment, the initial problems with even being able to play the game due to its ridiculous requirement for an internet connection and the rather bizarre way EA and Maxis tried to make excuses for this. No, there are bigger problems than that. The simulation itself, promised to be incredibly realistic thanks to the use of the Glassbox engine, turned out to be severely buggy, and many players found their cities struggling due to bugs with transportation, pollution and medical coverage. Then there’s the crippling limitations on city sizes. It takes only a couple of hours to start running out of space, and when you do, it’s easier to start building a new city than trying to manage a tiny, cramped one. The new Sim City is a grave insult to a classic franchise.
BEST: Fire Emblem: Awakening
A surprise for me, but the fact that Fire Emblem: Awakening ate up 40+ hours of my time, coupled with the fact that I sincerely enjoyed every minute of said 40+ hours, seems reason enough for this game to take my GOTHY vote. It has everything you could want in a JRPG: beautifully animated cutscenes, a soaring original soundtrack and a large cast of colourful characters. The fact that it’s the thirteenth entry in the series shouldn’t be a turn off either, as it caters to both newcomers and veterans alike. On paper, the turn-based combat reads like a really complicated game of chess – in other words, a gateway to snore-ville. But the customisable class system, permanent character death and a huge range of degradable weaponry lead to one of the most engrossing combat experiences to date. Plus, the ability to flesh out character backstories and manipulate romantic relationships mid-battle is genius.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: God of War Ascension
Seeing as I originally bought the PS3 to play God of War 3, it’s truly painful for me to say that God of War: Ascension isn’t great. The storyline is boring and for the most part, non-existent, the repetitive scenarios and stripped back combat are a grind at best, and even the series front man seems to have lost his charm. Once a well crafted re-imaging of the classic Greek antihero, Kratos has devolved into a pile of angry words and even worse makeup. His character animations such as climbing and jumping look stilted and unrealistic, lacking a sense of weight, and it’s no longer a joy to watch the Ghost of Sparta defy his fate, no matter how brutal it may be. A real shame.
OK, there’s an element of choosing something different here so you guys just aren’t reading reasons why to love The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite over and over again, but Antichamberreally is a hugely impressive title, especially coming from the mind of one man, Melbourne-native Alexander Bruce. It’s a game whose sole focus on level design makes for an extremely tight and addictive experience, with creative and fascinating ways of teaching players how to interact with its unique gameworld. If you didn’t pick it up in the Steam sale, it’s definitely worth checking it out now.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Star Trek
Oh dear. I had a lot of hope for this one, as both E3 demos I witnessed impressed me with a promised emphasis on unique co-op and faithfulness to the Trek universe. Let this be a lesson not to trust early demos. From turning the Gorn into multi-galaxy conquering brutes, to providing only the most basic co-op elements and drowning under the weight of technical glitches and bugs, Star Trek ultimately doesn’t really please anyone, and at best can be said to be a purely average experience.