2013 is long gone, but the team at Rocket Chainsaw has decided to put together a Rocket Recap for their picks of the best and most disappointing games of the second half of the year. You can check out the list for the best and most disappointing of the first half of 2013, or stay tuned – we will reveal our Games of the Year of 2013 in the coming days!
BEST: The Wonderful 101
These days it seems every character action game follows the Devil May Cry archetype, differences in flavour and identity. That cannot be said about The Wonderful 101. A steep learning curve and obtuse tutorials are low points of what is otherwise, and arguably, the most original character action game in years. “Character action game” probably isn’t an apt description, despite genre similarities, as The Wonderful 101 embraces a multi-character economy-like combat system rich in design nuances that help not only distance but separate the game entirely from its forefathers. The Wonderful 101 is a game that demands patience and investment, and once that magic bulb lights up all the pieces fall together, and you find yourself in control of a startlingly organic tier of attacks, defences, strengths, weaknesses, combos, surprises, and so much more.
Best of all, it’s a huge game that makes no concessions to pacing for scope, routinely introducing new enemy types, gameplay gimmicks, unexpected boss encounters, scenarios, and so on, across an adventure fuelled by Hideki Kamiya’s trademark love for pop culture and over-the-top caricatures. Yes, it’s an exceptionally silly game, but that’s half the fun, as The Wonderful 101 never loses sight of its intent to make you laugh, smile, and stare mouth agape and eyes wide open at the continually escalating scenarios and ludicrous places the story goes.
Honestly, I’m sure there’s other games of 2013’s tail end that disappointed me more for a variety reasons, but I’m putting Super Mario 3D World here to kick up some stink. What Nintendo accomplished with this title is about par for the studio’s best so far, especially 3D Mario games: almost every stage (of which there are many) introduces some new quirk or gimmick to keep the platforming fresh. Multiplayer in 3D works surprisingly well. The level design itself is inventive, and nicely balanced between length and challenge (well, mostly). Yes, it’s Mario as you’ve know it, but unless you’re one of those dolts who thinks reinventing Mario requires essentially turning it into an entirely new franchise then being ‘more Mario‘ is a non-issue. Especially when the game itself is pretty bloody good.
But I digress. Super Mario 3D World is my most disappointing game of post-June 2013 due to Nintendo’s choice to go with the 3D Land design foundation over Super Mario Galaxy. Simply put, 3D World is in my opinion really rather regressive in many ways, especially for something we consider to be a “three dimensional platformer”. Like 3D Land, many of 3D World‘s stages are designed with limited, angular geometry and paths based around your typical eight digital axis. The Z dimension that defines 3D space is still there, so 3D World still feels like a 3D game, but for almost all stages you could comfortably replace the analogue movement with a d-pad and not notice the difference. Mario’s moveset has been diminished too, lacking certain abilities from Galaxy and bizarrely restricting “run” to a button press instead of analogue stick tilt. It’s a slower game than Galaxy, and doesn’t embrace freeform movement and platforming challenges to the extent of its predecessors.
Thankfully, as said, it’s still a rather brilliant, well designed 3D platformer. But there’s no doubt in my mind that, for me, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a much stronger “3D platformer” than 3D World even at its best. Instead, 3D World opts for a weird kinda hybrid for digital axis in level design with Z dimensional interaction. And it works, and it’s fun. But it’s not what I personally enjoy most about 3D Mario titles, and thus failed a bit to live up to what I was hoping for.
BEST: Grand Theft Auto V
I’ll be the one to say the obvious, GTA V is super awesome and you should go get it. Except, everyone who has ever existed already has. Timeships constructed from steam and fire have ferried past travellers to September 2013 to shoot some bad gangstar wrappers yo, and futuremen from times yet to come have past-orders paid for and cryogenically frozen so they can experience GTA V in their present. Unless any of them had a PC. Then, they’re shit out of luck. For everyone else, you already know GTA V hosts everything from a ripping heist story, a large open world with lots of actual fun stuff to do, new mechanics that add some needed game-feel (like bullet-time) and a lot of the weird, wacky and sometimes sadistic humour the series is known for. For my part, I really enjoyed it, even if it was a foregone conclusion.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Sonic Lost World
Disappointing is such a strong word. But, I don’t want to say I was expecting Lost World to be bad, because I try to go in to every Sonic game with an open mind, no matter how foolish that may be. Sonic Lost World looks and sounds like the reinvention of modern Sonic the gaming community has been waiting for – shedding all the unnecessary characters, overwrought plot threads and realistic environments in favour of bright, colourful cartoon-like environments and the kind of innocent charm rarely found outside of a Mario game these days. It’s just a shame the gameplay really isn’t any good. Team Sonic are clearly trying new things, but none of them work – not the slower pace, new controls, parkour system or mach-speed sections. It’s frustratingly split between a positive appearance and an unenjoyable game.
BEST: Battlefield 4
DICE’s shooter on next-generation consoles is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. True to the stories, the launch has not gone without a hitch, but the issues have been largely ironed out now and I have personally experienced very few bugs. Battlefield 4 gives early hardware adaptors what PC gamers have been used to for years, with 64 players and fluid 60-frames-per-second. The jaw-dropping visuals, team-based gameplay and levolution features deliver for the best online multiplayer mayhem on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Further, a plethora of weapons, vehicles, engaging map design and several game modes give players limitless hours of fun. The chaotic atmosphere of infantry, armour, aerial vehicles battling it out and bullets flying back and forth makes Battlefield 4 the most edge-of-seat experience you can imagine.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer
I’ve played every Call of Duty religiously every year since Modern Warfare. I still enjoy the single-player campaigns, and indeed was rather entertained by Ghosts story. On the multiplayer side, I’ve invested hundreds of hours online. Over the last five years, the formula has changed very little, but new maps and weapons have kept things fresh. Unfortunately, while Ghosts multiplayer is undeniably well-developed and polished, it cannot shake the samey feel that of every previous incarnation. Spawn, run around, get sniped, spawn, repeat. The usual everyone-for-themselves gameplay, killstreaks and formulaic design has eroded any enthusiasm I once had for this annual shooter.
BEST: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Earlier this year I wrote a piece on the importance of letting franchises age versus annualised installments, and listed the Assassin’s Creed series as a primary example. As it turns out, I’ve been eating humble pie for the last four weeks – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag hasn’t left my PS3 since, to the detriment of all other games. ACIV smartly takes the popular ship mechanics of ACIII and implements them as a foundation for its game’s piracy theme and open-world exploration.
Traversing the Caribbean and its multitude of locales evokes a grand sense of adventure, not dissimilar to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Barring some major locations, you can seamlessly explore the nooks and crannies of every island by simply jumping ship and swimming ashore; no loading required. Coupled with boarding enemy vessels, treasure hunting, and an addictive ship-upgrade system, ACIV provides an essential open-world experience which firmly delivers the joy of being a pirate.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Batman: Arkham Origins
Not a bad game by any stretch, but new developer Warner Bros. Games Montreal always had big shoes to fill in taking over from Rocksteady, of which Arkham Origins is proof. Whilst the game expertly explores Bruce Wayne’s earlier vigilante life and relationship with the Joker, Arkham Origins falls down in others areas and suffers largely from that “more of the same” feeling. This is most obvious through the lack of interesting new gadgets, environmental puzzles, Riddler challenges and side quests.
Elsewhere, new additions like the shock gloves serve to “unbalance” the experience rather than compliment it, and framerate issues persist throughout the course of the game, particularly when utilising fast travel (making the feature redundant). As much I enjoyed Arkham Origins, this third addition to the series is a definite step backwards and echoes the growing pains of its younger, less experienced Batman.
Russian game dev studio Ice Pick Lodge has proven to us twice before with Pathologic and The Void that they can weave disturbing worlds and tales for players to explore. With Knock-knock, they’ve done it again. Players control the Lodger, who must survive until dawn in a surreal, mind-bending game of hide-and-seek against paranormal beings that invade his home. Or is it his home? Unlike most modern games, Knock-knock forces you to figure out the rules, all while hinting at something darker, resulting in a very tense, disturbing atmosphere you rarely find in games nowadays. It also gets kudos from me for keeping me awake and paranoid at night. Did I mention that the development of the game also has a rather freaky backstory?
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Dragon’s Crown
For the most part, I loved Dragon’s Crown. I loved the gorgeous artwork, the gameplay that got more complex with a deeper understanding and the likeable cast of characters. It was, however, after a point, extremely repetitive. After a few hours, I soon found myself trudging through the same dungeons, battling the same mobs and tackling the same bosses at the same levels. But what really disappointed me is an issue specific to the physical Asian version of the game. A certain mandatory update to the online play client effectively breaks the game and will no longer you to play online (or in some cases, can corrupt save data altogether). It’s been announced that no fix will be made to said issue and the only remedy is to swap the game for another copy. A bit tricky for those overseas who bought online, eh? Given how significant online play is for Dragon’s Crown, it’s extremely unfortunate and disappointing that this issue raised its ugly head.
BEST: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
The Wii U really had a tough ol’ time last year, but the 3DS couldn’t have had a better run as far as I’m concerned. With Fire Emblem Awakening eating up my time in the first half of 2013, a slow second half was definitely saved thanks to the latest Legend of Zelda entry. By giving you access to all Link’s goodies straight off the bat, allowing entry to any temple at any time and last of all, changing up gameplay with the painted wall walk all worked together to bring a breath of fresh air to what was quickly becoming a stale series. On top of this, the game still managed to pay homage (but not excessively so) to the series’ roots, marking it one of the best Zelda games to come out, not just in recent years, but ever.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Knack (PS4)
A game with oodles of potential was squandered thanks to triggered transformation events leading to bland gameplay. On top of this, the game exhibits practically none of the PS4’s capabilities, which usually isn’t a requirement of a launch title, but considering this game was helmed by the guy who designed the fricken’ console, you’d expect it to be a little more connected with the next generation. BOO!
BEST: Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D World is that rare game that recaptures everything that made us all love Mario when we were kids without playing on our sense of nostalgia. Nintendo yet again proved that they are the masters of the 3D platforming genre, creating a game that, as I said in my review, feels exactly like a 3D follow-up to Super Mario Bros. 3 should feel like.
Add in four players and you have yourself one of the absolute best multiplayer experiences on any current console. By rights this game should be moving millions of Wii U consoles of the shelf, and it’s a crying shame that it isn’t.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: The Last of Us
I should have known, considering that I really didn’t enjoy the first two Uncharted games that The Last of Us was going to be an iffy proposition for me. Unfortunately my love of anything with zombies in it got the better of me and I ended up purchasing this on day one.
While the game definitely looks good, and there’s strong performances from its lead actors, the whole experience felt empty and sterile for me. The absolutely rigid linearity, coupled with hollow, deliberate moments of “emotion” throughout left me wondering why I’d bothered. The ending was completely at odds with how I would have acted, had I been given any agency to act at all. If this had been a movie, I would have enjoyed it more, because at least then I wouldn’t have had to keep pressing buttons to get to the next plot point.