Wednesday 15 December 2010

Top of the Scots 2010: The Best Games

Yesterday, we kicked things off with a look at the best of the year in terms of film. Today, just that much more of a tease, we're gonna talk video games.

You all play the old vidja games, right? :)

Well, perhaps there'll be those of you too proud or snooty or old to have a home console - I won't hold it against you. Not overly much. For myself, I'm not ashamed to hold my head up high when I say I believe video games are an important enough medium of entertainment - in the future if not now, not quite - that I consider them the equal of cinema. And yes, the equal even of literature.

Those of you who're apt to disagree with the spirit of that statement, maybe it'd be for the best if you looked away now.

Still looking? Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me present you with...

The Best of the Best

5. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
dev. Ninja Theory

If you'll recall, it wasn't so long I was tooting the old trumpet about Enslaved.

Reading through that review, I see I found a lot about Heavenly Sword developer Ninja Theory's latest to complain about, and looking back - looking back all of a few weeks to when I wrote Enslaved up - perhaps there are enough niggles to put most potential players off. I know I wouldn't hold it against you.

But whatever Enslaved's issues, its narrative and moreover its characters are so superb that it was easy for me to overlook the hand-holding, the simplistic combat, the dodgy frame rate, and all the rest of it. Thanks in no small part to a powerhouse performance by the once and future Gollum Andy Serkis, Trip and Monkey are a duo unlike any other in gaming this year, and I'd gladly sit through another 10-12 hours of woefully linear gameplay just to see what they get up to next.

Not that that's ever going to happen; hardly three months out, you can already score Enslaved for less than half of its release price. Sales, eh? Oh well.

4. Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
dev. Blue Castle Studios

Way back when I first got my 360, I played the original Dead Rising. Largely because there wasn't a whole lot else to play at the time, but also because there were a whole load of folks who loved it - who still do.

I shouldn't beat around the bush: I wasn't one of 'em.

So when Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, a standalone prequel to the belated sequel, appeared for download one Wednesday towards the end of the summer for a measly 400 spacebucks, I took the plunge expecting... not a whole lot, really. I got one of only two games I've cared enough to replay this year. It didn't hurt that Case Zero was short; probably you could beat it inside of an hour, if you know what to expect and when. But you'd be missing so much.

In terms of value for money, whatever its linear length, few games released this year come close to Case Zero. Not even Dead Rising 2 proper, which I certainly enjoyed, though I found myself fatigued, I'm afraid to say, by the sheer depth of experience to be had with that game. So Case Zero, in short: all the joy of Dead Rising's very much acquired mechanics, with much less fucking around.

Here's to Case West, eh? :)

3. Mass Effect 2
dev. Bioware

This generation's Star Wars, they've said. I'll go one further: for me, the sprawling canon of the universe Mass Effect and its far superior sequel share, and moreover my involvement in it, far and away exceeds any passing fondness I've felt for George Lucas' very much of-its-time trilogy.

This generation's Star Wars, they've said. I'm saying Star Wars can take a hike; I'd take Mass Effect 3 over yet another bit of Star Wars fluff any day of the week. As they say, enough said.

2. Limbo
dev. Playdead

Probably you can tell I'm an avowed supporter of the downloadable game. Well, the downloadable game has come a way this year, with superb extensions to some already-stellar experiences in the form of Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmares and Minerva's Den, the Bioshock 2 add-on, not to mention the likes of Super Meat Boy, Pacman Championship Edition DX, and Dead Rising 2's superlative payquel.

But Limbo tops the lot. It's short, sure - four hours on the outside - but those scant hours possess an almost transcendent purity hardly evident in gaming today, what with the overriding design philosophy of most projects being "bigger, better and more bad-ass." The downloadable game has worked as an antidote to that ideology: as the triple-A has risen, and become exponentially engorged in matters of scale and grandeur, its antithesis has taken the road less travelled - and no one game is a better testament to the oddly transformative power of the medium than Limbo, God's own game. So it's four hours long. So what?

If you haven't played it already, consider these your marching orders.

1. Red Dead Redemption
dev. Rockstar San Diego

Now as much as I like to champion the little guy, Red Dead Redemption is all the argument one would need to make a case in favour of the big hitters on the opposite end of the gaming spectrum.

I called out Red Dead Redemption as my game of the year so far in Halfway Through 2010, saying "I had high hopes for [it] - any game from the makers of GTA will get my blood pumping - but this remarkable piece of work exceeded every one," and having since returned to the new Old West courtesy of its wickedly whimsical Halloween expansion pack, my feelings for Rockstar San Diego's unlikely masterpiece haven't been diminished one iota. Whether I'm roaming the wilderness in search of some legendary bear or kicking back with the fam'ly in the Marston Ranch, herding horses, Red Dead Redemption is deeply engaging from one end to the other: mature, confident and unflinching in narrative terms, natural and immersive in its myriad mechanics, and stunning in its representation of a time and a place you don't often see in any medium these days - more's the pity.

The Speculative Scotsman's game of the year, then. Of course it is.



It says a lot about the year in gaming that I can only just squeeze in the likes of Halo: Reach and Fallout: New Vegas. I've had none of the technical trouble with Obsidian's return to the wasteland they first brought to life most game journos seems to have run aground of, which has been nice. The only reason New Vegas is here in the Runners Up category rather than with to the big boys above is simply because I've played it before - you know, in Fallout 3. Not to mention The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I'm good and ready for this engine to be retired now, I think, though I've certainly enjoyed its sending-off.

As to Halo: Reach (review), well, it's hands-down Bungie's best game. I enjoyed the campaign a great deal, and I mean to return to the multiplayer - at least for a little while - just as soon as I can find the time, but sadly I don't think I'll ever hold Halo in the same adoring light some gamers do. To each their own and all that. Me? I had my fun with it, and I'm glad I did. Perhaps one day I'll have some more.

Still and all, it ain't no Super Meat Boy. ;)

Honourable Mentions

Actually, no. Somehow I manage to keep pretty current in terms of video games, and offhand I can't think of many left over from last year that I only played this year. That is except Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which I overlooked initially because - I'll be honest about it - it was on the Wii. Not exactly my console of choice. Not even my favourite kitchen appliance.

Anyway, as I said in the summer, "I have a right soft spot for Silent Hill, and so many memories. Playing the first one into the night in the loft of my parents' house with an old friend; Silent Hill 2 haunting my dreams for weeks; bonding with the other half over a shared love of the old games; generally having the bejesus scared out of me on a regular basis. Resident Evil is fun and all, but it has nothing on Silent Hill. Sadly, the series rather went to the dogs after the original studio dissolved and development duties were handed over to a series of Western studios. The latest of that lineage, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, wasn't perfect by a long stretch... but it did something different with a series close to my heart I'd thought exhausted. It gave me hope, and that's something. It also gave me a scarily accurate psychological profile of myself..."

Biggest Disappointments

This category has been something of a struggle for me. Six months ago, Bioshock 2 sat up there alongside Final Fantasy XIII, but in light of Minerva's Den, an abbreviated single-player expansion pack which worked to put right so many of 2K Marin's initial missteps, I don't know that I have it in my heart to slam one of my favourite franchises all over again.

Perhaps Bioshock underwhelmed me - certainly, in the final countdown, it didn't disappoint me in the way Square Enix's latest Final Fantasy did. In Halfway Through 2010 I wrote that "The slog through the first 25 hours of Final Fantasy XIII taught me I might be over RPGs," and with the other half of the year behind me, I haven't gone back to this game as I thought I might. Nor, at this point, will I ever - my PS3 died a sorry death earlier in the year, I lost all my save files, and the thought of suffering through that selfsame slog just to get to the bit where I hear Final Fantasy XIII picks up near-enough turns my stomach.

So thanks, Square Enix, but no thanks. Next time you make a game, how about you spend a little less than the time it'd take for me to play three other games teaching me how to play your one? Honestly.

Glaring Oversights

A multiplayer-focused continuation of Assassin's Creed 2 was not at all where I expected this franchise to go next - though I hear it has a substantial single-player campaign to dig into as well, and believe you me, I mean to. There's nothing quite like skydiving off an impossible tower into a handy bail of hay, then stabbing a dude in the face. From what I understood, this time out I can have other dudes stab dudes in the face for me, which sounds... interesting.

I'll certainly get to Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood in short order: the only reason I haven't as yet is simply for lack of the time to. But that, surely that's exactly what the Christmas holidays are for!

Final Thoughts

So movies... check. Video games... check. Whatever could be left?

Could it be books? Could tomorrow's Top of the Scots finally be about the books? Or might I have invented a whole new category of things to rattle off lists in relation to, just to mess with you a little more?

Chill out: no. Of course I haven't. The Best Books will be on the blog tomorrow. Stay tuned! :)

1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard of Enslaved before now, but will be checking it out, especially in light of some of the other games you've included it with. Red Dead Redemption was a game I heard about just after it came out and was so excited by the trailers that I ran right out and plunked my money down. I was not disappointed. Such a fantastic experience. And, since I don't recall ever playing a western-based video game, somewhat unique as well.

    Limbo is another really stellar game, proving that simplicity in style, when done right, can be beautiful to behold.

    I agree with you that Mass Effect 2 was even better than the first one, which is saying something, and I have high hopes for 3. Just wish we didn't have to wait another year for it. I'm also really enjoying Fallout: New Vegas. Not wildly different from Fallout 3, but since Fallout 3 is one of my favorite gaming experiences ever I'm not complaining.