23 December 2014

2014 is about to end, and that means one thing: let’s talk about what my year was like gaming wise, and what my game of the year is! Again, this will follow the same rules as last year: my GOTY is a game I first played this year that had the biggest impact on me. It’s not necessarily the best game, or the one I played the most. It’s just one that got to me well enough that I still want to talk about it months after I’ve stopped playing it.

This year, I didn’t play much new games. I actually spent most of my gaming time on multiplayer games with friends. I managed to reach Silver league in League of Legends, I went back to Diablo 3 thanks to Reaper of Souls, and I’m now at the point where I can consistently win on King difficulty at Civilization V. But those three are disqualified because they’re not new games: I’ve beem playing D3 and Civ5 since 2012, and LoL since 2013.

Games I played in 2014

So what about games I tried out this year? Well, that’s the thing, there wasn’t a lot. I played a little bit of Transistor and, despite liking it, I never managed to drum up the interest to go past the first boss. Maybe I’ll come back to it next year. I didn’t find it as interesting as its predecessor Bastion, that’s for sure.

Come to think of it, most of my gaming this year, aside from the above trio of LoL, D3 and Civ5, can be described as “playing a bit and then stopping”: Contrast, The Banner Saga, Costume Quest 2, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, F.E.A.R. and its sequel… I also got a Wii U and played some of Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros., but not a lot of each. I did manage to finish a few games, though: Jazzpunk, Child of Light, Mark of the Ninja, Dust: An Elysian Trail and Fallout 3 were all quite entertaining titles that I had a lot of fun burning through in a weekend.

Here’s the thing, though: they were simply “entertaining”. None of them left me with a lot of food for thought. Jazzpunk was funny, yes, but also a bit forced. Child of Light was beautiful but had a disappointingly simple combat system, and that’s coming from a guy who thinks Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the epitome of turn based RPG combat design. Mark of the Ninja and Dust were fun but repetitive (and oddly balanced). Fallout 3 is New Vegas without its best feature, interesting characters, and turned out much worse as a result. I also went through the first part of Broken Age, and I’m really looking forward to the second part, which should come out early next year; you might even see a review (but don’t hold your breath).

In fact, I had a lot of difficulty finding out which game I found the most interesting this year. In my opinion, the best game is by far The Wolf Among Us. It’s incredibly well written and paced, and quite interesting to think about. I sure hope there’s a season 2 coming soon because I’m going to experience the shit out of that. If you’re the kind of person who likes well made and engrossing crime drama with a layer of social commentary underneath it, then pick this up. Hell, even if you don’t play games, it’s pretty approachable. Most of the gameplay is pushing a button once in a while with the right timing. If you can play Guitar Hero, you can definitely play this. Just treat it as any other series you would binge watch on Netflix.

Drum roll…

So, The Wolf Among Us is my Game of the Year 2014!

Actually, that’s a lie. It’s my runner up.

My real GOTY 2014 is… Banished. Remember Banished? That little medieval city builder that was made in the span of three years by one guy? Well, yeah, that game. Not because it’s great. Oh, it’s not bad. It has kickass mechanics, great polish and, while it started with a lack of content, you can now find mods (most importantly the excellent Colonial Charter one) that fixes this issue.

No, the real reason why it’s my GOTY is that it made me think. Not about the game itself, but rather about the whole year in gaming.

The year in gaming (sort of)

2014 was an interesting year. Many people were quick to dismiss it as a “shitty year”, mostly because, well, there was an extraordinarely high amount of bullshit on the AAA side of things, and let’s just say the media likes to cover bullshit because that’s how you get the most views with the least words. Best bang for your buck, in short. Personally I found it to be pretty good, mostly because I stayed away from the hype and I didn’t preorder a single thing: I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes I did with SimCity. Man, that was a mess.

Most high profile games this year were overhyped, overbudgeted and overmarketed monsters that were rushed in order to fit well within their publishers’ fiscal year and as such were released in an incredibly unfinished state. Other hype magnets were pushed back to 2015. It’s like nobody can keep a deadline these days. We also saw a tremendous amount of remakes and “remasters”, which kinda implies that this generation’s best games are basically just last generation’s best games, only with higher resolution textures and more stable frame rates. I know the AAA world is risk averse, but even by that standard this is playing it safe. It’s also been a year since the release of the PS4 and the Xbox One, and none of them have a killer app out. I guess they’re following Nintendo’s example of waiting two years before giving someone a reason to buy the thing.

On the indie side, we had a cavalcade of barely playable Early Access titles and broken promises. The Kickstarter hype is winding down and hell, even Star Citizen has run out of stretch goals. If you’re an indie, and you’re thinking about crowdfunding your next title, I’m afraid the free lunch is over. And remember, kids: if you’re angry that your preorder of Assassin’s Creed: Unity turned out to be a terrible idea, then you are not allowed to be pissed when that game you helped kickstart gets stuck in development hell. My point is: on both the AAA and indie worlds, blind hype runs rampant and I’m not sure I like it.

And here we have Banished: a game that was well polished and fairly bug free right on release, in a genre that is in desperate need of titles, on a platform (the PC) that is usually seen as the garbage dump of gaming, at least for AAA developers. As the work of a single person, it’s a tremendous risk. Banished, unlike so many games this year, met expectations. Banished is exactly what games should be, and what they weren’t nearly enough like this year. It is the black sheep of 2014. And it’s great. If you got burned by 2013’s mediocre SimCity, or just really want another city building game, give it a try. It’s probably on sale on Steam. I might do an actual review sometime.

And so, Banished is my Game of the Year 2014! Congratulations! Congratulations as well to the runner up, The Wolf Among Us. Again, let me reiterate: TWAU is probably the superior title, but it didn’t spark the above round of thinking, and that’s why it’s in second place.

And with that, folks, 2014 comes to a close. What a hell of a year. Happy holidays to everybody, I’ll see you on the other side. I’ve got a bunch of projects next year: I have this game project lying around, I need to keep my “an article a month” goal, and I really want to reach Gold league at LoL. We’ll see if I can manage to avoid procrastinating the hell out of everything.

No promises.