Monday, December 31, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Mass Effect 3

Can a computer make you cry? That was the question posed by an Electronic Arts magazine ad in 1982. It might seem like a misguided metric today, but if a game is capable of making the player cry, it shows how much the game resonated with them on an emotional level, as well as how much of themself they invested in it. Mass Effect 3 was not only the first game to make me cry, it did so twice.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a harrowingly beautiful, emotionally intense game. It evokes the spirit of its source material (the comic series, not the television show) through its art style, writing, and characters. Lee Everett is probably the best use-case for a potentially silent protagonist, offering interesting options whether responses are moral, amoral, or non-existent. The cast of characters offer enough variation there is always someone among the group to like. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is one of protection and security, driving players to care enough that they’ll do things they otherwise wouldn’t to defend Clementine and keep her safe.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Despite my roots as a PC gamer, I never played the original X-COM. In fact, I never have been heavy into strategy games at all. Sure, I played them in the past, but never with any focus, or skill. I played Dune 2 and Outpost during the 1990s, with a hint of Warcraft 2. I bought Star Wars: Rebellion, mostly because it was a Star Wars, having never winning. Even on the easiest difficulty, I never beat that game. About a year after I started playing World of Warcaft, I jumped into Warcraft 3, through it was mostly for narrative as this was right before the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and the Culling of Stratholme dungeon. I tried again later with Star Wars: Empire at War, but even on the easiest difficulty, I couldn’t beat the second mission.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Diablo 3

About a month after its release, I was ready to call Diablo 3 the game I regretted buying most. Having never played either of the previous two Diablo games, I was swept up in the zeitgeist of release, looking forward to playing hours of what I essentially viewed as a single-player MMO.

Release day came, and while Error 37 was frustrating at the time, it was inconsequential to the amount of actual playtime. After a little more than 25 hours, I completed both the normal and nightmare difficulties and had a level 50 Monk. At that point I asked, what else?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Max Payne 3

It can be tremulous when a developer takes over a game series midway through. Such is the case with Max Payne 3. Originally scheduled to release in 2009, six years after Max Payne 2, the sequel was wrought through development hell until the first trailer hit in 2011. The final product, though, is a terrific example of what happens when Rockstar not only focuses their energy into a tightly knit, linear shooter, but also when a development studio takes the reigns and puts their mark on a franchise.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a game about additions. It doesn’t change much of the open-world crime genre made popular by games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. Instead, it adds to the formula with a deep hand-to-hand combat system reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, grand visuals, and an intriguing story from the opposite perspective of those other games.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Dishonored

Dishonored sounds like the fantasy mash-up of one too many genres; a steampunk stealth assassin first-person game set in a Victorian London-esque city. While it doesn’t hit all those notes, Dishonored does give players enough agency to make them feel like the outcome they received is the one they chose. Like last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored gives players the option to complete objectives either through stealth and non-lethal tactics, or with pure malicious intent leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Borderlands 2

Like the first game, Borderlands 2 delivers on all its promises. The art direction is fantastic and unique, the characters and dialogue feel crisp and sharp, and the guns feel powerful and dynamic, each providing a use for different situations. But unlike the first game, Borderlands 2 excels in narrative, giving a reason and motivation for your character other than simply collect more guns.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Need for Speed Most Wanted

Between Hot Pursuit and The Run, the Need for Speed series always nails down the feeling of high top-speeds while weaving in and out of obstacles. Need for Speed Most Wanted did this taking the police chase model executed in Hot Pursuit and applying it to the open city of Fairhaven, while measuring players up against their friends for nearly every single thing they do.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Syndicate

Here is my preamble: I’m going to be counting down the 10 best games I played in 2012 over the next 10 weekdays. You might not agree with these choices, or they might not be the best 10 games 2012 had to offer, but they are the ones I played. I encourage you to leave a comment, send an email, or message me on Twitter if you have a different opinion, or want to talk about my choices. For each game, I’ll put the trailer at the end of the text I believe best encapsulates the game and what was exciting about it.

Remember how EA ruined the Syndicate franchise by releasing a first-person shooter instead of making a new isometric strategy game? No, I don’t. I never played the original Syndicate. I was eight years old when it released, and though I can’t remember what games I was playing at the time, I know it wasn’t isometric strategy games involving corporate espionage in a cyberpunk setting.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Diary of an Assassin - Eighth Entry

Note: As I have now moved into the recently released Assassin’s Creed 3, these diary entries will contain spoilers about gameplay and story. Please read cautiously. If you do not want these things spoiled, please read after finishing the game.

Assassin’s Creed 3 may weave a story of the end of the world and its, although shaky, resolution with the history and founding of America, but it actually wields an intriguing and familiar tale about fatherhood. That may sound like a reference to the time and place of Assassin’s Creed 3 during the American Revolution and the interaction with America’s forefathers, but it actually has more to do with Williams Miles and Haythem Kenway, the fathers of the protagonists.

Set nearly 250 years apart, Williams and Haythem share similar qualities and attitudes as a farther. Both figuratively sacrificed their children for their own beliefs and goals. Haythem may well be Connor’s father, but he is more concerned about furthering the Templar cause in the colonies than taking an interest in his son. The writing doesn’t explain it well enough, but Haythem does know Connor is his son. He just doesn’t seem to care, at least until later in the game. In Williams’s case, he focused so much on following the order and protecting his family from Templars he lost sight of what was important to him, driving his son Desmond to run away and establish his own life in New York City as a bartender.

Besides their struggles balancing their goals and families, both men spent time away from their children, through either their own choices, or the choices they forced onto their children, before reuniting with them under uncertain circumstances. Haythem assumingly abandoned Connor, leaving him in the hands of his mother where he grew up in the Mohawk tribe. When he became an assassin, Connor did he meet with his father again, if only briefly, as part of his goal to eliminate the Templar influence in the colonies. Desmond, on the other hand, willingly left his father and family. After waking up from his coma in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, he reunited with his father along with Rebecca and Shaun, spending time in the modern day reconciling with Williams on much happier terms than Connor did with Haythem.

I call the themes of fatherhood in Assassin’s Creed 3 familiar because the back half of the narrative oddly follows the steps of Return of the Jedi nearly exact. Connor, after encountering his father, tells Achilles, whom Connor refers to as the old man, he thinks he can convince his father to agree to a truce between the assassin order and the Templars. Achilles warns Connor despite his feelings of misplaced sentiment, he must find and kills his father. Connor eventually does kill his father, only to chase down and kill Charles Lee, the last threat behind the Templar’s influence in America.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke, after encountering his father Darth Vader, tells Yoda he thinks he can redeem his father back to the Light side and end the fight between the Jedi and the Sith. Yoda warns Luke he must find and defeat Vader regardless. Luke eventually does defeat his father, who in turn kills the Emperor, the last threat behind the Sith in the galaxy.

There are obvious comparisons to draw between the two. Connor is Luke, Haythem is Darth Vader, Achilles is Yoda, and Charles Lee is the Emperor. There are slight differences, but it’s astonishing how close they come. I’m not sure if it was intentional or just a coincidence by the Assassin’s Creed writing staff, but it’s interesting to see the parallels between the two. Regardless, the similarities between Williams and Haythem seem conscious and redeeming, even if the end of Assassin’s Creed 3 is a bit rocky and hokey.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Seventh Entry

Note: As I have now moved into the recently released Assassin’s Creed 3, these diary entries will contain spoilers about gameplay and story. Please read cautiously. If you do not want these things spoiled, please read after finishing the game.

The Assassin’s Creed series has always had two main protagonists: Desmond Miles, the kidnapped bartender who escaped under the wing of the modern-day assassins, and the character from which he relives memories through the animus. In the first Assassin’s Creed, this was Altair. In Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations, it was Ezio.

With few exceptions has there been a third playable character. Assassin’s Creed 2 had a short sequence where Altair was playable. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations had specific missions tied into the story where the player took the role of Altair instead of Ezio.