The best (and worst) of the year – Richard Plant
It may come as a surprise, but we absolutely love games here at Citizen Game. Old games, bad games, big games, whatever. We love to play them and we love to talk about them. Right now everyone else is trying to sort out and definitively list the “best” games of the year, to compile them into Top Ten’s and Best Of’s. We don’t do that because we don’t really care which game was best this year. We only remember the games we love and the ones that have broken our hearts. So, to that end, Citizen Game will be presenting its Best Loved Games and biggest disappointment of 2012 in a series in the run up to Christmas, with staffers taking a moment to reflect on what made their favourite games of the year so special to them. We encourage you to do the same in the comments.
Gehms I have known
It’s that time of year again, when chirpy bastards insist on bringing up Christmas plans, while underpaid and underappreciated games industry types find solace in copious buckets of booze and get teary-eyed over the slow death of the Amiga (why Commodore, why?).
It’s also the traditional time for wrap-ups of the year’s content. After all, what do games fans like more than pouring out gobs of nostalgia over stuff they remember (r/gaming, I’m looking at you). Far be it for me to buck the trend though, so here you’ll find my top three gaming experiences this year, along with my biggest disappointment. Enjoy.
Best Loved Games
Walking, talking living doll
My first choice should come as no surprise to anyone who has been exposed to my maudlin ranting about character and narrative this year. Telltale’s magnum opus The Walking Dead has forced me to put my money where my mouth is, leaving no stop unpulled in its yet-unfinished tale of American desolation. Achieving the admirable goal of far surpassing the popular source material in every way, The Chalky Hedge is exactly what I would like games to grow up to be: confident, mature, with well-realised characters reacting naturally to extraordinary situations. And not a chest-high wall in sight.
It’s also the first game that has really managed to sell me on Telltale’s signature episodic adventure game format. I’ve had the room to consider my experiences, ruminate on the secret lives of other survivors and replay key decisions in my mind before the next episode, building up a real sense of kinship with this small band of scruffy misfits. Points have been awarded as well for creating gaming’s only remotely bearable child character, Clementine. While I’d be happy to see most pixelated troglodytes thrown down a well, her fragile bravery and resilience have been a revelation.
Somewhere over the rainbow
To the Moon, despite coming out last year, deserves special mention in any list of my top moments this year. It’s the game that made me want to write about these odd toys we fiddle with again. There had come a point a few months ago, with work loading me up with ennui over the course of a day, that I’d just come home and refuse to think. The simplest things were beyond me: cooking, shaving, holding a conversation. Committing my thoughts to virtual page was the farthest thing from my mind.
It took Kan Gao’s amazingly touching work to change my mind. Playing this ‘game’ was like being invited to watch a stunningly well-handled piece of theatre, with situations at first odd and fantastic, which become mundane, and then stretch out to the beautiful. While it might look like a retro RPG or adventure, this tale of love, loss and memory is so much more than that. Not enough people will play this, if play is the right word for something with so little actual interaction, and that is a great shame indeed for them. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss out.
A gentleman caller
This feels odd writing this now given that (not to blow your mind) I’m still working on my review of Dishonored. By the time you read this, my opinion will be long gone, fired like a critical crossbow up the backside of the plagued-riddled industry. So here is a quick recap of my thoughts on Arkane’s fundamentally odd political murder simulator.
Playing Dishonored is like peering into an alternate timeline, one where the Thief games got the attention and sales that they so richly deserved, and all AAA blockbusters are densely-plotted, morally ambiguous thinking man’s pastimes. The city of Dunwall, with its eerie similarity to the mouldier bits of Edinburgh, fairly reeks of intrigue and hidden passageways, and this bleeds into the multiple pathways available to you as you progress through the game. For a linear narrative that uses a relatively settled mission structure to lead you through the story of Corvo’s revenge, the game does a commendable job of letting you make meaningful decisions about how, where and in what manner you want to approach all of its multifarious challenges.
What’s most exciting is that this is a big budget game that treats its audience as more than just sightseers to be shunted around from one set piece scenario to another. The joy of Dishonored arises not just out of how talented the writers and developers are, but the tiny unscripted interactions that result from trusting your player base to be inquisitive human beings. Magic.
The prospect of putting words down on this game filled me with such despair that I couldn’t even think up a fun subhead. You see, the problem with the 2012 remake of Syndicate is not that it is a bad game (although it is), that it is so similar to so many other titles (also true), or even that it is boring. The real problem is that it smacks more than anything else of laziness. In a year that saw grand experiments with narrative and mechanics, Starbreeze and EA decided to put a game where a walking gun named ‘Miles Kilo’ faces off against evil corporations in a dystopian near future cribbed from Blade Runner or Neo-Tokyo. Can we really be so starved of new ideas that we must take fondly remembered innovation and crush it into a market-friendly form?
The terrible thing is that the arrival of XCOM: Enemy Unknown later in the year proves that modern reimaginings of classic titles don’t have to ignore everything that made them great, or indeed simply slavishly translate them to a new engine with a spot of new paint. Some things about gaming today really are better, and not just technologically. The benefits of years of refinement can be seen in interface design, sound and setting, just as much as in the particle showers and dynamic lighting. In all that though, Firaxis demonstrated that they understand what it is that players loved about the original, and protected and extended that. Starbreeze chose not to.
And that’s it for this year, I hope we all learned a valuable lesson (something about shooting mens, I shouldn’t wonder). While sitting here writing this, a thought struck me: we have it pretty good. It may be difficult to extract ourselves from the episodes of gloom that have struck the industry this year, but overall the picture is tinted a pleasing shade of pink. Big publishers are still turning out quality titles from talented designers alongside the usual trawl of dross, while indie developers are making huge strides against daunting odds.
It’s a good time to play games. Enjoy it while you can.