Ok look, I know, I said I’d try and do this earlier than I’ve done it the last couple years. Maybe one day I’ll make good on that promise but, for now, you’ll just have to take my sincere apologies.
I was all prepped to talk about how my busy work schedule had prevented me from hitting my goal yet again last year, fully expecting that the list of games I’d be putting down here would be near the lowest it has been. However I’m pleasantly surprised to report I managed to get through an impressive 48 (even if 3 of those are technically the same game, Destiny 2) my highest total in 2 years. The number of AAA titles has definitely declined with many last year demanding a lot more time than I was able to give to them. Still I played nearly all of the games I wanted to, the only glaring omission being God of War.
As I sat down to write this no title came front of mind which, in the past, has meant that I haven’t really found anything to crown the victor. However as I was putting together the list of games I realised it wasn’t because of a lack of titles, far from it, indeed 2 of them shared the highest score (9.5) last year with a further 4 coming in second (9.25). Adding into that there are 2 honourable mentions that I want to throw into the mix as they both gave me something I wasn’t fully expecting. Suffice to say 2018 delivered solid gaming experiences in troves and I’m honestly beside myself in not getting around to doing this sooner.
As always here’s the list of games I played last year in chronological order:
In the slightly devious tradition of awarding the wooden spoon to a game this year I have the oh-so-delicious pleasure of awarding it to not one, but two games that shared last year’s lowest rating: Elementium and The Quiet Man with a score of a mere 3. Elementium was a game I should probably have never played, something that was made and put out into the world without even a basic level of care and attention to what a game should be. The Quiet Man was bad for many other reasons, not least of which was doing a game like that in a completely ass about way that ended up ruining it completely. Whereas Elementium can be pushed aside as a dev’s first attempt at trying to make something The Quiet Man is from an established developer and large publishing company: both of whom have the resources and the motive to make it not suck horrendously. But they didn’t and so they thrust that mess onto the world to torture anyone who’d dare spend the cash.
As this year’s honourable mentions list is long I’ll blast through them with a quick list of why I wanted to point them out:
With that out the way my game of the year, which if you know me as a gamer is likely blindingly obvious by now, is:
Yes, I know, it’s another David Cage game who’s story is about as deep as any Twilight fanfiction might be but I fell for it yet again. I’ll argue that what makes these games strong isn’t the narrative but the performances that the actors give to it. Further to that the fact that the best part of the game, I feel, isn’t really even the game itself made seriously think about how we can define new player interactions with the medium. Whilst I haven’t had many good conversations about it yet it’s definitely a title I’ll refer back to when thinking about the numerous gaming traditions and how changing, augmenting or even straight usurping them can add a whole new dimensionality to our video game experiences. All things said and done if you haven’t played it I strongly encourage you do, even if you don’t play it strictly for the game itself.
The two runners up are Monument Valley 2 and Gris.
I’d been hanging out for Monument Valley 2 ever since I saw it released on iOS and instantly devoured it in one sitting when I finally saw it come out. It may not have done anything particularly revolutionary with its implementation but the story they told, mostly through the use of visuals with small bits of dialogue here and there, captured my heart straight away. Reading through my review again brings all those emotions back tenfold, not least of which because I’m now the father of a daughter myself.
Gris came into my sights just before it was released and honestly if there’s anything that I’d call reviewer bait (at least for me) it’d be this game. Beautiful visuals, amazing soundtrack and a story told eloquently without the use of dialogue are all things I look for and the short game trailers were enough to convince me it was worth my time. What makes this all the more impressive is that it’s the first title from Nomada Studio. With a debut like that I am so excited to see what they deliver in the future.
2019 has already brought with it some amazing titles and some amazing upsets in expectations. My list is, as always, brimming with big names and at least one previous Game of the Year winner. Whilst my expectations are high my time is likely going to be a little limited, new baby and all, but I love gaming too much to leave them all at the door.
I’ll just have to teach her how to hold a controller.
The past 2 Call of Duty games weren’t really up to the standard that I’d come to expect from the franchise. Part of this can be attributed to Black Ops 3 being my favourite in the series, the multiplayer keeping me going for a good 150+ hours before I decided to call it quits. So my expectations were probably higher than they’d otherwise be for Black Ops 4, hoping to rekindle that love of the COD multiplayer which I’d lost for the last couple years. Whilst on one hand all the ingredients are there for that to happen again there’s been some glaring omissions and strange launch-day decisions that have marred what could’ve otherwise been yet another solid COD game from Treyarch.
This is typically where I’d give a brief synopsis of the initial plot for the game but since Black Ops 4 lacks a single player campaign I have none to give. Sure they’ve buried some meagre bits and pieces on the specialists training modes, giving you a brief cutscene here or there that speaks to why each of the character classes have their abilities, but that does not a single player campaign make. After it was announced that this was the case Treyarch confirmed unequivocally that they never intended to put a single player campaign in, citing the fact that most players simply jump straight into the multi. I have no reason to doubt that but out of the 3 Call of Duty developers they were always the ones who made the most interesting and engaging stories. Leaving that out seems like a missed opportunity, one that this reviewer certainly laments. Of course it wasn’t taken away for just any old reason as it was replaced with Blackout although whether or not the trade off was worth it will be entirely up to you. For me it certainly wasn’t (more on that later).
The Call of Duty games were never known for their cutting edge visuals, instead favouring higher performance to go along with the game’s rapid pace of combat. This trend continues with Black Ops 4 with the game striving to maintain a smooth, high frame rate experience over providing Crysis-like eye candy. There’s also less opportunity for level and set designers to showcase what the engine is capable of doing due to the game being multiplayer only. All things considered though the game looks perfectly fine for what it wants to be: a fast paced shooter. I will admit though that I figured that for the handful of cutscenes they created they would’ve spent a little more of their ridiculous budget on making them a little more cutting edge.
Black Ops 4 retains its 2 core game modes that most players will know, regular multiplayer and zombies, along with the new Battle Royal mode called Blackout. The base multiplayer games don’t deviate from the COD formula much, retaining the same Pick 10 system alongside a familiar cast of weapons. Some weapons now have the option of an Operator Mod which will significantly change the way the gun operates from simple things like massive rates of fire increases to strobe lights for one of the shotguns. Deviating from the last few titles as well is the lack of loot boxes with the only microtransactions in sight being used for buying different cosmetic skins for the specialists. Perhaps the biggest change though is the lack of automatically regenerating health, instead relegated to a piece of equipment which you’ll have you manually trigger to regenerate health. Most interesting of all is that the stim pack is actually a choice, you can replace it with another piece of gear if you so wish. For those who are really at the top of their game this gives them a very high risk/reward balance to play with, one I’ve seen used to both great and ill effect. Suffice to say the core of Black Ops 4 doesn’t deviate too much from the formula with the exception of Blackout.
To be completely open here I’m not the biggest fan of the Battle Royal format. I’ve played my share of PUBG, both on PC and mobile, and it can be enjoyable with a bunch of mates. However I like my FPS games fast and furious, something which the COD franchise has supported me with for many years. Battle Royal on the other hand is very much a slow and considered game, one that favours being patient and formulating a strategy if you want to win. Sure I could just parachute into a hot zone and likely die in the first couple minutes if I wanted to speed things up a bit but honestly, given that there’s a much more capable TDM and other modes available right there I’m far more likely to want to play that. Still in the interests of seeing everything that Black Ops 4 had to offer I figured I should give Blackout a try and, well, it’s pretty much as you’d expect: PUBG with COD weapons. I’ve heard from many that it’s a pretty great experience (which is likely given that Black Ops 4 has seen incredible sales) but for me, as a rusher type player in these kinds of games, it’s the antithesis of what I want from this kind of game. Your mileage may vary, though.
A good chunk of content for Black Ops 4 comes from 3 so right off the bat you’re going to be back in familiar territory. The same goes for the character classes with half of them being direct copy and pastes of their former selves. At first I was a little miffed at that, wanting a whole new experience, but I got over that relatively quickly as I realised it gave me a headstart on knowing the maps and which character classes I’d fit best into. A lot of the weapons have been changed around and there’s a much more wide variety of mods to choose from, making a great deal of the game’s weapons viable in PVP (so long as you can get the right unlocks done, of course). The starter classes are also well rounded as well, one of them coming with a fully kitted out gun that you won’t be able to get until level 50 or so. I’ve found the most success running with the Spitfire SMG, a bullet hose of a weapon that feels like a long range shotgun when you upgrade it with laser sights 2 and the extended mag. The ARs and shotguns were also somewhat viable depending on the map but SMGs felt like the better all round weapon if I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into.
The class abilities are a bit of a mixed bag given that they all seem to have rather lengthy cooldowns and can be real hit and miss affairs. The shock drone, radar beacon, assault pack and razor wire ones seem to be the most useful, having a direct impact on your performance in a match. Other ones like the cluster grenade and trip wire feel hit or miss, unlikely to provide a consistent boost to your ability to win matches. For some of the ultimate abilities you’ll be lucky to get 1 off per game (like the vision pulse one) whereas the other, less impactful ones (like Crash’s overheal) you’ll likely be able to get off 2~3 times easily. I’m sure this is going to be a boon for competitive teams as there’s a clear delineation between support and offensive ultimates, allowing them to fine tune team comps quite well. For pub players like me though it’ll just come down to whichever one feels best to you. I’ve standardised on Crash for the most part since that seems to help my team out the most.
I couldn’t do this review without talking about the current state of the multiplayer networking, specifically the 20hz server debacle. To put it simply the Black Ops 4’s server engine runs at 20hz, meaning all in-game events are updated 20 times per second. That sounds plenty fast enough however most modern games run at double or triple that and even Black Ops 4 itself ran at 60hz during its beta phase. The problem with this is that it leads to really inconsistent play with players able to one shot kill each other, seemingly land shots on you when you’re around a corner or, if you’re lucky, seemingly grant you super powers with the ability to kill anyone before they have a chance to react. This issue only seems to be amplify the host advantage problem as well, making some games an absolute nightmare for the opposing team. Treyarch has said that the limit on server tick rate was done to ensure that they could maintain the service during the initial rush and that it would eventually be put back up to 60hz. If they stay true to their word then Black Ops 4 might actually be a great game to pick up around the holiday season but for now, if you’re someone who’s interested in playing competitively, it may be best to give it a miss until 60hz makes a return.
The lack of single player and the 20hz servers might not sound like big issues but for someone like me, who really enjoyed Treyarch’s cerebral plots and glass smooth multi, they’re huge marks against the best Call of Duty game I’ve played in the last 3 years. To be sure I still feel that Treyarch is the one the others should follow but even this instalment feels like the weakest one from the developer to date. Perhaps I’ve begun to outgrow the series or maybe it’s taking a new direction that leads it away from me, I’m not sure, as all I really know is that the near unmitigated fun I found in previous titles has been gone for some time. Black Ops 4 has a potential redemption story ahead of it in the form of better multiplayer servers but I’ll still have that hole in my heart which only a Treyarch COD story can fill.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 retains the trademarks of the Treyarch style that, in my opinion, makes their version of the IP the best. The combat is still great, the various weapon options still a joy to fiddle with and the familiarity of old maps made the transition in that much smoother. Blackout is something that I personally could do without but it’s likely to be a drawcard for the numerous players out there who love the format and have tired of current offerings. The lack of a campaign is certainly disappointing and the inclusion of a token effort felt more insulting than if they had just left it out completely. The 20hz server issue is certainly annoying but I’m hopeful that it will be fixed as the player base declines from its launch highs. For what it’s worth I’m still enjoying the multi and I’ll probably put a few more good hours into it before I call it quits completely. Perhaps the residual hype from Black Ops 3 is what has doomed me here but I can’t help feeling that I wanted just a little bit more from Treyarch this time around.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours of play time.