Better late than never, right?
Last year, due to my increasingly busy work schedule and my first holiday in 5 years, saw me review a meagre 42 games. Still in that bunch are all of the big hits of last year, some ones I had been looking forward to and, of course, one so-bad-it’s-bad title I played to remind me of how good we have it. Yet again I found myself struggling to crown a winner this year although this time around there were no less than 6 titles that could have easily taken it away. As always here’s the list of last year’s games in chronological order so you can refresh your memory if you so see fit.
First off I’ll award this year’s wooden spoon to The Technomancer from consistently B-grade developer Spiders. They’re a developer that has ambitions of being one of the top RPG developers like Bethesda or Bioware but unfortunately they just don’t have the resources to do so. Every one of their games is packed with all the features you’d expect of a larger RPG but, unfortunately, none of them work properly or integrate well. So what you end up with is a mish-mash of mechanics that are loosely coupled together, never quite reaching the level to which the game aspires to. Honestly all they need to do is narrow their focus and get a few core things right to make the next step up. However that never seems to happen and they continue to aspire to greatness they simply can’t yet achieve. Still The Technomancer was their best game yet, but that was a low bar to jump over.
This year I want to give honourable mentions to 3 titles that are fantastic games in their own right but didn’t make the top 3. Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of those rare sequels that manages to surpass its predecessor. It also managed to set up its sequels without ruining the plot of the current instalment, something which is almost never done well. Uncharted 4 was the conclusion that the franchise needed and was done so well that few could argue there was a better way to send off Nathan Drake. Whilst it might be sad to say goodbye to the franchise, at least in this form, it will long stand as one of the must-have titles for the PlayStation platform. Lastly Firewatch, whilst not sharing the same high score as the rest of the honorable mentions, was by far one of the most engrossing experiences to come out of 2016. If you haven’t yet taken the time to play it I very much recommend you do as its 3 hour play time just rushes by.
So without further ado my Game of the Year for 2016 is:
Blizzard’s Overwatch, rising from the ruins of the failed next-gen MMORPG Titan, is yet another testament to the venerable developer’s prowess when it comes to game development. I had been involved in the closed beta for some time before it launched and was still thoroughly excited to play it again on launch. The nearly 100 hours I’ve spent in game after then is a testament to just how well crafted Blizzard’s new team based shooter is. Combine that with the world building that Blizzard has continued to do long after its initial launch and you have a game that’s engrossing both from a mechanical and story telling perspective. Whilst my views on it may have soured since then (most likely due to the pressures that come from ranked play) there’s really no disputing that, at the time, it was head and shoulders above every other game I played last year.
Titanfall 2 comes in at a very close second as I’ve put in just as many hours into it as I did Overwatch. With the Call of Duty instalment lacking somewhat this year it was great to see Titanfall 2 step up into its place, providing the fast paced run and gun action that I enjoy. Considering how flat the original Titanfall fell after its first few weeks it was great to see the community stay stable for months after launch in the sequel. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the low time to kill meaning that the skill gap isn’t as big as it is in other shooters, but for spammy rushers like myself it’s just the right blend of balls to the wall action and mech based combat.
Lastly Inside, the spiritual successor to Limbo, comes in at third. For Playdead it was a pivotal moment, one that would either cement them as the king of the genre they helped create or see them cede it to others. Suffice to say Inside managed to improve on the Limbo formula in almost all regards, modernising the idea in just the right ways. It’s short play time, speculative story and carefully crafted visuals all combine together into a seamless experience that few other developers would be able to replicate. If you played Limbo or any of its numerous clones then it’s well worth spending the afternoon playing through Inside.
We’re already in the thick of 2017’s releases and I’m already impressed at the calibre of AAA titles that have come out this year. I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to keep up the 1 game per week cadence, something which I’m already unfortunately behind on. However it’s looking like another solid year for us gamers, one that I’m very much looking forward to.
Onwards and upwards, dear readers!
As we begin this new year many of us turn our thoughts on the previous year. For us gamers it’s a time to reflect on the games we played and choose our game of the year as we’re surely going to be asked what it was from our peers. Some of us will know our answer instantly, that one stand out title that stands out above all. Others, like me, tend to struggle to nominate one game as there are usually numerous ones that can take the crown. This year, like many years before it, came down to a hard choice between a few very deserving titles. My ultimate decision though took me a good few weeks to come to, however.
Like many years before this one 2015 saw me playing a wide variety of games from numerous different genres. Whilst the number of console games I played might have been lower the time I spent on my console was much greater than previous years thanks to a couple stellar titles. The indie titles are as strong as ever with many great games gracing my presence. There were also several notable AAA titles although they were also mixed in with the usual chaff of sequels and other half assed titles. Still compared to some previous years 2015 was a notable improvement on the consistency of the quality of games, something I was very much thankful for.
As always below is the list of the 52 games I played and reviewed last year, in chronological order:
This year was probably the first where I couldn’t think off the top of my head which title I wanted to give the coveted wooden spoon award to. Sure some stinkers came to mind like Battlefield Hardline and The Flock but I couldn’t shake the thought that there was something else. Going through my review scores I found it, the lowest scored game for the year which likely slipped my mind due to how long ago I played it. So this year’s worst game of the year goes to 4PM, a title that strived hard to be a cinematic masterpiece but feel so horribly short. I admire those who dare to experiment with games as a medium but I can’t in good conscious say that the experience 4PM delivered was anything but atrocious. It’s one saving grace was that it was short, something which saved it from a much lower score.
There are a few honorable mentions I’d like to go through this year just because these games have managed to do things that either impressed me or kept me coming back far longer than I thought I would. The first goes to Destiny: The Taken King, an expansion (which generally wouldn’t merit a review) that managed to reinvigorate a game that was suffering from its own burdens. Whilst I may not still be playing it today I can’t say I’m not tempted to go back and throw myself back into hardcore raiding once again. In a similar vein Call of Duty: Black Ops III reignited my passion for competitive shooters, so much so that I did my first prestige. I had avoided doing that for a long time because I thought it’d kill any motivation I had for playing but it did the exact opposite.
The final honorable mention goes to Bloodborne. I have avoided the Souls series like a plague ever since they came out, not wanting to throw myself before a game that cared not for my enjoyment nor my sanity. At the behest of my friend, who jokingly agreed to watch Frozen for as long as I played (that means about 18 viewings, Chris, get on it) I picked it up knowing I was going to hate it. For the first 3 hours I did and I have the camera footage to prove it. However, after I got that first checkpoint, something changed in me. I wanted to see more. I wanted to play more. I wanted to show this game that broke me down that I would make it my slave and boy did I ever. Bloodborne goes down as the game I wanted to hate but ended up loving, something very few games have ever managed to do.
However you’re not here to listen to me waffle on what you’re here to see is what my game of the year was. Well it’s my great pleasure to say that Ori and the Blind Forest is my Game of the Year for 2015.
It is so rare that a game makes me care so quickly for the characters and then uses those feelings of empathy against me. Just thinking about it again brings back a flood of emotions, a tumultuous mix of biting sadness and soaring beauty. I’ve given out game of the year based on those kinds of feelings alone but Ori and the Blind Forest is by far one of the most beautifully crafted games to come out in 2015. Everything from the graphics to the soundscaping to the beautiful soundtrack all merge together so well which is, in my opinion, what elevates a game from simply “great” to game of the year material. I will have to be honest though it was a tough choice between this and The Witcher 3, with Ori winning out because it does just as well with a lot less.
I am very much looking forward to 2016 as every year has brought me a new set of surprises. The releases penned for this calendar year look as good as any other and I will endeavour to play my way through as many as I can. I have found that broadening my horizons is the best way to discover new things to delight me and so I will dedicate myself to getting out of my comfort zone as often as I can this year. I will stay as true to my roots as I can though, bringing one review a week come rain, hail or shine.
Here’s to you dear reader, may the gaming year of 2016 bring you as much joy as I hope it will me.
If you had asked me what my game of the year was going to be for 2013 I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell you before I wrote my post. You see whilst I did rate some games highly none of them triggered that feeling, that sense of “this is the game from this year that everyone needs to play”. Compare that to 2014 and I had that feeling several times over with several games expressing the attributes and quality that I’d expect of a game that I’d nominate as my Game of the Year. At the same time however I’m still faced with the same dilemma as there are a few potentials that could take the crown, even those who didn’t receive my highest score for the year.
Looking back over the contenders for this year’s award the mix seems pretty similar to the previous year with a good smattering of both AAA and indie titles alike. It seems I’ve been far more willing to give out lower scores this year with numerous titles receiving scores in the 5 and below range. For the most part though, unlike other years where I’ve intentionally played the occasional stinker, these were games I expected to be better than they were which is what necessitated such a harsh score. Interestingly though there were a few low scored titles in there which I genuinely enjoyed although likley for all the wrong reasons.
As always here’s the list of my reviews for 2014 in chronological order:
This year the wooden spoon award could’ve gone to several notable contenders like Echo Prime, Bound by Flame and Velvet Sundown. However they’re all stand alone titles, ones that didn’t attempt to ride the coat tails of a previous release to victory and which, for the most part, aren’t an unplayable mess. So for 2014 I’m more than happy to hand the worst game of the year to Deus Ex: The Fall as it failed in almost all regards, most astoundingly in the PC port process which left it as a unplayable mess. I sincerly hope that the developers behind that monstrosity take a good hard look at themselves and vow to never port such rubbish to the PC ever again.
The honorable mention this year goes out to Destiny which has proven to be the only game that was able to break DOTA 2’s hold on me. The initial time I spent with the game has since swelled to well over 150 hours and I’ve found myself enamoured with its game play. Sure it lacks the polish of some other MMOs but Bungie has been incredibly responsive to the community, fixing so many issues and increasing player quality of life measurably in just a few short months. For the short term I can see Destiny being my go to game when I have some time to kill, much like DOTA 2 was before it.
Just like last year the battle for The Refined Geek’s Game of the Year title came down to two entries, both of which had strong stories, good mechanics and an indisputable pedigree behind them. I chose one over the other because, thinking back, one of them gripped me from the very start and refused to let go until the credits rolled in. The other, whilst still an amazing game in its own right, took far longer to reach that same level of engagement. So without further ado my game of the year is:
Following up a hit like Bastion was never going to be an easy feat, especially with the cult following it developed. However Transistor manage to surpass Bastion in many respects, retaining much of the essence of what made the game great whilst also creating a completely new game experience, both in terms of mechanics and story. Dragon Age: Inquisition comes as a very close second only because it took a solid 6~7 hours to take off whereas Transistor grips you tightly from the first hour onwards. Transistor cements Supergiant Games’ reputation as a talented game studio that excels in both storytelling and playability, a rare combination even for studios several times their size. For anyone who loves games the way I do you simply can not go past Transistor, The Refined Geek’s Game of the Year for 2014.
The outlook for 2015 is very strong as there are already several titles I’m very much looking forward to. Hopefully I’ll have enough spare time to dedicate to all of them as my work commitments are starting to ramp up a bit but I’m still going to continue my one review per week schedule to ensure I sample a wide variety of games.
So, dear readers, which game tickled your fancy in 2014?
Originally my idea for reviewing one game a week was done primarily to avoid writer’s block once a week as they’re by far my easiest posts to write and usually the most enjoyable as well. However sticking to that promise meant that I couldn’t just rely on AAA titles like I had done previously, no in order to be able to keep a steady stream of reviews going I’d need to broaden my gaming horizons significantly and play games that I might not have considered previously. To that end 2013 was filled with a bevy of titles ranging from some of the most unheard indie developers to major publishing houses with pedigrees spanning decades.
Whilst I had initially thought the calibre of games this year to be somewhat lacklustre looking over the list I can see that instead its my standards that have increased as many of these titles have received wide critical acclaim, including my own. Indeed looking back over the scores there are multiple titles that share my highest rating (9.5 this year) indicating that any one of them could potentially be crowned game of the year. Still looking over this list I’m finding myself torn to crown a winner as many of them are deserving of it, especially within their own genre.
Here’s 2013’s list of reviews in chronological order:
The winner of the wooden spoon this year should be pretty obvious as there was no other game that was so widely panned as Ride to Hell: Retribution was. Whilst I can understand a publisher wanting to get something out of their investment Ride to Hell: Retribution was clearly unfinished with the actual functioning bits simply not coming together cohesively. Mind you it probably wouldn’t have been a highly rated game should it have had the time required to fix it, with all bets with it being something like GTA but with bikers, but you have to wonder about the execs who put the stamp of approval on something like that.
I have to give a shout out to Gone Home as it was by far one of the most impressive storytelling games evidenced by the fact that I felt my review could really only be meant for those who had played it already. It starts off slow but you find yourself being pulled in ever so slowly as the story begins to reveal itself to you. Yet again I’ll have to stop myself here as to say any more would feel like I was spoiling the game for you and whilst Gone Home won’t receive my Game of the Year award you can be damn sure it was one of my main contenders.
The final battle for my game of the year comes down to 2 titles, both of which I have been praised for their strong story. The reason I’m conflicted is one of my known bias towards one of the games and the other being in a genre that I typically rate lower. That being said upon taking a step back and thinking about which of those two titles was the better overall game the choice was clear: my game of the year for 2013 is The Last of Us.
Whilst my aversion to survival horror is well known The Last of Us managed to draw me in far more than any other title in its genre has managed to do and that’s pretty much all due to the gripping story that it portrays. At the time I can remember saying that I didn’t think it was game of the year material, especially considering all the hype surrounding it, but upon reflection it is the best game I played last year. Few titles have managed to cement me in my seat for the better part of a day (I think I spent 9 hours straight in my last run to finish it) and fewer still have made such a lasting impression on so many. Naughty Dog is to be commended for taking the risk on a new IP and pulling it off so well.
The runner up is, as you could have guessed, Beyond: Two Souls. Whilst the wider critical reaction to it has been somewhat mixed I was definitely a fan of it, thoroughly enjoying the playable movie that Quantic Dream had created for us. However it’s not as strong of a title as Heavy Rain was which is what made me realise just how solid the Last of Us really is. It’s still a great game though and one that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who’s seeking a great interactive movie experience.
2014 is looking like a great year for games with dozens of AAA and indie titles coming out that I’m already looking forward to. I’ll endeavour to stick to my guns of doing 1 review per week as that seems to strike the right balance between variety and amount of time I need to dedicate to getting them out.
So, dear readers, what was your Game of the Year for 2013?
2012 was the year I decided to ramp up my game reviews significantly, aiming to get at least one done per week. I got pretty close to that goal managing to get through a grand total of 48 games last year, well over the double previous year’s tally. I have to say that I really enjoyed the whole experience as I often found myself going outside my comfort zone in order to find something to review and the number of indie games I’ve played this year is more than all the years prior put together. Now that 2012 is firmly in the rear view mirror it comes time for me to reflect on all the games that I’ve played and crown one of them Game of the Year 2012.
As always here’s a list in chronological order of the games I reviewed during 2012:
Now people who’ve been here a while (and have read my Guide to Game Reviews on The Refined Geek) will know that my review scores tend towards the infamous 7 to 10 scale rather than 0 to 10 but from time to time I’ll venture below that curve for games that really deserve it. Notable mentions that did this include Lone Survivor, I Am Alive and (drum roll please) this year’s winner of lowest score received: Dear Esther. My review of that game was probably one of the most controversial reviews I’ve ever written as I had people telling me I simply “didn’t get it” all the way up to saying that it wasn’t fair for me to judge it as a game because it wasn’t. Sadly nothing of what anyone sad to me could change the horrific experience I had with Dear Esther and it gives me an undue amount of pleasure to give it the Wooden Spoon as worst game of 2012.
Whilst 2011 saw me give a notable mention to Gemini Rue for being a stand out indie game of that year I can’t feel like I can do the same this year: there’s just so many deserving titles and unlike Gemini Rue nearly all of them got the praise they deserved. Indeed the reason I found out (and subsequently played) so many indie titles this year was because of the attention they were receiving in the larger video games press and if it wasn’t for a few kind words from some of my trusted sources many of these indie games might not have seen a review here. Whilst I’ll stop short of giving an award to the indie game scene (because that’s incredibly lame) I will say that I’m looking forward to what the indie scene brings forth in 2013 and beyond.
One game that I’d like to give an honourable mention to, since it is by far my most played game of 2012 by a long shot, is Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2). Whilst I starting playing it back towards the end of 2011 I really didn’t get that into it until just after I wrote my initial review of it but after then my play time in it snow balled considerably. This was helped a lot by the fact that a cadre of my competitive gaming friends joined along with me which fuelled my addiction to it to perilous heights. Today I’ve played over 600 games and ranked up well over the same amount of hours playing, watching and talking about DOTA 2 and Valve deserves an extraordinary amount of credit for making this game what it is today. It’s not my game of the year since it’s more like a meth addiction than anything else, but that doesn’t detract from its accomplishments.
I’ll be honest, choosing my game of the year (even with the beautiful hindsight granted by having a big list of games I’ve played right there to look over) was tough. Whilst there were a lot of good games there were no amazing stand outs like there was the year previous. Going by review scores the best game of last year for me was Journey and whilst I was very tempted to give it that honour, like IGN has done, I couldn’t shake this feeling in the back of my head that there was another game that was more deserving but I couldn’t figure out which one to pick. The answer came to me, funnily enough, in the middle of a New Years eve party in the early hours of the morning and I still agree with that decision today.
My Game of the Year for 2012 is To The Moon.
If for the simple fact that I’m fighting back tears right now isn’t proof enough that this game had a massive impact on me To The Moon is one of those games that eschewed game play in favour of telling a beautiful, gripping story. Sure the game play was flawed and the disjointed pacing was one of the reasons that it didn’t score better than Journey but if just thinking about it can cause that kind of reaction in me then I know it had an impact that few games have had. I could continue gushing about it for hours if I wanted to but you really need to experience it for yourself as it’s an incredibly personal experience, one that will stick with you for a long time.
I had debated whether or not to continue my 1 review per week deal this year as whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and opportunities it has granted me (2 games this year were sent to me for review, a 100% increase on last year!) it does take a fair bit of time to get through them. However considering the amount of DOTA 2 I’ve managed to fit in the past year I figure that cutting back on that in favour of more games will see more deadlines hit more frequently meaning more regular reviews for you, my readers. I won’t make any grandiose promises about reviewing more games this year than last but I’ll guarantee I’ll try my hardest to get one out a week and continue to pillage the vast reaches of all game genres and developers.
P.S. What was your game of the year? I’m really keen to know.
The new year is upon us and its a good a time as any to take stock of the year that just past. 2011 was quite a year for gaming with several hotly anticipated block buster releases hitting the shelves, some mere weeks after each other. It was also something of a coming of age for this blog in terms of game reviews, seeing myself being flown up to Sydney to preview Modern Warfare 3 and getting my very first ever review copy of a game. Now with the year over it’s time for me to put my vote in for game of the year and whilst I’d love to say it was a close competition it really was anything but.
All in all 2011 saw me complete 22 games total (there were far more played, see here for an explanation as to why they didn’t get reviewed) and here’s an exhaustive list of the reviews in chronological order:
As I was creating this list it struck me just how mixed this list of games is. Whilst the dominant platform is still PC for me there’s 2 other platforms in there and their respective releases both felt right at home on their platform of choice. The dominant genre here would appear to be FPS although just going off the usual 8~10 hour playtime rule for said genre I dare say that the vast majority of my gaming time in 2011 was spent on RPGs or games with a RPG element to them. Although if I’m honest I have blown quite a lot of my time recently in Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer and a heck of a lot more in Star Wars: The Old Republic (review coming soon!).
Before I dive into the game of the year however there’s a few games that deserve recognition either for their accomplishments or outright failures.
Gemini Rue is by far the most underrated game of the bunch. It’s been well received critically both here and elsewhere but it’s still a title most people would not know if they heard it. I’d say this was because of its lack of a release on Steam when it first came out (which has since changed) even though it had a digital distribution channel. Still the game is expertly crafted, bringing up all kinds of nostalgia whilst delivering a story that I really cared about, thoroughly exploiting all aspects of its chosen pixel art medium. Whilst it might not make the cut for my game of the year it would definitely get my vote for independent game of the year, hands down.
For most over-hyped/biggest let down of the year the title can go to none other than Duke Nukem Forever. I was thinking about making it a tie between said title and Rage but in defense of id’s latest release it at least had some redeeming features in the engine and game play. Duke Nukem Forever is unfortunately nothing like that being little more than a generic shooter that rode the Duke brand as hard as it could. Indeed it’s the definition of a critic proof release as for Gearbox it was a commercial success despite it’s woeful critical reception. I’ll be honest this is the only game that I played through to the end just so I could review it as for any other title I would’ve just stopped playing and not bothered to review it.
So what then is my game of the year for 2011? The answer is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
As a game Human Revolution really is something amazing. The graphics are simply superb with it rightly taking the title away from Crysis as being the game to stress test your new rig with. That’d all be for naught if the game wasn’t good but suffice to say it’s brilliant. The plot and characters are engrossing, there are wide and varied game mechanics ensuring that no 2 playthroughs are the same and it has rekindled that feeling that everyone had when they first played the original Deus Ex. Put simply Deus Ex: Human Revolution sets the bar for the FPS/RPG hybrid genre and does it with an almost effortless elegance. It’s fitting then that it received my highest score review score of the year, putting it second only to StarCraft 2.
With 2011 now done and dusted its time to look forward into 2012 and the games it holds for us. It’s already shaping up to be a fantastic year for gaming with games like Diablo 3 and Mass Effect 3 due out early in the year. It will also be the year when I ramp up my game review efforts significantly on here as I’ve got plans to make my console reviews better (and do more of them), dabbling with the idea of producing video reviews and overall playing more games so that I can do more reviews. In the end that’s what its all about, well that and my not-so-secret desire to be a games journalist… 😉