Well here is 2014 then, a world record for the most amount of years counted since the year 0, so well done everyone, and well done to the world for that great achievement.
Obviously with this being a gaming blog I am itching to do a full round up of what I am looking forward to in the coming 12 months, something which I briefly touched on in my last instalment. But before I look forward to the New Year I think there are a couple of loose ends I need to tie off first.
There were a few games that I really should have played last year that I didn’t. Namely the trio of ‘Gone Home’, ‘ Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ and ‘Tomb Raider’. Well, I couldn’t face the possibility of marching into 2014 with these stragglers floating un-played behind me in some kind of gaming limbo, especially when a Steam Sale made all 3 available for less than 25 pounds of British Sterling. So I went and crunched all 3 of them over the Christmas period.
This could have been a dangerous move; imagine the utter humiliation that would befall me were any of this trinity to have been good enough to be included in my already-published ‘Top 5 Games of 2013’ – Oh the embarrassment. Fortunately they weren’t. In fact, the results were surprising….
WARNING: SPOILERS BE HERE!
Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)
Well, Gone Home was easily my most anticipated title of the trio, and the first of the three that I sank my greasy chops into. I had heard nothing but good things about this little indie-game; Game Of The Year at VGX, 86% metacritic score, and an intriguing premise. You play a sister who returns from a year-long European vacation to her family’s new home (who moved during her trip abroad) to find her family (Mum, Dad, Sister) missing. As soon as you walk into the porch and read the note left by your sister, you can’t help but get a chill up your spine; something sinister is afoot. The atmosphere is instantaneous; the stormy night and empty house conjure up an immediately foreboding sense that something bad is about to happen, that at any minute your excrement will evacuate your body at the speed of sound due to some horrendous thing. That feeling of dread stayed with me throughout as I unravelled a back story to not only my family members but also the house itself.
This feeling of dread was superbly crafted by The Fullbright Company; the story of a crazed previous owner and family member (does crazy run in the family?), the placement of books on poltergeists and stories of Ouija boards and ghost hunting in the corridors (ghosts have always been my Achilles heel when it comes to fear-factor). Family portraits with the faces cut out, and the building up of tension when you read a report from an electrician noting how the electrics – although safe – have been added layer upon layer over the years meaning that lights flicker and go out without warning, y’know, just to really shit you up and add yet another layer of dense, sinister atmosphere to the house.
What a set up. But here’s the real kick in the chops – what a fucking anti-climax. When the extremely short game finished (around 3 hours of gameplay) my initial feeling was….”wait, what? No, no, no, there must be some mistake, this isn’t finished…..but, but, nothing’s happened?” That’s right folks, it was all innocent and nothing to be worried about. No supernatural elements at all, no murderous mental relative, no genetic crazy gene developing in a family member – nope, sister has run away with lover, Mum & Dad on vacation, back tomorrow. What the actual fuck! Talk about a wasted opportunity? The mother of all set ups, with absolutely zero pay off. Oh where they could have taken such a flawless and crafted story. I would wager this was one reason why so many people felt the need to tell all about how remarkable this game was – which incidentally it was up until it finished – “it’s not what you think, what a twist…” etc. It’s one thing to deflate tension with something innocent (in film terms we call this a Lewton Bus) but this didn’t deflate the tension, it skipped over completely.
Such potential, but I’ll always be left with the disappointment. Gone Home – Dissapointmuch.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Starbreeze)
It’s not all about the First Person games y’know. This little gem had also registered highly on the ole’ radar. The story in itself is nothing remarkable; 2 brothers set off in a fantasy land of trolls and giants to seek the tree of life to save their dying father. But the first thing that struck me was the gameplay mechanic. Now it should be said that this game is recommended for use with a gamepad, and me being a silly-billy chose to opt for the mouse and keyboard option (what can I say, I’m a purist). I say mouse, there is actually zero requirement for the mouse in any way, even during menu’s. While the keyboard was a bit clunkier than preferred it wasn’t a big deal, but if you do have a gamepad use it.
So the gameplay mechanic is simple, but different. You control both brothers at once. It’s a top-down game so you have simple directional movement and a ‘use’ key, that’s it. You take the brothers through varying maps – each more beautiful and crafted as the next (the Giant’s battle ground is particularly outstanding) solving various puzzles and devising methods of getting from A to B. The relationship between the two brothers manages to bloom despite the limited dialogue all being in a fictional foreign tongue. Without the intent of seeming patronising (which I am certainly not) this is a beautiful little game. Again, it’s only a few hours gameplay but for the price on a Steam Sale there won’t be many games that leave this kind of an impact on you from last year. Highly recommended.
Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics)
The Triple-A title of the bunch. One I had the least interest in and only decided I should pay it because it garnered very favourable reviews and I feel I owe it to Lara Croft because a) she’s hot and b) I have some very fond memories of the early Tomb Raider games which soaked up many, many hours of my life (playing the game, STRICTLY playing the game you dirty little monkeys).
Well, one thing’s for sure, she certainly is still hot. Hotter than ever in fact. The obvious flak that the franchise has come in for over the years revolving around Lara’s magnificent (pixelated) breasts etc has clearly been addressed in that Crystal Dynamics have made her more of a real character, investing some obvious time in her and the her dialogue. Indeed the game itself is an origin story for Lara (not the obvious ‘she’s born of a male and a female human who perform sexual intercourse….’ dur) but show’s her ‘coming of age’, starting off a young, unsure but enthusiastic archaeologist who needs to step up to the plate when shit gets heavy. Which it does of course. All this just serves to make Lara more delicious….that and her magnificent breasts (and arse).
The gameplay is simple and balanced extremely well. There are various simple skill upgrades to acquire which give you various abilities and upgrades that serve the gameplay reasonably well. A few weapons but not tons (this being a good thing in this case) – handgun (just the one), shottie, assault rifle, and a climbing pick which doubles as an indispensable tool for various puzzles and crates and also a melee weapon. All upgradeable of course. Oh, and then there’s the bow….
The bow and arrow seemed to be weapon of the year in 2013, making an appearance in one form or another in games like Far Cry 3 and Crysis 3. I think Tomb Raider might just take the crown though. Don’t get me wrong, the bow and arrow in Far Cry 3 was arguably my favourite weapon in the game and had the whole arrow-ballistics thing which made you feel that little bit more satisfied when you bullseye that headshot, but Tomb Raider – although keeping it less realistic – somehow manages to keep it just as satisfying and it certainly became my weapon of choice, especially a few upgrades in.
This being a triple-A title it has a juicy campaign length at around 14 hours – although I am a completionist and scoured every nook and cranny, notching up 91% completion on my first run through. The maps themselves are delicious and relatively open worldy, giving you gorgeous landscapes to get the juices flowing especially on a decent rig. The enemies are challenging and smart enough on hardest setting to keep you on your toes during skirmishes as well and some of my fire fights lasted many minutes which is always welcome.
The puzzle factor and additional bits and bobs kept the game flowing for me and always gave me something to do making sure the gameplay never got stale. They had me jumping through treetops, sliding down zip lines, scaling walls etc and whilst they kind of always felt like they were afterthoughts, it was never the less all rather tasty.
If I have one criticism of Tomb Raider, it’s that there was hardly any Tomb Raiding. There are two or three tombs per ‘map’ which might sound a lot but these represent only a tiny fraction of the gameplay time and consisted only of a single, relatively simple, problem to overcome to gain access to whatever chest or artefact was in the particular tomb you were in. They almost felt like an afterthought, being shoehorned in because someone remembered they were making a Tomb Raider game during production.
The only other thing is of course – this being a console port – means we have the dreaded Quick Time Events. Now, fear not, these aren’t the Resident Evil style game killers. There are a few of them, but they are all simple and never more than a 3-button-run. Obviously they are still shit and it does beg the question why the fucking Christ are these things still in existence.
Anyway, to be honest that’s nitpicking because Raiding Tombs, mashing ‘ENTER’ or not, I didn’t really care as long as I could scale cliffs and shoot goons in the face with arrows. Not to mention Lara’s magnificent breasts.
Tomb Raider = Highly recommended.
So that’s it really for 2013, well and truly in the past. You could say it’s ‘soooo 2013’ but that would make you a massive bellend.
I still have The Last of Us to play when I get my hands on a PS3 and I may or may not decide to write about it depending on how good or shit it is.
That is all, now please leave.