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Just a quick link, here. The great Midnight Resistance are doing a month long tribute to Doom, with contributions from some good eggs. And me. Here’s the link to the thing I wrote for them -
3DS videos will use footage taken from official trailers, sorry. I didn’t want to film the screen.
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Let’s celebrate the best year of games by talking about the best games of the year! This year hasn’t been one I’ve explored on too many different formats, so I’ve changed the formula since last year. This month, I’ll be doing videos on the ten best new games I’ve played in 2013, as well as discussing some of the year’s biggest disappointments and the best old games I played this year.
There’s going to be glaring omissions in my list, mainly due to the fact that I haven’t been able to play every great game released this year. Releases have been constant and hard to keep up with. There’s also the fact that this is my list, and I’m not interested in Batman or Assassin’s Creed or Bioshock. I’m not necessarily talking about the games that I thought were most important, and I’m certainly not making a list of this year’s best selling games. This is a list of the games I enjoyed playing the most, in the order that I think reflects how much I enjoyed them. These are selections that I feel strongly about though, and I thoroughly recommend them all.
Here’s the schedule that I’m attempting to follow-
December 1st - Number 10
December 3rd - Number 9
December 5th - Number 8
December 7th - Best old game I played for the first time this year
December 9th - Number 7
December 11th - Number 6
December 13th - Number 5
December 15th - Best old game I completed for the first time this year
December 17th - Number 4
December 19th - Number 3
December 21st - Disappointment of the Year
December 23rd - Number 2
December 25th - Number 1 - Game of the Year
This is the last day when “last-gen” means “best-gen”. That’s Dreamcast/PlayStation 2/Xbox/Gamecube, obviously. Around about now, games for these superb systems are going to become harder to find, as places like CeX get rid of their inventories to make way for their PS4 and Xbox One stock. So let’s list my top 10.
10- Chibi-Robo (Gamecube)
A beautiful, touching “wee guy running about” game. You’re a daft wee robot, running about to stop a family from falling apart. Learn the routines of the house, attempt to climb up daunting shelving units and counter-tops and solve weird puzzles with toys and aliens and eggs and stuff. One of the most unique and heartfelt games of the last-generation, and one that remains a Gamecube exclusive.
9- Resident Evil (Gamecube)
The best traditional Resident Evil game. Taking “survival horror” more seriously than Shinji Mikami ever has elsewhere, this game has you making sure every zombie is dead, or they may come back as something worse. Playing on the expectations of its players’ familiarity with the original game, Resident Evil on the Gamecube is a genuinely surprising treat for fans of the series, and a great, unique survival horror game for anyone who isn’t. Still looks fucking stunning, too.
8- ICO (PlayStation 2)
A game design masterclass in gameplay supporting story and atmosphere. Mechanically similar to puzzle platformers, like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, ICO is unique in how its gameplay makes you care about its characters. It’s an emotional, and brilliantly designed game that doesn’t stretch its running time beyond its content. A game that critically lauded indie darlings are still blatantly ripping off, and one of the real stand-out PS2 titles.
7- Shenmue II (Dreamcast/Xbox)
A huge, purposefully disorientating game. One that you’re supposed to get lost in, and slowly understand, and care about, much like the game’s main character. A much more ambitious story than the quiet, somewhat mundane original, and one with moments that remain uniquely sincere and memorable, particularly within big budget videogames. A must-play for Dreamcast and Xbox owners.
6- Gitaroo-Man (PlayStation 2)
A rhythm action game with a near-unrivalled sense of energy and grandeur. One of the most nuanced and satisfying designs for a rhythm game, too. Gitaroo-Man is a demanding game that requires real skill to perfect, but also one with a great, fun story and a wildly diverse soundtrack. Tracks change depending on your skill too, meaning there are still surprises within songs over a decade after the game’s release.
5- Half-Life 2 (PC/Xbox)
The innovator. Half-Life 2 is often praised for its physics and its characters and its ideas, but what really holds it together, and why it remains as exciting to play through today as it was when it came out, is how well it spreads itself over the span of the game. Half-Life 2 is a brilliantly paced game, knowing when a concept or area is risking getting stale, and mixing things up again and again. To this day, nobody has made a better FPS game.
4- Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (PlayStation 2)
Reinventing classic franchises was a main theme of many of last-gen’s best, and MGS3 is a great example of it. Abandoning Metal Gear’s cold steel near-future sci-fi for a muddy, desperate jungle, MGS3 has you hunting to survive, tending your own wounds, and camouflaging yourself to hide. It takes the stealth concept much more seriously than the previous games, giving you open, seemingly undesigned areas to plan your way through, as opposed to MGS’s tight corridors and walkways. 3 is also the first game in the series that wasn’t essentially just a remake of the previous one, offering a whole game of new Kojima puzzles and characters. A series highlight.
3- Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube/PlayStation 2)
Want to talk about brilliant pacing? RESIDENT EVIL FOUR. The game starts out frantic and panicky, and THE PACE NEVER DROPS. Every new section makes the previous one seem tame. An incredible reinvention of the Resident Evil series, abandoning everything that didn’t work, and adapting everything that could be improved. An action game with a huge number of brilliant ideas that still stands out as one of the best, even if you’ve played a million derivative games just like it.
2- killer7 (Gamecube/PlayStation 2)
The whole entire reason anyone ever thought Goichi Suda might have been good. Essentially a redesign of classic action adventures, killer7 reworks everything, including basic real-world logic, to serve its purposes. A direct, claustrophobic and paranoid game design adds to the story of a schizophrenic, hallucinating killer, convinced he has been asked to save the world. A clever, beautiful, dark and unwelcoming game that seems better every time I play it.
1- God Hand (PlayStation 2)
Possibly a perfect videogame. A game that never gets boring, no matter how much I play it. A flawless and constantly exciting fighting system that rewards you for mastering it, and a difficulty system that ramps up if the game thinks it’s getting too easy for you. A game that’s longer and deeper than you’d ever expect. A game that’s drowning in a stupid sense of humour that will get through to you. The crowning achievement of Shinji Mikami’s career, and one of my favourite videogames of all time.
(Note: this list did not include handheld games, as I don’t think they follow the same generations as home systems, but just pretend I put Jam with the Band, Gitaroo-Man Lives, Osu Tatakae Ouendan, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Killzone Liberation, LocoRoco 2, New Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart DS, Ridge Racer and Parodius Collection in some kind of order, if you want to imagine that top 10)
Hideo Kojima is a legend in the industry, though many pin that down to his work on the consistently brilliant Metal Gear series. There are many hardcore fans who insist that his magnum opus was a Japan-only adventure game that pre-dates Metal Gear Solid.
Policenauts is easily Kojima’s most densely detailed piece of science fiction, setting up nearly half a century of fictional technology, media and corporate history for its story of conspiracy, betrayal and deceit. Every concept is fleshed out, considered, and plausible to the point that many of Kojima’s predictions have come true since the game’s release in 1994.
The story is complex and nuanced, but and difficult to summarise without going into too much detail. Players assume the role of Jonathan Ingram, an ex-Policenaut, turned private investigator who was lost in space for 25 years, and lost his old life in the process. One day, his ex-wife walks into his office and asks him to find the man she married while Jonathan was missing. This leads Jonathan to a case that will reunite him with the rest of the Policenauts and discover the truth of what happened while his life was frozen.
The conspiracy at the heart of the story reveals itself satisfyingly through a series of twists that will keep players guessing throughout. It’s all interwoven incredibly well into the history Kojima has created for the game, and more curious players will find their enjoyment of each discovery richer if they take the time to read into everything. The surface-level plot is still a great one if you don’t care to read long-winded details of fictional medical advances and designer clothing brands and weapons manufacturing and so on and so on.
The gameplay is built on Hideo Kojima’s previous adventure game, Snatcher, which Policenauts often tips its hat to, with much of the player interaction with the game being based on text options. Interactions with scenery are now based on moving a cursor and selecting physical items in the area to scrutinise. Each new environment is surprisingly detailed and well rendered with a lot to investigate, should you choose to.
It’s this intense level of detail that will be Policenauts’ most divisive aspect. For those who are interested, there’s a great deal of brilliant predictions and satirical shots at trends to discover. For those who simply want to progress through the main story, the depth of the writing will prove to become an irritation. There’s little telling which text option or which part of a static image will allow you to progress until you’ve selected it. Imagine Metal Gear Solid’s CODEC sequences if you couldn’t skip them, and you had to actively become involved in them in order to continue. It’s kind of like that. It’s something that sides against Policenauts, as a game.
Policenauts is a game, though. Like Snatcher, it’s interspersed with shooting sequences that require quick movement of the cursor, while abandoning Snatcher’s grid system for more of a lightgun-style set-up. These moments are a welcome change to the pace, both in terms of the game and the story. They are, however, designed a little frustratingly. If you’re playing with a standard controller, it’s easy to get annoyed with the sensitivity of the cursor. If you’re playing with a mouse, it can feel like cheating. The game requires you to successfully complete these scenes in order to progress, and the demands of later sequences feel particularly dated, considering their context.
There are also occasional puzzles, though far fewer than fans of western point ‘n’ click games would expect. These are perhaps the moments in the game that are the most like Kojima’s other work, and will become some of the most memorable for his fans. They’re often surprising and clever, but they lack the depth of objectives from a Metal Gear game. One well framed and memorable puzzle essentially boils down to a spot-the-difference, though the tension surrounding it should give players more of an interest.
Of course, it would be a crime to talk about the English version of Policenauts without mentioning how great a job the team of unpaid fans have done at rewriting and implementing the game’s script. A script this technical and intricate could have easily become flat and dry if given a literal translation. Marc Laidlaw’s localisation is filled with personality and a respect to Kojima’s vision that should excite western players as much as the original did for its Japanese audience. It’s an admirable and unenviable task (and one that Snatcher and Metal Gear Solid translator, Jeremy Blaustein, was stunned to hear about) and the team have done a superb job for little reward.
Policenauts is an old, and now strange game, and many players won’t warm to it. Its a weighty, dense Japanese science fiction game with roots in 80s American action thrillers, 90s anime and Japanese adventure games, including eroge and dating sims, and many will be put off by its sometimes lurid moments featuring clickable young women with bouncing tits and revealing outfits. The English script does even these moments out with humorous cynicism directed at the player, but it’s clear that these scenes were intended to titillate a horny audience, and it seems out of place given the seriousness of much of the game.
Policenauts is certainly an uneven game, and possibly a flawed one, but there’s a lot to admire and enjoy, especially for the Kojima fans dedicated enough to take the time to get a patched version of a Japanese PlayStation game running. Not just for the people who take interest in Hideo Kojima as a creator, either. A lot of Kojima’s fictional science in Policenauts is brought back and glossed-over in his later games, meaning playing Policenauts will help you understand some parts of Metal Gear Solid 4 (despite some inconsistencies between the two). Liking Kojima isn’t a guarantee that you’ll like Policenauts though, even if you like Snatcher. Its bright, airy atmosphere is reminiscent of MGS2’s divisive Big Shell section, and Kojima’s interest in exposition is at its peak in Policenauts. There is, however, a particular niche that will fall head over heels in love with Policenauts, and there’s a good chance that many of Kojima’s most dedicated fans will fall into that category.
Alphabet is the new title from the creator of Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy. It was originally developed under the working title “My Silly Video Game”, and it’s easy to see how that has influenced the game’s design.
Alphabet is a kind of 2D platformer that gives you multiple characters to control simultaneously. Each character is represented as a letter of the alphabet with a face, and pressing their respective keys will make them run and jump.
Levels are quite basic, but you will have to watch out for obstacles like pits, walls, and strange windmill structures. It’s not very difficult to get past any of these, as thankfully Alphabet isn’t a Lost Vikings-esque puzzle platformer. It’s more like playing several copies of Sonic the Hedgehog at the same time. You aren’t challenged by the level design, but instead encouraged to finish levels as quickly as you can, and come back to beat your own best times.
The last thing to talk about, in terms of the game’s mechanics is the collectable fruit. There is fruit to pick up in the levels. If you pick up a piece, all of your letters will temporarily turn into the letter that picked it up, making it far easier to keep your entire squad moving. It’s a welcome relief to stop worrying about trying to find which letter is lagging behind, and simply stick your finger on one key for a couple of seconds. Once the effect has worn off, your letter will do a big shit.
Levels are short, and there aren’t many of them. I think it’s fair to say that if you can’t complete Alphabet within 10 minutes, you probably aren’t trying. Again, it’s a simple game that doesn’t present much challenge in itself, but it offers one for dedicated players. Players who come back to beat their best times will get better at touch-typing, and even find opportunities to string together fruit combos.
Alphabet is a game that many won’t stick with. Nicely, it won’t eat up much of their time. They can enjoy the funny game and its silly soundtrack for a few minutes, and move on. That’s fine, and it plays to game’s strengths that you’re allowed to do that. There is reason to come back to Alphabet though. Established Takahashi fans likely will challenge themselves to beat best times. Young kids may love the game’s simplicity, charm and focus on shits. I have little doubt that many won’t find anything to latch on to here, and quickly forget about it.
Alphabet is more of a game than Noby Noby Boy, and less of a game than Katamari Damacy. It’s also a stupid little game that’s distributed in a 24MB zip file. Keep your expectations in check, and it might make you smile.
Alphabet is part of LA Game Space’s Experimental Game Pack 01, which is a reward for their Kickstarter supporters, but also goes on general release today for a limited time only. If you want to buy it, or just to learn more about it, go to https://gamepacks.net/
So, the PS4 and the Xbox One are both due to be released before the end of the year, and the Wii U is already out. You might be thinking of picking up some of those current-gen games before they fade away into obscurity. I don’t think it’s much of a priority. They’ll hang around on high street shelves for years to come. The bigger concern, in my mind, is what it means for last-gen games. Places like CeX are starting to get rid of their PS2, Gamecube and Xbox inventories, meaning you’re running out of time to pick up some superb games for just a couple of bob, so I thought I’d bring your attention to something brilliant, underrated and dirt cheap.
Second Sight was a 2004 release from Free Radical Design, who were best known for their work on TimeSplitters, and worst known for their work on Haze. As a company comprised of ex-Goldeneye and Perfect Dark developers, there was a lot of interest in their FPS output, and they were discouraged from trying anything too experimental. Second Sight was their one attempt to do something that didn’t live in the shadow of their N64 games. It was the game they really wanted to make.
The games from David Doak’s team have always been understood to have a kind of spiritual connection. It’s easy to see how Perfect Dark was inspired by Goldeneye, and in turn, how it inspired the TimeSplitters series. Second Sight feels like part of this theoretical series, and in terms of single-player campaigns, it could be the series’ high-point.
Second Sight’s USP is that it’s a game about psychic powers. Your man, John Vattic, can manipulate objects with the power of his mind, turn invisible and possess other bodies. These abilities are given to you slowly throughout the campaign, as you’re encouraged to utilise them to solve puzzles, sneak past enemies and defend yourself in combat. It’s an interesting set-up, and one that its inferior contemporaries (Psi-Ops, Geist, etc.) would feel satisfied to limit itself to. Second Sight, however, implements gameplay with the tension of Metal Gear Solid, the depth of Deus Ex, and the creative level design of Tomb Raider, and proudly wears its influences on its sleeve.
The campaign is varied and consistently refreshing, jumping between timelines to pre and post-amnesia Vattic, meaning the game features action sequences that should feel familiar to TimeSplitters fans. There are also levels that focus less on action, and more on giving the player options on how to progress (I’d come up with another positive example of what this might be owed to, but it’s pure Deus Ex, and I can’t be arsed trying to disguise that.) Essentially, Second Sight serves as a great refresher course on last-gen action adventure games, and may well show you what’s lacking in modern, shallow, cinematic blockbusters. Moments are constructed to excite the player by having them think and react to something challenging, not to simply watch it.
I have titled this article as a review though, and not an advertisement, so I do feel an obligation to talk about some of the negatives of the game. I mean, they might be what put you off it too early. It’s difficult to buy into the dark storyline when it’s acted out by lumpy TimeSplitters characters, and matched with that franchise’s hammy clichéd dialogue, but without the comic irony. It’s a game with dramatic aspirations, made by people who can’t keep their faces straight. Controls are MGS2 complex, and The Force Unleashed loose, with multiple camera angles, stealth abilities, weapon abilities and psychic ablities available for you to work with on a console joypad. If you can overlook that, you may be pleasantly surprised by the game… Also the AI is shit.
There’s few games that sum up the early 2000s as well as Second Sight does. An experimental, ambitious and unique game, overlooked due to a wealth of other games with similar qualities. It’s also one of the last great hurrahs from a superb British studio that has since been bought by a multi-national company to develop irrelevant Call of Duty-copying multiplayer modes for a b-list FPS franchise. It’s also available on all major last-gen home formats (PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC). It’s also a quid in CeX. Buy it while it’s still on your shelves.
Phil Doyle and Kevin MacDonald invited me to talk about videogames on Sonic’s Ring last night, a podcast with a wide interest in geek culture that thankfully narrowed their focus to videogames and Robocop for my appearance. Feel free to listen to the results -