2014 End Of Year Retrospective

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Only one review in the last month? I feel like I’m slipping from my usual regular ouput, but with my Christmas break fast approaching I should accept the writing is on the wall and I’m not going to invest enough hours into any game to sneak a final review in under the wire. This is a shame since I was hoping to at least get some time in on Elite Dangerous before wrapping up for the year, but as I’ll shortly be spending a week in a place where only integrated graphics chips can follow me it seems like a better idea to attack that in the new year when I can get properly invested in it.

It’s not all bad news, though — the end of the year brings with it the annual Scientific Gamer Completely Made Up Awards Ceremony! Secretly this is actually a fairly worthwhile exercise since my opinions tend to mellow somewhat over time and it’s useful to take a second look at some games with the benefit of six months’ reflection, but mostly it’s a convenient excuse for me to look back on the year just gone so that I can regurgitate some of said opinions at you. So without further ado, let’s get stuck into the Best (and not-so-Best) games of 2014.

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Thoughts: Dragon Age Inquisition

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I must admit to a spot of hubris upon seeing the intro paragraph to RPS’s review of Dragon Age: Inquisition . ” I’ve spent almost sixty hours uncovering as much of Inquisition’s enormous open world and intricate story as possible”? Yeah, there was some eye-rolling going on when I read that. This is Bioware we’re talking about, who have cut and cut and cut at the core concept of the RPG until it consisted of nothing more than a dull series of linear dungeons propped up by their character writing, which is still consistently above average. There’s also the fact that games journalists are paradoxically terrible at actually playing the products they review for a living; as a general rule of thumb you can take any time they quote for completion of a game and cut it in half to get the actual length 1 . And after the debacle that was Dragon Age 2 I’d mercifully insulated myself from any further publicity for the series, assuming that Inquisition would at best be more along the lines of a semi-decent fantasy Mass Effect than a proper, meaty RPG. Eminently disposable, in other words. I thought I’d be able to blast through it in a weekend and then move on to the next item on the huge list of games I have to play.

Forty hours later, and I am forced to admit I might have been mistaken.

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  1. I have no idea what it is they do to inflate the time by 100%, but it certainly isn’t playing the damn thing.
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Thoughts: Advanced Warfare

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Reviewing two Call of Duty games in one year? What is the world coming to?

I see Advanced Warfare as CoD’s sluggish response to a gaming world that’s starting to leave it behind. CoD 4 was an incredible success that moved the series out of its increasingly-tired WW2 setting and set the FPS trend for the next half-decade, and five years ago you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Modern Warfare imitator. Today, though, things look very different. Even this second incarnation of CoD is getting long in the tooth; Modern Warfare-era shooters have become just as overexposed as WW2 was a decade ago, and CoD is facing challengers to its crown (Titanfall in particular) that are innovating in ways CoD simply cannot if it remains resolutely entrenched in the modern world. And these newer games are good enough — and successful enough — that for this shooter with a hundred ripoffs, this FPS that used to dictate the direction of the entire genre, the message is finally becoming clear: adapt or die .

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Thoughts: Door Kickers

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I’m really not sure about the name “Door Kickers”. I think it was chosen on the basis that you’re going to spend a lot of time in this game kicking in doors, and a lot of doors do indeed get kicked since as a matter of policy SWAT teams apparently never use the doorknob. If they really wanted a name that best represented your in-game activities, though, they could have gone with “Get Shot In The Back By A Terrorist You Missed”. I admit it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue — but then neither does Door Kickers.

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Thoughts: Beyond Earth

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Beyond Earth is a doomed-from-the-start attempt to shift the familiar Civilization empire-building action into the future. It’s doomed because no matter how good Firaxis made this game, by setting it around the colonisation of an alien world it draws inevitable comparison with one of Firaxis’ very first products: Alpha Centauri, a game that’s rightfully regarded as one of the genre’s absolute classics. Beyond Earth was never going to live up to Alpha Centauri’s better qualities, both real and imagined, and I’ve tried to take this into account when playing the thing; Beyond Earth should be judged on its own merits, not the nostalgia-fuelled remembrance of a sixteen year-old predecessor. What surprises me, however — and especially so for a Firaxis title — is that even if you take SMAC out of the equation, even when you compare Beyond Earth to the modern Civilization franchise that spawned it, I think it fundamentally still isn’t a very good game.

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Sunday Soundtracks

TIE Fighter .

Yes, I already did TIE Fighter. But I’m resurrecting this series for one week only because I just found these excellent redone versions of the TIE Fighter soundtrack. TIE Fighter’s iMUSE soundtrack was fantastic, but the audio technology of the time did mean it sounded rather more beepy and boopy than it perhaps should have. Just listen to this Pilot Registration music; it really does the original justice.

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Thoughts: Legend Of Grimrock 2

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The first thing you notice on booting Legend of Grimrock 2 is how ridiculously bombastic the main menu music is. It’s a fantastic swashbuckling remix of the theme to the first game , which was no slouch itself but which feels much more cautious and reserved in comparison. Nothing sums up the tonal shift between the two games more effectively than this tonal shift in its music. Grimrock 1 was an accomplished dungeon crawler that successfully resurrected what had previously been a dead genre, but it was limited both by its design and its available resources; it had an intentionally simple concept (start at top of mountain, work your way down through fifteen levels of dungeons, escape) that it executed well, and that developers Almost Human knew they could execute well.  Having used the first game to stretch their legs, though, the sequel gives them the chance to really show what they can do.

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