I don’t see myself playing many more new games this year and I have all these words lying around, so I may as well do this now. Presented in the manner of gaming websites the world over via a serious of made-up imaginary “awards”, I figure if you’re going to pompously present some meaningless, preposterous and arbitrary awards you may as well make them actually meaningless, preposterous and arbitrary awards, so these may end up being a little bit… unorthodox.
Best Method Of Convincing Me To Buy Your Game: Defender’s Quest.
Defender’s Quest is an outstanding tower defence game, but the main thing I’m going to remember it for over the years hence is the way it sold itself: it offered a flash demo you could play in your browser that you could import your saves from if you chose to pony up the cash for the full game. This is genius because it’s basically resurrecting the shareware model for a new generation with new technology – you try part of the game, and then if you like it you send the developers some money in exchange for them sending you the rest of it. Like, I’m sure it’ll be totally ignored and that Defender’s Quest probably got ten times the sales from their recent Steam release than they ever did from people playing their demo, but I still thought it was a really smart thing to do and I hope more indie developers follow Defender’s lead.
Best Lazarus-Like Resurrection Of A Game I Thought Was Beyond Help: Civilization V: Gods and Kings.
I’ve been dipping into Gods and Kings again recently and it’s crazy just how much the expansion improves the base game, and it’s even more surprising considering it does it via some under-the-bonnet changes that went mostly unremarked-upon in the prerelease marketing blitz. Siege weapons and naval units have been extensively reworked to make them respectively less spammy and actually useful, while a new tier of industrial-era land units fill in the yawning chasm separating Riflemen/Cannon and Infantry/Artillery. The new religion mechanic is underwhelming but it did give Firaxis an excuse to shunt around buildings, wonders and social policies to improve the flow of the game, and there was even a patch a month or two back which made the AI substantially less psychotic; if you catch it in a good light it even resembles a rational actor from time to time. Still probably not my favourite Civilization game, but the halcyon days of 1996 are long gone and Gods and Kings is now an acceptable substitute.
Best Game I Didn’t Review On The Blog For Fear Of Being Laughed At: Cook, Serve, Delicious.
“We’re trying to get five together for Dota, do you want in?”
“In a minute, I’m making soup.”
“I’m making soup. It’s rush hour, I have like five simultaneous orders to do.”
“What are you playing?”
“Oh, it’s great. You’re the owner of a restaurant, and people come in and you have to make what they order by pushing buttons on the keyboard in very specific sequences and under a strict time limit.”
“You’re playing a game about cooking.”
“You’re putting off Dota to play a game about cooking.”
“I just want t-“
“Shut it down and get in the Dota channel right now.”
Best/Worst Multiplayer Experience Of The Year. (Or Is It The Worst/Best?): Dota 2.
We had a couple of new people start playing Dota with us recently. Watching their inept fumbling about the map and their agape reactions to really basic game concepts like not autoattacking the creeps it can be kind of hard to remember a time when I was ever that green. But then Dota is a game with a learning curve that seems to stretch onwards and ever upwards until it gets obscured by cloud cover; I must seem like a god to these people, but it was only twenty or thirty games ago that I finally caved and rebound my 123 keys to item slots. Until that point I’d fairly sure my brain would have imploded under the strain of having to deal with both skills and active item abilities at the same time1 Because there’s so many degrees of skill in Dota and so many nuances to the gameplay it becomes simultaneously the most satisfying and most maddening of multiplayer games. When you’re winning it’s because you’re flat out better than the other team, and you feel good about yourself. When you’re losing it’s because you’re a noob scrublord – or worse, because your team is full of noob scrublords – and you feel helpless, powerless and generally shit. Dota isn’t something I’d play to relax, but if you actually want to be challenged by a game that mercilessly boots you in the nuts until you either improve or you quit there’s nothing quite like it.
Best Game I Dissed Slightly Unfairly Because I Didn’t Like The Way They’d Done It: Dishonoured.
Dishonoured isn’t a bad game by any means. I’d hesitate before calling it good, but despite being a rather disjointed experience (for me, anyway) many of the individual elements – the art style, the stealth, the general Thiefiness of it – were very well-made. My putting the boot in was more because I saw what they’d done with the narrative and metagame as a massive missed opportunity that didn’t make any sense rather than because the actual game itself was bad. So I’m sorry, Dishonoured: you really didn’t deserve what I did to you, although quite frankly everyone had bought you by that point anyway so I doubt I changed any minds one way or the other.
Best Unexpectedly Fantastic Game I’d Never Heard Of Till It Was Released: Chivalry.
I think I did Chivalry a bit of a disservice in my review by pronouncing it a rather short-lived fad, as I now have 27 hours played with no sign of it getting old any time soon. Chivalry’s approach is refreshingly old-school with few unlocks and no persistent stats to keep people hooked into the game, instead preferring to let its gameplay speak for itself. The emphasis on every life being an opportunity to die doing something ludicrous while shouting at the top of your lungs rather than yet another attempt to maximise your K/D ratio means that I have never felt stressed or annoyed when playing it. Chivalry is the antithesis of Dota: it is a game that I load up occasionally for some simple straightforward fun, and it delivers every single time.
Best Indie Game I was Looking Forward To That Actually Lived Up To Its Promise: Legend of Grimrock.
A return to the classic dungeon crawling genre, Legend of Grimrock achieved something special by occasionally convincing me I was actually in the dungeon. The viewpoint is perpetually nailed to first-person meaning there’s nothing to break immersion, and you interact with the surrounding environment not by hammering the use button in front of every wall where you think there might be a secret door, but instead by clicking the mouse on the tiny yet out-of-place piece of masonry you think might double as a button. Then you hear a clunk and a grinding noise from somewhere behind you and off to the left, and so you head in that direction to solve the next piece of the puzzle. Grimrock had some very, very clever puzzles indeed –which is all the more impressive when you consider they’re made up of basically three elements: teleporters, pressure plates and pitfall traps — and solving them makes you feel clever, which is the hallmark of a good adventure game. A shame about the one-dimensional combat, but the developers were breathing new life into a genre that had been dead for nearly twenty years. You can’t expect them to get everything right the first time around.
Best Endless Space: Endless Space.
Appearing on Steam with little fanfare, Endless Space was more than a little bit surprising. At first it was surprising that the developers had made an alpha that was so polished, so functional. The game had several missing features and many balance issues, but what was there made me very hopeful – very excited – for the final product. Which is why it was surprising, and disappointing, that there ended up being little difference between the alpha and the full release a couple of months later. This meant Endless Space wasted its promising foundation of a sprawling tech tree and extremely well-designed UI by falling right into several of the common pit traps awaiting prospective space-based 4Xes, the deepest of which was that while the various alien races in the game played somewhat differently they didn’t feel different. They had no personality, and wars against the amorphous Ameoba and the ravenous Cravers played out identically as the AI spammed wave after wave of ships it couldn’t possibly produce at me. It’s still a good game, but it’s also a tragic missed opportunity.
Best Game Of 2012: Oh, don’t be so tiresome.
Best Worst Game Of 2012: Swords and Sworcery.
So many contenders for this one. Was it Hack, Slash, Loot for having the most awful mechanics of any roguelike I’ve played? Was it Spore, for providing the meaty splat that terminated Maxis’s fall from grace? Perhaps it was Shank, for being so completely creatively bankrupt that I had difficulty taking it seriously. Or perhaps Carrier Command, for not actually functioning properly as a game in any way, shape or form. I think that on a personal and fundamental level, though, nothing quite matched the hatred I instinctively felt for Swords and Sworcery deep down in my gut. It’s like somebody made a game (and I use the term very loosely there) specifically designed to piss me off. Every single second of my brief experience with it enraged me to a degree no other game managed this year, and so despite a crowded field Swords and Sworcery easily takes the prize.
- One of my Dota teammates mentioned he cuts bad AI in stealth games a break because the reaction of your average Dota player to a non-invisibility gimmick hero using Shadowblade is pretty much “Huh. Must have been a rat.” ↩