The Year (So Far) In Games

A bunch of sites have been putting up “Best Games of the Half-Year” posts this week, and I was tempted to follow suit, but after looking at my Games Played spreadsheet I found myself wondering how I could spin Wolfenstein: The New Order and South Park: The Stick of Truth into 800 words; it’s just not happening.  Those are two surprisingly terrific games, and they’ll most likely end up in my year-end list, and you should play them if you haven’t already.  Beyond that, it’s a bit of a reach.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call the first half of 2014 a disappointment; I expected this transition period between last-gen and current-gen to be a little weird and underwhelming.  That being said, a lot of the year’s biggest-hyped games fell relatively flat for me.  I was certainly impressed with the tech in Infamous: Second Son, but I hardly gave it a second thought after easily getting to 100% completion.  Similarly, there are certainly quite a few things to like about Watch Dogs, but if I think about that game for more than 5 seconds I get irrationally angry.  And Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is what it is, I guess, though I haven’t felt compelled to pick it back up since I finished it the first time.

I could continue on in this vein – there’s plenty of bummers on my Games Played spreadsheet (*cough* Thief *cough* Mario Golf World Tour *cough*) – but I’d prefer to keep the rest of this somewhat positive.

Jazzpunk!  That’s a spicy meatball if there ever was one.

I enjoyed playing Tomb Raider again on the PS4 and my HDTV, although I suppose its retail success is partially to blame for the HD double-dips that are in our immediate future as we wait for the real next-gen stuff to appear, i.e.The Last of UsGTA VDiablo III, to name a few off the top of my head.  And I’m planning on at least renting all of those games, too, so I suppose I’m partially to blame as well.

Speaking of Diablo III, I suppose I should heap a little bit of praise on its Reaper of Souls DLC and the additional patching that game’s received in the year since I last turned it on; the DLC managed to suck another dozen hours of my life after I’d sworn I was finished with it forever, and the daily missions and objectives are an intriguing carrot that I still consider chasing after.

I really enjoyed Bravely Default right up until I realized that I was going to have to play the entire game a second time; and then I read some walkthroughs that revealed that I’d actually have to play the whole thing 3-4 times before getting to the final ending.  This will not do.

What else, what else… I’ve not yet had that much time to actually play anything in depth on my PS Vita, and yet I keep downloading free games on it.  I’m very happy to finally own it, though.  The port of Fez is great – I just love having it in portable form – and Luftrausers is excellent and I need to get back to it, and Olli Olli hurts my brain but is also really good.

I was also going to include my favorite bits of gaming journalism and criticism, but it’s a gigantic list so far, and it’s also full of rather depressing stories of how toxic this industry is.  Still, if you’d like to check it out, I’ve made it publicly available as a Google Doc.

This weekend I’ll be away with the family, so I’m not sure what gaming there’ll be.  I’m currently playing A Story About My Uncle, which is both exhilarating and frustrating, sometimes simultaneously; I’d like to try and finish it tonight, since I’m not taking my PC with me.  I picked up Civ Rev 2 for my iPhone this morning; it’s not quite as graphically interesting as the 360 version from a few years back, but it’s leaps and bounds better-looking than the previous iOS version, and the touch controls are a lot more intuitive.  I’m still way over my head most of the time, but such is life.  And I guess I’ll bring the Vita along, too, and maybe keep plugging away at Tearaway and also perhaps one of the 6 Final Fantasy games I’ve got on there.  (The voting was inconclusive.  I might go with 8 or 9, since I’ve never touched those before.)

Have a happy and safe 4th, everyone.

weekend recap: mistakes were made

This was not a gaming-focused weekend, as we had two sets of grandparents drop by to spend time with the lil’ man.  I suppose my biggest accomplishment was digging the car out of 2 weeks’ worth of ice and snow, and then finding parking spaces at both Costco and Whole Foods on a weekend afternoon.  (The odds of finding parking at the local Costco on a weekend are comically, astronomically, impossibly high, and yet we somehow managed to grab a spot almost immediately – with no threats of violence or angry honking of horns, either.)  And when the TV was on, we generally watched the Olympics, because why not.

That being said, I did somehow manage to finish Jazzpunk, get hopelessly addicted to Threes, and get about 20 minutes into Bravely Default.

I’m going to be reviewing Jazzpunk for the NYVCC later this week, so I’ll keep this short:  it’s an experience well worth having.  And while they have almost nothing else in common, it’s also a game in nearly the exact same way that Gone Home is a game, and that’s a game design concept that I’m hoping to explore further in the review.  One last thing, I guess – I didn’t necessarily find it as hilarious as most other reviewers have, but it is very funny, and its humor is effective precisely because it’s not doled out in carefully crafted punchlines, but rather in a non-stop barrage of surreal absurdity.   I expect it will remain funny upon further playthroughs – which is good, because even though I thought I’d been rather complete in my first run, I only got about one third of the achievements, so there’s quite a lot that I apparently missed.

Threes is already my front-runner for Most Addicting Game of 2014, and I’m kinda glad I got into it when I did – if only so that I was able to completely miss out on the Flappy Bird saga.  My high score is 3312, though I generally fare much, much worse.  More to the point, I’ve been playing it almost constantly since its release and yet I don’t feel like I’m improving, although I’m now able to immediately recognize when my game’s crossed that point of no return and is about to fall apart in just a few more moves.  (Which makes the lack of an “undo” button all the more frustrating, even if it wouldn’t necessarily help.)

I have not yet played nearly enough of Bravely Default to offer any definitive opinion, though there are two things that are immediately apparent:  (1) it is absolutely gorgeous, both visually and aurally (and it’s definitely worth playing with good headphones), and (2) the game’s dialog is preposterously over-written, and the voice actors can only do so much with it, which is regretful.  The combat system seems pretty interesting, both conceptually and in actual practice, and I definitely appreciate how much control the game lets you have in terms of, well, pretty much everything – from the rate of random encounters to the actual speed of combat.

If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t wait for my rental copy to arrive and instead opted to download it directly from the 3DS storefront – it’s a HUGE file, and even after deleting some stuff it’s filled up most of my 3DS’s storage.  (Not only that, but having a digital download deprives me of some of the AR stuff that the hard-copy manual offers – not that that’s a deal-breaker, but it’s something I would’ve liked to check out.)

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Tomorrow night is the NYVCC awards ceremony, and I’m already starting to get a little jittery – I’m co-presenting the Best Mobile Game award, which (among other things) means it’ll be the first public speaking I’ve done in over 15 years.  I’m a little surprised at how many butterflies I’ve got already – I was an actor in college, and I’ve been a performing musician up until a few years ago, and while I’d get nervous it wouldn’t necessarily be that big a deal.  But, then again, I didn’t necessarily have the anxiety problems back then that I do now.  Still – I’m very much looking forward to the event, and being able to meet so many of the people that I’m already reading.  Here’s hoping the weather cooperates!