Highlights and Massive Shites: 2012 in Gaming (The Good)

I realise that I’m a bit late to the party with this, but it took me a while to get through my back catalog last year so I’ve just finished some of these games in the last month. I realise that smacks a little of a porn star complaining his dick is sore from fucking all these beautiful women, but playing some of these games felt like a god damn chore, so I make no apologies.

I do, however, apologise for the fact that I sometimes get over-excited when talking about video games and forget I’m supposed to write jokes. So, if you want my opinion on games I’ve played, you’re in the right place; if you’re here to read jokes about Tony Jaa punching Malaysia to death, then I apologise.

Tony Jaa's apology is a clenched fist punching the alphabet out of your memories.

Tony Jaa’s apology is a clenched fist punching the alphabet out of your memories.

Note: There may, or may not, be massive spoilers contained within. Seriously, I can’t remember.

Asura’s Wrath

box_1321308329AW is reminiscent of the (largely awful) FMV games that made up a good deal of the Sega CD and Philips CDi stables: a series of cutscenes where the player is expected to hit button-prompts at specific times to advance the story. I realise that that opening gambit didn’t set this up as a positive review so let me also say that Asura’s Wrath plays like every anime ever, condensed into an eight hour gameplay experience.

The whole game is essentially one big quick-time event, broken up by the occasional button-mashing brawls and preposterously over-acted exposition. It’s definitely not going to appeal to everyone: some people will see it as little more than an episode of Dragonball Z that you occasionally point your remote control at to progress, but it’s something different and, if you can get in the right mindset, the over the top action becomes extremely entertaining.

There are a couple of faults to the game, whether you like it or not: the lock-on system can be fiddly when you’re used to the right analog stick moving the camera instead of who you’re targeting, and the developer’s dedication to creating the atmosphere of being inside an anime becomes grating when you’re forced to watch a preview for upcoming levels –which are broken into episodes– when you’d rather just play the damn thing.

All in all, though, Asura’s Wrath is fairly unique experience and it’s a genre I’d like to see more developer’s tackle in the future.

Ratchet & Clank HD Trilogy

Originally I was going to use this to harp on like a cynical dickhead about how my secondRatchet-and-Clank-HD-Trilogy-PS3-12019768-5 favourite game from last year was a collection of games from almost a decade ago, and isn’t that all so reflective of sad state of the industry.

In actual fact, I’m uncharacteristically optimistic about the modern video game industry and I think it’s rapidly becoming broader than ever, so instead I’ll say Ratchet & Clank –despite floundering in its more recent instalments– is my favourite series of all time and the original trilogy has aged very well.

R&C followed that now rare standard of sequel progression where every new game expanded and improved upon it’s predecessor, at the same time adding new elements that fit perfectly into the universe, (spaceship sections in the second game; army missions in the third,) while still maintaining the things that made the first game so unique. For instructions on how not to do this with your series, I would direct your attention to Jak II: Renegade which took a perfectly enjoyable Super Mario 64 clone and turned it into a hilariously bad GTA clone with broken combat and a gritty edge (i.e. Jak swears now).

Back to R&C: I was disappointed they didn’t add the more refined control system to the original game (the lack of strafing can be a right pain in the balls when you’re used to it) but overall it’s the best HD collection to date and well worth the money, especially given the huge amount of replay value in the latter two titles, which I’ve now sank more time into than my actual degree that’s meant to get me a real, grown-up job.

Borderlands 2

1984alsh3erThe original Borderlands is one of the few current generation games I’ve bothered to go back to after completing, and it’s still the only game I’ve ever enjoyed enough to spend even more money on the DLC. The game was not without it’s flaws, many people complained that the environments were boring and the missions were repetitive, but I can only assume they’ve never played an action-RPG before because that sums up every single one, to me.

I love the Borderlands universe, I can remember more characters from it than anything else I’ve played in the last few years, and I think one of the reasons is because the majority of them are all sociopathic dickheads. Almost every named character introduces themselves by shooting, stabbing or otherwise incapacitating someone else, which provides the kind of grindhouse ultraviolence atmosphere that is uncommon in other games in this genre.

To put it another way: would you rather accept a mission to go and pick flowers for a Tolkien-dwarf, or gather body parts for a surgeon to make a creature you then have to kill because, ‘it’s kind of your fault’? If you answered the first one, congratulations: you’re wrong.

For those unimpressed with the original, the sequel is unlikely to do anything to change their minds. The writing may be amusing enough to inject some variety into otherwise repetitive missions, but like every other mission-based game how bored you get will depend on how much you’re are enjoying the overall experience.

Looting is still at the heart of everything, and while I don’t relish having to do umpteen calculations in my head every time I find a new weapon to work out if it’s better than what I’m carrying, the variety in the guns on offer now goes well beyond the standard elemental differences. Combine that with some genuinely unique character classes that now have actual benefits and advantages –as opposed to the first game where you could play as Roland or pick a character, play for half an hour then start a new game as Roland– and you are guaranteed to find a build that suits your playstyle.

The environments are amongst the most varied I’ve seen in a game like this, and they merit exploration, partly to uncover some neat easter eggs, but mainly because they feel immersive and worth looking around. Oh, also to see what new things there are to kill: Borderlands 2’s enemy roster is exceptional, with re-skins kept to a minimum, although there are some enemies which the game actually states are specifically designed to annoy you, (fuck you, repair drones,) which is funny for the first five minutes and then annoying for the rest of the game, as well as a couple of ridiculously over-powered enemies capable of taking you down in one hit, which really rubs salt in your lonely wounds when playing solo.

In the end, it’s essentially more of the same on a much, much bigger scale, which is exactly what I wanted, so I couldn’t be more pleased.

The Darkness II

I love this game. Given how much people complain about modern shooters being a paradethe-darkness-2-ps3-cover of exploding set-pieces and carbon-copy military superheroes wanking patriotism all over our screens, I find it strange that this game didn’t get more appreciation.

I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that Jackie Estacado, arguably the hero of the piece, is the head of a crime family and a bit of a vicious arsehole, but I found myself caring far more about his plight than any of the several soldiers I’ve trudged into war over the last six or seven years. The game further mixes things up by occasionally implying that the entire world is a construct inside Jackie’s mind, and that the Darkness represents his mental illness; making him violent and confused.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s a particularly original plot device, but it’s used to great effect and there were times when I genuinely wasn’t sure which way the story was going to go. It also helps that the plot is backed up at all times with a fantastically atmospheric soundtrack; again a woefully misrepresented element of modern shooters.

I was particularly surprised to find that The Darkness II is one of the very few games with an upgrade tree where each and every power you unlock can actually be useful in combat, as opposed to games like Darksiders, where the majority of upgrades just add a new set of bells and whistles to a character who’s basic attacks are more than enough to steamroll through the game.

The only downside I can think of is that the campaign is a bit short, but it’s all perfectly rounded, and I’d rather take a tight but short story over games like Resistance 2 where I’ve completely forgotten what the hell I’m supposed to be doing by the time I reach the final boss. Also, there’s a multiplayer element that, while amusing to play, ultimately adds nothing to the game and feels unnecessary and tacked on to appeal to people with no interest in a campaign-central FPS.

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That about does it for my favourite games of last year, join me tomorrow when I’ll look back at the games I enjoyed least. I know, I totally can’t wait, either.

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