Sunday, February 2, 2014

The 6th Helltown Beer Game of the Year

Every year I pick my favorite video game of the past twelve months or so and 'tis time for it once again. This feature has become sort of how I mark time here at Helltown.


Naughty Dog is a one of the handful of studios that seem to be doing it right and are on top of their game. Directors Bruce Straley, Neil Druckmann... Designer Jacob Minkoff... Artists Erick Pangilinan and Nate Wells... I want to list them all because of the impact this game had on me.

I've never finished a game and sat in amazement as all credits rolled, save for this one. A lot of times in games finishing it is more of a relief. An "alright, let's wrap this up already" type thing.

One of the great things about video games is that the good ones have a distinct feel that you can play around in. When done right, a game has a sort of fourth dimension over other mediums; gameplay. That, along with design, artwork, colors in Last of Us feel distinct and fresh even though the story of post apocalyptic earth his getting an extreme workout right now.

The main game dynamic is that of protecting something you perceive as not being able to protect itself. This isn't necessarily new but one that has never been mastered. In the case of Last of Us it is a little girl. You do, at different points in the experience play them both but you mainly control Joel.

Joel is a middle aged man who lost his daughter during the beginnings of the apocalypse (which, in this game is a fungus that overtakes the minds of humans making them crazy). Years and years after that, Joel ends up helping / taking cross country a girl named Ellie who is about his daughters age when she died.

The story choice to make the protagonist a 50-ish person is different and refreshing in that Joel is somewhat grumpy and showing that age. His history is hidden from Ellie. Joel hides it but it is an ever present plot point.

The video above has some of the hallmarks of a Naughty Dog game. Writing, story, artwork, animation... Oftentimes a story / cut scene spills over to the gameplay seamlessly in Last of Us and it never feels forced or out of place. You also are always aware of what is going on (in large AAA games the main story line can get lost, happens quite a bit).

Another game mechanic that worked extremely well was how dangerous the world around you felt. It is a rare game where you do not play a super man / godlike character. In Last of Us have to approach things with a plan or you will die. This tightened the survival, protection role you play to levels that sometimes had me turning off the game because of the intensity.

The ever present danger never really goes away but as you progress you can craft better tools to increase your chances in a fight or, at least, know when not to fight. Firing a weapon or getting tangled in a fist fight feels meaty, raw. Not mindless.

In this next video you'll get a really good feel for how the game plays. Much of it is like this. Again, the story is clear, objectives (get to the bridge) are simple and the environment is breathtaking.

Fair warning; this is a brutal scene in the game. It serves to show the impact of real actions not cartoonish ones that so often plague games.

The world in this game is alive and just about every character (friend or foe) is unique. None of what is happening above is mindless or out of place. Instead of 50 bad guys to worry about there are only a handful and they are just trying to survive as you are.

You'll again notice the banter between the two characters, this is not unusual as this is how the story is told and how you become invested in what is happening.

It's hard to classify Last of Us a landmark game or some sort of crowning achievement in gaming. There are great games coming out almost monthly now but this one stands above the rest last year.


"In a world without gold, we might have been heroes!" - Edward 'Blackbeard' Thatch

Assassin's Creed IV is a fantastic game that had to grow on me a little bit but just like any good work of entertainment and art, it did. There is so much worthwhile to do in this game it's nuts. It's also beautiful and gives you plenty of reasons pause. Like, physically pause and watch the sunset drifting in the middle of the Caribbean.

Producer Martin Schelling and Mission Director Ashraf Ismail started this project back in 2011, which explains a lot by way of the incomplete nature of ACIII, which I about consider to be the greatest game that almost was. What melted my heart about ACIII was the time period, story and artwork. It's an amazing, amazing game but it was not a finished product.

Something else that hurt the previous installment in this series was the jumping between past and near future. Nothing horribly wrong with jumping back and forth but the jumps were too harsh and disconnected.

I can see why now knowing that the next installment was getting a ton of attention because there was a lot of the story that was going nowhere. Another reason for the attention is because the game was also released on the Xbox One, the version that I played (am still playing).

There are parts of the AC series that still exist that maybe shouldn't. The jumping back in for in time still there but the story in the present has lightened up. Another thing I despised was the game asking me to rate each mission when completed. I realize that crowd feedback can make games more fun but I don't elements that take away from the immersion. Immersion is one of the greatest qualities in games.

Maybe part of me wanted to give ACIII game of the year last year but I just couldn't and am now wanting to give the award to a finished work in the same series. That could be part of it I suppose but shouldn't take away from how fun this whole series is.


2013: Last of Us
2012: Sleeping Dogs
2011: Skyrim
2010: Red Dead Redemption / Heavy Rain
2009: Uncharted 2
2008: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare


Football Manager 14 is probably my runner up, if I did such a thing. Along with it being insanely fun (and near on mandatory for anyone who writes about soccer) above all, it is a gamer's game. In fact, it was good enough that I did a full review of it over at Massive Report.

Next up would have to be Splinter Cell Blacklist. This is personal pick for me because I have a great, fun history playing this game with friends. Blacklist was a true return to Chaos Theory. There were many points in the game where I just had a huge smile on my face. Any game that does that is a winner.

Tomb Raider had a semi-reboot this year and did very well. The game is very fun and very similar to the Uncharted series of games. If there was one game to recommend as a surprise game, it's Tomb Raider.

Last game to mention this year is the big one: Grand Theft Auto V. It's a blast to play and well done. This one just seemed a little too modern for me. Too cynical. Difficult to put my finger on it but after Rockstar games like Red Dead Redemption and even LA Noire, this one seemed spiteful, and too many times not fun.

As a technical achievement, the GTA V world is nearly second to none. It's got everything, you can do everything. LA looks spectacular. Separating out three playable characters into what is basically each one of GTA's demographics was ambitious, but they pulled it off pretty well.

Could be that somewhere in there is part of the problem though. Suffers a bit from a disjointed story. The game just wants to be everything. All at once. The other problem with the game is that I can't think of anyone that I would recommend it too.

Hoping that Rockstar leans towards something a little more interesting in the next few years.


All I got for now. Looking forward to a great gaming year in 2014. The great and mighty Mark McCracken sent me over a Ouya recently so looking forward to digging into that this year as well!

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