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Kyle Hanley’s Top 5 Games of 2014

20 Jan

consoles

There are several addicting things on this planet. Cocaine, alcohol, Doritos, just to name a few. But perhaps there is nothing more addictive than getting my opinions on pop culture. You got to see how I ranked the top 5 movies of 2014 in my most recent blog post and now you’re back, scratching your skin like a junkie without a fix, begging me to rank something else, ANYTHING else. While I was tempted to rank my top 5 bowel movements of 2014, those are things where you really had to be there to appreciate. I guess I’ll go ahead and rank my top 5 games of 2014, like I did last year.

First, a disclaimer. There is a game not on this list that possibly could be if I played it. Dragon Age: Inquisition is absent. I am waiting on the new Dragon Age until I play the first two and that’s going to take at least 150 hours out of my life. I hear it’s incredible, and I think I’ll love it when I play it, but until I actually play it I can’t put it on the list. If you don’t like that I’m making this list without playing every game released, deal with it. We all can’t spend every waking moment playing video games or combing our neck beard like you can.

Also, The Last of Us: Remastered and the next gen port of Grand Theft Auto V are not in the running because they would take number one and two, respectively, in any top 5 list. Even if the list was “Top 5 Pub Foods”, I assure you those two games would somehow be on top of the list. Also, their remakes of 2013 games so that also disqualifies them.

Now that I got that out of the way, onto the list!

5. Assassin’s Creed Unity

Assassin's_Creed_Unity_Cover

Assassin’s Creed, also known as the game series high schoolers use to help write their history papers with, is on what feels like its 80th iteration with Unity. I could bitch about this, and how the franchise might be starting to get a little over saturated and stale but all my enemies and opponents would post photographic evidence of me buying literally every game in the franchise to crumble that criticism to the ground.

Okay, so I like these games. Sue me. I love the historical settings and being able to run amok in them. I mean, I never realized I had a deep desire to parkour around revolutionary France, but this game brought that out.

Unity takes place during the French Revolution. You play as Arno, some guy who suffers a terrible loss and gets betrayed and decides to join the Assassins because of it. If that sounds familiar to you, that’s because that’s literally the same character arc for every Assassin’s Creed protagonist ever. Don’t worry though, Arno manages to be an interesting character thanks to his wry charm and brash cockiness. Which also kinda sounds like every Assassin’s Creed protagonist ever. Uh, let’s just not play this for the story, okay?

The real draw is the incredible open world environment Unity gives us. No Assassin’s Creed game has given us a single, massive open world like this game’s recreation of 1700s Paris. Sure, we’ve gotten big cities before but nothing like this. The city is gigantic and beautifully realized, with tons of locales and real life landmarks to climb. After AC III and Black Flag, where the tallest things to climb were “trees” and “more trees”, it’s great to get back to the series roots of climbing the shit out of tall ass buildings and structures.

The game also uses the historical context to great effect. We get to see gigantic mobs of French people, protesting and rallying against their government. The AC series has always tried to includes big crowds in their games, but the stuff in Unity puts the other games to shame. These mobs are huge and unruly. As someone who hates being out in public with huge crowds, I can say this game really nails the feeling of being in one, without the awkward eye contact with attractive girls and the constant apologizing for rubbing against other people’s dicks.

You can feel the chaos and violence of this time period, through the cutscenes and the random events that happen while exploring the game world. And as with other AC games, historical figures from the time period drop by to help out Arno or to give him side quests. No, that doesn’t mean we get to go swordfighting with Marie Atnoinnete or skateboarding with Robespierre so don’t get too excited. But the real life characters are still an entertaining touch and nice nod to the history of the setting, something the AC series has always been pretty good at.

The game would have been ranked higher if it had been a little more technically sound. Loading times are atrocious, animations can get a little wonky at times, and the free running system can still be a little touchy. There were several times where Arno mistook my command to ‘jump up and grab a balcony’ as ‘twirl around like a panicked mother frantically looking for her lost child at a supermarket’. Oh, and there’s the now infamous glitches which resulted in some…uh…interesting graphic errors.

WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?

WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?

Even with the technical issues, I’m still surprised this game got such mixed reviews from the gaming media. Yeah, it’s not perfect, it doesn’t offer much new to the franchise, and it’s not among the elite of AC games (AC II and Black Flag are still the best in the series), but it’s enjoyable and certainly worth a try.

Random takeaway: So Ubisoft went to great lengths to painstakingly recreate every inch and every nook and cranny of 1700s France but they couldn’t afford one voice actor with a French accent? Hey Ubisoft: the planet has other human beings besides British people.

4. Far Cry 4

far_cry_4

Have you ever wanted to destroy a small village with an elephant, and then use C4 to blow the elephant sky high? Congratulations, you’re a psychopath. But there is good news for you, and I’m not talking about how the cops are going to drop the charges they filed on you after finding all the skeletons in your drained pool, you pycho. I’m talking about Far Cry 4, a game that makes that depraved fantasy of yours a reality.

Far Cry 4 follows the formula that was established in Far Cry 3. Give the players a visually beautiful, massive open world teeming with wildlife, collectibles and lots of things to blow up and let them just go crazy. In this game, we get to go the Kyrat, a fictional country in the Himalayas because I guess Ubisoft doesn’t own the rights to Nepal.

Am I allowed to use this picture, or do I need to send royalty checks to Nepal?

Am I allowed to use this picture, or do I need to send royalty checks to Nepal?

In Kyrat, you join a civil war because you went there to spread your mother’s ashes and apparently the only way to do that is to overthrow the evil king of the country. Like Far Cry 3, the story leaves a little to be desired. The main character is annoying, so much so that I’m glad the game is first person so that I’m not looking at his face and constantly fantasizing about punching it. He also states in the first ten minutes of the game, “I’m no soldier” before picking up a gun and mowing down government soldiers and tigers for the ensuing 20-25 hours. So there’s not much of a logical character arc to speak of.

Thankfully, the story is just window dressing anyway. Like I said, the real lure of Far Cry 4 is the unbridled freedom the game offers you in exploring and subsequently destroying its game world. You go around the mountains and forests of Kyrat, liberating enemy run outposts, climbing up bell towers, and hunting and skinning so many animals that I’m surprised PETA isn’t orchestrating mass burnings of copies of this game. It’s also jaw droppingly beautiful, especially when you soar through the air in your wing suit or when you grapple your way up to the top of a mountain to get a view of the entire landscape.

Unfortunately, it’s not all great. The game is so full of side quests and superfluous shit to do that it feels as bloated as a menstruating whale (do whales menstruate? I’m too afraid to Google that). And getting to those side quests can be a hassle, as the driving mechanics are as unwieldy as a a pregnant hippo trying to slip and slide its way across an ice rink. The driving mechanics are so bad, there is an “auto drive” function in the game, where you allow the computer to drive you to the destination. It’s as if the developers said, “Yeah, we know the driving controls are a pile of dicks, but we spent so much time on animating honey badgers we didn’t have time to improve it” and tacked it on to spare us the misery.

Even with its flaws, Far Cry 4 is still a gorgeous, fun and addictive open world game. Just don’t use it to teach your kids how to drive. Actually, don’t use it to teach them anything, unless you want them to start hunting and skinning all the house pets.

Random takeaway: I’m excited to see where the next Far Cry takes us. Possible locations: Australia, because everything wants to kill you there; London, because I’ve always wanted to go there but I don’t want to fly a plane or spend money; an island infested with dinosaurs because everything about this game screams “I need dinosaurs!”. In fact, the next Far Cry game should be called Far Cry 5: FUCKING DINOSAURS, MAN!!!!

3. LittleBigPlanet 3

littlebigplanet_3

I know what you’re saying. “But Kyle! LittleBigPlanet 3 is a kid’s game! How could someone as manly as you, in between your daily hobbies of lion taming and criminal punching, find enjoyment in game geared towards kids?” While you prove a good point (punching criminals DOES take a lot of time out of my day), I would like to submit this. Sure, LBP 3 may be kid friendly, but you know what else it is? Fucking fun. In fact, I’m pretty sure they list that as one of the bullet points on the back of the box.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, the LittleBigPlanet series is one of my favorite new franchises of last generation. The fun platforming and quirky visuals are just the tip of the iceberg of why I love it. As you may know, the biggest draw of these games is the user generated content. Being able to play levels made by other, much more brilliant people than me is a true joy. I can’t tell you how many hours I lost jumping from user created level to user created level. Almost as many hours as I spend punching criminals, I can say that.

So yeah, naturally I’m going to like the 3rd installment. Yes, it’s made by a different company from the other games (this is made by Sumo Digital, as the original company, Media Molecule, is off making other, probably incredible projects) but it’s still got its trademark charm and sense of fun. In fact, this game tries to spice things up a bit by tweaking the story campaign. While the other installments had you jumping from level to level and world to world, LBP 3 tries to make a more cohesive adventure. Now each world has its own huge hub level, where you can jump off to side activities and other levels from there. I appreciate this new take on the LBP formula, and for the most part it pays off. It can be a hassle to navigate one big level, especially since there’s no map function, but I ultimately admire the developers for forging their own path with the series.

The biggest change of course is that Sackboy isn’t the only playable character. We now get three extra characters to play as, each with their own unique power/playstyle. There’s Oddsock, the dog one, who can climb up walls and run really fast, like a dog or something; there’s Swoop, the bird one, who can fly around and pick up things like a bird or something; and there’s Toggle, the fat one, who can be fat like a fat person or something. I was skeptical of these new characters because I am a Sackboy purist (that sounds kinda dirty, but whatever), but each one adds a brand new flavor to the game that’s a welcome addition. The biggest disappointment is that there aren’t really any puzzles that require you to use multiple characters’ powers at once. In previews, they made it seem like you and friends would be teaming up as the different characters, tackling co-op puzzles together but no such luck.

While the single player is fun, it bears repeating that the user generated content is the real meat of LBP. Just like the first two, LBP offers a vast and in depth level creation system. I’m pretty stupid, so I can’t really make my own levels but being able to play the creations of other players is pretty awesome. The creative things you’re able to do with the LBP level creator are staggering, allowing you to pretty much make whatever the hell you want. Want to make a mini golf game, complete with working hazards and scoreboards? Yep, you can. Want to make a top down RPG with quests and enemies to hack and slash your way through? Go ahead. Want to make a working dick and balls that shoots out ejaculation at any speed you desire? I’ve already done it, but you’re welcome to give it a shot too!

As if all this wasn’t enough, EVERY user created level that was made over the course of the first two games is available here, in spiffy PS4 graphics. While you’re waiting for the LBP 3 community to ramp up, you’re able to dip back and play levels you may have missed from the 1st and 2nd one. And of course, you can do all this with….wait for it…couch co-op! Oh my God! What the fuck is couch co-op!? I’ve forgotten what that is!

Yes, in a gaming industry where developers hate people having fun and hate allowing friends to play games together in the same room, LBP 3 bucks the trend by providing an awesome party, co-op experience that allows you to play the game all from the same couch. While today’s multiplayer games means you may not remember how to talk to your friends to their faces instead of through a headset, I assure you it’s fun once you get used to human contact again.

Here I am, gushing about this game like a white person talking about a new Taylor Swift album, and it’s only number 3 on my list. Why? Unfortunately it’s an issue that is all too common these days, and that’s glitches, bugs, and poor technical performance. While I was lucky to play this game after it was heavily patched, I still experienced some glitchiness and a framerate that chugs along like a twenty year old scooter being driven by Ralphie May.

Because he is fat. That's the joke.

Because he is fat. That’s the joke.

There’s also the fact that LBP 3 is starting to lose some of its magic. The first LBP was revolutionary and LBP 2 built on that to an insane degree. This one though? Outside of the new characters and the ability to build bigger levels, it kinda feels like more of the same. Not a terrible thing, mind you, but if there is a LittleBigPlanet 4 I’m hoping they really turn the series on its head. Maybe allow 3rd person platforming, instead of side scrolling? Hmmmm? What I’m trying to say is, hire me, Sumo Digital!

Random takeaway: I wasn’t joking about the working dick and balls thing. God bless these games for giving me that opportunity.

2. inFamous: Second Son

The 3rd installment in the superhero open world franchise (another open world game, I’m starting to sense a trend in the video game industry) follows the exploits of Delsin Rowe. Delsin lives in the Seattle area, which marks the first time a real U.S. city has been used as the game world in the inFamous series (the first two games took place in Empire City and New Marais, which were essentially NYC and New Orleans, respectively). Why they chose Seattle over, say, any other city in the world is beyond me. We get to see a lot of gray, rain and fish statues. Yay?

Wow, look how pretty and scenic that is.

Wow, look how pretty and scenic that is.

At the beginning of the game, Delsin becomes imbued with powers, turning him into a “conduit”, which is fancy speak for “superhero”. Delsin’s power is to take powers from other conduits, making him the super hero equivalent of your deadbeat friend who never does anything on his own, never knows when to leave your house and eats all your Chips Ahoy cookies on you.

So, Delsin takes his new superpower stealing superpower and decides to take on an anti Conduit agency known as the DUP. Throughout the game, he traverses Seattle, taking down DUP forces and gaining new powers along the way. That’s obviously the newest and freshest thing about this inFamous. Instead of the original protagonist, Cole, who was predominantly electricity powered, Delsin has an arsenal of four powers by the time the game ends. The powers all feel unique and fun to use, encouraging you to switch between them and experiment. Hell, even moving around the city feels fun, whether you’re zipping around with your Neon powers like a coked up Road Runner or you’re soaring through the air with your Video powered angel wings (uhh, it makes sense in the context of the game, trust me).

There’s not much to bitch about with Second Son. The missions are fun and varied, the story is well written and well acted, and its so pretty I considered asking it if it was free this coming Friday, yanno, to see if it just wanted to hang out, as friends, no pressure, totally. The series even fixed its biggest issue (for me at least) and that’s repetitive side missions. The first two inFamous games were chock full of side missions, but they were a repetitive slog. In this game, side missions are fewer and are presented in bite size chunks, meaning its no longer as tedious as painting your living room with only a spoon and your buttcheeks to use.

There is one big flaw with the game, however, and it’s been something that’s been plaguing the series from the very start. The moral choice system once again leaves a lot to be desired. You see, just like the other inFamous games, Delsin will often be faced with “Karma choices”, where he needs to make a decision which then affects whether or not he gains good Karma or evil Karma. Unfortunately, the moral choices essentially boil down to “Save a box full of puppies from a car fire” or “LET THEM FUCKING BURN, BAHAHAHA.” It’s so woefully black and white, that none of them stress you into any sort of moral dilemma. The only true dilemma the Karma system offers is, “do I want my Karma meter to be blue or red???” If there is another inFamous game, hopefully the developers work on incorporating some shades of gray into your karmic choices so you’re not forced to be on a moral spectrum where one end is Mother Theresa and the other end is Benito Mussolini.

Outside of my qualms with the moral system, Second Son is a must play for anyone with a Playstation 4, especially if you’re a fan of the series. It’s my personal favorite installment in the franchise and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Random takeaway: As a San Francisco 49ers fan, I’m supremely disappointed that they didn’t include the Seattle Seahawks stadium and locker room. There’s nothing I’d look to do more in a video game then punch everyone on that team in the face, over and over again, until they literally burst into flames.

1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

shadow-of-mordor-box

There are a few things I want in this life. I’m a simple man, so I don’t ask much. I’d like to build a family with a loving wife, preferably Anna Kendrick or Emma Stone. I’d like to write and publish a book someday. I want to live to a reasonably old age, avoiding serious health pitfalls that cause my family and friends to resent me for continuing to exist. But most importantly, I want a Lord of the Rings licensed game that is good.

Well, guess what folks. I can cross one of those things off my list. Nope, Anna Kendrick and Emma Stone aren’t in my room, I still don’t have a book written, and I haven’t got into any time travel conundrums that has caused me to age 60 years. So process of elimination means, we finally got a good Lord of the Rings game! Actually, we didn’t just get a good LOTR game. We got a fucking fantastic LOTR game.

At one point, I thought it was probably more likely that I would marry Anna Kendrick than it was for us to get a good LOTR game. Despite the fact that it’s set in a fantasy world with elves and dwarves and humans battling orcs, goblins and trolls in massive battles, no one could harness those awesome elements into a game that didn’t make me want to toss myself into Mount Doom (haha, a little Tolkien humor for you there). How on Middle-earth (haha, some more for ya) was LOTR not a franchise that spawned great game after great game?

This doesn't translate into a good video game, apparently.

This doesn’t translate into a good video game, apparently.

Finally, in 2014, Shadow of Mordor answers the call. When the game was announced and previewed, I was preparing for the worst. It didn’t sound very good. I heard you play as a guy with “wraith like abilities”. So I play as some non canon, superpowered ranger, probably with sloppy combat mechanics and a poorly written story that’s clumsily shoehorned into the LOTR universe? Thanks, I’ll pass and continue to eternally weep for the LOTR franchise.

And then reviews came out, and apparently the game was awesome. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did it finally happen? Have we finally gotten a good LOTR game? Or was this some kind of cruel joke, orchestrated by everyone in the gaming industry because they personally wanted to fuck with me? I couldn’t fork over my cash fast enough and I soon found out that yes, it actually happened. This was a LOTR game and it was actually really good.

Shadow of Mordor is, yep, you guessed it, an open world game set in the land of Mordor. You get to play as Talion, someone who recently got dead but not quite dead. He finds himself resurrected by a wraith, who gives him some kickass special powers so that he can try and get revenge on the assholes who killed him.

I thought the “wraith like powers” were going to be lame and tacked on, but they actually make you feel like a true badass. It’s tough for a game to make me feel like a badass because, come on, I’m me, but I can’t think of a game that made me feel like a badass quite like this game. Zipping around, decapitating orcs with impunity never gets old. The combat system is quite like the Batman Arkham games, built around countering enemies with well timed button presses. It’s super simple to learn and master, so you’re not poring over pages of combos that you have to drill into your head like you’re preparing for the SATs.

While the combat is fun and fluid, the most noteworthy thing about this game is the Nemesis system. While most of the orcs you run into are mooks who have no other purpose except to scream as your sword cuts them apart, you will run into named Orc captains. If you kill these captains, the other captains in the army will shift around, a new captain often taking the dead captain’s place. But if you’re not careful and bad at video games, you could end up getting killed by the captain. Since your character is part wraith, you never truly die. You resurrect at one of the world’s respawn points. But while you were dead, the dickhead who just killed you probably got promoted and is even stronger than before. You can go after him and kill him yourself, but maybe he’ll kill you again and get even stronger. Even if you eventually do kill him, there’s no guarantee he’s dead for good. While you’re off exploring Mordor, doing badass things like picking flowers to regain health and stomping on spiders, you may run into the captain again, who now bears scars from your previous duel.

This system allows you to forge relationships with your enemies in a way that no game has ever really achieved. These big baddies are no longer just another generic enemy to fight. He has a name, and a face, and a personality and whether he’s Skolgrag the Scholar, Orbog the Butcher, or Pushkrimp the Dick-stomper, you’re going to hate his stupid face and want to see him dead. This nemesis system created random and memorable events that no other game in recent memory has done. The thrill I got from defeating a bitter rival for the third time, or the fear I’d get from seeing a powerful foe who had bested me twice before formed an organic and impressive experience.

The only flaw I can find with this game is that the story missions themselves are a little boring and shallow compared to the fun things you can do in the game world, killing captains and manipulating the rank and file of the armies. The missions are still fun, it’s just that comparatively they leave a bit to be desired. Also, the game can get really easy once you have most of/all your powers. I’m willing to let this slide because of how powerful the game makes you feel and how satisfying this is, but for those pretentious, high horsed gamers who insist on having an old school challenge, they will want to look elsewhere. After all is said and done, Shadow of Mordor is my game of the year for 2014 and the best game of the generation thus far.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Pushkrimp the Dick-stomper needs to have his face stabbed in.

Random takeaway: Now that we finally got a good LOTR game, what license do I want to see get a good video game for once? Jurassic Park. Though I expect Far Cry 5: FUCKING DINOSAURS, MAN!!!! will help fill that void.

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Posted by on January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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