10. The Wolf Among Us
Telltale has always been a studio with a lot of talent, but they never really wowed me. Maybe it was their strange array of licensed products (Sam and Max, Back to the Future, etc.) that just didn’t appeal to me personally. That all changed when the Wolf Among Us was announced.
Digging into the Fables graphic novels for its inspiration was one of the best ideas ever. The lore is so dense and complex, and it’s characters so damaged and challenging, that a good mature story almost writes itself. As where many other Telltale titles seem to rest on the strength of the hype surrounding their source material, this title is relatively mysterious. It’s proven to be a blessing, as it’s allowed for the teams most poignant and meaningful storytelling.
9. Skulls of the Shogun
Many people missed this quirky little turn based strategy game and everyone who did has let themselves down. Not only is this a competent game with really brilliant and simple mechanics, but its also funny as hell. Legitimate laugh out loud moments can be had thanks to the great script.
Originally a PC game, it made its way to iOS later in the year, which is how I got my hands on it. It can be cross played between consoles which allows people to play in on which ever medium they prefer more, as well as removing the excuses not to play it!
8. Bioshock: Infinite
A polarizing game pretty much since it was announced, after being delayed a bunch of times it was no real shocker that the end result was still a game that drew a line in the sand for most players. I’ve had an incredibly difficult time nailing my feelings down about this game, as i’ve been on both sides of that line since the Spring.
“Theres always a man; always a lighthouse…” Words in context meaning one thing, but speaking to a sociological core far bigger than video games. Or is it just self absorbed banter? Is the outrageous violence out of place in what should be considered a more highbrow first person shooting experience, or is it a proper conduit to see the world through the war torn eyes of a character who time and time again proves to be a rather unreliable narrator? That sort of intellectuality this game provides proves that it, at the very least, accomplished its primary goal: get people talking about it.
7. Muramasa: Rebirth
Technically its a port, but Muramasa is such a beautifully drawn and designed game that its destiny on other platforms was a foregone conclusion. The side scrolling swordplay was deep and fulfilling thanks to the games light, but poignant RPG elements, and the added content and sparse rebalancing really makes the game a slam dunk on the Vita. The hours I poured into the many challenge rooms are too numerous to be comfortable counting.
6. Dragon’s Crown
The only thing better out of Vanillaware’s library than Muramasa is Dragon’s Crown, another highly art focused brawler fashioned out of our fondest memories of Altered Beast and Golden Axe.The RPG elements that were dabbled with in Odin’s Sphere and Muramasa are dove into with a great deal more pizzaz in Crown, and becomes one of the games most addicting features. Combining the studio’s on sound knowledge of two dimensional button mashers with the kind of loot driven mouse wheel that fans of Diablo or Torchlight are accustomed to created the perfect mix of simple, easy game play with a static and compelling reason to continue coming back.
And comeback I did, early and often. My entire fall was consumed with running dungeons with strangers on my Vita, attempting to get better loot, so that I can do it again. I make it sound horrible, it was actually great fun.
5. Injustice: Gods Among Us
Proof that the video game industry is full of surprises came in 2011, when the long rumored Mortal Kombat sequel/prequel/remake (Premakequel?) hit shelves and was actually really good. Netherrealm studios, born from the ashes of Midway and WB’s Chicago Studio, had gone way back to the series roots, while incorporating both modern fighting game tropes and revamping systems that the series itself called signature. This year, something even weirder happened: they used that DC license they were sitting on since the old Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe days and MADE A BETTER GAME!
The inner skeptic in me held on tight as I picked up the controller to play this game for the first time, never letting me forget about the last DC fighting game I played. Hours later it couldn’t be denied anymore: I loved this game. Environmental elements to interact with that can be used strategically and wasn’t just a gimmick; characters that looked, felt, and played just like I imagined they would from my history with them in comics; a system that is transparent when it comes to the meta of frame manipulation and other fighting twinks. This game has it all. Not to mention a single player story that might be one of the best in fighting games (even though that really isn’t saying much.)
4. DmC: Devil May Cry
In a lot of other games, the sum of its parts is what really matters in the end. How every facet of the design, be it aesthetically or mechanically, fills in each others gaps to make a fully realized picture. In this game, there is one thing that makes it better than almost everything else i’ve played this year: the absolutely pitch perfect combat.
I’ve played every single Devil May Cry. I was an early adopter of the series in my personal social circles, so often people really had no idea what I was trying to explain to them when I would make silly attempts to. As with many completely cooky Japanese games, seeing is often believing. A lot of series die hards have that same palatable ferocity when it comes to their Devil Slayer, which explains a lot when you look back at the “Emo Dante” internet brush fire that followed the remakes announcement. You have to watch Dante escort a demon, sword first, into the air and witness him keep it afloat with buckshot in order to get the message. The only message that the new developers, Heavenly Sword’s own Ninja Theory, gave to its fans a single photo of a dirty, euro punk claiming to be the man we know and love. Shame on them for expecting open arms, shame on us for being the internet.
Seeing didn’t make believers, even when gameplay surfaced. The gospel came when you spent an hour or two with it. You have to experience the magically approachable yet deceptively deep gameplay before you realize that giving this game “away” might have been the best thing for the series. I loved this game, despite its shortcomings, and it should go a long way to improving both the future of this series, and the future of the genre.
3. Hotline Miami (Vita/PS3)
Another port on my list, but in this case, a change of console makes this game better. It removes the weirdness in controlling you silent hit-guy with keyboard and mouse by mapping all of the important stuff to buttons. It tightens up the lock on features, and really gives this game the perfect portfolio in which to share with everyone who missed it the first time. The story is bare bones and sort of a gaseous cloud of spotty dialogue that surrounds your many mission objectives, but the gameplay is puzzling and challenging in ways that you may not have appreciated by looking at stills or reading reviews.
Something made of pastel colors and 8-Bit models shouldn’t be so visceral and gritty, but its absolutely that. It makes killing a puzzle game, and throwing bats across a room into armed thugs the new most fun way to beat up bad guys in video games.
Anyone who touches Drinkbox’s platformer falls in love with it, because it is incredibly smart in every direction. It’s art style is pulp mexican pop arty. Its music a funky latin mix of battle themes and adventure ballads. Its combat and platforming mechanics do double duty as ways to defeat enemies and ways to get to the next section.
It wasn’t a game I was immediately going to play, though. Critics all over the internet were super excited about the game, entranced by its charm and challenged by its gameplay. But I still wasn’t sure it was the experience I was really looking for, until I got some store credit, and decided to take the plunge. Best. Plunge. Ever.
1. The Last of Us
“Did you want to reserve anything for your PS3? Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us…”
“I would reserve The Last of Us, but I feel like no one else is excited about this game but me.”
Silence took the Gamestop I was patronizing in its cold grip. The sparse browsers turned quickly towards the counter where I and the clerk stood, ringing up my game.
“Im excited about it.” She said quietly. A father took his hand off of his son’s shoulder, raising it like a classroom kid.
“Im excited about it.” he added. Suddenly, an all encompassing conversation takes the retailer, full of allegorical experiences with the many first looks and sneak previews they had all witnessed. I was disproven, it seemed. This Sony exclusive wasn’t just an exciting event for the people that played God of War or Uncharted, but everyone who played games more than just a little bit. And for good reason, because from start to finish, not only is The Last of Us the best game on the console, its one of the best games ever made.
I never expected to be so challenged both physically and emotionally by this game, but its hard not to be if you’re going in with an open mind. As a study on familial relationships stretched by turmoil, it’s incredible. As an example of how to do survival horror games right, it is refreshing. It’s not much on puzzles, and the slow moments can be too slow for some, but this game is truly not afraid to be funny, scary, heartbreaking and mind blowing all in the same sequence.