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Games 2013

Just as I did last year, here's a look at the games I played this year. Played means for single-player games that I have finished the complete game at least once.

Battlefield 4

This game was the biggest disappointment for me this year. It sports a 6-hour single-player campaign which is just as bad as the previous one, but it looks quite a bit nicer in many places. That wouldn't be too bad, as Battlefield 3 didn't have a good single-player either. However, on the multi-player front, it doesn't deliver this time. I personally had a lot of problems with bugs & hackers on servers, so much that I paused playing after reaching level 10 so they can start fixing stuff. Overall I'm really surprised that this game has so many bugs, as Frostbite 3 doesn't look that much different from Frostbite 2, and with a mature engine, you would expect a game to get out with more polishing and not less. The post-releases patches also didn't help. For instance, the fix for "rubber-banding" actually made the game rubber-band for me.

From EA, the communication about these issues was also weird at best. I don't buy it that they stopped development on the DLCs to fix the issues with the game, as it's highly unlikely that all artists crunching out content for the DLCs will now twiddle their thumbs waiting for some game-play fixes. At the same time, the engine development team doing the graphics, net-code, audio and other things does continue working on Frostbite 3 for other licensees as well, as EA can't afford delaying all other games just because of some Battlefield 4 specific bugs. Realistically, they might change some internal priorities to get bugs affecting Battlefield 4 resolved a bit faster, but I believe what we see here is simply the effects of having a separate game & engine team.

Given a few more weeks or months of fixing, and more content, I do expect this game to be as good as Battlefield 3 again. I'm also curiously awaiting the Mantle-backend, but as it seems, it got delayed from November over December into early 2014 at least. Graphics-wise, it's the new reference for me, even though they have still not resolved the z-fighting problems (far away objects tend to mush together with the background and flicker.)

Chaos on Deponia

The second part of the Deponia series. Compared to the first one, there's not much difference; it's basically more of the same. The humor is great and the puzzles are usually well designed but I would wish there would be a few more clues for some of them. Without a walkthrough guide, you have to fall back to trial & error, and that shouldn't be necessary. One of the best point & click adventures for sure, and I'm really looking forward to playing the final part of the trilogy in 2014!

Crysis 3

Oh well. I somehow get the crisis when playing Crysis, and this time, it wasn't better. Graphics wise, it's very solid and sometimes fantastic; in particular, the first location outside in the rain and then the grass fields were great. But that's it, the rest was very good, but not that memorable unfortunately. The problem I see here is two-fold. First of all, a detailed world doesn't mean it looks interesting; the dam is a good example. It has a high visual complexity and features a lot of props, but it doesn't convey the sheer size of a dam at all. The second problem can bee seen towards the end of the game. What happened is that game-play asked for three anti-aircraft locations, and voilà, the level features three isolated pockets instead of a single, continuous world. The contrast between detail makes it obvious that this world only exists to serve the game-play, and this doesn't help to make it feel real.

Story wise, they tried real hard this time to add a character you can relate to by introducing Psycho. Unfortunately, he becomes less and less important over the course of the game. Second, the setting itself is quite confusing and never explained properly. It seems as if the game was started from the graphics side (we want to showcase these three environments) and then some story was built around it. What made me really sad is that they have very nice character rendering technology (some of the faces are astonishing!) and yet they fail at story-telling completely. I also have my doubts that telling a good story can work in this nano-suit wearing super-hero scenario at all. Crysis 1 didn't have this problem, as it was mostly a sand-box/exploration style game, but for Crysis 2 & 3, they try to make a terminator with emotions, and that is doomed to fail.

The final nail in the coffin was the short play time. I think it took me slightly less than six hours this time, even less than Crysis 2, and that's just too short. Especially as a lot of that time is spent in repetitive combat due to the low variety of different weapons & enemies.

Far Cry 3

I really enjoyed the first Far Cry, but I never managed to finish the second one. Third times a charm, and indeed, this Far Cry is the best of the three so far. That said, it suffers from a similar problem as Tomb Raider: A guy who "can't kill" at first winds up dispatching enemies a dozen at a time. At least on the content side, this game does deliver -- including most side missions (i.e. all camps cleared and all unique items crafted) it took me 18 hours to finish this game, which I consider reasonable for a block-buster game. Some of that time is however pretty boring, in particular, climbing the antenna towers is repetitive, as is clearing out camps later in the game.

Story wise, the beginning is actually good, but it becomes worse over time. In particular, the double-ending is just a waste of time and it would have been better to just do a single ending and somehow involve all characters there (one last attack on Hoyt together with the Rakyat, maybe?) On the graphics side, the thing I enjoyed most about this game is that it is actually bright enough to enjoy the graphics, unlike for example Tomb Raider. The only problematic area I found were caves, where the lighting was looking really weird (only SH/IBL based specular?)

Hitman: Absolution

It's the basic Hitman formula, well executed and with nice graphics. If you never played Hitman before, it might be a bit boring, but if you enjoy the mix of puzzle and shooter, I can highly recommend it. The story is confusing at best, but the levels themselves are very well executed and each level is really distinct. What I also liked is the crowd rendering, in particular, the Chinese market is large and has enough people to resemble a real market.

Max Payne 3

There's one thing I remember about this game, and this is how ridiculously different the game-play itself is different from cutscenes. From the beginning to the end, Max is portrayed as a broken looser, and when it comes to rescuing someone, you get one of two choices:

  • Three enemies and a hostage wait in a room, a cutscene starts, and Max fails to rescue the hostage and gets caught. It continues with "another day, another woman I couldn't save".
  • Twenty enemies and a hostage wait in a room, no cutscene starts, Max jumps in in bullet time and easily dispatches everyone.

Unfortunately, it doesn't get better until the end. Moreover, the bitterness of Max is interesting at the beginning, but towards the end of the game, he just repeats the same things again and again, making the game rather dull and boring. At least it has a proper ending, but otherwise, I can't really recommend it.

Metro: Last light

The successor to Metro 2033. It's basically a more polished version of Metro 2033 where everything is done right, and you get to see the sun more often. The only draw-back is that the exploration part is even weaker; in particular, on the surface, I would have expected  hidden demon lairs, abandoned bunkers or something like this. What you get instead is a super-linear path you have to follow, even though you'll find enough filters and equipment in the game to survive for half an hour on the surface or so.

Graphics wise, the game is really great except for the characters. Faces are detailed enough, but the skin rendering is not that great and the animations sure need some improvement. On the other hand, some locations do look photo-realistic and scenes with crowds are well done, as they typically consist of more than 10 people. The level design can't always keep up with the graphics though. The biggest gripe I had with this game is the how the stations were depicted, they are extremely small and the layout is just plain awful.

Anyway, if you enjoyed Metro 2033, you'll like Metro: Last Light. Story-wise, it's pretty solid up to and including the end. One of the better games 2013.

Papers, please

This is surely among the best games I played in 2013, if not the best game. Graphics wise, it looses against triple-A titles like Crysis 3 (though on the art direction side, not much), but the story is much more engaging and interesting. The comparison with Crysis 3 is not that stupid as you might think, as both games took me roughly the same time to finish. Interestingly, Papers, please has better character development (remember Jorji?) as well as a more engaging story. It's an interesting game and definitely worth a try if you haven't played it already. As a bonus, it comes with the best save-game system I ever saw. Mass Effect 4, please follow suit!

Skyrim DLCs (Dawnguard & Dragonborn)

Skyrim is one of the best RPGs I ever played, together with Fallout 3 (and New Vegas) and Baldur's Gate 2. Unfortunately, both DLCs fall a bit short of the original game. Dawnguard could have been great if the war between vampires and werewolves would have been included properly. This hasn't been done, so if you are a Werewolf, you can't tell the (human) Dawnguard that you're especially well suited for fighting vampires, and worse, if you transform into a Werewolf, they will start attacking you. Same applies to your companion (!), unless your companion is a Werewolf. This just doesn't make any sense and was really something I missed from the Dawnguard DLC.

Dragonborn was even worse in my opinion. While it does introduce a new area to the game (a separate island), this new area is rather small for Skyrim and the quest line is not that interesting. Riding dragons is fun of course, but towards the end, the really ugly graphics start to hurt the game a bit. The graphics engine behind Skyrim was made for large landscapes, forests and clouds, but at the end of the Dragonborn DLC, you fight over endless oceans and in abstract fantasy worlds, and these just look terrible.

If you haven't played Skyrim, sure, get the legendary edition and have fun, but you're not going to miss anything if you don't play the DLCs.

Tomb Raider

This game is again a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has very nice graphics, an excellent setting and a good atmosphere; on the other hand, it fails in some parts of the plot and the character development. Similar to Far Cry 3, the problem here is how Lara evolves during the game. At first, she is the scared little teenager set out alone on an island, but towards the end, she has killed more people than the plague, and some of them in extremely brutal ways (seriously, way more brutal than necessary, and it doesn't help the game at all. Stop doing this, people!)

When making such a game, you have to decide as a game developer what you want and stick with it, but having a girl kill people by setting them on fire or hitting them with an ice-pickaxe into the neck just doesn't work when she apologized to a deer for killing it before. Even worse, the game could have worked just as well by fighting non-human enemies only and more exploration.

The TressFX hair was also an interesting addition for the game, as it does help indeed with the hair. Unfortunately, it only got one patch to solve the collision geometry. I wish they would have updated to TressFX 2.0, as the original hair does still have lots of small problems which break the illusion.