Just like in the last years, here’s my personal review of games I played this year. This may include “duplicates” in case a game kept me interested for more than a year, and older games as well. For single-player games, as usual, I only list them here if I finished the main story line at least once.
After it turned out to be a major disappointment last year, EA/DICE did a lot to improve the situation and turn the ship around. Thanks to the DLC, a healthy dose of bug-fixing and a stable player base, I really enjoyed playing Battlefield 4 this year. Additionally, the Mantle patch did improve the performance on my machine a bit, so it’s been a great year — next time, I hope they’ll take extra time to make sure everyone gets the great game from day one, and not roughly one year later.
Bioshock: Infinite is hard to judge. On the one hand, it is beautifully executed, comes with an intriguing story and excellent characters; on the other hand, it is at places unnecessary brutal, too linear and has plot holes which make me cringe. My gut feeling is that it struggles a bit between telling a great story and being a first-person shooter, and sometimes, it compromises and provides action where a different approach might have been better.
What I didn’t like about the story is the alternate reality business, which seems like a rather simple plot device which can be used to explain basically everything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice twist and it’s a creative idea, but it also allows the developers to do anything they want without having to explain it properly. I just dislike this “wildcard” options in story-telling which only trigger when required by the author.
It took me 6 hours to complete with a fair amount of exploration, and the fights are rather repetitive. While it were 6 entertaining hours, it’s still really short to tell a good story and allow for proper character development. I hope that a future Bioshock title will be longer, take the time to tell a deeper story and provide more game content.
Graphics wise, Columbia is just great. Except for the occasional super-low-resolution light-map, both art direction and the rendering come perfectly together. What’s also great about the art direction is that characters fit in seamlessly. It reminds me a bit of Dishonored, Brink or Rage, which also have this perfectly designed, somewhat crazy world.
Fun, crazy, entertaining, but not enough long-term motivation for me. I played through the complete story, occasionally in co-op, and it was fun, but that’s it for me. I guess if you go for co-op only it can be really crazy. Still, it’s a well executed game with some fun and insane moments. One downside is that DLCs are also crazy, everything in this game costs you some real-world money — even in the Game of the Year, Steam-Super-Sale Edition. Seriously, is this really needed?
Mind off, controller on, and some quick action for short breaks. It’s a fun game, no more, no less. It does not make any sense whatsoever, but it’s true to itself, and if you like action flicks from the 80ties, this is your game!
A worthy final chapter, and easily the best Deponia so far, including an absolutely fantastic soundtrack (make sure to listen to the hymn of the Organon!) If you liked Deponia 1 & 2, part three is all you liked, just more refined, with a worthy ending and everything you want. Great work guys!
I’ve been playing Dota 2 this year quite a bit again — it’s one of the two games I play in multiplayer. The game didn’t change much since last year, despite large balancing patches. My main gripe with Dota 2 remains the bad matchmaking; being thrown into a team which doesn’t speak English at all makes it hard to win. I wish there would be a report for incorrect language setting option, which should help a lot. Also, muting as punishment doesn’t make too much sense in a team game. Otherwise, it’s still a fantastic MOBA game, with an incredible gameplay depth and complexity.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Unfortunately, this game gets this years’ disappointment award (somehow seems to be related to Frostbite 3 …). This game, it could have been so great, but Bioware went way too far in the sandbox game direction. It’s quite obvious they were “inspired” a lot by Skyrim, but unfortunately, copying Skyrim is more complicated than just providing an open world.
Skyrim lives from the fact that there is one world, which is more or less logically tied together. If you go into someone’s house and steal an item, he’ll be angry at you; if you wear an unique armor, guards will mention it, but more importantly: The world seems to keep going even when you are not there. In Dragon Age, it’s absolutely clear that the world is only a set created for you, exclusively. The NPCs are all carefully placed, but there is no chance to encounter hunters or travelers while you’re moving through the world. The world is also extremely static. There is no day/night cycle, in some areas, large trees do not move in the wind, there is no changing weather — each “map” has a fixed light & weather setting, and that’s it. The final nail in the coffin is the travel system, which requires you to move from one region to another through the world map. There’s no such thing as walking over a hill and seeing Dragonkeep at the horizon. This makes the world feel like a big theme park, carefully crafted, but static and lifeless if you look just a tad behind the facade.
In the quest for an open world, Bioware also lost focus of their core competence: Writing a gripping story and great characters. In this game, your companions remain extras in a movie. During the mission, at best, you’ll get a text message that they approve with one or your decisions or not, but you’ll never have to discuss anything with them. In-between, you can talk to them, but that’s it, more or less. There’s also surprisingly little group dynamic within your party. Long gone are the days where Minsk would marry Jaheira and pledge to protect her. The romance is also not well integrated, as it does not progress with the story. This was done much better in Mass Effect, let alone in Baldur’s Gate II. Here’s an experiment you should try: After you finish Dragon Age, wait a month and try to write down what you remember of your companions.
On the story side, the most emotional and epic moment is roughly after 1/3rd of the game, when you move from (minor spoiler ahead!) your first to your second base. The intro is really bad and illogical to the point that I get the feeling it was either cut or quickly integrated into the game — no comparison to the fantastic intro in Mass Effect 2. Logic holes also continue throughout the game, including things like being asked by people to deliver letters or search for various mineral probes (in every map!) to obtain more power for the inquisition. This is a problem of scale, which many games fall into. On the one side, you are leading the inquisition, a powerful force, on the other hand, you’re solving everyday problems to obtain some dubious rewards (+60 influence, anyone?) I understand that this is not easy to solve, but tasks like resource gathering should be completely automatic; if you need crafting materials, the basic ones should be fetched without intervention, and only rare/unique ingredients, which are at hard to reach places, should be left to the inquisitor. I’m fine to do “special forces” jobs as it’s clear that the inquisitor and his party is a force to be reckoned with, but they should make sense in the larger picture. And picking herbs from the garden in my own fortress to solve a quest where someone in another part of my fortress needs herbs is definitely not making too much sense.
It’s also really sad you never move forces into battle. Why not have the inquisitor spearhead the fight against demons, fighting the biggest and most fearsome, while your troops rally behind you and clean up the rest? There’s a try for something like this roughly half-way through the game, but after the intro to the quest, it’s the typical run around, loot and open doors stuff as always.
And finally, there is no quest to move out with all of your companions, nor is there an “all in” quest. Bioware, a party size of four is already very small, and you repeated the mistake from Mass Effect which didn’t have a mission with all your people together as well (which was fixed by a DLC later on.)
Injustice: Gods among us
A classic fighting game, no more, no less — I played through the “storyline”. It has a few interesting ideas, in particular, the stage transitions make the fights a bit more dynamic. And finally it’s a fighting game with totally insane super-powers which fit into the scenario :)
Kerbal Space Program
This is not really a game, but a real space flight simulation. Don’t be fooled by the funny scenario, at it’s core, it’s a serious simulation game which requires a lot of tutorial reading to get any kind of success. Anyway, the first time I got Jebediah Kerbel into orbit and safely back must have been one of the most emotional moments in a game this year :)
This is a neat indie simulation game in the spirit of classic management games like Sim City, in this case, it’s Sim Prison. The actual game is not that remarkable, but what I found very interesting about this game is the intro mission and its moral implications. I would be really interested how many prisons wind up having the same … err … equipment as you are required to build in the tutorial.
I admit it: I liked the game. Sure, the gameplay is a bit repetitive, the execution moves are unnecessary brutal and the ending is not that amazing, but otherwise, it’s a solid game. Pacing is good, the story is interesting enough to keep you engaged, even though it doesn’t have amazing plot twists. It’s a bit short — took me roughly 5 hours — but those 5 hours were quite a bit better than the 6 hours it took me for Crysis 3.
Graphics wise, it’s absolutely fantastic, and for everyone who is remotely interested in computer graphics, it is a must-have. In particular, the facial animations and the skin rendering is phenomenal and definitely crosses the uncanny valley. This game really sets the bar when it comes to how cutscenes can look today. Wish there would be more games achieving this quality level. It’s also interesting how consistent the quality throughout the game is, you never have the feeling that some parts got “more love” than others. Everything is modeled in amazing detail, and together with the solid anti-aliasing, it feels more like walking and playing in a CGI film than most games.
Spec Ops: The line
It’s presented as an “anti-war” game, and it does pretty well for that — until you play something like “This war of mine”. Story-wise, it’s an interesting twist on the shooter genre, but the ending was not as good as I was expecting it. If you look at the rest, it’s a solid, but unremarkable shooter.
The Stanley Parable
An experimental game which tries to answer the question whether we actually have a choice or not. It’s perfectly executed, funny, and yet has more depth than you might believe. When you play it, make sure to play a longer session — for it’s gameplay to work, it’s really important that you remember all the steps you have taken so far. Playing one version every evening for instance is going to rob you of most of the experience.
This war of mine
This easily wins the “surprise of the year award” for me. It’s a gruesome, scary, and sad game, but it’s good that someone finally made it. Depicting war from the point of view of a civilian, it offers a completely different experience. My only complaint is that emotional stress is not depicted enough; if you don’t click the biography of your survivors, important clues about their feelings easily get missing.
A close second contender for disappointment of the year. After the great Bastion, Transistor failed in basically everything that made Bastion great. The soundtrack is much worse, the fights are worse, and the story is worse. It’s really sad, as the premise and the scenario is very interesting.
X-Com: Enemy within
This is basically X-Com, the definitive edition. The MECs add an interesting component to the game, both tactical as well as from a human perspective. Unfortunately, the round-base combat is still as weird as it used to be, with elite soldiers missing enemies the size of a truck at point-blank range — sometimes, even in mêlée. Seriously? If you haven’t played X-Com yet, Enemy Within is really worth a try, as long as you can live with their gameplay mechanics.
There’s quite a few games I bought but didn’t have time to play properly yet (including “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter”, “Dungeons of the Endess”, “Endless Legends”, “Sim City”, “Banished”) — 2014 has been an interesting year. I’ve also replayed Skyrim a bit, this time with a boatload of mods applied, which does improve the immersion a lot. Let’s see what 2015 brings. I have Witcher 3 on pre-order, which is hopefully going to be at least as good as the second part, and I still have hope for another surprise RPG in the spirit of Fallout 3 or Skyrim coming next year.