As mentioned in my previous note, it has been a really great year for movies. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Videogames. As I have become busier and busier, the time I generally have to play videogames has significantly decreased, but I have nonetheless paid attention and have played enough to give a comfortable Top 5. So here they are.
Spec-Ops: The Line
Max Payne 3
5. Black Mesa
Here’s a confession; I never finished Half Life. No, it’s not because I didn’t love the game and want to finish it. It was because the game decided to break up with me not long after I beat the tentacle monster.
So I couldn’t have been happier when Black Mesa came along and brought me back to my favorite dystopian science/engineering facility and into the body of one of my favorite characters in all of videogaming – Gordon Freeman. I had an amazing amount of fun with this game and I applaud the efforts of Joel Nielsen & the Black Mesa Modification Team for this game. In this Source Engine remake of the revolutionary 1998 videogame that alongside Goldeneye and Doom redefined the first-person shooter action genre forever, I finally got to finish it.
The Half Life series is and probably always will be my standard for shooters. If you feel the same way, Black Mesa is a game you don’t want to miss. It’s also a free download. What more do you want?
4. Mass Effect 3
This game didn’t come without controversy. The ending was broken and incomprehensibly problematic. Major props to BioWare for fixing at least some of it for free, but obviously there was also the problem of Javik and the Eden Prime mission being cut out of the game to be release-date DLC. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s optional. Javik is one of the most awesome party members you can have, and his story arc is essential to the development of Liara T’Soni, who is one of the best characters in the Mass Effect series and one of my favorite female characters in videogaming period. Then there was the Leviathan DLC which at first seemed like something extra but by the end of it, I felt like it was another missing ingredient to the full story and the ending thereof.
Mass Effect 3 is unquestionably the underwhelming third game in this epic trilogy, but in spite of all that, it’s still phenomenal. Taking the story that the first two games had so beautifully introduced and expanded upon and bringing a satisfying conclusion to them (ending the genophage for the Krogan and reclaiming Rannoch for Tali while reconciling the differences for the final time between the Quarians and the Geth)…those missions were not only some of the most fun I’ve ever had in videogaming, but the conclusion of those arcs brought a tear to my eye.
The gameplay was a lot more fast-paced and reflexive than Mass Effect 2 – more of an action shooter with mere RPG elements, but it was fun (as was the multiplayer for a while). BioWare remains the king of game writing and I maintain that the Mass Effect trilogy is the Lord of the Rings of videogaming. And I’m looking forward to playing Omega, which looks like an actual DLC rather than the missing slice that makes Pacman so grumpy.
Here’s another confession; I’ve only played the first two episodes. Playing the last three is my highest videogame priority when I get back into it because those first two episodes by themselves made for a better and more emotional character-based adventure survival story than almost anything else I’ve ever played in my life. In an era where zombies are as frequent as ammunition, The Walking Dead did something different, and did it extremely well – presenting a spin-off story from the comic around a new set of characters, one of which being you – Lee Everett. You make decisions under severe pressure and your decisions have consequences to how characters interact with you. This game has a memory as good as mine; if you think you know what’s coming, believe me…you don’t.
Simply put, this game is awesome. The interface is generally similar to that of Bioshock but with a much greater focus on stealth. The game is short, but such is justified by a relatively simple story whose ending is dependent on how you played the game…although it was quite clear that the game would punish you if you killed too many people. It is a game that rewards creativity, even more than Bioshock ever did. There are minor problems, like the fact that Corvo is a silent protagonist, which just exacerbates the chaos in the beginning, but from a gameplay perspective, it is outstanding. Having made the comparison, let me just say right now that Dishonored is not even close to being as good as Bioshock – as it doesn’t have the authentic atmosphere, but let none of that take away from how awesome this game is. It is one of the best games Bethesda Softworks has ever made, and that is no small compliment to the company that made Morrowind, Fallout 3, and Skyrim. It is a polished game that is worth the full price it comes with.
I’ve never played Far Cry or Far Cry 2. From what I know about them, they were both pretty good if a little too difficult, and they were upstaged by their Cry-Engine spiritual successor – Crysis, which is one of the most graphically beautiful games ever made. But then Ubisoft took over for Far Cry 3 and brought in exactly the kind of innovation the game needed. From a stealthy infiltration rudely and hilariously interrupted by a crocodile, to ability to jump off cliffs and fly, to a bear barging into a small town I was about to liberate and saving me a lot of sniper ammo, this game was full of awesome surprises.
Even better than the organic gameplay was the characterization. You are Jason Brody – one in a group of a bunch of spoiled rich brats celebrating your younger brother pilot’s license on a random island. Then a bunch of pirates come and capture you. The game starts you off as a coward and a weakling – a shadow of your army alpha male alpha male older brother. Then the bad guy (on the right) kills him and sends you running. You learn to become a warrior the hard way – through hardened experience in the jungle. The game paces itself; careful not to turn you into John Rambo too quickly, but carrying enough length to let you do whatever you want.
Are there some problems? Yeah; the vehicle sections are pretty much as bad as they’ve always been in the Far Cry series; some of the dream sequences are a little trippy; some parts in the plot don’t have that much significance in the overall story, which is basically just you trying to get your friends back. Otherwise, Far Cry 3 is the most beautifully expansive sandbox shooter I’ve played this year, one of the best action shooters I’ve played in my life, and with 100% confidence, my game of the year.