Tag Archives: Game of the Year

The Year in Review: #1 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

The Year in Review: #1 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

To talk about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, I have to first talk about Grand Theft Auto V, which also was number four in 2013’s Year in Review. The Rockstar opus is, perhaps, a game that singularly qualifies what it means to have an open world. It feels unbelievably full, like it’s about to burst at the seams with just stuff.

It is also something they have done before and continued to iterate and improve upon since the first Grand Theft Auto in 1997. More than that, it’s something everyone else has been doing for quite some time as well. The urban fervor is ripe with possibilities in an open world. Steal cars, fire guns, and blow stuff up. The recipe is something we know well à la Mafia II, Watch Dogs, and Saints Row.

Bits and pieces change here and there, but the overall flavor remains the same. Even Red Dead Redemption, one of my favorite games and one set in a rather original time and place, still felt overly familiar. (Not least of all because it was another Rockstar joint, but we can get to that another time.) And then games that remix large portions of the framework like Infamous creates an open world with much to be desired.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Here is where we find Shadow of Mordor. It stands tall among others who attempt to imbue a digital landscape with some semblance of life by doing things drastically differently. Leaving the clichés of inner city freedom behind, we are in a wholly fantastical place of orcs, elves, and possessive yet empowering ghosts. The closest we had before this was the Assassin’s Creed series (which, admittedly, is structurally similar to a fault), but those were still tied to a reality of physical consequences and historical architecture.

A city is easy to fill, albeit if only in concept and not execution. Civilians freely wander the sidewalks, drive their cars, and go about their day. Cats, dogs, and birds can turn a park from an empty lot to a visual treat as you plow through on your blood-soaked rampage. Gin up some construction and place some choice incidents and you have a town that feels lived in.

A different time and place for Shadow of Mordor does not guarantee a better open world, as proven by The Saboteur (decent, but not great). In fact, filling up a fantasy world does not give you the opportunity to stuff the turkey with all the usual suspects. And if not a vibrant social or wildlife infestation, interesting gameplay has to make the sandbox compelling.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

This is why Shadow of Mordor is so interesting and so well worth playing. It makes its world of dark fantasy feel alive and worth exploring because its gameplay and mechanics make it feel alive and worth exploring. Its Nemesis system creates an entire living, breathing network of militant dynamics and social hierarchies. It injects your otherwise run of the mill encounters with fodder enemies something personal and unique.

Other games create a facade of a beating heart. Those people you run over with your car and buildings that you blow up with your bombs mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. You outrun the cops and you marvel at the indestructible construction of fictional cities. Most games are, if nothing else, but a facade for storytelling.

But Shadow of Mordor takes one more layer away from that mask by creating these customized and deserving foes. For each fellow that strikes you down, you create someone with a name, but it feels like he was there all along. As he rises through the ranks with each battle you fight, it becomes something perverse, drawing inklings of pride for your repeat offender.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

It is something that, programmatically, is nothing overtly memorable. Data like names and fight results are stored and analyzed by the terabyte every second in the fighting game community. But the presentation makes it so special. They hate you. They kill you. They remember you. It feels very much like you are walking a deadly walk into a world that existed long before you ever came around with your sword and dagger (which is also really just a sword, the second best part of the game).

By breaking the mold of what makes an open world feel like an actual locale of people and places and things, Shadow of Mordor creates something special. It’s unique for the genre and it is felt as unique by you and me as the players. The world doesn’t just feel alive but it feels like it is something that exists just for you. And it’s why Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is my number one game of the year.

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The Year in Review: #2 Far Cry 4

The Year in Review: #2 Far Cry 4

You like Far Cry 4. I know you do. You know you do. Even if its ostensible aim (open world shooter) isn’t your cup of tea, there’s something in there for you to do. It is, impressively, an absurdly wide ranging game. Granted, the majority of the time, you’ll be shooting people, but the ways in which you can best accomplish that are manifold through the most delectably insane methods.

That’s kind of the key word here: “best.” It can, in this case, mean any number of things. As opposed to pure stealth games where getting spotted is either some arbitrary demerit down to Fox from Fox Hound or an overwhelming physical accosting by surly guards, being seen in Far Cry 4 is very often a choice. It is a choice to embrace the world as it comes.

If you so choose, you can sneak around with a bow the entire time, ducking in and out of bushes to disable alarms and picking off patrols one by one until you face the last foe face to face. Out in the open, he will receive his sweet release and you will deliver it by way of steel and lead. Or, you can plant C4 on a car, drive it into a camp, and blow it up. Or you can storm in guns blazing, hopped up on so many syringes you can hardly see straight. Better yet, do it on an elephant.

Far Cry 4

But the important thing, oddly enough, isn’t just that you have choices. That’s simple enough; simple binary choices plagued video games not five years ago and still we find their grubby little hands on our stories and mechanics every so often. What you have here is a very comprehensive freedom to accomplish a finite set of goals in a nearly limitless way.

That interminable bucket of possibilities is meaningful. In the most literal sense, you can already do that in any game. Wait some random amount of time before stepping into a mission marker and most likely you’ve done it differently than anyone else before you. Far Cry 4 does this instead by offering an immersive range for which you to rampage across and explore to your trigger’s desire.

Kyrat, the setting for the game, is what makes it so worthwhile. It is full of wildlife that at any given point could drastically improve or utterly destroy whatever well laid plans you had. Or it can just add little joyous moments of chaos to your day, seeing a bear and a tiger fight as you soar over in your wingsuit. Or you can let loose caged and feral animals on your unsuspecting foes.

Far Cry 4

So much of what the world accomplishes can be summed up in the notion of a living world. Open world games attempt to make this happen to varying degrees of success—from Infamous‘ starkly empty and noiseless streets to Grand Theft Auto V‘s bustling urban life—and Far Cry 4 does it by imbuing a sense of purpose to its inhabitants. There’s a lot of stuff happening in the mountains of Kyrat, but all of it is there with a reason.

Townsfolk tell you stories and comment on your impact on the area. Animals hassle you but also let you craft gear and provide you with interesting fashion-oriented missions. Guards patrol and get in very real firefights with rebels. And when you take it all in stride, variety cropping up at every turn as you drive from place to place, it gives the world a very appreciable veracity.

There are the parts of Far Cry 4 that are old being presented as new again. Some of it has been refined and other bits are just new signage for old quirks. You can count of it handling the same, which is to say tautly and quickly. The component with which you directly interact is still superb, but the world in which that mechanical nugget is set in has been built up to a remarkable degree. It is a land full of life, both wild and otherwise, and it spans a beautiful, vibrant bucolic expanse, offering shenanigans, strife, and explosions. And it’s what makes Far Cry 4 my number two game of the year.

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The Year in Review: #3 Shovel Knight

The Year in Review: #3 Shovel Knight

This is what happens when you give a knight a shovel. You end up, curiously enough, with one hell of a game. The $311,502 from Kickstarter sure didn’t hurt, but most of the credit goes to Yacht Club Games for taking the old skeletons from the games of yesteryear and shaking loose all the good bits for you to play.

It was easy to overlook Shovel Knight. Retro as an aesthetic has been raging on for the past several years now and is unlikely to slow down until the end of forever. Retro as gameplay has coincided with that pixelated wave of nostalgia, but it so rarely gets executed with the care necessary to make it worthwhile.

And by that, I mean the game is being made tolerable. It’s the common fault of looking back on the past to gloss over the monstrously proportioned gaps in usability and intuitiveness and head straight to fawning over what used to be. It’s not just getting the pinpoint accuracy of jumping simultaneously over and between moving obstacles or figuring out the stoic patterns of oversized bosses that made those old platformers so identifiable but the way all those little avenues of ingenuity come together.

Shovel Knight

That aggregation of mechanical design facets included all the old faults as well, things that have been rectified and sorted out as the years go on and developers build upon older generations of experience and knowledge. Shovel Knight managed to infuse modern sensibilities into the framework of something distinctly older.

Its mechanics are undoubtedly ripped from the handbook of 8-bit sidescrollers: moving platforms, a DuckTales-esque pogo shovel, head-bopping enemies, etc. But then you get platforming puzzles that are definitely of a newer ilk, forcing you to alternate between traversal and combat all in a single moving breath or limited sight paths that require sustained spatial awareness.

There’s a fidelity to the movement that comes across as singularly of an analog control but the gradient upon which you move is of a digital era. It mashes up well against the amalgam of remixed gameplay, further deepening its seat on a throne of beautifully blended ideals. There’s the raw, almost reckless sensation of old school level and enemy design merging seamlessly with a current day concern of innate progression and smoothing iterations.

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight takes the pillars that so many other games take for granted and strips them bare, building instead with them rather than haphazardly on top of them. It steeps in the foundational essence of well-worn retro platformers and lathers up into a new, fresh-faced piece of the old and the modern. It manages to extract the utility from nostalgia instead of just a tiny palette of colors and shapes up into Shovel Knight, my number three game of the year.

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The Year in Review: #1 Gone Home

The Year in Review: #1 Gone Home

Gone Home is a beautiful game for many amazing, complex reasons. For all the things it does right, it needs to be praised for the things it doesn’t do. Its blend of an unrelenting drive, pushing you through walls and barriers like a bulldozer, and measured, deliberate restraint stands head and shoulders above its forest of giant sequoias, each towering figure already a testament to Gone Home‘s excellence.

First and foremost, it tells a story. If the original design doc started out with nothing more than “craft a story and give the player no choice to become invested in it,” then Steve Gaynor and the rest of his Portland-based fellows at The Fullbright Company succeeded. More than that, they succeeded where so many others have failed. Even games that weave great tales of betrayal, thievery, and deception often can be foiled by the simple act of not playing.

Gone Home doesn’t give you that choice. Or at least it didn’t give me that choice. I must have had bacon in my pocket because this tender, raw, violent, sweet dog wouldn’t let go once it sank its teeth in me. As soon as you step into that broken flickering porch light, it begins. A cup, a Christmas duck, a bag, and a note. Such a simple chemical equation for a bright, vivid reaction.

Gone Home

It’s a tempered catalyst. So much of what makes Gone Home is what doesn’t stick in your face and what it doesn’t allow you to do. Many games can be lumped into a zeitgeist; this one tells ancillary stories through audio logs, this one puts you behind cover with a gun, and this one throws XP at you like it’s confetti. But Gone Home doesn’t do that. It is wholly comfortable in being what it is and nothing else.

This is a game that doesn’t let you run. You can’t jump. At no point is there anything leading you into or throwing you at combat. All you do is walk and look at things. And yet it inspires moments of genuine horror. It gives you chills from the little sparks of “what if” it shoots into your mind. It gins up action through emotion, through will and desire, through an impossibly heartfelt love for someone that doesn’t even exist.

The game’s restraint enables you to more readily accept its spell, its charm. Rather than spread you thin like too little jam on too much toast, you seep slowly and steadily deeper and deeper into what it does give you. Like a gaseous form, humans will take the volume it’s given. Gone Home gives a taut little house of two hopeful heroines for you to fill with your heart, choosing to make your emotional journey a potent one instead of a broad one.

Gone Home

It focuses on feeling real rather than expansive like a Greek epic. What 90s family didn’t have a bunch of store-bought VHS tapes haphazardly labeled for their pirated content? What child didn’t have glow in the dark stars stuck to her ceiling? And who wouldn’t turn on the lights and turn them off again just to see them light up?

And who wouldn’t fall deeply, madly for Lonnie. Who wouldn’t be pleading—praying—no no no no no as they ran up to the attic. Few games make me emotional just at the mention of their name, but Gone Home does it. It goes deep and rattles the rusted cage of feelings, hardened after years of heartbreak and forlorn passing, and softens it with a rebel. It brushes off the cobwebs with a sister, a father treading water, a mother hearing a siren song, and a house hiding more than you’d ever know. It’s what makes Gone Home my absolutely unrivaled game of the year.

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The Year in Review: #2 Tomb Raider

The Year in Review: #2 Tomb Raider

I don’t know what to tell you. I liked Tomb Raider. A lot. But that’s the majesty of having a personal top ten list for game of the year; this isn’t a defense or accusation or anything of the sort. This is me sharing my experience with you, and that’s it.

Tomb Raider is an objectively good game, but it also contains its fair share of problems. For example, it builds up a vulnerable yet powerful hero in Lara, but also one that has yet to tap into the character we’re used to seeing fighting tigers and cartwheeling over crumbling structures. When she kills a person for the first time, it’s tense and meaningful in a way we didn’t think we would ever get from a Tomb Raider game.

And then she goes on to immediately kill a dozen more before racking up nearly a thousand corpses by the end of the game. It’s immensely squandered potential. We could have had an action-adventure game that held all of its action and adventure within our hearts and heads instead of shooting the shit out of dudes and animals.

Tomb Raider

However, judging a game for what it’s not is never a good idea, though ignoring it as part of the final product is similarly foolhardy when it jukes you like this. But the Tomb Raider we’ve gotten is still something special.

What sticks out the most to me is the simple act of actually playing the game. It feels just superb in so many ways. Lara handles in a way that hews closer to her days in short shorts and a crop top than the bumbling steps of Nathan Drake, but in the nuances of her animations, she still comes across as a green adventure, just one with huge potential. She dodges quickly and effectively but inelegantly; she strikes quick and reliably but never hard; she shoots fast and accurately but tentatively.

So while the narrative impetus to see Lara grow into someone more capable is tossed out the window, the character-player interactions mostly see them through to the end. This also includes, however, Lara’s use of the bow. This might be why I liked Tomb Raider so much more than most people (though everyone still does seem to like it a lot). I limited myself to use only the bow.

Tomb Raider

It felt personal that way, and the entire game hinges on connecting to the personal strife of Lara on this island. The bow shoots much like any other firearm: hold the left trigger to aim, press the right trigger to fire. But its actual controls are inherently imbued with agency. You have to hold the right trigger to draw the arrow back and release it to fire. That alone sets it apart from a gun’s “press to kill” modus operadi.

This means that every arrow you let fly is one you send out with conviction. You set the arrow, drew the string, and released. It forces you to consider the implications of your actions. It even enables the sensation of regret in the midst of killing, allowing you to re-quiver your arrow.

But to do that, you have to release your left trigger before your right one, disengaging from the same side you began it with. The reversal itself is worth consideration. Its movements are opposite those of the kill, reflecting the desires to see an arrow penetrate some thug’s head and the desires to remain hidden and let a life go untouched.

Tomb Raider

Unfortunately, you only reach this point of contemplation once you’ve reached the end, still relying on the bow, recovering arrows and cursing its speed when all you need is rapid fire power. This personal choice in effort and challenge colored my time with Tomb Raider.

Many of you will otherwise find competency where I found excellence. Its objective qualities are straightforward: amazing art design, Camilla Luddington’s stellar voice acting, and so on. But for the ruminations of life, death, stoicism, and conviction caused by the drawing of a bow, Tomb Raider is my number two game of the year.

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The Year in Review: #5 BioShock Infinite

The Year in Review: #5 BioShock Infinite

There are just some absolutely classic spoilers in the world of entertainment. Even those born fresh, bearing mind availed of watching Star Wars, know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. They know what Rosebud really is and they know you probably shouldn’t eat Soylent Green. Hell, there’s even a shirt for it.

BioShock Infinite, however, is a rarity; it can’t be spoiled. I mean, sure, you can sum up what happens at the end, put into words the rational absurdity that happens, but it doesn’t take anything away from it. Having stumbled across bits and pieces of the immense conclusion to the game, my jaw was still on the floor by the time the credits rolled.

Knowing that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time and that Tyler Durden isn’t real robs you of half of the entire experience of watching both of those movies. Instead of witnessing the events unfold with virgin eyes, you skip right to the second stage of watching for the little touches that show you the truth: the flickering appearances, the people that talk to him, etc. You miss the “OH WHOA” moment because you already know.

BioShock Infinite

But the ending of BioShock Infinite has to be seen, has to be played. The culmination of your physical efforts land you square in a heated battle on the side of a giant mechanical monstrosity you thought you were going to have to fight. And then you almost do. And then something breaks.

And I don’t mean the little harmonica. I mean the world. I mean your brain. Even if someone told you that you ended up back in Rapture, the snap to the pane of a watery window is incredible. It’s a shock to the system, and as you step away, you realize you’ve been here. This room, in particular, was ingrained in your mind the moment you set foot in it in BioShock.

The lighthouses, though. Here’s the spoiler for that: “you see an infinite sea of infinite lighthouses under a sky of infinite stars.” Not quite the same, right? You need to see and walk through the piers of your own volition. You need to be able to gawk dumbfounded at your own pace. You need to make those choices because you need to slowly realize that they represent the fact that you aren’t making any choices at all.

BioShock Infinite

When you see more Bookers and Elizabeths walking around, doing the exact same thing, you understand that your actions, even under the epiphany of endless possibilities and universes, are always accounted for. The concepts of fate and free will are casually words in your head, but BioShock Infinite visualizes it for you in such a way that it makes the crushing sense of helplessness wholly inescapable.

That’s what makes BioShock Infinite so incredible. It envelops the past six years of ruminations on Rapture and stolen paradise. It folds in the stunning art direction and sound design. It stands upon the shoulders of unmatched voice acting and characterization. It is BioShock Infinite, my number five game of the year.

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The Year in Review: GOTY 7 Through 10

The Year in Review: GOTY 7 Through 10

Okay, yeah, this is starting off with the bottom four games, number seven through ten. Why? Because I said so. Also because I didn’t plan ahead and now there are ten games to get through and only seven posting days left. Hashtag oops.

But I also think this aligns with a natural division of the list. These four games speak to me in mostly one impeccable, sizable way, but they do so in a way that trumps the breadth achieved by most others from this year. There’s something to be said for setting a goal and achieving it, and that is “hey look, you’re on this one guy’s end-of-the-year list.”

Super Mario 3D World

10. Super Mario 3D World

The Year of Luigi “ends” with a Mario game coming out on top. Yeah, Luigi is in there, but come on. This is a Mario game, and what a Mario game it is. It’s common knowledge/a commonly held conspiracy theory that there are several teams within Nintendo design games. Some act as farm leagues, building up chops on smaller titles with fundamentals while the A-team blows minds.

This is the product of the A-team, the same project group that ginned up the absolutely stellar (ha!) Super Mario Galaxy. In between, we were treated to several games that retread old ground and only marginally stepped off the path, though excellent as they were. Super Mario 3D World looks like more of the same, but it’s all about the details.

Mario has been around for so long, you distinguish new games in the franchise solely on nuance because the basics are always there; he slides when he stops, his jumps have a peculiar Bézier-shaped acceleration curve, and so on. In Super Mario 3D World, there is a host of nigh imperceptible touches that make it just a happy, scary, amazing game. Being a cat shouldn’t be so fun, and neither should be screwing over your friends, but this game does it.

Resogun

9. Resogun

Resogun doesn’t try to do a whole lot. It’s kind of like when you buy the collector’s set of The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix; you know what you’re getting (a bundle of things you like, love, and tolerate in varying amounts and intensities), but the packaging is what sells you.

And Resogun is nothing more than an amalgam of old school video game design put together with modern sensibilities on the outside. It’s Defender with a bullet hell slant and kind of makes your head spin in a very Tempest way. And it’s just fantastic.

Resogun works because it throws everything at you and you have to figure out how to deal with it. You figure out how to rescue humans, what order to pick them up, whether to throw them or fly them into the goal, boost now or boost later, save or expend your Fuck Everything laser, and so much more, all of which is roughly calculated and thrown in the wind within the span of a single millisecond. And it makes the best argument for a speaker on your controller ever.

Guacamelee!

8. Guacamelee!

Guacamelee! just gets me. Its humor could sometimes miss more than it hits and the co-op was kind of a drag, but its combat and platforming is exactly what I needed when it came out. The fighting is intricate in a way that demands to be conquered. It’s just asking for it. It is Spain, and I am Napoleon.

The move list starts out simple enough, but soon you unlock additional attacks that broaden your range of abilities and literal range of your damage potential. And then enemies start to color-coordinate themselves against certain moves, forcing you to think on your feet about who needs to be taken out first (some of those fuckers will really ruin your day if you let them), who just needs to be thrown into a corner, and who is just impossible to attack at the moment.

And then you throw in the fact that you have to deal with two realities of enemies and platforms with the world-switching mechanic. You have to keep tabs on what exists in what realm and what doesn’t, what can hurt you where. Guacamelee! is such an impressively cerebral game that it did and continues to take me by surprise.

The Stanley Parable

7. The Stanley Parable

I don’t think I’ll ever play The Stanley Parable again. I won’t have to. It gave me everything it had to give the first time because I played through it over two dozen times in one sitting. Or at least I think I did. Did I? Wait, who’s talking? WHO’S THERE?!

Honestly, I would only count it all as one playthrough. But I was thorough as hell because that’s what happens when you stumble across a diamond in the rough. You pick it up, dust it off, and hold it. You press it up to your eye and spin it around, looking through it and at all angles. It’s a curiosity, lingering in the desert, uncaring if you find it or not or whether you even give a damn once you do.

The Stanley Parable had such a specific vision in mind and it achieved it. From soup to nuts, it grabbed me by the back of my head and shoved my face into its weird, hairy, immaculately sculpted chest of non sequiturs, simultaneously hilarious and painful meta commentary, and ability to make me fall in love with a break room. (Also, this is a bit of a cheat since this is largely unchanged from its original release, but whatever.)

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The Year in Review: GOTY Honorable Mentions

The Year in Review: GOTY Honorable Mentions

Picking the Game of the Year never seemed to make a lot of sense to me. Making lists for yourself is one thing, but throwing around a label like it’s a medal seems wildly irresponsible for something so volatile and intimate. If the interminable deliberation podcasts and livestreams weren’t proof enough, just go asking your friend what they think of your pick for the year. Getting a hundred people to agree on a single pizza topping would be easier.

Besides, the likelihood of you playing every game out in the course of a year is unlikely. Other journalists whose sole job is to review games (and not just talk about whatever floats their boat) don’t even manage that. For all the amazing things I’ve heard about Save the Date and Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing, I won’t get around to playing either of those by the end of the year, and they could just be waiting to be my favorite games of ever, let alone the year.

But here we are. Over the course the next two weeks, I’ll be delving into the year’s most significant trends, the biggest news stories, and my personal top ten games of the year. However, we’ll start with the honorable mentions because I like them a whole lot, god dammit, and you’re going to hear about them. It’ll also tickle your pickle as to what I have in store for the real list. Let’s go!

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero

There are a few things standing in the way of Kentucky Route Zero being on the real list: 1) only two acts of the planned five have been released, 2) I haven’t gone back to play since its January release and I’m not sure if I remember it being better than it actually was, and 3) I never played Act II. But considering all that and knowing that I still wanted it to be on the list should tell you something: it’s unbelievable.

If there was ever a game to pin the words “stylish”, “slick”, and “cool” to, it would be Kentucky Route Zero. It’s a strange little adventure game from Cardboard Computer that looks spectacular and is altogether alluring, disturbing, funny, sad, and twisted. And the way you naturally shape the story through conversation is brilliant. It made talking less of a data-mining process and more of a reward.

Year Walk

Year Walk

I jumped. Sitting on a bench as the sunset, headphones on and staring at my iPad, I flinched and damn near yelped aloud, scaring the couple walking by to the pier. And I continued to sit there and play. Filling time until my friend got off work to meet me turned into looking over my shoulder, not sure if the noises were coming from behind the trees or from Year Walk. Or maybe from me.

Year Walk is another adventure game, though much more in the vein of The Room-style puzzles than anything you’d find in a Monkey Island game. It sets itself in the fascinating and terrifying Swedish tradition of Årsgång (translated literally into “year walk“). You isolate yourself in a room with no drink or water for a whole day, and at midnight, you set out into the forest and walk.

And if you’re unfamiliar with Swedish folklore, it’s scary. It’s hella scary. There are goat-men and tree spirits and blood dolls and, well, everything you didn’t know would soon come to make up the majority of your nightmares. It makes Year Walk intense and oh so atmospheric, but its puzzles, sound design, and amazing art also set it apart. Come for the game, stay for the Swedish horror.

Gunpoint

Gunpoint

The worst part about Gunpoint is its name. And then the next worst thing is…well, that actually falls on the good side of the line. Gunpoint is a thoroughly great game from journalist-turned-game-designer Tom Francis. It’s a 2D action puzzle game that features a man, some jokes, and a fantastic pair of pants.

You infiltrate buildings and accomplish covert ops by rewiring doors, alarms, lights, and whatever else with a device called a Crosslink. It turns any skyscraper or room or anything into your personal playground. You can experiment with connecting lights to doors and alarms to elevators, pushing and pulling the wills of each guard as easily as if you were controlling them directly.

But it’s this indirect control that makes Gunpoint compelling. Seeing how literal systems hook together to affect implicit systems is amazingly fun, and timing that to you darting between narrow openings and jumping into windows to make larger openings, it’s a game you could poke around with for years to come.

Saints Row IV

Saints Row IV

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “But Alex, you gave Saints Row IV a 9 out of 10! How can it not be on your GOTY list?!” Well first off, that’s not my name. And second, it’s, uh, it’s hard to explain. There is objective quality and there is subjective quality, right? I can objectively say that one ballet dancer is better than another but that doesn’t mean I like watching ballet.

Saints Row IV is a bit like that, but minus the dancing. Or, actually, plus the dancing and multiplied by dubstep. There is so much to like about Saints Row IV from the writing to the voice acting to the unparalleled winks and nods to movies, music, other games, and pop culture in general. It’s amazing how much high quality frivolity is stuffed into the one game, and it’s equally astounding how they made it all fun to play.

You can jump super high and run super fast and kill super hard. You end up playing a text adventure and going through a side-scrolling brawler and…and…and everything else. It’s so systematic in its approach that the personality that I loved from Saints Row: The Third had diminished so greatly. Saints Row IV is still a hell of a game and funny and charming as hell, but it’s missing that magic that made me fall in love with 2011’s Stilwater shenanigans.

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