I called 2012 “The Year we pretended to choose things“. And last year was the year of the indies. I guess this is the year of… “Meh”? My usual criteria for putting games on my end-of-year list is that the game has some sort of lasting message, theme, mechanic, or idea. This lets me filter out disposable big-budget titles that are serviceable as entertainment but aren’t really worth analyzing or talking about once you’re done with them. This is supposed to be a list that lets us get a last few words on whatever titles got us talking.
The thing is, I’m just not feeling it this year. Up until recently I thought it was just me. I thought maybe I just wasn’t in a gaming mood? Maybe I’m getting old and the magic is gone?
But no. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Chris and I both decided to call this year “meh” before we’d even talked about it. It’s not that games were terrible this year. It’s that there wasn’t anything really remarkable. (Although, for a contrary point of view, check out SuperBunnyHop’s year-end video, which is pretty good. )
With an intro like that, I guess I need to head off a few objections along the lines of, “But Shamus! How could you not like X? It was great!” So here is a list of X, where X is a popular game that didn’t make my “best of 2014” list:
WATCH_DOGS was thematically disjointed, morally reprehensible, relentlessly derivative, visually boring, plodding, patronizing, and mechanically dull. All this, and it also managed to be both shallow and pretentious. It’s a stupid mess with no identity. It’s a game designed by a marketing committee of artless empty suits.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was… cold? Empty? I don’t know. Aside from the glitches, I can’t point to any one thing the game did wrong. But I never felt invested in the world or the characters. Has the magic left BioWare, or am I just tired of their shtick? I don’t know. My play-through stalled about eight hours in, and I don’t even care. I don’t care about my character, or the world. I guess the companion characters are pretty fun, but they’re not enough to carry the game for me and their input is too rare. This feels like an MMO: I spent hours wandering around in the wilderness, mindlessly killing stuff by myselfYes, my companions help, but they’re like your pet in World of Warcraft. They don’t have anything to say. to complete a quest for some barely-characterized peasant.
I’m sure lots of people enjoyed Inquisition, but I don’t think it had the same impact as earlier BioWare titles. In the past we had Garrus memes, Mako jokes, or endless HK47 quotes. Nobody is discussing the ending. Nothing resonated with the culture as a whole. I realize it’s a bit unfair to condemn a game for not being culturally resonant. But I’m not really condemning it. I’m just saying this game hasn’t left as big an impact as its predecessors.
Alien Isolation was more annoying than scary. The one thing I liked about the game was the way they had lovingly re-created the original cast and ship, even going so far as to get the original actors to reprise their roles. But that entire section was locked away in a pre-order bonus and not part of the main game. So screw SegaThis isn’t sour grapes on my part. I have the bonus content. I just hate that some people don’t.. That was a dick move and I’m not going to shower them with honorsFor the purposes of this slight, we’re pretending that making my list is an honor that publishers care about. for that sort of behavior. This is a horrible trend that’s bad for consumers and I’m not going to encourage it. Jerks.
The Wolf Among Us is really good. Or at least, that’s what people keep telling me. I own it, but I haven’t played it yet. The Telltale episode model actually runs against my gaming habits. I don’t want to play the game as each episode comes out, because I hate waiting weeks or months for cliffhanger endings to be resolved. The long breaks between chapters just lets my head fill up with other games. By the time the next episode arrives I’ll have lost my connection to the world and forgotten half the characters. I’d prefer to binge on a game when I can. But then once all the episodes are out it feels like everyone else is done with the game and the conversation is over. So there’s never a good time to play.
The Walking Dead, Season 2 has all the same problems as Wolf Among Us: Everyone says its good but it never feels like a good time to play.
Grand Theft Auto V couldn’t be bothered to come out on the PC in 2014. Whatever. I probably would have waited for it to go on sale anyway.
Honorable Mention: Assassins Creed: Unity. Yeah, it wasn’t actually successful enough to make the list of losers. Maybe if they patch out all the bugs it will be good enough to make my list of “Games of 2014 that are maybe okay but I didn’t care about anyway”.
|Dragon Age: Inquisition. My goodness. What happened to the artists that made Jade Empire?|
So that’s the list of games that didn’t make the cut. Although, aside from WATCH_DOGS there’s nothing there that I really hated. Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alien Isolation are basically fine games that pretty much do what it says on the tin. They’re not bad. They’re just not games that I want to play, and I don’t have anything interesting to say about them.
But maybe calling this the year of “meh” is unfair. Like Chris pointed out in his year-end Errant Signal, there were an awful lot of interesting games. It’s possible that we’re not lacking quality, but consensus. I didn’t play Valiant Hearts, Child of Light, Transistor, or This War of Mine. I own all of those. I just haven’t found time to play them yet. There are good games out there. It’s just that there are too many too play and too few of them rose far enough above the crowd to become universally acclaimed.
Next time we’ll talk about my favorites. The list this year is both padded and short.
 Yes, my companions help, but they’re like your pet in World of Warcraft. They don’t have anything to say.
 This isn’t sour grapes on my part. I have the bonus content. I just hate that some people don’t.
 For the purposes of this slight, we’re pretending that making my list is an honor that publishers care about.
Black Desert Online
This Korean title would be the greatest MMO ever made if not for the horrendous monetization system. And the embarrassing translation. And the terrible progression. And the developer's general apathy towards its western audience.
The Gameplay is the Story
Some advice to game developers on how to stop ruining good stories with bad cutscenes.
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
Philosophy of Moderation
The comments on most sites are a sewer of hate, because we're moderating with the wrong goals in mind.
Zenimax vs. Facebook
This series explores the troubled history of VR and the strange lawsuit between Zenimax publishing and Facebook.