Dénouement 2015 Part 1: The Losers

By Shamus
on Dec 14, 2015
Filed under:
Video Games

So another year unwinds, inching us inexorably towards the darkness and the end of our mortal existence. As that absolute silence creeps ever closer we can reflect on the fact that this year gave us some nice videogames to distract us from that final mystery. Which is nice.

Last year I proclaimed the year of “Meh”. Afterward I second-guessed myself. Was it that bad? Maybe I was having a bad year? Maybe I was tired of the tried-and-true mechanics? Maybe I was just really, really sore about how the Thief reboot turned out?

But no. If anything, last year looks even more pathetic compared to the lineup of 2015. I couldn’t even remember my GOTY from 2014. Looking back, I see that it was Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. To show just how different 2014 and 2015 are: If Pre-Sequel had come out this year, it wouldn’t be in the running for GOTY and it might not even make my end-of-year list at all. I mean, I liked it at the time. But I don’t think I’ve given the game a second thought since writing that post.

Every year I look for a theme that ties it all together, but this year we kind of have two. In the indie space, this seemed to be the year of games about programming and development. We got TIS-100, Human Resource Machine, The Magic Circle, Infinifactory, and Else Heart.Break(). You could argue that the command-line and script-driven Hacknet also belongs on the list. Maybe Beginner’s Guide could be part of the list as well, since it’s a game about game development? Sort of?

It’s all very meta. We have games about designing games, games about coding games, games about coding in general, and games about logic and flow control. It’s experimental and educational in places. Speaking from a purely selfish standpoint, I wouldn’t mind if this was the start of a trend and indies gave us more games about coding and less games about retro-styled 2D side-scrolling platforming.

But in the AAA space I think we had a different theme going. For big-budget games, 2015 was the year of bugs, glitches, and bad ports. So I suppose it was also about coding, but in a different way. To put it in perspective: Bethesda released a game this year, and it didn’t even make the list of top 3 buggiest games. What are you doing, Games Industry? Look at you! Pull yourself together!

Doubtless next year will be better, bug-wise. We’re still in the shake-out period for the new console generation, and that’s always hard on game engines.

Before we talk about my favorites, let’s jeer at the losers…

Loser #5: Tomb Raider:

See, you`re calling it `rise` of the Tomb Raider, but I think the franchise is headed the other way.

See, you`re calling it `rise` of the Tomb Raider, but I think the franchise is headed the other way.

I hope Microsoft paid Crystal Dynamics a shitload of money for this exclusiveUnlikely. I’m sure the money went to Square Enix. So this exclusive probably benefited Square at the expense of Crystal Dynamics. because they released the game on the trailing platform to little fanfare, and they released it on the same day as the juggernaut Fallout 4. It’s like they didn’t want people to buy it.

I guess next year it’s okay if we just pretend this release didn’t happen and treat Tomb Raider like a 2016 title? Are you allowed to do that? How come nobody ever posts the rules for how end-of-year lists are supposed to work?

It will be interesting to see how much of a marketing push the game gets when it hits the other platforms. Square Enix hasn’t shown much respect for this “new” franchise, and their expectations don’t seem to make a lot of sense. They’re also going through some sort of restructuring, and new execs are famously indifferent to the monuments built by the previous exec. So I wonder if they’re going to want to drop a bunch of money on the second Tomb Raider launch.

Loser #4: Steam Controller

This is the gaming equivalent of those kitchen gadgets that look super-fun in the commercial, but then you never actually use the damn thing.

This is the gaming equivalent of those kitchen gadgets that look super-fun in the commercial, but then you never actually use the damn thing.

Okay, it’s not really fair to call this one a “loser”. I actually like this little guy. I’ve been shopping around, trying to find a game where having a thumbstick, tiny face buttons, and two touchpads would be advantageous. I can’t find fault with it, but it seems to be a solution to a problem I don’t have. It’s a way to play PC games on the couch.

I don’t regret buying it. As someone working to release a game on Steam, I needed to own one of these anyway just so I could understand how people might try to use it to play my game.

I’m glad the Steamtroller is there and I hope it finds a place in the market, because I’d love to see the chasm between console and PC gaming get a little smaller. But I guess I always hoped the console players would move a little in my direction instead of me moving in theirs. Which is probably why the chasm exists in the first place.

Loser #3: The Order: 1886

SHOOTY VIDEOGAME STARRING ANGRY PROTAGONIST MAN AS HE SHOOTS THE BAD THINGS IN A LOCATION.

SHOOTY VIDEOGAME STARRING ANGRY PROTAGONIST MAN AS HE SHOOTS THE BAD THINGS IN A LOCATION.

I’ll bet you forgot this game existed. I did. When designing a game, I think it’s paradoxically really dangerous to play things this safe.

Loser #2: Batman: Arkham Knight

Be the Batmobile. Love the Batmobile. Buy Batmobile-related merchandise and DLC. Share Batmobile with your friends on social media. Worship the Batmobile. Obey the Batmobile.

Be the Batmobile. Love the Batmobile. Buy Batmobile-related merchandise and DLC. Share Batmobile with your friends on social media. Worship the Batmobile. Obey the Batmobile.

The tragic thing here is that this game would have been a contender for my GOTY. I really love these brawling mechanics. Batman is fast and mobile and the game has given the bad guys lots of interesting powers for you to react to. On top of that, the team-fight mechanics are a complete blast and contain everything I’ve ever wanted from a superhero game. Team fights are fun and full of banter and I would love to play a game where you control a duo like thisPublisher: You want Batman to team up with somebody? You mean like another Batman?.

But Batman isn’t the star of this game. And the team fights are basically a footnote. Going by sheer playtime, the focus of this game is the stupid, obnoxious, overhyped, contrived, overcompensating car. The car dominates so much of the game that it crowds out what are supposedly the core mechanics. And I can’t stand the damn thing. It’s thematically wrong. The controls are uncomfortable. It’s called a “car”, but most of the car-based gameplay forces you to transform into tank mode. And I play Batman for the rhythm-based brawling, not to roll around Gotham in a Michael Bay inspired transforming tank-car, blowing the shit out of everything.

The car-tank fights are tedious, plodding, and excruciatingly repetitive. I hate this stupid car not because it’s not fun (but to be clear, it’s really not fun) but because it’s so mandatory. Most of the boss fights are tank-fights. A huge part of the story is built around tank fights. You can’t even ditch the car and do free-roaming brawling on the streets, because the streets are patrolled by enemy vehicles and you can only get rid of them by doing more tank missions.

And then there’s the problem where this was apparently one of the most infamously bad PC ports of the last few years and the publisher was actually obliged to pull the game from Steam for months until they could basically redo the port.

It’s one thing to make a bad game. But I can put down a bad game. It’s another thing to make something unique and fun, and then to wall it off behind a chore and an obligation. I hate this game not for being terrible, but for taking something I loved and making me do something I hated to get to it.

Fie.

Loser #1: Tony Hawk


Link (YouTube)

I didn’t play this one, and to be honest I’ve always been a fair-weather friend of the series. But the decisions here are so startlingly wrong-headed and so nakedly short-sighted that I think I can safely deride it without needing to pay Activision fifty bucks for the privilege.

In most of the old games, you could create your own skater. I never played with one of the stock skaters. I always crafted my own. But at some point this feature was cut, and now you just select from a small list of famous people and dress them up. Sigh. Fine. I get it. Dynamic models are hard. It wouldn’t hurt so bad, but they decided to shoehorn in a sort of always-online multiplayer thing. So now you’re skating around in a world of people who all look the same.

But the new feature was broken! Online mode was glitchy as hell. They took out a feature people wanted, and added a feature people didn’t, and the new feature made them miss the old feature even more, and the new feature didn’t even work.

Also not working in this version? Skateboarding mechanics.

And for all its other faults, it looks just awful. The art looks like a Source mod or an Early Access game.

This isn’t game design. That’s brand sabotage. Is Activision trying to kill this franchise on purpose? Did Tony Hawk say something unflattering about Bobby KotickFor example: “Hey, you’re Bobby Kotick!” at the Activision Christmas party last year? I have no idea, but asking fifty bucks for this mess requires unmeasurable levels of audacity.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about some games I wanted to play, but didn’t have time for.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Unlikely. I’m sure the money went to Square Enix. So this exclusive probably benefited Square at the expense of Crystal Dynamics.

[2] Publisher: You want Batman to team up with somebody? You mean like another Batman?

[3] For example: “Hey, you’re Bobby Kotick!”



A Hundred!7107 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!

From the Archives:

  1. Spammy says:

    Wait the Order came out this year? I thought it came out last year. Are you sure it didn’t come out last year?

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I hate this game not for being terrible, but for taking something I loved and making me do something I hated to get to it.

    Wait,when has this transitioned into mass effect retrospective?

  3. Dev Null says:

    Speaking from a purely selfish standpoint, I wouldn’t mind if this was the start of a trend and indies gave us more games about coding and less games about retro-styled 2D side-scrolling platforming.

    Says the guy making a not-particularly-retro 2D side-scrolling not-really-platformer. :)

    Not that that’s a bad thing, and Good Robot looks like fun, but you didn’t _really_ think we were going to let that pass, did you?

  4. AR+ says:

    I’ve been playing PC games w/ an xbox controller for years. What does the steam controller add?

    • Raygereio says:

      Short answer: Probably nothing.

      Longer answer: It is supposed to be able to mimic the keyboard & mouse controls. So the theory is that you use the Steam Link or Steam Box to get your tv all nice and steamy with your Steam Library games and then you use the Steam Controller to play those PC games that don’t have controller support, all from the comfort of your couch.
      Basically it looks like Valve had this weird idea of trying to muscle in on the consoles’ domain that is the couch & television and see if they could shove PC gaming in there. The problem though is that they don’t seem to have stopped and asked themselves if PC gamers actually wanted to move away from their office chairs & desks. Or if console gamers would want a PC that can fuction somewhat like a console, when they already have an actual console.

      • Speaking purely for myself–sitting at a desk has become increasingly problematic for me. So having the option to sit in a more comfortable position that supports my back better and doesn’t squash my legs and cut off circulation might be nice.

        Just as soon as they modify it to give me 30+ hotkeys. I can’t live without mah hotkeys.

        • Ysen says:

          Exactly this. I spend enough time sitting at a desk at work. I’d love to be able to crash on the couch and play games that normally require a mouse and keyboard.

          I feel like there has been some criticism of the Steam Controller on the basis that it’s no better than an Xbox controller for playing games which are already designed for console, or that it doesn’t let you play pro-level CS:GO like you would on a mouse and keyboard. However, in my mind it’s not meant to do either of those things. If it works decently for stuff like Civ which isn’t normally playable with a controller, I’ll be fine with it.

          • Kalil says:

            The other flip side is that it works reliably and configurably for games that are designed for the XBOX controller, unlike Logitech’s offerings, and it’s /not/ an XBOX controller, for people who hate them. Although it does still have that weird and awkward asymmetrical design, so… Not a 100% win.

        • Will says:

          Get a lap desk¹, wireless keyboard and mouse, and game with the obviously superior control scheme from your couch.

          (I haven’t actually done this, in part because I don’t own a TV and haven’t arranged my living room around having a place to put one. But I can confirm it works great for laptops, so I assume it scales decently to gaming with a mouse and keyboard.)

          ¹I don’t really mean to endorse this company. I have their cheapest product and it works great (and I wouldn’t suggest getting anything more expensive unless you really want to), but it’s a board with padding on the bottom; I’m sure plenty of people make good ones, and you can probably fabricate your own easily enough.

        • Blackbird71 says:

          I’m on the opposite end – I find that couches give me poor back support, and with a lower back injury like mine, it is much easier to sit in a (good) office chair for extended periods of time than it is for me to sit on the couch.

      • AileTheAlien says:

        I would definitely like to be able to game in the living room, without having to drag a mouse, keyboard, and possibly a whole computer into there. Couch is much comfier on a Saturday afternoon than an office chair, and I get a bigger screen.

        However, it looks like* the current iteration of the Steamtroller is only a spork-like compromise when it comes to moving from PC to living room, and is actually just a worse experience going from living room to PC, since Xbox/PS-whatever controllers and knockoffs are plentiful and effective, and hook up to your computer effortlessly. I look forward to version 2 of the Steamtroller hardware. Or even just an improved, streamlined software setup, compared to the complicated, finicky setup we have now. :S

        * I don’t actually own a Steamtroller yet, although I may get myself one between now and my birthday. Right now, I’m just going off of Josh’s, Shamus’ and my co-workers’ opinions of the hardware and software.

        • Supahewok says:

          I’m mainly getting a Steam controller because it’s a spork. There are plenty of games that play better with a controller in general, and I have high hopes for using it as a “one size fits all” for emulators. I think it would also pair well with flight games, with the extra buttons. (More on the arcade side than the sim, though; I’m not sure if it has enough buttons for the latter, but it might be possible.)

          Granted, I’m prepared for disappointment, but I’m just hoping that its entry into the marketplace pushes other hardware developers towards innovative designs. I hear that the Xbox controller is already incorporating the grip buttons that were first announced for the Steam controller.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Steam Link is good if you have a decent PC but you also play console games. So when say, Battlefront comes out, you can buy it on PC, stream it to your TV, and play with an Xbox controller. It allows you to become platform agnostic and base decisions entirely on price since the experience should be the exact same.

        *Couldn’t I do with this with an HDMI cable?*
        Yeah, if your house set up is right. Don’t Feng Shui shame guys.

        *I only play games that are spreadsheets or involve a VR rig and stage lights.*
        You do you, buddy. Obviously this wasn’t for you to begin with.

        *Other streaming boxes are better though!*
        Not for $50 they’re not…

    • Kalil says:

      The main thing the Steam Controller does, which I haven’t really seen Shamus note, is it solves the fiddly problems that arise from bad porting. Games are ported to work with either the 360 controller or the generic windows controller interface (ie: Logitech), and it can be very difficult to get a port designed for one to work with the other. Many ports also don’t allow for reassigning keys. This all leads to a big mess, including requiring fiddling around with .dll’s and third party apps. If you’re a 360 controller user it’s not as big a deal, since most AAA ports play nice with that (at the expense of other types of controller), but for people who don’t like the 360 controller the Steam Controller allows easy remapping, sharing of controller configs, etc, all from the ubiquitous Steam interface/’social network’.

      Before the Steam Controller, there were two options: use a 360 controller or slam your head into the desk repeatedly trying to get your controller to work with uncooperative games. Now, there is a third.

      The actual physical controller has grown on me a lot in the month I’ve been using it. I still think I slightly prefer the PS-style dualstick, but… There were a couple games (I’m glaring at you, FFXIII) that I never could get to work with that. And I’m pretty close to 100%ing Dark Souls with the Steam Controller, so… It definitely works. I’m also very interested in the continuing improvements they’re making to it. They’ve added a bunch of functionality just in the past week:
      http://store.steampowered.com/controller/update/dec15

    • guy says:

      My impression was that it was really for playing PC games on a console by having something that’s like a mouse.

  5. AR+ says:

    If anyone gets into assembler from TIS-100, then remember that most of the personal computers that were sold when assembler programming was a common consumer use case have both highly accessible assembler documentation (compared to modern processors) and emulators available.

    This is how I came to start learning Commodore 64 coding.

  6. Jokerman says:

    Have you thought about your runner up, Wolfenstein since you made that list? Maybe not the best game of the year, but i felt it was the nicest surprise.

  7. Couscous says:

    “Unlikely. I’m sure the money went to Square Enix. So this exclusive probably benefited Square at the expense of Crystal Dynamics.”

    Crystal Dynamics is part of Square Enix. Eidos bought them in 1998, and Square Enix bought Eidos in 2009. Unless you mean MS might have given SE as a whole a whole lot of money and then SE could then screw over a specific part of Square Enix, which is also perfectly possible.

    • Shamus says:

      Yup. That’s what I meant. Imagine it from CD standpoint: They work hard on a game. Then the publishers says, “We cut a deal with Microsoft. Now your game is only going to be on the Xbone. But don’t feel bad. They gave US a bunch of money.”

      • Couscous says:

        I really doubt Microsoft and Square Enix agreed to the deal thinking that the game would sell only 200,000 copies at retail in the USA in November.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          I’ve dashed out an uncharacteristically cynical aside (even by my standards) on the handling of Rise of the Tomb Raider. This might be informed more by my drastic overconsumption of caffeine and my late personal antipathy for Square-Enix, and should be taken as the jeer that it is. If it strikes you as unseemly, Shamus, trash it, and I’ll take it as a favor and as good advice.

          Whenever a publisher’s actions and deals seem to be sabotaging their subsidiaries, it’s natural to ask why the publisher would conduct their business in the way that they have. Hanlon’s Razor being what it is, it’s best to assume, absent contrary evidence, that they just took a bad risk, and that it didn’t pay off. Whether or not it is true, this explanation in itself remains unenlightening and unsatisfying, because the mindset of the company considering and taking these risks, and therefore the risks themselves, remain alien to the layman. That’s natural. Publishing games is a big, complicated business. It isn’t easy.

          Know what else ain’t easy?

          A publisher and its holdings maintain the dynamic that a pimp maintains with his hookers. The pimp is ultimately entirely dependent on his hookers for his livelihood, but the strict and comprehensive dominance he asserts over their daily lives obliges them to expend themselves for the pimp’s affluence, and their own mere subsistence. A hooker that brings in less money is still obligated by the pimp to remand the pimp’s determined share, which is fixed; success benefits the individual hooker and the pimp alike, but underperformance only harms the hooker; the pimp will still demand of her as much money as he determines he is owed, obligating the hooker to bear the deficiency alone. A girl that performs well is given better treatment, but one that fails to bring in her share- a completely arbitrary parameter designated by an unempathetic slaveholder- is either treated with severity or cut loose, as expresses the pimp’s wont. It is of no consequence whether or not an individual hooker succeeds or fails; at the end of the day, any individual hooker may be easily replaced due to the alluring benefits that success under the pimp’s employ potentially offers in the relative vacuum of alternative advantage. The pimp’s own success is distributed among every hooker’s successes, ideally not dependent on a single outlying earner or two.

          Say that a pimp receives a large advance from a wealthy John, for the exclusive services of one of the pimp’s girls. The pimp stands to gain more if the girl pleases the John and brings in future earnings, but the pimp is no longer threatened by this potential instance of the individual girl’s failure, because his lifestyle is insured by the advance itself. But this does not likewise translate to any safety for the girl in the case of her failure to service the John to his satisfaction; the individual hooker is still an easily-replaceable asset of minimal consequence to the pimp, and the risks of failure to meet his arbitrary standards are still borne solely by the individual hooker. You might argue that it is a poor business decision for a pimp to sell a hooker’s services to a John knowing that ability, incompatibility, or circumstance makes the trick unduly onerous, but this risk is immaterial to the pimp himself, who does not share in it.

          You may point out that this is unfair to the individual girl, who is left to bear the hardship alone. This is because you have empathy for the girl as a person, and for her continued subsistence, such as it is. You see this model as shortsighted, as a failure to plan proficiently, because it does not account for these things, which you value. The pimp does not value these things. He does not have empathy for the girls. He does not care for their well-being. He does not account for it in his plans, because the potential of greater earnings for himself and the hooker is of negligible priority in the face of a more certain and immediate personal gain at the potential expense of any one of his girls.

          Collective, and more importantly, personal success at the cost of his underlings’ individual hardship, no matter how inhumane or sympathetic to an outsider’s perspective, is not, to the pimp, a liability of his business model. It is his business model.

          The collective mindset of a boardroom does not meaningfully differ from the individual mindset of a domineering psychopath in a lime green fur ensemble. Square-Enix provided for themselves when they took Microsoft’s advance. Crystal Dynamics isn’t provided for until the sales roll in, and then only after Square-Enix takes its own designated share. Crystal Dynamics’ own continued success, the livelihood of its employees, their popular and critical standing, and the continued existence and development of Tomb Raider as a brand and as a story, is ultimately immaterial to Square-Enix. If the subsidiary fails too hard or for too long, they will be shuttered and liquidated. There are plenty of developers out there desperate for Square-Enix’ funding, for the unfettered potential of success that employment under S-E’s flag might bring, and no individual predecessor’s cautionary tale will deter them in the slightest. It isn’t germane to question what will become of Crystal Dynamics in the event of this hardship; it is only germane to question who will compensate Square-Enix in their stead, whether this deficiency is covered by the surplus of another existing element of Square’s portfolio or by the new acquisition that will succeed their collapse.

          It’s difficult for the common observer to silence any vestige of pride or empathy when auguring the motives of a fucknormous game-publishing superconglomerate. It’s a thankfully alien mindset. But unfortunately, the question of why these businesses act in this familiar fashion recur with sufficient frequency to permit ample practice. To paraphrase that old adage, you don’t have to be crazy to understand this industry, but it helps.

          • The Rocketeer says:

            I don’t know why this is nested with the other comments here; I intended to enter it at the bottom, where no one would be obliged to scroll past it. My mistake.

          • BenD says:

            I hope Shamus lets this stand (I don’t think he wouldn’t). It’s an incredibly well-written piece that you should use as prologue for your new book, Corporations Don’t Care: Psychopath Economics. Loved it!

          • wswordsmen says:

            Big problem with your logic is SE owns Tomb Raider. If the brand gets damaged SE is hurt. If Crystal Dynamics is hurt SE is hurt. Obviously it isn’t a 1:1 ratio, but SE is the sum of its parts it can’t do better than that.

            This is a case where SE made a deal and it didn’t pan out and they had the option to mitigate the damage and chose not to. It might be that the deal meant they couldn’t move the date, but that would be stupid on MS part, because they paid for a year exclusive and are basically wasting it by having it compete with FO4.

        • guy says:

          If they expected it to do well launching as an exclusive against Fallout 4, they were not thinking straight. Bethesda releases simply dominate the market too much for that. It’s like scheduling a TV show during the Superbowl.

          • wswordsmen says:

            Minor correction: It is like scheduling a new show during the Super Bowl. By definition every network schedules something against the Super Bowl, and it is always either reruns or cheap stuff that apes the Super Bowl (Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl being the clearest example). This is like HBO putting out a new episode of Game of Thrones* against the Super Bowl.

            *First big show I thought of. I am not making quality comparisons in any direction.

            • guy says:

              Nah, it fits; scheduling anything against the superbowl is practically a death sentence, so the networks throw expendable things into the timeslot. HBO isn’t going to schedule a new episode of Game Of Thrones during the superbowl, because it’s a big franchise but it can’t possibly win that fight.

              Bethesda isn’t quite as dominating, but only CoD or Halo or similar could reasonably plan on standing up to them in their general genre. Legacy Of The Void came out simultaneously, but it’s the 800-pound gorilla of its own genre and the fanbases have less overlap.

  8. MichaelGC says:

    I was a momentarily confused when hovering over that Square Enix link, which states that the Tom Braider reboot “has-sold-85-million-copies.” They really needed to include the ‘%2E’!

  9. Mersadeon says:

    I’ll actually make an almost complete non-gamer play Beginner’s Guide soon and I’m really interested in what she will say. She barely ever plays videogames (and even then mostly stuff like the Sim City Mobile game), but I got her to play Stanley Parable and she loved it. She studies Germanistik, which means a lot of literature, and that means a lot of stuff about narrative structure. Stanley Parable was right up her alley in that way – tongue in cheek, fourth wall breaking. It also first got her to really think about videogames – and the fact that “choice” in the way videogames give them isn’t really possible in any other medium (well, debatable, I guess, but you know what I mean).

    I am curious to see what Beginner’s Guide does for her, since it actually references game development and that kinda stuff a lot more than Stanley – and there’s only one ending and one “twist”, so I wonder when she figures it out and sees it coming.

    EDIT: Whoops, I meant to make this comment on the Diecast comment page.

  10. Nixitur says:

    So another year unwinds, inching us inexorably towards the darkness and the end of our mortal existence.

    So, what you’re saying is that you’re older than you’ve ever been? And now you’re even older?

  11. Couscous says:

    Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 is a game where it is really easy to tell that Activision’s Tony Hawk licensing deal expires soon. It is also a game that does a really good job of showing why things like signing a 13 year multigame licensing agreement is a bad idea in the vast majority of cases.

    http://www.gamespot.com/articles/tony-hawk-signs-new-deal-with-activision/1100-2875474/

    • wswordsmen says:

      It might have not been. At the time Tony Hawk games were doing well and it is cheaper on a per year license to get a multi-year license. Activision probably judged that 13 years was the best deal, even if the license would be worthless at some point in the future. Doing it on a year by year or game by game basis would probably have cost more for them.

      But no one wanted a new Tony Hawk game and releasing a bad one because the deal will expire isn’t a good idea either.

  12. Asmodoues says:

    It’s a shame you haven’t played Undertale, because to me it’s the standout game for this year. True, it’s another game-about-games, but it also focuses in tightly on amazing, character-driven writing and attention to detail.

    • Syal says:

      He has played it; there were some tweets one tweet about being underwhelmed.

      I’m hoping he’ll take a break from Mass Effect over the holidays to do a breakdown on it.

      • Redingold says:

        I wonder if he did more than one playthrough. I recall that I wasn’t particularly whelmed with it after my first playthrough. It took until my second run through to get why everybody was so in love with it.

        • mhoff12358 says:

          IIRC from a diecast Shamus said he played some of the game and it didn’t hook him so he put it down and didn’t beat it.

          • sheer_falacy says:

            He said he played like an hour of it and he didn’t really want people telling him that he quit just before it got good. Which is fair, since he quit after it had gotten good. Oh well, different people like different things.

            • Merlin says:

              Eh, mileage is going to vary on where the “gets good” point is. I was pretty much hooked from the get go, and the rock-pushing puzzle in the very beginning is a pretty great starting point if you’re in for the offbeat, Earthbound-y humor. Snowdin (~hour 2) cranks that charm up to 11 and a lot of the worldbuilding happens around there and in Waterfall (~hour 3). But the more meta elements will probably come up around the tail end of hour 1 depending on your actions, or they may not really show up much until the finale or a subsequent playthrough.

              A lot of it is based on what in particular you’re looking for and how you’re doing it. There isn’t a clear delineation like games that feature Ye Olde 25 Hour Tutorial.

  13. MrGuy says:

    I guess next year it’s okay if we just pretend this release didn’t happen and treat Tomb Raider like a 2016 title? Are you allowed to do that? How come nobody ever posts the rules for how end-of-year lists are supposed to work?

    I think this is actually a really important point that everyone seems to miss when doing “game of the year” lists. Publishers always bury us under a deluge of new games at the end of the year for the Christmas rush, right when “year end” lists seem to be “the thing everyone does.” They’re never good because you have games you’ve played extensively being compared to overhyped newcomers that are barely out.

    I recommend the games review industry take a cue from business and run something like a Fiscal Year. The Ludo Year should probably run from October 1 to September 31, with “year in review” lists coming out mid-Octoberish. This puts the “year” boundary in the pre-holiday lull when nothing is really coming out. By doing it this way, we can fairly consider a year’s worth of games with the benefit of having had time to play them, without anyone’s hype machine skewing the results, and it would give us interesting gaming literature to read when really there’s no other news to be had (October always seems to be the time when people are doing retro reviews or speculating on the awesomeness of the Christmas deluge.

    • wswordsmen says:

      I would make it August 1st to July 31th. That way you catch everything in a year (including Madden) with a lot of space on both sides so freak accidents like KoToR still have time to shine, however that doesn’t work from a coverage perspective because people don’t read consume this sort of thing during the summer, which probably makes either pushing it a month or so (as you suggest) or making it come in May or June.

  14. Zombie says:

    I was like 100% sure The Order came out last year, but nope. It came out February 20th. That seems like a long time ago.

    Also, I have no idea what idiot thought that launching Tomb Raider on the same freaking day as Fallout 4 was a good idea. Like, you had the release date for Fallout 4 months in advance, delay it to this month, or at least the last week of November. XCOM 2 got delayed to February like right after E3, and it wasn’t supposed to come out until a week after Fallout 4.

  15. Lame Duck says:

    I can only assume that Squeenix’s marketing department exclusively read Twenty Sided for their research and figured that Fallout 4 wouldn’t be a problem given how negative the response to Fallout 3 was.

  16. Ninety-Three says:

    “We got TIS-100, Human Resource Machine, Perfect Circle, Infinifactory, and Else Heart.Break(). ”

    I think you meant “The Magic Circle”.

  17. Jonathan says:

    I got a new RPG in October called Alpha Protocol. It was pretty good. The lighting in one of the apartments was buggy, but other than that, it was pretty stable and fun. I played through it 3 or 4 times before declaring “done,” although it might get a replay a year or two from now when I’m out from work sick and need something to do.

    It’s not Baldur’s Gate II, but it’s pretty good.

  18. Karthik says:

    I’m wondering, Shamus: Did you play Pillars of Eternity this year? Did you buy the game and not get around to it? Do you intend to buy it at some point?

    Because only Mumbles seems to mention the game around these parts. If I remember correctly, you got into RPGs (the severely stat-focused ones, so not System Shock 2) around the time of KOTOR, so it makes sense that you wouldn’t be interested in an Infinity engine type project, even with the snags filed away.

    I ask because the game, while not a loser, best captured the ‘AA’ budget, scrappy-but-not-actual-scraps spirit that we’d love to see more of. (PoE actually played it pretty safe, but did everything well enough to just about creep into my winners list for the year.)

    • Supahewok says:

      I think he may have been gifted it, but he has no real interest in playing it. He’s said before in the comments that he really dislikes the Infinity Engine’s style of real time with pause.

      Also, Josh has played through at least half of PoE, and keeps meaning to get back around to it. He likes it.

      Shamus really missed out on some great narratives this year. Both PoE and Undertale placed a high priority on their writing. At least he managed to enjoy Witcher 3.

      • Karthik says:

        Yeah, PoE’s writing and worldbuilding are right up Shamus’ alley. The combat was a pain to get used to, though. I enjoy micromanaging the group if encounters are carefully crafted, but there’s just too much combat. I went back to finish it after the big patch that added companion AI behaviors, and it was much more pleasant.

        (I’m yet to play Undertale and The Witcher 3. I have the latter loaded and ready, just waiting for a long free weekend in the next few weeks. And I can’t decide if I should use a kb+mouse or a controller! From playing the tutorial, menus and combat seem faster and more fluid with the keyboard (aiming, spell hotkeys and all), but general movement feels better with the controller.)

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Pillars 2.0 added some AI. If you want to minimize the management, crank the game down to easy and let the AI do the work.

          As for Shamus coming along in the KOTOR era, maybe that explains him not liking it but I came to PC gaming in the Skyrim era, having skipped from Ocarina of Time (back when it was originally released in the 90’s) to Skyrim. And while Baldur’s Gate had tolerable gameplay, Pillars of Eternity is actually quite fun. This isn’t nostalgia on my part. I actually like the updated IE style as a newcomer. Likewise with Wasteland 2. These gameplay styles just needed a little updating to be accessible to modern players.

          • Karthik says:

            > “I went back to finish it after the big patch that added companion AI behaviors, and it was much more pleasant.”

            > “Pillars 2.0 added some AI… let the AI do the work.”

            Can I take this as evidence of the ‘write-only’ phenomenon? :)

            • Wide And Nerdy says:

              Yeah. I was directing that at Shamus more. Sorry.

              I don’t see how POE has too much combat though. I guess my expectations are tempered by slogs like Fallout 4 and Dragon Age Inquistion (and boy are they both slogs after a while, especially DAI, Fallout 4 at least has enough fun stuff to keep the combat fun for a while).

              • Karthik says:

                Haven’t played Fallout 4, but man, its combat can’t be worse than DA:I’s. What a bunch of terrible design choices.

                In there somewhere, past the overly busy, obscuring spell effects, flash and floating numbers, past the terrible, bloated health scaling, past the inability to use terrain for anything combat-related, past the teleporting companions with brain-dead AI and lack of scripting, past even all the MMOitis, is a sliver of an experience I actually enjoyed. But it was like the game actively resisted making its combat any fun. It wanted to be a hack and slash ARPG and a party-based tactics game and carefully combined the worst elements of each.

                Of course, I have only myself to blame for attempting to play it on hard.

        • Supahewok says:

          For my part, I’ve got Undertale installed and ready to go, but have to get around to it. I really, really want to play W3, but although I have a decent GPU which is probably gonna run it alright (GTX 560 Ti), I really want a 900 series GPU to enjoy the full graphical spectacle that it promises. Which means waiting for… a while more. Sigh.

          • Karthik says:

            I have a Radeon R9 290, and I’ve sampled it on the high setting, one step down from ultra. Maybe it’s because I bought the game after a whole bunch of patches, but it runs at a consistent 60 fps on high while looking better than anything else I’ve played in the last few years. Crazy, really.

            It’s also the first game I’ve had to play at less than the highest settings on my PC, except the ones that don’t run well–at any setting–for other reasons. (CPU limited, poor performance on AMD cards, etc)

    • Ninety-Three says:

      PoE had a problem where your plot companions all had terrible mechanical builds, so the player was incentivized to swap them out for storyless custom-made characters with better stats.

      I played that way and got bored of it quickly, how much of the writing did I miss because it was wrapped up in companions?

      • Bubble181 says:

        Quite a bit. One of the patches allows respeccing of them (once, when you get them, IIRC) of the story companions, by the way, because a lot of players had your reaction.

        Personally, I don’t understand why you’d ever start off on a high difficulty on a first play through of a story-drive RPG, and their crappy builds don’t really matter on the lower difficulties, but to each their own.

        I’m a bit saddened PoE won’t be in the Best Of 2015 list, really, it deserves a spot there in my opinion.

        • Zekiel says:

          I agree. I adored Pillars of Eternity for about 2 months while I was playing it. The only reason it isn’t my personal GOTY is because Life Is Strange was so surprisingly amazing. But I loved Pillars of Eternity primarily as a game that reproduced – and in many ways exceeded – the excellence of Baldur’s Gate 2. If you didn’t love Infinity Engine games, I imagine you would be a lot less excited with PoE.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          As someone who did exactly that, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t play an RPG on a high difficulty. If the game designers weren’t trying to make satisfying combat then I assume they would have made a book instead of a story-mode RPG with filler combat, so I’ll turn up the difficulty and actually be challenged by the combat.

          Unfortunately PoE clearly wasn’t designed for the higher difficulty settings. It’s not that it’s too hard, it’s just not interesting. The enemies all have a million health, which means you’ll quickly exhaust your limited-use powers, and then you get to settle in for a long session of trading basic attacks with the enemy until someone falls over.

          • Merlin says:

            I… think you just answered your own question. Designers often try to make interesting combat systems and fail, and higher difficulty tends to exacerbate the issue by further hurting the pacing of the story, especially if the encounters rate is already tediously high.

  19. Wide And Nerdy says:

    They took out a feature people wanted, and added a feature people didn’t, and the new feature made them miss the old feature even more, and the new feature didn’t even work.

    I hate to say it because I’m with you in spirit, but there is ALWAYS someone asking for multiplayer on whatever game doesn’t have it. Or at least it seemed like that for a long while. Dragon Age? Elder Scrolls? Pacman? The Stanley Parable? Tetris? The Witcher? There’s always someone who inexplicably wants to play these games online with their friends.

    As for Tomb Raider, I wish it the best. I liked the last one and will definitely be getting this one in January when it hits PC. I’m actually grateful for the timed exclusive because I don’t have the money or time right now for it.

    As for Steam Controller, I think it might have a chance to shine on games that can handle live inputs from keyboard and controller without switching. Thats when you’ll get the most out of it.

    • Will says:

      Small-party coop multiplayer is a far cry from the mandatory MMO-style “you have to share this world with every griefing asshole in the same hemisphere as you” multiplayer that seems to keep getting shoehorned in. For almost every game I’ve tried it with, coop with two or three friends is lots of fun, while I have almost zero interest in playing with the Internet at large. (It’s not me, it’s you, Internet. You suck.)

      Of course, I’m not sure how coop would work in a game like Tony Hawk with character-focused goals. So I think I agree with the specific point, as well.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Tetris multiplayer works like gangbusters (see Tetris DS). As does Pac-Man (see Pac-Man Vs). Dragon Age needs a better combat system, Mass Effect turned out to be an extremely fun multiplayer game.

      So my statement would be, the multiplayer people are correct as long as the game mechanics are fun without a story or set pieces to back them up or if there’s a unique take suggested by the setting (Luigi’s Mansion multiplayer!)

  20. Ingvar says:

    I don’t know if Mini Metro has been properly released, or if I’m still playing the beta. However, it is quite fun, especially now they have global daily challenges with leaderboards and stuff.

  21. arron says:

    I for once welcome the rise of our programming game overlords. I’ve been getting into Else Heart.Break(), TIS-100 and Human Resource Machine and enjoying them all.

    For the former (Else Heart.Break()) game, I’ve just got to the point where I’m hacking remote machine and decoding floppies. It’s a real challenge learning a system that isn’t all laid out for you and you have to find documentation and code examples on floppies and devices to learn how to exploit it. I can spend hours hacking drinks and computers within Dorisburg :)

    I can also recommend Untrusted – a programming game in your browser.

    https://alexnisnevich.github.io/untrusted/

    Just when you think you’re defeated, you then find there’s an additional way to exploit the javascript in the scripting system. It’s an incredibly clever game :D

    • Ninety-Three says:

      That kind of experience sounds like what I signed up for with Double Fine’s Hack ‘n’ Slash.At one point I hacked the game’s “pushable block” entity so that whenever I edited them they would instantly vanish, and from that point on I got to quickly vaporize all of those stupid blocks instead of having to push them around. Disappointingly, the game needed more of that kind of opportunity and less “here’s a locked door, engage in a logic puzzle to hack it open”.

      I was also disappointed by the fact that the game shut down a lot of my perfectly functional hacks. There’s a locked door that you’re really not supposed to be able to get past, and after hacking a clever exploit to get past it, I got to an area where the game crashed because I really wasn’t supposed to be in that area. There’s an enemy which can only be attacked if you somehow get behind it, so I hacked its source code to make it attackable from any direction, only to find it was arbitrarily invincible even if you can land an attack (after my elegant solution was rejected, I started deleting random bits of its AI routine until it was completely lobotomized).

      Does Else Heart.Break() lend itself more towards novel solutions and meaningful room to change the behaviours of things, or is it, like Hack ‘n’ Slash, mostly a series of locked doors you have to hack open to advance?

      • arron says:

        It’s a lot more complicated. Definitely novel solutions and writing code to build tools and find solutions.

        You find a way of hacking doors open early on, but you then can build increasingly improved code based solutions to rewire doors to open different rooms. Or bypassing the security systems by adding your name to various databases. Or adding code to litter bins to deposit your Modifier in a certain room so you can use it on a mission. The API will even allow you to move yourself from server to server and wind up on the internet to rescue someone who was disintegrated in an ‘experiment’. The API is so fully featured that you can find arcade machines around the place that are playing variants of popular games using the in-game language Sprak.

        http://eriksvedang.com/2015/03/23/secret-arcade-jam-entries/#more-2074

        As games go, this is a game that opens up wise once you realise that you can hack pretty much anything in the world.

        This is how I imagined that Watch Dogs should have been – in that you find how the code works in the world running on devices and then you write apps for your phone that compromises systems allowing you access. Instead of Jerkface McRevengePlot running around the place with a grenade launcher destroying bangers pretending to be a skilled hacker stealthing their way in.

  22. Galad says:

    Nice, Abyss Odyssey on the Steam Controller screenshot

  23. Starker says:

    Sorry to hear that 2014 was so crappy for Shamus, but for me it was great. Just a small selection of games I enjoyed that year:

    Wolfenstein: The New Order
    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
    The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
    Dark Souls II
    Divinity: Original Sin
    Legend of Grimrock II
    Shadowrun: Dragonfall
    Shovel Knight
    Transistor
    The Walking Dead: Season Two
    Wasteland 2
    The Wolf Among Us
    Alien: Isolation
    Far Cry 4
    South Park: The Stick of Truth
    This War of Mine
    The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
    Xenonauts

    • Ninety-Three says:

      2014 wasn’t crappy, it was just the Year of Meh. It’s not that there were no good games, just games that were less good than other years. Like Shamus said in his 2014 article, “It’s not that games were terrible this year. It’s that there wasn’t anything really remarkable.”

      I played a lot of the games on your list, and most of them were a solid B, a seven or eight out of ten. Individually that’s fine, but the year was seriously lacking in As.

      • Merlin says:

        Eh, now that I’ve actually gotten a few 2014 releases under my belt, I really disagree with that assessment. I’d give Shovel Knight, Transistor, and Banner Saga solid As, and I have plenty of others from the year that I expect will round out the B & C level on the bell curve. I don’t think it was a down year for games at all, it was just colored by the increasing focus on sandboxes whose biggest Pro is “Approximately infinity hours long!” and whose biggest Con is “Not necessarily fun to play.” (And outside of the usual PC gaming routine, 2014 gave us the cultural juggernaut/screaming madness that was Twitch Plays Pokemon, and had a handful of really highly regarded Wii U releases that are increasingly tempting me.)

        I mean, Shamus’s list of losers from last year had 7 games on it. 4 of them were gigantic sandboxes, and 2 others “lost” because he chose not to play them. And the winners also included 2 more sandboxes or near-sandboxes (Shadow of Mordor & Borderlands). So yes, if you spend a bunch of time burning through the same repetitive shtick over and over again, you’re going to have a meh year. There was still plenty of good stuff getting published, though. I’d call 2015 the year of meh if I had spent the whole time on Fallout 4, AssCreed whatever, Just Cause 3, Star Wars TOR, I Forget If We Got A Far Cry This Year, and so on and so forth.

        That is something of the plight of a critic, though, and I’m sympathetic. Those releases – like this year’s – all had huge marketing/hype factors, and you need to cover them to maintain a certain amount of relevance. But the bigger these get, the less time you have for games trying something more inventive than Variations On A Skinner Box.

        Though I am amused to see the assertion that 2015 is a year of bugs for AAA and see that the very first comment on last year’s wrap up complains:

        GAMES ARE DECLARED HITS BEFORE THEY’RE DONE AND THEY SHIP HALF-DONE

        We have always been at war with EastasiAAA.

      • Starker says:

        This is not a list of okay games. This is a list of great games that I really enjoyed (YMMV). I will most likely play at least half of them again at some point in the future, especially now that a couple of them have an enhanced edition/directors cut available.

        A few of them (BOI:Rebirth, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Shovel Knight, Transistor, This War of Mine) are even candidates for my all time favourite/multiple playthrough list. Which means that those are not just A rank games, but S rank, even.

        • guy says:

          You’ll notice very few of those are AAA games, which tend to dominate the conversation, and of the ones that are AAA games, Shamus either didn’t play them or didn’t like them.

          • Starker says:

            Yeah, indies rule! Notice how many of those are KS games. The real list is actually much bigger than this, and I still haven’t played a ton of stuff like Banished, which I just got gifted recently.

            And it’s okay for Shamus to not like or play all the same games. He’s a different person with different tastes. I was just trying to show that for some of us it was one of the better years.

  24. Guile says:

    There I was, reading along, and got to a little footnote. ‘Producers: You want Batman to team up with someone else? Like another Batman?’

    And I laughed my stupid head off. Just giggling over my laptop for nearly a minute. Thanks for that, Shamus. Cynical snark goes good on you.

  25. Joey245 says:

    I don’t think anyone here is gonna get this joke…but I’ll leave it here anyways.

    You forgot to mention Jurassic World. I presume that it’s gonna be on the best games list that’s coming up?

    I mean, Mumbles has already praised it. Why, in DieCast #108, she said the following about Jurassic World:

    “10/10, Game of the Year.”

    High praise indeed. I look forward to seeing it on the list of great games.

  26. BenD says:

    But Shaaaaamus, when you put a video as the artwork, we don’t get any witty hovertext! Whatever shall I *read* with no hovertext??

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