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Well, it's that time of year and while I normally eschew Top 10/Best/Worst lists I decided I did have some memorable experiences I wanted to share (though those who read my blogs will already be acquainted with more than a few of these). By no means are they stupendous but they did resonate with me and are indicative of the exceptional year in gaming that we had. So without further ado, here they are ...
10. Rod Serling would be proud
Sometimes it’s the attention to detail that is indicative of the care a developer has bestowed upon a game. Take the details in Id’s Rage, where even seemingly random items or features were significant. Most impressive to me was when I’d found a book called To Serve Mutant, a clear homage to the classic Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man, which itself had me backtrack to a portrait I’d found earlier that had reminded me of Rod Serling (the TV show’s creator) when I first passed it. This game’s texture loading issues notwithstanding, Id’s details were appreciated, and demonstrate how even the little things can be imbued with significance for both the designer and end user.
9. Breaking and entering
Open world RPG games court careful exploration, where even glitches can entertain. I exploited a glitch I found to enter a Dwarven ruin in Skyrim that I clearly was not meant to explore at least yet. Once inside and having eliminated all foes I found my way to a room guarded by three centurions. However, two would not activate, I lacked the device missing from a pedestal, and I had no key with which to exit. I only found through research that there is a quest associated with this ruin, nevermind that the room is only supposed to have one centurion! As Mae West famously purred, “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.”
8. The Glitch That Stole Christmas
Unfortunately technical glitches are most often annoying if not downright frustrating, and this past year seemed to have more than its fair share. Skyrim crashed during the game’s opening cutscene. Killzone 3’s map pack glitch soured me on the game (before I found a workaround, though too late to return to playing). Batman Arkham City’s/Rage’s DLC code omissions left some like me without content until replacement codes could be sent. Worst, Dead Island’s PS3 update resulted in an autosave glitch that meant many hours of gameplay (for me, it was 11) forever lost. Of course it’s unsurprising for a software based industry, but tighter production timetables mean such hiccups are seemingly more common.
7. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Unless they’re my enemy.
Dead Island is the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long, long time. Throw in up to three partners online and it’s a veritable party! It’s testament to this game that even when said partner is snatching failure from the jaws of victory it’s still a blast. Literally. Mojomonkey12 served up a healthy portion of teamkills when laying ‘nades at the feet of the zombie hoard, whom we happened to be amongst the middle of during some frenetic brawls. The game is such fun, though, even dying at my partner’s hand (twice!) was funny as hell and to this day the title continues to entertain.
6. I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque
Open world game exploration is one of the only times that not having a detailed map or asking directions is not only permitted but almost mandatory. Two Worlds 2 and Skyrim were two titles that encouraged going where angels fear to tread. Whether village, town, fort, dungeon, cave or the wilderness in general, such titles offered hours and hours of the joy of discovery whether intentional design or inadvertent glitch. With other titles likewise employing this element (Batman Arkham City, Dead Island, etc.), the trend toward more nonlinear gameplay is refreshing – and rewarding.
5. Building a better mousetrap
Some titles have elevated game design and introduced innovation that deserves wider application. The best improvements I found were in Two Worlds 2’s inventory management and combat systems, allowing item breakdown/upgrades and character class switching on the fly. Skyrim’s use of dual wielded spells/weapons and follower support for inventory management and combat likewise were welcome, as was Homefront’s Battle Points system for quick online access to a variety of weapons/equipment/vehicles. All added fresh elements and demonstrate how developers can tweak gameplay in new and entertaining ways.
4. The only good zombie is a dead zombie. I mean …
Many decry the lack of story in too many action games and Dead Island is no exception. However, as far as depicting a zombie apocalypse this title hits its mark. The missions and side quests all fit the context of this frightful scenario, but it’s the ubiquitous undead that make this game a success. Whether snarling, roaring, shuffling or sprinting, they are a grim menace whether alone or with co-op partners. The best example is when I hacked off one’s head and it stood still for a moment before raising its arms and attacking for a few steps until finalling falling with an unceremonious thud. I love it!
3. Dragons, trolls and bears, oh my!
Bethesda’s Radiant AI is helping usher in more believable NPCs and other creatures. One of the most surprising and entertaining moments came when fighting a dragon on a mountaintop in Skyrim. Because I was ducking in and out of cover, the dragon became distracted by Imperial soldiers in the valley below. After a brief battle, it killed them and soon assaulted three trolls farther down the valley. By the time I arrived, the trolls had slain the dragon and turned on me. I killed two, but in the meantime one had begun fighting a nearby bear. They landed simultaneous death blows while I watched. When you can feel more like a bystander then a participant, that’s good AI.
2. Oh, the humanity!
The best moments all seem to involve AI and Saints Row: The Third is no exception. Indeed, there is little to compare with the guilty fun of standing in the middle of an elevated freeway and scaring passersby with your big nasty guns. They shriek, scream, yell and cry all the while attempting frantic three point turns or careening forward in reckless abandon, regardless of what other vehicles or motorists come between them and their safety. The result is a ballet of wicked carnage as cars pile on top of cars, vehicles explode in huge fireballs and people fly through the air. In fact, their hilarious overreaction results in more delicious damage then you could ever muster alone.
1. Reading is fundamental
Hands down the best moment was making my way through various ruins in Skyrim. I fought back a variety of foes in a relatively small area including a Blood Dragon and a Draugr Death Overlord. After having defeated all the enemies and scaling the highest point among the ruins I found a book upon a pedestal. I thought this must be one of the most powerful or influential books in this world. On the contrary, it was the most anticlimactic find yet, however, it was a hilarious read and one of the only books I’ve read cover to cover. The fact that a developer (Bethesda) went to all that trouble for such a payoff speaks to how brilliant they are and how rich and rewarding this world is.