The year’s closing out–and that means it’s time for our usual round-up of the year in gaming. This year we celebrate the event with our first ever YourTechReport Gaming Awards. Nominated by a panel of…. well, me, and with the winners chosen by… me again, our look back will showcase the highs and lows of gaming in 2014.
So without further ado we move onto our first award…
The “How Was This Released In This State?” Award for Ridiculously Broken Game.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity / Halo The Master Chief Collection
This award is for a game that is so egregiously buggy that you can’t help but wonder how it ever passed quality assurance. This year we’ve two games that were released in such a horrifically broken state that they were essentially unplayable.
First up, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which featured missing faces with eyes and teeth floating in mi air, frame rates on all platforms that were more slideshow than next gen game and almost no PC optimization. Almost a month and 4 patches after release, the game still struggles to reach 30 FPS on higher end PCs. Meanwhile, Halo The Master Chief Collection still struggles with matchmaking, co-op has input lag for everyone but the host (something that hasn’t even been touched on by any of the multitude of patches), and connection issues are still ever present.
It’s a testament to the issues behind yearly schedules and set-in-stone release dates. It’s more important to have the product (and how I hate that word) out on time and patch the issues, than make sure it’s up to scratch. In recent years we’ve started to see more and more broken releases that will be fixed with patches. Battlefield 4 and Destiny both had similar issues; and if this trend continues, every year we’ll be inundated with 60-70 dollar purchases that we won’t be able to play for weeks after we’ve paid for them. So we happily give this award to both Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Halo The Master Chief Collection. Fix your broken games before we drop the cash, people.
The “Oh Crap, This Is Actually Really Good” Award for Unexpected Excellence
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Licensed game? New characters? Story set between two highly successful trilogies? Fanbase with an eye for continuity minutiae? These were all signs that Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor should have been a train wreck. But then it released and what we got was a blend of Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed, and some truly epic combat set in the Lord of the Rings universe. Add in a story that covers the creation of the rings of power, and the game was already on solid ground. But it wasn’t done. The final piece was perhaps one of the best gameplay mechanics all year – the Nemesis system.
This mechanic allowed the game to generate unique Uruk captains as your enemies, all with specific strengths and weaknesses. These captains could also have internal power struggles against each other, as well as standard Uruk soldiers who would be promoted by murdering you. That Uruk captain who has repeatedly put you down? He’s now your worst enemy. Why not send the Uruk you’ve brainwashed to challenge him, then, while he’s distracted, assassinate him from behind and allow your ally to take a new position of power. You could spend hours gleefully murdering Uruks and messing with Mordor’s power structure. It’s nice when a game you had absolutely no hope for can happily surprise you.
The “Just One More Match” Award for Exceptionally Addictive Multiplayer.
I think we’ll look back at Titanfall as a sea change for online multiplayer games. Its blend of free running motion, visceral leveling, and fast paced combat combined with giant freaking battle robots was one of the easiest things to just pick up and play. It was like a weird blend of Call of Duty, Mechwarrior and Mirror’s Edge. In fact I still regularly go back to it, mostly as it’s one of the few competitive multiplayer games I’m actually good at. Also most multiplayer games aren’t fun if you’re not playing with friends, but I could jump into a Titanfall match alone and still enjoy myself.
Respawn have also added a lot of content to the game since release–not only in the form of map packs, but brand new game modes like the panic-ridden Marked for Death or the cooperative Frontier Defense; but I think its lasting legacy will be the concept of verticality. Since its release, we’ve seen both Sunset Overdrive and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, both of which make great use of verticality. Titanfall is still once of the best multiplayer experiences out there and still one of my most recommended games on the Xbox One.
The “No, YOU’RE Crying” Award for Emotional Turmoil.
The Walking Dead Season 2
So you may remember me naming the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead as game of the year back in 2012, mostly for its ability to horribly toy with my emotions. Well season 2 came along this year with you now in control of Clementine, the young girl you were protecting during season 1. After ending up alone, Clementine must integrate into a new group, learn to protect herself, and slowly become a much colder person in order to survive. So effectively, Telltale spent another 5 episodes making us care about characters and then doing horrible things to them. There’s a sequence that requires Clem to sew up a wound in her own arm. My exact reaction during this was “No. No. Oh No. Oh God No. No.” and that was episode 1! The next four episodes don’t exactly pull any punches and continue the trend of forcing you into making some truly awful decisions. Apparently Season 3 will begin in late 2015, so you can expect to see that as a contender for this award next year.
The “Finally!” Award for Long Lost Genre
If you’ve listened to any of the segments I’ve done for our YourTechReport radio show, you’ll have heard me talk about my need for a new star-fighter combat game in the vein of X-Wing, Tie Fighter and.. err… Elite. Well now original Elite developer David Braben has, with his new studio Frontier Developments, brought a brand new Elite game for the modern age. Elite: Dangerous, originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign, allows you to pilot your very own starship in a vast populated galaxy (so far there are thousands of systems with multiple planets and stations) and choose the role you want to play. Want to be a cargo hauler, a federal officer or a mighty pirate? All those options are open to you; and with the recently released Star Control and next year’s No Man’s Sky, it seems that the star fighter game is making the same resurgence that adventure games made a couple years ago. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and justify spending $200 on a flight stick.
The “It’s 3AM. GO HOME” Award for Party Multiplayer
Mario Kart 8
Yes, I know Super Smash Bros is out on Wii U, and it almost won this one–but you can’t beat the visceral joy of Mario Kart. The first truly must have game for the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 introduces proper online play, 60FPS graphics, and the ability to ruin friendships with the liberal application of blue shells (YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID CAMPBELL!). And you haven’t truly experienced the joy of the game until you have a house full of people all clamoring to play. It’s still the go to game when people are over months after release–which when considering how many games are focused on online play lately, it’s nice to see games that focus on playing with people who are actually in the same room.
The “Look How Shiny We Made It” Award for Rereleased Title
Last of Us Remastered / Grand Theft Auto V
Ok, I honestly created this award to get around my usual rule about all the games on these lists needing to come out within the specific year. But special mention has to go to the next gen versions of the Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V. Last of Us got an impressive overhaul on the PS4, with new character textures and all of the PS3 version’s DLC, including the sterling Left Behind add on that details the night Ellie got infected. It’s a wonderful excuse to revisit the best game of last year with much improved graphics.
However, the GTAV rebuild was nothing short of amazing. Brand new textures, lighting (the sunsets in particular are stunning), all of the multiplayer DLC released so far ,and the ability to transfer your online character progress to the new version. But the biggest addition is the new first person mode. You can now shoot, drive, fly and do absolutely everything in the game from a first person perspective, giving you an entirely new view of the game. I’ve now played the entire campaign again in this view and it makes it feel like a decidedly different game. It also means I don’t have to look at Trevor.
The “Brown Trousers” Award for Most Terrifying Game
I have a confession. I’ve only played the first two hours of Alien: Isolation. Sega’s addition to the Alien saga set between Alien and Aliens proved to be so freaking terrifying that the most common reaction from me was “NOPE. ALL THE NOPE.” The first time the Xenomorph unfurls itself out of an air duct is one of the single most frightening moments in gaming. After that, I had to resort to watching Let’s Play videos and my friend’s Twitch streams in order to see the rest of the game, and I still had the urge to do that while hiding behind the couch. I don’t like being scared (though I am still a huge fan of Alien and Aliens), so playing the game was like being confronted with something you love that wants to hurt you very, very badly. Alien Isolation wins this award by virtue that it was actually too scary for me to play.
The YourTechReport Game of the Year Award
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Ok, we kind of jumped the gun on this one on the show this week. Yep, Dragon Age: Inquisition is without a doubt the best game of the year. First up, it’s built on the brand new Frostbite engine used for Battlefield 4…so it’s frankly gorgeous. It’s also abandoned the “everything is brown” philosophy for graphically intensive, with lush colourful landscapes–rather than the typical dusty, grubby areas seen in previous Dragon Age games.
Then there’s the story, which honestly doesn’t start in earnest until a couple of hours in and contains the usual Bioware-style sadistic choices and reappearances from series characters. Then the combat brings back Origins overhead tactical mode, so if you want to play it as a brawler you can–but if you’re a strategy nut, you can plan every attack from your party. Also, as your game world is reliant upon multiple choices you may have made throughout Origins and Dragon Age II, and you can now lay out all of your choices from the Dragon Age Keep web app. This means that there’s a ton of replay value as you set up new world states. Though at easily 50-60 hours a playthrough (there are so many side quests. So, so many), it’s not exactly lacking in content for your initial run.
It’s been a couple of years since Bioware’s last epic RPG, Mass Effect 3, and in that time it’s evident that they’ve been hard at work. Dragon Age: Inquisiton marries gameplay, story and character work seamlessly and tops it off with a truly terrifying number of side quests and choices that affect your playthrough. There really was no other option when it came to picking our game of the year.
This concludes the inaugural YourTechReport gaming awards. We’ll have more gaming news for you both here and on YourTechReport Radio in 2015. Now, go home. We have games to play.