+Month 52 Report
In something of a tradition carried forward from ’13, the report comes late. My apologies!
A bullet-list update on DA-related business will have to suffice, as time is precious:
- A recent Dark Acre Radio broadcast covers a lot of ground.
- 3 seasons worth of unique One-A-Day writing entries have been posted!
- A new Darkade entry? After more than 25 months of non-development a new (albeit simple) game has appeared.
- Work on The Child continues apace, etc.
Now then, let’s get right to the meat of the matter.
Guided by the belief that a developer must play games in order to understand games, a lot of games come across the Dark Acre desktop in the course of a year. It’s important to log the experiences in some form or another; detailed analysis would be preferable, but in lieu of that here’s a shortlist of the objective “best”.
To qualify for this list, these games:
- Were “beaten” in 2014, i.e. played to end credits roll and/or exhausting normal gameplay.
- Were released at some point before January 1st, 2015.
- 134 videogames purchased in 2014.
- 21 videogames beaten.
- $1500 spent.
Classified in order of when they were beaten, from early to late 2014. Click any of the images to visit that game’s website.
MULTIPLAYER MAN-SHOOTER OF THE YEAR
Call of Duty: Ghosts – Multiplayer
Went from complete noob to Diamond-level clan player over the course of a few months. Lived, breathed, & slept this game, & had a hell of a good time doing it. Love affairs with Call of Duty always end badly (see Disappointments below) & the game is now “dead” on PC, superceded by its successor. Still, this stands as one of the finest gaming experiences of my adult life, & will likely do so for a long time to come.
It’s worth noting that while this game on PC is infested with hackers & the players who remain are likely to be far beyond the skill level of newcomers, the AI-driven “Squad Mode” is an excellent introduction into the mechanics & feel of a live multiplayer Call of Duty match, & might be worth acquiring just for that training experience alone, if you’re interested in seeing how the online game actually feels.
EXPLODING LOOT GOBLIN OF THE YEAR
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
Hated Diablo 3 at launch: nevermind the fact that the servers barely worked, or that the overall game system was a disappointing departure from the previous iteration, but it simply didn’t engage in the ways that it should have. Enter the first expansion (making itself known through the brilliant Battle.net launcher, the perfect marketing tool) which overhauled the loot system, removed the real-money auction house, & streamlined the experience. It made the game a meditative exercise in clicking and maximizing skill use. Add to that a raft of achievements, a Seasonal reset system, & smooth-as-silk drop-in drop-out multiplayer & you have the perfect storm of mindless action gaming. Legendary.
If you play, feel free to add DarkAcreJack#1127.
TIME-SINK OF THE YEAR
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
WoW came to the rescue during another lapse into professional depression. There’s little to say about the game that hasn’t already been written, & after skipping Cataclysm completely it was a relatively easy (though expansively time-consuming) act to go back and clear all the content up to the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar patch. Enjoyed every single second of it, & am looking forward to checking out the Warlords of Draenor… in a couple of years.
INDIE PAY-WHAT-YOU-WANT OF THE YEAR
A guided experience with player-driven choices & a ton of atmosphere. Played a lot of little experimental independent videogames as a 1st-round judge for the IGF this year, & for whatever reasons this one really stood out. It can be had in less than an hour, & is well worth checking out to see what sort of things are possible outside of the realm of accepted design norms.
MOBILE TRANSLATION OF FRANCHISE OF THE YEAR
One of the few that got 100% completion, this was a shockingly absorbing game that burned a lot of midnight oil staring at the glowing mobile screen under the futon. Just the right amount of difficulty, charming visuals, & a wicked-sharp abstraction of the Hitman experience. A must-own for iOS/Android puzzle-heads.
UBISOFT-REPRODUCED CITY OF THE YEAR
Another one that earned scorn at launch due to bugs & rendering issues, coming back to this several months later (& many dollars cheaper, thanks Steam sales!) it seemed that the developers had worked out most, if not all, of the kinks. Remember Origin’s old motto, “We Create Worlds”? That spirit is still very much alive & well in the halls of Ubisoft. The Chicago of Watch_Dogs lives & breathes, & provides a ton of fun distraction. While the core narrative might not be the greatest, the real meat of the game comes in the many side-missions to be had. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a solid open-world sandbox to hack around in.
ODD COMPULSION OF THE YEAR
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Here’s a weird one. It showed up as a 5-dollar deal on Steam & didn’t seem like it would suck 60 hours of time away in the blink of an eye… yet that’s exactly what it did. Who’d’ve thought that driving a big rig on a set path for hundreds of kilometers over a simulated Europe would be so immersive & engaging? It was definitely a meditative experience made engaging by the various achievements & business simulator that ran in the background. The joy of successfully delivering a dangerous load & scoring an early bonus & parking bonus are hard to describe. Consider yourself warned if you’ve got any kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder: this game could be your downfall.
GAME OF THE YEAR I BEAT EVERY YEAR
Red Dead Redemption
This was John Marsden’s last ride. Suddenly, & likely due to the very rapid & industry-wide adoption of physically-based rendering (making materials reflect accurately, heavily showcased in Watch_Dogs & Assassin’s Creed Unity) in 2014-15, the game looks old & feels dusty. It’s still a masterpiece, no question, but it could do with an “HD remake” or a sequel. Gonna miss this yearly tradition, & was super-proud to have shared this final run with K-Wright. The ride into Mexico was as magical as it ever was. Now, to find a replacement… Grand Theft Auto V, perhaps?
UBISOFT-REPRODUCED COUNTRY OF THE YEAR
Ubisoft abstracted the entire continental United States, added licensed cars & enabled multiplayer drop-in drop-out racing. If that doesn’t fire you up then skip ahead. If that does peak your interest & you enjoyed the now-classic Burnout Paradise, The Crew is well worth your time. It’s not the kind of game you can play constantly & expect the same amount of joy from (see Kingdoms of Amalur) but as a mainstay driving game that can be fired up & enjoyed in 10-minute or less increments, or marathon-worthy hours-long races, it’s got very little competition on the PC. While you’ll find some complaints about how simple some of the cities are, you can seamlessly drive coast-to-coast across a simulated United States of America. That’s huge. Literally.
DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR
Managed to fall into the suck-hole 3 times in 2014, & each one strengthened the resolve about videogame consumption in one way or another. One of the biggest lessons coming out of ’14 has been “thou shall not pre-order from untested & unproven developers“. The second is “don’t hold thine server-based achievements too dear, for they might be erased without recourse“.
Call of Duty: Ghosts – Multiplayer
Wait, wasn’t this the 1st most-beloved game of 2014? Yes, & also the most reviled. After sinking more than 500 hours into the game, promoting it endlessly on social networking, rising through the ranks to prestige the maximum number times (10) & winning Gold in the clan wars, I logged in one morning to find all of my stats reset due to malicious reporting. Contacting Activision support was an exercise in futility, as there is no appeals process when it comes to online bans/punishments, nor can you even see why you were reported. To lose all of that time was a crushing demoraliser & led to eventually abandoning the game with 2 season-pass map packs still in the pipe. Disappointing, but a good reminder of who’s really in charge of these kinds of videogames (spoiler: it’s the publisher).
Here’s a good example of drinking so much of the pre-hype Kool-Aid that it blinded. The excitement surrounding this game’s launch was palpable, so much so that I pre-ordered it & even convinced a friend to do the same. Then launch day came. The servers didn’t work. Then they did & the lag was intolerable. Then the lag went away & the game was imbalanced to the point of not being fun. What had looked great on paper was a disaster on execution. I still played it through to first prestige, but the gunplay was so loose (very much unlike Ghosts) & the overall system so boring that I quickly abandoned it. Recently revisited it to check out the DLC that was paid for but never played, & found the servers all but dead, even worse than the Ghosts ones. Perhaps Titanfall II will be a huge improvement, but that’s one I won’t be buying until it’s on sale at a deep discount, if at all. Seriously. How do you screw up giant robots?
This is totally an unfair addition to this list, as I didn’t beat it, but it was certainly a huge let-down in 2014 & another reminder of the pitfalls of crowd-funded videogames. Sure, it was coming from a world-renowned developer. Sure, it was reviving a much-loved franchise. The Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success & jump-started a whole new development studio under Brian Fargo. A lot of good thing came out of all that, it’s just a shame that the actual game wasn’t one of them. After an extensive “early-access campaign” (in addition to the paid alpha/beta time from backers) the game launched with crippling bugs & imbalances. The very 1st critical player choice in the game kicked me to desktop. The game itself was an unoptimized mess. Perhaps it’s been fixed since: their Facebook page seemed to announce several gigabytes worth of patches every few weeks, but I got tired of making the same “is this the 1.0 patch?” joke so I unfollowed them. I’ll revisit the game if I ever had time, but I think I might be content with letting my memories of the original Wasteland stand as the “ultimate version” of that particular vision.
Now just don’t screw up with Torment, okay Brian?
The games above were worth my time & money, & might be worth yours too if you haven’t already checked them out.
Hey! Also! Let’s connect on Steam, UPlay, Facebook, Origin (DarkAcreJack), PSN (the_jack1975), XBL (Dark Acre Jack), & SnapChat (darkacrejack)! Especially that SnapChat one, I’m actually posting dev stuff to that from time to time.
Okay you, be safe in 2015 but take a few risks every now & then, & if you have to tear up the pavement & revolt then take the advice of Nike & “Just Do It”.
Thanks for reading.
You can always just turn the machines off.