Greetings, TAY! I'm a bit delayed on writing my 2014 GOTY Awards, since two of the games that could potentially make the list - Wolfenstein: The New Order and Astebreed - are still on my To Do list. I'm already excluding Pokemon Omega Ruby Tuesday (since I pretty much know what I'm getting) and The Evil Within (which isn't price dropping fast enough), so it just wouldn't make sense to exclude four whole potential besties when it's totally possible to crank out two of those before my vacation is over.
Let's get this party started.
5. The Wolf Among Us for 360
Above is a screen cap of The Wolf Among Us on 360. Or did I just type in "black screen" on Google Image Search? It's an accurate representation of the product, in any event. While the digital version of this game works great on 2005's newest gaming console (assuming you can fandangle your way through the 360's piss-poor UI), the physical release of this game is a broken piece of garbage that, to put it frankly, just doesn't work. If you can get it to run, expect a game so laggy that action sequences are literally impossible to complete without a high degree of luck. For a game to be slapped on a disc and actually sold for $30 in stores is just a bloody disgrace, especially when The Wolf Among Us is actually one of the best games of 2014. Telltale should be ashamed of themselves for putting software so poorly optimized on the market.
You can read about more of my struggles with the game here:
4. The Walking Dead: Season 2 (Non-Specific Spoiler Alert)
Sorry, Telltale. While I dinged you once for poor technical performance, I'm going to have to pick on you again for storytelling, which shocks me to say. The Walking Dead: Season 2 is what happens when a writing team gets a memo that reads, "Do it again."
This second entry in the series retreads the exact same territory as the first game - everyone dies, people are shit, there is no hope. I understand that games need to deal with bleak subject matter, but there is a way to convey that without beating you over the head with a depression brick. Nothing good happens to anyone in The Walking Dead. Nobody learns anything. Nobody's character develops. Clementine is introduced as an older version of the little girl from the first one who has matured into a self-sufficient badass with plot armour, and it stays that way for the whole game. No character gets enough screen time to change to learn anything about themselves or the world around them. Instead, we watch as a series of sadsack losers with five personality traits between them are killed off one by one in a variety of stupid, nonsensical ways. The characters in this game are never portrayed as people; they're more like automatons making a series of increasingly nonsensical decisions based on what seems to be a sociopath's interpretation of how "real people" emote.
I don't know anything about the comics or the TV show, but it really seems like this storyline has no purpose. Apparently in this lore, all the emotionally complex and/or rational people were the first to die... Supposedly killed off by a threat so frequently shown to be so completely harmless and incompetent that it makes me question the mythos at every turn. Walking Dead: Season 2 is not a good story: it is a neon billboard in the middle of nowhere that reads, "Emotions!" After so many people pointed to Season 1 has a high point of storytelling in games, it's just a damned shame to see such piss-poor cynicism towards a story from the people creating it.
3. AAA Gaming
There used to be a time when I had no problem dropping $60 on a new game. I knew I could expect a lengthy single-player campaign, I knew the game would work out of the box, and I knew I would get the complete game.
In 2014, I have a hard time justifying spending anything more than $20 on a new release. I know to expect a single-player campaign under 10 hours, and I know that the game I buy is basically going to be a private sale used car - there is going to be something wrong with it, and I won't know what it is until after I've paid for it.
It's really surprised me how, since the dawn of Steam Greenlight and other "matchmaking" services, I've moved my business so fully over to indie gaming. They know how to scratch my itches, and on the cheap. Meanwhile, AAA gaming continues to make products designed to emotionlessly extract profit by checking off a list of things that might bring in more sales. They ask three times the price of a high-quality indie title and then chop out half the game and won't let me have it unless I pay extra.
It's like the AAA gaming business is actively trying to chase me away! I say, "I need Mega Man Legends 3! I need Fallout 4! I need a new Silent Hill not made by a budget dev studio that doesn't have any understanding of the franchise!" Instead, they blithely smirk at me and say, "We don't have those, but I can sell you this gently used '95 Corolla with no doors or seats!"
I bought Pokemon TGI Friday's ($35), Wolfenstein ($20), Walking Dead 2 ($7) and The Wolf Among Us ($30) this year. Two of those were budget titles to begin with, and the other two are from publishers that aren't greasy shysters. Honestly, at this point, I look at Square-Enix, EA, Ubisoft and the rest of them the same way I look at flip phones. "Those things are still around?"
2. Steam Quality Control
While AAA Gaming is checking into the retirement home, platforms that enable indie developers to publish their products, such as Steam, are having some growing pains.
And Steam has its problems.
If you're not aware of just how bad things can get, I do suggest hopping on Jim Sterling's YouTube channel and watching/listening to a playlist of his Early Access Squirt and Squirty Play videos. While he does come across some incredible games that one might expect to be shit (Bedlam and Depth come to mind), you're more likely to come across garbage like Alpha Zylon (pictured), The Slaughtering Grounds and Air Control, games that are so amateurish and poorly-made that they make the $6 Wal-Mart PC budget releases of the the 90's look like Ocarina of Time.
In response, Steam has added new features like the Curator system (a system where you can follow gaming personalities like Vinesauce and Jim Sterling and see what games they recommend/condemn), the Queue for non-Greenlight games (a feature that randomly shows you different games available on Steam and lets you ignore them, add them to a wishlight, or follow the game's updates) and improved the user feedback process significantly, but there is still a lot of garbage getting on to Steam, crowding up the service so that amazing indie titles (like Freedom Planet!!!!!!!!!) quickly become buried and forgotten.
But I think my biggest complaint about Steam is its lack of optimization standards. Of all the games I bought this year, half of the controller-compatible games are not ready to play out of the box. Armored Hunter Gunhound EX (one of my GOTY contenders) causes a security prompt that, if you're playing on Big Picture as I prefer to do, forces you to walk over to the computer and click OK. Crimson Clover opens in a tiny window that only displays a small corner of the title screen, and you have to put in what resembles a cheat code to blind-reset the display settings (Z, down, Z, left, down, down, down, Z) just to make it playable. Gigantic Army opens in a small non-widescreen window and has no option to set it to full screen if you're accessing it on Big Picture (otherwise, you get a prompt asking if you want windowed or full, but this should be a standard option in the game menu). Sonic Generations absolutely refuses to open on my TV - it instead opens on my (much smaller) monitor, unless I unplug the monitor entirely. A good half-dozen titles would not work the the controller until I manually set the key bindings for the gamepad, even though the default bindings were usually the same as what I'd set anyway. Things like this need to be ironed out if Steam wants to fully take my business from the console market.
But honestly, they're doing a pretty solid job of it already.
1. RadFem vs. GamerGate
Topping this year's list is what may be the dumbest internet fight the gaming world has ever seen.
While I floated between the two "sides" when the shit first hit the fan, I've long since settled to the conclusion that both combatants are fighting a fight that needs not be fought.
The climax of this internet feud came shortly after some guy (we'll call him Dudebro McCheesedick) "exposed" corruption in the gaming media and games industry by bitching about his ex-girlfriend (Zoe Quinn) and weaving a yarn that was eventually built into a conspiracy theory detailing how a bunch of hipsters in the gaming media collude together to push a social justice agenda. Meanwhile, sites like Kotaku and Polygon immediately went on the defensive, painting all gamers as inbred troglodytes who prefer women chained and barefoot in the kitchen. Phil Fish had another emotional meltdown, lots of people got really angry, and the silliness just got out of hand.
At the same time, media from outside the gaming community started picking sides to push their own ideas - the GamerGate "side" was largely co-opted by right-wing media publications like Breitbart, and the antiGate "side" was propped up a handful of "progressive" publications like Salon and HuffPost. As the American media loves to do, that whole thing was eventually built up into yet another "them vs. the other guys" debate, which was really an artificial construct designed to bait clicks and push ad revenue, the standard business model of American cable news.
At the end of the day though, most rational minds took a step back and realized this fight was pointless. It was never about ethics in games media, and it was never about feminism; it was about two groups of people who believed themselves to be God's Chosen People™, infallible and beyond reproach. Gaming in 2014 continued to make strides to eliminate antiquated views of women, gays, and other groups. Games media continued to demonstrate its uselessness when it comes to social commentary and any topic that requires research. At the end of the day, absolutely nothing changed, and the whole environment was made toxic for anyone who didn't give a fuck about any of that and just wanted to see who was on the new Smash roster.
2014 was an interesting year for gaming, and the landscape walking into 2015 is different than it was this time last year. Gaming is changing, probably for the better, and much like the rise of analytics in professional sport, old ideas that don't work are being quickly shoved aside in place of new thinking that improves that way we buy, play, and think about our games. Many new voices are trying to make commentary on gaming, and even if many of those voices have no interest in objective research or analysis, it's welcome to see gaming evolving into an artform that's worth analyzing.
I expect 2015 to continue some of the trends I've detailed in this article, and I've got my fingers crossed that some of my complaints will be resolved by clever minds aiming to improve things.
Thanks for reading.