Top Five Games of the Year: 2014

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2014 was an okay year for video games, there were quite a few good games, but not many fantastic ones. It was a year that seemed to be filled with controversy, from buggy releases to silly comments from developers (looking at you Ubisoft). Now since I don’t enjoy rushing through games there’s still some titles I’ve yet to play this year, like Far Cry 4, Super Smash Bros Persona Q and Alien Isolation. But it’s that time of year again where we make lists. This is mine. Here is my top 5 favorite games of 2014.

5 – Shovel Knight
Every once in a while a game will come along that does everything right. The art, the music, the level designs, characters. Shovel Knight is one of those games. It was originally released on the 3DS, Wii U and PC, but I’m glad to see that it’ll be coming out on the PS4 and Vita some time next year.

4 – Bayonetta 2
Bayonetta 2 is a game that is incredibly polished and improves on every aspect that made the first one so good. The action is fast paced, frantic and so much fun. You’ll be fighting small demons, huge demons, you’ll be fighting on top of fighter jets, on the side of buildings. It’s crazy, it’s fun and it’s wacky. The developer, Platinum Games has a reputation for making some of the best over-the-top action games and Bayonetta 2 is probably their best game yet.

3 – Wolfenstein New Order
Earlier in the year I was annoyed at the lack of variety in games that were coming out later in 2014 and in 2015 and wrote a blog post were I sort of criticized the industry. I used Wolfenstein as an example before I even played it and I regret it now. After playing the game and beating it, its become one of my favorite games of all time. The thing is, it doesn’t really do anything drastically different than other first person shooters. It just does everything incredibly well. The shooting, the story, the pacing, it was fantastic. This game had so many great and memorable moments. Developed by main guys behind the brilliant Chronicles of Roddick games, Wolfenstein New Order is exciting, fun and I really hope they make a sequel.

2 – Dragon Age Inquisition
When a BioWare game comes along, I tend to put every other game on hold. They tend to feature gameplay elements that I enjoy a lot. If Dragon Age Inquisition is any indication of what we can expect from BioWare in the future, I can’t wait until the next Mass Effect game comes along.

1 – Mario Kart 8
When I have friends over and we want to play something, Mario Kart 8 is what we end up going with. It’s easy to get into, it’s competitive and it can be just silly fun. It’s one of those games that I’ll end up playing for a very long time, until Nintendo release their next console and the next Mario Kart. The game has its flaws, like the incredibly disappointing Battle Mode, but all other aspects are just so good, even the online mode works like a charm.

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New Doom II Speedrun Record

Have 25 minutes to spare? This Doom II speed run is pretty incredible to watch.

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SNES Charts – April 1993

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(source)

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Shadow of Mordor: Just Good

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I’ve been playing this game for a week now and it’s still fun, but it has some glaring issues. The strengths of the game lie with its characters, combat and the Nemesis system (somewhat). The world you explore is dull and unmemorable. I can’t think of one location that really sticks out because they look all the same. The first map you explore is various shades of brown, the second map you explore is various shades of green. That’s it. There aren’t any interesting castles or ruins you can run around in and no real landmark that you can gaze at.

The game reminds me somewhat of the first Assassins Creed game. It has potential, but it hasn’t reached it yet. There are many unnecessary and repetitive side-quests in Shadow of Mordor that are just there to make the game longer than it needs to be. I feel that the game would have benefited from not being an open-world and if it had a more linear single player campaign. The Nemesis system is interesting at first, but a couple of hours in and you realize it doesn’t really make a difference if it’s there or not. It’s there to help the combat feel less repetitive and to give you a reason to fight more. The rewards for going after Captains and the Warchiefs just aren’t that worth it.

There’s this perception that linear games can’t be as good as open-world games. There are plenty of linear games that are great: Portal, The Last of Us and Wolfenstein: The New Order are three fantastic examples. Shadow of Mordor shouldn’t have been an open world. It’s a good game but it’s not a memorable one.

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Shadow of Morder: Game Remix

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I ended up purchasing Shadow of Mordor earlier this week. I didn’t know a lot about it and had zero expectations. I’ve only been playing for a couple of hours and I’ve been enjoying it. But it’s hard to avoid how obviously similar this game is to more popular titles. There are three games it shamelessly borrows from: Assassins Creed, the recent Batman games and the new Tomb Raider game. It doesn’t even really try to hide the fact that these gameplay elements are pretty much unaltered except for some minor elements.

There’s nothing wrong with borrowing gameplay elements from other games, developers do it all the time. But it feels more blatant in Shadow of Mordor because the elements it borrows from other games are the combat and exploration, two things you’ll be doing a lot of. The climbing and air assassinations animations look very similar to those moves in Assassins Creed. Jumping off tall structures in Shadow of Mordor initiates an animation that looks similar to the animation in Assassins Creed. One former Ubisoft employee even accused the developer of stealing code.

The combat in Shadow of Mordor is identical to the combat found in the recent Batman games. The combat in Shadow of Mordor is not nearly as smooth though. Every time you hit an enemy you build a combo (like in Batman), the higher the combo the more damage you’ll do and the more special moves you can pull off (like in Batman). When an enemy is about to hit you and you need to dodge or counter, the game will tell you (like it does in Batman). Ultimately the combat system works well for Shadow of Mordor but it’s lacking in originality.

Lastly, when you discover artifacts and examine them for hidden clues to discover more lore, it’s identical to when you discover artifacts in the new Tomb Raider game. The similarities are uncanny. Again, they don’t hide the fact that these elements are copied.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow did something similar. The game “borrowed” elements from games like God of War and Shadow of Colossus. It wasn’t a very fun game even though it had a pretty interesting art direction. The game felt soulless. In Shadow of Mordor the game is still enjoyable and doesn’t feel like it’s lacking soul but the fact that it doesn’t really change much of the elements it borrows from takes away part of the enjoyment of playing the game. It becomes distracting. Maybe this is an extreme thought, but maybe the developer, Monolith Productions should thank the Ubisoft, Rocksteady Studios and Crystal Dynamics in the credits.

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For the Love of Monster Hunter

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I love Monster Hunter. Some people hate it. I don’t blame them, I used to dislike it too. The general concept behind Monster Hunter is straight forward and if there were ever a name of a game that described itself, it’s this one. Monster Hunter is a game where the main goal is to hunt large exotic monsters. Every quest is a boss fight.

In Monster Hunter you can hunt on your own or you can choose to play online with three other hunters. This is where the game shines. Being successful hinges on teamwork like most other squad based online games. Preparation before the hunt is key. You have to buy the right supplies or if you have the resources, craft them yourself. When you go on the hunt you have 60 minutes to complete it, which is usually more time than you need. With that extra time you can explore the world, scavenge for herbs and minerals that you need for crafting.

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The combat in Monster Hunter is realistic, in the sense that you won’t be successful in your hunts if you plan on button smashing. You can’t just attack, you need to be defensive, dodge and to move around so you avoid getting hit. The game features 12 different weapon types that range from your typical longsword to a bow. You also have less orthodox weapons like an axe that switches into a sword, or a lance that’s also a gun. If you choose to fight with a great sword, don’t expect to be able to attack quickly. Your attacks will be slow and you’ll have to be meticulous.

The game becomes a routine, which some might think is a bad thing, but I find it relaxing. Besides hunting you are put in charge of a small farm and a fishing fleet. You can craft new items, weapons or armor. To craft new weapons or armor you have to hunt down or capture monsters which can become repetitive, especially if you need five of a certain item. If you don’t feel like hunting you can explore the different parts of the world you’ve unlocked.

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The monsters you fight are vicious, unforgiving, varied and come in different sizes. Each monster has their own personality and characteristics, each is inspired by a real life animal. Some monsters put up great fights, while others are just annoying to deal with. Each monster acts and reacts differently. The first few times you fight a particular monster chances are you’ll get hit a lot. Eventually you start to learn how a monster acts, you start to see a pattern and you’ll start to instinctively dodge attacks.

Since its release in March of last year Monster Hunter on the Wii U and 3DS is one of the few games I still play consistently. I take breaks that can last up to a month but I always end up coming back to it. If you’re interested a demo is available to download, but expect it to be a little challenging since the demo does little to explain the game or combat mechanics. You’ll probably find the combat slow and frustrating. I don’t think the demo is particularly good as it doesn’t represent the game that well, but at least it’s available. And lastly, you can also find a lot of great videos of gamers fighting monsters on Youtube. Lastly, the online Monster Hunter community is one of the nicest, diverse and welcoming. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate comes out early next year – And the game can’t come soon enough.

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Video Game Statistics: Sales, Demographics, Usage

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I’ve been reading a document I found online that breaks down various variables in regards to the gaming industry in the United States put together by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The information presented within the document is based on information the ESA have collected for the United States. It gives us a pretty clear idea of just how dominate the gaming industry has become in regards to the movie and music industries. What it also shows is that mobile gaming is a booming business.

Some of the more interesting statistics I found:

  • 59% of Americans play video games
  • There’s an average of two gamers in each game-playing household
  • That the average US home owns at least one dedicated gaming console, PC or smartphone.
  • 68% of gamers play on consoles, while 53% play on smartphones.
  • The average age of a game is 31
  • 52% of gamers are male, while 48% are female
  • When it comes to who is buying video games, it’s a 50-50 split between male and female
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  • Casual and social gaming on mobile devices increased a whopping 55% between 2012 and 2013.
  • You can find more interesting statistics by downloading the ESA report.

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    Other Places: A Series Celebrating Beautiful Video Game Worlds


    I came across Other Places through Twitter. It’s a website that publishes videos of beautiful environments found in games. I think it’s about time someone does this, we need someone to keep track and archive these worlds. They have a list of games they’ve already covered and even though it’s not a huge list (they’re still adding to it), it’s a great one. So be sure to check it out.

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    What I’ve Been Playing: Valiant Hearts and Tomb Raider

    Valiant Hearts: The Great War
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    Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a game that was released late June by Ubisoft and it’s their third game that uses their in-house created game engine UbiArt Framework. The narrative revolves around a handful of characters that are connected in one way or another during the events of World War I. The gameplay reminds me of old-school point and click games. You start a level controlling one of the characters and you have to solve puzzles using items you find scattered in the environments. The art direction and music are incredibly well done, nothing seems out of place and the theme song is hauntingly beautiful. The atmosphere in the game is captivating. Every character has a diary that they write in and these entries gives you more insight into what they’re thinking. Every level also has collectibles, every collectible tells a story. Every level is also based on a real place and event that happened during World War I. Reading all this information is optional and Ubisoft did a good job by not flooding us with a wall of text and kept it at a decent length, enough to teach us something. Another interesting aspect of the game is that it doesn’t tell us the Germans are evil and the Allies are good. You’ll see both sides doing good and also terrible things.

    Unlike Ubisofts previous game Child of Light, I can easily recommend this game to anyone.

    Tomb Raider Definitive Edition
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    I missed out on Tomb Raider on the PS3 and Xbox 360 so I was glad when I heard that the Definitive Edition was announced. Tomb Raider is a reboot of the franchise that was started way back in 1996. The game stars a 21-year old Lara Croft who gets stranded on a mysterious island within the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of Japan. The game features a pretty big semi-open world that you can explore as you please. I say “semi” because some locations get blocked off after certain points and the only way to get back to them is through quick traveling. Some aspects of exploration reminds me of Metroidvania style games. You will find some areas are unreachable until you find an item that gives you access to the area. I really like the level of freedom the game developers give us. You’re not forced to play story missions. You’ll find side quests and hidden tombs (that have treasure) to explore.

    The narrative of the game is a focal point and the story is interesting but some aspects of it don’t add up. For instance Lara Croft has never killed before this game takes place and the game developers made a huge deal about Lara’s “first kill”. The moment is intense but after you get through it, Lara turns into a killing machine. She’s able to take down trained soldiers with ease. I know this was probably done for the sake of the “game”, but I feel that if the developers wanted to make such a big deal out of one moment, they could have at least taken it a step further and eased Lara into killing more enemies instead of turning her into Rambo right after the first kill. With that said, I like that there are various ways to go about fighting enemies. You’re not forced to do it one way; you can use elements in the environment to kill, you can use stealth, guns or a bow and arrow. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

    The game also features some light role-playing elements. As you progress through the game, completing challenges that involve hunting, exploring or killing enemies you gain experience points that you can use to upgrade specific skills or abilities. You can also upgrade and customize your weapons by using material that you find throughout the game.

    Overall so far this is a pretty enjoyable game and I’m curious to see where the story goes.

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    Shovel Knight Review

    Shovel Knight
    I’ve been playing Shovel Knight since it was released last week and it’s an absolute blast to experience. Shovel Knight is a game by Yacht Club Games, a company started by the former director and a few other talents from WayForward; another fantastic developer behind some games like Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Contra 4, Aliens Infestation and DuckTales: Remastered. Shovel Knight was a game that was funded on Kickstarter, their goal was $75,000, they made over $300,000. So there was a ton of hype behind this game. Shovel Knight was released on the 26th of June receiving praise from gamers and critics alike.
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    The gameplay, music, level design are brilliant, varied and the pixel artwork is detailed and lovely. I’m also enjoying the games sense of humor, you’ll find a lot of characters throughout the game that you can interact with and some say some pretty random things. The controls are tight, which they need to be. The game features a lot of tricky platforming segments similar to that of classic Mega Man games. If you fall off a platform it wont be due to wonky controls, but the players fault. The levels are varied and you won’t play a stage that seems similar to a previous one. Every stage has a theme and a certain gimmick. The same goes for the boss fights. Every one The boss fights are intense and each boss has his own set of special abilities and moves, even if you memorize the pattern it’ll still be tricky to dodge every attack.
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    Aside from the main quest the game features some side quests and items you can collect if you want the extra challenge. In terms of difficulty, the stages have four checkpoints which is too many but they’re optional to use. If you don’t want to use checkpoints you can destroy each one for extra treasure which you can then use to buy more items or upgrade equipment. Every level has secrets with valuable items you can find. In towns you’ll come across a blacksmith, armor store and a few other shops where you can upgrade your shovel, equipment, health and magic. Across the world map you’ll also find extra stages where hidden treasures and challenges are located. The game also comes with built-in achievements labeled as “feats”. Once you beat the game you unlock New Game+ which features harder enemies, the checkpoints in stages are decreased to just two and there aren’t any health pickups.

    All in all I highly recommend this game, I own it on the 3DS and I love the fact I can play it anywhere. If you’re on the fence about it, just go for it, it’s worth every penny. It’s also available on PC/Mac and the Wii U.

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