Tag Archives: Left Behind

Best Games of 2014

It’s that time of year when everyone writes about the best games of the year, and thought I’d add my 2 cents. This list feels a bit disingenuous since I currently own or want a number of 2014 releases that I just haven’t had time to get to yet, but I can only play so many games in a single year!

I think 2014 has gotten a lot of flack, as many consider it a weak year for gaming. I disagree. The beginning of the year was a bit weak – the PS4 and XBox One had just come out, and there are always growing pains and a lack of games to play on brand new systems. Also, a number of games that came out this year were remasters of games that had come out over the last couple years as well. But as we got closer to the middle and end of the year, a number of real heavy hitters started getting released, and I think the year ended on a good note.

So here are my top 6 games released in 2014.

Tomb Raider

I struggled with giving a best of 2014 award to a game that actually came out in 2013 and only got a remaster in 2014, but Tomb Raider was so much fun that I just can’t resist. Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with aplomb. We got a Lara Croft origin story that was thrilling and Lara herself got her best makeover ever. I’ve written about all the things I felt Tomb Raider did right from a feminist perspective but, when it comes down to it, Tomb Raider takes one of the top spots because it was just so much fun to play. Set pieces and quick time events sent my heart racing. I flinched each time Lara took a blow. Gameplay was fast and smooth with super slick controls. Taking out enemies with my bow, traversing rock faces, swinging down ziplines, all felt so natural. The controls  were so impeccable they actually ruined a number of other PS4 action-adventure games for me. I just couldn’t get into AC: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son – where the characters moved oddly in comparison. I had to fight the controls to get Edward or Delsin to do what I wanted, whereas Tomb Raider made Lara feel like an extension of myself.

Valiant Hearts: the Great War

2014 was not a great year for Ubisoft’s big releases. However, in June Ubisoft Mountpellier put out a lovely puzzle adventure about love, survival, and sacrifice during World War One. The game puts you in the shoes of four different characters whose lives have been intertwined in strange and sometimes heartbreaking ways by the war. Though the game contains no dialogue, I always knew what each character was feeling, in part due to the excellent animation and music. Games often put us into the role of soldiers, but not many do it like this. Valiant Hearts is not a power fantasy, but a history lesson and an experience that makes us question war from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. It was really refreshing to see war from from a non-American view, as the whole game takes place in the period before America joined the war effort. It did make me tear up a few times, most notably during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Valiant Hearts - The Great WarMechanically the game is very enjoyable as well. Gameplay is quite varied, yet still manages to fit into the context of the story. It covers everything from operating machinery to turn off chlorine gas pipes, timing-based movement to sneak between enemy patrols, rhythm based medical procedures, and car chases set to amazing orchestral music. A number of the puzzles involve Walt, a casualty dog, who can help to fetch items from tight places and find injured soldiers. And who doesn’t love games with dogs?

Valiant Hearts is one of those rare games that combine both fun gameplay and a meaningful story to give a great gaming experience.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Left Behind is not really a game on its own, but DLC for The Last of Us. Regardless of this, it’s an amazing experience that deserves a place on game of the year lists. It was great to step into Ellie’s shoes and see her past, as well as expand upon the Winter chapter of The Last of Us. Left Behind is a perfect 2-hour gaming experience that did everything the main game did, but did it better. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is endearing and on point. It’s not as action-heavy, but it wastes no time – every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

PT

I don’t play a lot of horror games, but PT showed me how great they can be. Though it’s really just a playable demo for the new Silent Hills game, it was one of my best gaming experiences of the year. PT created a taut, terrifying experience that delivered not just jump scares, but a truly unsettling environment and disturbing audio and visuals and wormed their way into my psyche. Perhaps it was partly the context of playing the game (I was with great company and a couple bottles of bubbly), but PT managed to keep me so engrossed and curious for more that I played it 3 times in a row. The fact that each playthrough was subtly different was just the icing on the horribly creepy cake.

PT hallwayI think PT was more successful as its own game than it was as a trailer. While PT was exceptional, I don’t have a lot of faith that a horror game can be 12 hours long with more involved gameplay and still be as compelling as this was.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This was one of the few games whose development I followed closely before it was released, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand, and is a refreshing take on the weird horror genre. It’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, with photorealistic environments that put many AAA games to shame, and a gorgeous and moody soundtrack. Ethan Carter is a murder mystery that hints towards a greater darkness. It lets you explore the beautiful world and solve puzzles at your own pace, while still managing to maintain tension throughout its whole 4-5 hour playtime.

Dragon Age: INQUISITION

Four of the previous games on this list are there at least in part due to their short playtimes, which created a tight and well-paced experience. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the complete opposite of those. To be honest, the pacing of the game’s first 10-20 hours was complete shit. However, the game more than makes up for it with its huge, deep, engaging story, wonderfully written dialogue, and sheer enormity of the world. While the size of the game can be a bit overwhelming, this installment of Dragon Age had a sense of place and a real, living world like no other. Once I hit a certain part in the story (which I could have reached way earlier if I had just left the fracking Hinterlands), I was completely enthralled and immersed in the world. The characters, from those in my party, to my advisers, to the people hanging around Skyhold all felt like real people, who I wanted to talk to and learn about. The addition of the War Table made me feel like I was the actual head of an army, who had to make decisions and delegate, rather than a lone adventurer who needed to personally slay every demon and settle every petty dispute myself. I sunk a good 200 hours into this game, and besides those initial 10 or so, I loved every minute of it.


 

Those are my games of the year, what are yours?

 

The Last of Us Remastered (Review)

When The Last of Us came out on PS3 in 2013, it was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. A ridiculous number of publications gave it a perfect score. I never played it then, because I was usually playing something on the 360. However, when it was announced that it would be remastered and re-released for the PS4, I was really excited to finally play the game of the generation.

Of course, given how well reviewed the game was, it would be difficult to live up to the hype.

The opening of The Last of Us was absolutely wonderful. It was cinematic, everything looked great. You’re introduced to Joel and his daughter and their relationship is established quickly and easily. The problem (infection) is introduced in a way that is both mysterious and frightening, and the fact that the game puts you in the shoes of a young girl at the start makes things even more bewildering and intense. The opening has drama, emotion, it sets the world up brilliantly.

Then we skip forward 20 years. We’re reintroduced to Joel and his companion Tess and then… not much happens for a while. We walk around – for a few minutes this is interesting because we’re learning what the world has become. But then we continue walking, through basements and abandoned buildings. A few lines of dialogue are exchanged between Joel and Tess, but it’s pretty quiet. Joel is very stoic and doesn’t give us much to relate to. We come across our first infected enemies, but the fight is a tutorial and they are very quickly and easily dispatched. After an amazing opening, we’ve now spent about 30 minutes doing nothing but walking along a set path without much action or story progression and it’s really jarring. At this point, my interest was really waning.

Things happen slowly. The first big fights are slow – you have so little ammo that you pretty much have to resort to stealth kills which require patience that I don’t possess. We finally meet Ellie and discover the point of the game but relationship between her and Joel also builds slowly. It wasn’t until Bill’s Town that things started to pick up, and it wasn’t until the journey to Pittsburgh that the game really got its hooks in me and I became totally invested. That was almost halfway through the game. There were major pacing problems.

I feel like I’m reviewing two different games here. The first half looked really pretty and had some good writing, but from a gameplay standpoint, it just wasn’t that fun. The last half, on the other hand, was brilliant. In the first half of the game I didn’t enjoy the combat at all. It was too slow, ammo was so scarce. Dying was frustrating because all I had to look forward to was another abandoned building to walk through. In the second half of the game, I enjoyed combat so much more. I had a wide variety of weapons to choose from and if I wanted to fight rather than sneak around all the time, I could. Plus, the action scenes were usually followed up by some really great character development and storytelling. The pacing was 100x better in the 2nd half of the game. So let’s focus on that now.

The storytelling in The Last of Us was so, so good. Once I got far enough into the game I loved Ellie and Joel and totally believed their relationship. The dialogue was great, and the wonderful animation of the characters made things seem even more real. It was the little moments that made this game special. The first part that really got me was Joel and Ellie in the truck, heading to Pittsburgh. They had this dialogue that was so natural, and filled with humour and pain. The music helped cap it off and it was really beautiful. The stories told in the collectible documents you find around the game were also really compelling. Getting a glimpse into the lives of other people in the game world who you would never met was intriguing, and usually sad.

There were a lot of really exciting set pieces later in the game as well. Using the sniper rifle in the suburbs to save the rest of your group was really one of my favorite combat scenes. There were also a few parts of the Winter portion of the game that were different and got very stressful.

Speaking of Winter, getting to play as Ellie for part of the game was a welcome change, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know her character better. Winter was one of the more intense episodes of the game and was really enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, something that happened right at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. (Minor spoiler warning) Ellie gets captured, hurt, the people she loves are in danger. She faces down enemies who are also cannibals, has to kill many of them, is under constant threat of being murdered and eaten… and then at the very end (this clearly wasn’t enough to traumatize our 14-year-old heroine) it’s implied that she’s also threatened with rape. I was really disappointed by this. It’s such a lazy, common, unnecessary way of putting female characters through the wringer. During the rest of the game, the writers were brilliant and handled character development (and my emotions) with surgical precision. Why they felt the need to start swinging a big machete at this point is beyond me.

I’m not going to give anything away about the end of the game, but I thought it was really well done. The story that had been developing and the relationship between Joel and Ellie that had been building all came to a head and there was major pay off. It was a satisfying ending, and the fact that it was put together like a great movie made it even better.

The DLC, Left Behind, was also included with the game. During this you play as Ellie, before Joel ever comes into the picture. Left Behind was a perfect 2 hour gaming experience. It has the same great writing as the main game, though the dialogue between Ellie and her friend Riley may actually be even better. The pacing is great. It’s not as action-heavy, but the game wastes no time. Every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

The Last of Us is a really difficult game to rate. It starts with a bang, but within the first couple hours of gameplay I was often tempted to just put it down because the excitement dropped off so much. If it hadn’t been so critically revered, I probably would have put it down. Ultimately I was rewarded for sticking it out because the last half of the game was amazing.

Rating: 9/10 – The Last of Us is one of the best written stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Though it drags at the start, in the end it was totally worth playing. It’s an emotional roller coaster that really gets you invested in what’s going to happen next and makes you care about the characters. The gameplay isn’t as good as the story, but it gets better as the game goes on and is very enjoyable by the end. The perfection that is Left Behind is what’s bumping this rating up from an 8 to a 9.

Feelings

Video games that can make me really feel things are a rare and wonderful thing. When I play games, I’m mostly just looking to be entertained and have fun. But some games go beyond that. Here are a few of them.

I’m trying to be as unspoilery as possible here, but that’s hard in some instances – so read at your own risk.

The Dig

The Dig

Wonder.

I’ve been fascinated by space since I was a kid. The Dig came out when I was 12 and put me in the shoes of an astronaut who got to explore an entire alien world. Every step of the way was filled with wonder and curiosity as I tackled puzzles and discovered gorgeous new vistas.

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus

Awe. Sorrow.

The first time I spotted a colossus in this game, there was a sense of wonder. It was so gigantic, so impenetrable. The thought of fighting it was thrilling. Then, as the game went on, excitement started turning into sadness. These were not natural enemies – if anything, they seemed to be protecting something. I was an outsider, invading their lands and destroying them. Each kill felt more difficult and painful.

 Dragon Age Origins

Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins

Delight.

This one’s a bit embarrassing, but I found the whole courtship with Alistair completely delightful. I was like a blushing schoolgirl, endeared by his nervous stammering. That whole scene with the rose made me giddy. I may have immediately replayed it when it was over.

The Walking Dead: Season 1

Lee and Clem - The Walking Dead season 1

Grief.

Not many video games have made me cry. This one made me sob. I cried for Lee, for Clementine, for myself. I knew what was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier.

Stanley Parable

Stanley Parable corridor

Panic.

I started the game sitting in an office, at a desk, in front of a computer. I ran through the corridors, made different decisions each time. But in the end (or the beginning) I always ended up back in that same office. The first time it happened didn’t affect me too much. But the 2nd, the 5th? I began to feel trapped. Helpless. My choices were futile.

Every day I go to an office, sit in front of a computer. Is this a game, or is this my life? Panic. Let’s turn it off now.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider on the tower

Exhilaration.

The opening scenes made my heart thump in a way that doesn’t happen often. I could feel every injury with the vibration of the controller, the sounds, and the blurring and colour draining from the screen. I held my breath every time I had to push the right button or die.

I’ve spun out my car and ended up facing the wrong way on the highway and had steadier hands afterwards than I did during the first playable parts of Tomb Raider .

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Joy.

Ellie and Riley, two girls living in a world that had become violent and terrible, sneak away and just have fun.

This scene was absolutely brilliant, a reminder of the amazing powers of imagination and friendship. The game goes on to another scene which gave even more feelings of being carefree and joyous.

And then it ripped my heart out.


Feel free to share your gaming feels with me.