keskiviikko 13. marraskuuta 2013

2013 - The Nutshell Edition

I've clashed through the last. Rhyme time. I'm a poet and you know it.

The PlayStation 4 is coming out in North America in two days. The international (excluding the Japanese) release of Xbox One is nine days away. A total of 45 launch titles on the way, then, and a couple of other semi-interesting games for other platforms on the way before it's back to square one with the annual calendar for the 2015th time, but on my personal account, 2013 is a wrap. While I'm zapping through the remaining list of releases for 2013, a total of two games for existing platforms catch my attention: Super Mario 3D World and Gran Turismo 6. They catch my attention, but nothing more. A new Mario game that's not part of the Galaxy series always sounds interesting, but I don't have Wii U and I don't plan on getting it anytime EVER, so that's it. Gran Turismo 6 on the other hand is a racing game, and I'm not personally interested in it, then, it just comes out at a great niche to be considered as a Christmas gift to someone else. When it comes to the PS4 and XBO launch titles, I'm glad I decided to push my personal transition to the next console generation - with the PS4 - far along next year. Might even be getting Watch_Dogs and both parts of Metal Gear Solid V for the PS3 instead of the hi-fi freak's natural choice.

But, here's the subject I really wanted to talk about before trying to catch up to my annual quota. I realized one more thing while I was browsing through that list of releases. If PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are truly "leaving", they have sure as hell done it with style throughout the whole year. First, I thought, how about I make that Top 20 I was talking about earlier, and dish out my favourite video games from this whole generation? Well, this generation clearly ain't dead yet, and besides, I just did the favourite franchises schtick, it would be what I criticize many games for: needless repetition. I'm not doing any type of list, then. Instead I'll just flap my virtual gums for an extended while and simply recap what's been going on this year, ever since January. What's funny is that every single year, people tend to forget what came out in the early months of the year, because all the most anticipated (and usually multi-platform) releases are scheduled for the later months. That's why I think it's interesting and vital to remind everyone that not every great game came out on September 17th.

I haven't even played all of these games, and all of these games are not necessarily "great", not even to my personal liking, but games that were either highly anticipated, how that anticipation translated to perhaps the greatest media overkills in video game history, or otherwise notable titles, for example indie games that didn't have the bucks, but sure had the bang, or at least one exciting return to a stellar franchise that went horribly wrong... and stands as perhaps the otherwise magnificent year's biggest disappointment, by far. That's saved for later, let's go back to January... January 15th, to be precise.

The emo-hobo Dante you so hated.
Perhaps overshadowed by the other big action reboot of the early year, but surely important to a lot of folk (in better or worse) and a lot of newbies who appreciated PS3's less-heralded cult games Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, Hideki Kamiya's PS2 hack 'n' slash classic Devil May Cry made a return... as the British developer Ninja Theory's DmC. Initial media and fan response to taking the familiar basics and fitting them into a whole different story, with a whole different Western style, was overwhelmingly negative, but Ninja Theory stood their ground to the end, unleashed the game and enjoyed great response from just about everyone, from the media to even people who were involved with the original series. Especially Japanese fans of the series still weren't too excited, and the game somewhat failed to catch the attention of an essential amount of new fans. I never really liked the original Devil May Cry's style, and I never fully appreciated the series either, but I saw a lot of potential in the first game - I think that DmC might strike a better nerve, and that's why it's pretty close to the top of my current-gen wishlist. A week after DmC, came Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a true throwback to the golden era of Japanese role-playing games, decorated with beautiful hand-drawn graphics, and a beautiful soundtrack performed by a symphonic orchestra conducted by anime stalwart Joe Hisaishi. One more shining star to the long list of great PlayStation 3-exclusives; however, to be precise, this game was released in Japan as far back as 2011, and it's based on a Japanese Nintendo DS game released further back in 2010. Investigation to the issue revealed that problems with translating the game and its collector's paraphernalia caused the delay. However, unlike many long-delayed games, especially in this particular genre, Ni no Kuni came out not having aged a day, and totally rocked the world of J-RPG fans... yours truly included, and it even made me more receptive towards anime. Or if not receptive, at least more accepting.

February saw the sudden and odd Steam release of Tim Schafer's cult heavy metal adventure Brütal Legend, and the much-anticipated "Enhanced" re-release of BioWare's critically praised 1998 debut Baldur's Gate, with the add-on Tales of the Sword Coast slipstreamed into the game. Oh yes, and there was the case of two "huge" multi-platform games as well, a sequel and a spin-off, neither one of which no one in my immediate vicinity really wanted to see. First was Dead Space 3, that by its mainframe alone screamed out modern co-op-oriented Resident Evil meets Lost Planet, and not only was that exactly what it was, but it was once again a failure in an already degrading, initially super-promising and super-refreshing survival horror franchise. So, that one I've certainly played and I certainly have it on my shelf (as decoration...), because of a promise I made back when I finished Dead Space 2. With the second big game, I never promised anything except to think about it once it came out: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. To this day, every word about that game rings of uninterest. Yeah, sure, I'm a Metal Gear fan - I probably won't need to explain why I am so reluctant to play this game. Without stooping to the level of bashing Raiden, and confessing my love for Solid Snake (had to say that...), I'll just say what is a damn fact. Metal Gear Rising has NOTHING to do with Metal Gear. I'll buy the game once it's cheap enough, and I promise to try it out; liking it might take a little more trying, with the toughest part being forgetting the name.

Star of the bigger reboot of the year, this one
didn't sell as expected, either, though.
March: two reboots, a 3DS Castlevania game which has since been remastered for Sony and Microsoft's online services, a new Walking Dead game which "kinda" fell short of its "predecessor's" success, the final (?) add-on for the age-old MMO Final Fantasy XI, the latest and surprisingly poorly received Gears of War and God of War installments, and finally, the gamer's choice, and a formidable runner for game of the year (not on my personal account, though): BioShock Infinite. So, Castlevania came out first, and leaving my final opinion on the game's HD version hanging for now, I must say I at least somewhat pity those Lords of Shadow fans who went out and bought a Nintendo 3DS for the sake of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. Just as the add-ons to the original Lords of Shadow taught us, we should've just waited for Lords of Shadow 2 to see how the Belmont clan's story takes form after one of the cliffhangers of the century. The two reboots were released on the exact same day, the 5th: SimCity, which was almost the first PC game I ever bought, let alone pre-ordered, but luckily I didn't do that since critical reception to the game was overwhelmingly, not to mention, unbelievably, bad. How could they possibly fuck up a brilliant, simple idea like SimCity? It's beyond me, and as time has passed and the reception gotten even worse, I don't plan to find out. Tomb Raider, on the other hand, got a fantastic makeover. As a fan of the original series, you can say what you will, but personally, I hated the emphasis on Lara Croft's sexual being, and as the reverse-progressive critical and commercial success of the series goes to prove, that concept got old in time. This game introduced a far more sensitive girl from next door, who really had to work on her crazy moves, and she was scared as shit while trying to pull them off. Yeah, I know you'd like me to note her smaller cups, too - when it comes down to something like that, I think she was more attractive and charismatic than her earlier incarnation, too. A great action-adventure, one of the best shooters in its recent history, and definitely my favourite Square Enix-produced game since Final Fantasy XII, at least. (Still working on my take on the latest Deus Ex, in case you're wondering.)

We're still in early March - the 12th day delivered my first pre-ordered SteelBook Special Edition of the year. Now as I just talked about DmC, it's a fine time to say that my friend Pekka is a huge fan of that franchise, and we've had many arguments where he has defended Devil May Cry, and I've tried to oppose him with something I love as dearly, which was admittedly influenced by Devil May Cry, and which he on the other hand at least dislikes very much: God of War. God of War: Ascension was... NOT a disappointment. I knew exactly what I was heading into, a God of War game that wouldn't be as good as the previous games, but would still be a God of War game and at least this far, I've been happy with that much. It was indeed an entertaining game, and I think the time is getting ripe to take it for another spin; now that I don't have to worry about reviewing the game, might even be that I'll enjoy it more than the last time around. Gears of War: Judgment came out less than a week later to a very disappointed audience; I was kinda expecting when people would finally recognize the series' faults and not just blindly rate every game to high heaven. For the record, I haven't tried the game and I haven't even finished Gears of War 3 yet. As much as I have enjoyed games 2 and 3, I will never count 'em among the Xbox's best offerings, unlike everyone else on this planet. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct was an FPS, riding on the wind of Telltale Games' great success with their point 'n' click masterpiece, and even though it featured high-profile voice actors including series stars Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, and had great production values, the game failed miserably. On the 26th, Final Fantasy XI (presumably) got its final chapter in Seekers of Adoulin, but no one really noticed, as Irrational Games' BioShock spin-off BioShock Infinite came to collect the fruit of each commercially failed game of the year released that far. I've got to admit that with its great success, BioShock Infinite has stirred some guilt in me for being an FPS-hater. Then again, I have played BioShock 2, which is often mentioned as one of the greatest games of the generation, and it didn't impress me beyond its art style.

April was a quiet month, save for the Wii U-"exclusive" re-release of Ninja Gaiden 3, subtitled Razor's Edge, arriving to the PS3 and Xbox 360 to wipe the floor with the original version. Also, NetherRealm Studios unleashed their spiritual successor to Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, entitled Injustice: Gods Among Us, which fared quite well, with another surreal plot revolving around alternate dimensions and the end of the world, and simple rivalries fast evolving into an all-out fight to the death. May was an equally quiet month. FPS fans once again got their long-anticipated share with Metro: Last Light, and the 3DS game Resident Evil: Revelations was brought to the big boys - outshining its major predecessor (originally successor) Resident Evil 6 in every possible way, and definitely marking the return of some of that old atmosphere, but still being very far from what Resident Evil once was.

"Drugs. I sell hardcore drugs, dad." "Well, good. You can
start helping with the mortgage then." The moment I knew
I was going to like The Last of Us. Just ten minutes later,
I knew I was going to love it.
June disappointed more mature PC players with the strength of a (nominal) reboot and a remake of one of the most classic graphic adventures of all time. The MMO RPG Neverwinter actually had very little to do with BioWare's classic Neverwinter Nights, as well as the old DOS game of the same name, but when you put the words "dungeons", "dragons", and "Neverwinter" together, you'll be expected a standard, the ever-strong presence of World of Warcraft creates another standard, and apparently, Cryptic Studios failed to reach those standards. Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded is on my "to get" list, just because of every single one of those million times I've clashed through the original Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, and every enhanced version of it thus far in the last 19 years (24 minutes is my current record, with the original DOS version). Marvel fans finally got the game they expected for years... and didn't. As much as Deadpool deserved his namesake game, as well presented as it was, with Nolan North once again providing the voice of the merc with a mouth, the gameplay values were utterly panned. Nolan North... Nathan Drake... Uncharted... Naughty Dog... did I forget something? June 14th marked the arrival of The Last of Us, one of the greatest and most emotional stories ever told within the confines of one single action game - and one single game is all we'll probably going to have, since it really wasn't of the sequel material. But then again, it's quite enough. The Last of Us was expected to be the last true masterpiece of the generation (ahem...), and serve as a standard for the whole of the next one. If that's the case, The Last of Us truly restored my faith in modern third-person shooters, which will probably be the flagships of the next generation as well. But we'll see how it turns out.

July really didn't have anything I'd find worth mentioning in store, but August came with two critically acclaimed Japanese RPG's, new Saints Row and Splinter Cell games, three remakes and one "reboot". Disney's answer to collectible toys interspersed with video gaming, such as Pokémon and Skylanders came in the form of the highly acclaimed Disney Infinity, probably your best choice for a Christmas gift to your demanding child. A new J-RPG IP named Dragon's Crown and Namco's latest in their long series of "Tales", Tales of Xillia, came out to great response. However, Tales of Xillia got a few slashes from the axe, and it's completely understandable even if I still haven't tried the game, it's there on my shelf but I haven't had the time for it - like, it was delayed for years like Ni no Kuni but unlike that game, it had aged quite a bit (both games were published by Namco Bandai, interestingly, just developed by different groups). Also, it's a bit weird how each Tales game is released exclusively for a different system, making it impossible to collect the whole neat set for one single system - even if you have both of them. Nitpickers? Yep, and we love ourselves the way we are. I haven't much to say about Saints Row IV, except that when the game came out, I stumbled on a copy of the first game, sold at under 4 euros. Had to buy that one for curiosity's sake. Also, the only thing I've got to say about Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist, is that I'm still very interested in the franchise after initially giving it the boot at the time of Pandora Tomorrow, and that I think Tom Clancy was a great man. R.I.P.. Remakes: the first one was a remake of none other than one of the greatest 8-bit platformers ever made. DuckTales Remastered was a good platformer, but quite the disappointment for an old fan - of both the game and the show.

Now here's the funny thing, and I promise you I'm not shitting you in the slightest! On the morning of August 21st, I was sipping down a cup of coffee, searching my shelf for untouched games that I would finally like to try out, all proper-like, and one of the games that caught my eye was Prince of Persia, the 2008 reboot. Well, right now I'm playing The Sands of Time, for the first time in my life, and I'm kinda liking it, but just a few months ago, my knowledge of and experience with Prince of Persia was limited to the very original game, that fucking enfuriating, yet strangely addictive cinematic platformer. Not the console versions either, but the very original computer version. Then I started thinking of other similar games that were released on the SNES in the early 90's, and which eventually led to the creation of Oddworld for the PlayStation. Blackthorne was my favourite out of those games, but I never played it that much since it was so hard to find - I lived in a small town and the local video store extended their 8- and 16-bit stock by just a couple of games per year. Where is this long story going, you wonder? Well, the SNES versions of Out of This World (known as Another World around here) and Flashback were the games that were the most familiar to me from this genre. My brother had OoTW and my best friend had Flashback - and while these two games were so similar, I kinda liked Out of This World, and absolutely HATED Flashback. However, I had some sort of affection to the game, and even an obsession with its sequel Fade to Black back at the time (just because it was named "Fade to Black", like the Metallica song). I started thinking about Flashback (having flashbacks of Flashback) and thought that it was kinda weird there never was a third Flashback game, or that Flashback had never been taken up for a remake. Then, I logged on to Xbox LIVE, went to see the new stuff on Arcade, and what did I find? Flashback - the remake. ...And just to put a cap on this long story, it apparently sucks ass and I have no intention to get it. The end.

The biggest remake of the year is Square Enix's quest for salvation - once again I'd like to grab 'em by the throats and tell 'em what their true salvation would be, yet I digress - A Realm Reborn - Final Fantasy XIV, a project created from scratch with just the most important basics intact after the complete critical and commercial failure of the original Final Fantasy XIV MMO. I'm not a fan of MMO's, but as the most reckless and stubborn Final Fantasy collector in the world, I am going to get a copy at some point, just as I went to great lengths to finally secure TWO copies of Final Fantasy XI for the PC; actually playing them is not on my agenda. Besides, I've heard really good things about the game, things that please me as a fan - I'm happy that fans more open to massively multiplayer are finding it great, I'm still waiting for the next single-player experience, not to mention the next number... and I'm hoping the best, I truly am.

What happened to this fun-loving lot?
Last on the August list is the disappointment of the year. It's not Dead Space 3, it sure as hell ain't DuckTales Remastered, and it ain't even SimCity either. When I was in the 1st grade, I lived and breathed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I drove people crazy with my badly pronounced surf lingo, I really did. Now here's the thing: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II - The Arcade Game was, and still is, one of my all-time favourite NES games. No, the original arcade game released on Xbox LIVE some years ago did not change that, not one bit - actually, it just proved how great and superior the NES port was back in the day. It was kinda endearing, not disappointing. I heard from a friend on Facebook that this game called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was coming out on Steam and Xbox LIVE, and he had been granted the privilege of testing the game. He said that if anyone ever loved the original comic books or even the very original cartoon, and the old games, he might add, they'd got to try out this game. OK, so I scooped up a couple of screenshots, and heard someone else comparing the combat system to that of the Arkham series. Hell, remember how excited I told you I was back when it was very loosely rumoured that Rocksteady was working on a TMNT game? Now there was an image in my head: this game would rock the shit out of every one of those stupid reboots of the franchise and return to the old-school glory of TMNT, and have destructively awesome gameplay. It was later I found out that it is actually based on the latest reboot, but that didn't matter - if the gameplay was as great as I imagined and the style was as good as I imagined, hell, maybe I would even find the new take on the franchise quite good. Well, again to put a short cap to a long story, the game sucks ass. I regret spending my well-earned money on it, even choosing it over a nice evening with my girl, and if I was just a little more agitated by the crappy gameplay and the sucky art, I'd fucking sue Activision for all things human. I at least hoped for a game that would finally spark my interest to do a TMNT marathon, but once again, it's put on indefinite hold.

And the Game of the Year undoubtedly goes to...
That shitstorm I just brewed up calls upon an even more epic turn of this year's events than it already is. September first brought us Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, a high-definition remake - and I do mean a total remake - of one of my favourite games on the Sega Genesis, one that's even better than the original article. On the same day, somewhat of a cultural mass took place as Diablo III finally made its way to consoles. Outlast was released on the PC to renew many gamers' faith in survival horror, Kingdom Hearts got its long-anticipated HD treatment, and of course, many sports fans of all ages got their game of the year in NHL 14. September 17th saw the release of MechWarrior Online... but no one cared, as Grand Theft Auto V was finally released, to overwhelming critical response and praises from even those fans who gave up on the series after Vice City (there are plenty). I've said quite enough about the game, and I think the game's achievements on this blog speak for themselves - not only did it wipe my franchise favourite San Andreas out of its way, it made all the way to the #1 spot on the Top 60. In October, its online servers were opened for some more Los Santos-sized mayhem - not without flaws, but apparently, GTA Online is up and running just fine at the moment. October was also the time for the three 2013 games I had true interest in. Beyond: Two Souls came out first, and as a Heavy Rain fan, I was intrigued, but after reading the average reviews, I decided that I should postpone the purchase. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag came to save a franchise that wasn't exactly dying, but tiring out, and Batman: Arkham Origins, despite being a good game, apparently came to do the complete opposite.

So, it's been an on/off year, but when it's been on, it has truly been on; two masterpieces, several good games, a few disappointments, but only a couple of games that aren't worth half of the benefit of the doubt and should be dumped in the trash on sight. When I think of this year as a whole, the one common thesis which comes to mind is that my faith in the future of video games is restored, in franchises, as well as whole genres. So, I'm expecting a good show from the next generation of consoles. Welcome to the world.

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