Danny’s Descant: Wrapping Up The 2013 Year In Gaming, And Looking Forward To 2014
With 2013 in the books, it’s a natural time to reflect on the past twelve months and think of our ambitions for the future. Personally, I found the year in gaming to be a mixed bag with an eclectic line-up of indie games challenging established franchises for my precious play time. While the games themselves will undoubtedly be the focus of many other end-of-year articles (’tis the season), I feel compelled to discuss some of the trends for 2013 and how I envisage them playing out in the year to come.
Yes, I will talk about the games too, but first comes The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the gaming world last year.
Even if you don’t play games, the launch of the next generation systems has been inescapable, permeating the mainstream and topping gift lists around the world. While these new machines don’t represent a huge technical leap forward in terms of graphics, they do allow for multitasking at unprecedented levels and are poised to redefine how we play and interact with games. Specifically, the new Kinect is proving to be more than just a gimmick, competently responding to voice commands/gestures and offering genuine quality of life improvements for navigating menus and accessing content. Perhaps the best part of the new console releases is just how according to plan it all went. A few outliers aside, hardware is working as advertised with no ‘red-ring’ fiasco to spoil the party. It’s a good time to be a gamer.
The other major positive I have taken from 2013 is the continued growth of the indie development scene. The success of independent titles such as Gone Home and The Stanley Parable demonstrates to fledgling developers that a solid concept and the dedication to realize it can reap financial rewards without resorting to a corporate blueprint. The indie scene routinely pushes the boundaries of gaming and provides an outlet for experimentation that most major developers/publishers simply won’t take the risk on. Many of these games are rough around the edges and sometimes they fall flat, but a bustling independent community is good for the industry as the best ideas find their way to the mainstream and influence future work.
For as positive as the independent scene is, I feel it is coming at the cost of middle of the road studios. 2013 saw the ceremonial burial of THQ and the dissemination of their intellectual property at auction to giants such as Ubisoft and Koch Media. Most of THQ’s assets could be considered mid-tier with several recognizable names but few stand-out blockbusters. 2013 also saw a slew of medium-sized studios such as Gas Powered Games and Double Fine Productions taking to Kickstarter as a means to keep their projects afloat. For some of these studios, as is the case with Gas Powered Games, the future looks bleak with significant layoffs and development on life-support; the only life-preserver being the outside chance that a larger company will buy-up assets and inject some cash with the very real potential for loss of creative control. At the same time, the rich keep getting richer with Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto both breaking the billion-dollar sales marker. I don’t begrudge anyone for making money but can’t help but feel that had some of those GTA sales gone to Saint’s Row, THQ might still be in business. Perhaps the elimination of the mid-range developer is a sign of the gaming climate and the demands to go big or go home, but I feel it’s a step closer to homogenization and a perpetual cycle of yearly clones and rehashes.
While the squeezing of the middle-class is lamentable, the squeezing of the paying consumer is unforgivable. The insistence of publishers to implement always-on digital rights management needs to be stopped. There was no reason that Sim City needed to be developed as a multiplayer only experience and the atrocious handling of its launch with inadequate server power didn’t do anything to help make this design choice palatable. Fortunately, when former Microsoft employee Adam Orth told us to “deal with it” when referring to always-on requirements for the Xbox One, the backlash was severe enough to trigger major policy reforms. Here’s the ugly truth: Bad seeds are going to find a way to pirate stuff no matter what sort of preventative measures are in place and always-on DRM is just hurting the consumer who legitimately bought the product. Collectively, gamers need to stop buying products with these draconian anti-piracy practices but just can’t seem to do so. Sim City has sold over two million copies to date which is a success by most metrics and a sign that, even with a lot of bad-will, people will buy a product anyways. EA learned this lesson all too well as they shoved Battlefield 4 out the door in a virtually unplayable state and still sold over a million units in its first week. *Sigh*
2013 Games of the Year
I always have a hard time deciding on a ‘Game of the Year’. As I’ve elaborated in a previous article, I dislike box-scores in game reviews as they are often the only criteria used to make purchasing decisions. There is simply no substitute for reading a well-crafted review and using your own judgment to determine whether you think a game will be worth playing. Solely relying on a number at the bottom to guide your purchasing decision is bad consumerism. I think the ‘Game of the Year’ label is the epitome of the box score dilemma and is a sure-fire way to end up with inflated expectations. That said, below are my top three picks and what I liked (and didn’t) about each of them. I also mention a few other titles that have been touted as contenders and why they didn’t make my list.
Grand Theft Auto 5
What can I say that hasn’t already been about this game. The massive open world, the polarizing misogynistic characters, the broken multiplayer, and the best rendition of the Grand Theft Auto formula to date all come to mind when I think about this game. Personally, I feel that the multiplayer component is just icing on the single-player cake and I can easily forgive the missing multiplayer sprinkles given the soft, moist, and chocolatey base game. I got exactly what I wanted with GTA5 and that was no small feat. If you liked any of the previous installments, you can’t go wrong here.
I’m a bad person. I didn’t finish this game until literally a few days ago. The upswing of my delayed play through is that I have avoided being swept up in the release hype. I thoroughly enjoyed BioShock Infinite though I found the combat to be vapid and the story to be purposefully baiting me to a hole-filled conclusion. The sights of Columbia are worth a visit and I’m sure some will buy whole-heatedly into the lore; for me, it was a great trip even if I don’t necessarily want to take it again.
The Stanley Parable
A game that bends the conventions of what a game can be. Long after my initial play through I am still pondering the questions of agency and reality explored by this game. I dare not say more other than that if you are only a fan of the yearly Call of Duty blockbuster you will likely hate this game. If, on the other hand, you are cheering the growth of the indie scene in 2013 as I have, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Honorable Mention: Gone Home
This is another game that is getting a lot of attention. I found it to be an intriguing experience that built an ultimately unwarranted eerie suspense. I was particularly impressed with how simple narration could craft a compelling character. Ultimately, I found myself more engrossed in The Stanley Parable and thus this one didn’t quite make the cut.
Special Mention: Civilization 5 – Brave New World
I want to put this one out there as the best expansion pack of the year. The Civilization 5 experience finally feels complete with the introduction of trade routes and an overhaul to social policies. At the same time, I feel that many of the features added by this pack should have been included in the base game, though it’s better that they were added late than never. The expansion doesn’t rectify core issues with the game (including broken hex combat) so only those who have been sold on Civ 5’s direction need apply (or those who haven’t yet tried the base game and get this as part of a complete pack).
Dishonorable Mention/Worst Game of the Year – Infestation: Survival Stories
Wait, what? Didn’t this come out in 2012? Technically yes but it continued to stink its way through 2013 with all of its blatantly cash-grabbing micro-transaction mechanics tied to horrendously boring and unbalanced gameplay. A re-branding from The War Z to Infestation: Survival Stories avoided a bunch of lawsuits a few months ago and has unfortunately given a chance for shameful-lying son-of-a-bitch-“producer”, Sergey Titov, to shrug-off all the negative publicity that came with the initial release and try to peddle his snake-oil again. Do not be fooled! This game is garbage no matter what title it’s going under.
In parting, instead of giving some wild predictions or some poignant philosophical metaphor for the last year, I would rather give my minimal-frills hopes for 2014. In no particular order…
Next-Gen Taking the Driver’s Seat
While 2013 has been all about the lead up to the next generation, the actual launch titles have been sort of weak. This isn’t a surprise as day-one titles are typically made with limited development time and incomplete hardware specifications. Now that the holiday rush has gone, there is a bit less pressure on releasing immediately in favor of quality control and testing the limits of the new hardware. As we approach the end of 2014 we will be firmly in the next-generation cycle and should start to be seeing some spectacular games.
Ultra Street Fighter 4
Easy enough here. I’m a Street Fighter fan and am glad to see that this will be released in time for EVO. Shaking up the balance should make for a wild tournament with at least a few upsets.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
With a new project lead and a commitment to making Diablo 3 a game worthy of its namesake I am cautiously optimistic. Everything I have seen so far tells me that Blizzard isn’t just blowing smoke and we should see a return to form. If it all pans out well, I won’t be surprised if this ends up being the game I play most in 2014.
Seriously, who isn’t excited for this game?
So there you have it, 2013 in a nutshell and my hopes for 2014. Of course, this is far from the complete story and, depending on personal gaming tastes, I may have missed your biggest moment/game. Then again, maybe you’re Sergey Titov and you should burn in hell and be forced to keep your mouth closed forever because you can’t help yourself from lying. Seriously, is it greed or some sort of pathological disorder Sergey? Is it all a cry for help?