2014 Top Five – Tess
As the year draws to a close and we all huddle around whatever warmth we can find and pray that we’ve built up enough fat stores in our bodies to sustain us through the ravages of winter, we become introspective and begin to ask ourselves just what we’ve done with the past year. If you adhere to the ancient rituals of PC gaming, you find yourself appeasing the gods by offering up a list of your favourite five games from the previous twelve months. I must confess that I struggled this year to think up five games to single out as favourites as such. I’ve enjoyed plenty of games this year, but not much has particularly wowed me. The previous year’s offerings over spilled into 2014 for me, and for much of the first half of the year there was little that particularly interested me. There were big budget games that left me cold, indie games that I found a bit bland and a civil war within gaming culture that left me confused and disappointed enough to tune out at times. There were, however, a few games that rose above the chaos to become firm favourites and offer real joy. So here’s my 2014 top five picks.
One of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year was the Lego Movie, it delighted and amazed the kid in me with equal measures. The game (with its rather clunky name) managed to capture some of that joy and rebuild it on my PC monitor. While it lost some of the wit and charm, it was so much fun to play that I couldn’t help but love it. I adored last year’s Marvel superheroes Lego game, so this one had a tough act to follow. I’ve not played the newest Batman Lego game yet, the Hobbit can sod off and I would say I preferred the 2013 Marvel game, but the Movie-game was a delight to play through. It’s a testimony to just how good the Lego games are that even a more linear and constrained entry to the series provides ample shenanigans and fun. I played through the game fully in co-op mode and both my partner and I in bricking around were in fits of giggles a lot of the time. Two grown adults jumping around as Unikitty and Batman never ceased to be a good time.
This one came out of nowhere. It was just a happy find whilst trawling the Steam store for something puzzley. What I stumbled across was a thoroughly charming puzzle game that stomped its way into my heart with ridiculously oversized feet. Featuring a lovely art style and cute animals aplenty, with good voice acting and setup, the game played up to my love of Bigfoot lore to become a surprise favourite for the year. The characters were likable enough to care about and the storyline, basic as it is, was engaging and witty. The puzzles ranged from satisfying but easy to pretty tricky but stopping short of overtly frustrating. I found it to be a pretty well balanced puzzle game that really deserves to be better known than it is. I played parts one and two and felt I’d spent my time well, I’m hoping for a part three in the future.
Hey, do you remember back when South Park first aired on British TV and the media were up in arms about the filth being broadcast on Her Majesty’s airwaves, questions were asked in parliament about standards and parents across the land were on full alert to the risk of their children being corrupted by four potty-mouthed American kids? I stayed up late one night to watch an episode and see what all the fuss was about. My mother stayed up too, just to make sure it wasn’t too horrific. It was that episode about Satan’s kid, Damien, going to South Park Elementary. Yeah, that episode is so tame in comparison to what goes on in the Stick of Truth. It’s crass, puerile and unashamedly silly. It’s brilliant. Teaming up the creators of South Park with one of the best developer studios around – Obsidian Entertainment – turned out to be a great move. The Stick of Truth isn’t just a fine South Park entry; it’s a damned fine RPG in its own right. Take all the South Parkiness out and you’d be left with a very well made 2D RPG game. Likewise, if you take all the RPG out, you’ve got a hilarious South Park story. It works so well. There’s fan-service aplenty, but it never felt like it was getting in the way of giving you an actual game to play. It may seem a strange statement to say, but I was so impressed that they got the look of South Park spot on. It looks and sounds just like an episode, something that seems strangely elusive for other such adaptations to manage. Together with some sharp writing, strong voice acting and amusing japes, the Stick of Truth proved to be a shining beacon of awesome. No lie.
This is the game I never expected to see. A mere sixteen years after the last Tex game graced our personnel computing engines, the noir detective of New San Francisco straightened his fedora and emerged from the shadows for an all new adventure. Despite the switch to high definition resolutions, Tesla Effect is essentially like taking a trip back to the mid nineties. I’ll admit that this top five pick is probably the result of nostalgia, but I was just so pleased to see an old favourite back. There were very few good FMV games in those days (or indeed any day), but Tex Murphy was one of those series that provided solid gaming/puzzling as well as enjoyably cheesy FMV cut scenes. Those games were a mixture of goofy acting, pulp intrigue and low budget production values all mixed into a game that somehow managed to balance it with satisfying puzzles to form a delightful adventure. They were frequently esoteric as hell and at times just plain annoying, but I could always forgive Tex for his foibles because the rest of the game would be so very enjoyable. Tesla Effect is exactly the same in that regard. Some puzzles were awful, the acting hasn’t improved with age, the 3D sets are frankly terrible for a 2014 game and the gameplay hasn’t progressed since 1998, but damn it all if I didn’t love it. If you can see past its problems, Tesla Effect is a very effective blast from the past. I really enjoyed the story, it was delightful to see Tex and the gang back, some areas were genuinely creepy whereas other sections were really funny and I found most of the puzzles were pretty satisfying to beat. It pleases me to no end to have Tex back in my life.
Despite only being released one month ago, the latest Dragon Age game has already become my most played of the games in my library released this year. That may tell you something about how much I like the game. It helps that it’s bloody massive and the latest entry in one of favourite RPG series of recent times. The scope of the game still dazzles me, I can’t fathom just how many man-hours went into this, and the budget must have been incredible. Of course, that doesn’t mean a game is good, just that it was expensive. No, it’s the fact that it’s a great RPG with some excellent writing with a compelling world to explore that make it a good game. Dragon Age is on one hand basically just Tolkein but with all the swearing, sex and gore left in; the familiar fantasy tropes are all in there. However, on the other hand there’s enough world building and ancillary detail poured into the standard fantasy mould that it has become a pretty fascinating world to dive into. Inquisition is comfortable enough with its setting to really have fun playing with things and twisting the tropes just enough to freshen them up. The characters that inhabit the world are some of the best (and most interesting) to grace the series yet; I have my favourites but I find that I like all of the main characters, something of a rarity in these types of game. The game gives you a lot of freedom to play around and explore the huge areas and gives you a good amount of options to impact the story with. It’s varied enough that I’ve yet to burn out on the game or get bored. On the contrary, I’ll probably be starting a new game with a fresh character once I’ve done with my first play through. That’s still quite a long way off though. It’ll be an adventure for Future-Tess to have. For now, Present-Tess is neck deep in Dragon Age and is loving every minute of it.