Here at Gamasutra, we've been putting together our individual top 5 games of the year lists -- here's mine
. The problem with end of year lists in general is that they focus on the "best" games, while those games that were flawed, yet still had merit, are generally forgotten.
I have this special selection of games that, in my head, I like to call "the essential 7/10 games." These are games that generally fare averagely with critics, yet provide a must-play experience that is unfortunately flawed in some way -- and in turn, provide game designers with plenty of lessons to be learned.
The classic example of such a game would be L.A. Noire
. It's impossible to look past many of this crime adventure's flaws -- of which there were many -- yet if anyone was to ask me "Should I play L.A. Noire
?" I would respond, "Oh goodness yes, it's a must-have."
Looking to 2014, there were plenty of these types of games to indulge in. I've picked out five that, while flawed, present brilliant ideas for developers to build upon.
Following on from the storytelling lessons learned in Indigo Prophecy
and Heavy Rain
, David Cage and his team attempted to branch off in a more movie-orientated direction. Beyond: Two Souls
not only featured notable film actors and advertised itself as if it were an interactive movie, but it arguably contained very little gameplay -- and what was there was barely "gameplay" as such, with jarring button jabs and stick-flicks to make the movie continue onwards.
Beyond: Two Souls
is not a great game, then -- but if you approach Beyond
as a movie trying to be a game, rather than a game trying to be a movie, there are enjoyable experiences (and design lessons) to be found. Most notably, a movie that is disguising itself as a game is, unsurprisingly, a great opportunity for bringing people who aren't avid players into the fold. I personally started my playthrough surrounded by members of my family who don't play games, and within an hour they were all sat around the TV, entranced by the action unfolding, and excited at the prospect of altering the course of the story -- essentially being part of a movie, rather than part of a movie audience.
It was perhaps this shared introduction to Beyond
which allowed me to enjoy it to its fullest. I still felt irked by the random button-mashing elements that would pop up whenever I just wanted to focus on the story - yet the story that threw itself back and forward through time, coupled with the ability to exit Jodie's body and watch scenes from "outside looking in" was glorious. Between this and The Walking Dead
, it feels like developers are finally learning how to properly bridge the gap between movies and games.Doki Doki Universe
is the very definition of a video game mish-mash. It has Scribblenauts
-style conjuring and matching, a bit of space travel thrown in for good measure, and a whole bunch of random "personality quizzes," which attempt to take your answers to silly life questions, and tell you the sort of person you are based on whether you liked a picture of a robot or a picture of a baby more. It's very wacky and very silly, but ultimately far too simplistic, to the point where you're simply talking to characters, waiting for them to tell you what they want, then conjuring that item up and moving on.
What makes Doki Doki Universe
so notable is its fixation on love, and caring, and relationships, and warm fuzzy feelings inside. It's a bit like the movie Wall-E -- this is a game centered on cutting human interaction and conversation down to its fundamentals, and exposing the sorts of relationships that occur in day-to-day life. There are no weapons or killings involved in this game -- instead, you get put in situations like this:
Doki Doki Universe
provides an undeniably feel-good experience that genuinely leaves you with a smile on your face after you've put it down. How many other games can you say that about?
This game was part of Level-5's Guild02
series -- for those unaware, the Guild
games are short-form experiments created in collaboration with various Japanese game designers. Attack of the Friday Monsters!
is from the mind of Millennium Kitchen's Kazu Ayabe, best known for the Boku no Natsuyasumi
series which, alas, have never received English ports.
Ayabe is great at creating experiences that, like Doki-Doki Universe
above, produce a warm feeling inside throughout. Attack of the Friday Monsters
provides a warm yet energetic note that washes over you while you play -- a small yet lively world that feels both rewarding to explore, and bright and cheerful enough that you constantly want to push onwards. Besides the childish, cheery feeling, there's also a neat take on providing missions for players, describing them as "chapters" to go with the tale, and a charming card game which can then be used to make other kids in the neighborhood bow to your every whim.
Unfortunately, Attack of the Friday Monsters
is also awfully linear and, in places, poorly designed. Much of your time is spent walking into shiny objects on the floor in a bid to build up your card collection, while the gameplay itself involves simply looking for numbers on a map, walking there, and allowing the story to continue onwards. Still, there are design takeaways in terms of capturing imaginations, and transporting players to a small yet wonderful land.
It's fair to say that MirronMoon EP
was one of the most unique video game experiences you could have in 2013. Santa Ragione's latest release is more about the art and the exploration than any real game-centric aims as such, which is perhaps why a number of critics didn't take to the experience so well. Well, that and the awkward controls.
But to miss out on MirrorMoon EP
simply because its Metacritic score box glows yellow would be an unfortunate mistake. This is a puzzle game that wants
you to roam through the darkness and the empty space, such that when you do begin to pick up the hints and understand what your purpose is, you're all the more intrigued. Even just beginning the game in the first place is a calculated hassle, as you're provided with a label-less spaceship console, and left to your own meddling devices.
is a lesson in taking wide-open spaces, and not feeling the need to fill them with waffle. The game's landscapes may often feel empty and devoid of reason, but sometimes those confusing strolls through nothingness can make the payoff even greater. Of course, judging by the reaction to MirrorMoon EP
, it would appear that the perfect balance was not fully attained here -- but it's still a wonderful case study in design.
Simulator games have been the butt of internet jokes for years now, although they do still have their niche audiences
. When Euro Truck Simulator 2
launched for PC, and especially when it later landed on Steam, it appeared that it would simply be another truck sim to add to the growing pile. Yet as it turned out, this time was different -- SCS Software had iterated on the concept so many times by this point, that it sort of had it sussed presentation-wise.
This meant that it was possible to tackle one of these simulation games as if it were an actual simulation, rather than a poor video game representation. And as players and critics discovered, there's a rather calming feel to being put in the mindset of a European truck driver. Euro Truck Simulator 2
provided this weird form of video game immersion where your own surroundings were brought into the game world. Just as a truck driver might zone out after several hundred miles and become focused on the music he's listening to, or the items scattered across the passenger seat of his truck, players found themselves fiddling with items on their desks, or simply sitting back and utilizing Euro Truck Simulator 2
as a different way to wind down after a hard day at work.
At the end of the day, Euro Truck Simulator 2
is still a game about driving from A to B, down highways and country lanes that all look the very same, and is most definitely not an experience for everyone. What it did prove, however, was that immersion in video games doesn't need to come from deep stories, or tight controls, or beautiful visuals -- it can simply come from offering players an open road, and a world to gaze your eyes over to.