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5 flawed games from 2013 (that game devs should play) Exclusive
5 flawed games from 2013 (that game devs should play)
December 20, 2013 | By Mike Rose

December 20, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

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.

Beyond: Two Souls by Quantic Dream

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.jpgBeyond: 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 by HumaNature Studios

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.jpgDoki 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?

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale by Level-5

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.

attack friday monsters.jpgAyabe 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.

MirrorMoon EP by Santa Ragione

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.

mirrormoon ep.jpgMirrorMoon EP 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.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 by SCS Software

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.

Euro Truck Simulator 2.jpgThis 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.

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Ivan Dimov
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Well, I'm disappointed there is no Bioshock Infinite in the list.

Larry Weya
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Bioshock makes it to my list as well, IMHO there is just too much going on in terms of abilities that I end up forgetting to use many of them. I would have preferred fewer abilities that I upgrade and make maximum use of, most of the fights feel like flukes and I wouldnt be able to, or want to re-do them.

Dane MacMahon
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"Between this and The Walking Dead, it feels like developers are finally learning how to properly bridge the gap between movies and games."

Why is this a gap we want to bridge?

John Flush
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@Dane - Because there is an audience of people that want it. Not every game should be pure gameplay, and as the Walking Dead has shown there are plenty of people that want more from their movies.

I like the concept of interactive TV and Movies. Will it be what I always spend my entertainment time on? No, but I do like the fact there are now options.

Craig Hoffman
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@John Flush - exactly

Occasionally, I still play The Pandora Directive (1996) - a first person/adventure/puzzle 'interactive movie'.

Luis Guimaraes
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I wouldn't say "we" want it, but:

As John Flush said, because people that want more from their movies.

Also because the movies market is as crowded as the market of games for mobile or korean MMOs. Video-Games are the "fresh new platform" for movies where concurrency is low and praise is high. Many stories and overall work from Click-Flicks would be considered subpar and cliche if they were released in the form of movies instead of Video-Games.

We seem to be an easy target, or more specifically, an easier league to compete in - with Gamification (read "extrinsic reward loops") working better than when it's intentionally designed -, specially when it comes to oscar-baiting.

George Menhal III
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Bioshock Infinite should be on this list.

It's a great game, but it's terribly flawed and it somehow magnifies and heightens nearly all of the problems the original Bioshock had.

Michael Gaylord
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Sim City is extremely flawed. They had a very good idea and the new Sim code and graphics are awesome.

The flaw is in the always connect online requirement that was implemented. Having to wait in a Que to play a single player game is ridiculous, and then having all the data wiped and forcing players to start from day one was just horrible. Then all the lag from having to be connected to a remote server with 100s of others is also a total flaw. It's one of the reasons why I deleted Diablo 3 that I got for free, after all the lag and having to login to play I uninstalled it after one run through.

I was looking foreword to getting Sim City until I heard of all this nonsense and steered way clear of this nightmare of a game. Simulations are my favorite game genre and I would have loved to play Sim City but, the devs decided to add a bunch of unnecessary online functions that totally ruined that game for me and possibly a lot more players.

David Canela
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From what I heard another valuable lesson from Beyond: Two Souls is that if you're going to strip the game parts away, you better at least get the story part right ;)

On a more serious note, I found gone home to be flawed in some ways (too many ringbinders and other written notes to be truly elegant). Yet it still was one of my best and faith-renewing game experiences of this year.

Fiore Iantosca
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Beyond was a great game. I connected more with its characters than the Last of Us. I thought there was plenty of gameplay.

Larry Weya
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Beyond two souls is at the top of my list, not because I think it the most flawed but because there is a lot to learn from it and there is a lot thats been done right. Though I find myself criticising some of its parts, I also enjoy playing it. It is the start of something that its developers can refine and learn from to create a better experience in a similar style. E.g. It should allow the player to make mistakes and cut down on the hand holding and if there has to be choice, let the choices count for something. Still best game for me as a dev this year.

The last of us was well executed technologically, combat is fluid, looks gorgeous, everything works but just wasn't fun for me, exhausting if anything and repetitive.