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Usually a Game of the Year article is a list of the best games that came out that year. This, however, is a Games of the Year article, which I am taking to mean games I played in 2014 in general, regardless of when they came out. Partly because I am a rebel. Partly because it’s a ton less interesting to only talk about games that came into the world this past year when I could be talking about games that were important to me, a human being who exists at this point in time. Even if they were made twenty years ago, and even if they were only important insofar as they were shite as all hell.
So without further ado, here is a list of whatever games I can remember having played this year together with a few short words on why, perhaps, they were memorable.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
My hopes for Ground Zeroes were dashed by its seriousness. The existential absurdity of the series to date was what drew me to believe in and care for its characters and stories – short of that, Metal Gear Solid becomes a joyless, soulless replica of every action cliché it used to mock endearingly. Ground Zeroes intends to be a juncture in Big Boss’ career – a tragic moment that juts out from the past like a tumour, signalling a turning point towards his eventual downfall. It was this for my love of the series, too.
There is a memorial in Berlin dedicated to Jewish victims of the Holocaust which appears from afar like a tableau of tombs in a neat wide grid. As you approach the waist-high slabs you can see the pathways between them descend beneath ground-level and roll up and down for the length of the square. The tombs become towering columns as you wander the memorial, the walls of a maze; children and adults alike allow themselves to get lost and chase their friends. I felt then, as I did with The Legacy, the hope inherent in graveyards as a structure.
Persona 3 Portable
The Persona series enter the power fantasy into the social realm something wonderfully. The systems it uses are those typical to RPGs and JRPGs—succeed at ‘life goals’ to gain currency, accumulate currency to expand your ‘life goals’. An ungenerous player could read an upgraded Social Link as a dehumanizing means to creating more powerful persona, but I lean more towards accepting the metaphors presented of interpersonal relationships, personal identity and ultimately maintaining one’s humanity. To this end, you enjoy it as much as you enjoy its characters. Shinjiro, Mitsuru, Akihiko, Rio and Saori are spotlights.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
After gorging myself on too much Persona 3 I needed a game where, quote: “I jump on things.” Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was that game. I liked to stand on a rooftop and fling coins to the street until a good-sized crowd has gathered below. Then I’d drop down a blood bomb, coating every single one of them in a fountain of lamb gore. As the traumatised peasantry panic and flee, I shriek with laughter and boast of Ezio’s fine social breeding. The ludonarrative harmony in playing the Italian nobleman as a total dickhead makes the game for me.
Terminal dedicates itself to the wonderful phenomenon of cyborgization inherent in immersion, wherein my sense of reality is transported from the chair upon which I now sit into the computer screen consuming my though processes. The terminal in Terminal is represented in-game; I can tilt my head slightly to imply my ‘character’ as a person with a neck staring at a console. All the action and interaction occurs within that digitized, codified virtual world, and eventually I forget my character has a neck, my consciousness now distributed across the mechanical tools of humanity.
Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen
Blood Omen has aged, but not to the point where the best thing about it is any less striking: ridiculously ornate dialogue flowing from the mouths of theatrical voice actors. Littering the land of Nosgoth are these glyphs which, when stood on, trigger descriptions and exposition not unlike modern games’ audiologs. Whereas audiologs secret the promise of narrative value (only the promise, never the actuality) in the moreish format of collectibles, the audio triggered by Blood Omen’s glyphs are themselves a melody. Their worth is in how the aesthetic overwhelms me, rather than through conceits of accumulation and ownership.
Dark Souls 2
The best thing about Dark Souls 2 – the thing I’ve not seen anyone write about or even think about – is the care it shows to its voices. I’d not heard a diversity of Irish accents in a game since forever (fair play to it but Kingdom of Amalur can only claim the toora-loora dialect). American games—indeed most western-produced games—have a laughable track record of self-indulgence and appropriation of Irish culture for their own claims towards heritage; to them, Ireland is but a mystical land of yore. So Gilligan pronouncing “west” with a ‘H’ was a highlight this year.
Virtue’s Last Reward
This game is still very difficult to talk about. I love it.
Electric Tortoise involves a conversation between you and an android which invariably indicts you as a big smelly hypocrite. This is a game interested in dignity and respect for life; how you choose to address the android during your investigation of its murdered ‘owner’ reflects presumptions of a social and ontological hierarchy. I particularly love how the interface—you choose your dialogue options from an on-screen monitor—highlights conceits of spiritual grandeur of humanity with echoes of classical mind/body dualism.
Creatures Such as We
Two things: 1) I forgot what name I had given myself and laughed merrily when a character referred to me as “Buttchaplain Excelsior”. 2) I am invested in the pursuit of authorial understanding that forms the spine of this narrative. The compulsion to dwell on a particularly intriguing media text makes the player-character’s ‘routine’ an enticing avenue through which we explore the world and ourselves. Oddly, insinuations of her job as boring and unwanted never highlight it for the reader as uninteresting; it instead reads as context, and context, of course, delights.
The night I installed this I played it for five hours straight, unlocking the things and scoring the points. It was popcorn: superficially attractive, compulsive, but ultimately unnourishing. It’s not even especially nice to play—its sense of gravity and weightlessness makes me anxious, and the grind of ‘killing 100 planes without releasing X’ only serves to pad out a false sense of achievement. I don’t know what if anything it loves.
The Walking Dead season 2
Whereas season 1 was about personal choices and the weight of responsibility for one’s actions, season 2 adapted the same structures of input, embodiment and choice to a politically-inclined storyline. Group dynamics revolve less around what has resulted from Lee’s capital-D Decisions and more about how nuanced interpersonal relationships lend to your group’s sense of cohesion. Clementine’s regarded interchangeably by her companions as a hardened survivor or an incapable child, which some players read as confusion on the game’s part. For me it contributed to an atmosphere of self-consciousness in seeing my identity filtered down through the eyes of others.
The Wolf Among Us
Presumably a story about class inequalities, social exploitation and systemic crime, but ostensibly disinterested in these issues as anything beyond thematic framing. The Wolf Among Us never fulfils its promise to care about the women its chopping the heads off, favouring instead to vindicate Bigby as an agent in the Fabletown ecosystem. And ultimately, an impotent tool of player will.
Resident Evil 6
I played this briefly in co-op with a tagteam of people. We eventually got to the part where Leon is running around a graveyard and zombies literally spawn a foot from you when the lightning flashes. When he is let into a church by a group of 50 survivors, his investigation (accidentally) releases a horde of monsters which proceeds to kill every nameless person in their path. He flicks his hair and wags a thumb-up at the co-op partner. It was not a “good job”, Leon. It was not.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
The epitome of Black Ops 2 is at the start of the game. Two Soldier Men enter a room where a third, older Soldier Man is sitting. One Soldier Man references the old Soldier Man as a female reproductive organ, to which the old Soldier Man responds by attributing the first Soldier Man as more severely characteristic of that particular body part. Having established that each Soldier Man is sufficiently both Soldier and Man, the conversation progresses to discussing the story’s impetus of war and, presumably, soldiering.
Metro: Last Light
Clunky mechanics merge beautifully with survivalist hodgepodge technology in the world of Metro. There’s a lot in its ludic and narrative systems that many players and critics might chastise as needlessly obtuse and contrived, but which I view as proof that games can excel through “bad” game design. I can—and did—spend a half hour just soaking in the details of the very first room on the very first level. It came at a point for me between hyper-polished, tasteless blockbuster apocalyptic wastelands, which, I realise, describes AAA games in general.
In Ireland we have a specific word to use for a sort of socializing fun that may or may not be mischievous or decadent in nature: “craic.” For as little as critics can talk about fun in relation to games as a medium, there’s a whole universe of nothing on how the craic abounds. But look, Singstar is great craic. We played it on the PS2, rescuing fifth-hand copies of its various incarnations from charity shops at two bob a pop. Its play is the embodiment of performative.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
The story led me to believe my female avatar, named Tackle, would pair up well with the male lead Chrom. Over many battles their Relationship Bar levelled enough so that their relationship could develop in stages, like so: Tackle accidentally saw Chrom naked; Chrom accidentally saw Tackle naked; they professed their sudden love for each other, at which point they immediately became married. That’s how Fire Emblem: Awakening thinks relationships operate. Its one hundred-plus hour playtime is contingent on enjoying its writing.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
The thing I love most about the Ace Attorney series is the sense of sadness with which it views the past as a whole. Events, characters, relationships all crumble before the relentless march of time. Survivors dedicate their lives to finding resolution to their personal tragedies and to creating a positive legacy in the face of an apathetic cosmos. Dual Destinies retains this affection for generational pathos; the ever-aging generation Wright and Edgeworth belong to are now actively involved in crafting a future for their protégés. It feels good to now have gradually inhabited that tragic spirit.
Resident Evil: Revelations
Yay this was good.
Professor Layton and the Spectre’s Call
Saccharine and endearing, if stunted by its low opinions on class and women—the elephant in the room for what is otherwise a decent children’s game. Layton constantly teaches his protégé Luke all the various ways a proper gentleman must behave himself, including, for instance, bottling up emotions and condescending to women as a matter of fact. The US version of the game has Luke with a primmer, upperclass accent than the EU voice actor, reminding me that Britishness is increasingly a commodified status quo of kyriarchial power.
A masterclass in game narrative. Rabbit Rush twines form around boundaries of consciousness and reality to create what is at once lucidity and terror, fantasy and despair. We hide in shells of our former lives to escape realization that this world we live in has grown and changed, that all we could love is only ever fleeting. Everything in Rabbit Rush is virtual, illusory, representative. It incorporates the fourth wall without ever needing to break it.