Kept you waiting, huh? James’ top five games of 2014

Yes it’s very late, but it’s here now: my top five games of last year, with choices sure to really annoy some people. But it’s my list, and I’ll put what the hell I like on it. LET’S DO THIS.

1. P.T

Yes I’m putting a no-longer-available free teaser for a cancelled game on my game of the year list, and it’s for two main reasons. First and most important is its quality; for a free teaser that uses one hallway and two rooms P.T managed to create the most effective horror atmosphere and longest-lasting scare I’ve ever got from a game. Seriously, Lisa is something that haunts me to this day, not just from her horrible jump scare, but from her constant presence throughout the teaser- she’s always around, but she’s not always willing to just kill you and get it over with. Elsewhere the imagery crammed into the short run time was constantly effective- the fetus, the fridge, the radio; it does what full-length, full-price games can only dream of doing. The second reason is that it deserves to be remembered, no matter how hard Konami tries to squash it. It’s a piece of art made all the more important to history by the circumstances surrounding it, and it’s a bloody good time. Unfortunately unless Konami say otherwise it’s gone forever, so if you’ve got it installed on your PS4, keep hold of it- of all the games I played last year, it’s the one that stuck with me the most, something I can’t say for so many other horror games.

2. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Yeah, yeah, I know: £40 demo, right? Except it’s not though. People went on about how this was a quick cash grab and a paid demo but frankly if Ground Zeroes is a paid demo, then so is Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, and people bloody love that. Plus they dropped the price before release, but anyway, moving on to the actual game. Sure Ground Zeroes was intended as a prologue to 2015’s absolute beast “The Phantom Pain”, but it actually works really well on its own merits. It re-invents Metal Gear Solid in a way not seen since MGS2 (gameplay wise I mean), even more so in fact. It’s new smooth, fluid stealth gameplay is still a joy to mess around with now, its map was a good warm-up for the huge expanses seen in TPP, and its short, tight story of Big Boss infiltrating not-Guantanamo Bay was harrowing, bleak and a beautiful prologue for what was to come. Its side ops were all fun and made good use of the same map, and overall it actually felt like something Kojima had put some time and effort into, rather than just a prologue chapter cut from the start of TPP. You could argue it should have been included in TPP, but for me it works best the way it is. It’s a good, short story that sets up everything in TPP, it tided me over and as a game, as a separate release, I enjoyed it enough for it to easily have a place on this list. Also it has a beautiful use of Joan Baez and Ennio Morricone’s “Here’s to you”, which is always a good thing.

3. Wolfenstein The New Order

This was something of a surprise, all told. On the run up to release I was intrigued by its setting and story, but suspected that it could, like a lot of games, go completely wrong when I actually got my hands on it. An update of a classic (indeed, THE classic in this case) first person shooter with an alternate history story, I imagine a lot of people would have been satisfied with The New Order being decent, or at least not shit. Well that wasn’t enough for Bethesda, who gave us the best first person shooter single player campaign I’ve played in a long time. It mixed old school fun with more modern shooter sensibilities and somehow managed to gel the two together nicely, its story was given the drama and gravity it required along with a genuine human element, and B.J Blazkowicz was reborn as a weary, beaten-down soldier whose quiet, desperate narration of events and surprising sense of humor made him seem like an actual person on top of his super-human qualities; a man with an almost-all consuming hated of Nazis, whose main skill is killing Nazis thrown into a world where the Nazis won World War II. Great gunplay, great story, absolutely worth checking out. Also it’s given me hope for the new DOOM game Bethesda’s making.

4. Shovel Knight

(Note that while I did play the original PC release of Shovel Knight in 2014, I didn’t finish the game until I played the Xbox One version this year, so this will be based on my experiences with that)

Shovel Knight is a beautiful game, and I say that as someone who never owned a NES, and has no real nostalgia for that general era of games. That’s how strong the art style, music and gameplay are; they all come together to create an amazing platformer that had me glued to the telly from start to finish. It’s fun, it’s challenging, it has a great sense of humor and it manages to pack in more genuine emotion than every game David Cage has ever made combined. The ending had the same effect on me as the ending of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1, though they were tears of a decidedly more positive nature. So moving is the end of the game, and so well crafted is the journey preceding it that even though I beat it this year I felt compelled to put the original version on this list. It can be frustrating, as is the nature of the games from the period this emulates, but it’s a balanced, satisfying game with a great story that really needs to be experienced. Roll on whatever Yacht Club Games is doing next, and hopefully we’ll get a sequel to this beast at some point.

 

5. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle

I don’t tend to review fighting games, as a rule. I enjoy them a lot, but I have no real technical skill, nor can I critique the systems within them beyond a very basic level. I did feel able to review this though, as even by my standards “All Star Battle” is a rather simple fighting game (you can hammer square to let off a full combo that leads into a super, and perform an ultra with one button press). What it excels at, however, is being a JoJo game. Based on the manga of the same name and its currently on-going anime adaptation, it has the characters, the moves, the arenas, the style and it all works brilliantly. It does have problems, namely that it needs more arenas and its story mode is crap, but if you’re a fan of either the manga or the anime, this is an absolute must have. What it lacks in complexity as a fighting game it makes up for by lovingly re-creating the JoJo universe with care, effort and pain-staking detail. It’s fantastic as a piece of fan-service, and I’m looking forward to the same team’s next JoJo game, which I really hope gets localised (it currently only has a Japanese release date).

6. Assassin’s Creed Rogue

Unfairly swept aside as “The other one” due to being a last-gen counterpart to AC Unity that used the AC4 engine, AC Rogue actually turned out to be easily the most interesting and one of the best games in the entire series. It’s the only game to let the Templars have their say, and it shows them in a lot more reasonable light than before, to the point where it’s actually made me switch sides. Gameplay wise it was basically just AC4 but set in AC3’s world (with new areas, mind) with a few new features, but it’s the story that’s the stand out. Misguided, selfish Assassins, brutal, ruthless Templars and good people on both sides, it’s genuinely interesting, gripping story in a series where the narrative always seems to fall short of something to just keep the action going. I get the feeling they won’t, but Ubisoft really should continue with this as a series; games made by Ubisoft Sofia that let you play as Templars. They’d be a damn sight more interesting than just going through the motions with boring Assassin after boring Assassin. This, AC2 and AC4 represent the bench mark for the series, a sign that Ubisoft can make great games when they put their minds to it.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

 

Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain: A Phantom Game Reviewed by The Vanished


So then, here we are. Anyone who’s been following my articles for the past couple of years will know how much I’ve been looking forward to this. If you’re unfamiliar, this has been my most anticipated game since E3 2013, I’m a big fan of the series, and I’ve been really, really looking forward to this moment. Firstly I feel the need to clear up that I’m reviewing this on my own terms; I did not attend the Konami review event (and wouldn’t anyway), I bought the game and I’ve beaten the story fully. This review will touch upon the story briefly, but to avoid spoilers I will be saving my in-depth opinions on the story for an article that will be posted later on this year. Having said that, I will be spoiling Ground Zeroes, so be advised. Right, on with the review.

Ground Zeroes ended with Big Boss pretty much losing everything: his base, a load of his troops, even the two hostages he’d spent the duration of GZ’s main mission rescuing. Nine years later he awakens from a coma in 1984 (to Midge Ure’s surprisingly good cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”), missing an arm and with a large piece of shrapnel sticking out of his face. He escapes the hospital (now under the new codename “Venom Snake”), rejoins his right-hand-man Kazuhira Miller and sets about re-building his private army of mercenaries, this time called “Diamond Dogs”. As I said at the start I won’t go into much detail here, but as shown in the trailers it’s a story all about the severe ramifications revenge has on those who seek it, and Snake’s revenge is directed at Skull Face- the enigmatic villain introduced in Ground Zeroes. Overall the story is strong, with excellent characters and writing a cut above the likes of MGS2; it deals with rather grim, serious topics and manages to pull it off rather well. My main problem is the way the story is told: the game is split into two chapters, with the first one having a linear sequence of main story missions and supplementing Side Ops. When that’s finished, the game gives you genuinely exciting preview for chapter 2, which ends up being harder replays of previous missions, with the odd extremely crucial, fantastic story mission cropping up now and then. The formula isn’t a bad one- chapter 1 has a fair few missions dedicated to Snake assassinating high-ranking military personnel and/or rescuing prisoners for money, because he needs finances to build up Diamond Dogs. I genuinely don’t understand why chapter 2 couldn’t have just been more of the same- Venom pays the bills by murdering and/or rescuing his way through Kabul while waiting for the story to advance. The story itself is a lot less long-winded and bloated than previous games in the series. Cutscenes are now shorter and much, much less frequent. Venom speaks rarely, because he’s never really kept in the dark about anything (unless the player is), and he prefers to just get the job done. The now almost fifty-year-old Snake is fed up of being used and abused, and he spends most of his time in this game absolutely tearing shit up. The voice acting is uniformly excellent; Keifer Sutherland suits the role of Snake when he actually talks, Troy Baker is basically doing his Joel voice for Ocelot (though it fits the cowboy image) and James Horan as Skull Face is wonderfully hammy whilst simultaneously maintaining his genuine air of menace from Ground Zeroes. It’s also worth pointing out that while controversial (for obvious reasons) newcomer “Quiet” is still kind of dumb in where the idea came from, her character genuinely won me over, and the reason for her outfit is acceptable, at least for me. Having said that, her actual depiction has some real problems, most of them based around how sexualised she is. I’ll go into this in further detail in my two part thoughts on… piece coming at a later date. This is as much as I can say about the story for now, but I will say that it’s an excellent send off for the Big Boss era of MGS, and it fits into the established canon nicely. It’s a good story of revenge, camaraderie and sacrificial, and the best story in an MGS game next to MGS3.

The gameplay, on the other hand, I can talk more about. Put simply; it’s everything I was hoping for, and everything I want in a stealth game. It’s a cross between the smooth controls and accessibility of GZ  (and for a more in-depth look at how the main mechanics of the game work check out my GZ review) with the bite-size missions and base/troop management from “MGS Peace Walker”, and at time feels like a military version of “Hitman Blood Money” (one of the best stealth games, and games in general, ever made). Basically, apart from certain story missions that narrow their focus somewhat, it’s pretty much total freedom. The game offers up two large maps in Kabul, Afghanistan and the Angola-Zaire border region of Central Africa, filled with settlements, civilian structures and guard outposts. The game will then say (and this is where the Hitman comparison comes in) “Here’s where you’ve got to go, here’s what you’ve got to do, get on with it.”- no set paths, no right or wrong way to do it, just an area, an objective and you let loose to do whatever you think is best. This is backed up by the game’s R&D system- of the multiple units you maintain at Diamond Dogs’ “Mother Base” home, one unit is dedicated to making Snake new weapons, equipment, uniforms and the like. What they make is entirely up to you- you could have them develop a sneaking suit, silenced tranq rifle and better tranq pistol. You could instead get them to make you full battle armour, a rocket launcher and a handgun that shoots shotgun shells, or any combination in between. Add in the use of buddies (four characters including a miniature metal gear that can all be upgraded and sent out on missions with you, each with different uses and traits) and you have a different caliber of stealth game- one that offers real freedom where other games offer a “Loud” and “Quiet” path and pretend to offer real player choice. Missions feel dynamic- at any moment something could go wrong, but you have every opportunity to be prepared for it- just because you’ve done everything right so far doesn’t mean you won’t be spotted at the final hurdle, but mistakes are things to learn from, and things that are entirely possible to come back from, if you have the skills. Going open world has proved to be a wise move indeed for MGS as a series, and given the ease with which Kojima has pulled this off you’d think it had always been this way.

There are a lot of things I’ve missed out because I don’t want this to turn into a dissertation, but if you read any part of the review, let it be this part: MGSV: The Phantom Pain is easily the joint-best MGS game (with MGS3), if not THE best (which it may well be, I need more time to consider it). It’s very accessible to newcomers, its stealth is amazing; it does player choice better than the vast majority of games that claim to offer it and the whole game is an absolute joy to play (apart from one mission right near the end, but I’ll save that for my later piece). It’s an amazing achievement; an incredible amalgamation of sights, sounds, experiences and story telling and if it really is Kojima’s last Metal Gear Solid game, he could not have gone out on a bigger high. It’s easily one of the best games I’ve played this year, and I’ve no doubt it’ll end up on my list of personal favourites. Much as Kojima dropped P.T on us all to show the pretenders how horror should be done, “The Phantom Pain” shows that, though other stealth games may pop up to make a grab for the crown, no one does it like the king.

V has come to.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18