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January 31st, 2014

Penguins, GOTYs and 2014

What am I doing right now?

Remember the level I mentioned in the previous post? Yep, I'm still working on that one. It comes down to two things, really; It's a huge map, one of the biggest so far AND the design language for it is different and new, something I've had to get a grip on first. It's sort of a half-way between the totally bare exterior scenes and the clean space age hallways and that's actually the hard part; Finding a happy median. And when I say it's a huge level, I mean it. The level script is almost a megabyte in size and I have to double the in-engine content constraints twice!

Yes, I'm teasing again, I know, but I don't want to give everything away. That's what's happened with many big games in recent years, games giving away all they've got before launch. That's gotten to a point where I actually go out of my way to avoid trailers and developer blogs if I know for sure I'm going to get the game once it's out. And you know, I don't want TAGAP 3 to become like that. I want you guys to trust me not to spoil the entire game in these blogs, otherwise what's the point of writing them in the first place? :)

Penguins, GOTYs and New Year

So yeah, it's a new year and as always, people are making lists. The habit has infected us penguins, too, as here are my and Petja's choices for 'Games of 2013'. As always, these are just positive rewards; Last year was, at times, borderline painful time to be a 'core' gamer, so instead of mulling in the darkness, here's a little bit of positivity for a change.

Best of the backlog:

The Walking Dead

(runner ups: FarCry 3, Fallout 3)

Telltale's The Walking Dead is, simply put, the epitome of interactive narration. If you are unfamiliar with it, as a game it's essentially a point-and-click adventure game with heavy emphasis on dramatic narrative. The story follows a convict Lee and an orphaned girl Clementine as these unlikely friends try to make their way across the walker-infested USA, meeting a colourful cast characters both sane and insane on the way.

You play as Lee, essentially dictating what path the story will take – and by path I mean a psychological one, not geological. Your decision matter, dramatically so, and the narrative adapts to almost every decision you make. No matter how much the story changes, it always feels like this is how the drama should go. I've never experienced anything like it and it gives hope for both the genre and the concept of episodic games.

Also worth noting is the fact that this game was Petja's GOTY pick for 2012. And if the game hadn't slipped into my backlog I'm fairly sure it would've been my choice as well.

Biggest positive surprise:

Tomb Raider

(runner ups: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, FarCry 3: Blood Dragon)

The new Tomb Raider isn't just good, it's phenomenally good. I knew the game would be more cinematic and gritty than Lara's past adventures, but I had no idea how immersive the game would be. While it was advertised as a 'survival title', it's really not; It's a cinematic action adventure with heavy emphasis on exploration, set-pieces and character development.

Character development in particular is where the game shines, transforming Lara Croft from 'Miss Cleavage' to an actually approachable and likeable human being with motivations you'll understand. Long-term series fans might be screaming 'this isn't Lara I once knew!' but the game's all better for it. And it doesn't hurt that the two key aspects of the gameplay – traversal and gun-play – are both amazingly well executed.

In a nutshell; What I expected to be an okay action game turned out to be the best treasure-hunting action-adventure experience since the 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', only with hefty dose of extra grit and realism.

Best soundtrack:

DmC: Devil May Cry

(runner ups: Remember Me, FarCry 3: Blood Dragon)

Score of DmC is, at its core, a narrative formed by ambient atmospheres and strong character themes – just like a classic motion picture soundtracks. However, it's composed by the Dutch electronic/dubstep group Noisia, so while the structure is classical, the style is far from it. The world of DmC is something almost liquid, constantly being torn and twisted into abstraction by demonic forces and this electronic maelstrom represents it perfectly. Seriously, I can't recommend it enough.

But Noisia is just a half of the puzzle, the other part being Combichrist, US industrial group that delivers rough riffs and hard-hitting EBMs for the hack 'n slash mayhem. Ranging from industrial-focused to soul-tearing metal, Combichrist's songs have been seamlessly woven into Noisia's score in a very dynamic fashion. And there's plenty of songs from the group, two albums worth in fact, consisting material both old and new.

So yeah, it's a music trip to remember. In case you're interested, there are three albums released around this soundtrack; Noisia's score, Combichrist's song album (titled "No Redemption") and a special 'best of' selection album featuring tracks from both groups (available as a pre-order bonus when you ordered the game directly from Capcom). And yes, I went and got them all, that's how much I loved it.

Best videogame Kickstarter:

Turrican Soundtrack Anthology

(runner up: Video Game Orchestra: Live at Symphony Hall)

Gaming and Kickstarter go hand-in-hand these days and the first fruits of all the euro-dollars I've poured into the projects are starting to appear. Note that I decided to limit this Kickstart to A) projects I participated in and B) ones that actually shipped last year. So yeah, the list actually isn't that big.

The biggest gem of them all turned out to be, not-so-surprisingly, Chris Hülsbeck's Turrican Soundtrack Anthology. When someone says 'video game music', most of you might think of Super Mario, but to me the first thing that comes to mind are Hülsbeck's Turrican soundtracks. Anthology compiles the complete scores of the first three games into one package, fully remastered for better listening experience. The bonus fourth disc comes with tracks from the various ports, orchestral versions and guest artist covers. In a word; It's brilliant and a must for the fans of video game muisc!

Side note; One huge candidate for this prize would've been République, but given I don't have an iPad I'm patiently waiting for the PC port.

Petja's GOTY 2013:

Diablo III (console version)

(runner up: X-Com: Enemy Within)

Diablo III's console port should be called "This Time We Made It Right" Edition. Almost every single issue you might have had with the game have been fixed. Unless, of course, you had issues with the presentation or the story, as they remain identical.

In terms of gameplay the new difficulty system in particular makes the game so much more enjoyable. Being forced to grind the bore-fest of a difficulty every time you started a new game really killed the desire to play it beyond the first character or two. But no more! Also worth noting are the loot system and the complete lack of Auction House – which together make the discovery of new magical items a joy once more.

While Diablo III was the only game in existence I, personally, didn't have an issue with the online requirement – I played the game exclusive in co-op anyway – I have to admit it's a relief to be able to play it in couch-co-op, on the same screen, without the fear of connection drops or the unspeakable Error 37.

Jouni's GOTY 2013:

DmC: Devil May Cry

(runner ups: FarCry 3: Blood Dragon, Saint's Row IV, Tomb Raider)

While I've liked Devil May Cry series in the past, it never became one of my favourite franchises. It sure had the two main pieces of a great game in place – a darn-cool protagonist and wicked-awesome gameplay – but I found everything else, well, a little underwhelming.

The new DmC? It retains the protagonist – only in origin-story-form – and improves the gameplay quite a bit with things like fully controllable camera (finally!) and interesting way of dealing with weapons and attack modifiers. But the rest has been rebuilt from scratch and the result is one of the most interesting and mind-bending action games ever created. Seriously, the way DmC turns every-day into surreal at a drop of the hat is something that makes American McGee's Alice look almost mundane in comparison. Bring it all to life with Ninja Theory's production values and the soundtrack I already praised earlier in this post and you've got something to remember.

If you are a DMC fan of old, do yourself a favour; Let go of your preconceptions and give it a go. I promise even the new Dante will make sense by the end. And if you are someone who isn't into DMC at all, just know that almost every bit I disliked about the series in the past has been fixed and this might apply to you as well.

2013 brought us endless wave of pretty darn great games, but it's DmC I keep coming back to. Heck, I've already played through it three times and it still has more New Game + options for me to try!

Honorable Mentions

As always, the end of a console generation brings some of the best games for those systems, and thus there were many good games released in 2013. So many, in fact, that several were inevitably left without a PDT prize. Each of these games is as worthy a visit as any of those mentioned above;

  • FarCry 3: Blood Dragon
    The greatest tribute to the absurdity of 80s VHS entertainment since The Best of The Worst. Sometimes you have to shake your head in amazement wondering 'how on Earth does this game exist', but I'm darn glad it does. Only thing keeping this game from my personal GOTY is the fact that DmC just was so damn good.

  • Remember Me
    Not without it's flaws, surely, but the characters and the world they inhabit is breathtaking to experience. Spice it up with the second best soundtrack this year and you have a winner. We need a sequel – and sooner the better.

  • Bioshock Infinite
    It may be left in the shadow of the original Big Daddies, at least for me, but Columbia is still one darn interesting world to explore. It's an ode to imagination.

  • Papers Please
    Triumphant example of how less is sometimes so much more; Perhaps the most desolate and haunting game released last year, yet all you do is stamp passports! It may be subtle and simple, but it will stick with you.

  • Grand Theft Auto V
    Because Trevor. 'Nuff said.

Backlog

As always, my backlog is miles long and a slew of games that are potentially 'GOTY' worthy slipped away. These include;

  • Assassin's Creed IV: Blag Flag
  • Castlevania: Mirrors of Fate
  • Gears of War: Judgment
  • Killer is Dead
  • Metro: Last Light
  • Rayman Legends

All waiting in the game pile on my desk. Other, even older games in that pile include;

  • DMC HD Collection
  • Driver: San Francisco
  • I am Alive
  • Splatterhouse
  • Star Wars: Force Unleashed II
  • Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner

Right now I'm going through Fallout: New Vegas (GOTY edition), with occasional dips into Bodycount when I'm in need of winding down. On co-op front me and Petja are going through Resident Evil 6 (still, yes, it's a long game) and the console version of Diablo III.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin