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February 25th, 2015

Backlog GOTYs 2014

What am I doing right now?

I just wrapped up a great, unique level... which again I can't write about because of spoilers. I know you're likely sick of me writing it by this point, but it's a special level with a twist I do not want to reveal ahead of time – you'll need to have some surprises left for the game. I can say that it's another high-concept sequence with roots firmly in the storied sci-fi clichés.

What's most intriguing about this particular section is that when I had it mapped out, I realized that this wasn't just a special TAGAP level with mostly custom assets, but a whole new game inside TAGAP 3. Seriously, I could easily chop it off from the main game and toss it out there and it would likely be able to stand on it's own. There are many words for this – the most apt likely being megalomaniacal – but the level is now ready and waiting for continuity cut-scenes.

After that was a wrap, I moved to character creation. As I've said before, TAGAP 3 has a big cast of colourful villains, first of which was introduced in our previous post. While the whole rogues gallery has been designed for quite a while now, there are still two I haven't created in-game assets for. And right now I'm tackling one of those two.

This was actually the very first of the main villains I designed, which has led to some re-drafting; Way-back-when I designed this one, the shared design language and iconography of TAGAP 3 asn't set in stone yet, so in order to have this character fit in, I had to re-design some elements of his gear. Hopefully you can get to meet this baddie in a not-too-distant future!

Backlog GOTYs

Yep, everyone else has already done it and it is a tradition by this point that we should do it, too; Here's our favourite games of 2014! I know it's a bit late, but our last month's blog got hijacked by The Funky Doctor and I wanted to keep him featured on the front page as long as I dared.

Some might see this kind of GOTY posts as pointless – and they'd be partly right – but as I've always felt that you can't make games unless you play them as well, I think it's important to point out some gems we've come across – even if most of these games won't influence the way we're making TAGAP.

Anyway, for me personally 2014 was quite a bit different from the usual fare. You see, for plethora of reasons I didn't upgrade my game systems to next-gen. As the result I was stuck with Xbox 360 still and as I didn't want to spend the whole year playing shoddy cross-gen ports, I played mostly old games. In fact only three of the games I played in 2014 were released last year – Lightning Returns, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 and Lego Batman 3.

Another fun thing to note is the amount of games I played. As I usually play about one to two hours per evening, I go through about one single player game per week. Well, for writing this post I loaded up my games timeline and was amazed how few games I actually played in 2014. At first I wondered how could it be... and then I realized the list had three 50 hour Final Fantasies and one 100 hour Fallout in it. Aah, the delicious time sinks!

So, instead of me going through the games of 2014 and naming the best pick from my backlog, we'll flip things around; This year my picks are all 'Backlog GOTYs' with a special spot for the best new game I played in 2014! But fear not; The other Penguin DT mainstays, Petja and Timo, are on the cutting edge of tech and can speak for the new games.

Best 2014 release:

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

(runner ups: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2)

I keep being amazed on how much I enjoy the Lego Batman games – and Lego Batman 3 is no exception. DC's superhero cast is almost tailor-made for a character-driven, tongue-in-cheek spectacle and the writers of Traveler's Tales sure now how to utilize them, resulting in great tales that work both as superhero stories and as humorous comic book riffs.

Now, the thing that separates Lego Batman 3 from the previous two is the restraint the designers used. Or more accurately, complete lack of restraint. The story is absolutely bonkers, featuring evil space aliens, miniaturized cities, brain scrambled heroes, Adam West, Lantern worlds and everything else the writers could throw in there. As the result, even though the gameplay formula is identical to the previous Lego titles, the delightful creative lunacy in the scenarios sure makes up for it.

Plus, there's the whole 1960s Batman sequence with Adam West himself; It works so well with the Lego formula that, even at the risk of repeating myself, there needs to be full Lego Batman '66 game, with the complete Rogues gallery – and perhaps a couple newer franchise characters retro-fitted into Kapow!-style!

Best positive surprise:

Final Fantasy XIII

(runner ups: Resident Evil: Revelations, Silent Hill: Downpour)

To tell the truth, the only reason I picked FFXIII up in the first place was that I had heard great things about the time travel mechanics of the FFXIII-2 – and as story-driven as these games are, I didn't want to jump into that blind. However, what I encountered in the first FFXIII was perhaps the best positive surprise I've faced as a gamer in a long, long time.

I know this pick is controversial and is sure to ruffle some feathers, but I can't help it; I honestly think it's the best Final Fantasy I've played. I know many people have dissed it as simplistic and for having the 'auto battle' option as default action, but if you have the time, I'd say stick to it; Once the combat system opens in full about five hours in, it'll make sense. That's perhaps the biggest complaint I have; It's a super-slow burner in almost all aspects, with the first five hours being essentially an overblown tutorial. Yes, five HOURS.

My blog updates from the time I was playing through the FFXIII trilogy cover the games in greater detail, but I'll say here that I really, really liked the game. Almost everything I didn't like about the series entries in the past has been rectified, resulting a slick experience that cuts away the fluff and filler. Granted, if you enjoyed the filler, you'll likely strongly dislike this one.

I'm not going to say it's a game for everyone – it clearly isn't – but if you have time on your hands and aren't afraid of the slowest start in gaming history, I'd say this is totally worthy of diving into bargain bins for. Or Steam, as the FFXIII series was recently ported to PC.

Best soundtrack:

Killer is Dead

(runner ups: Final Fantasy XIII, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2)

I'm sure the composer Akira Yamaoka is no stranger to you video game enthusiasts – his music is the main reason Silent Hill series gained the title of 'the most atmospheric horror series in gaming'. However, to give you an idea of what to expect from the soundtrack, you'll need to know a little about the game.

It's Suda 51's action game that is split into episodes, much akin to, say, an anime series. Except the episodes are, apart from a few fleeting moments, completely stand-alone and follow their own internal logic – and more often than not that's the logic of dreams. Some times literary.

One minute you're on a moon fighting a guy who looks like a male stripper – payment for which is a kiss from an ethereal spacewoman, by the way – and then you find yourself helping a musician whose hearing was stolen by an evil media producer for his world domination plans. And between all these missions you do your night job as a gigolo, charming women in a bar. You know, the usual.

Now imagine all this being scored by the man behind the Silent Hill soundtracks. Yep, it's every bit as amazing as it sounds, ranging from Yamaoka's trademarked eerie atmospheres to energetic punk and Japanese rap, all the while featuring Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 (aka The New World) as a running motif. It's a wild ride and if you manage to spot the 'Fan Edition' of Killer is Dead in the bargain bins, it's totally worth it for the soundtrack alone.

Timo's GOTY 2014:

Dragon Age: Inquisition

(runner ups: World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor)

While World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor brought me back to WoW after a two year break and I ended up dumping several dozens of hours into that, I'd still say Dragon Age: Inquisition. So far it has been awesome! For what I have played, the story is gripping, the voice acting is good and the graphics are awesome.

– Timo

Petja's GOTY 2014:

Last of Us Remastered

(runner ups: Last of Us: Left Behind)

Fore me The Last of Us Remastered is the game of the millennium and quickly rose to the top of my 'The Best Games of All Time (and space)' list. The plot, the storytelling, the gameplay, the animation, the characters... everything is spot-on. Graphics, too, are great from both the artistic and the technical viewpoints. Special honorary mention goes to Left Behind DLC of the game.

– Petja

Jouni's GOTY 2014:

Final Fantasy XIII-2

(runner ups: Final Fantasy XIII, Killer is Dead)

In case you haven't noticed by now, I have a certain affinity for a great time travel story. This isn't because of my Doctor Who fandom, on the very contrary; The very reason I got interested I the said series was the fact that it was one of the most prominent, on-going time travel sagas around. While the almost unlimited possibilities of time travel have been well covered in TV, films and books, surprisingly few well thought-out games have been made about the subject. I mean there's Chronotrigger, Timesplitters and The Day of the Tentacle – and that's really it. Well, enter Final Fantasy XIII-2!

Without going too into the details, FFXIII-2 takes the world thoroughly introduced in the first game and uses it as a base for several millenias worth of time line travelling – and sometimes restructuring. In it's own unique way the game covers all the tropes you'd associate with the writing gimmick, from multiple timelines to paradoxes. Some of these aspects have been dealt with in quite game-y manner, but they work well within the confines of the narrative.

It's not without it's faults, for sure – there are quite a few, starting with those clock face puzzles and the boring-as-cardboard main villain. Still, if you've taken the time to familiarise yourself with the dual-world of Cocoon and Pulse, you'll enjoy flying across the aeons, seeing that world evolve and ultimately succumb to entropy. While the game's production values are quite modest for a Final Fantasy title, it has a true sense of cosmic scale I don't think I've witnessed before.

Honorable mentions

So many games and so few prizes to give away; Each of these games is as worthy a visit as any of those mentioned above;

  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
    One of those games that would rate pretty high on my 'under-appreciated games of the generation' list, if I ever were to write one. A great conclusion to a great tale, only marred by the rather bizarre stealth sections that seem to replace the devilish puzzles of the first game. The rest is fun and visceral action, dipped neck-deep in apocalyptic gothic.

  • Fallout: New Vegas
    An awesome apocalyptic western that doesn't get a nomination from me only because of the bugs; I don't think I've ever had to reboot a game console for a game this many times. However, I hear the PC version is pretty bug-free these days, so if you can roll with that, then yes, it'll be worth it.

  • War of Mine
    I haven't had the change to play this one, but everyone in our circles keeps telling me it's one of the most dramatic games in ages and something I'd never forget. Since it gets so much praise from the folk I know and trust, it shall be mentioned – and added to the list of 'games to play if I ever upgrade my potato-PC'.

  • Wolfenstein: New Order
    Like War of Mine, Wolfenstein: New Order is something I haven't played myself, yet. Everyone keeps telling me that as a fan of classic first person shooters this would be a must thing to experience and from what I've seen, I'd concur. However, as my PC is a potato and I didn't upgrade to next gen consoles yet, I haven't had the change to play it. I know there's a X360 version, but considering how little faith Bethesda ZeniMax seems to have in it – they haven't released a single screenshot or a video of it – I won't touch that port without Hazmat gear.

  • 3D Realms Anthology
    It's all the Apogee / 3D Realms titles (sans Prey and Max Paynes) in one affordable, easy-to-play pack. If you're like me and spent unhealthy portions of your youth stuck in front of a x86 PC with a bunch of shareware titles, this pack is the most grand nostalgia bomb you could imagine. Plus it ships with an epic rock cover album by Andrew Hulshult (of the new Rise of the Triad fame).

Backlog continues

Backlog seems to be never-ending and I still have plenty of old-gen games to go;

Finished in 2015

Back to regular-length modern games an it shows – while I play only about an hour and a half per day, I've already completed the following titles;

  • The Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
  • El Shaddai
  • Lost Planet 3
  • Metro: Last Light
  • Tomb Raider Legends

In progress

  • Tomb Raider Anniversary
  • Resident Evil 6 Co-op (yes, still)

To play

  • Anarchy Reigns
  • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  • Broken Age (waiting for Episode II)
  • Deadpool
  • Devil May Cry HD Collection
  • Driver: San Francisco
  • Gears of War: Judgment
  • Mars: War Logs
  • Lego Batman 3: Arrow DLC
  • Of Orcs and Men
  • Rayman Legends
  • Saints Row II
  • Split / Second
  • Tomb Raider Underworld
  • Transformers: War for Cybertron
  • Wasteland 2 (waiting for a better PC)
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Phew, that's it for our seemingly-infinite backlog of games. Hopefully you spotted a gem or two to hunt from the bargain bins!

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin