Divide by Zero #1: A happy new year?
This week. Words about the year that just past us by. Thoughts about the year ahead. Hope that things get better. Finally, it is decided using a Fitbit is a game. Hooray!
2014 was a challenging year for all that grew up to love games. Those that chose to create, and those that now choose to tell their stories have been affected in ways I cannot even begin to competently write about. As someone directly unaffected by all of this madness, just a guy who casually watches on from the outside, through the window of message boards and Twitter feeds, the extent of what has happened to people I only know via the words they write was enough to make me gasp countless times. If just reading these expressions of terror in 140 characters or less was enough to elicit that response, then what a terrifying place the eye of the storm must be?
Focusing directly on the games we all chose to play as the year passed brings much more pleasant feelings. Only some though, as many of the bigger publishers have let us down in an ever increasing number of unique ways as the year trundled on. Most notably Ubisoft dropped the ball when it came to Assassins Creed Unity in the most spectacular way possible. Let’s not forget 343 let us down with The Master Chief Collection – as did Ubisoft again (Watch Dogs), and again (The Crew). Even Tetris had problems. TETRIS!
Let’s try and get into a happier mood before things get any darker. There was still some solid releases during the course of the year. Those really are something worth talking about, unlike the differing levels of bullshit referenced in the previous paragraphs (one much darker than the other of course).
This sure seems like a good point to break off to talk about them.
Whatcha Been Playin?
Jazzpunk was right up there with my favourites of 2014. Comedy is notoriously subjective, so there is a good chance the humour in Jazzpunk could fall flat for some. On the other hand, some may find certain humour to be tailored almost expertly to what they love. Jazzpunk’s irreverent, sometimes nonsensical, but always clever comedy just so happens to be perfectly in line with my tastes. It is a game filled with bizarre funnies. Some are nothing but one-liners, whilst others take much longer to reveal their cleverness. There is entertainment all over the playground Jazzpunk offers players, and even the hunt for humor is entertaining in itself.
Hitman Go was a surprising one for me. Over the last few years, I have developed a thing for levels played to the melodic tones of Ave Maria, and Hitman Go fulfils this newfound fetish of mine. More so, it is a fantastic puzzler – both in the looks and gameplay department. It may not be the direction some wanted the franchise to take, but it is a solid recovery after Hitman Absolution – a game I labeled “a hot mess” somewhere on the Internet at some point. There are very few console franchises that make the leap to touch based platforms successfully, but Hitman Go reveled in this challenge, and was successful because it was not afraid to make the changes needed to succeed on its new platform. After all, Agent 47 was a master at adapting to tricky situations, should a mission demand it, so it should not be surprising the developer has the ability to do the same.
Lovely Planet was easily one of the most distinctive games of the year for me. It is not a game you will play for weeks on end. But it is one that will put a bigger smile on your face than almost anything else seen in 2014. If you have never seen it in action, just listening to the fantastic theme music that accompanies the first set of levels should give you everything you need to know about what awaits. It’s a game that starts out inviting. Almost luring players into a false sense of security by politely introducing new ideas and concepts with a perfect sense of codology. From there it grows and evolves, asking more precise platforming skill from players as the levels pass by. It damn near turns you into an unblinking, skilled, speedrunning demon before coming to an end. You’d almost get inconsolably angry if the whole thing was not swathe in such absurdly fun audio/visual wrapping. For me, playing through the game brought back fond memories of Super Meat Boy from a few years back, but this time put a whole set of different skills to the test.
One final game I want to mention is This War of Mine. Have you ever walked from your bedroom to the bathroom at night, during pitch black darkness, in fear you’ll walk face first into a closed door? No? Okay, maybe that is a personal fear of mine, but I dread it happening on the few times I make that journey. This War of Mine is all too proficient at instilling a similar sense of dread – as something horrible is always just a click away. I can only stomach about one dark depressing game every year these days, so I feel I made a good choice giving This War of Mine a shot, as it continues to be a depressing joy to play. Unlike 2013’s Papers, Please it doesn’t relish in making you feel bad about yourself and everything around you. Instead, it achieves in instilling a sense of camaraderie between you and your new virtual buddies. Giving across, without need for constant audio reminders, that together you can get through this horrible situation you’ve found yourselves in. It makes you care about what you are doing with every mouse click you make, which is a feat few games accomplish. PS: I really should stop walking about in the dark.
My only other slightly gaming related fascination right now is using a Fitbit for the first time. It may not be gaming in the purest sense, but after years resisting it, I am finding the gamification of life to be quite compelling. Days now end up kind of like Skyrim, where I am leveling up by doing, just so a number on my wrist goes higher. Fun Fact: The Fitbit says I can walk 23 steps in a straight line in my home before reaching a wall. I did that a few more times than I would want to admit during this recent cold spell. I wish there was some way to hack this thing to play the Call of Duty Level Up Guitar Riff after I hit 10,000 steps – that would motivate me.
Currently in Desert Golfing
Personally, I am not sure what games will end up piquing my interest in 2015. I know I am excited for Persona 5, even though I know next to nothing about it – other than steel folding chairs, a ball and chain, and the colour red. I know I want to get my hands on Metal Gear Solid V, and may even try to play it all in one sitting – like I did with MGS2 (to the detriment of my sanity). Hyper Light Drifter and Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture look like they could be great too. I’ve really been growing to love games built by smaller teams over the past few years, and those are two worth getting hyped about. Speaking of small teams, let’s not forget No Man’s Sky. Hopefully we are all collectively able to figure out what that game is about sometime over the course of the next year.
Over the past year, there was more than enough great titles available for all of us to play, and find something to really love spending our time with, but I cannot help but feel 2014 was a year where gaming, along with many of the people involved with it, decided to be as equally shit as the rest of the world was over the course of the same timeframe. Moving into 2015, it would be refreshing if all involved took steps to try and return our hobby to what it was once so good at – and stop mirroring what can be so dark and depressing about the rest of the world. Perhaps this is a year we can all try to be better?