by Brian Acebedo – Writer
As we dwindle away the last few minutes and hours of 2013, we here at Strngaming.com would like to take a moment to look back soberly at the year that was, reflecting on the accomplishments of the video game industry and the dizzying highs of technological and artistic achievement that were reached this year. J/k, we are totally going to make fun of terrible games and complain about shit. OK, so it wasn’t all bad news this year. Most notably, the next generation kicked off in earnest, as we saw the release of two new consoles this year. Three, if you count the Ouya. I do not. And judging by the sales of the “little console that couldn’t”, you don’t either.
Year’s Worst Place to Shoot Your Mouth Off – Twitter
A lot of important gaming news happens on Twitter. Know what else happens there? Hissy fits, shit talking, and a lot of vitriol from the internet’s worst malcontents. Today’s technology and our always connected society certainly allows for folks to shoot their mouths off without thinking things through. In July of this year, an online pissing match between indie diva Phil Fish and games “journalist” Marcus Beer resulted in the cancellation of Fez 2, the hotly-anticipated (by some) sequel to Fish’s 2012 breakout hit. In an earlier shitstorm, Adam Orth, a creative director at Microsoft Studios, raised the ire of many gamers by dismissing their concerns about the then-unreleased Xbox One’s “always online” requirements. “Sorry, I don’t get the drama over having an “always on” console” #dealwithit. The noise you heard in the furor that followed was the Microsoft PR machine going into overdrive, eventually completely reversing course on the always-on requirement. That was Microsoft #dealingwithit, Adam. PS, you’re fired.
Year’s Most Unexpected Next-Gen Feature – Playroom After Dark
With the new generations of consoles launching in the last couple months of the year, we’ve seen some interesting innovations that change how we share our gameplay with others, and some that provide an interesting insight about the human condition. With Twitch, we got both. The ability to stream your gameplay to a like-minded audience of videogame enthusiasts is interesting in itself. When you add “The Playroom”, Playstation 4’s (seemingly) benign camera tech demo, things start to get interesting. Ostensibly an A/R activity allowing couch bound PS4 users to play with virtual robots, it took a matter of days for the seedier applications of the technology to take root. It started with hard core gamers hosting their own in home “talk shows”, fielding feedback from the built in chat. That’s PG enough. But it quickly devolved into something pretty gross. A cursory glance of the PS4 channel on any given night shows quite a variety. Here’s some underage kids drinking. Here’s a couple of stoners taking some monster bong rips and talking about Call of Duty: Ghosts. And my personal favorite, “guy trying to talk his girlfriend into taking her shirt off”. I can’t say exactly how often this guy is successful, but PS4 has just surpassed the internet as my go-to place for female nudity, so take that however you like.
Year’s Worst Trend – Microtransactions
When did it start? Where will it end? Nobody can say exactly, but this year was a banner one in microtransaction revenue for the big videogame publishers. Formerly the domain of iOS and Android games, microtransactions hit the big time this year. Leading the charge of “how much of this horse shit will they tolerate from us?” is industry leader Electronic Arts, whose Dead Space 3 not only launched with crass monetization “opportunities” at every weapon crafting station, but also hid the game’s “true ending” behind a pay wall. The “Awakened” DLC was intended as a post script to the game’s finale, downloadable content that expanded the story of the game. In EA’s hands, it played like a greedy cash grab. Most Xbox One exclusives launched with some type of microtransaction system in place. Forza demands a continued influx of your dollars to unlock certain “exclusive” cars, and Ryse: Son of Rome has a ham-fisted interface to the Xbox Marketplace, where you can buy fake coins with real money to dress up your soldier like some Roman Barbie doll. The menu for Peggle 2 ominously portends of an add-on marketplace, with a shopping cart, and cartoonish “COMING SOON!”, as if it is some exciting new feature to give them more of your money. I am not opposed to DLC. I am not opposed to giving game devs more of my money when I feel that it has been earned. But there is a reason why iPhone games like Jetpack Joyride can get away with asking you for money to buy gold stars, and coin doublers, or whatever the hell. It’s because those games are free, or at worst, 99 cents. Asking me, as your customer, to shell out an additional ten bucks to unlock a pretend race car, after I just gave you sixty bucks for your game? Eat all the dicks.
Year’s Second Worst Trend – botched game launches
Remember the stability that finally came about after EA’s horrific launch of the long awaited Sim City reboot? Yeah, me neither. EA put on another clinic on the perils of “always on” gaming this year, when Sim City was launched in March. The servers melted down, and the publisher’s assurances that the game’s requirement of an always on internet connection were necessary to the game’s function ended up being (surprise!) a load of bull plop. Even when they managed to get the game back online, it ended up being not very fun, with a poorly thought out economy and piss-poor AI. They really salted the Earth on this one, man. Not only was one of EA’s tentpole 2013 releases a ruinous disaster, any future games in the Sim City franchise will carry with it the stench of this ungodly failure. On the FPS front, Battlefield 4, published by…wait for it…Electronic Arts! Was released a horrid mess on both current and next gen platforms. Corrupted saves plagued the game, as well as an unstable, and oftentimes downright broken, online experience. PS4 and Xbox One owners in particular experienced the joy of having spent $4-500 on a new console, plus an additional 60 for the game, only to be unable to play it online for several weeks. To show their loyal fan base how much they valued them as consumers, EA made up for it by offering a pistol scope and a week of double XP. Are you paying attention, folks? “We’re sorry our online game does not work. Here is 2x XP this week for the game that you cannot get into. Oh, and a pistol scope.” Pure balls.
Year’s Best Handheld Game that Nobody is Actually Playing – Tearaway
Oh my god. Have you seen this game? Tearaway is delightful as shit, as you would expect from Media Molecule, the talented studio behind the feel good paean to creativity, LittleBigPlanet. I’m serious, this game has charm out the ass. You want whimsy, this game will show you some goddamn whimsy, pal. This game combines a beautiful papercraft art style with tried and true platforming gameplay…on a system nobody owns. Unfortunately, even though Sony has done their best to make a case for everyone to own a Playstation Vita, the handheld has been in the toilet, sales-wise, ever since it debuted in February of 2012. It’s a shame. Tearaway holds up well next to Nintendo’s best handheld offerings this year. Which is saying something. Mario and Legend of Zelda have some big name recognition going for them. What does Sony have? This little paper guy? Well, I liked the game. It made great use of the touchscreen, rear touch, microphone, camera, gyro controls, you know – all the stupid crap that nobody asked Sony to include in the Vita in the first place.
Year’s Best Addition to Assassin’s Creed franchise – no more backstory
I think the best thing about Assassin’s Creed 4 is that they finally did away with most of the Assassin/Templar backstory intrigue, and most importantly, the dreadful “Desmond” segments. In this one, you play a pirate, because video games. Other games had this concept down cold before the AC series felt it needed to reinvent the wheel. In Halo, you play a space marine. Why? Video games. Did we ask ourselves back in 1985 why we had to keep rescuing the princess? No. Why? Goddamn right son, because video games. I feel like making Abstergo a video games company, and using a video game as the concept that frames the actual game to be a bit too on the nose, but as an alternative to listening to Desmond and his Dad argue, or Revelations’ abysmal first-person perspective Desmond “puzzles”, I’m good with it, on the whole. You can harpoon whales in this game! And there’s sea shanties! Pirates! Do I give a crap how we get there? I do not.
Year’s Worst Addition to Assassin’s Creed franchise – mission ratings
Being prompted to rate a mission I just played in AC 4 really reeks of desperation, when considered alongside all of Ubisoft’s opinion polling regarding the direction of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I like assassination missions. Makes sense that there would be an ample number of these in a game called “Assassin’s Creed”. 5 OUT OF 5 STARS, WOULD STAB AGAIN. You know what I hate? Chase missions, and escort missions. 1 out of 5, every time. I’m not a difficult guy to figure out. Far be it from me to suggest that soliciting advice from a huge number of people that know precisely fuckall about game design could be a bad idea, but whatever Assassin’s Creed 5 is going to be, let it be. Making a game by committee has nearly killed the series up to this point. Ubisoft, if your game sucks, don’t worry. I’ll tell you. My promise to you. Here’s some feedback to start you off. Assassin’s Creed Revelations sucked because you had the gall to name it “Revelations”, and the only thing you revealed was a shitty tower defense minigame. Assassin’s Creed 3 sucked because it took roughly 37 hours of gameplay before I could control the badass dude from the cover of the game.
Year’s Worst Gaming News Article Format – “Best/Worst of year” lists
These lists are nonsense. Often written by talentless hacks, they are usually desperate clickbait that barely manages to conceal a bias in favor of one company, and some axe to grind with another. These always litter the gaming blogs towards the end of the year, when gaming news is scant, and there is ad revenue to be made.
And this year’s recipient of the “Golden Turd”, the worst game released in this year of our lord 2013…Ride to Hell: Retribution
It’s been called gaming’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, but this miserable excuse for a game makes anything by Ed Wood look like high art in comparison. An ugly, buggy affair, Ride to Hell promised to be a 60’s biker version of Red Dead Redemption, an open world biker saga with movie-style production. What we got absolutely defies description. The graphics are comparable to PS2 visuals. It was released on PS3. The storyline is laugh out loud funny. Not a comedy, guys. And in one of the oddest design decisions I’ve ever seen, several sex scenes are present in the “finished” game. The joke being that rendering the characters nude was out of reach for the designers, due to limitations in the budget and the constraint of the “M” rating. Perhaps designer judgement played a role. I doubt it. What results are two (or more!) fully-clothed character models grinding on each other in a clumsy approximation of intercourse, as seen through the eyes of an eight year old boy, or a designer at Eutechnyx, the developer that spawned this abomination. The game doesn’t even feel like a game at all, it feels unfinished, and should never have been released. Many games in development never see the light of day. This game, through its very existence, teaches us a simple truth. If a game doesn’t work, sometimes it’s better to take the loss and leave it on the shelf, rather than releasing it, staining the careers and reputations of the people that made it. Which brings me to my last point. Eutechnyx has completely scrubbed their website of any reference to Ride to Hell: Retribution. Nobody involved in its production wants to take any credit (blame?) for it. I think that’s telling. That the studio behind NASCAR: The Game 2013, Pimp My Ride, and Big Mutha Truckers 2 took one look at this monstrosity, and said, “That’s not us. That’s not who we are, man.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this lighthearted look back at 2013, and as we drink a new year’s toast to the good health of the video game industry, here’s to hoping that we have better next-gen experiences and a great slate of games releasing throughout 2014. There’s no Ride to Hell sequel coming out, so there’s always that.