Memories of the Grey: 2014 in Gaming

Well, a year has come and past, and as always, a slough of video games have been released. Some were great, some were followed by controversy, and some have made impacts on people in the strangest ways. I always fondly look back on some of the memories of gaming I have in a given year, but as the calendar pages fall, it gets harder and harder to remember those recollections of the past. This is why I want to record some of my thoughts on moments in gaming that have impacted me. In no particular order, with no particular amount, these are some of my favorite moments of 2014.

[WARNING: Minor spoilers throughout]

Making Friends in Buttland

The Animal Crossing franchise is one of my favorite series. Not only is it an entertaining life simulator, it taught me a lot of important life lessons growing up, including keeping promises, being a responsible homeowner, and being a courteous and friendly neighbor. When I finally got a 3DS, one of the first titles I picked up was Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the newest installment to the series (yes, it took me nearly two years to get it; that’s why I’m putting it in this article). But the villagers made a grave mistake: they put me in charge of the town! I would become the mayor of a new town, one I knew nothing about, and it would be my responsibility to take care of the townspeople and cultivate the town and turn it into a major metropolitan center. So, of course, I made it my first task as newly-elected mayor to name the village Buttland. Who wouldn’t abuse power like that? Although our name is laughable, the townspeople are as cordial as they were in the original GameCube version I played fourteen years ago. And with the new features added in this release, including customizing the town with new construction projects, I can give back to the villagers who have helped to enrich my understanding of gaming beyond a form of entertainment.

Making Enemies in Mordor

When I first heard of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, I thought nothing of it, remembering the last time I got excited over a Lord of the Rings game. But as the reviews came in, it sounded more and more intriguing, until I finally relented and picked up a copy for my Playstation 4. Needless to say, I was immediately blown out of the water by how good the game was. The controls were extremely tight, making it satisfying to take on legions of uruks at once; the amount of content kept me playing and exploring Mordor and Nurnen for all of the hidden artifacts and weapon upgrades; and the story was involving and interesting, putting me in control of the Gondorian ranger Talion and his connection to the elven wraith Celebrimbor. The coolest part of the game, however, was the Nemesis system that was developed for it. In short, each and every uruk you come in contact with has his own strengths, weaknesses, and personality. If you’re killed in battle, the uruk that killed you rises in the ranks of Sauron’s army, and each injustice you commit upon the uruks is remembered. It’s a great way to constantly build new conflicts for the player and keep him or her involved, with a non-stop cycle of revenge. No matter how many uruks the Black Hand sent my way, my blades were always ready to meet them.

A Telltale Heart

Honestly, Telltale is probably my favorite developer at the moment. I grew up playing point-and-click adventure games like Day of the Tentacle and The Curse of Monkey Island, so when the original The Walking Dead game was announced by the same company that made the Back to the Future and Sam and Max episodic series, I was intrigued by the concept of a story-heavy game that changes based on how you play it, very much like Heavy Rain. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of The Walking Dead comic books or TV show, so I didn’t pick the game up when it came out, but as more and more praise for the game came to light, I decided to purchase the first episode. And then the second. And then the entire first season. I won’t lie, I cried for a solid ten minutes at the end of the first season. It was that good. So color me excited when Telltale, the same company that released one of the few games that have ever made me weep, released FOUR story-based games throughout 2014: The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the BorderlandsGame of Thrones and the second season of The Walking Dead. And you’re goddamn right that I’ve played each of them and enjoyed every single episode. It’s rare for a company to release two different games in the same year, let alone four excellent games, and each of Telltale’s releases have been extremely entertaining and emotionally investing. I can’t wait to see what else they release. Except for Minecraft: Story Mode. Fuck that.

Five Nights Crapping My Pants in Fear

Have I ever mentioned that I hate horror games? No? Well, let me make it perfectly clear: I fucking hate horror games. Jump scares and frightening atmosphere really do not tickle my fancy. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good horror game every now and then, but it means I have to sprinkle plenty of kittens in between each sessions as eye bleach. That being said, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a great example of a game that achieves both the tension of the upcoming jump scare with the additional benefit of a creepy tone. Every moment, you wonder if you’ll be attacked by the animatronic nightmares that infest the rundown Chuck E. Cheese’s knockoff, or whether having both doors closed with 3% battery life is enough to survive those extra few second to 6:00am. One of the craziest aspects of this monstrosity that some people consider “entertainment” is how well the story is integrated into the environment, with hints and clues dropped throughout without explicitly revealing the true nature of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. The creator, Scott Cawthon, was even able to turn around and produce a sequel equally as terrifying only three months after the original’s release; he’s even working on a third iteration of the series at this very moment. Maybe playing these will help to calm my nerves and play horror games with a relaxed attitude in the future. Or they’ll bring nightmares. Probably the latter.

Kojima, You Evil Genius

I know I just got through with saying that I hate horror games, but I was, at the very least, titillated by the notion of a game co-directed by Guillermo del Toro and Hideo Kojima. So when it was revealed that the rather curious and mysterious PT was actually the two’s teaser for a new Silent Hill game, you can guess what my reaction was. Entitled Silent Hills, players will take control of Daryl Dixon and explore a town and subconscious haunted by the sins of the past. Even though I normally don’t enjoy horror games, I decided to download the playable teaser anyways, as I love del Toro’s directing style and Kojima’s mad-scientist approach to game design. Needless to say, I had to put the controller down a few times for fear of shattering it in my hands as I screamed in terror. The game, or rather, teaser, was legitimately one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had when playing games. Yes, even more frightening than the aforementioned Five Nights at Freddy’s. It was sanity-breaking, filled with cryptic puzzles and annoying solutions. But you know what? I enjoyed it. This was a horror game that I honestly can say that I had fun playing because of the sole fact that it is a teaser; it’s a demonstration of the direction and tone that Kojima and del Toro will explore in the final version of the game. The gameplay and story may not be indicative of the final product, but if Silent Hills is as good as PT, then I’ll be picking up a copy right after I buy a new load of toilet paper.

Returning to the Apocalypse

Anyone who knows me knows that I love The Last of Us. When I initially picked up a copy of the game, I sat down and progressed non-stop through the nail-biting, heartstring-pulling, incredibly scoped post-apocalyptic adventure. It quickly rose to become one of my favorite games of all time due to…every element. Everything Naughty Dog accomplished in the game seemed to push the boundaries of what video games can do. So when a remastered version, with 1080p resolution and enhanced textures, Photo Mode, and the Left Behind DLC included, was announced, I knew I had to add it to my newly-formed collection of PS4 games. Now, I want to quickly address my thoughts on remastered games: I think they can be a good thing, when the developers make much-needed improvements and additions that really make the experience worth the price-tag. Often, however, remastered games can be released that detract from the impact of the original game, so I’m usually wary of remakes. The Last of Us Remastered is a masterpiece of a remake, as the developer’s goal of maintaining the core experience of the original game was achieved.

Who is that dashing man in the green flannel? Is that Troy Baker?

Yours truly as Joel, joined by the lovely Tess and Ellie.

The World Plays Pokemon

I haven’t picked up a Pokemon game in a long time. I was a fan of the trading card game and the anime, but I was rather young and not as enraptured by video games when the original Red and Blue were released in North America. I picked up the games later and enjoyed them, but I do not often go out of my way to play the newer titles; I don’t care what anyone says, there’s an inordinate amount of ridiculous pokemon in every generation. Yes, there is a keyring pokemon now, but many people also forget about Magnemite and Exeggcute. But I digress. The reason I bring up Pokemon is because of its continued popularity throughout the years, so much so that an anonymous Australian programmer wrote a code that allowed user inputs from the streaming website Twitch to control the game. That’s right: the audience would be able to control RED in his journey to become the Master Trainer of Kanto. Of course, this led to trolls and sadists alike to impede progress when possible, as well as fans creating an entire culture and mythology around it. Fake religions were created around the fossil pokemon Omanyte (praise be unto Lord Helix) and Kabuto, wars declared over the Anarchy/Democracy mechanic, and an entire subculture was formed around one programmer’s dream to bring the world together, and simultaneously tear it apart, over a game.

Rise of Glitches

Never change, Sonic. Never change from the strange and often broken games, with diametrically-opposed mechanics and abundant glitches, that we’ve come to know and…love is a strong word, actually. Honestly, I’ve never understood how Sonic survived all of these years. He’s the only gaming mascot I know who is popular primarily because of his, admittedly genius, design. Many of Sega and Sonic Team’s previous attempts to revitalize the character have been rather…well, see for yourself. Perhaps rather intelligently, Sega worked with BigRedButton to reboot the franchise into a new series of games and a television show. The result was Sonic Boom. I mean, the new character designs were interesting and BigRedButton was started by former members of Naughty Dog, so how bad could the reboot be? …oh, that bad. The game was filled to the breaking point with repetitive combat, poorly-written dialogue, and near-constant graphical and gameplay glitches. Some speedrunners even figured out, using a recently-repaired glitch involving Knuckles’ jumping mechanic, how to beat the game in less than an hour (shown above). Sonic will always have a special place in my heart, right next to the soul-crushing void left there by my ex-girlfriend. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric affects me the in same way that she-devil did, too: hooking me in with a cute look and promises of hours of fun, leading to a broken mess that could only be ended with my sanity no longer in tact. Rest in peace, Sonic.

A Real Dragon Age Redemption

dragon age

My relationship with the Dragon Age series has been rather hot and cold (hot like dragon’s fire, am I right?) I immensely enjoyed my experience with Origins, albeit with minor complaints throughout that ultimately did not detract from my experience with the Bioware callback to adventure games. Dragon Age II, however, was a thorough disappointment in nearly every aspect. Unlike Rise of Lyric, it was at least free of glitches, but the cardboard characters, the repetitive combat, and the abysmal graphics did not convince me to continue being a fan of the franchise. So when Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third part of the series, was announced, I was obviously quite wary. I shuddered to think of the broken or tedious game that I thought was sure to be released. Color me surprised, then, when reviewers unanimously joined together to praise the Maker and chant devotion towards Inquisition. Deciding to return to Thedas once more, I cautiously placed the disc into my PS4 and, almost immediately, my worries were washed away like the Temple of Sacred Ashes was in that opening explosion. Thedas felt truly realized in this game, with large and open segments brimming with hidden secrets and details just waiting to be explored. Each character was intriguing, interesting, and entertaining (especially Sera), with character motivations and personalities that ran deeper than the surface level; I’m looking at you, Sebastian Vael. The gameplay was the right balance of strategy and fast-paced action that was attempted in the previous games but never truly perfected until now. If I was told three years ago that Dragon Age: Inquisition would be my favorite game of 2014, I would call myself crazy (I do call myself crazy, but that’s neither here nor there). That being said, Inquisition was easily the best game I played last year and I find myself returning every now and then to see how the Inquisition is managing the newly-repaired world.

Gaming has certainly been an interesting experience in 2014. With titles like The Order: 1886Code Name: STEAM, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, 2015 is shaping up to be equally as interesting. Until next time, and remember: