Monday, 12 January 2015

Little Gamers Update - Looking back at 2014

So 2015 is upon us all and the gaming industry is looking ahead as to what will define 2015. Rather late to the party, I wanted to take a look back at 2014 an what it meant to me and what games shone out in 2014.

2014 was the year I jumped on to the Next Gen train and have not looked back. Since getting a PlayStation 4 in March, I have played 60 PS4 titles! Not a bad amount for a new console in its first year. The Vita is still a wonderful piece of kit andhas never been far from my side and is still home to some of my best gaming moments of the year. The PS3 keeps moving around the house, as soon as I give it to the Little Gamers to play on something comes up on PS Plus that makes me take right back into my gaming den.

So what were my highlights of the year, which game swill go down as the most memorable, fun and sometimes broken? Indulge me as I take a look at my own Games of 2014 list.

Biggest Surprise of 2014 - Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

This game took most people by surprise, including the game critics. I was aware that it was coming, but had my fingers burnt by Lord of the Rings games in the past, so this wasn't on my radar at all. Until I had the chance to play it at EGX in September, the week before it came out. My brief time with the game in that crowded noisy exhibition made realise that this was a game I needed to play. I only had chance to experience the combat, which was lifted out of Batman and the free running open world straight from Assassins Creed, but I knew that I had toget it when the game came out the following week.

Then I got the game and discovered the game changer, the Nemesis system. It is what lifts Shadow of Mordor from being a very good open world action game to one of the best games of the 2014. This system actively monitors the rise and fall of Sauron's army, from the highest warchief to the lowliest grunt. This means that if you are killed by the lowliest orc grunt, he gains power which allows to increase in rank and take on a captain. If he wins he is promoted to a captain. This constant power struggle between the orc captains and the warchiefs they serve is constant changing. It also keeps track of your encounters with each of the captains. If you fought one and defeated him by setting him on fire, the next time you encounter him he will be covered in bandages and burns. Likewise, if you had to flee from a captain in battle, he will remember it and taunt you during your next encounter.

It adds a level to depth and involvement not seen in this kind of game before and it is a system that we are likely to see copied and used again in different titles. What Monolith have done is create an Assassin's Creed game that is better than Assassin's Creed, with a new way to deal with enemies that makes things smarter, dynamic and emotional for the player. Not what I expect from a Lord of the Rings game in 2014.

Best Game I shouldn't like, but I do - Assassins Creed Unity

Lets get this out of the way, 2014 has not been the best year for Ubisoft and Assassin's Creed Unity is the peak of their terrible year. The game was widely reported as broken, with issue with frame rate, characters losing their faces (terrifying) and numerous issue rendering the game the most broken game released this year. So bad that Ubisoft scrapped the season pass for it and gave the content to everyone for free.

So why is it on the list? Well, I got this game on Christmas Day from my wife, as a surprise. So I was able to come into this game after the release of the 4 big patches that were meant to fix the game. Thankfully I was able to download the 6.7GB patch on Christmas Day before Lizard Squad ruined Christmas for many. Coming into Unity fresh with little to no expectations and post patches, I have to admit... I like it. Ok its scope is not as vast as last years island hopping, pirate happy game. Unity seems to be a return to Assassin's Creed II, with it being focused on a city and the rooftop hopping antics of Ezio. Paris is beautifully realised and the amount of NPC's on screen is staggering. The game is the best looking game in the series so far and features some of the finest Next Gen roof tiles seen so far! (Seriously!)

There hasn't been much of a change to the rest of the game and it sticks closely to the now over enforced "Ubisoft Open World Design Map". The expansive recreation of Paris is cover with hundreds of icons of side missions and collectibles. This is the first time since AC II that I don't seem to mind collecting them. There are attempts to improve or change the overall Assassin's experience in murder mystery missions, that seem good but a bit forced in. Changing the free running mechanics to feature separate buttons for movement up and down, improves the feel of movement, but not the control.

I have to admit that this is the one game that I didn't expect to like playing and enjoy to this level.

Best Comeback of 2014 - Driveclub

2014 was the year of broken games. By that I mean, top flight AAA titles that should never be released in the state they were. Driveclub was the first game to be totally broken from the day of release. Driveclub, Sony's big first party title exclusive for the PlayStation 4, was touted as a socially connected community focused driving game, with one small problem... the servers didn't work. No leaderboards, no online multiplayer and most importantly no Driveclubs!

It has taken months of patches, promises and free DLC. Finally Driveclub is the game it should of been and its a pretty good game. The introduction of working clubs and challenges have added the kind of "just one more lap" gameplay that I used to love in games like Project Gotham Racing.

The icing on the cake was the release of the hyped dynamic weather patch. This update added some of the most realistic weather seen in a game and totally changed the way the game played, as you can see by my awful attempt to race in a full on blizzard in Scotland.

Evolution could of given up on Driveclub after the amount negativity thrown their, instead they knuckled down and fixed their game, whilst keeping their community in the loop. Not an easy task.

Life Sucker of 2014 - Destiny

I had no interest in Destiny in the early part of 2014 and that was partly developer Bungie's fault. It was shrouded in so much mystery, that I had no idea what the game actually was. That all changed in June when I spent sometime with the exclusive PS4 Alpha that launched at E3. For the first time I was able to see what Bungie had done and I liked it. My pre-order went in almost immediately, just to get access to the Destiny Beta that ran for a week in July. When the Beta came out I played the hell out of it, making three classes up to the highest level in the beta. I was there for the final part of the beta, the mission on the moon and completed it.

I was hooked, I couldn't wait for the 9th September. I even booked the day off work, ready to sink my teeth into the world. Then the day came and I unwrapped my copy of Destiny, placed it in the drive and started an adventure that I am still playing to this day. Yes, Destiny has it faults. The amount of content included in the game was kind of questionable, the end game grind can be painful and soul destroying at times. Particularly, if like me, you do not have the time to get involved in the raid missions hidden away for higher level players.

With all that said, I played Destiny exclusively for almost two and a half months after launch, which is unheard of for me these days. Even after that I still dip in two or three times a week to do a weekly mission, clear up some bounties and visit weekly trader, Xur. Destiny has its faults, but what it does right, it does so well that it keeps me coming back to it again and again. Well done, Bungie, I am on board for the next 10 years of this game.

Best Portable Experience - Minecraft Vita Edition

The Vita has had a rough year and I even thought about selling mine in favour of a 3DS. It didnt help that the Remote Play feature of the PS4 did not work very well in my house. Although the Vita seems to of faded from Sony's focus, the console still had a great array of games in 2014.  Highlights saw Borderlands 2, Final Fantasy X HD, The Walking Dead: Season 2 and indie hit Rogue Legacy suck up my commuting time. The middle of the year seemed to be very quiet on the Vita front and I began to wonder if the unit had a future.

Then Minecraft came out and it all changed. I had played Minecraft before and never really got into it. The Little Gamers play and know much more about than me. Minecraft on the vita though saw me get Minecraft. I spent hours and hours lost in my world, building, mining and exploring. I have ventured in to The Nether and I am looking to take on the Ender Dragon. Just having Minecraft in your pocket and not being reliant on Touch Screen controls is just amazing. Why Sony did not sell a Minecraft Vita bundle is beyond me, that would of shifted some Vitas!

Game I am never likely to finish - Alien Isolation

Since become a father, I have turned into a bit of a wuss. I used to be into my horror films and my horror games, but these days I cannot stomach it. So it was to my surprise when at EGX I sat down to try my hand at Alien Isolation's Survivor mode. The 10 minutes that I spent hiding under desks avoiding the green blips on my motion trackers were some of the scariest moments of gaming I had had in years. To my surprise, I caved in and bought the full game and entered the single most realistic movie adaptation ever. Creative Assembly have developed the ultimate Alien game right down the nodding bird toy, that seems to popular in the far future.

The story puts in the shoes of Ellen Ripleys daughter, Amanda and her quest to find out what happened to her mother, who dissapeared in deep space when she was a child. Its a gap in the Alien storyline that has never been explored. Needless to say this search leads her to an space station above a certain familiar planet. Once you get on board, the tension spikes immdiately, the station is falling apart, the robot workers have malfunctioned and turned into killers. The human populace have turned on each other in a battle to survive. Oh! and there is a very large creature living in the tunnels and hunting everyone down. So far, so familiar...

What makes this game so scary is the graphics. The developers have made an almost photo realistic recreation of the Alien set. Even down to the slightly naff looking 70's computer technology. It is brilliantly realised and has added life into a dead game franchise (thanks Aliens: Colonial Marines). I love every part of it, the look, the feel and feeling of terror when you think you are out of danger only to dragged out from under the table you were hiding under to stare into two sets of dripping jaws.

There is no way I am ever going to have the courage to finish Alien Isolation, but I am enjoying trying my best.

Best Remastered Game - Grand Theft Auto V

This new generation, so far, has seen one type of game more than any other generation. The remaster, definitive edition, ultimate edition or directors cut. Basically, last gen games given a cosmetic facelift, resolution increase and all DLC chucked onto a disc for our shiny new consoles. It can be a great success as with The Last of Us Remastered or questionable like Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. There does not seem to be any stop to this trend in 2015 as publishers are pushing more of the remasters out of the door.

One game thought stood out above the rest. A game that did not even try to change to name of itself to show that it was a new version. Grand Theft Auto V came to PS4 and Xbox One and it is a thing of beauty. As you would expect from Rockstar North, the next gen version of GTA V was not just a quick texture and resolution fix. They added so much to the game, new songs into the Radio stations, new lighting and weather technology, more wildlife and domestic animals, better and more foliage. It looks like every single texture in the game has been recreated in a higher resolution, you can literally spend hours wandering around reading signs, poster and shop windows (I have and I know I need help). With the increase of overall graphical fidelity, Rockstar went one further and added a new first person mode, which allows you to play the entire game in first person. This did not just involve adding a new camera view, they went back to scratch and created new first person animations for every action. They created fully working dashboards for every vehicle in the game, even down to the radio displays. Fully customisable controls for first person mode. means that you can choose to change controls to Call of Duty controls for shooting and set it to switch back to third person for driving automatically.

Finally, an upgraded GTA Online (which now works) as well as all of the previous years content updates thrown in for free. The online game has a better character creation tool and up to 30 players per session, which results in chaos.

I have never been happier to revisit a game and I shall be playing this for many months to come.

Best Game of 2014 - Destiny

Finally, we are here! The best game of 2014. There have been so many great games and moments for me this year. There can only be one game at the top of the heap and it has to be Destiny. Not since the days of playing City of Heroes or World of Warcraft has a game gotten under my skin this much. Even now just writing about it, makes me want to turn on the PS4 and jump into a strike mission.

As with Halo before it, Bungie have created a game that I have no interest in, right up to the point where I get to play it and then I am totally sucked in. Destiny has brought me so much pleasure this year. It has given me some amazing gameplay, achievements in reaching level 29 without doing a raid. Most importantly it has brought me to a community of like minded gamers in the form of the Midlife Gamer community. Where I have not been the most active and social of gamers, the people I have played with have all been great to play with and a breath of fresh air after the abuse of other online communities.

Bungie have stated time and time again that they have a 10 year plan for Destiny, in the form of expansions and eventually Destiny 2. I can safely say now that I will be along for the ride for the whole journey. Even though the game has faults and issues, Bungie have been fantastic at addressing them and the community with the weekly updates and patches. The more the game grows over the next few months the better it will get and it will get better. In the meantime, I seem to be very happy spending week after week playing the same content over and over again in order to unlock a armour upgrade or grab some more of the games many currencies. As long as it involves raising a gun and shooting intergalactic monsters again and again, you can just take money Bungie!

So there it is, I think I may of rambled on for longer than I imagined. Many have said that 2014 was a blah year for gaming. I say the opposite, 2014 was a great year for video games and one of the best years I have had with this hobby of mine. Surely 2015 couldn't get any better than this? Come back soon to look at whats to come this year!

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