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by Ethos

The One that Got Away 2010 – Riddles

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

I know I’ve spoken sort-of-ill about Brotherhood in recent weeks. Y’know, like making the suggestion that maybe – just maybe – they released Brotherhood a little too soon after Assassin’s Creed II.

And I hold that opinion. Brotherhood did come too soon. (That’s what she said.) Assassin’s Creed II was a legitimately excellent and memorable game that brought the franchise unto its own, and call me an oddball, but an accomplishment like that should be let alone for more than twelve months. Y’know? And now they’ve confirmed another big Assassin’s Creed release for 2011, market saturation, editorial waiting to happen, blabla.

Anyway. That’s all rather irrelevant to the point of this article. It also makes it sound like I don’t want to play Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Which isn’t true at all; I do want to play it. I want to see the story of Desmond and Ezio continue, because frankly, aside from the epic space opera of Mass Effect, it’s the most intriguing continuing story of this generation. In many ways, I view Assassin’s Creed as the spiritual successor to last generation’s Prince of Persia titles. And yes, I’m well aware of the existence of both current-generation PoP games, but frankly, those games only confirm my opinion.

I love Assassin’s Creed. I’m sure I’ll love Brotherhood when I get to it. I just hope that Ubisoft maintains some goddamn respect for their own franchise, and lets the series breathe. If your game’s good enough, you don’t need to pump out a sequel every year to maintain the public’s interest in it. If that was the case, true classics would never be born.

Runner Up: Epic Mickey

Well, this one I don’t regret quite so much since Ethos’ lukewarm editorials on the game, but it’s the best I could come up with for a runner-up. For a time, I was really looking forward to Epic Mickey, and while I’m disappointed to hear that the game fell on its face in a few ways, I’m still determined to experience it for myself at some point. Cue announcement of PS3 port?

Most Surprising Game 2010 – Riddles

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011


Most Surprising was a little difficult to decide this year, largely because, well, not much really surprised me. In fact, a lot of games that I wanted to surprise me, didn’t. *coughALANWAKEcough*

That being said, I have chosen Bayonetta, as you have all gathered. Bayonetta hardly came from left field – I was fairly confident in the fact that I would enjoy the game – but I didn’t expect I would enjoy it quite as much that I did. And, to be perfectly honest, I never expected the gameplay and mechanics to shine the way they did. So, I suppose you could say, the game impressed me with its shine – and I don’t just mean style.

If you’re like me, you don’t look to Japan for much these days. And certainly, you don’t look to Japan to deliver a game that can almost – almost – be called the definitive action game of this generation. Bayonetta’s combat mechanics are so polished and intelligently designed, they can be called a piece of programming art. It can be summed up simply: utterly accessible, yet insanely complex. It’s better than Devil May Cry, better than God of War, better than Ninja Gaiden. In fact, it’s better than just about anything else out there.

Obviously, more than just pure and simple gameplay must be considered when deciding the best titles of the year. But, I can say this: of all the games I played in 2010, not one of them was as much pure, unadulterated, consistent plain fun as Bayonetta. And yeah, I’ll admit, I didn’t quite expect that.

Maybe in Bayonetta 2, they can work on making all the other parts of the game equally sensible.

Runner Up: Mass Effect 2

Ah, well this was even harder to decide, but I promise it’s not a cop-out. Again, I didn’t think I’d enjoy Mass Effect 2 as much as I did. Know why? Because I really didn’t fall in love with Mass Effect 1. I managed a single bare-bones playthrough, appreciated the depth of the universe and some of the mechanics, and wondered why they didn’t do a better job of delivering a game with these concepts. Well, Mass Effect 2 takes those concepts, and delivers that game. And it’s amazing to witness.

Best Atmospheric Experience 2010 – Riddles

Saturday, January 1st, 2011


Finally! Due credit can be given to this downloadable gem of a game. Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain both built dense, palpable atmospheres – but Limbo builds an atmosphere unlike anything seen before, through methods never used. It’s a game that truly stands in a class of its own, and it must be experienced firsthand.

With barely a backstory explaining it, Limbo throws you into a dark, uninviting wood, where you must search for your missing sister. Everything is black and white – the protagonist is a small, silhoutted boy with beady, glowing eyes – which always shine, even in the darkest surroundings. The pale white lighting flickers like a failing street sign, which adds a subtly bizarre atmospheric effect.

As you go forward, it becomes clear that this forest is the personification of a child’s nightmare. Night-shrouded woods, infested with bullies, gigantic spiders, and devious traps. In spite of its juvenile protagonist, Limbo has an unexpectedly brutal side to it – deaths are brutal and bloody, often involving beheadings or skewerings. Certain puzzles, even, display an unexpectedly macabre nature – at one point, you must drag the dead bodies of children to a lake, then use them as stepping stones.

Background and foreground layers fade and become more distinct to create different atmospheric effects. All the while, a minimalist sound design is utilized – Limbo has no musical score to speak of, and instead chooses to assault your ears largely with dead silence and footsteps. It works brilliantly.

I wish I could say more about Limbo, but I must remember that I’m here only to discuss its atmospheric merits. Limbo is unlike anything I’d played before it, and it’s easily the best atmospheric experience I had in 2010.

Runner Up: Heavy Rain

Well, anything I say here will sound a little tepid in comparison to Lameish’s recent gushing article explaining the game’s atmospheric merit. Oh well. Heavy Rain is a game that builds its atmosphere not through bizarre and fantastical fantasy worlds or heavily stylized aesthetics, but rather, through the gritty realism that permeates its world, characters, dialog, and graphical presentation. It’s well-written, well-acted interactive thrillride, but it’s real life –  and it’s impressive to see a game build such palpable atmosphere through such meager conventions.

Biggest Letdown 2010 – Riddles

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Final Fantasy XIII

Like this is a fucking surprise. I realize that, in spite of my utter and complete hatred for the game, I’ve never had the opportunity to simply ramble about it. The majority of the shit I’ve written for the game, I wrote during its first week of release – when I was desperately clinging to the feeble notion that the game was, somehow, good.

I knew the game was crap thirty minutes after booting it up.

And now, I’m going to fucking tear the shit out of it.

Final Fantasy XIII is that girlfriend who you spend copious amounts of money on for Valentine’s Day, only to have her ditch you five days later.

Final Fantasy XIII is that stepdad who seems cool, and takes you out to bars with him, except you end up just watching him get super-drunk and cheat on your mom.

Final Fantasy XIII is that dog your parents’ bought you as a kid, only to be taken away a few weeks later because your crotchety neighbors kept complaining, and your parents’ decided that their social status in the neighborhood was more important than your vulnerable, eight-year-old emotions.

Final Fantasy XIII is that drug dealer who tells you he’ll be good the day before your big party, only to have him cop out and get arrested at the last possible second.

Final Fantasy XIII is a liar and a cheat. Final Fantasy XIII is the textbook slut who slipped past your carefully-built defenses. Final Fantasy XIII is a dirty dirty whore.

But seriously, though, Final Fantasy XIII was more than just a letdown, it was a calculated slap in the dick to gamers of all kinds. In place of a rich, immersive gameworld we were given a series of linear tunnels littered with battles. In place of an in-depth, strategic combat system we were given a stripped-down, automated jumble of nonsubstantial flash. Instead of memorable characters and storylines, Final Fantasy XIII’s narrative unfolded with all the grace and prose of a second-tier anime program.

Suffice to say, I hate the game a lot. Sure, I may not have ever even reached Gran Pulse, but I doubt it would magically change my opinion. Given the number of rich, epic RPGs that have been released this generation (Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fallout and Lost Odyssey to name a few) it’s painful – and comical – to see Final Fantasy, the former king, descend into such a pit of shallow, style-obsessed mediocrity.

Runner Up: Alan Wake

I wish I could have loved Alan Wake as much as many people did. But, while I enjoyed the game a fair bit, as my review indicates, I just couldn’t help feeling disappointed. I certainly didn’t have the same elated expectations that I had for XIII, but I still was looking for just a little more than the game ended up delivering: gameplay that was fun, but ultimately repetitive and far too easy, and a storyline that was far too unfocused and loosely written to truly be effective (or scary). Don’t get me wrong, it was good; but it should have been much better.

Best Game Ethos was Too Dumb to Play 2010 – Bayonetta

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This is revenge for a post Ethos wrote about six months ago to close out Sexy Summer week. If you recall, he usurped my “Vetoed Pick” article for one of the five sexiest chicks in gaming, and wrote many blasphemous paragraphs about Bayonetta – both the game and the character.

The kicker is that Ethos has never actually played Bayonetta. Now, I wouldn’t be able to fault him for this, necessarily – if not for said blasphemous article.

I’m going to take this opportunity to praise Bayonetta again, as I did in my positive review early this year. It’s the best hack ‘n slash action gameplay to be found, full stop. If the rest of the game was able to live up, it’d be the best action game of 2010 – but a certain God of War III had to go and steal that honor away. Bayonetta takes the relentless twitch-based stylized gameplay of Devil May Cry, combines it with the ferocity of God of War, dips it in a thick pool of sex appeal, and serves it up on a platter made of… uh… sexiness. Or… hair. Or I don’t know, I didn’t think that sentence through beforehand.

Point being, Bayonetta is a unique and incredibly well-designed game. In many ways, it’s the best of its class. It’s living proof that ridiculous Japanese nonsense can still, occasionally, be totally awesome. Just like it was back when we were kids. And yet, not only can Ethos not spare the time to play it, he has to go and bash it, along with its titular protagonist. Like the short-sighted retard that he is.

Also, while this is tangential at best, I have to take the opportunity to point this out: among many other things, Ethos criticizes Bayonetta’s outfit, noting the lack of back and a cleavage hole.

Scroll down two articles, and you’ll find an article where he laments the fact that I wouldn’t allow Jack from Mass Effect 2 on the list.


Seriously? Seriously, Ethos? Oh, and plenty of women would choose to wear that outfit if they had crazy witch powers. All things considered, it’s actually a far more “modest” outfit than 98% of female gaming characters. Also, I had a weird obsession with spiders as a kid, which has translated into a bizarre sexual arachnid fetish in my adult life so FUCK YOU.

That’s not true at all. Well, the first part is, but the second part isn’t.

I hope.

Ahem. Ethos should, uh, play Bayonetta. It’s a good game.

Runner Up: Limbo

I know Ethos has never pointedly refused to play this, or spoken negatively of it – much as I’ve never spoken negatively (or at all, really) of DeathSpank. What I’m actually trying to do, if you want the truth, is give Limbo as much relevant, timely exposure that I can with the limited time I have remaining. I played through the game right before I moved out of my apartment of 2 years and my life became a crazy piece of craziness, so I literally forgot all about it. And I regret that. Limbo will receive a more suiting, in-depth write-up later this week, so I won’t trouble you with details here; suffice to say, Ethos is dumb for not having played it. And so are you. And you. And you. And you, even.

Best Visual Experience 2010 – Riddles

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

God of War III

Kratos’ first outing on the PlayStation 3 could only mean one thing: fucking awesome graphics. And they were, they were.

Well, that’s to sell the game short, a bit. God of War III has more going for it than it’s divine graphical presentation, but the graphics are what we’re here to talk about now. So, let’s to it!

I realize that it’s actually a bit stupid to try and elongate an article when the sole purpose is to say, “I liked the way this game looked better than the rest.” I mean, visuals are a bit difficult to define and discuss in-depth, unless you’re a graphic artist of some type. Which I am not. Or not really, at least. I have a sharper eye than most, maybe.

That being said, perhaps the best way is to explain why I chose this over, say, BioShock 2. That’s pretty easy; BioShock 2, on a technical level, isn’t nearly as impressive – technicalities such as texture work and lighting are unbelievably polished in God of War III; you’ve never seen Kratos’ pasty white skin look so real. Also, BioShock 2’s art direction suffered from a case of “been there, done that.” Literally. We had literally been there.

What about, say, Final Fantasy XIII? For its varied and attractive art direction, that certainly deserves a nod. And perhaps the artwork is more varied than what’s seen in God of War III, but at the same time, it’s a bit more derivative. Let me put it this way: Final Fantasy XIII fulfills all of the required aesthetics for a JRPG. Sure, it occasionally does so with some real bravado and color, but eh. It feels too much like going through the motions, but in HD this time. Also, I hate that game.

God of War III also scores points for its unique sense of brutality. And yes, I attribute that, in part, to the game’s art direction. Like during the game’s final battle, when the screen got covered in blood spurts from Kratos’ repeated punching of Zeus in the face? Super awesome stuff.

Well, there’s three vague and arbitrary points to back up my decision. That’s enough, right? To sum up, and in all seriousness, God of War III is simply the most visually striking game I experienced this year. From the outset, when I was scaling Mt. Olympus on the back of a massive Titan moving in real-time, the visual thrills never stopped. If anyone knows how to drag  power out of Sony’s machines, it’s the people at Santa Monica. I mean, hell, God of War I +II looked amazing enough remastered in HD. This shit, however, is off the chain. Yeah.

Runner Up: Limbo

Holy crap. I’ve never mentioned this game on the site before. And I’d never even considered it for this award until about 15 seconds ago, when it hit me like a ton of bricks. To think that I was even going to give an honorable mention to garbage like Final Fantasy XIII, when this gem of a game sat unnoticed.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Limbo: It’s an amazing, unique little game that you should probably play. It’s a 2-D sidescroller available exclusively over Xbox Live, made by upstart indy developer Playdead. You take on the role of a boy venturing into a frightening wood to find his missing sister – but, the most unique thing about the game is its graphical presentation. Everything is presented as a silhouette – making the game, essentially, black-and-white. You’ve never, ever seen anything like it, I assure you. Sure, it may not be in 3D or have ridiculously detailed textures or whatever, but as a visual experience it has no peer.

You all should play Limbo. That is all.

Most Addictive Game 2010 – Riddles

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Holy crap, I’ve played a lot of this game. And I have the feeling I’ll be playing this game for many months to come. As a gamer, I’ve never been one to become addicted to games of competitive nature. Or of any nature, really – even Final Fantasy XI failed to suck me into its online fantasy world. But Call of Duty, for whatever reason, has an effect on me that no other game or franchise does. That is to say, it has the ability to make me spend many, many hours shooting at people with naught but an experience gauge to indicate any progress at all.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is the ultimate entertainment package. The campaign is an intense, intriguing eight-hour ride through heavily fictionalized Vietnam war sets.  The online multiplayer suite is more impressive than its ever been, complete with the awesome new Wager modes. The Zombie mode is back from World at War, and it’s been amped up to whole new levels – making it, impossibly, even more addicting than it was before. I can’t even begin to count how many hours me and my roomates have sunk into that one.

Call of Duty is a very accessible franchise – even the most casual can pick it up and have fun – but in spite of this, it maintains a level of depth and complexity that hardcore gamers (such as myself) can appreciate for hours on end. Black Ops is the ultimate refinement of the Call of Duty formula, and it bears more content, perhaps, than all three of the previous games combined. In terms of pure entertainment value, it’s a monumental achievement, and I can’t wait to see how Treyarch – or even Infinity Ward – plans to top this one. Call it mainstream, call it whatever, blahblah. There’s a reason Call of Duty is so damn popular. Black Ops is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. Easy choice.

Runner up: Red Dead Redemption

It was between this and Mass Effect 2, and I decided to go with the underdog. Red Dead Redemption is a well-crafted sandbox game ripe with activity and exploration. In spite of this, I found myself losing interest in the game around the 15-hour mark, and then I sorta just dropped it. But, for its time, Red Dead Redemption is a very addicting game – whether you’re taking down bandits, shooting birds out of the sky, skinning critters, or staking out in the local saloon and murdering everyone who dares cross the threshold of the door. (I did that a few times, it was fun.)