Friday, 13 December 2013

What more can I say, Top Billin! – My top 3 games of 2013

Well, the end of the year approaches. Xbox One & PS4 have debuted and now all that is left is to clean up the streamers and tents and try my best to ignore the console vs console fights that have sprung up all over the place.

This is not a review of consoles, what they can do what they have, how fast they do it and to whom and when. The fact remains is that there is currently no game that I want to buy that makes me need to buy either console. Besides I am having too much of a ball with what’s already out there.

I said in the beginning of this blog that I would discuss any and everything that I am passionate about and this year, which has been pretty rotten, I have to say that one of my anchors has been Gaming. I love it and make absolutely no apologies for it. I have been doing this since the days of Atari and it’s a strange thing to see your child and realise that her experience of gaming began with the Xbox 360….how much of a headscrew is that?

There have been times when I have face palmed in shame about elements of the Gaming community, but every community has the equivalent of the nutty cousin that we don’t like talking about at dinner, due to ‘that unfortunate business’. It comes with anything that you proudly support and any cause that you fight for.

2013 was the year that I conquered my prejudice of Tabletop games and when all was essentially blowing up around me, gaming helped to me to conquer all of those demons. So hats off to a fantastic year that often had my heart beating and jaw slacked. To all the developers and all those companies, Rockstar, RockSteady, 2K and all in between, thank you very much.

In that spirit, I present to you my personal top 3 of 2013.

My top 3 are games that I have played, actually committed time to and got to grips with. I despair that I often read these kinds of roundups and about midway through, you get the distinct impression that the writer not only hasn’t really given the games in question much time but probably has just combined a load of stuff from other places and then formulated an opinion.
So they’ll be none of that malarkey, instead I start with Number 3 which is…..

Saints Row 4
The crowning achievement of this game is that it reminded us that it’s just a Game! I know it sounds daft but hear me out.

Of late there have been a huge surge of games that ultimately want the world to know that gaming can be a very serious business. There is a lot of time and energy in the development, production and marketing of a game before release and gaming commands very serious numbers.

However it could be argued that along the way, we lost some of the fun. Saints Row knew from its 2nd iteration that it was in no way any rival to Grand Theft Auto so it didn’t try to be. It stopped the race and focused primarily on the fact that you can have a story and a pretty look but most of all have some fun. The fact that the game begins with the head of the 3rd Street Saints becoming the President of the US, tells you where its tongue resides. By God, if its in your cheek, you got off lightly. The gameplay is simple enough and yes there are a few twitches here and there, but this game is a montage of fun. You can fly and kill people with the power of Dubstep, you bitchslap an alien and that isn’t even half the fun.
I cannot go on without spoiling the experience by blowing major plot but what I can say is that on a day when I thought laughter was impossible, the 3rd Street Saints had me cackling in no time. It is that reason why it’s my number 3.

This brings me of course to Number 2 which is…controversially

Grand Theft Auto V

Number 2! I know that some folks may think I have lost the plot but please hear me out. My favourite Grand Theft Auto is Vice City. I was engaged and probably more so because I am a child of the 80’s. I joined the ranks of those who were dubious about the promises RockStar was making in terms of this game and then it hit and it was a wonder.

This game did what games should do. Make no mistake, if I am buying an 18 game, I want adult themes and I want to be questioned and GTAV did all of those things. The RAGE system is a dream, the controls are lovely but they are nothing absolutely nothing compared to how beautiful the game looks. It is a marvel, luscious to the point of being edible; it soaks you up and therein lies the power. You see the sun rise over the city and you are hooked. And then there’s Michael, Franklin & Trevor.

They all make you uncomfortable in their own distinct way. They are not here to massage your ego and hold your hand, their function is to get in your face and show you the world through their eye. And the horror is that this is our world and they are the products. Michael, washed up, flushed with cash and empty, pining for a life seen through a lens of 80’s movies that he believes he was promised, practically owed and finding that it’s a lie, a vacuous existence that dulls the sense. He is only alive when doing the thing he is good at…robbing. Franklin, seeing the hood for what it is and is not, with intelligence and sometimes a little common sense. He is the epitome of “the hood made me” but more so he demonstrates that you have to stay where the hood thinks you belong.

The environment and its inhabitants primarily drive to keep you in your place or not be ‘real’ and it is a knife to listen to because they don’t see the cycle that they perpetuate again and again. Improve yourself but only to a point and within your territory. And then there is Trevor. I have rarely played a character so anarchic, so seemingly moulded in Hell, I would genuinely cringe when I had to go to him for fear of what I would see but….there is depth to his sociopathy and intelligence. This is not a Man on Fire, this is a man with the petrol, matches and Napalm quite happy to burn the whole thing down and watch the flames and maybe dowse himself in the process. a man with loyalties, albeit twisted.

This is the 2nd layer that brings the game to life and combined with the system of switching between characters which to my mind is a game changer, this game was astonishing and as jaw dropping as promised.

So why 2nd place…..I have to say…it’s the women.

God does it irk. Strippers, crackheads, general nutjobs, deluded PA’s & Lawyers, Sporty nutters, moaning cheating wives and slutty daughters it is list after list of the same old same old. I know it’s a deliberate pastiche of the current day designed to make you feel very uncomfortable but still really after all this time, I think this was a squandered opportunity for Rockstar to really stand out and that for me was enough to bring it down a place.

A hard task and not popular but that’s just because in my view, in consideration of all of that, there could really be only one winner….the Number 1 which for me was..

Bioshock Infinite
Let me start from the get go and say that my husband was more excited by the arrival of this game than I was. Bioshock made me feel like I wanted out from the world. It was claustrophobic and scared the hell out of me.

Then I watched the trailer, I was intrigued but not blown away…yet. That would come later. It is the only game that I have clocked before my husband and his mate. You have no idea at the significance of that statement. I watched my husband play the first bit and I had to play. I fired up the Xbox and it seemed I played this game with held breath at each level. Just like GTAV it is a wonder for the eye, but there was something of the gobsmacked when I ascended the clouds and passed into Columbia. Maybe after what I had left behind, anything was a wonder.
But a floating city, I knew about it but to see it for the first time and take it in...what a sight to behold. I wished that Occulus was available now so I could plug in and touch it all and that is the trick. One of the amazing things was that when you saw it for yourself, you could scarce take it in and the legacy of Bioshock pushed you further into it because, you felt free. You were not enclosed under the sea and the machinations of Ryan but free to breathe the air.

A pastiche LA is one thing as we have a reference, but a floating city? This is what makes the fall even harder, to see that quite quickly this wonder harbours a rotten core, a carpet unceremoniously pulled from beneath us and you realize very quickly what horrors lie beneath. The beauty that made you visibly sigh, now disgusts you. I think that it would have been easier to really decay the world as you discover more of it but this gift keeps giving. Booker De Witt is a complex character, there are times when he is difficult to stomach but he compels you to keep going which brings me to Elizabeth.

When I saw Elizabeth in preview, I worried that she would be an npc that I would have to look out for and take a bucket for, drag from place to place and generally just get in the way. How wrong was I. The AI is intuitive so Elizabeth ducks and hides, finds supplies and generally is a guide. A guide who will still follow and challenge you. When she is taken away, you feel lost in Columbia, even overwhelmed as this anchor has taken you away and the hits come, revealing itself slowly until the enormity of the story is laid bare and you sit there, taking all of this in.
Bioshock Infinite cemented the legacy that its predecessor did before it; it placed the importance of telling an intelligent story designed to make you think about what had led you there in the first place. My jaw hit the floor when I realized what I had been a part of and there I was thinking that “Would you kindly?” was a hard act to follow. If you haven’t played it, please I urge you to go get it and commit the time to it. Sometimes, you may want to look away from the screen, I urge you not to. What you are seeing before you is a masterstroke of storytelling and the future and glory of all that is truly wonderful about gaming.

Well…that’s about it for me. 2013 has had quite a few tricks up her sleeve and not all of them nice but one of the definite highlights was getting to express the things that I love to a wider audience, essentially while sitting in a corner, drink in hand and looking at my world.
In time honoured tradition, I couldn’t just skidaddle without one last drink….cheers to 2014!

Devils Kiss - Bioshock Infinite cocktail – Courtesy of The Drunken Moogle
25ml Spiced Rum
25ml Chambord
10ml Grenadine
1 Lime
50ml Ginger Beer
50ml Cloudy Lemonade (carbonated)
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
15ml Overproof Rum

Directions: Fill a high ball glass with ice, pour in grenadine, Chambord and dashes of bitters to begin. Carefully pour in cloudy lemonade and ginger beer down the side of the glass leaving the grenadine sitting in the bottom, add juice of a lime and finish the drink with a shot of Spiced Rum to the top.

To serve place drink on a saucer and place the measure of overproof rum around the base, light with a match and allow guest to flick cinnamon onto the drink/flame, extinguish, add straw and serve. Anyone looking to get drunk can drink the rum left in the saucer when cool.

A civilized man has power over fire. A refined man handles fire with finesse: DEVIL’S KISS.” -Fink Manufacturing advertisement

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