Silent Hill: Downpour
The Silent Hill series has seen a lot of up and downs in its lifetime. It was applauded when it first came out in 2009 as being a truly successful, suspenseful, and fun survival horror game. It became even more praised upon during its second outing in 2001 with its sequel Silent Hill 2. Though it hit kind of a slump with its third game ( a direct sequel to the original) it didn’t hit an all-time low until Silent Hill 4: The Room; a game panned by both critics and fans as a far departure from its roots (though it makes sense if you see the stories that this was supposed to be an entirely different game to begin with). Add on its less than stellar movie premier of a film based on the first game, the series was hitting a mid-life crisis. Though Origins was a step in the right direction, it wasn’t a truly great game and seemed only to echo the greatness of its first three predecessors. The following games of Homecoming and Shattered Memories (a re-imaging of the first game) were successful and interesting in their own right didn’t really instill in me the same feelings I had playing the originals.
This past year we’ve had Silent Hill presented in two different media; we had the film Silent Hill: Revelation and before that the release of the newest game Silent Hill: Downpour. Though Revelation didn’t do as well as it (and I) hoped, I found the sixth entry in this long franchise as a large step in the right direction. Yes, the game didn’t do all that I wanted but when compared to Homecoming and The Room it was a large improvement. The story wasn’t the greatest and some of the twists were either entirely predictable or kind of hard to accept but it was the gameplay and environment that did it for me. There were moments of true suspense especially in one of the earlier moments of going through an old mineshaft on a mine car where the world slowly begins turn into the Otherworld and monsters begin to slowly converge on you. Truly unnerving.
Though I could’ve done without the chase sequences involving the Void, I found the game overall very enjoyable. It was a little more difficult than Homecoming but nowhere near as frustrating as The Room. Though you can look at what I wrote as mostly complaints, I guess compared to some of the major disappointments I’ve suffered this year, this one is the least disappointing.
The Darkness II
Based off the popular comic book series, the first game was released in 2007 to overall positive reviews from critics and fans. The game didn’t hold back on its violence, allowing you to rip out and eat victims hearts while acquiring awesome powers like the Blackhole that would suck in all of your enemies and effectively destroy them. More than that, the story itself was interesting, taking you from the modern era of trying to get revenge on your “uncle” for first trying to kill you and then killing your girlfriend to the mind of the Darkness where you find out that this monster has been plaguing your family for generations. The game effectively ended on a cliffhanger and it would be another five years before we got an official sequel. Finally though this year we got one and it was a pleasure to play.
Taking place two years after the original, Jackie is the new Don and hasn’t used the Darkness powers since the previous game. All of that changes after an attempt on his life that causes him to reawaken the dark power and fight back. The bulk of the game is then trying to prevent a long living cult from taking the power from him. The story is interesting though nothing groundbreaking. What truly made this game a pleasure to play was the quad-wielding, finally allowing you to use your guns and Darkness tentacles in tandem. To make it even greater was the different types of kills you could accomplish, adding even more to the blood and gore of the previous game. I’m a sucker for mindless killing and violence within the confines of a video game (which is one of the big reasons I love the Grand Theft Auto series) so to do that and get points for it is even better.
Another great thing were the sequences of the game that take place within an asylum where ala the Buffy episode “Normal Again”, Jackie finds himself questioning whether the world he’s known is the real world or the imaginings of a crazy man. Any time a story does this well is a story I’m interested in. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another five years for another sequel.
To say that Halo is a hit series would be an understatement of grand proportions. The original trilogy received much praise and is herald as the golden child for 343 Industries and Microsoft Studies so it made sense that despite how Halo 3 ended there was just another game waiting to be released. After ending on an ambiguous note for the hero Master Chief, it was only a matter of time before he was awakened and asked to save the world once more.
The game was released with all the fanfare one would expect from a game of this caliber, once again being released as a bundle all on its own. The game sold an amazing 300 million dollars its first week out, shattering its own record set with its predecessor. To add to that, the game met with astounding reviews, being praised for its story, graphics, and telling of the love story between Chief and Cortana. Though the story isn’t the most original, the ways its told and the characters involved make it the classic it is.
Perhaps the most anticipated PC game of the year, Diablo III exploded onto the scene with aplomb and has achieved the title of the fastest selling PC game of all time. This makes sense considering how great the Diablo franchise is. From its original release to the high praised sequel, this was a game that fans had been salivating about for years now and their wishes were finally granted in the form of a game that went beyond expectations and gave new hope to the idea that not all sequels have to suck.
Adding on even more races and skills, new and interesting characters, and an ever growing and interesting world, the game did fail to impress. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t come with its own criticisms. The biggest complaint was the fact that the game requires constant authentication which means that every player has to be online even when they’re playing solo. Though Blizzard has tried to defend themselves by throwing out issues of privacy and counter-pirating tactics, it doesn’t change the fact than when the server will inevitably crash, everyone will have to suffer for it including those that don’t want to be online to begin with it. Despite that problem though, it doesn’t change the fact that the game is great and deserves to be played even with the stupid requirements of Blizzard.
Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil, much like Silent Hill¸ has had its up-and-downs in its long life. What once started out as a fresh, interesting, suspenseful survival horror game has very slowly become a mockery of its former self; becoming an almost simplistic action game with a convoluted and ridiculous plot. Though it once started out as a mockery of a B-rated horror movie, it now begins to become the very thing it seemed to be mocking. Many people blame Resident Evil 4 for this sudden change from horror to action but even though I don’t particularly care for the game, I have to say they did a better job of balancing these two things than the horrible Resident Evil 5 did. So it was with a hesitant breath that I picked up Resident Evil 6. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed…but neither was I blown away.
The game introduced the interesting idea of having four separate campaigns that blended in and out with each other with ultimately the same ending. Some of these campaigns highlighted the best of these series (Leon and Ada’s) while the others only highlight the faults that have begun to haunt this aging franchise (Chris and Jake’s).
With Leon and Ada’s campaigns, players are finally able to live their fantasy of using the new controls to fight and kill zombies and monsters. These two franchise harken back to its horror roots with closed-in spaces, puzzles, and sense of dread as a horrible virus is unleashed on the public. Unfortunately, Chris and Jake’s campaign rely heavily on the action portion of the games and less on the actual horror. This wouldn’t be so bad if the enemies weren’t so generic and overall boring as each level consists of cutscene/shootout/cutscene/shootout. Add on the annoying main characters of Chris and Jake, it makes the outing even more painful. Luckily though, Sherri (a character introduced in Resident Evil 2) is back and adds a feelings of nostalgia that hasn’t been there in a while.
Unfortunately, even her being in the game isn’t enough to save the floundering found in her and Chris’ story (though her campaign with Jake is still better than Chris’). This doesn’t mean I didn’t, and don’t, enjoy the game as I find it fun to arm myself with a powerful gun and mow down monsters. Unfortunately, the story is nowhere near as strong or interesting as it once was and with the introduction of so many characters and so much action, story seems be taking a bigger backseat than normal and that is something this franchise can’t afford to be doing much longer.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
I am a fan of Kingdom Hearts but I have to admit I’m over all of these spin-offs, prequels, and half sequels. More so, the story is becoming more and more complicated and more and more convoluted. Though the game itself has tried to make things a little more clear, it doesn’t change the frustration I feel with this series that I feel is just spinning its wheels for a true sequel that doesn’t ever seem to be coming. Regardless of that, the game is refreshing after the not-so-stellar Birth by Sleep. There’s not much to say about the game besides some interesting developments that Riku passed the test of mastery, Sora went to train, and Kairi has been brought in to be trained instead of being a simple damsel in distress. Overall, I won’t be more impressed until Tetsuya Nomura gives up on the horrible Final Fantasy XIII franchise and gets back to this franchise that has truly be neglected.
Assassin’s Creed III and Liberation
The final installment of the Assassin’s Creed trilogy was finally released last month and it’s with a shuddering cry and broken heart I admit that I truly hated it. What was built in Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood was effectively destroyed with this disaster of a game. After having played as the vibrant and interesting Ezio Auditore we are now forced into the monotone, boring protagonist of Connor, a half-English, half-Native American Assassin on the move to avenge and protect his clan. To make matters worse, Connor became nothing more than a glorified gopher who basically did as he was asked and/or told by various historical American figures. If that wasn’t bad enough, the story itself was seriously lacking. What started out as promising with the reveal that the character you originally start out by playing as is actually a Templar, a character with charm and a personality almost on level with Ezio, was quickly dashed as you moved on to the less than enjoyable Connor.
All that is without taking into consideration Desmond’s role in all of this. From the beginning of the series Desmond was considered special due to his ability to blend with the Animus and then being told was the person who would save the world. Where many people disliked his segments of the game, I found it to be one of the best parts as the story in the present day was much more interesting and engaging. All of that came to a screeching halt with the most anticlimactic ending I’ve seen in a while. Stopping the world with a simple switch and then watching him drop to ground dead was shocking only in the aspect of being a “that’s it?” mentality. To me, it felt like nothing more than an attempt to wrap up this complex and sometimes confusing story to open up another chapter of the story with a new hero and villain (in the form of Juno).
Unfortunately, the handheld game that coincides with Connor’s story, Liberation, where the gameplay and story are simplified and don’t fully take advantage of the Vita’s mechanics. The story itself was simplistic at best but the ending saved it completely in my mind. In Brotherhood Juno mentioned “Eve” who we found out was the woman involved in the human revolution that fought against the First Civilization. Honestly, I’m ready for a female protagonist and every aspect as I feel that there aren’t enough truly strong, female heroes in video games. Hopefully the entry will take this sour taste from my mouth as I truly do love this franchise.
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
If anyone bothered to read my review of this game, you’ll remember that I was not a fan it. I found that many things that made this LEGO franchise fun was done away with to make a more cinematic experience that had before now been ignored. Though the addition of voice acting and a more central plot was welcome, the idea that you couldn’t really do a free play until after you beat the actual game was a letdown. Even all of the characters couldn’t be unlocked until the final stage of the game and the ones you could play as were underused. LEGO games are not meant to be taken as seriously as other game franchise so it was disappointing to see them trying so hard.
Of course, this doesn’t begin to touch on the control schemes. Flying around as Superman in the open world should’ve been more fun but the wonky controls and near impossible landing mechanics that made collecting blocks impossible and very frustrating. Though I appreciate the story and open world vibe they were going for, the execution was definitely off and much of the charm was lost in translation.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
I used to be a giant fan of the Final Fantasy series. But ever since the twelfth installment, I felt the game has lost its way. Though I went in with high hopes for Final Fantasy XIII I was left highly disappointed with the confusing story, bland characters, and boring gameplay. So when XIII-2 came out I wasn’t having high hopes and it met all of my low expectations. The boring characters, though limited, were still that and the story was complicated by all of the time traveling and such. Like I’ve stated in other articles, time travel can be a tricky thing for any game and though Square has shown promise in the premise before (Chrono Trigger) Square Enix has yet to show that they are as great to do so as most of the games they’ve released since they’re merger has been less than stellar.
Mass Effect 3
I had to put this one last because this game came under extremely heavy fire due to its controversial endings. I myself lost interest in the franchise long before that, finding it hard to get invested in it after the first game. I’m not calling the game “bad” but it’s certainly not high on my list. In fact, I don’t even think the endings were all that bad (of course, I wasn’t as invested in it as others). But it’s on this list because 1) many people hated the ending and 2) I don’t like how the creators and production team handled the criticism.
Let’s talk about the first point. I can easily see how many would feel cheated by any of the endings. It basically made any of the choices made throughout the game pointless as the entire game came down to three simple choices in the end that all, basically, ended in Shepard’s death.
It’s the second point that bothers me the most. I can see why the team would go out of their way to almost retcon their ending by adding on additional content but from a creative perspective it’s kind of a pathetic. As a writer or artist, you ultimately make an ending that you believe to be the best choice or the best direction. Even if people aren’t happy with the ending, sometimes you have to stand up and defend your ending because as the writer you have to a reason as to why you did what you did. In this day and age, I believe to many producers, writers, and creative teams are so busy trying to please its fans they end up taking easy ways out or placating to the fans to achieve favor while destroying artistic integrity by letting the story unfold organically in the way it was intended. Yes, games and movies are built to please fans but the ending should not be molded by the fans but the by the story.
Whatever the point may be, I believe this game certainly belongs on this end of the list.
Honorable Mention: The Walking Dead
A hit video game based off of a hit show based off a hit comic book. That’s quite a triple play and it’s definitely a good one. Being one of the few games released episode by episode via download and it has become a smash hit. A simple point and click adventure it may be, it doesn’t change how much fun it is to change. Without giving too much as away, as it is an unfolding story, I suggest you play it soon because if you’re a fan of the show you’re definitely going to love the game. Simple as that.