Serious Game Fatigue

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Well, last week’s ZP was my top 5 and bottom 5 of 2013, but one tawdry pair of rundowns hardly does the year justice, so let’s reminisce about some other things I didn’t get quite so passionate about. You know, looking retrospectively back at my top 5, the presence of MGS: Revengeance and Saints Row 4 may indicate that this year I was getting bored of games taking themselves so bloody seriously. Call it Spec Ops: The Line Fatigue.

Which brings me to The Last Of Us, a game I would have been happy to stop thinking about but everyone else seems to be convinced that it was the best game ever or something. So I really tried hard, I consulted every coiled-up centimeter of my gut, but no, I still don’t remember it blowing me away and I don’t particularly want to play it again. You know what I think it is? All opinion is subjective (as I’m sure we all know by now), but opinions on The Last of Us seem to be more subjective than others. Because it’s a game that lives or dies on whether or not you like the characters, and that is heavily dependent on your individual personality. It’s like a dirty-faced Rorschach test.

This probably explains why I also wasn’t inflating my ballbag like a little angry frog for Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, either, which was another big hitter in the field of heart-string-tugging. Apparently. Personally I didn’t feel there was enough meat in it, but the same is true of 7-11 sausage rolls, and I’ve enjoyed those in the past, so maybe give it a look if you never got around to doing so.

Not that I want to give the impression of having no heart at all. Moving to the subject of games I didn’t do reviews for, Gone Home was certainly a standout in the interactive storytelling stakes. I admire the cunning subterfuge it employed to sucker me in – making me think it was a fairly generic if well-presented survival horror game, only for it to instead turn into a unique brand of indirect coming-of-age drama that kept me playing right to the end. I do think the difference between ‘game’ and ‘interactive narrative’ is an important distinction to establish, though: Greater clarity in this area might have prevented more people from buying Beyond bloody Two Souls.

It’s safe to say ‘interactive narrative’ can be declared an actual genre now, because it’s already had its own genre deconstruction, in the form of the rather lovely The Stanley Parable. It really is gaming’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: a sharp-witted comedic experience with an underlying tragicomic theme of characters trapped inescapably by the necessities of the format, and gradually becoming aware of it.

But getting back to the subject of generic if well-presented survival horror, Outlast was also a bit of a standout. A standoutlast, if you will. Yeah, being trapped in a dark spooky mansion that’s also an abandoned insane asylum isn’t the most original starting point for a horror game, and yeah, it’s a little over-reliant on jumpy-outy scares, but it’s an experience crafted with care and depth. There’s something about looking at the world through a camera’s night-vision setting that makes things rather horribly real. I’m still too much of a pussy to finish the damn thing. Something for the New Year’s Resolutions list perhaps.

It was also a year that brought us Rogue Legacy and Gunpoint, two staples of my indie gaming Steam sessions, as well as Papers, Please, but I did enough sucking on that particular willy in the video. It’s games like these that really give me hope, partly as a solo developer with a project on the go, but also for one who appreciates the continued breeding and cross-breeding of solid, auteur-driven indie games keeping things alive in an industry increasingly possessed by the horrors of bland big money garbage.

And on that note, it wouldn’t be an appendix to a review of the year without also acknowledging that there’s a lot of cack in the world. And this year was a particularly good one for the cack connoisseur. There was of course the now legendary Ride To Hell: Retribution, but immediately after that, with the cack reliability one can only get from the summer release schedules, there was Dark, an atrocious vampire stealth game that had very weird ideas about what vampires are weak to. Which is to say, fucking anything. It was a strong contender for the bottom 5, but I reluctantly decided that it had a certain tryhard charm that elevated it maybe a notch higher than all that horrible cynicism that actually did make it in.

On that note, it may surprise you that Ryse didn’t make it in, or indeed that I barely mentioned the new console generation in the video at all. Well, I figured, over the year I gave that subject more than enough shit, and I’m content to let it struggle to find its footing for a while, without standing over it kicking its crutches away. No, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunity to put the boot into the new console generation this time next year, after it’s given me some really meaty garbage. For now I’m content to namedrop The Bureau, Fuse and Paper Mario Sticker Star as games that all deserve an extra little helping of shite before we all move on with our lives.

But to close things off, there’s one more thing I want to mention in the ‘games too depressing to even make videos about’ category, and that’s the remake of Flashback, released as part of the XBLA Summer/Winter of Arcade in hazardously close proximity to Brothers. Flashback was a favourite game of mine back in retro times, with its rotoscoped animation, mold-breaking action-step-platformer gameplay and adorably bad story. But when it’s remade in full 3D so the rotoscoped animation becomes just another 3D model wandering around non-committedly trying to decide whether or not they’re going to acknowledge the physics engine, I despair. Even more so when they turn a fairly neutral but basically relatable main character into the world’s biggest quipping douchebag until the story shifts from adorably bad to just plain bad. Fuck you, remake of Flashback. And God fuck us, every one.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is

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