Hi kids. I’m Justin. You might remember me from such articles as the profanity-laced Star Wars review precisely 6 of you actually got all the way through. And THANK YOU, to all 6 of you.
I’m here now to talk games. And will be for the foreseeable future.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a full time job outside of CHUD, which has kept me from reviewing movies/games all the live-long day as God intended. So, truth be told, I have no idea how often you’ll see me around these parts. But make no mistake: I love this medium. I love playing in it. I love talking about it. I love it like Brick loves lamp. And talking about it, I believe, has merit, just as much as any legit art form, even if I do stand on the side that doesn’t think the medium quite qualifies. And this place has been home to some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about it all. I intend to keep that fire burning as long as I am able. What I can promise is that when you see me, my words will matter. They’ll come from someone has lived breathed this shit longer than some of you have drawn pure air. Long as there’s still people reading/trolling the comments section, I’ll keep it coming.
But, in the words of a prophet, I didn’t come here to tell you how this all ends. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.
I’m not going to kick the hornet’s nest and say that gaming and film are inseparable or even close as media right now. That assumes games have reached the artistic promised land movies have, and I can’t even begin to express how much they, as a whole, really, REALLY haven’t yet. However, games are at least exchanging emails with film and trying to get film to come out for coffee sometime. Occasionally they send nudes. It’s awkward.
Games, as they have been for some time now, are TRYING to bridge the gap, and, like everyone else, no matter how poetic they wax on it, I have no answers as to whether it ever will. Yet every single one of us benefits from the attempt, even if the medium never takes the step. It means we get more and better games, more often. Right now, the realistic goal is games that hit the sweet spot of being great entertainment that doesn’t take a giant shit on its audience’s intelligence, and the 10 games I’ve got listed are the ones I played that got closer to the bullseye than the others. This is what I intend to look for when I get talking about games on this site, and what this needs to be if talk of the next David Cage game is going to be sharing real estate that could be occupied by talk of the next David Cronenberg.
So, yeah. Games are coming back to CHUD. Whenever they can. Whenever it matters.
Here endeth statement of purpose.
Before we begin, a few acknowledgements of the missing:
Skyrim–I wish I cared. I really wish I could. But within a scant few hours, when I’m already unable to shake the question of “But…why?”, and can’t in fact remember who I am and why I’m doing it to begin with, I know the game’s not going to win. But the sheer scale of the thing and what it’s trying to bring to the table is worthy of respect. I just have zero interest in what that is.
Modern Warfare 3/Battlefield 3–At this point, I wish EA and Activision would cut the pretense, and go the Team Fortress 2 route. Because every attempt to lipservice a single player campaign comes off more and more like the porn star who keeps telling everybody what she really wants to do is act.
Crysis 2–Tip of the hat granted for a ridiculously huge sense of scope, and an actual effective use of the geography/iconography of New York, something Modern Warfare failed at on more than just the visual level. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, at all, but what it does, it does well.
Saints Row: The Third–Just never got to it. Hell, I still need to give Saint’s Row 2 a genuine shot for more than an hour or two at a time. Out of all the insane, Crank-ish mayhem I’ve seen, though, there’s very little as inspired as this little touch.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution–If I’d gotten to spend more time with it, it would probably have made the list. The 3-4 hours I did play, minus two pushover boss fights, were a wonderful breath of fresh air for a genre thats been playing the fish in a Faith No More video for a few years now.
Shadows of the Damned–My great regrettable miss for the year. Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami directing, with a new Akira Yamaoka score, and I never got to even touch it. I am sadness.
LA Noire–A for ambition, but the weaknesses in the interrogation system, and the needlessness of making this open world fuck up the works. The months since, stories have come out how this was basically another Red Dead Revolver situation, of Rockstar giving a developer with a great idea a swift kick in the ass late in the game. There’s enough positive here to make me really excited to see if Rockstar can pull a Redemption on this one.
Gears of War 3–Future generations will wipe their asses with copies of this series. They will be justified and righteous in doing so.
Zelda: Skyward Sword–Over the years, I’ve played every console Zelda game (not counting the CD-i abominations) through to its end, in release order, without fail, and right now, Twilight Princess remains unbeaten. Not touching this one until.
And now, your feature presentation.
Justin on: Assassin’s Creed Revelations…
There’s an asshole part of me that wants to call this a charity pick. Yes, the Assassin’s Creed formula is still fun, still strong, and Ubi Soft continues to imbue these games with a depth and forethought that still remains a unique experience among anything else on the market. The new gameplay modes (the tower defense stuff, the bomb-making) are optional, but offer even more bang for the player’s buck. Ezio remains one gaming’s best protagonists, and the game does great work playing off of the character’s age, and sending him off on a great, pensive note. On top of that, they manage to go back and retcon the story of Altair, making him a stronger character in retrospect, as well as deliver some surprisingly strong work filling in Desmond’s backstory with abstract playable segments. For these reasons, AC: Revelations deserves a spot on this list. But even the most staunch fan has got to be thinking “get on with it” by now. We’re still not even close to living up to the promise of AC1‘s final Eagle Vision moment, and it won’t be until E3 that we find out whether Ubi Soft’s going to do right by this series, or let this series go down as nothing more than a series of expansion packs.
Contributing Factors: Even MORE ways to kill with style, Ubi Soft continuing to give us protagonists and sidekicks worth spending 20-something hours with, the score just getting better and better with time (but still not enough to get me to take the Fountain score out of my custom soundtrack playlist)
Moment to savor: Worth mentioning twice: Ezio’s final moment onscreen is really just perfect.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “It’s poisoning soldiers and getting him to kill his buddies. It’s burning templar strongholds to the ground. Whenever you’re stabbing dudes in the neck with your wristshank, it feels like Christmas.”
Justin on: Sonic Generations…
For the longest time, I wondered why we, as gamers, had such battered housewife syndrome when it came to Sonic games, and Sega’s long sad string of broken promises that it’d be just like the old days. Sonic Generations acts as both answer to that question and, ultimately, apology.
Sonic Generations is the ultimate proof of what 3D Sonic could be when Sonic Team steps up their game. It puts control of the most impressive sequences firmly in the hands of the player, shoots for the moon in terms of spectacle, and do right by the original concepts that made Sonic a household name to begin with: Blistering speed, insane, unique setpieces, and smartass charm. It’s the sum total of all lessons learned during Sonic’s 21st century tenure.
The game leaves the ridiculous over-serious tone of recent titles behind, while managing to give the game an actual effective, working sense of humor. There’s a sequence involving past and future Dr. Robotnik post-credits that’s funnier than most cartoons. The menagerie of support characters does return, but in a strictly superfluous capacity, and even then, they comprise the game’s side-quests, all of which are more inventive and fun than I ever expected. Of course, there’s the nostalgia factor, but the novelty of the game is less about seeing Green Hill Zone rejuvenated in 3D (though I got a pretty huge buzz off the re-imagined Metal Sonic race from Sonic CD) but in seeing Sega entirely rework stages from the shit Sonic titles, and turn them into spun gold. Crisis City was the stage that made me want to firebomb Sega headquarters from the sky in Sonic 2006. It’s one of the most fun, impressive stages in the entire game here, in both 2- and 3-D.
Many a review has made snickering jokes about the game’s final lines: New School Sonic telling Old School to enjoy his future, because it’s gonna be great. It’s entirely possible he’s talking about everything after this game. One hopes.
Contributing Factors: Sega finally perfecting the balance between new and old gameplay; Sega finally realizing Sonic is a cartoon and can/should be treated as such; Sega finally figuring out nobody ever really gave a fuck about Big The goddamn Cat to begin with.
Moment to savor: Beating both the 2D and 3D versions of each stage frees one of new-school Sonic’s friends from captivity, forcing old-school Sonic to face his future pals. His silent reactions are classic.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “No, really. It’s good. Seriously. No, there’s no werewolves. Trust me. Honest. Swear to God. Guys? Hello?”
Justin on: Dead Space 2
There was a contingent of people who were disappointed in Dead Space 1 because all of its scares were of the jump variety. Valid points, yes, especially when that game gives way to being a strict action-horror game later on. Dead Space 2 is still that, and does that very well, a few new impressive twists, tweaks and toys notwithstanding. But Dead Space 2 crushes its predecessor in starting out in a state of oppressive, deep-seated dread, and consistently rooting the player there instead of the constant tonal stop and start of the first. Every corridor is home to an atrocity. Every stage has some new unique horror visited either upon Isaac himself or one of the poor souls still trapped onboard the Sprawl. What’s new is a frenetic, Uncharted-In-Hell sensibility when it comes to the major setpieces, and the game exploiting Isaac’s own insanity, the direct result of spending 8-10 hours trapped onboard the Ishimura (which makes a surprise, chilling cameo later in this game).
Put altogether, what it says is that the original Dead Space wasn’t a fluke. Visceral Games has carved out a special little niche for themselves in the annals of sci-fi/horror, and their sequel delivers on all of its predecessor’s promises.
Contributing Factors: Surprisingly good voice performances, especially from the previously silent Isaac, better setpieces and staging than most modern horror films, expert pacing and tension.
Moment to savor: Oh, awesome, an unskippable gameplay moment combining needles and eye trauma–my two major phobias–where BOTH outcomes are horrible. THANKS, EA.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “In space, no one needs to hear you scream. Everyone will just know when you’ve pissed yourself.”
Justin on: Batman: Arkham City…
Arkham Asylum‘s a great game. The fact that Arkham City makes Asylum feel like it was on training wheels is stupefying.
It’s got its issues. Most of them having to do with the game wasting Two-Face, a lackluster narrative ending (though the Joker’s part in it all is wrapped up with class), and the Catwoman stages doing not nearly enough with a really fantastic set of gameplay mechanics. This all pales in comparison to the pure glee that stems from unleashing the standards established in Asylum on a criminal infested open-world Gotham City. To play this game is to truly become Batman, and every single thing that entails, short of getting to drive the Batmobile/Tumbler (which, we never, EVER need to do, in case you’re reading, Rocksteady). And though the actual resolution is weak, the journey getting there is full of things to love. The brilliant first encounter with Talia and Ra’S Al Ghul, the game’s actually menacing iteration of the Penguin, the random cameos scattered throughout. Hell, I’d say the lead-up, tracking, and eventual takedown of Victor Zsasz is more satisfying than most of the main story.
To play Arkham City is to go on a 30 hour Batman power-trip. And getting drunk with that power never, ever gets old.
Contributing Factors: The Goddamn Batman
Moment to savor: There’s a rather sizeable grab bag full of these, really, but I’ll go with the end credits, and the Joker’s (and, probably, Mark Hamill’s) unnerving and perfect last song.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The Bat. The Cat. And the 110-hit combo.”
Justin on: Star Wars: The Old Republic…
I hate MMORPGs. This is a separate diatribe in and of itself, though Yahtzee did a pretty admirable job nutshelling my major beefs a few months back. I don’t hate PC gaming, but me and the format just don’t get along from a logistical standpoint.
I fucking LOVE The Old Republic.
For all us console peoples’ rabble-rousing about where Bioware decided to take this series, fact is, The Old Republic is every damn inch the KOTOR 3 we all wanted. There just happen to be other people running around doing stuff at the same time. Sure, you can play PVP, start guilds, craft and sell armor and all that happy horseshit, but I was able to go through a good portion of my campaign as Sith Inquisitor solo, simply teaming up with random folks to tackle story missions when necessary, and still find an RPG as satisfying as anything Bioware’s done before. Even the random fetch quests, the unholy time-sucking bitch that plagues this genre, have an urgency, pacing, and dramatic weight you normally don’t see. I didn’t tackle Blood Legacy because there were sw33t l00tz involved. I tackled it because I wanted the woman guarding the cavern to tell me my future. I did it because I cared about this slave becoming Sith. I’ve continued to care level after level, quest after quest, and none of my reasons for doing so have involved “because they have new armor”. TOR‘s just a fantastic new Bioware RPG. Ignore all other noise about it. It is simply that.
Contributing Factors: Bioware. This an all-encompassing answer.
Moment to savor: The intro is the most heart-poundingly great piece of Star Wars action ever produced. The moment will come, however, when you realize that cutscene is only the tip of the iceberg of what the game’s story is capable of. For my Sith Inquisitor, that realization comes every time Lord Zash shows even a glimpse of her true colors.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “(insert obligatory ‘better than the prequels’ cuntery here)”
Justin on: Uncharted 3…
Uncharted 3‘s a lesser game than Uncharted 2, but dismissing it based on that is like saying having Giada De Laurentiis make you a 5-course meal isn’t as great as it would be if she made it while naked with dessert provided by special guest Naked Christina Hendricks. Specifically, Uncharted 3‘s gunplay was tweaked and not exactly for the best, and it doesn’t do nearly as much with the secret society angle as they should’ve, which takes a bit of the air out of the game’s urgency. Naughty Dog soldiers on nonetheless like they’re making the greatest story ever told, and surrounds the thinness of the plot with stellar character work, dialogue, and, as always, the best action scenes in this or any media. The gameplay remains as enjoyable as ever, even with the gunplay complaint (especially since they balance it out with better melee combat), but all would be in vain if Drake and his crew weren’t some of the best protagonists ever to grace our screens, and Naughty Dog didn’t spare any effort tossing them into truly harrowing, spectacular peril at every turn.
Contributing Factors: Naughty Dog managing to make the bits where you’re not shooting just as engaging and inventive as the bits where you are.
Moment to savor: The vast majority of movies that came out this year don’t have a scene as well executed and emotionally weighted as “I’m sorry.”/”I know.”
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Gamer Tested, Indiana Jones Approved“
Justin on: Catherine…
Between Demon’s/Dark Souls, Trauma Center, and 3D Dot Game Heroes (which not nearly goddamned enough of you played), Atlus should be one of my favorite developers at the moment. The one thing that’s always kept me from calling them such is the fact that their RPG bread and butter, the Persona/Shin Megami Tensei series, wastes some captivating setups and polished RPG gameplay on characters emotionally and/or physically stranded at age 12.
Apparently, they were stockpiling the maturity to blow on Catherine.
I don’t know what the higher-ups at that company spiked the water with where they were okay with greenlighting a puzzle-RPG based entirely on the relationships adult men have with and about women, and I’ll be genuinely crestfallen is this is some kind of marvelous fluke we never get again. I maintain that Catherine may very well be the first truly adult video game ever made. Just because there’s sheep in neckties running around, and you’re playing a dude in his boxers running from giant harpies and meatpiles that orgasm takes zero away from the fact that this is a game where the player is put face to face with their own arrested development right alongside their protagonist’s, and the game twists and turns based on their reaction to very plausible, familiar, real-world relationship problems. I’ve been trying for a while now to apply that description to any game ever made, and I’ve come up goose egg. That makes Catherine special. The puzzle gameplay being as favors-for-money-in-alleys addictive as it is makes it truly great.
Contributing Factors: Unique logic based gameplay, deeper than expected moral choice system, well-written supporting characters, including one with a better twist than the one that ends the game, fantastic jazzy spins on classical music, not being afraid to air male”s emotional dirty laundry.
Moment to savor: You’ll find yourself both dreading and anticipating every new boss stage. Some, like the witch and the baby are almost quaint. The rest are pure, grade-A, 100% NIGHTMARE FUEL.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “It’s almost as awesome as fucking around on your real girlfriend and dying a spike-related death!”
Justin on: Rayman Origins…
Rayman Origins is one of those games I wish I could jump in a DeLorean and show my 10 year old self. I’d have probably missed school due to being unable to stop weeping joy. All those countless conversations about being able to play a cartoon in the future, and suddenly, 20 years later, I’m playing it on an HD screen. And not just any toon, but one of the most wild, imaginative, charming, and flat out hilarious experiences of the genre. The 3DS Mario game that came out this year is fucking amateur hour by comparison.
Whereas the other games in this series have always felt like UbiSoft aping well-regarded platformers and tossing their own fun creations in to fill in the blanks, Origins is pure unfiltered imagination Jackson Pollacked on screen. It speaks volumes that Origins started as the brainchild of only 5 people from UbiSoft’s art department. There’s a love and innate understanding of what made 2D art and gameplay special, something that doesn’t really translate to the retail game the further down the pipe you have to float ideas, and the game doesn’t compromise in just taking the concepts and running them deep into the end zone. How the hell else do you end up with a Mexican food and drink stage with frozen sangria glaciers up top and jalapeno fondue volcanos beneath? That’s the work of madmen, and bless UbiSoft for leaving them to their devices.
This game is threatening to become another of 2011’s lost gems. There, but for the amazing grace of one Jacob Singer from our message boards, go I. DO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE. This game is distilled digital happiness.
Contributing Factors: Beautiful hand-drawn graphics, no two stages being alike, non-stop Termite Terracey energy and humor, one of the greatest eclectic musical scores ever composed for a game, married to the gameplay in ways only outdone by the next entry on this list.
Moment to savor: The Sea of Serendipity. Starts out as a simple, hilarious pirate invasion stage. It then turns into, in shorthand terms, Finding Nemo, Pitch Black, then Ecco The Dolphin, accompanied by the best music in a game full of outstanding music.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I don’t always trip acid and play a platformer, but when I do….”
Justin on: Child Of Eden…
Just like it’s easy to toss around the term “adult game” and apply it to a game like Bulletstorm before something like Catherine decides to make that term actually mean something, we’ve been throwing around the term “next gen” for ages, and applying it based solely on graphical ability. So, now what do we do now that Child of Eden exists?
Child of Eden is the true next gen experience game companies have been crowing about being able to provide since 1999. Yes, it happens to be one of the most gorgeous games ever pressed to a disc. I can count on one hand the number of games able to make that beauty mean something as opposed to being the window dressing to a game fundamentally no more complex than Centipede or Adventure, and Child of Eden easily takes up one of those fingers. Here, that beauty becomes the game, the goal, and reward, all in one. Success in this game means unleashing the power of every living thing to become something amazing. Your reward is watching the world go from nothingness, to a living, breathing, dancing spectacle of hyperreality in motion. It’s a shooter in its heart of hearts, but a shooter where you rain down life, not death, from above.
It’s also one of the few times where I’ve seen a game’s director throw around some bullshit technical term for his new gameplay innovation, only to realize he’s not fucking with us. The whole idea of connecting the music inexorably to the whole experience was touched upon in Rez, but wasn’t nearly the linchpin to the whole thing it is here. Even for someone whose trashy europop/dance/techno phase is mostly behind him, there’s an ethereal quality to Genki Rockets’ score here that feels entirely appropriate, and organic to everything happening on screen. Once the rhythm locks you in, there’s no other music that would feel so perfect.
Child of Eden pushes the envelope far enough for it to start tearing in spots. The game has stumbled onto something amazing and divine. And I have no idea who’s going to take that ball and run with it, but the result is going to be mindblowing.
Contributing Factors: The sights. The sounds. Insanely meticulous stage/creature design. The visage of an obscure J-pop singer used to wonderful effect. Mizoguchi finally finding a non-esoteric use for the Kinect.
Moment to savor: Evolution’s space whale/phoenix boss. Easily the most beautiful digital image of the entire year.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “My God. It’s full of EPILEPSY.”
Justin on: Portal 2…
By all rights, Portal 2 has no right existing. The first game was lightning-in-a-bottle great. It was a stocking stuffer for The Orange Box that eventually bloomed into something amazing over the course of its 3 hour length. It never felt like it needed to be more. Nine months after its sequel’s release, I can’t imagine the gaming world where the Portal universe stopped there.
Portal 2‘s an indulgence on the part of Valve, but an indulgence of the best kind. Valve fell in love with Portal 1 just like everyone, but instead of falling in love with cake memes and catchphrases like the general populace, they fell in love with its ideas, with what could be. They sought to surprise the player and themselves all over again, but do it deliberately.
The result of that effort is not just a stronger game, full of ingenious, satisfying, brilliant puzzles and new physics mechanics, but also one of the best crafted industrial sci-fi tales of the year, making Aperture Science not just a rudimentary backdrop, or a sly reference for players to namedrop, but a very real place, with a history alternately impressive, ridiculous, even sad, a place that we witness the rise and fall of before our very eyes. And every new stage, every new puzzle fills in a tiny part of the story. All the while, we have Valve’s same gift for dialogue, twisted humor, and pacing. There’s 20 reasons to keep moving along through the dilapidated, aging corridors of Aperture Science at any given moment, to want to see more, and the game is all too aware of how to drip feed the player satisfying resolution to all of them.
Portal 2 is a game that follows even its smallest idea to its ultimate fruition, and not a single one feels out of place or like a waste of time or effort. Even the multiplayer, which is another thing this series never asked for or needed, is masterful in its implementation, dovetailing off the singleplayer from the second it ends, acting as the game’s extended, playable, whimsical ending. It’s fun, intelligent, intuitive, and hits every high and low beat a story should. Portal 2 is, in essence, everything I’ve asked for from a game. It is, unironically, a triumph.
….all that said, I still don’t want to hear another word out of Gabe Newell’s mouth that isn’t a release date for Episode 3.
Contributing Factors: Valve. Another all-encompassing answer. But special kudos to Nolan North delivering career best performances across the board.
Moment to savor: I could go with the lemon rant. Or Potato GlaDOS. Or Want You Gone. Or “Lunacy”. Or the defective turret dialogue. Or the Adventure Sphere. Or the great ultimate Fuck You to the Cake Is A Lie meme. Or this great little extrapolation, fan-made or no.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The game that will ruin you for other games. Believe the hype.