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2012 Retrospective – Part 2

posted on January 15th, 2013 by chris

Continued from the previous article, this is a set of mini-reviews from stuff I didn’t get the chance to actually write about in 2012.

Diablo III (PC)
Because impressions from the beta were somewhat divided, I held off on picking up Diablo III until early summer, when the hype for the game had died down to “acceptable dungeon-crawler”. Unfortunately, I commit the ultimate sin now by (mini-)reviewing it without having actually beaten it. After the wealth of customization, strategy, and randomness that was in Diablo II, its sequel came as a huge disappointment.

Despite more than two hours of gameplay, I had yet to make an actual decision for either character I made. Bizarrely, stats exist but are auto-allocated, and you are simply given a new skill (and occasionally skill-variant) at each level. Generally, new skills replaced old skills. I was incredibly baffled when people kept talking about Diablo III as if it had more depth than a flash game. It is, in my opinion, the western counterpart of FFXIII: All style, no substance.

Pros: Practically plays itself, without the tedious gambits of FFXII
Cons: If it plays itself, why does the player need to be there?

Crusader Kings II (PC)
On practically the opposite end of the gaming spectrum, Crusader Kings II is a sort of overwhelming take on feudal politics, diplomacy, and child-rearing. You play as the head of a land-owning family, and you often have to balance out your own desire for expansion and glory with the demands of both your liege-lord and your own vassals. You must pick strategic marriages for your clan and carefully choose your heir, since you can potentially be assassinated or fall ill at any time – and it wouldn’t do to have a ugly, arrogant dwarf as your heir, since that is who you next play as.

Crusader Kings II is where I spent all the time I was planning to spend on Diablo III. The vast array of situations which you are confronted with during each ‘lifetime’ keeps the game fresh, while the difficulty level is actually quite manageable much of the time. The only real flaw CK2 has is that empires often consolidate rather than fracture and can get to be a little bit too powerful for the average player to take on.

Pros: Deep, varied strategic gameplay
Cons: Occasional bugs/clunkiness, cliff-shaped learning curve, repetitive music

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (3DS)
It was only a matter of time before Square Enix capitalized once again on the unending nostalgia for the Final Fantasy series. Theatrhythm is a rhythm game based on the series’ music, spanning from the first Final Fantasy to FFXIII (side-games not included). It doesn’t have the most complex rhythm-based gameplay, but what is there is entertaining enough to sustain the game for a good while.

Although I don’t like the direction the series has taken, classic Final Fantasy music is still a huge draw for me. Theatrhythm also has a leveling / stat system that brings it above the standard music game in my book – although it will not win you any songs you weren’t close to winning, careful management of characters and skills can get you a much better score.

Pros: Great set of music, fun leveling system
Cons: Some good characters and songs are hidden behind an unlock system, actually tempting DLC makes the game cost more

Mass Effect 3 (PC)
The first thing you’re likely to hear about this game is that it has a bad ending. In fact, it is the only thing I heard from gaming forums about the game for awhile, so I held off on purchasing Mass Effect 3 until the “extended cut” ending was released. Other than the ending, though, it is about what you would expect after Mass Effect 2 – a lot of running and gunning with cover mechanics and the occasional not-so-tough decision.

ME3 is in the small category of games that I play compulsively once I get started, then don’t think much of later. Although the first game was a fantastic foray into an interesting universe, each game since suffers from a bit more tunnel-vision. ME3, oddly, seems to have been tainted by its own lore – the insistence on inclusion of a character from the book series and the overarching importance, by the end, of the Cerberus organization which was tiny in Mass Effect, make ME3’s plot much less interesting. When you add in the also-sudden 60% adoption of homosexuality among characters, it really feels like Bioware was trying to make a statement rather than a game. Mass Effect went from “hey, here’s this cool world with interesting aliens and a sci-fi plot” to “marketing/writers insist we do x, y, and z, but I guess we can put in a few interesting aliens”. By far the most baffling decision to me is emblematic of modern Bioware (minor spoilers) – you are presented with a situation in which a previously unlikable character is actually sympathetic. Two hours later, he does something to betray you with no explanation or warning.

All that said, it’s still an enjoyable enough romp – but you will probably want to keep in mind that ME3 is much more a “AAA” game than ME1.

Pros: Good characters from ME1/2 return, smooth gameplay
Cons: Feels more manufactured than built, bizarre plot decisions

Analogue: A Hate Story (PC)
Analogue was the first Visual Novel to appear on Steam. Although it has appeared in a few sales, it hasn’t really caught on in gaming media and so hasn’t received much in the way of attention. Analogue is a sort of sci-fi/mystery game, in which the player is sent to investigate a long-derelict generational ship and discover what happened to it. The plot is mostly told through interaction with ship log entries and with the ship’s AI.

It may only be a couple of hours long, but Analogue presents a great story with a few entertaining characters – some of whom have, by the time the game takes place, been dead for hundreds of years. There are even a couple of “red herring” log authors, who have very little to do with the core plot and exist only to reveal more about the culture of the generational ship. As a clean, western-written VN, Analogue is in a good position to demonstrate to a Western audience how the format can work.

Pro: Lots of enjoyable writing, interesting premise, good music.
Con: No guns, little sex and violence.

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