A look back at my favorite moments in games reveals just how far the industry has come. The year ended with the launch of new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, but to no one’s surprise the best games were not on them. (Having said that, I am looking forward to replaying Tomb Raider on my PS4 or Xbox One next month!) Sure, I would have loved a prettier version of GTA V to play on them, but with the highlights I’m about to go on about it hardly matters.
Whether adorable outfits on beloved characters were beyond adorable, or my weeping like a little girl happened way too much, I stored a ton of amazing memories while I was plugged in.
My favorite moments in gaming were…
12. “Xbox: turn on”.
I’ve been a nerd my whole life so there’s something very “THE FUTURE IS NOW” about having my new Xbox turn on with my TV and after brief facial recognition, greet me with “Hi Peter!” Is it perfect? Of course not, and it probably won’t ever be. (Two years later, Siri still announces “playing Kanye West” when I ask for Animal Collective).
I do think the living room setting unconsciously forces me to assimilate my pronunciation way more, but that is fine by moi. I just hope an update allows for more features, so I can do more than just play, pause and fast forward shows from my TiVo. For now, I still need to use something called a “remote control” to choose the program first before switching to voice only. Also, I just can’t say, “erase” or “keep for now” when finished watching a program. “Xbox: play Bob’s Burgers” needs to happen next year.
11. Awesome Reboot Means More Awesome Ways to Die.
10. Homeless Ellen Page.
French guru David Cage couldn’t quite top the noir heights of his previous hit, Heavy Rain. Nor was he able to much improve on his clunky shake, rattle and mash buttons gameplay. No matter: getting to be Jodie and weirdo presence Aiden in Beyond: Two Souls was hard to put down. The story ain’t great as you control Ellen Page (and her younger version) through twenty-one levels, but if ever there were a case to be made about how immersive stunning graphics can be well, thankyouverymuch Quantic Dream. It wasn’t just how ultra real Page looked, but how she walked, talked and acted very much like a real person. (Willem Dafoe’s rendering was less successful.)
Essentially, Jodie spends a lot of the game like David Banner on the Hulk television series, roaming the U.S. in search of meaning and helping those in need along the way.
By far, the most stirring moment comes about halfway through as you guide Jodie up and down wintery nameless streets while homeless. Near the end of the chapter, you do get to get all kick-ass on some thugs attacking your fellow band of poor and desperate, but before that it’s mostly just hanging out near a freeway pass conversing with an old man, some druggies and a young pregnant woman. These kinds of moments could be (have been) displayed in film or TV, but there’s something about not being all that powerful in an interactive medium while Jodie plays a song for pennies that’s genuinely sad.
9. Nintendo’s New Looks for Classic Characters.
Walking Like An Egyptian Link.
I’ll let the diehard Zelda faithful be more specific about their time with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For myself I’ll just marvel at how at how giddy I become nearly every time I hit A to “merge” with a wall in this 2D top down adventure. Suddenly, Link gets flat like an animated hieroglyphic. Clever of Nintendo to limit the time you can stick to walls with a much too short energy bar since I would probably just zoom around the dungeons like that all the time.
The Cat Suit!
There was a point after so many platformers, so many kart races that the number of new powers afforded to Mario started to feel unimaginative. For me, that was during the whole Double Dash period so best not to too say more about that. I first saw Mario’s feline couture at this year’s E3 at the Los Angeles convention center. There were big displays attendees could take pictures featuring giant-sized pipes and so forth. Mario in a yellow outfit with a tail grabbed my attention immediately.
The use of the cat suit in Super Mario 3D World can be a little off-putting at first. He walks on all fours and he can’t really jump as well. However, once I thought of the new suit as not just a new power like fireballs or heavy boots, I started to see that the cat suit is about maximizing exploration which is pretty much what Link’s wall merge does in the 3DS title. Both force the player to rethink the levels in startling new ways. Like Link’s wall stuff, climbing as a cat only last so long.
Oh, and I love that the power-up that turns Mario (or Luigi, Toad, Princess) into a cat is a bronze dinner bell! Genius!
8. Hearing “Save the Last Humans” from DualShock 4.
The newly designed PlayStation controller for the PS4 has a touchpad, a multi-colored light that interacts with the PlayStation Camera and, best of all, a built-in speaker. The first time I heard anything from it I got quite a shock picking up an audio log in Killzone: Shadow Fall. Hearing the personal tale of someone long since dead was pretty effective as I hid from the red-eyed Helghasts in my dark living room.
By far though I hear “save the last humans” from my hand most as I die over and over in Resogun, the most addictive game for the new console. The start of every life or new phase has that saying emanating from the controller as a prompt to well, save the last humans. From the developers of
Geometry Wars Super Stardust, Resogun is best thought of as an HD version of Defender. I mean that as the highest of compliments.
The only minor issue regarding using the built-in speaker on the DS4 is that if you have roommates you might need to adjust the settings since the volume level is defaulted to a hard-to-ignore high pitch.
I can’t wait to see this used in future Bioshock or Dead Space installments.
7. The Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3.
Sometimes fan service is everything. The official ending to Bioware’s great space opera was extremely polarizing; many cited the lack of true choices in a game that seemed to be tailor made to the player’s. I never really thought that was that big of a deal. The journey of how we get there was important to me for I always knew in the end, no matter I did, the reaper issue would have to be addressed. What I took away from the many (I played ME1 seven times through) adventures I had being Commander Shepard was all the companions I encountered. (For the record, I do have real human friends and family too.) Hothead Wrex, Garrus the coolest space cop ever, too hot for my plasma Miranda, and angsty Jack were my real reasons for going back over and over. After so many playthroughs, Mordin’s fate breaks my heart every time.
The final DLC for ME3 was called simply Citadel. The plot had Shepard going after an evil doppelganger of sorts, but the best part was getting the band back together for one more hilarious three-hour tour. Garrus cracking wise “remember when we talked about everything in these elevators” is gold. In the end, throwing a party and getting to take a quick instagram-like picture to mark the occasion was for me the emotional ending I wanted.
6. Ellie’s Jokes.
This never got old.
5. Younger Sister Samantha’s Essay in Gone Home
While holed up in a suburban home on a dark and stormy night, there isn’t a lot to do in the traditional gaming sense in Gone Home. A lot of the time is spent rummaging over whatever was left behind in a seemingly abandoned house.
The moment that made me laugh out loud came when I found my little sister Samantha’s essay on human reproduction for her class. I can see that she’s been asked to define certain biological aspects of the body. What’s wickedly clever is that sister has turned her drab assignment into a Mad Lib-laced one, which is why there’s a red linked note from her teacher saying “See me!”
4. Every Michael Biehn Snark in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
Rex is Rad.
3. Franklin’s Chance Encounter with Michael in GTA V
There’s a good chance I could have made an entire list out of the several moments I loved while spending over 40 hours on my first play through of Rockstar Games re-envisioned Los Angeles aka Los Santos. I’ve lived in LA since 2000 so I just couldn’t wait to drive through Glendale, stop by the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and take a run through Runyon Canyon (something I still haven’t done in real life.) The real surprise was not getting lost in GTA V’s sandbox (which, I most certainly did), but in marveling at how well Dan Hauser and the rest of the Rockstar writers layered the interplay between switch-on-the-fly characters Franklin, Michael and Trevor.
Hands down, the best moment was when repo man Franklin collects a Humvee-like ride only to find a gun to his head on the way to the dealership. Turns out career criminal Michael had fallen asleep in the back of his son’s six thousand a month loaner. The beginning of wonderful friendship, just like Casablanca!
2. The “Decision” in Bioshock Infinite.
As Booker DeWitt searches for “the girl” so he can wipe away the debt, he comes across a raffle. Without spoiling too much of the story’s specifics, you come face to with an inter-racial couple that have been bound together, forced upon a stage to be jeered or worse. The announcer at the Columbia fair looks you straight in the eye encouraging you to throw a baseball at them to win a prize. If you hesitate, he taunts you, asking if you like your coffee black. My first time I chose to toss the ball at the announcer instead, but on my second playthrough I clenched my gut and chose the option to hit the couple. The way the scene is scripted, however, you can’t ever truly toss the baseball at them. For me, I say thank goodness.
It’s been a longstanding complaint by gamers that what they really want is total freedom, every option at their disposal. And in the days of early RPGs I could understand: maybe I want to be a female, maybe I want to go to the dark side, maybe I really don’t care and just want to unlock all the endings.
Bioshock creator Ken Levine has always been aware of how foolish all this “do anything” bickering can be. As we learned in the original Bioshock (MAJOR SPOILER) you can’t even play a videogame unless you do as you’re told. Freedom really is an illusion.
Back to the lynching scene: in Bioshock Infinite, I think it is one of the most disturbing moments ever in the interactive medium. To be goaded on by a chaotic race mob left me angry, frustrated and ultimately sad. One for the ages.
Happy New Year, Fellow Topless Roboteers!
Previously by Peter Paras: