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In some ways, Dark Souls is actually quite modern. It features multilayered combat, a gigantic open world, deep character progression and customization, and some of the most innovative multiplayer in recent memory. On the other hand, Dark Souls has no interest in holding your hand or explaining much of anything, leaving it up to you to discover its secrets. Whereas most modern games have drifted to the point that Hard mode is now what Normal mode was 20 years ago, Dark Souls has only one difficulty level: Evil.
Why would anyone submit themselves to that when a game is meant for entertainment? Dark Souls' brilliance is that its insidiously compelling structure can bring out the inner masochist in players who never knew they had it in them. If you've only heard the horror stories of Dark Souls and decided “that's not for me,” you may have unwittingly passed up your new favorite game. Many of us at GR never thought we were that type of gamer until we played this game. Dark Souls is unique, gorgeous, tense, and exciting in ways no other games out there accomplish. Give it a chance, and you may learn you're more old-school than you thought.
There’s beauty in Rayman Origins – that much is obvious from just a cursory glance at a static screenshot. It’s a gorgeous celebration of 2D art in motion, delivered in spectacular high-definition. But that’s the sweet side of the game. Origins also kicked our pants off, then kicked our bare asses with its profoundly old-school design. Every element in this platformer is perfectly placed – just out of reach – to get us leaping around like maniacs in pursuit of a perfect run. Rayman Origins got us to submit to our inner masochists. It hurts, yes – but it hurts so good.
From a strict gaming standpoint, Saints Row: The Third’s over-the-top style of gameplay could have merited a soundtrack that was a mere afterthought to the wonders of things like The Penetrator. Throw some generic hip-hop beats, turntable scratches, instrumental tracks featuring heavy guitar riffs and maybe a few bass-thumping pseudo-electronic tunes in, and we probably would have been fine with it. After all, when you’re busy claiming turf with a rocket launcher, does it really matter what you have playing in the background?
Thankfully, the folks at THQ thought differently, and compiled a thoughtful – and surprising – compilation of songs that brought the experience of running the streets in Steel Town to a new level. The juxtaposition of hearing the lyrics like, “I need a hero / I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night” while we shamelessly beat our rivals’ faces in was something we continuously found delight with. Aside from the now-ubiquitous use of Kanye West’s “Power,” most of the songs included in the eight in-game radio stations veered away from the mainstream and scratched beyond the surfaces of whatever genre they were representing. We imagine that Saints Row: The Third could easily be listed as a game that broadened musical horizons.
We liked the selection so much, we compiled all the songs we could find on Spotify into playlists organized by the radio stations found in the game:
80.9 Generation X (rock/alternative/punk) | 95.4 KRhyme FM (hip-hop) | 97.6 K12 FM (electronica) | 102.4 Klassic FM (classical) | WDDT CPDG (Adult Swim) | Kabron 104.2 (Latin) | 106.66 The Blood (metal) | The Mix 107.77 (‘80s/’90s)
Bastion’s soundtrack starts off fairly standard, with nice ambient music that sounds not unlike the tracks you’ll hear in other games. Slowly but surely, though, the game weaves its music into the story with a handful of lyrical songs that are some of the best ever to appear in a game. “Build That Wall,” “Mother I'm Here,” and “Setting Sail, Coming Home” (the ending theme) are beautiful songs both within and without the context of the game, and have earned a permanent place in our MP3 players.
Seriously, who doesn’t like getting a game for free? This year has seen an explosion of high-quality, pay-to-play games finding a second life in the world of free-to-play, providing premium experiences for no money down. While this trend isn’t necessarily new, the fact that the industry is actually doing it well is. In the past, most developers didn’t know what to charge for microtransactions, so they would throw out game-breaking additions with sky-high prices that would completely unbalance the game.
Now, thanks to games like Lord of the Rings: Online, publishers know what to charge for, and how much to charge for it, letting gamers get a good bang for their buck without ruining the games’ precarious balance. This year, DC Universe Online, Age of Conan, EverQuest II and a bunch of other games successfully made the switch, and set the stage for more AAA titles to do the same.
At some point in your gaming life, all or most of your game-save files have been lost, either to console theft, faulty save devices, or some horrible Act of God. We don’t know about you, but some of us are very, very, very fanatical about backing up save data for this very reason. And for that, the movement toward cloud storage across Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Plus is something that we can all get behind. Because if there’s one thing that’s just as important as having your games, it’s keeping the dozens of hours you’ve invested in them in deep storage somewhere. Take a bow, engineers. You’ve earned it.
We’ll forgive you if you were too young to remember the pop culture sensation that was You Don’t Know Jack. 1996 was a while ago. That “4th of July” Achievement, less so. But that doesn’t mean that Jellyvision’s comeback doesn’t deserve another spin in your disc drive. Quiz games don’t get much better than YDKJ’s mental curveballs, sarcastic approach, and demented multiplayer.
If you are old enough to remember the old games of years past, remember how you had to buy all those expansion packs? This remake has plenty of new DLC to dive into and smear your friends. It might be easy to forget a game that came out last February, but you shouldn’t. And if you haven’t played it yet, make it the centerpiece of your holiday time off with friends!
Shadows of the Damned has it all: dick jokes, great developers, toilet humor, an amazing soundtrack and puns involving penises. Yet despite Suda51 (No More Heroes) and Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4) concocting the perfect combination of wiener gags and third-person shooters, Shadows came and went without making much of a lasting impact. It probably didn’t help that SotD’s publisher released it a week after E3 and gave it little advertisement, basically guaranteeing that even if you did play it, you probably forgot it existed amidst the immense hype for all the fall’s biggest games.
When this game was first announced in 2010, several of us in the office predicted it was a future winner of this award. It looked strange, had an odd name, and when we found out the game's director had been lead artist on Okami, that at the very least secured it a nomination. Then we played it, and it fell into place perfectly (or imperfectly, if you want a sequel).
El Shaddai truly is too beautiful to live and will almost certainly never be replicated. Each stage is a unique visual wonder that's backed up by one of the year's best soundtracks. It's the result of an unprecedented amount of creative freedom unseen in a game of its size. Artistically, the gamble paid off big time, but El Shaddai sadly failed to pay off in any monetary way for its publisher. In fact, El Shaddai was so beautifully doomed that it died before it even came out. In a move usually saved for after the sales numbers come in, publisher Ignition ceased internal development of games months before Shaddai even hit stores. If a game’s own publisher shows so little faith in the title, why should the public have any?
A great game and a sequel we never expected to see, once more Okami loses the award it inspired. You have to appreciate the skill required to squeeze the original’s experience onto a handheld, even if it could only suffer from being downgraded to fit on the Nintendo DS. The cel-shaded look was still entrancing, even if the brush controls somehow felt more natural on a PS2 controller than a touch pad. Sadly overshadowed by the 3DS launch (though its sales weren’t as poor as Shaddai’s), we’d love it if more people gave this one a second look.