Sunday, December 1, 2013

Best Games of 2013

Well, it is nearing the end of the year again and I think it might be time to call the best game of 2013. Yes I know 2013 is not over yet, but I think enough of it has passed to make this call.

A year later...

So, what has changed since the best games of 2012?

Not a lot, in my experience. To be fair, I'm not an uber-gamer these days. I play some casual games on my iPhone, and some on my PC to relax. I buy very few games in a year. However, I have been playing games for decades, so I believe I know a good game when I play one.

I still play plants vs zombies on my phone occasionally (10 minutes waits are perfectly filled) using the "It's raining seeds" mini-game or if I only have 5 minutes then I might play the mini-game "Column like you see 'em", which is also fun but I have a fairly strict strategy that almost always wins (Tallnuts in row 2, magnets in row 3 of the initial pot plants from the right. That is, sacrifice the rightmost row of pot plans).

So, what about PvZ 2 then? Is the latest the greatest? Well, I have played it, for a while. It's fun, I guess, but for some reason I'm over the basic mechanics of the game. I'm also not a fan of the balance where you basically have to make micro-payments to stop the game being a huge pain in the butt. I'm old school and don't mind making a one-off payment for a game, but once that has been done, don't ask me to pay again (or a subscription - ugh.). So, PvZ2 is not in the running this year.

The runner up is ...

Last years winner - Minecraft. It is still a great game. Amazing, in fact. And Mojang continue to innovate the game mechanics which, on the whole, improve it and keep it fresh. I don't always agree with the design decisions they make, and there have been changes that have left me a little cold. Now that I have said that, I'm trying to think of an example. Boat navigation controls perhaps, or that annoying brightness shift when you are under cover. Oh, and the whole zombie hoard thing got way out of hand for a bit there. But there have been lots of positive developments too - new biomes and world generation (well, above ground), new materials including colored glass, and many many bug fixes. The performance is now pretty solid so that "seeing through the world" in patches is now pretty much a thing of the past, and the black lighting under overhangs are mostly gone too. It is a game that continues to be refined, and now more than ever you can enjoy the game without bugs ruining the immersion. It is a bit like watching a movie with the projector breaking down or flickering or whatever - this doesn't happen any more and it is a pleasure to watch.

The problem I have in Minecraft is that I feel like I have pretty much done it all now, several times over. My saves folder contains over 100 worlds. I do like the early game, so I will often just create a new character and build up to the point where I have a base with everything and I have been the the Nether and gotten brewing going. I have played custom maps such as skygrid, docm77's world, survival islands, the wool challenge, the hermit challenge (you have just one day above ground then it's underground forever - can you defeat the dragon?). I play on our home server too with family and friends, but I'm not into public servers and things like the Hunger Games variants. Anyway, for the first time I am finding that I am getting bored when playing - I don't really have any ambition to do anything and it seems a little pointless to play more. I am not devaluing the playing I have done - I have enjoyed every hour of it and there have been an extraordinary number of them. The game has been one of the best value investments in terms of entertainment I have ever made, without question. I have tried also Feed the Beast, which adds all manner of new mechanics such as pipes, electricity, quarries, flying, new worlds, hundreds of new items. This makes the game fun for a while in a different way, less survival and more engineering is how I would phrase it. After a while you can more or less stop digging as your machines do all the work, but they need tending in different ways.You are taken back to the point where you do not know the recipe for things or what resources are good for, and this rekindles to the initial thrill of discovering the game. But ultimately FTB is more complicated but not necessarily more satisfying, and I have found myself going back to vanilla survival.

And the winner is ...

Candy Crush Saga. Easily. I play this game on the family ipad, with my daughter sometimes helping me. We are over level 300 now, and have a strict policy of no paid for power ups. There is a new feature of the "daily booster wheel" which is likely to make things much easier for the really hard levels. I know this is just a variant of similar line-'em-up games such as Bejeweled, but it is so well polished and addictive it is unbelievable. There is something very satisfying about finishing a particularly tricky level and have that three star appear. It is a game based on luck, but skill and attention to detail plays a part too. It is a game you can play a little and often, partly limited by the 5 lives you get which can be decimated on something like a timed level.

There have been a few levels that I have almost given up the game on. Level 97 is horrible, for example. There are other levels that look fine, then you have to get 300 red candies or something similarly crazy. Level 70, 147 and 158 were annoying. Level 213 was a complete monster, but they have nerfed it I think since I played it (they removed many of the jellies). Anyway, there are some selected levels that you come across that you may get stuck on for a few days, or even weeks. It is part of it.

Anyway, this game gives me regular pleasure, so it is my top pick for 2013.