Digitally Downloaded's Reviews
Despite that, Toren really is about its narrative, and that is arthouse gold. Like the finest of foreign cinema, this game challenges how the wisdom behind blockbuster design would dictate a game should be put together. It's constrained by budget and, perhaps, a lack in confidence to go all the way and risk complete innovation, but it's a beautiful, emotive, and powerful experience, and it's going to be one of my games of the year. If not one of my favourite games ever.
Combat aside, Bloodborne is a visionary work by a visionary artist. Intense in both theme and application, it's a gory concession to the tastes of the modern mainstream player, while maintaining the spirit and uncompromising narrative that was the hallmark of the Souls games at their finest. But this is far more consistent in that application than those games, making it From Software's finest work to date.
I'm not the world's biggest fighting game fan. Those fighting games that I do enjoy (Blazblue, or Persona 4 Arena, for example) always offer something beyond the fighting mechanics to hook me in (narrative and characters, in those two examples). The fact that I've been playing Dead or Alive 5 for years now, and keep coming back for each new release (and continue to buy the DLC) is therefore proof that what is on offer here is something more than a simply entertaining fighting game. It might be decadent, and looking at the screenshots in this review will tell you if it's a decadence that make you uncomfortable, but the gameplay behind it is rock solid and perfectly precise. I can't see any scenario where I'm not still playing this for however long it takes for Koei Tecmo to get around to Dead or Alive 6.
The calm before the storm, in other words, which (without giving spoilers) is also literally the case with Max's adventure. Dontnod though the badly underrated Remember Me and now Life Is Strange is quickly establishing itself as a premiere developer of arthouse games, and the only criticism I have of Life Is Strange is that I have to wait so long for the next episode.
BioWare achieved everything that it needed to with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It revitalised a series that had suffered real brand damage in Dragon Age II, and the third game in its fantasy trilogy easily stands as the best RPG we've seen in years. There is absolutely no reason to miss out on this one.
It makes me truly happy to see game developers creating high quality products such as Never Alone that push entertainment boundaries and demonstrate that games can be culturally important. We need to see more of this game, and I hope this is a roaring success so that other native culture organisations look at it and realise the sheer power of games to tell their own stories.
Grand Theft Auto V really surprised me. For a series I have had very little interest in the past outside an appreciate for technical proficiency, I found myself drawn into a world where lots of bad things happen to a good number of people - and I was often the one perpetrating these crimes. Call it self-aware social criticism or a guilty pleasure, Grand Theft Auto V proves to be a great deal of fun.
But I'm really stretching to find a complaint there. The reality is that Samurai Warriors 4 is nothing short of brilliant, and a huge leap forward into the new generation of game design by Koei. It's cinematic, its beautiful, it's fast and entertaining, and if you allow it to be, it's even a little educational. And that makes it an inspiration.
When I finished The Last of Us Remastered, I was reminded of the myriad feelings I had at the conclusion of the game nearly a year ago. Just like then, I put down the controller while leaning back in my seat while giving thought to the story, the characters and how I felt about what had happened. In the end I came to the same conclusion now that I did back then: I had fun with the game itself, but it was the narrative that will no doubt be what sticks with me for some time.
But in a way Valiant Hearts is a challenge to everyone in the industry; it's a challenge to the publishers churning out the same old "war games," and it's a challenge to all the players that continue to buy into these games without really thinking about what they are playing. War isn't fun, and it has a real impact on the people that are involved in it. It's games like this one that, critically, remind us that there is a human side to war.
There's a certain master stroke of genius to Transistor. It's in the way that the city is elaborately dappled to life with dark colours at the onset, yet fades away into a white emptiness. It's an almost Shakespearean-styled tragedy that slowly conjures up catharsis out of the hearts and emotions of its players, and collides with an intertwining of Ayn Rand's ideas around objectivism. Many call Supergiant Games a video game developer, but not me. I call it an artist and Transistor is its work of art. It starts with a oil painting still, filled with beauty, intrigue and mystery. What would happen if you could step inside?
Laden with meaning (and in future articles on Digitally Downloaded I'll be writing plenty more about that meaning in the weeks, if not years to come, I suspect), this game uses poetry as its basis and executes on that vision so well that it is, effectively, interactive poetry.
If you are a fan of platforming games, Rayman Legends should be a pretty easy acquisition to justify. Even if dozens of levels of running and jumping usually are not your thing, there is enough quality content here to make Rayman Legends worth your while. No matter which camp you fall into, Rayman Legends on the current generation of consoles is the best platforming experience of this early 2014 year.
But as I said, these three issues are incredibly minor when considering the sheer scale and variety of content in the game, and they haven't stopped me logging over 300 hours in total play across Final Fantasy XIV and now Heavensward. I don't use the five-star rating to describe the perfect game. As per our scoring process, a five-star score is like a five-star hotel; it's a deluxe experience that offers something meaningful well beyond what most games do. But Final Fantasy XIV has genuinely developed into the best MMO on the market as far as I'm concerned, with its brilliant post-game content and now, with the additional Heavensward content, the best is just getting better. This game is a compelling argument for the continued validity of the subscription model for MMOs.
As a spiritual successor to some of my favourite RPGs of all time, Pillars of Eternity does those games justice with its ultra-traditional story, presentation and mechanics. But I recommend other people check it out as well, as it offers a sprawling world to explore, and a fantastic cast of companions to interact with, making it the perfect example of a retro genre done right.
Amiibo aside, Super Smash Bros. is a triumph of good design, a generous approach to content, and making smart refinements to an already stellar franchise in order to keep fans interested. It is also much, much better than the 3DS version of the game, and caps off a stellar end to the year for the Wii U that included Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors. There's no better time to buy into the console.
With a rocking soundtrack, loads of content, plenty of fan service and some clever gelling of two disparate video game universes, Hyrule Warriors is easily my favourite game of 2014 so far. Let's just hope for a sequel that explores some of the other Zelda titles!
Games like Might & Magic X, where you can take a couple of minutes to work out a clever strategy to deal with an enemy, are few and far between. I'm glad this game does it, though, because it means that the enemies can have more complex strengths and weaknesses, because players can take more time to figure out how to beat them.
And so in an odd way it makes Journey the best example of Marxist thinking that we've ever seen. The idea that humans, separated from the need or potential for conflict with one another and placed in a truly egalitarian environment in which there can be no class nor discrimination, would be naturally inclined to work together to their mutual benefit is in many ways innocent and naive, but it's a beautiful thought, and just as Journey is a beautiful game, it has a beautiful heart, and that makes the ending (which I won't spoil, even though you really should have experienced it by now), all the more heart wrenching, but ultimately beautiful.