Videogames: 2014’s stars and stinkers

How we defied the #GamerGate killjoys and played what we liked (and what we didn’t like).

Freddie Sehgal Cuthbert

Topics Politics

The gaming world approached 2014 with baited breath: on the one hand, we awaited a formidable wave of blockbuster titles, which were enough to cause even the most hardcore of cynics to shed a tear of joy in anticipation of the treats destined to whip the internet into a frenzy in a way that normally only Kim Kardashian’s photoshopped ass does.

But, on the other hand, the knives were out for gaming. At the start of the year it remained one of the few bastions of free expression. But illiberal liberals were coming to lobotomise gamers, and free them of any ‘problematic’ ideas. In the shape of #GamerGate, it took all of a few seconds for the Twitterati to denounce all gamers as rapists-in-the-making who play games for no other reason than to fetishise sexual harassment. Which, I hardly need to point out, is bollocks. Even if it were true, our fantasies and private thoughts are in no way up for the approval of some trendy bloggers who love nothing more than a good old moan about how terribly victimised they are and how they are so very constrained by backward misogynists (ie, most men).

Thankfully, though, the good ol’ gamers were having none of it, thank you very much. Indeed, rather than giving a ‘last gasp at cultural dominance by angry white men’, as the haters put it, the whole gaming community came together to tell the censors to, well, bugger off. Gaming won’t go down without a fight.

At the beginning of the year, having seen 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V smash all sorts of sales records and raise the bar by several thousand miles, we gamers were getting used to being lavished with the gaming equivalent of a 10-tiered chocolate cake stuffed with £100 notes. And with Ubisoft’s much-hyped open-world hacking title Watch Dogs due in 2014, we thought it was only going to get better.

It was a shame, then, that Watch Dogs was the unchallenged stinker of 2014. To achieve stratospheric levels of hype, Ubisoft went through its usual publicity-making schemes – constantly showing cherry-picked, mind-blowing gameplay videos for the two years between announcement and release. Such was the disparity between the graphical prowess shown in the trailers and that of the finished product that some said the gameplay snapshots weren’t just cherry-picked; they were made up.

Anyway, after a lengthy delay, Watch Dogs hit the high street and sunk like a proverbial lead balloon. It is set in a vague, generic city and features an abysmally thin plot involving a gruff white man on a redemption quest: a monosyllabic grunter on a big, clichéd journey to avenge his murdered niece, who inevitably just shoots anyone who looks a bit untrustworthy, regardless of what they might or might not have done.

The most trumpeted feature in Watch Dogs — the hacking gameplay additions — promised to be a revolutionary, groundbreaking moment, up there with the Big Bang. In reality, you were able to press a square to screw up a traffic light, raise some bollards, or raise a bridge. That’s it. Really, that’s it.

With Watch Dogs being as idiotic as its title, summer blues descended upon gamers. To be fair, good games during summer are always scarce, but there was a particularly intense drought this summer, with PS4s all around the world suffering from a lack of fresh water.

Remember the first paragraph, where you may recall I forecasted a ‘formidable wave of blockbuster titles’? Sounds a bit like I spun a big fat porky? But put down the pitchforks. You see, as always in the lopsided world of video games, the best titles come out in winter. And this winter proved even more humongous than ever. Even to cast a sideways glance at the upcoming titles would have revealed at least £200 worth of must-haves, which is precisely what the marketing execs wanted, it being Christmastime and all.

But let us not get bogged down in big-evil-company-taking-over-the-world grumbling, and instead get all excited at Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity and the rest.

And we were excited until Ubisoft did it yet again. AC Unity launched, and as soon as people started playing it, they promptly found out it was broken. The frame rate lagged massively so that it looked like a PowerPoint presentation on fast forward; the graphics glitched so that the characters were perennially impaled on the scenery; and, most hilariously of all, there was a bug that turned characters’ faces inside out so that they looked like something out of a dodgy 1970s horror movie.

Deep, deep below, AC Unity was actually quite a good game, even if it wasn’t the huge departure from the previous entries that was promised. And at least it wasn’t as maliciously bad as Watch Dogs, possibly the only game with all the hallmarks of a dodgy sequel without actually being a sequel.

With Ubisoft releasing three flagship titles in 2014, and two out of said three being monumental cock-ups, that only left Far Cry 4. Ah, thank God for Far Cry 4. Far Cry games have always had a little more space to experiment than other titles, because, while still having access to massive resources during development, this series has never been under quite the same pressure as Ubisoft’s other titles in terms of sales.

Once again, Far Cry showed off just how bloody awesome its worlds are, crammed with fun assassinations and so many chances to shoot those darned tigers that PETA must be going into meltdown. Far Cry 4, as with its predecessor (ingeniously named Far Cry 3 ), features a truly independent world (this time set in the Himalayas) where actions aren’t scripted, and natural combinations and infinite chance happenings occur frequently, which basically means any number of fun things can take place. The side-effect of this — and excuse me for sounding like an Ubisoft salesman — is that you end up rushing to school/work the next day to tell your friends about that time when a tiger chased you up a mountain and you were really scared and you thought you were screwed but then some fighters turned up and killed it but then tried to shoot you but you whipped out your AK-47 and dealt justice and oh, how you hyperventilated. Then you realise you spoke the previous sentence really quickly, without any commas, and, oh, that’s why your friends are looking at you all weird.

At the tail end of 2014, I thought I’d finally mastered time travel. This rare moment of satisfaction occurred when I saw a poster announcing the imminent release of Grand Theft Auto V, which was originally released in 2013.

But, after I had come to terms with not answering the question scientists have been asking for centuries, an even greater sense of satisfaction washed over me. This was because the poster heralded the re-release of GTA V, this time on PS4 – hooray! The best game ever was coming to PS4, and presumably with all sorts of next-gen wizardry!

And, indeed, much wizardry was used in the making of GTA V for next-gen. For a start, the graphics have been boosted so that I really thought the fictional city of Los Santos was real. And there is a jumbo-load of new vehicles to satisfy vehicular-crime enthusiasts. And all the added missions from the original were plonked on to this one for good measure. And, the introduction of first-person mode literally and figuratively (and brilliantly) gave GTA V a new perspective.

So, this leads me to quite the odd predicament. They say history repeats itself, and so, my game of last year is now my game of this year. Ladies and gentlemen: Grand Theft Auto V.

Freddie Sehgal Cuthbert is a spiked’s games reviewer.

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Topics Politics