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Opinion: E3, Vita and the Best and Worst Gaming Moments of 2012

Hello. I'm Michael Gapper. I've lived here at Future Publishing for almost six years now, mostly on Xbox World and PSM3. I'll be contributing a weekly column about the best and worst of the gaming, here on CVG, starting in January. That's then, this is now - so I'm starting with a one-off special look at the best and worst games (and moments) of 2012.

It was a big year for gaming but a bit of a crap year too, with baffling new hardware bridging the gap between ageing consoles and a new generation still about eleven months away. It was a year when someone thought it would be cool to graphically burn someone to death in the first scene of the year's biggest game, when a man died talking about his erection, when Lara Croft wasn't molested even if it looked like she was, and when Assassin's Creed was rubbish.

Let me know some of your own Bests and Worsts from 2012 in the comments - no prize if you list this column as a Worst - and we'll catch up again in the New Year.


Best: Double Fine changes everything

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Kickstarter lets interested parties invest in ideas with potential, but that's an abstract way of thinking about it. Kickstarter, at its best, is about laying down money for the longest long-term pre-order you'll make this side of Duke Nukem Forever. Double Fine did Kickstarter right with an original game in a genre no publisher would back, immediately setting the standard for what Kickstarter should be about - giving players a chance to buy games that wouldn't otherwise exist.

Now Kickstarter, unfortunately, isn't the innovation factory it could be. It could be used to fund wholly original projects with mechanics and concepts so far from the mainstream that no publisher would buy it and no developer would make it without first checking to see if anyone actually wanted to buy the bloody thing. Instead, it's more often the ass end of Skid Row, where long-forgotten developers peddle remade versions of their most beloved games. "C'mon guv'nor, just a few quid for a Fallout remake?", "You remember Dizzy, mate? I can do you anuvver for a tenner, honest!"

Kickstarter has been abused by some developers since Double Fine's experiment back in February, but Kickstarter could and should change everything about the way games are made and played in 2013. It's time to start investing in proven developers looking to experiment rather than nostalgia.

"But what if Double Fine Adventure turns out to be shit?" sneer sceptics. Well yeah, but every pre-order is a gamble. Just ask anyone who paid five quid to reserve Hitman Absolution on the strength of Hitman: Blood Money.


Worst: Playstation Vita launches and developers shrug

Now, don't get me wrong - I love Sony's new-ish handheld. It's sturdier than a Japanese puroresu table, has a razor-sharp OLED screen on which everything looks beautiful and it's home to some of my favourite games of the year. I played Lumines: Electronic Symphony, Wipeout 2048, Persona 4 and EDF 2017 and had a great time, so it's a shame every developer in the western world has dropped Vita and run in the opposite direction like it's the Book of the Dead.

"Vita's 2013 release list is a post-apocalyptic Mad Maxian wasteland"

It's over, man. Vita's 2013 release list is a post-apocalyptic Mad Maxian wasteland and a quick chat with our industry friends reveals no significant unannounced projects in the pipeline bar the few bankrolled by Sony. There aren't many games announced for 360 or PS3 either, but that's because they're seven year-old machines about to be replaced. Vita is brand new, but when it's only marginally more expensive to make a game for PS3 (70 million users) than it is for Vita (3 million users) there's no incentive for publishers to support the platform, especially when Sony has set the standard for what Vita games should be with miniaturised versions of massively expensive games.

The trouble is, mobile gaming changed while Sony weren't looking. "I really want to play Uncharted on a small screen, with touch controls, made by none of the original's developers," is a sentence uttered by nobody, ever. Instead of fun mobile games designed for play on the go, Vita was sold on the strength of Straight to DVD sequels to blockbuster console games - Uncharted, Resistance, Killzone, Motorstorm, Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed - and sure, Bring It On was brilliant but you didn't rush to your local HMV when Bring It On 4: In It To Win It starring Ashley Benson and Cassie Scerbo hit shelves, did you?

Right now Vita is at its best when it's running PSP and PS1 games, which might turn out to be it's best survival strategy in 2013. It's the only handheld with a decent set of sticks and buttons so if Sony can get the infrastructure in place they can turn Vita into a dedicated Gaikai machine on which you can stream PS2, PS3 and even PS4 games and have them actually work. If nobody wants to support Vita, just make Vita support everybody.


Worst: Everyone hates Mass Effect 3's ending

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I love science fiction. I will sit down and talk about science fiction until nobody wants to have sex with me ever again and I'll have fun doing it. I've read and seen enough to know some of the best science fiction stories - Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, Rendezvous with Rama, The Stars My Destination, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner - close with ambiguous endings. Science fiction is always better at posing questions than it is at offering answers, and in that sense Mass Effect 3 has the most appropriate science fiction ending Bioware could have written.

And y'know, all that is me trying to justify Mass Effect 3's ending just so I don't have to affiliate myself with the arseholes who signed petitions to have it changed... but I give up. The ending really is bollocks, isn't it?

Some players demanded a rewrite because the ending left questions unanswered, some hated the gaping plot holes and others hated the reductive three-way choice, but none of those problems - and they are problems - really bothered me. Ambiguity works for me and Mass Effect 3 is really just one twenty-hour third act in which decisions made five years ago reach their logical and illogical conclusions throughout the game, so I was pretty satisfied with how my story worked out.

But no. The ending is bollocks because it comes courtesy of a giant deus ex machina which demands a completely arbitrary sacrifice from Shep and operates in a completely arbitrary manner once activated. Deus ex machinas are always bad. They're ejector seats for lazy writers who need an easy way out while the story falls burning from the sky and crashes into the side of a mountain like a dart. Sudden magic or lucky happenstance occurring from out of nowhere breaks your suspension of disbelief and makes the threads by which the plot hangs together too visible.

Now, a giant gun discovered at the beginning of your third act is a deus ex machina, especially when more interesting MacGuffins were teased as potential galaxy-savers in acts one and two. It's the equivalent of the Rebel Alliance producing a bumper-sized SUPER DEATH STAR to blow up the Empire's own Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi and being all "look what we found!"

A few months later Bioware lost their nerve and went on to patch out a lot of the ambiguity without fixing the deus ex machina problem, and everyone was almost happy because at least we know the relays will be rebuilt and that the Normandy still flies, right? Never mind that the ending is still terrible and now Mass Effect 3 has the videogame version of Return of the King's INFINITE ENDINGS.

In the end, Mass Effect 3 got the wrong rewrite for the wrong reasons thanks to people with the right idea based on wrong evidence.


Worst: E3 2012

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Never go to E3. Cast from your mind any idea of playing big games early or seeing something you'd never see at home, and instead replace it with total obliviousness and confusion for five jetlagged days. Every conversation begins with the question, "Have you seen Game X?" to which you'll reply "No," because you've seen maybe three games total and spent six hours locked in a conference room in a Koreatown hotel writing about them with absolutely no frame of reference for the other things that might have happened that very same day.

This year's E3 was one of the worst ever, too. The games industry has become altogether too obsessed with murder and too good at selling things, and every major "live" demo of every game was a scripted sequence fabricated from disparate parts into the most smash-mouth-in-your-face bloodbath thrillreel a video editor could chop together. Nintendo gave us another mystery presentation about Wii U that made no sense until the console hit shelves in November, Microsoft gave up fifteen minutes of their show to Usher and a bloke from Nike, and I can't remember anything of Sony's show except for the part where Wonderbook didn't work and when my friend Dave got really excited about the boats in Assassin's Creed 3.

Cut to five months later, and it turns out the boats are the only exciting thing in Assassin's Creed 3.

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