The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

The Year in Games: 2014

A round-up of the biggest gaming news and releases so far.

By

After a mind-numbingly barren first six months on sale the latest games consoles have finally picked up some momentum with regards to big budget releases. This year’s major blockbuster, Destiny, has just hit shelves and will be closely followed by FIFA 15, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Alien: Isolation, The Crew, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare in the coming months. Somewhat depressingly, of those seven games, only two are built from the ground up for current generation hardware and only three are new franchises. Of course those games are my selections but it’s because of this trend that the industry can be argued to have had a juddering opening year in every sense but sales.

Until recently, the Playstation 4 and Xbox One had achieved little but to usher in the dawn of the first forwards-compatible gaming systems, what with the majority of titles being available on old platforms as well as new. Despite this, the magpie effect has seen to the financial success of both Sony and Microsoft while the tragicomic hero Nintendo continues to lick its wounds after a torrid couple of years trying to convince the public that the Wii U is anything more than an ironic sort of nostalgia box. Their hopes of a revival naturally rest on the reception of the next entry of their beloved Smash Bros. series which will be coming out in console and handheld editions late in the year.

Although still in its nascent stages, virtual reality made a huge splash in the news after Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR back in March for an estimated two billion US dollars. Oculus Rift, their first venture into headset VR, was initially funded by public backers in a Kickstarter campaign with the tacit promise that the technology would be used for cutting edge gaming. The resulting disdain of these early investors was twofold: firstly, it meant that their contribution to the relatively small and independent project was now worth mere crumbs, and secondly it meant that the technology would veer off into a completely unwelcome direction—prior to the buyout these investors were forecasting graphically intense and immersive versions of the kinds of games already on the market, but once Facebook’s involvement in the project was confirmed they reluctantly came to terms with the fact that they had actually just funded Mark Zuckerberg’s latest attempt at mass mind control; a conspiracy to keep us asleep. Specifics have yet to be outlined but, rest assured, virtual reality is well on the road to making you feel even more alone.

A far bleaker story that has gripped online gaming circles recently is the so called ‘gamergate’ scandal. Originating in a nothing blog post made by a bitter ex-boyfriend, a debate over the spurious relationship between games developers and games media ensued, spawning frenzied allegations of corruption along with targeted hate campaigns against the accused. Zoe Quinn, indie games developer and subject of the blog attack, was alleged to have had sexual relations with prominent games journalist, Nathan Grayson, in order to promote her profile in the industry. These claims remain unsubstantiated but were treated as gospel at the time by a horde of angry 4chan users who took to Quinn’s Twitter account in a coordinated effort to shame and intimidate her, with the abuse then extending to peripheral figures such as Anita Sarkeesian, an active feminist for the medium, who had nothing to do with the saga but who had shown support for Quinn and who has thus received similar misogynistic vitriol. The ongoing episode has exposed the gaming community as a naïve and remorseless hive of boneheads who are yet to understand the virtue of compassion and the fundamental necessity of truth. If nothing else, ‘gamergate’ serves as a reminder, if one was ever needed, of the futility of organising Internet discussion and the near-impossibility of corroborating online sources. Arguably there is one redeeming quality to this massive car crash: the slew of fascinatingly barmy online commentators and their blinkered take on topical events. The plankton you will find upon a search of “gamergate” will almost make you think the smear campaign was a fair trade off for the subsequent entertainment it provided.

There are still reasons to be excited about the medium though. Glimmers of innovation were seen at E3, not least in Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky. The developer promises to present players with a procedurally generated universe, which means you’ll encounter quasi-randomly generated planets and extraterrestrial set-pieces that are nevertheless shared between everyone in the game. I say quasi-randomly because while the universe contains an infinite combination of possible constellations, ecosystems and even specific animal species, technically the game can only exist and function smoothly because the data contained within conforms to finely tuned algorithms, granting not just an endless variety of scenarios but a safety net from chaos.  Opposing the tendency of modern games to shower players with objectives and waypoints, No Man’s Sky instead embraces its germination in traditional sci-fi concepts by focusing on isolation and discovery, much in the same way that the new Alien title appears to embrace old-school horror game conventions without the rollicking action sequences and cheap scares which end up tainting rather than augmenting the final experience. Other highlights from E3 include the new gameplay trailers for The Witcher 3, which looks to be the next Skyrim but for people who can take themselves seriously. Add to that the exciting new Silent Hill project, cleverly titled Silent Hills (at least it’s better than having a ridiculous number or subtitle stamped on the end), a collaboration between Pan’s Labyrinth director, Guillermo del Toro, and Metal Gear Solid’s creator (and all around smug narcissist) Hideo Kojima. We could well be witnessing the resurgence of true horror over the next year.

Having taken a brief glance at the year so far, and having pondered a potentially bright future, I’m afraid I must end on a hypocritical note. The one game, whether announced or unannounced, that might reasonably be expected to tickle my fancy, happens to be a certain Fallout 4, an adventure I will have already experienced the likes of before and one that has a big fat number slapped to its title, and all this hype despite my pathetic objection to sequels and stagnation in the above scroll. Alas, I too am a sucker for known quantities and my only real wish is to melt into a fifties apocalypse once again.