February was even more of a celebration than usual this year. Not only did I celebrate my birthday, a Valentine’s Day and a six month anniversary, but I also celebrated a full year in my new job.
That means it’s been one full year since I declared with painful melodrama that I was leaving games journalism. I’ve actually ended up keeping one foot in the field slightly, but aside from trademark Twitter ranting my output has been very low.
It’s made me wonder how many games I’ve played in my first year without being paid to play – and if there’s any lessons to be learned from looking at the amount of time I’ve spent playing them. So, I pulled a list together. Here’s a year of non-journo gaming, in chronological order…
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
When I stopped writing I immediately jumped on this and Thief: The Dark Project. Unlike Thief, Dark Messiah didn’t live up to the memories. I only got a few hours in before I tired of the tight corridors and restrictive, repetitive action.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
I’ve always loved the Prince of Persia series. But Forgotten Sands is the exception. It has all the hallmarks I love, but the soul of it is missing. I just didn’t care about this Prince, so I only lasted 5 hours before moving on.
Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planewalkers 2013
I played 30 hours of this, the vast majority of it against David Brown. I don’t really have much to say about the game, but David was a big influence on my gaming this year – he started me on my brief stint of Steam Trading Card farming.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I sunk 32 hours into this and I’m still annoyed at the ending. I also don’t see why everyone loved it so much. It was alright, but aside from the panic of losing a carefully developed soldier, I’m not sure there’s anything that makes this stand out.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
46 hours before I, as always, started to feel like I was retreading old ground. Bethesda builds great worlds, but they struggle to populate them with characters I actually care about. Conversations are irrelevant and once the loneliness sets in, I move on.
Someone told me this was good and I’m sure it is, but I only played it for 12 minutes. Something about the interface bothered me and I wasn’t in the mood for what seemed to be an easily anticipated emotional impact. I’m sure it’s very accomplished.
I Am Alive
Nick Cowen recommended this to me and, while I loved some parts of the game, such as the combat, it was bought down by repetitive searching, bad checkpointing, clumsy controls and QTEs. I finished it in 7 hours and was very disappointed.
16 hours and, apart from the usual complaints about the ghost and the over-long final chapters, I really enjoyed it. I cared for Elizabeth and Booker deeply by the end and the final twists blew me away. Needs more Songbird, though.
This was my most conflicting game of the year. Broadly, I loved all 18 hours of it, but I couldn’t help but wish for less combat and supernatural stuff. I wanted survivalist fiction all the way through, not just for the first half.
It frustrated me so much that I wrote (but didn’t publish) an alternate design when I finished it. My ideas included a full day/night cycle, an open world and third-person strategy. By day Lara would explore, hunt, search for survivors and raid tombs. At night she’d be attacked by the islanders and would hole up in tombs she’d cleared, turning the booby traps to her advantage.
26 minutes. It was a pleasant distraction, but ultimately forgettable. The environments, the music and concept were nowhere near as developed as they’d need to be to warrant the attention it actually received.
49 minutes. I really liked the approach to multiple lives. I really couldn’t be bothered to play it a second time.
4 hours. The first 20 minutes were pitch-perfect and clever. The next 60 minutes were an enjoyable exploration. 30 minutes after that I realised that the storyline had been essentially abandoned. I struggled on through boredom, but ultimately gave up because I found it impossible to navigate the map accurately.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
5 hours, start to finish. It’s fun and compensates with style for what it lacks in new ideas, but one dash along the shortest possible path was all it was good for. It didn’t leave a lasting impact.
Surgeon Simulator 2013
Hilarious to watch and fiddle with; less fun to seriously try and complete. 53 minutes.
Barring the empty ending, this was fantastic and poignant. It’s the sort of thing I wish I could have played with my Dad when I was a kid or with my best friend at university, working together to finish it. Near perfect and hard as nails for 9 hours.
Debbie Timmins told me this was better than it looked. I played it for 69 minutes and there were a few things to recommend it above most other shooters, but it failed to hold my attention. The story was predictable dross and I couldn’t be bothered to sit through audio logs when there were better games waiting.
Sublime. I loved it. I wish there’d been more exotic exploration – more secret passages and such – but only sort-of. Really, it would have stretched what was actually trying to be a story about the everyday. It took me 3 hours and I highly recommend it.
Another excellent game, another 3 hours. I didn’t finish it, though I did get close. The only reason I stopped is that my PC broke and I couldn’t bring myself to redo all that paperwork.
I’m probably being an idiot here, but I only played 3 minutes of this. I couldn’t figure out how to leave the first room (or do anything at all) and there was no guidance for what I was supposed to do. I’d had a bad day and I got so frustrated that I uninstalled it immediately and went for a run. Shrug.
12 minutes. Something about the controls didn’t gel with me, the story didn’t grab me, and the whole thing felt far too limited. I finished the first level, but that was it.
Again, controls. I kept trying to do simple things and kept getting it wrong. It felt like the style was interfering with my ability to actually play. I don’t have much patience for that sort of thing unless there’s something else good going on. There wasn’t, so after 45 minutes I moved on.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
I needed a guilty pleasure this year, but Black Ops couldn’t even get that right. I played it for 8 hours, but only in on-off 30 minute bursts when I waited for my dinner to cook. It was crass, the story made no sense and the combat was dull. I moved on as soon as a new game caught my attention.
Unfortunately, curiosity meant the next game was Daikatana. In just 50 minutes I learned it’s every bit as bad as people say it is.
Rise of the Triad
I installed it at the start of my ‘I just want to shoot things’ phase, but played it right at the end. It only took me 18 minutes to realise ROTT had nothing new to show me. The lack of good secrets was the killer, as I’d hoped for something truly anarchic, like the first Serious Sam.
Of the many small games I installed solely to farm for cards, Escape Goat was one of only three I actually played. I did the first level on a whim and curiosity got the better of me. I’d give it 89/100, because that’s how many minutes I played it for.
2 hours. I quite like Don’t Starve, but there’s too much grind and not enough creative expression for my tastes. Playing it, I feel like I’m searching for a single strategic solution – which isn’t the same feeling I get from games such as Minecraft.
Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition
I installed it for the cards, but I ended up playing the Carribean expansion for 3 hours. It holds up well in many ways – faster and more fun than either Black Ops II or Rise of the Triad.
I put 4 hours into this and I liked it, so I’m not sure why I stopped playing. I think it’s mostly because the puzzles started to feel overfamiliar; like I was solving the same level over and over. Hm.
No Time To Explain
Installed it for cards, played it for fun. 59 minutes later, I felt like I’d seen everything the game had to offer and was a bit annoyed that it wasn’t as fast or funny as the trailer implied.
System Shock 2
I’d played this before, but the Steam release prompted a replay. What hit me most this time was how effectively it builds a sense of place. The ship feels like a real, massive wreck where other disasters are still going on, unseen. After 10 hours I reached the latter levels, where this feeling fades – and that’s where I stopped.
The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
I’d played the old House of the Dead: Overkill before, but I wanted to see what Typing was like. I passed the two new levels, then moved on. That took 50 minutes.
Mark of the Ninja
Craig pestered me to play this and I did so for about an hour, but it just failed to grab me. I do plan to return to it though.
I really liked Eldritch and would have played much more had I not read an article which listed all the spells and weapons. It turned out I’d seen them all already and visited every biome too, which left me feeling like I’d seen all the content it had to offer after 117 minutes.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut
Famously a love-it-or-hate-it game. After 117 minutes, I decided I was the latter. I might have been more forgiving if interesting ideas, such as the free-roaming, had been positioned earlier. Instead, I had to push through boring and linear combat levels.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted
I don’t like to play Early Access games because there’s the risk of losing hard-earned progress, but I had a look at this very briefly. 8 minutes briefly. The campaign seemed intimidating in scope and the stealth mechanics didn’t feel immediately interesting. I’ll return for more once the game is finished, but mainly because of who’s developing it.
ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West
I hear the story gets really good later on, but it wasn’t doing anything for me after 84 minutes and the action was incredibly rote. A few unfair deaths in one spot frustrated me enough to move on; the only time I’ve ever disagreed with an Ellie Gibson review.
Teleglitch: Die More Edition
I worked hard to get Teleglitch, but I’ve only played it for 120 minutes. I like it, but once the permadeath is factored in then it’s just that little bit too hard to keep me playing the same 20 minutes over and over.
I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream
I have a signed first edition of the short story this is based on. It’s one of my favourite pieces of short fiction. I also used to love adventure games. Sadly, this isn’t a strong example of the genre – as I learned after 41 minutes.
DmC Devil May Cry
This was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s not clever, but while some games think being edgy means giving the hero some eyeshadow, DmC is refreshingly pure in its adolescent vision. The story is hilarious, the presentation is immaculate and the combat is heaps of fun. It took me 13 hours and I even loved the boss fights.
I’d been meaning to play Bully ever since hearing Idle Thumbs praise it years ago. I’d hoped to establish my own in-game identity, but that turned out not to be the case. Your character is defined immediately as a petulant bully and after 30 minutes I decided I disliked him enough to move on without seeing anymore.
The Stanley Parable
One of the best moments of the year for me was playing this with my little sister and hearing her laugh as she repeatedly threw Stanley off a staircase. I recommend watching Errant Signal’s analysis of the game, after you’ve played it.
Spelunky is great and I played it for 27 hours, but even so I don’t actually have anything to say about it. Which might be a statement in itself? No, probably not.
Injustice: Gods Among Men – Ultimate Edition
At last, a beat-em-up with a decent singleplayer mode. I burned through it in five hours and thought of it more as an interactive comic than a game, which is why I didn’t touch the multiplayer at all.
I really wanted to like The Novelist, but everything about the presentation turned me off. Flat, bored voiceovers; two-dimensional characters without any nuance whatsoever; an incredibly empty and small level and a graphical style that didn’t bring anything to life. It’s a great idea for a game, but within 30 minutes I realised I didn’t care about the characters at all.
Pretty much the same as Rise of the Triad, but I played it for 8 hours. I only played it for so long in the hope it would get better. It didn’t.
I’ve actually never stopped playing Dishonored. I’m up to 115 hours and I still notice new things – and I’m so good at it that playing it feels meditative.
Batman: Arkham Origins
The Arkham games have got worse as their scope has increased, in my opinion. The intricately decorated asylum was more interesting than the mostly-empty prison; the prison more interesting than the automatically populated city. I quit after 106 minutes, when I realised I was breaking character by flying past crimes out of sheer boredom.
Castlevania: Lord of Shadow – Ultimate Edition
The reviews of this all looked pretty positive. Which is unfortunate, because the game is unmitigated dross. 21 minutes of tedious narration and button mashing was all I tolerated before I remembered how valuable my time is nowadays.
Papa & Yo
I wrote about this elsewhere and I haven’t played it since, leaving the clock stuck at 111 minutes.
Interesting, but hard as nails. I explored the first few worlds, then couldn’t figure out how to progress further. I plan to return to this again in the future, but for now it’s left with 37 minutes played.
Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld
I’d played both of these before, loving Legend and hating Underworld, but I thought I’d give them another go. Unfortunately, Legend kept crashing and Underworld wasn’t any better than I remembered. After 7 hours and 102 minutes I realised I was playing them for the story, not the action – so I watched the cutscenes on YouTube instead.
I laughed, I pointed and I clicked. It took me four hours and I really enjoyed it, but I don’t have anything to say about it other than that Shay’s puzzles feel contrived.
State of Decay
It’s rough around the edges and a little repetitive, but State of Decay was another pleasant surprise. I tried to play it three separate times before I eventually got to grips with it – and when I did I held on for 16 enjoyable hours.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut
I played this solely for the commentary. The only thing I took from it is that Human Revolution is nowhere near as good as I remember. I felt like I spent 27 hours being lectured about nothing or walking along long, sterile corridors.
The entire commentary could be boiled down to “We tried to do X and it would have been good because we’re amazing, but we couldn’t do it for no specified reason.”
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Another game I enjoyed but don’t really have much to say about. It took me 4 hours to finish and I wish it had been longer. I plan to play more of this in co-op soon.
I’ve played a lot of Garry’s Mod in the past, but my pattern of playing it is to have a great idea, spend two days downloading the game and all the workshop content I need, then realise the game is pointless, uninstall and then repeat the whole cycle two months later. Somehow this has resulted in 38 hours of play since it was first released.
Very enjoyable. 3 hours played, but I’m still rubbish at it.
I picked this up because I saw Lauren Wainwright and Korina Abott praising it, but what I expected to be survivalist strategy was really just a dull city game. Banished presents itself as being about the people, but there’s no narrative at all, so it ends up feeling more like Cities in Motion. I moved on after 109 minutes.
Prince of Persia (2008)
I’d always meant to replay this and finally did last week. It took me 14 hours and was incredibly repetitive and tedious, but I didn’t hate it as much as I did last time I tried it. That’s because I finally realised this game needs to be approached more as a music game than a platformer; the rhythm coming from the route you take.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Dan Grillipoulos warned me this wasn’t very good, but I tried it anyway. I lasted 39 minutes before it forced me to use the unwieldy and ugly squad system to survive, at which point I swore and uninstalled.
Pice-to-playtime makes this a really difficult game to recommend, but I personally love it. I’ve finished it five times in 47 minutes and continue to play it still. It’s simple, effective and stunningly presented. And I love the soundtrack.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
If there was one game I could flatly recommend to everyone, this would be it. Brothers’ unique control system can take some getting used to, but the game is well worth the effort. It took me just 3 hours and was a thoroughly enriching experience.
Phew. And that’s just the ones I played on Steam!
There’s one obvious lesson to take from all this and that is: I’m incredibly impatient and I can rush to judgement. There are plenty of games above which I played for less than hour before abandoning – and there are only ten or so that I completely finished.
But I’ve always known that about myself. The only difference between journo-me and non-journo-me is that the former used to fight against it. The latter embraces it. This is what I mean when I talk about looking for games which respect my time.
Because, yes, there are a few games up there, such as Shelter, which I abandoned because of circumstance or genuine impatience…but there are also a lot of games which weren’t using my time effectively. Games such as ENSLAVED, which took the supposedly interesting story elements and buried them behind awful platforming gauntlets for the first 30 minutes. Or The Swapper, which has a needless amount of puzzles compared to actual content.
The reason I’ve embraced impatience this year is simply that I’ve got a whole lot less time to play games. I need to be selective in what I choose to sink my time into – because, as the playtime shows, if I do decide to commit then I can give it a frankly startling amount of time. For most games, I have to if I want to see the ending.
You could construe this as entitlement; as a demand for instant gratification, but I don’t think that’s fair. Gone Home is not a game of immediate gratification, for example – but it respects my time and delivers what an average player looks for on a moment-to-moment basis. It promises exploration and it delivers it constantly, without ever putting something in my way that doesn’t need to be there.
Looking back over all the games I’ve played, it’s actually astonishing how rare a trait that is compared to most games.