A satirical, unashamed look back at the past six years of gaming

Jack Bromley and Mariel Hurd present 'awards' to games - tabletop, PC, and console - over the past six years - including the 'Character we'd most like to have a beer with, Most overrated, Biggest abuse of a franchise, Wasted potential, Guilty pleasure, and Character we’d most like to drown in their own pint'

This console generation is grudgingly climbing into its grave and the rumour mill’s been churning out predictions like an over-caffeinated conspiracy theorist, but we’re more interested in clinging to bygone days. In a presentation of the perfect, the passable, and the piss-poor, we look back on the previous six years of gaming.

Your hosts this evening will be Mariel Hurd and Jack Bromley, carefully chosen for their utter lack of common ground. He’s a console fanatic who lives to hate, she’s a stuck-up PC and tabletop gamer with more dice than braincells. Together, they passive-aggressively present each other’s favourite games in the worst possible light.

. . .

Character we’d most like to have a beer with
From Alyx Vance to Zevran, the last six years have seen some remarkable characters. Remarkably bad, in some cases, but we’re saving that for later. These are the dudes and dames we love, admire, or are too intimidated by to insult.

Jack Bromley:
A man chooses, a slave obeys, and if Andrew Ryan asked me to the local wine bar I would most certainly obey.

On second glance, that looks a little kinkier than intended. With interests in golf, cosmetic surgery and slavery, Ryan is the perfect piss-up partner. This debonair motherfucker could manipulate the cleverest of adversaries with a simple turn of phrase and a flick of his silver tongue. Foes fold before his overwhelming charm, especially drab Jack and his weakly psychotic tendencies. That submissive little sparrow pales beside this devilishly dominant peacock. He’ll tell Tenenbaum where to go, bully a Big Daddy, and slap sense into Sander. All this with oodles of class and sophistication.

He might be driving a civilisation into ruin, but damn he’s doing it with style.

Mariel Hurd:
GLaDOS
doesn’t seem the drinking sort, unless you count drinking in the screams of her victims, but she is hands-down one of my favourite post-2005 game characters.

Where to start? The design? The voice? The perfect balance of evil and slight incompetence, rivalled only by Aperture Science itself? Whatever it is, it’s got me wound around her carapace. GLaDOS is a sarcastic, vicious, terrifying bag of spite and insanity, and it’s what I love her for. Sure, she murdered hundreds of innocents in a fit of pique, but you only judge her because you don’t know her like I do. Beneath that hard, cold metal shell hums the wires of a sensitive soul. I know she’s a good person really, I’ve seen her morality core. Whatever she’s done, she did for a reason.

What the Aperture scientists didn’t know is whenever she said ‘I’ve just started flooding the room with deadly neurotoxin’, what she meant was ‘I love you’.

. . .

Most Overrated
10/10, 100%, 5-Stars. For years, reviewers have handed these out like candy, and we react like trick or treaters. However, every Halloween has a few needle-laced Dairy Milks, and you never forget that feeling of betrayal. These are the games where we were promised chocolate and bit down on a wilting apple.

Jack Bromley:
Assassin’s Creed
. The whole damned series.

The first was great: original, unusual, and downright unique in comparison to the increasingly cloned market. But Ubisoft got cocky, pouring out sequel after sequel after sequel, and Assassin’s Creed became Ubisoft’s Call of Duty. Thirteenth verse, same as the first.

Variation in each title was the main disappointment: mirrored, bland plot, mirrored bland new character. Who do we have now? Ezio, Mezio, Altair, Fred Astaire? And fifteenth-century Italy is very beautiful, but not so beautiful I want to visit eighteen times. I don’t visit my ailing grandmother that often.
To give the game its due, it does have a great story. Shame it’s the only one they’ve got.

Mariel Hurd:
Warhammer 40,000
is a damn good game, as the four armies in my flat can attest. What it isn’t is the be-all and end-all of tabletop sci-fi.

For one thing, it’s fiddly as shit. For another, Games Workshop never have all their Codex’s up to date. Life’s pretty dandy if you play Space Marines or Tyranids, but the rest of us have to wait until fifth edition to get our rule books up to date with fourth – at which point Space Marines are on seventh and counting.

It costs slightly more than a black market kidney and that’s before figure cases, paints, scenery, templates…by the end of it you’re a triple amputee with one lung. None of that’s gonna stop me playing – the siren song of Kill Team will always see me stumbling back – but it does put something of a crimp in its reputation.

. . .

Biggest Abuse of a Franchise
Put that down. What are you doing? No, don’t do that, you daft git!
Some people treat books with respect. They keep them on shelves, wipe their fingers before turning the page and take care not to scuff the corners. If these developers knew how to read, they’d bend the book in half across the spine.

Jack Bromley:
URGHTHG RARGRH NURGGHRRR!!! Rough translation: Plants vs Zombies was pretty damned good, the first of PopCap’s titles not to be a mundane puzzler. It was something new, something sparkling and Bejeweled among the consistently unimaginative coal of the tower defence genre.

Shame they fucked it up with an endless stream of re-releases; PC, okay. Xbox, fine. PSN, sure. iDevice, that’s a given. DS…okay, this is getting out of hand. Android? Windows Phone? eShop, seriously? VITA? Okay, guys, this cash cow has run dry. You have gone past milk, past blood, and now you’re just pulling at empty shrivelled skin. It doesn’t even have bones. It’s dead. You killed it.

I’m as partial to thin, naturally pasteurised milk as the next guy, but when I begin to drown in the watered down fluid, I want no more. Bury it. Let it feed the next crop of games.

Sponsored message: Bet365 – Bets now being taken for Plants vs Zombies WiiU (odds currently stand at 1/1).

Mariel Hurd:
It’s never the wrong time to make a Half Life 2: Episode Three joke, so buckle up.

Goddamnit, Valve. Stop making fun, inventive, clever games I love and give up the goods already. Yes, I know you’ve been busy: you made Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead 2 and DotA 2, but we have moved on from that whole ‘2’ trend. This is the new world now, fashion favours a different digit. Aren’t you guys meant to be trend-setting pioneers?

I don’t understand how you can wade through piles of money, reach your diamond-encrusted mirror and look yourself in the eye, I really don’t. It’s shameful for you to leaves us out here, reading about all the interesting stuff you’re producing which isn’t Half Life 2: Episode Three.

Look, we can compromise. Release a browser game where you play a stick figure with a crowbar and we’ll call it even.

. . .

Things We Just Want to See Die*
Sometimes, like leggings worn as trousers, a terrible game element comes into fashion. No-one knows why. It’s some macabre misuse of nature, a chimera formed of ill decisions and marketing ploys. This? Is a mercy killing.

* Zombie games. Yes, we see the irony.

Jack Bromley:
Capcom’s post-release content strategy.

Traditionally, the last thing a business wants to do is piss off their customers, but Capcom are bold revolutionaries. Their mantra is: “Fuck the customer, they’re never right.” Anyone who’s purchased a Capcom game in the past two/three years has tumbled into a mire of disc locked content and consumer disregard. They complained. Capcom stuck their fingers in their ears and hummed loudly.

Just keep extra content off the disc, shelve it for a few months and claim it was developed later. Sure, we know you’re lying and you know we know, but a little dishonesty greases the wheels of society. It’s why no-one’s aunt’s house ever smells of cat piss.

I could live with forking over my cash to a bunch of greedy, money-grubbing bastards, but I at least want to turn around before you stab me in the back.

Mariel Hurd:
Space Marines, and this goes double for anything set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Triple if there’s Ultramarines knocking around, the tedious great blueberries.

It’s not that I don’t love Space Marines – well okay, it kinda is – but they’re the most overexposed and least interesting part of the setting. When you have Dark Eldar, the Penal Legions, and Sisters of Battle available to you, sending yet more Space Marines out to mill amongst their own clones seems a crying shame. Let the poor fellows take a breather and spread the Gene Seed, if you know what I mean.

Oh, and some Chaos Marines who aren’t Khorne’s lads or Black Legion would be nice. Bring on the Raspberry Legion of Slaanesh.

. . .

Effective Mechanics
Anyone who doesn’t work for South West Trains.

Whether it’s D&D’s Alignments or Bulletstorm’s Skillshots, developers have had since the 70s to come up with new tricks. We’re not going back quite that far, but the last six years have turned up their fair share of treasures.

Jack Bromley:
Darkness is not our friend. Things creep in the dark, they lunge and bite and hack. Alan Wake’s only meagre protection is light.

It’s a good thing he’s carrying a torch, some flares, and Barry Wheeler.
Aside from his BFF (and his BFF’s Christmas lights), the torch is Al’s sole means of survival. It’s a wonderful, well implemented mechanic that makes the atmosphere of Bright Falls. Scuttling around the desolate forests, axes and shadowed lumberjacks approaching from all directions, using The Light only when necessary. You wipe out a few, it flickers. The batteries are dead. You need more. You run. You sprint through the words, ducking sentences and hurtling around metaphors in your haste to find somewhere, anywhere that’s even remotely lit.

The torch mechanic is the backbone of Alan Wake, establishing its tone, atmosphere and gameplay style, and the gradual dimming of the batteries matches the increasing darkness of Alan’s journey. Unfortunately for him, he can’t just pop some new batteries into the universe and cheer the fuck up.

Mariel Hurd:
This is where I fall to my knees and curse the existence of consoles, as their timeline places the Thief series millimetres from my grasp. Light gem, bitches.

With that smoky goodness forbidden to me, it’s gonna have to be Just Cause 2’s grappling hook.

Shallow choice? Yes. Fun? Fuck, yes. That grappling hook has been at the core of many happy hours spent hijacking cars and menacing civilians in the name of America. It’s a very simple formula: grappling hook + parachute = ^___^

It gives players boundless freedom to move around the game world as they will, whether it be by paragliding through forests or dangling from rooftops. Or helicopters, if they think a faceful of lead’s as good a bus ticket as any. It’s hard to describe what’s so gleeful about the grappling hook – Just Cause 2 certainly isn’t the first game to use that kind of mechanic – but for me it’s mostly down to the balance between easy pleasure and careful timing.

The only problem is it leaves me looking at every other game through its lens: you expect me to walk over to that Daedric ruin, designers? Really, now. We’re all adults here.

. . .

Most Inexplicable Franchise Revival

What is this thing, risen like Frankenstein* from the slab to stumble weakly across an unforgiving world? Fuck me, it’s X-COM. I haven’t seen that since the 90s.

* -‘s monster, now shut the fuck up.

Jack Bromley:
Zombie games. Just zombie games. I live in hope that this time the apocalypse has been avoided, but always keep that spare axe in my loo. Somehow, it still comes as a surprise.

Why won’t they just stay dead? Year after year they’re killed off in a flurry of bad Metacritic scores, and year after year their bones are exhumed again. Zombie games are the shambles of this generation, developers feeding on the brains of one another produces indistinguishable slash-em-up titles.
I enjoy wholesale corpse slaughter as much as the next guy, but I can only take so much of it. I want to kill something alive and kicking, not this brainless, stumbling horde.

Zombie games have their place, but their freshly dug graves are longing for some use. Let them rest in peace before it’s time for the next generation to leave them resting in pieces.

Mariel Hurd:
Back to the Future: The Game

Wait, what? I hear you say. Aren’t there better contenders for this title?
To which I say: probably, but none of them made me check my calendar when Steam announced their release. I know it’s never too late to cash in on a classic but Jesus Christ, I was born four years after that film came out and I can drink tequila. Legally!

This doesn’t make it a bad game – it could show me the path to happiness and whiten my teeth for all I know – I’m just saying it baffled me.

. . .

Wasted Potential

How the hell can someone who plots so well write so badly? Who makes spellcasting permanently remove hit points? Why the fuck is there a spinning blade in this nursery corridor?

Like dogs, a good game with a bad owner can turn nasty. These titles should come with a free rabies shot.

Jack Bromley:

Oh, Nintendo 3DS. You had so much potential: under the wing of the industry’s best first-party developer, stuffed with innovative technology, and a broad range of exclusive franchises to hand pick from. You could’ve been fabulous.

But did you utilise all of this? The heck you did. Instead you launched yourself, unprepared and unaware, into a piranha tank. You did the equivalent of loafing around on your sofa for twelve months, then handed in a dissertation cribbed from Wikipedia. It looked more like the leftovers of a carboot sale than a console’s launch lineup.

The future may be brighter, with announced titles still waiting at the station for their train, but these ones have opted to hurl themselves in front of it. Shame on you, Nintendo. Shame.

Mariel Hurd:

That one WFRP campaign, with those dicks. You know them, right? Everyone knows them. One has aspirations of being a Rules Lawyer, another’s convinced you give one single fuck about her whiny assassin dude, and the GM’s pretty fucking good but has the personality (and backbone) of lettuce. They’re the dudes you played with before you learnt that No Gaming Is Better Than Bad Gaming, and also that you’d eat your dice before spending another twenty minutes with these dicks.

Or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Dark Messiah was pretty bad.
The combat was beautiful: a perfect marriage of ragdoll physics and kickboxing. I’d thought what I was doing was living, but then I booted someone into a wall of spikes and realised that no, this was what I had been waiting for. This was what those years of senseless breathing had been leading up to.

Then the fucking plot kept cropping up. An aberration of writing; a soured mess of clichés, terrible characterisation and turgid plotting. The only thing more wooden than the dialogue was the voice acting. My theory is they pulped unwanted characters and made environments out of the result, because they look like they were constructed from cardboard. Knowing that these doll’s houses and botoxed faces came from the Half Life 2 engine is an affront to decency.

The game has many flaws, which I would be happy to continue listing, but the most glaring and unforgivable is laziness. Arkane Studios had a great engine and a phenomenal combat system, and what did they make? Dark Messiah of Might and bloody Magic. If it hadn’t killed my soul, I would weep.

. . .

Guilty Pleasure

You lock the door behind you, sit down on the bed and open the bag. With each crackle of cellophane wrapping, you glance nervously at the door. Furtive. Suspicious. Hunted.

Who knew they still sold Kane & Lynch in store?

Jack Bromley:
As a self-respecting gamer, Call of Duty ought to be the game I look down upon. As a junkie begging for my sweet FPS fix, though, it is my shame, my addiction, my vice.

By all counts, it is a bad series of games. Ever-present balance issues, dated mechanics, now-standard gameplay, and let’s not forget: the intellectual, witty, friendly community. It should not be played, I do not want to, yet somehow I cannot stop.

On dark nights I think perhaps it plays me, like a marionette.
It whispers to me. I come back to its calls day after day, week after week, hungering for my guilty release. One day they will find me hunched before my Xbox, controller clutched in my hooked, dessicated hands. And on the screen, a teenager is pwning a noob.

Mariel Hurd:
Kobolds Ate My Baby
is a drinking game where you pretend to be a small animal.

Put like that it seems obvious why this is a guilty pleasure, but it’s very hard to feign genuine shame. Kobolds Ate My Baby is really, really fun.

The whole crux of the game is that you and your mates have been sent out to fetch a baby for King Torg, ruler of the Kobolds. The GM will then guide your drunken arse through a ridiculous story, while you abide by ridiculous rules and do ridiculous shit in public. You are obliged to stand up and give a speech if your Kobold dies*. You have to stay in character. Sometimes you have to shout stuff in unison.

Tragically, Kobolds Ate My Baby has been out of print for several years, and now costs a small country second hand. We pray for an ebook release.

* Handy tip for first-time players! Name your Kobold after a venereal disease: “The Clap was the best thing to ever happen to this group…” always goes down well.

. . .

Obscure Things Which Deserve Attention

From the bottom of the bargain bin, a strange item emerges. It hurts to look at, like it has more corners than the human eye can understand. An uncanny thing, but oddly…intriguing.

Sometimes, the most interesting stuff goes unnoticed. Here’s to buried treasure.

Jack Bromley:
Shoot-’em-ups are a bygone genre, you don’t see many of these old warhorses anymore. But breathe new life into them with bursting visuals, a sensual soundtrack, and lighting straight out of an epileptic’s nightmare and you can colour me interested.

A pacifistic gun nut’s wet dream: a shooter where nobody gets hurt. Serenity and beauty couple together into a gorgeous flight of fancy. Flamboyant, glittering, and psychedelic; Child of Eden could double for a good trip – the kind the police don’t pull you over for.

This isn’t normally my style of game but Eden caresses the brain in such a way, it becomes impossible to resist its neon allure. Like a good cream cake laced with cocaine. Even if you, like me, are unfamiliar with this genre you should still get into Eden’s car. Let it take you for a ride – it’s that kind of game.

Mariel Hurd:
Gruntz!

No, not the 90s puzzle game, I’m talking about the 15mm tabletop wargame produced by a handful of enthusiastic geeks. It’s a delightful little D6-based deal, designed for skirmishes  and more scenery than a holiday brochure.
If you’ve got someone there sorting out the dice rolls for you, it’s a breezy, low-effort system . If you’re doing them yourself, it’s an exercise in praying your phone won’t die and take your calculator with it. Ironically, this is a great game for tabletop newbies as most of the rules are incredibly simple – it’s just working out whether you hit, whether you did damage, and what bastard designed these fucking rules.

Despite that, you need to play it. An army takes up less room than a six-pack so it’s very economical, space-wise, and will also give you an excuse to drink the six-pack. You can go out and buy one if you need to. You’re a wargamer now, you’ll need to assimilate into the culture.

. . .

Character We’d Most Like to Drown in Their Own Pint

Normally it’d be a shame to waste a good cider, but sacrifices can be made in the name of progress.

For every good character, there are five mediocre ones. And for every ten of them, there is a truly terrible character. Whether they’re spoiled children whose proud creator is too besotted to see reality, an attempt to ‘appeal to the core market’, or just plain ill-advised, they all have their place in the Hall of Fame. Locked inside, on fire

Jack Bromley:

I died a lot during Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Not because I was shit, but because the sight of Adam Jensen’s bullet-ridden, augmented corpse satisfied me more than any dead Belltower soldier ever could. Whenever it looked like he might whine his self-indulgent whinge, or start Batmanning around, I would do the safety dance to entertain myself at the expense of his dignity.

Squeenix were going for gruff, Manly McManson, but pulled off an arrogant spoilt brat who fast became an indistinct ringing in my ears. A sulky attitude and complete disregard for NPCs turned wannabe-cool Jensen into That Guy At The Party, trying too hard to prove he’s above your petty ‘fun’.

We didn’t ask for you either, dickhead.

Mariel Hurd:

Sheogorath.

Everyone else seems to love him, I hate him. Never got around to looking him up in Morrowind so I don’t know if I hate him there, but fuck if he didn’t get right on my tits in Oblivion and Skyrim.

I love trickster characters. I was the sad kid who spent all their time reading Norse mythology and telling horrified adults about how Loki tied his balls to a goat, and Sheogorath just doesn’t live up to it. He reminds me less of a clever trickster, and more of a very young teenager trying to stand out. Forgivable at fifteen, intolerable by fifteen thousand.

It doesn’t help that he combines two of my least favourite quirky/mad character clichés: his voice grates like a nail file across the Achilles tendon, and he keeps going on about cheese. I want to gag him with his own appendix.
It may be that lolrandom is simply an acquired taste my palate isn’t sophisticated enough for, but I have no desire to lick Sheogorath and find out. It’d probably give me ZANY! multicoloured  measles.

. . .

Richest World
Cyberpunk settings and inhuman features, fantasy battles and mythical creatures, horror and gunfights and people with wings, these are a few of our favourite things!

Jack Bromley: 

Alice: Madness Returns

Lewis Carroll’s drug-induced writing is twisted in itself, but combine it with the sick minds at Spicy Horse and a world of wicked, demented goodness is spawned.

A steampunk imagining of the classic novel brings Alice’s Wonderland to a whole new dimension. Mutilated Card Guards and nightmarish Bitch Babies prowl across giant cogs and fragmented chessboards, backlit against sickly yellow skies that add a dizziness to Wonderland; like seeing it through the sheen of a fever.

Whilst the scenery rarely changes, the grotesque beauty and unique characteristics of its basic design is enough to render it inconsequential. A cacophony of colorful enemies and a banquet of design details showcase the beauty of Carroll’s world, and the density and meticulous perfection of Madness Returns’ planes do great justice to Wonderland. It may not be the one he wrote, but I like to think Lewis Carroll would be as enchanted with American McGee’s interpretation as I am.

Mariel Hurd: 

Travelling between Nipton and Novak, you can almost feel the heat rising off the battered tarmac. It shimmers in the air, untouched by the breeze that stirs the sand and grit around your heels. The sky is bright and blue, as hopeful as a fresh start.

Fuck, I love Fallout: New Vegas.

Outside the eponymous city, the world is an orange dustbowl of small towns and the empty skeletons of metropolises. It’s vast and sparse, empty without being unfinished. If you stand on the rocks and look out across the Mojave Wasteland, you can see Fire Ants foraging from the remains of luckless merchants.

Sin City itself is gleaming and gaudy and garishly glamorous, especially against its down-run moat: Freeside. Everything about it stands out as unique apart from the residents, who are no more varied or vibrant than the rest of the world’s population. Fortunately, that’s a hell of a standard to live up to. Obsidian’s writers are exceptional.

While very few Fallout: New Vegas characters are rich, the universe they live in is. It’s a sumptuous, darkly comedic and immersive game, and I love it so much I can’t even bring myself to take the piss.

. . .

Whimsically Delightful
Golly, but isn’t everything bright and cheerful today? The birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the hayfever sufferers want to die. But even they’re smiling, because no-one can be sad around these games. They’re just so gosh-darn cheerful!

Jack Bromley:

There are very few things which can be described as whimsical without involving kittens, but Rayman Origins manages to be feline-free and utterly charming. A two button adventure with more depth than your standard grey-brown dudebro game, its gorgeous Greenblatt cartoon art style is simple, expressive, and cute. Not cutesy, mind you. These characters aren’t mugging for the camera like the corporate whores they could so easily be; they’re just effortlessly, endlessly charming. This is a game which put all its points into speechcraft.

Or not, since none of them are able to talk.

Either way, these silent sprites use that saved energy to dive, chirp, and dance their way through a series of unbearably vibrant levels. Not a game I’d recommend for diabetics, epileptics, or cynics.

Simplicity is a feature frowned upon, but Origins turns that frown upside down. Whimsically.

Always whimsically.

Mariel Hurd: Big businesses destroy natural resources in the endless pursuit of profit, callously wiping out entire ecosystems for what barely amount to a handful of pennies. In the real world, it’s ghastly. When the multicoloured mechanoids of Greed Corp do it, it’s adorable.

A light-hearted little strategy game with a reward mechanic more addictive than heroin, Greed Corp is a lot of bang for your buck – literally, as you make money by disintegrating the ground beneath you. It’s either a metaphor or a documentary.

While it’s not going be winning any awards for innovation, there’s something effortlessly charming about the game. You break things, you get cash. You steal things, you get cash. You perform a hostile and violent takeover of your rival’s land, you get lots of cash. The money is almost as satisfying as the little ka-ching! noise it makes when you get it, but not quite.

According to the Beatles, happiness is a warm gun. They were wrong. Happiness is building an airship, swooping down on an enemy’s gun turret and shelling him with own ammo. Happiness is a warm cannon.