I recently finished Tales of Xillia 2. It received an average score on the “H-Skey rate-o-meter,” which throws out most conventions of game rankings and is almost purely based on emotional connection and how much and for how long it annoyed me. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Xillia game, but this one felt completely unnecessary. It didn’t bother me that Bandai Namco reused a ton of assets or used the same characters. On the contrary, the characters and group dynamic are easily the strongest parts of either title, and I found the camaraderie, frequent skits and professional voice acting added a level of charm rarely seen in other games. As I traversed through the worlds of Elympios and Rieze Maxia, I felt more like I was running errands rather than going on a grand adventure. READ MORE
10. Wolfenstein: The New Order
I usually play a lot more shooters in a given year, but in 2014 I only played one. Thankfully, it was Wolfenstein: The New Order. This unexpected gem gave me a fascinating backdrop (the Nazis had won World War II) and put me back in the shoes of BJ Blazkowicz. You get the usual shooter gameplay, but a most unusual group of compelling characters, weapon upgrades, game-changing decisions, insane enemies and fantastic cutscenes. This is the complete package and, to top it all off, it has a great ending. It’s one of the few first-person shooters I wanted to replay as soon as I was done. READ MORE
Lev Grossman is one of my favorite authors. The first two books in his Magicians trilogy, The Magicians and The Magician King, are right up my alley. They’re Narnia meets Harry Potter with a macabre twist. The series is scary, realistic in its own way and has a protagonist whose voice matches my own at times. It really does feel like it was written for guys just like me; obsessed with fantasy and not exactly sure what to do in life. The third book was released recently, The Magician’s Land, and it, too, was spectacular. Some scenes were so beautifully written that I will never forget them. But something wasn’t quite the same. READ MORE
The cynical part of me rears its annoying head once in a while, reminding me video games are a business first and always. The industry has expanded since the NES launched in 1985, bringing us unmatched content for nearly every digital desire we could possibly imagine (within reason, holodecks are yet to come). People have become deservedly rich from creating, distributing and selling games and consoles.
Most of us are willing participants because we feel games are, mostly, a strong product. They can be played as many times as you wish, and many have multiple reasons to return. They can be discussed in great detail, played with others in the same room or even around the world. They are constantly evolving, bringing new ideas, challenges and artistic interpretations straight to our living rooms. They are truly a marvel, and we are lucky to be in a position to play games so often when others are much less fortunate. READ MORE
I am sitting in my boring room, not listening to anything at all. I put myself in a blank stasis, to figure out if silence can be deafening and seeing nothing can be a beautiful sight. I fail to answer those questions, quickly. Whether it’s because I’m a slave to stimulation, or thoughts of gorgeous aesthetics and catchy tunes are too much to resist, I’ll never know. Specific songs creep in and force me to remember things that matter, things that don’t and all things in-between. READ MORE
Serotonin’s criteria are simple: did a video game connect with me on an emotional level? Did it make me happy? Sad? Angry? Confused? Bored? Thrilled? As long as I remember it in a meaningful way, it doesn’t matter what the game is. I’ve been pondering lately if the emotional connection is tied to a specific aspect of a game. Am I more moved by musical scores, or do I find peace in gazing upon a particularly beautiful level?
I used to think the ultimate satisfaction came through gameplay. Was I comfortable with the jumping sections? Did the controls help or hinder my progress? How did beating each level make me feel? These are questions I ask myself frequently. It’s a sign of a great game when it connects with me purely through its gameplay. Isn’t that what a video game should be? Games are an experience you control; you are in charge of the progression. You tell your own story, you create your own struggles and triumphs through your own, personal input. Nothing else matters if the gameplay is subpar.
But then came Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and my supposed unshakable foundation of game philosophy was disrupted in a wonderful way.
I’ve been sleeping well lately. Kyla and I moved into a basement suite in an area as close to a video game setting as you can get. It’s absolutely gorgeous; small, curvy roads lead you through architectural wonder. Three doors down is a house with the look of a medieval tavern mixed with modern wealth. The Governor General’s estate is one block away, filled with ponds, flowers, deer and paths tailor-made for long walks and longer talks. The pièce de résistance is a castle right around the corner. Craigdarroch Castle, lit up at night, makes me feel like I belong to a neighborhood instead of living among random people in a random place. READ MORE
Last year, I was sitting next to my buddy at a hockey game at the Memorial Arena in Victoria, British Columbia. We obeyed the voice telling us to stand, removed our hats and welcomed some aspiring local vocalist to sing what would, no doubt, be a rousing rendition of Canada’s national anthem. After a quick internal check to see if my ears were working (sadly, they were), I confirmed that it was the national anthem I was hearing.
Oh, for it to be any other song, for the butchery and obnoxiousness wouldn’t pain me as much. A true Canadian wouldn’t derive anything but sadness from this version of O Canada. The singer was trying too hard, she hit high notes where there shouldn’t have been, she hit low notes where low notes should never go and she stretched it out with unnecessary wailing and impromptu head and hand movements. It was way too long and over-produced. I turned to my buddy and said, “you know, it’s not a cover.” He agreed. READ MORE
My very first Serotonin was about how good games make failure fun. The concept was, through good design, it would encourage players to switch strategies and try again, rather than frustrate them to the point of quitting. I seem to have come full circle with this edition; the latest triumph my group had over Dungeon Defenders was an arduous, brutal journey of frustration, death and Game Overs. This went beyond a game making failure fun. This was an exercise in constant futility, humiliation and bewilderment. I would never have gotten through this one level had it not been for the excellent group dynamic of which I was lucky to be a part. Sometimes good game design isn’t enough. READ MORE
Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead was my top game of 2012, so my expectations for the sequel were about as high as they could be. After finishing it and letting the impact settle, I can safely say it met every expectation I knew I had and surpassed expectations I didn’t know existed. This will land a spot in my top ten at year’s end for many of the same reasons its predecessor did: top-notch directing, excellent pacing, professional voice acting and brutal choices that force your inner moral compass to show itself, one way or another. The Walking Dead: Season Two retains much of what made the first game successful, but deviates so far from the story arc of Season One that it becomes a totally different experience and is richer for it. READ MORE