The 2013 Hatchies: PC Games

Ah, 2013. You had PC games. Turns out I played some of them. Join me as I look back at the best and the worst in this, our first ever Hatchy awards spectacular! Let’s open up with the games that didn’t quite make the grade for me…

Ice Cold

Don’t Starve: Don’t Starve takes those opening panic-filled minutes of Minecraft and makes an entire game out of them. It sounds like a great – nay, the best – idea, and maybe it is, but Don’t Starve forgets to make the whole thing a bit of fun in the process. I can respect its unrepentant difficulty and unforgiving demands, but there’s just no sense of reward that comes with any of it. You chop, you scrounge, you craft, all just so you can do it again. There’s no sense of wonder about it, despite the fantastical creatures that abound, and even the direction afforded by the story mode fails to infuse the gameplay with a sufficient amount of purpose and satisfaction. If you’re gonna make me go through wikis and forums to learn how to play your game, at least make it worth the effort. You can read my full review here.

Consider instead: Minecraft

 

Stardrive: Stardrive feels like it was made by throwing together everything from the wishlist of a Master of Orion fanatic (such as myself) with no regard for how the thing would actually play. I really like the idea of putting the trappings of turn-based 4x space strategy games into a real-time setting, but Stardrive fails to even think about giving the player the proper tools to handle any aspect of the game. Finding out relevant information about your space empire takes forever, and actually doing something with the information will take even longer; there’s little to no useful feedback. The interface should be tried as a war criminal, and saying that the pacing is atrocious would be an insult to both pacing and atrocities. Congratulations, Stardrive, you’re the most unwieldy space strategy game of all time (take that, Master of Orion 3). You’re also why I don’t pre-order games games on Steam any more. My full review is right over here.

Consider instead:   Jamming a rusty nail into your eye. Or Endless Space, if you want to play a good space strategy sim.

 

SimCity: SimCity, man. Sim fucking City. See, the thing about SimCity (or SimCity 5 if that’s your thing) is that the city-building mechanics are best-in-series. The excessive micromanagement from SimCity 4 is gone, and the evolution of wealth and density in response to your city’s success feels superbly organic. The Problem With A Capital Everything, though, is that Maxis, in what could be a first for them, presented an incredibly narrow vision of how their game is supposed to be played. Their vision of SimCity is one where frustratingly small cities are required to wheel and deal with their neighbors to share utilities and resources and whatnot, and it’s a disaster. First, because it’s incredibly limited and ruins the sense of scale and freedom that previous SimCity games have enjoyed, and second, because it just doesn’t work. The interaction between cities in a region is slow, imprecise, and unwieldy, and since the entire game is now exclusively built around those interactions, the whole thing falls apart. Also, the focus on chain-of-production and logistics feels incredibly out of place in this, a supposed civics simulation. There are lots of things about this version of SimCity that I would like to see make a return in the next edition, but holy fuck, give us back our sprawling cityscapes and move the focus from a region back to… I don’t know, a city? I could see that as a game. At least give us the choice.

Consider instead: The Anno series, where chain-of-production is the meat and potatoes and is done properly (go with Anno 1404/Dawn of Discovery or the newest one, Anno 2070)

 

Lukewarm

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes

This is Stardock’s third crack at the Elemental epic turn-based fantasy strategy series. It started with the disastrous War of Magic and continued with the more palatable but unremarkable Fallen Enchantress, and now it just sort of plods on with Legendary Heroes, a standalone expansion for the latter. It improves on a few elements of Fallen Enchantress but fails to change the fact that Elemental is too bloated and disjointed for its own good. All of the pieces here are sound on their own, but they fail to connect with each other in any meaningful way, resulting in an unfocused, exhausting, and unrewarding experience. If you liked Fallen Enchantress then Legendary Heroes’ improvements to balance, diplomacy, and hero unit progression are enough to warrant a purchase, but it leaves too many of its successors flaws in place to earn a blanket recommendation.

Consider instead: Warlock: Master of the Arcane if you want a fantasy setting, Civilization 5 if you don’t.

 

Antichamber: While I admire the MC Escher-esque message of “forget everything you think you know,” this first-person puzzler is occasionally too obtuse for its own good. It features some truly great puzzles that require you to think creatively and suspend your beliefs about how three dimensional space is supposed to work, but it also has some frustrating sequences where it presents puzzles which you do not have the necessary tools to tackle – and then neglects to tell you this. Its coyness is definitely a double-edged sword in this regard, and it ultimately makes Antichamber a game that can be recommended for puzzle fans or space cadets, but perhaps not for everyone.

Consider instead: The Swapper

 

Dead Space 3: This final entry in the action-horror-survival Dead Space series had an impossible burden placed upon it. On one hand, it needed to stay true to the claustrophobia inducing, highly atmospheric Dead Space that we all know and love, and on the other it had to wrap up a story which, at the end of Dead Space 2, was clearly growing too large to deal with one derelict ship or space station at a time. So it’s kind of understandable that Dead Space 3 ended up being more actiony and less… well, Dead Space, and that would be fine if it were just a little bit better at either. Everything about Dead Space, from the controls to the UI to the resource management, worked in unison for the first two games to create an immersive and terrifying experience. All of those elements are still intact here, but they actually just serve to drag down the faster-paced action. Dead Space 3 is by no means a bad game, but by riding the middle between the Dead Space that was and the needs of a big “for all the marbles” finish, it ends up being a so-so action game and a lousy Dead Space game. Maybe it’s a good Lost Planet game?

Consider instead: The Swapper if you just want some sci-fi. Oooh, or maybe watch The Thing.

 

Hot Hot Hot!

Path of Exile: This free-to-play action RPG turns plenty of genre conventions on their heads, resulting in a rare feeling of freshness in this well-populated domain. It won’t win you over with its drab and uninspired (well, clearly Diablo-2-inspired) art design, but the changes to character progression and skill loadouts are more than welcome and make it easy to create and refine a seemingly infinite number of possible character builds. Combined with some fantastic ongoing support and leagues and ladders for players of all skill levels, Path of Exile has something for everyone who wants to click on things to make them die and drop loot. Go try it out, it’s super free, with a player-friendly “cosmetic only” cash shop if you feel like dropping a few dinars.

 

Trials Evolution Gold: There’s no description of Trials that could really do it justice. Technically, you try to maneuver a dirt bike through 2D obstacle courses. Actually, that sounds pretty good. Let’s go with that. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in that it’s a tough-as-nails experience that constantly pushes you to improve your skills and hit that perfect run. It requires equal parts finesse and courage, and despite its trickiness, it makes for a great “zone-out” game (I play it every week when I listen to my favorite podcast). It plays best with a controller – just try not to throw it across the room when you blow a perfect run at the final jump.

 

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: What a strange little game. On the surface, it’s just another bargain-bin action RPG (or a “Diablo clone,” as the kids say), but it has a wonderful main character, an interesting story with witty dialogue, and some delightfully quirky mechanics. It took me about an hour to catch on to the unique “charge” mechanic that separates it from its ARPG brethren and gives its combat that extra kick, but once I did, I couldn’t pull myself away from the action. It’s also a game full of nooks and crannies, all worth exploring, and don’t be fooled by the fact there’s only one available class (unless you pick up some DLC) and a very small skill tree, as the character-building options end up being surprisingly deep and full of difficult choices. It’s weird, it’s fun, it’s cheap, and did I mention it’s kind of weird? It also sports the best “plot the journey on the map” sequence since Indiana Jones.

 

Typing of the Dead – Overkill: Combine the foolproof mechanics of The Typing of the Dead (you type words that appear on your screen in order to kill zombies) with the over-the-top grindhouse style of House of the Dead: Overkill and you get the stupidest fun you could possibly imagine. The writing is pitch perfect, combining macho ultraviolence, profanity (a Guinness record-setting amount, in fact), titillation, and a complete lack of continuity and production values that delivers just as many laughs as the fact that you are typing things to kill zombies. Not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but definitely for everybody else.

 

Gone Home: Take everything you just read about Overkill and reverse it and you’ll get Gone Home. This serene first person wandering-about simulator can and should be played by any and everybody, as it combines a beautiful story with a pitch-perfect slice of the 1990s and has no mechanics beyond “click to pick something up.” It’s like walking around in a John Hughes movie, and it should not be missed. It also sports the best representation of an SNES cartridge in any medium.

 

Divekick:  Its creators jokingly refer to it as “the one true game,” but they actually might have a point. Divekick takes the usual control scheme hellscape of fighting games and replaces it with a two-button setup such that anyone can hop in and immediately enjoy the party. But behind those simple controls is some incredible depth, and the lowered barrier to entry makes it easy to get at the chewy center of any good competitive showdown: headgames. To butcher some George S. Patton wisdom, Divekick may be played with controllers, but it is won in the mind. In a way, every competitive game is trying to do what Divekick does, but none of them has the courage to just come out and do it already, and that’s why we love Divekick – it delivers game in its purest form. My full review has the details you crave here.

 

Far Cry – Blood Dragon: After you’ve released your mega-selling blockbuster shooter sequel, the time inevitably comes when you have to release your first batch of DLC. The typcial move here is a few new in-game items, maybe some extra story content featuring a minor (but beloved) character. It’s what you do. What you don’t do is take your game, move it from a tropical paradise to a neon-infused volcanic wasteland packed to the brim with glowing pink dinosaurs, and put the player in charge of Mark IV Cyber Commando Rex “Power” Colt. But that’s exactly what Ubisoft Montreal did, and the result is a short but sweet headrush of sheer insanity, a tribute to the 1980’s that’s easily the best thing that the decade has ever been associated with (and I’m including myself on that list). It’s ridiculous, it’s stupid, it’s loud, and it’s here to party. Let it.

 

The Stanley Parable: The less said about this one, the better, since so much of the appeal comes with being surprised at every (literal) turn. Just know that you walk around an office and you do things. Or do you? The Stanley Parable is a game, it knows this, and it knows that you’re playing it, and the results are sublime. Games, as a rule, suck at being funny, but The Stanley Parable consistently got me to nearly die laughing, all while presenting some very cool commentary on just how weird the world of games can be these days.

 

Reus: This strategy-puzzler is a sneaky bastard. Its core mechanics are pretty simple, and within minutes you’ll have a feel for just about everything the game will throw at you. And you could certainly cruise through it for a few hours, play a few rounds, and have a good time, but there’s something else in there. Something sinister. Because behind the simple mechanics and the amazingly rewarding and flexible goal structure is the truth that there is some hardcore gaming action hidden in Reus, the kind of action that had me scribbling down various build orders and strategies on sticky notes so that I could try to hit specific goals within the game’s two-hour limit. Reus, more than any other game this year, constantly pushed me to change how I approached it, and it always rewarded both aimless experimentation and careful planning. Get the full review here.

 

Call of Juarez – GunslingerIt’s a budget-priced shooter (groan). It’s got the Call of Juarez name on it (groooaaan). It’s incredible. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in first-person shooters (skill trees and bullet time are the two defining gameplay traits), but the delivery is pitch-perfect. It’s got a surprisingly wonderful story that serves as an excuse to trade bullets with the baddest outlaws of the Wild West, and the way that the world constantly shifts at the whim of the narrator is inspired and often hilarious. And while a single playthrough will only last a few hours, it’s definitely worth a second run on the HUD-free unlockable difficulty, and there are plenty of extra challenge events to boot. Both Gunslinger and Blood Dragon show that the big dogs may not quite be ready to cede the world of short, excellent, low-price games to the indie crowd. If it means more games like this, then that sounds like pretty great news.

 

My Top Five PC Games of 2013!

5) Civilization 5 – Brave New World: Despite the lack of soma and centrifugal bumble-puppy, Brave New World is a very fitting name for this second major revision to Civ 5, as it completely reinvents and reinvigorates huge chunks of the game. Civ 5 was a fantastic game at launch, but Brave New World still finds plenty to do by infusing the mid- and late-game with fresh mechanics that give aspiring leaders appealing alternatives to engaging in slow and dreary wars. It brings to life Carl von Clausewitz’s statement that war is merely “politics by other means” by seamlessly integrating and improving the games economic, political, and military aspects. In conjunction with the less ambitious but also excellent Gods and Kings expansion, Brave New World provides not just the definitive Civilization experience, but the high water mark for turn-based strategy of this scale.

Winner of:  Hatchy for best game that features both art exchanges and scorched earth warfare.

 

4) Rogue Legacy: After an hour with Rogue Legacy, I put it down and was ready to never play it again. It was obscenely difficult and unrewarding and the gameplay choices were limited to the point of non-existence. But I got bored and tried it again, and I’m very glad I did. Rogue Legacy stands beside the great Dark Souls in the halls of games that integrate failure directly into their mechanics, as each death in Rogue Legacy brings with it the ability to use the loot you acquired in your previous run to beef up your character in the hopes of making it further on the next one. And once you start unlocking new gear and moves, the gameplay opens up and the challenges that previously felt dull and impossible become thrilling and rewarding. Sticking with it also rewards you with a story which, like Gunslinger above, takes some interesting turns toward the end and which feels very much in keeping with the aesthetics and mechanics of the game.

Winner of: Hatchy for the best Dark Souls game since Dark Souls.

 

3) Might and Magic – Duel of Champions: The Heroes of Might and Magic strategy series has had a special place in my heart since I was in fourth grade, and I’m pleased to announce that it’s made the jump into the world of free-to-play collectible card games rather nicely. The grid-based battles recreate the feel of true HoMM tactical combat (and actually expose just how much  that aspect of the games has improved over the years) and the massive number of available cards means there’s always something new to try. Having spent a lot of time with that other digital CCG, Hearthstone, I can say that I much prefer Duel of Champions‘ sheer insanity, as it has that MagicThe Gathering off-the-leash openness about it that allows for some truly crazy deck builds.

Winner of: Hatchy for the game that makes me thankful it’s all digital every time a card reads “shuffle your library.”

 

2) The Swapper: It’s a 2D puzzler. More importantly, it’s got an incredible sci-fi setting and the most engaging story of the year. I really enjoyed the puzzles, which were mostly on the easy side but still rewarding, but even if you hate all things puzzly, The Swapper is worth your time for its atmosphere and story. Go play it. The end.

Winner of: Hatchy for the game that filled me with the most dreadful sense of realization as the story pieces came together.

 

1) Wargame – Airland Battle: With Copenhagen and Oslo under my control, I had about five days left to move out and liberate Stockholm from Soviet occupiers. Several enemy tank battalions blocked the road between Oslo and Stockholm, so I decided to drop a company of paratroopers directly into the Swedish capital in order to draw some enemy forces off the front and give me chance to find an opening. But they didn’t take the bait, so instead of merely having to hold out for a day or two and wait for reinforcements, my paratroopers would have to drive out no fewer than two entrenched enemy battalions. Fresh off the drop and completely surrounded, they seized key ground in Stockholm’s west end. And there they sat, fending off five counterattacks over three days, each successive defense being mounted with ever-dwindling supplies. Meanwhile, my beleaguered Cophenhagen-based British Royal Marines faced extermination in the wake of a surprise assault through continental Europe. What had once been the fiercest fighting force in the theater was now down to a half-dozen riflemen holed up in a farmhouse. The enemy was relentless, but both the marines and the paratroopers stood their ground. This day, Scandinavia was free of the Red Menace.

The best games inspire stories, and Wargame: Airland Battle, the follow up to European Escalation, brings them in droves. Whether you’re playing a one-off skirmish or a grand campaign, every moment is filled with critical decisions to be made, and each one leaves its mark. There are many different sides to Wargame, and all of them are exemplary. Tactical battles are simultaneously intense and calculated, the turn-based campaigns are everything that Risk aspires to be, and to top it all off, there’s some incredible deck building to be done when it comes time to create a custom fighting force. I was convinced that the very similar but comparatively smaller-in-scope Company of Heroes represented the most complexity that could easily be managed in a real-time setting, but Wargame somehow manages to up the stakes without being any less playable. No other real-time strategy game comes even close to offering the true armchair general feel that Wargame does.

Winner of: Hatchy for my game of the year. Duh.



9 responses to “The 2013 Hatchies: PC Games”

  1. […] in every now and then and let you know what I’ve been playing (like a mini version of my end-of-the-year roundup) so you at least have an idea of what to go look up elsewhere. Unfortunately, the current site […]

  2. Adam Rains says:

    I love simcity the firts game i played of it series was simcity 3000 i used to build a big city by hacking hahahah
    but the recent game is amazing.

  3. Mickie James says:

    I thought i was the only person who like simcity but there are more people than i think who like Simcity. Is there any hacks for the latest simcity game, adam?

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