The Best Things That We Played This Year: A List – Part One

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The year is over! Almost! What has this year wrought? Men jumping out of balloons, men and women jumping over things in London, one woman with a crown had a party and I got two cats. But there were also games this year. Lots of games that we played! So it only seems right that I ask all our contributors what games they played this year that they thought were good and should be played. Here we go!

Dave Played and Enjoyed

My favourite game that I played this year was Black Mesa, the remake of Half Life that was aeons in the making. So perhaps it shouldn’t strictly go into an end of year ‘best of’ wrap-up as, at its core, the game is 14 years old. But I’m mentioning it anyway and you can’t stop me.

Half Life 2 was fun and all, but it just didn’t grab me like Half Life did. I can remember the hours I spent poring over the video footage from the alpha version that was included on a PC Gamer cover-disk (remember those?) back when I was a much smaller digital sledgehammer – a digital rock hammer, if you will. I was mildly obsessed with it, and when the full game was released, I became even more obsessed. Time passed. Deus Ex was released. I got older. But I never forgot about Half Life.

It goes without saying, then, that I’d been looking forward to Black Mesa since it was first announced. How could I not be positively quivering with joy that some enterprising young tyros (or just massive nerds – I don’t know, I’ve never met them) had decided to remake Half Life using the Source engine?

Of course, it missed its first release date. And the second. And the third. And all of them, I think, until September 14th 2012. I could hardly believe it, and in fact did not believe it until I was actually downloading and installing the files. It was, obviously, going to be a massive let down, even though it was actually real.

But it wasn’t. Black Mesa is simply an inspiring achievement, and worth every second that it spent in development over the years. It is faithful to the original, yet so much more at the same time. The lush graphical overhaul complements the near-identical gameplay. But why would you want to change the gameplay of arguably one of the best games ever made? It simply tweaks and polishes and lovingly enhances the original’s incredibly immersive journey through the Black Mesa facility. Everything you remember from the original is there, but somehow better. Plus it didn’t bother including Xen (yet).

It’s like having an encounter with an old friend you haven’t seen in years, but instead of it being an awkward moment, your friend has become somehow better than you remembered him being. It’s like your friend has gone from being a pretty awesome dude to being a combination of Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela and the guy who invented bacon, and he won’t stop giving you £20 notes.

So yes, I loved Black Mesa. It wasn’t just nostalgia; it was more than that. It proved that class is definitely permanent, and that even a game that is 14 years old can still knock the stuffing out of almost every other FPS game released this year. If that’s not a damning indictment of modern mainstream game development, then I don’t know what is.

In the meantime, I’ll be playing Black Mesa if you need me.

Hannah Played and Enjoyed

I’ve played every LEGO game there is, many of them this year. I could debate the merits of one over the other with you pretty much all day. Ah yes! The tiptoe motion for precise platforming levels as introduced in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean was a pure confection – but what of the piquancy of the object combinations in LEGO The Lord of the Rings? It is the very height! They have made some pretty weird choices of late – not least allowing characters to talk for the first time in LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes – but they are always serious fun. To me, a new LEGO game represents 30+ hours of chatting, laughing, cheering, cursing and falling off a beanbag with my P2. In a wider sense, LEGO hangs around my life (and my house) in a way that I really like.

I like when things are scaled up or down for effect (hello giant pencils from seaside destinations), and it’s been really interesting to see the ways that they have scaled up the humble LEGO block this year. I’ve always been a sucker for Minifigs and I have a LEGO Harry Potter on my keychain, but you can now also get giant LEGO storeage crates and lunchboxes. Or a giant LEGO head to store things in. I love the playful element that LEGO brings to regular old boring adult life. So it looks like I have a few last-minute things to add to my Christmas list…

And those were the games that those two people liked this year. Stay tuned for more in a couple of days.

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