We as gamers should really count our blessings to have been graced with two such games in two years. It would seem absurd to conjecture back in 2007 that a title was conceived and destined to be born in Japan’s own Bethlehem of From Software. A savior that could rise above the dismissive label of hardcore niche and absolve the sins of the modern “challenging game”, under “Next Gen” King Humdrum’s scornful eye? A franchise with a mission statement of such aplomb and flagrant disregard for handholding? In the face of the snowballing trend for ensuring a middling baseline of player accomplishment and ever deepening reliance on cutscenes?
Rubbish I would say. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Tantamount to its success is…you guessed it! Flash ‘n Flair. Darks Souls gets a Soul Sucking Symphony in the final review, despite lacking big explosions or acrobatics, the normal tricks used by lesser flashy wannabes. The game entrusts you with precision controls – all you need to flash it up in the tension filled boss fights.
This game does not need further justification – we’ve sung it’s praises already. Instead let’s take a look at the runner’s up and why they didn’t quite make the cut.
THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM
Right on the heels of Dark Souls, this phenomenal game is still the first loser for one reason: the combat never fully matured. Is it a marked improvement from Oblivion? Unquestionably. It feels more tactile and responsive, and the execution of cut aways for finisher animations were pitch perfect – stingily employed to maintain its zest and as flashy as could be expected for a down-to-earth franchise. But there’s ultimately no excuse for the dozen or so animations to never change as you continually invest points into your chosen combat specialty. I want my Redguard’s power attack to somehow give the impression that he’s hitting harder at level 35 with 100 in Two Handed, that he’s about the split a tectonic plate when that hammer comes down. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the franchise’s center hadn’t shifted so dramatically into being combat driven going from IV to V.
This game loses primarily because of the poor trends it represents – Uncharted 2 overshadows it and its future is in peril. This could have been such a stronger title if the ending was made to close out the series, finishing on a strong note and solidifying its legacy. Now it’s stuck in an Assassin’s Creed-like conundrum of desperately needing to cash in on overdue vacation days and usher in fresh ideas.
The premise of the series turns out to be its highest touchstone of praise and Achilles heel. On paper, an Indiana Jones rip-off full of double crossing, globe-trotting, and of course a love interest doesn’t sound like a fresh starting point for a plot. The high caliber story telling on display is an even bigger victory from this perspective. But could this be too limiting of scope for a continuing series though? Could it use a grander, over-arching streak of fanciful fiction? Again, Assassin’s Creed and the almost sci-fi mythos expansion conducted in AC II is perhaps foreshadowing for this franchise.
BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY
Rocksteady could learn a lot from Dark Souls, since the root of its greatest problem is the lackluster open world. In lieu of the time, money, and manpower to invest into creating a Gotham City that teems with personality like an Elder Scrolls or even a Fable game, another strategy must be adopted. Dark Souls’ hybrid open world of interconnected zones where the only gatekeeper is usually the challenge taunting the player (read: a big burly boss) is vital to success here. It delivers a sense of progression as you move from one area to the next, inspiring a sense of player controlled linearity to the experience. It helps conceal the plain fact that the world of Lordran isn’t all that big in terms of square kilometers. It’s ultimately the logistically key to conveying a sense of distinctiveness to every square inch without negating the wide-eyed motivation to explore. Dark Souls doesn’t necessarily provide a model for the next Arkham Whatever, but it does shed light on the shortcomings of Rocksteady’s otherwise fine title.
SAINTS ROW THE THIRD
Saints Row is a consistent game: its humor sticks regularly and the missions are always fun romps. In every way far better than its predecessor, it still overreaches in certain areas and underperforms in others. The flurry of inane respect meters and stat trackers, replete with multipliers and visual effects, serve no purpose other than to litter an already full HUD system. Checking out how many people you kill is always titillating, but seeing Hater’s Gonna Hate pop up is only funny…never. More importantly, Saints Row doesn’t take advantage of its open world properly. Yes, GTA-ing about is more fun than ever, but there’s simply nothing compelling to be found by exploration. There’s no bite sized side missions or collectibles that I gave a damn about – sex dolls just weren’t my dude’s thing.
THE BLACK EYED PEAS EXPERIENCE
And oh what a divine experience it was. Barely edged out by Dark Souls, this Kinect title had the stuff of legends. Liscensed celebs bringing the hotness? Check. A lagging motion sensor that mirrors your robo-tripping state? Check (you mean you aren’t robo-tripping?). A family friendly title that teaches your children swear words? Check. I’m shocked that XBOX Online only gave it a 7.5! It would have been an easy pick if it didn’t exclude their fine slow jams. No Alive? Common!