Bronze: Lost Planet 3 by Spark Unlimited
Lost Planet 2 was not good. For some reason, they went all-in on co-operative play and said "Hell no!" to characters and story line. I didn't really like the first Lost Planet either but it seemed like a earnest first attempt and it did look amazing when it first came out back in 2007. Above all else though, I just did not enjoy the way these two games played. The movement was overly sluggish, the weapons didn't feel very powerful and neither game was very good at spicing up the gameplay.
Lost Planet 3 is by far the best Lost Planet game to date. Perhaps that doesn't say much but Lost Planet 3 finally taps into the potential that the series has had all along. The story is surprisingly well delivered with interesting characters, a good script and solid voice acting. The action no longer feels particularly ponderous the way the first two games did, Lost Planet 3 felt much more like a contemporary shooter with satisfying weaponry to boot.
I am sure hardened Lost Planet fans will look at the new game and call it garbage right away, without even giving it a chance. That's okay, we will leave those guys alone. However, if you are looking for a straight forward third-person shooter, where you get to blast away at big aliens, then you might want to check out Lost Planet 3. There is still plenty of room for improvement but it is good to see a good game in the Lost Planet franchise, finally.
- Ross Hartley
Silver: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag by Ubisoft Montreal
From the word go I was ready to completely dismiss Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's existence. After the bitter disappointment of the highly anticipated Assassin's Creed III, everything about Black Flag turned me off. The first being that it was called "IV" despite it looking completely ancillary to the Assassin's Creed franchise. And second it looked like it was just taking the boat stuff and blowing it up to encompass the whole game. While it's generally the case that Black Flag feels like the least Assassin's Creed-y entry in the franchise, that turns out to be its greatest strength. It generally disregards the main super serious future framing narrative that honestly went way to far up its own ass, and instead uses that to create a strikingly clever and sharp commentary on the development and marketing aspects of the game industry that was simply a treat to experience.
More importantly however is how markedly better the overall design of Black Flag is. The actually level design encourages stealth play better than any of the previous entries, which is a good callback to the original game's origins. But the biggest change is how interconnected every aspect of the game is. Side missions now from hunting to heist-like warehouse stealth missions to rooting around for collectibles feed back immediately and recognizably into establishing a path to making either you or your boat better. A sense of player-driven gameplay progression is something that this series has been lacking, and Black Flag does a great time in making that matter for the first time in the franchise's history. Indeed, Black Flag overall does a great job in making me care about the franchise again. Hopefully the myriad of Ubisoft studios that made this game use this momentum to abandon the sins of Assassin's Creed's ancestors and.move the franchise once again forward into the realm of greatness.
Oh, and also you're a bloody pirate. That's pretty rad.
- Isaac Wagner
Gold: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger by Techland
I didn't play the seemingly abysmal Call of Juarez: The Cartel, but I saw enough to know how disgraceful that game was to the actually pretty solid Call of Juarez franchise. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger though takes the franchise to the stars in terms of quality and imagination. Even though its story was fairly unremarkable, the way the story interacted and changed the level design and gameplay of every single level in Gunslinger was kind of mind-blowing and unexpected. I simply can't give this game enough credit for this, and it feels like the most forward-thinking first-person shooter campaign that I've played in many, many years because of its constant ability to leave me in awe. Combine that with a fun cartoon-y art style and its excellent gunplay, not to mention some thrilling mechanics like the dueling and bullet dodging stuff, leaves Call of Juarez: Gunslinger as easily the best First-Person Shooter that I've played this year. It's really, truly that good.
- Isaac Wagner