Vancouver-made video games captivate and kick butt
Vancouver’s video-game industry is a bipolar beast. In one sense, the past year has been terrible. California-based Activision, the owner of Radical Entertainment, ceased game development at the studio. Rockstar Vancouver was closed outright by its owner, New York’s Rockstar Games. And there were the usual seasonal and end-of-project layoffs at the other studios making games for consoles.
But, at the same time, some amazing games were released. Here’s our look at the best games made in Vancouver in the past year.
Best open-world game
Sleeping Dogs (Square Enix)
Set in a scintillating Hong Kong, this game feels like a John Woo action thriller. Players have the run of the city, traversing it in vehicles and on foot, parkour-style. Simple and effective combat control is enhanced by well-designed missions and smooth animations. Playing Sleeping Dogs was the most fun I had this summer. Having rescued their game from a cancellation order courtesy of Activision, the developers at United Front Games also deserve recognition for being the most tenacious studio in town.
Best sports game
NHL 2012 (Electronic Arts)
Since NHL 09 locked up the hockey-simulation category for EA Sports, the games have seen steady improvement. Last year’s edition raised the bar again, not due to a new mechanic or gameplay innovation, but because of who the game allowed you to become. For the first time, hockey legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Mario Lemieux became playable characters. Also, you were finally able to create a female character.
Best space game
Not content to just work on the real-time strategy games they’re best known for, the folks at Relic Entertainment stretched their wings with this third-person shooter featuring the Ultramarines of the Warhammer mythology. The result is raucous and bloody combat that’s fluid and full-on fun.
Best action game
Max Payne 3 (Rockstar)
Rockstar Vancouver may be only a memory, but before the studio folded it gave us the momentous Max Payne 3. It tells the story of a broken man who’s trying to come to terms with the terrible things he’s done and the shell of a person he’s become. This third game in the franchise is most notable for how it repeatedly reminds players that their character—constantly under the influence of drugs and alcohol—is lucky to be alive.
Best social/mobile game
Big Win Hockey/Big Win Soccer (Hothead)
Blending the worlds of collectible sports cards and the basics of fantasy sports-management games, the Big Win titles from Hothead Games are simple, fun, and addictive. You create a team of players who exist as virtual cards, then send them into action against other teams from around the world. You can improve their skills and give them performance boosts using other cards—all acquired using virtual currency, which can be purchased using real money. First developed for iOS, both games are now available for Google Play.
Best reinvention of a game franchise
SSX (Electronic Arts)
Snowboard cross was invented at Whistler by a couple of TV producers who needed to fill some airtime. Since those days in the early ’90s, it’s become an Olympic sport. Even skiers, who back then didn’t get along with snowboarders, have taken up the idea of having groups of athletes race each other on the same track. And just as the sport embodies the spirit of invention, so does the video game—first developed and recently reimagined at EA Canada—which marries real-world geography with superhuman feats of snowboarding.
Best 2-D platformer
Shank 2 (Electronic Arts)
A quickly iterated sequel, Klei Entertainment’s Shank 2 maintains the pulp-inspired script and artwork of the first game, but improves on the mechanics of that first side-scroller in almost every way. And while the cooperative story mode was jettisoned from the game, it was replaced with a more rambunctious two-player survival mode.
Best browser-based game
Glitch (Tiny Speck)
It may have moved back into beta, but in the past year, great advances were made on Glitch, the quirky game envisioned by Flickr cofounder Stewart Butterfield. Apps for iOS and Android that let Glitchers play with their characters and connect with other gamers while on the go have been released, and some feature redesigns have been completed. In a recent blog post, Butterfield said the full game is nearing a rerelease.
Best iOS game
Shellrazer (Slick Entertainment)
In this captivating side-scrolling title, you control a gigantic war turtle on which you can construct a cannon and other weapons. Keep progressing through the game and you can unlock healers, blacksmiths, and many types of ammunition. It’s all to fight the goblins, of course, who attack you with ground forces and in their infernal flying contraptions.