In a perfect world, we'd spend all of our time actually playing video games. But if 2014 has taught us anything, it's that our world is not perfect. And so, among other things, we must spend a percentage of our time watching loading screens.
Slowly but surely, video game developers are getting better at loading screens. First, they started adding cool artwork. Then, they started adding helpful little tips. Nowadays, they're finally starting to get really creative.
Here now, our awards for the notable loading screens of 2014.
The Functionality Award goes to...
Why don't more games follow Bayonetta's example and let us practice moves and combos during loading screens? I don't know. Get on that, other games.
The Inadvertent Humor Award goes to...
...Far Cry 4
Turns out Far Cry 4's loading screens aren't quite sold on how fascinating Kyrat really is. I think this might be one of those things that made me laugh more than it makes other people laugh, but it makes me laugh a lot.
The Oh Lord I Think I'm Gonna Vom Award Goes To...
...Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
I think I'm gonna barf just watching that gif.
The Understatement of the Year Award goes to...
Some of the tips in Alien: Isolation's loading screens crack me up. "Distractions can sometimes attract a deadlier threat. Use with caution." Oh, YOU DON'T SAY?? What kind of "deadlier threat" might you be talking about? Hmm, I'll just toss this noisemaker over here and see what…
The TMI Award goes to...
...Dragon Age: Inquisition
There's so much text in Dragon Age: Inquisition's codex that they moved a whole bunch of it to the loading screens. Cool enough idea, but it's weird how the screens will drop a 5-graf lore dump on your head, then vanish after like seven seconds. Stranger, the game will keep loading, but the screen will be black. I eventually started making a game out of seeing how much I could read before the text went away.
The Unexpected Emotions Award goes to...
...Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system wasn't the only innovative thing about the game—it had a lot of smaller new ideas, too. One of my favorites was the way the game treated loading screens. In addition to Talion's brooding face and some unexciting gameplay tips, we got little audio blurbs that provided context-free backstory on Talion, his family, and his time with the rangers of Gondor. Those little audio clips actually did a surprising amount to flesh out an otherwise boring character. My favorite is the one above, in which Talion (voiced by the quite musical Mr. Troy Baker) sings a mournful tune in tribute to his fallen comrades and his lost family. More emotions than I was expecting from a loading screen!
The Thing We Didn't Think We'd Miss Award goes to...
...Assassin's Creed Unity
Since the series began, Assassin's Creed games have always featured the same loading screen: The main character stands in a blank virtual landscape, and players can run around. It's not all that useful like Bayonetta, but it's something to do while you wait. I've always associated those loading screens with the series, to the point where I used them as a metaphor for the games themselves in my review of last year's Assassin's Creed IV. With that said, I was surprised to find myself missing them in Assassin's Creed Unity, where they were replaced by two boring rotating bars in the corner of the screen. I guess I liked desperately running toward an unreachable horizon more than I thought I did.
The Thing We're Psyched To Have Back Award goes to...
...Assassin's Creed Rogue
Happily, Assassin's Creed Rogue kept the same old loading screens as past games. It was pretty nice (weirdly nice?) to see these after spending so much time in Unity staring at a mostly black screen.
Special Recognition For Friendly Spaceships goes to...
In Destiny, you'll often be flying from planet to planet, teaming up with your buddies to go take on one task or another. The game breaks up its different sections with some neat loading screens, which depict you and your fireteam flying from place to place in your own custom ships. Well… okay, everyone kind of has the same ships, but it IS a decent place to show off your legendary raid vessel. And… okay, Destiny has way too many loading screens, and you shouldn't really have to go to the Tower as much as you do. But still. Neat idea.
Special Recognition For Rotating Spaceships goes to...
I don't know why, but I really enjoy the little spinny spaceships in Elite: Dangerous's loading screens. Probably because they're the first thing I see in the game that lets me know that the Oculus headset is in fact working, and isn't about to blast my eyes with seizure-inducing strobes. (That's never happened or anything, I just keep worrying that it will.)
Special Achievement In WTF goes to...
This is the only loading screen on this list to get its own Kotaku article, and you can't say it didn't earn it. Who the hell is this guy? Why is he wearing a hood? Is he... flashing us? And why is there a bomb strapped to his chest? It's difficult to name my favorite single thing about this loading screen, but it's probably the fact that nothing remotely like this ever happens in the actual game.
And the Lynchian Horrorshow Award goes to...
...Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare launched with some issues on PC. Among them, the fact that you'd have to re-watch loading cutscenes every time you tweaked the graphics options, which is a flagrant violation of one of The Ten Commandments of PC Gaming. That flaw combined with the often desynchronized cutscene audio to create some exceptional moments of glitchy horror, as seen in this hallucinatory freakout I captured early on in my time with the game. (Watch the whole thing.) I'd imagine some of the game's issues have been patched out at this point, but the scars this cutscene left on my psyche can never be patched.
2014 may be drawing to a close, but its loading screens will be with us for many years to come. If any of you have any other loading screens that you particularly loved or hated, I hope you'll share them below. And to all you loading screens out there reading along: We salute you. Thanks for keeping us company while we wait.