It feels like every year for the last few years, it’s been fairly easy to say, “This has been the best year in games!” With a market that’s filled to the brim with releases weekly, it’s no wonder that we see more great games coming out now than a decade or so ago. Amidst a sea of microtransactions, lootboxes, and games as services, developers have been crafting truly remarkable and innovative experiences, and it’s a great asset to look at these creative bits of design and learn from them. This isn’t a list of my favorite games of the year – that will be coming towards the end of December – but all of these games are ones I would wholeheartedly recommend.
Video game genres are numerous and multi-faceted. There are a staggering number of them, and so many of them share characteristics and can be mixed and matched to make truly unique experiences. Recently, I watched a video by Barry Kramer of Game Grumps explaining, as a smaller part of the video (which you should totally watch anyways), how video games are different from other forms of media because there is an advanced vocabulary used to categorize them. Gamers can understand a bit about a game without even playing it or researching it simply by knowing a few terms like “platformer” or “roguelike.”
In the last year, I’ve spent a good amount of time being enthralled in visual novels. I always enjoyed a great story in a game, and puzzle games are some of my favorite games to play, so it seemed only natural to be drawn in. However, as I played more and more, I begin to see a lot of similarities with a genre I was not as fond of: adventure games. I became curious as to why I enjoyed one type of game over the other, but it soon became clear that visual novels are simply the adventure games of a new generation.
Long time, no see.
It’s been a while since I last spoke, and for good reason. See, I’ve mostly lost my passion for this blog, and I don’t want to write some half-baked pieces. I know I promised a three-part Why Story Matters saga for my triumphant return, but that isn’t going to happen any time soon. With my final year of high school wrapping up, I’m hard-pressed for time. I want to give that trilogy the time and work it deserves. I want it to be my best work yet when it comes out.
This post is a year-long work in progress. Over the course of the year, I’ve been collecting my thoughts on all of the games that I played. I planned to do this from the start of the year. I almost forgot, had it not been for my good buddy ThatPlatinumDude and his recent post about his top 5 games of the year. So here’s mine. Be warned, not all of the games were released this year, and this list reflects my opinions of the games I played this year.
Very few games strive to be hard these days. With an era focused on storytelling and gameplay, developers tend to makes games easy enough so that a large audience of people can enjoy them. However, that leaves much to be desired in the way of real challenge. Games like Dark Souls have brought back the idea of a difficult yet rewarding experience, and it seems indies have also taken heed of this idea. Titan Souls is a breath of fresh air in a sea of over-the-top action and filler content. There’s very little else to what the crux of the core gameplay has to offer, but what that presents is a truly addictive and challenging experience that is bogged down only by my plea for more.
This past weekend was one of the biggest weekends in gaming for the consumers. The Penny Arcade Expos have been going on since 2004, and they’ve only grown since. Starting in Seattle, before expanding to Boston, Massachusetts in 2010; Melbourne, Australia in 2013; and San Antonio, Texas in 2015. Tens of thousands of consumers from around the globe come to see the latest AAA and indie games, meet internet and game development personalities, attend panels about all things gaming, and to buy exciting merchandise. This year was my first game convention, and it was certainly experience. Crowded walkways, long lines, and booths and merch as far as the eye could see adorned the Boston Convention Center last weekend. Though I could only attend Sunday, I played a multitude of games, and even got to discuss them with their developers. Here are the games that stood out to me that I played.
As I’ve discussed the game before, I won’t go into too much detail on it. You can read more about my thoughts on the game here. However, finally playing the full game’s demo was… different. It was as amazing a game as I thought it would be, and it controlled absolutely brilliantly. The challenge was much higher than the Ludum Dare version, as I played the Hard Mode, which kicks up the difficulty of the Titans. However, I couldn’t get quite used to using an Xbox controller in the short amount of time I had to demo the game. As I had played previously with a keyboard and mouse, aiming the arrow was foreign during my short playthrough. However, I know that once I pick the full game up in April that I will be able to go back to my keyboard and mouse habits or take the time to learn using a controller. Talking to Mark Foster, the sole programmer on the game, was an absolute blast. He was incredibly passionate about his project, and discussing design choices and changes from the Ludum Dare build gave me an even greater interest in the game.
The only AAA game I decided was worth my time, Splatoon was absolutely worth the wait. Nintendo’s foray into the competitive shooter genre perfectly keeps with the fantastical and childlike feeling you get when playing any of their other games, while also being a ton of fun and open for adult play. The controls take a bit of getting used to. Tilting the Gamepad to aim up or down feels strange, and it will definitely take some getting used to. The right analog stick would have worked fine, and I hope there’s an option to use it in the full game, but I will most likely become accustomed to it if necessary. The gameplay was simple enough, but also the right amount of unique to keep things interesting. The pace seems a bit slow, but I’m sure it was just my time with the demo. Covering the ground in paint and swimming around as a squid felt fluid, and the variety in weapons and gameplay styles really felt fresh. Shooters these days have a very hard time defining classes (besides Team Fortress 2), but I can definitely see a varied meta forming from this game and community. It seems like Nintendo’s next big game to play with friends and strangers alike, and I’m completely stoked for it to come out this May.
We Happy Few
I have made it abundantly clear that the Bioshock franchise is possibly my favorite series of all-time. Its atmosphere is what instantly hooked me in, and its story, gameplay, and characters are what kept me there. Compulsion Games have decided to satiate my hunger for that same atmosphere with their new game titled We Happy Few. The game is set in the town of Wellington Wells, an idealistic, future-past 1960’s city. The inhabitants of Wellington Wells have gone through some unknown tough times, and so they’ve resulted to using a drug called “Joy” that places them into an enthusiastic state of mind, content with whatever life throws at them. This drug is in everything, from bottles around town to the drinking water itself. You play as a user of Joy who has woken up in an underground bunker as the only self-aware citizen of the town. It’s up to you to escape the island, finding supplies, crafting, and getting through town unnoticed. You must walk among the Joy-ridden citizens and sneak in and out of houses without them realizing your awareness, or else they’ll get violent. Sometimes you will even have to take a bit of Joy to get by unnoticed. Taking Joy makes the world brighter and happier, but taking too much results in an overdose that will leave you knocked out for a few days, waking dangerously close to death. Wellington Wells’s futuristic historical setting brings direct thought to Rapture and Columbia from the Bioshock games, and it’s very easy to see the inspiration. A first-person action game set in an idealistic, bright-yet-somehow-dark city pulls direct ties from the famous shooter. However, the developers are carving their own path as the survival aspect of the game is the main point. Finding supplies and crafting are necessary to keep your hunger, thirst, and health up. Staying alive and escaping is the key, and so you need to upgrade yourself while remaining under the radar.
I was able to talk to Whitney Clayton, the art director at Compulsion, while I was waiting in line to play. The game is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s only in pre-alpha state. The bright lights and colors contrast (coincidentally the name of Compulsion’s first game, a light-based puzzle platformer) with the gloomy and eerie sense given off by the city’s architecture and weather. Her work on the game is indispensable, as is the rest of the team. They wanted to do something very different from their last game gameplay-wise, while still having the same distinct historical feeling. From what I played, they hit the nail on the head. I cannot wait to try this game out, but unfortunately it’s a long way from being finished. However, I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for it later on in the year.
Last, but certainly not least, is one of the games I was most looking forward to seeing at the show. Six months ago, I was browsing Imgur, a popular image sharing website, when I came across a post titled “Still slaving away on my multiplayer indie game!” There were only three GIFs of the game, but I was instantly hooked. The game looked moody, atmospheric, and action-oriented, but what caught me most off-guard was the art style. The game takes an overhead view through a black and white thermal satellite camera, and something about it was mesmerizing. It blew me away and I couldn’t wait to see more of it. Fast forward six months, and I hear it’s coming to PAX East. I immediately set out to play it. Once I got to the Devolver Digital booth and played a session of it, I sat back for a second to take it all in. And oh boy, did the game meet the hype I’d set for it.
Set in a future of darkness, you must survive among other humans and giant monsters alike. As 2D, top-down multiplayer survival horror game, Noct attempts to pull RPG and arcade elements into a genuinely creepy adventure. Alone in the dark and open, you must keep your hunger, thirst, and health up by scouring for materials in the procedurally-generated world for food, guns, ammo, and materials to keep you alive. As the darkness descended on Earth, so did some extremely frightening creatures. From giant spiders to hulking unknown beasts, nature is a constant threat to your safety. A multitude of deadly creatures haunt the dark world, so keeping yourself aware and armed is a must. The game is being made specifically for multiplayer, so humans are an entity all of their own, as well. Who you trust is a life or death decision, so one must decide whether journeying alone or grouping up is best in their current situation. And as I said before, the art style is absolutely gorgeous. The thermal camera idea itself sets the atmosphere of the game. There’s a constant fear of the unknown that genuinely creeped into me as I was playing, and horror games rarely phase me. I was always attempting to be careful of where I was going, specifically because of the monochrome perspective. From tight corridors to veiled forests, there was an unnerving and eerie feeling emanating from the game that enthralled me and kept me exploring.
One of my favorite parts of seeing the game, however, was actually talking to the lone developer himself and getting insight into the actual creation of the game. Chris Eskins of Toronto, Canada began creating the game after an idea in his group of friends came up. The friends were fans of the popular ARMA 2 mod-turned-full-release DayZ, which tasks players with a similar objective of surviving in a decimated world against nature and humans alike. The friends got to talking one day about a game like DayZ that they could play together that was a bit different. Chris got to making a prototype, and slowly he put more and more into it until he showed it to his friends. While it was only was made for them to play, Chris’s friends encouraged him to show the game to the world and keep making it bigger and better. And so he decided to post some pictures and such to Imgur. After getting a small bit of exposure, Chris posted a few GIFs and decided to open a Kickstarter to fund the game. His Imgur post went to the popular page as people started really loving what he had, and soon after the Kickstarter surpassed its goal, gaining over $36,000 CAD. A little while after, he partnered with Devolver Digital to publish the game, and now here we are. He’s still working hard on the game and hopes it can live up to all of the hype people have set for it.
When I brought up the art style, he said that when he started making the game, he really wanted the art style to be unique. It seems Chris and I are very similar, because for him, a game doesn’t have to have mind-blowingly compelling gameplay to interest him. A unique art style is all it takes to capture his attention, and so the idea for the thermal camera piqued his interest. As my story proves, I didn’t even have to know about the interesting gameplay to want to play Noct. Chris also said that the art style itself came before the ideas for giant creatures. He really felt like people weren’t enough of a threat to the player, and he wanted an environmental hazard that would constantly be after you. With such an eerie feeling, deadly and genuinely creepy monsters were the obvious solution to him. While he hopes to finish the game as soon as possible, Chris was adamant to say he was very close to being done. However, that’s completely understandable, and I certainly can’t wait to see what he has to offer whenever the full game releases.
PAX East 2015 was an absolutely amazing experience. While being my first year, it certainly won’t be my last. I can’t wait for next year, and I cannot wait for all of these amazing games and so many more to hopefully release in the coming months.
I am sorry. I really am. I was working on an actual post that I’m excited about, but then new info was released for this game and well… looks like I’m procrastinating it another week. But until then, let’s talk about possibly my most anticipated game of this year that I’ve been excited to see for a while now. Minimalist games are very hard to work with, in my opinion. It takes a fine detail to make pixels expressive. Now, imagine a game that combines the melancholic, solitary, and grand feel of Shadow of the Colossus with the extreme difficulty of Dark Souls. That game is going to exist this year, and I can’t wait for it. That game is Titan Souls by Acid Nerve.