Good Morning games fans, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Farmville dabbler, a hardcore gamer, or a gamer gate kook, the end of the year is that special time when we look back and see what games managed to make it through the toxic grip of the industry’s incompetent publishers without completely falling apart. (Prayers for our fallen comrade, Assassin’s Creed Unity, grievously wounded in this year’s struggle.)
What follows is a list of the games that I found most satisfying this year, presented in no particular order. There were a few games I really wanted to include, but couldn’t. I had a great time with Unity, but I just couldn’t put a game so broken on my list. Much love also for Infamous Second Son, but it just got bumped by some titles that kept me coming back for more. Honourable Mention goes to Wolfenstein: The New Order, which was a great title but I didn’t finish it due to personal stuff and the second half could have sent killer bees flying out of my console or something. With that in mind, read on for my super special Top 5 this year:
Yeah, I know, I left a space on my Top 5 for a casual Popcap game that your Mum likes to play. How could it be in the running, when so many games on my list cost a trillion dollars to make a were designed in a secret lab by secret government agents.
Peggle 2 deserves all the praise it gets for being every bit as awesome as the first, and for not being Plants Vs. Zombies 2. (Thank God for that.)
I’m not going to pretend you haven’t played the first Peggle, and it’s fair to say that Peggle 2 just replicates the gameplay for a new set of levels and a few bits of DLC. It’s a testament to how good that core gameplay is that it’s still an immensely satisfying game. Peggle is great fun, and with Peggle 2 employing a new roster of Masters, complete with their own powers, musical cues and visuals, it does feel freshened. Clearly money has been spent bringing things up to date a little bit, and the whole thing has a more consistent, clearly focused look and feel to it than before. Add in that it has been so long since the first game hit the shelves, and you have a title that has been very welcome on my PS4.
Popcap haven’t skimped on the new levels, there are a lot of them and they’re all fairly well designed. As before, their are challenges and special objectives, but they have now been integrated into each level, giving you the option to complete them as you play through the game. As a result, you’ll probably clear a lot of the content in Peggle 2 faster than the original, but there’s still a hell of a lot here.
I really enjoyed this game the first time I played it, and I’m still heading back regularly for another blast. I’ll probably still be playing it five years from now, as I am the original. You can’t make games better than that.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue
Ubisoft made the unusual decision to release two major Assassin’s Creed titles this year, with Unity heading to next gen consoles and Rogue providing those poverty stricken individuals with more sense than money something to play on their Ps3 and 360’s. However, it almost feels like Rogue is the game Ubisoft didn’t want you to play. It received barely any marketing, even to the PS3/360 audience, and pre-release copies weren’t sent to reviewers. All indications were that this was going to be terrible. How wrong we were.
Truth be told, comparing the two is like apples and oranges. Unity is a new engine, new storytelling style, new gameplay feel, new everything. Rogue is a refinement of everything Ubisoft have been working on since Assassin’s Creed 3. It’d be a toss up if Unity’s game breaking glitches didn’t almost overshadow every good decision it makes. I love Assassin’s Creed so much, one of them was always going to find their way on to this list, Unity’s failing left a pretty big space for Rogue.
Rogue isn’t a new experience, it is for the most part a reskin and expansion of last year’s Black Flag. You play the part of Shay Cormac, a young Assassin who gets caught up in one of the Brotherhood’s most ambitious schemes. After the Assassin’s plans lead to disaster, Shay defects to the Templar order, and embarks on a mission to save the world from the Assassins’ unintended consequences. It’s a great plot and while Unity chose to sever a lot if its ties with the series’ continuity, Rogue revels in them. There’s a lot of fan service, but it works.
On top of that, while gameplay is mostly carried over from Black Flag, there are some great innovations related to playing as a templar. Your opponents are Assassins, which means you’re often tasked with fighting an enemy as capable as yourself. Young recruits will jump out of haystacks, drop on your from above and wait around corners for you to appear. It’s challenging, but there’s a real sense of seeing things from the other side for a change. It’s fabulous. Better yet, Shay’s arsenal of weapons seem geared to making the player approach things less like an Assassin and more like a templar. The hidden blade is still with you, but you’re also equipped with a long distance air rifle and a primitive grenade launcher. Stealth is still your best tactic, but the game is happy letting you be a little more blunt in your approach.
Rogue never quite reaches the heights of Black Flag, and it’s a very different approach to Unity, but it’s a solid, refined experience that always feels confident and controlled in what it wants to achieve.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS
Most people have dropped Smash Bros. on Wii U and 3DS together this year. That makes sense, gameplay between the two is identical and they share most of the same fighters and stages. Nintendo haven’t really gone in for multi platform titles across their handhelds and consoles before, but this is the closest they’ve ever come. However, I’m sticking with the 3DS version for this list. Firstly, because while I have spent some time with the WiiU version, I’ve only had it in the house since Christmas and I can’t speak about it’s own quirks much. And secondly, because while the WiiU Smash Bros is a great game, Smash on 3DS is a bloody miracle.
I have been raving about this game since I first played the demo. The 3DS is a very find little handheld, and Smash Bros is a great series, this was never going to be a bad game, but it has been put together with the kind of love and attention that is surprising even for Nintendo. This is an amazingly well made little game. From a technical standpoint, it is flawless. Character models and stages look clean and appropriate for the game, Things are a little scaled back from the WiiU version obviously, but it looks absolutely fantastic. The visual style is typical Smash, with a clean, not too stylised approach that lets a range of characters from very different worlds inhabit the same levels comfortable. Cartoony characters like Mario settle in reasonably well with more realistic heroes like Link, and even odder figures like Pac-Man don’t look too out of place. Unique to the 3DS version is an adjustable black outline that gives the game a slight comic book look, and helps the fighters stand out on the small screen. It’s a beautifully well thought out decision that I’d like to see more handheld developed thinking about. Better yet, the game runs at 60fps even with the 3D enabled and includes anti-aliasing when the 3D is off. Every possible step has been taken to make the game look great, and it does.
More importantly, it plays great too. It feels like Smash Bros. through and through, and with a wide range of fighters, stages, moves, sound effects, extra modes, it’s just unbelievable. Lumping this together with the WiiU version is selling Smash Bros. for 3DS short, on a home console this amount of content is expected, and handheld it is enormous. Nobody but Nintendo puts this amount of effort into a handheld game, and it’s a reminder of why the company survives in the modern gaming world.
And speaking of Nintendo…
Mario Kart 8
Oh come on, you knew this was going to be on here. Who doesn’t love Mario Kart? Only Nintendo could release the 8th game in a series, on a console comparable to eight year old hardware and have it feel as fresh and beautiful as Mario Kart 8.
The old Mario Kart tropes are all here. Mario and a range of characters from his loosely associated games are go-kart racing through a series of Mario inspired tracks. Along the way they will throw shells at each other, drop banana peels and destroy friendships because of they stupid lightning bolt that nobody enjoys. However, this time they’re doing it in HD and there’s some DLC in which Mario drives a Mercedes. Sold!
It feels weird putting games like Mario Kart and Smash on best of lists. Not because they’re bad games, but because so often there’s a sense that they don’t really qualify as new games. It’s sad that in a world of annualised titles like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, Nintendo’s restraint with their titles isn’t more respected, but it’s understandable. These are, after all, first party exclusives that usually lack a unique single player campaign. However, they are always exceptionally fell made and enormously popular multiplayer games. Mario Kart is a game that keeps me coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 maintains that. I don’t have a lot else to say except this game also has Thwomp Ruins, and if that isn’t the best Mario Kart track ever, then I don’t know what is.
Cards on the table. I’m a big fan of Alien. I know, I know, everybody loves the Aliens franchise, isn’t James Cameron great, Ripley is awesome. Shame about Resurrection. I can get behind all that, but what I really love is that original, creepy horror masterpiece, Alien. I love that it’s equal parts hard sci-fi and monster movie. I love that it takes so much influence from Star Wars in its set design and visual style and yet feels completely different. I love that it puts a guy in a rubber suit and never looks like it. I love the acting, the music, I love everything.
Alien Isolation is a perfect tribute to that film. It is, in my opinion, not only the best Alien game ever made, but probably a better sequel to Alien than any of the films that followed. It is groundbreaking in its game design and its visual style, and it is as close to perfect as any big budget video game I have ever played. I love this game.
We follow Amanda Ripley, a young engineer working jobs in deep space. Her mother, lost during the events of the first film, is a constant presence in her life despite her absence. She works in the same part of space where her mother disappeared, hoping for news. When a representative of the company comes to her and tells her they have found the black box from her mother’s ship, she joins the retrieval crew as they travel to Sevastapol station. Once they arrive, they find a station that is practically derelict. The inhabitants were in the process of dismantling the station to be decommissioned, logs scattered around tell the story of a hopeful population trying to make a life on the station before economic facts brought it down. Something has gone wrong, however. The authorities are locked down in one part of the ship, roaming bands of armed survivors control other sections, and something is working its way through the vents hunting them down. Ripley has to work her way through the station, repairing systems as she goes to find her way to the answers she seeks and get off the station alive.
The whole thing has a real Bioshock vibe to it, while being true to the universe of the film. It’s a gripping experience from the start, and when the Alien does appear, the game knocks it out of the park. Using a combination of scripted moments and very well developed, unscripted AI, we are introduced to the Alien as every bit the perfect hunter we knew from the films. The game’s Alien is a single, intelligent, learning animal that is always stalking you through the corridors of the station. Work too loudly, double back the wrong way or even spend too long lurking in the vents and you’re likely to bump into the Alien. And if you do, you’re dead. The one bright side, of course, is that if anyone else bumps into the Alien, they’re dead too. You can use that to your advantage, but if you toy with the creature too much it’ll start to figure you out and trust me, you don’t want that.
Alien Isolation is my game of the year. It’s a lot of other people’s game of the year too, and it’s so well deserved. AAA Gaming is a hit and miss affair, publishers are often cowardly and prone to play it safe, but after the disaster that was Colonial Marines, Sega needed to restore credibility in the franchise. Alien Isolation is both back to basics and very forward thinking. It is a largely linear story which tells the story of Amanda Ripley’s quest for closure, but within that it presents wonderful unplanned moments, and genuinely frightening gameplay. It looks and feels like it was taken straight from Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, but always remembers to be a great game rather that just imitating a great film. I will remember my time on Sevastapol forever, even if I daren’t go back.