1. This War of Mine (PC)
I needed to reach the end of my game before I could safely say this is the best game I’ve played this year. It’s a simple survival sims, but it captures so much of what it’s like to be a helpless civilian caught in the middle of a pointless war, or so I imagine. Yet that’s its strength, that it effective communicates an experience like no other, and it does so interactively.
The sheer grind of scrounging for wood to heat your shelter through the winter, the difficult decisions to starve for just a little bit more so the food will last longer, the agony of wondering if we should loot that helpless elderly couple for their supplies. This game isn’t fun in the traditional sense, but it reaches emotions that are rarely explored in the medium, and does so with grace and authenticity. For this, it deserves my vote.
2. DreamQuest (iOS)
“Don’t be afraid to eat the squirrels”
It’s perhaps to its credit that the game doesn’t track hours played, because I’m fairly certain my phone exist mostly as a dreamquest machine right now. A sublime blend of two highly compelling gameplay systems (deckbuilding and roguelikes), the game has consumed all the stolen moments in time between life. Waiting for the bus; play dreamquest. Idle moments at the bar; play dreamquest, lounging between dives; play dreamquest. Drowning out relatives constant droning; play dreamquest. The art is horrible yes, but only goes to show that strong game design can often trump the superficial need for the graphical arms race.
3. Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)
Who would have thought Wolfenstein would provide a thought provoking meditation on the nature of war and its cost. That a game that features Nazi moon bases, clockwork robotic dogs and Nazi mad scientists engineering the end of the world would be a establish real human characters. That the name BJ Blaskowicz would invoke a soft-spoken, soulful man caught in a war of regrets. Apparently Machine games did. I haven’t wanted to play through a single player FPS like this since the original half-life, and this is so much more.
“Right now, it’s going to be loud.”
4. Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4)
This was always going to be on the list somewhere. DAI is the game Bioware was destined to make. Expansive open worlds to explore, secrets to uncover in every nook and cranny; A large cast of characters that joke, cajole, fight, and codex entries that could cover an entire series of books that George Martin will take the better part of a century to write. I hope the next Mass Effect takes its cue from DAI. Few game studios ever create worlds and stories like Bioware does and DAI is a showcase at just why they are top of the RPG game.
“Cassandra greatly approves”
5. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)
I struggled a little with the 5th entry on this list, trying to decide between games like Dark Souls II, Alien Isolation, or Legends of Grimrock II. In the end, Shadow of Mordor wins out with one simple reason; the Nemesis system. When it first announced, I wondered how they would do it, I wondered how it could even work. And now that I’ve played it, I think it has finally ushered in the age of next-gen gaming. It’s not graphical wonkery, nor technical mastery, it’s design
The rest of the game is a serviceable hodgepodge of gameplay systems, married to an incredibly trite story, set in world that is a little too bland. Kudos to the team though for not thoroughly defiling Tolkien’s world building which some had feared early on. It’s a shame that Mordor itself has to be the dark serious gritty brown world of brutal violence and ancient elven ruins instead of something more interesting.
On the other hand, I really like that the world existed beyond the player’s presence, with its wildlife, orcs and ghouls all reacting against one another.
Yet it’s the nemesis system that will inspire games to come, and I hope to see the future where it isn’t tied to just Orcs, but perhaps mafia dons, Templar Agents, assassin targets, et al.
“You have to visualize your goals”
The Godfather Award
1. Android: Netrunner (LCG)
I still go to a game almost every week. I can’t help it. They release a new pack every month or so, and a big box every half a year. There are new card combos to try out, new concepts to build around, (My fave of the year being the Social Justice Warrior deck) new games to play, and often, new friends to make.
Few games are ever alike, (apart from the those bastards playing NBN Astrobiotics.) and each is a contest of wills, maths, and lies. There’s nothing the tension when a game can hang in a single click, or the high when your glory run connects, or the joy when your janky combo actually fires that one time.
I’ll probably be playing this far into 2015 as well, so expect to see it nominated again next year.
“Last click, Run.”
1. Alien Isolation: A good job on bringing back the survival space horror genre, with a great AI to anchor the entire system. Shame about the pacing, the repetitive key hunts, and those last few sections.
2. Dark Souls II: It felt more like DSII was made by a bunch of talented forgers trying to ape what Dark Souls did right, but it missed out a lot of the secret sauce that held the original Dark Souls together.
3. Legends of Grimrock II: It charming to get back to the fundamentals of the dungeon crawl, even if I had to do it one step at a time.