My most loved games of 2015

When I wrote for a metropolitan newspaper, I did the obligatory “Games of the Year” write-up, which culminated in my best pick as Game of the Year.

I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m not going to decide from the games I’ve played this year (which hasn’t been as many in past years) which one is the best of the lot. What I’m going to do is tell you which games were my highlight of the year, in no particular order.

Let’s start, shall we?

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I've written about the game they star in, too.

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I’ve written about the game they star in, too.

Until Dawn: Something of a surprise hit to everyone, which is even more surprising as I can’t recall it getting a lot of marketing love from PlayStaiton. It’s also a game that I didn’t actually play until after watching a YouTube walkthrough. Yep, that’s right: I played it after watching a video playthrough. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror games and Until Dawn is a horror game, through and through, so I wanted to see how scary it was going to be. It has jump scares but it’s almost like a pick-your-own adventure where you determine the path that the characters take then they do it. Yes, it’s cliche-ridden and holds your hand at times but it’s horror done right.

BatmanBatman Arkham Knight: Probably one of the only AA titles that I really, really enjoyed this year. I’ve always liked Rocksteady’s take on Batman and Arkham Knight was no different, even if the Batmobile might have been overused too much and there were too many of those damn tank battles (those who have played it will know what I mean). What I’ve always liked about Rocksteady’s Batman series is the grittiness and the ever presence darkness that Batman is all about. Arkham Knight might not be the best in the trilogy but it’s damn good. [I’m sure someone will exclaim “But you can’t say Arkham Knight was a good game because it was broken on PC!”. Actually, I can say it was a good game because a) I played it on PS4 and had no problems  and b) it’s my list and I can have whatever games on it I like.]

life-is-strange-episode-1-0016Life is Strange: Dontnod’s episodic coming of age story about Arcadia Bay teenager Max Caulfield (with a little bit of super powers thrown in) was a bit of a slow burner for me. I played the first episode months ago, and liked it, but it didn’t capture me right away. May it was the at times cringe-worthy dialogue, but I could see it had promise and Max’s ability to rewind time to change events held all sorts of interesting propositions. For some reason or another, I didn’t start playing the second episode until few weeks ago. I finished it a couple of nights ago and I’m interested again. It was if the writers stepped things up a notch at episode two and it’s not captured my attention. Hopefully, I’ll finish the other episodes before the end of the year.

screenshot0607Everybody’s Going to the Rapture: Yes, The Chinese Room’s latest game could be described as a walking simulator because that’s what you do most of the time but I loved it for the story that it told and the emotional narrative. Set in a quaint English village after an apocalyptic event, the player has to unravel and piece together what has happened to the villagers by tracing the paths left by, I guess, their spirits that are still around the village. The story telling and emotional voice acting is what gripped me from start to finish. I didn’t care that it was slow-paced and measured. It was quite nice not having to shoot anything, either.

rise-of-the-tomb-raider08Rise of the Tomb Raider: The latest game featuring long-time video game adventurer Lara Croft is perhaps one of the best as she once again tries to find a precious artifact that will destroy the world if it falls into the wrong hands. While being an Xbox One exclusive for the time being may harm the sales of the game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is better than Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot because, pure and simple, it features more tombs to explore, and that, for the most part, is why people started playing Tomb Raider games. Rise is a return to form for the series.

What are your favourites for the year?

Forza Horizon 2 review: Going on a road trip, baby

Off-road: Where we're going we don't need roads.

Off-road: Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 2, a car game that has racing in it, has had an interesting effect on my car-mad teenage son. I’m bike-mad, he’s car-mad.

Anyway, after driving exotic sports cars around Italy – France and Italy are the  playground for this second Forza Horizon game –  during the game’s road trips, my teenage son proclaimed his future plans.

“When I’m older I want to go to Europe and rent a Lamborghini. How much would it cost to hire one of those?” he asked. “Probably quite a lot,”I told him. He contemplated for a little bit then said, “You’ll have to come with me then.” Good lad.

The original Forza Horizon never really connected with me: Maybe it was the North American setting but for some reason Horizon 2 has captured my attention and made me want to keep exploring, keep racing and keep gaining XP so I level up, win more championships and seek the final challenge. The basic premis is that you have to win the right amount of championship events to take place in the Horizon Festival’s final event.

In-car view: Perhaps the best view to drive from.

In-car view: Perhaps the best view to drive from.

As I write this, I’m sitting at level 26 (a low level compared to some of the people I’ve encountered), have raced in 32 championship events, and have had 53 collisions in one race.

Perhaps the appeal of a game like this is that I get to drive virtual representations of cars that I’ll never own, and there are 210 cars to unlock, ranging from luxury sports car, rugged 4WDs and American Muscle cars. I think, though, much of the appeal is that there is so much fun to be had outside of the racing. Just driving around brings its own rewards.

Everything you do in Forza Horizon 2 earns XP, and the more XP you earn, the faster you’ll level up: Do a nice drift around a tight corner, you earn XP; pass within a cat’s whisker of an oncoming car, you earn XP; smash a street light and take down a stop sig, you earn XP. Some  things earn small amounts of XP, others earn bigger amounts, and everytime you level up, you get to do a virtual Wheelspin which can reward you with credits or a new vehicle to add to the garage. Perks are the game’s skill tree, letting you tweak how you want XP to be earned doing different things.

Race time: each race gets you closer to the championship finale.

Race time: each race gets you closer to the championship finale.

As well as straight out race events – each championship event has four events to complete – there are also things called Showcase events, which add a bit of variety to the frequent A to B beat-the-other-car races. One of the Showcase events has you having to outrun 37 hot air balloons in a 1970s Lancia rally car. Another has you  having to sprint against a steam train. Another has you  having to beat a squadron of fighter jets to the finish line.  They add excitement to things and a touch of style.

The  game’s Bucket List, too, is a nice  diversion from all the racing, letting you do things like drive a luxury sports car like you stole it or have to gain the fastest speed through a speed zone.

Horizons 2 looks gorgeous, too, with the car’s appropriately shiny, European architecture and wide open fields, but I have to talk about the ambient weather effects and the day/night cycle. They are, in a word, amazing, adding immersion to the game. The sky goes dark and thunder booms overhead when a storm is approaching, clouds blackening with moisture. Rain drops splatter windscreens, streaked by wipers. Sunlight blooms and rainbows appear when the rain has gone. Playground Games has done an outstanding job.

The game’s makers say that Forza Horizon 2’s drivatars, which populate the game world, are based on the driving styles of real-life Forza Horizon players. All I can say is I pity those other FH2 players who have the misfortune of running into me on the roads of Europe, especially when I first started playing.

If you saw an Ariel Atom race car driving erratically through fields, slamming into trees, and generally slipping and sliding all over the roads, it was likely me.  In fact, I can probably guarantee it’s me.

Something that was frustrating about the drivatars, though, was that on the moments when you drove to the next region – the game’s road trips –  they turned it into a race, meaning at times several of them would collide with each other. I lost count the number of times a drivatar would race past me, pull in front then slam on its brakes, forcing me to crash into it. Perhaps  future DLC for the game should include a virtual insurance company to ring?

It’s testimony to how good a car game is – and Forza Horizon is an outstanding car game – when it grabs the attention of a gamer like me – one who isn’t a huge car game fan – and won’t let go. Forza Horizon 2 grabbed me after the first race – despite the cheesy, non-skippable intro sequence that just seemed a little forced – and I’m hooked.

And for Xbox owning car racing fans, this is a no brainer. It’s gorgeous, it’s huge, and it’s fun. Isn’t that what a car racing game should be?

Forza Horizons 2 is a game that will  capture your imagination, cajole you into racing one more event, and won’t let go. It’s set a very high bar for other car racing games to come close to. The challenge has been set.

It’s now up to other car racing games to accept the challenge.

Xbox NZ kindly supplied a digital copy of Forza Horizon 2  for this review.

One game trailer has me contemplating the CE edition – but it’s how much????


The latest trailer for The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt has me wishing it was 2015 now: That’s when CD Projekt Red’s third game featuring Geralt of Rivia is due.

I’ve posted the trailer on this post. Watch it and tell me you’re not impressed. Apparently it’s in-game footage. If that is the case, then the current generation starts with that game (what I call the current generation means Xbox One and PlayStation 4).

The new trailer is also the reason I’m seriously considering getting the Collector’s Edition, even though it’s $300 in New Zealand. Yes, $300 and I think EB Games is the exclusive retailer for it. To be fair, I’ve got $288 credit at EB Games so it’s not really going to cost me much overall, and I’ll likely get the PC version if I get it, but that’s an insane amount to be paying for collector’s edition.

If I didn’t have the EB Games credit I wouldn’t even be considering the CE edition and frankly, I can’t understand how the NZ version of the same package costs so much more than the Australian version: It’s $AU199 for the PC version  as opposed to $279 in New Zealand. How can EB Games in NZ seriously justify this pricing? It just seems unjustified. If only I could use my NZ EB Game credit on the EB Games AU site!!!

Perhaps someone at EB Games will read this and post a reply.

Pricing aside, if I do get the the CE edition it’s the figurine of Geralt battling a griffin (its in the image below) that has me interested.

CD Projekt’s Red’s head of studio Adam Badowski has this to say about the polystone collectible: “Behold, the Collector’s Edition of The Witcher–over two kilograms of the most badass monster slayer, ready to bring your desktop figure collection to a whole new level.” Here’s what’s in the CE edition: All the contents from the standard edition of the game – A giant, 33 x 24 x26cm (10”), 100% hand painted, Polystone figure of Geralt of Rivia battling a Griffin – An exquisite, collector-grade Witcher medallion – A one-of-a-kind SteelBook™ box – A two-hundred-page artbook, containing breathtaking art from the game – Huge outer and inner Collector’s Boxes you can store your Witcher merchandise in!

That's what I call a collector's edition: a polylstone figurine of Geralt of Rivea slaying a griffin is the centrepiece of The Witcher 3's collector's edition. I want it now.

That’s what I call a collector’s edition: a polylstone figurine of Geralt of Rivea slaying a griffin is the centrepiece of The Witcher 3’s collector’s edition. I want it now.

And if I don’t spring for the collector’s edition, I’ll look at getting a digital version straight from I got an email today telling me I could pre-order the game for $AU80.99 – and while it doesn’t come with a badass polystone figurine it comes with a tonne of extras. I’ll contemplate over the next few days.

I’ve played the previous two Witcher games and while not totally taken with the first, I enjoyed the second but didn’t finish it: I just couldn’t find the time. And I’ve actually just re-downloaded in on Steam in anticipation for The Witcher 3. The Wild Hunt.

It’s out on February next year. Finger’s crossed I can wait that long.