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?

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture review: A different kind of apocalypse

unnamed (1) unnamedIt’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong in the quaint British village of Yaughton, the setting for The Chinese Room’s PlayStation 4-exclusive Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Dead birds lie on the ground where they fell from the sky. A shopping cart lies on its side, cans of food strewn on the road, a suitcase nearby. An abandoned car’s indicator is still flashing. A bicycle lies discarded on a side road. Lit cigarettes smoulder in ash trays. Bloody pieces of cloth lie in a rail yard. You just know something terrible has happened here. Something tragic.

It’s an apocalypse story but there are no zombies, no weapons, and no combat. Just an empty village with a very real, very human drama unfolding before your eyes. Players fill the shoes of a scientist who has come to Yaughton to find out what happened.

Central to the game are the conversations between key characters in the story, stumbled upon and replayed through wispy, glowing light: An emergency meeting in a sports hall, a chat between two old friends beside a cornfield. They are key moments that reveal, piece by piece, what happened in Yaughton and how these people spent their final hours.

They’re deep conversations, too, not frivolous chats about the weather, and it’s thanks to the writing and outstanding voice acting that I found myself invested in the characters, listening to their final words. They’re touching, heart-warming and, at times, totally heart-wrenching. One woman tells another to have a drink with an old flame. Another talks of what happened to her and her family as they tried to leave the village. A man tells the priest he has lost faith.

VillageEverybody’s Gone To The Rapture is a slow-paced game where you’ll soak in the atmosphere by listening and exploring, rather than participating in the action. Yaughton is intricately detailed, too: Half drunk pints sit in the local pub, graffiti is scrawled on a bus stop, washing flaps in the breeze. It’s as if time suddenly stopped.

There’s very little interaction from the player, apart from pressing X to open gates and play audio files via payphones, tape recorders and transistor radios from key characters that, fragment by fragment, help paint a picture of what went wrong.

There’s no jump button, either, and up until recently, apparently no fast-walk button but it seems there is, according to The Chinese Room which has blogged since the game was released that an oversight meant it forgot to mention that holding down R2 for several seconds will actually activate the fast-walk (it’s not a sprint, though).

I realised this while I was playing as, for some reason, I was drawn to holding down the R2 button at times and thought I was walking faster but dismissed it as seeing things. It seems I was right but frankly, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture isn’t a game you want to rush.

The more I was drawn into the story, the sorrier I felt for the characters and what had unfolded.  I got invested in the story. It had drawn me in. I cared about what was happening.

There’s an undeniable religious theme running throughout the game, and maybe I’m reading too much into that, and ambient sound and Jessica Curry’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack plays a huge part in creating the game’s atmosphere. Much of the time, Yaughton is eerily quiet apart from the wind, but when you near an anomaly, another event, you’ll hear faint noise which gets louder the closer you get to it.

SpiritplaygroundIf I had any complaints it would be that at times, I had no idea where to go next. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to play Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture but at one point I had no idea where I was supposed to go after exploring everything around me. Seriously, I had no idea where I was supposed to go at one point except just walk. And walk. And walk.  I’m not saying the game needs a mini-map because it doesn’t – that would ruin the immersion – and doing more exploring revealed more conversations and recordings, but perhaps a few more obvious audio cues so you know if you’re on the right track would help (it would help avoid frustration, too).  I’m currently on my second playthrough of Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture (I’m recording the gameplay footage for a Let’s Play series) and suddenly realised that somewhere near the beginning of the game I missed a vital “clue” meaning the ghostly spirits didn’t always appear for me, meaning later in the game, I had trouble knowing where to go. Blame that one on my own stupidy, not the game’s makers.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture will be dismissed by many gamers as simply a “walking simulator” and fundamentally, that’s what it is, but thanks to its touching narrative, it’s one of the most emotionally charged games I’ve played in recent memory.

The deeper I got, I could feel the emotion welling up inside as I was moved by what I was experiencing in this quaint English village where things had gone terribly wrong and while the ending left me with a few questions, the game has got me thinking about things.

Games that do that deserve to do well.