Yes it’s very late, but it’s here now: my top five games of last year, with choices sure to really annoy some people. But it’s my list, and I’ll put what the hell I like on it. LET’S DO THIS.
Yes I’m putting a no-longer-available free teaser for a cancelled game on my game of the year list, and it’s for two main reasons. First and most important is its quality; for a free teaser that uses one hallway and two rooms P.T managed to create the most effective horror atmosphere and longest-lasting scare I’ve ever got from a game. Seriously, Lisa is something that haunts me to this day, not just from her horrible jump scare, but from her constant presence throughout the teaser- she’s always around, but she’s not always willing to just kill you and get it over with. Elsewhere the imagery crammed into the short run time was constantly effective- the fetus, the fridge, the radio; it does what full-length, full-price games can only dream of doing. The second reason is that it deserves to be remembered, no matter how hard Konami tries to squash it. It’s a piece of art made all the more important to history by the circumstances surrounding it, and it’s a bloody good time. Unfortunately unless Konami say otherwise it’s gone forever, so if you’ve got it installed on your PS4, keep hold of it- of all the games I played last year, it’s the one that stuck with me the most, something I can’t say for so many other horror games.
2. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Yeah, yeah, I know: £40 demo, right? Except it’s not though. People went on about how this was a quick cash grab and a paid demo but frankly if Ground Zeroes is a paid demo, then so is Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, and people bloody love that. Plus they dropped the price before release, but anyway, moving on to the actual game. Sure Ground Zeroes was intended as a prologue to 2015’s absolute beast “The Phantom Pain”, but it actually works really well on its own merits. It re-invents Metal Gear Solid in a way not seen since MGS2 (gameplay wise I mean), even more so in fact. It’s new smooth, fluid stealth gameplay is still a joy to mess around with now, its map was a good warm-up for the huge expanses seen in TPP, and its short, tight story of Big Boss infiltrating not-Guantanamo Bay was harrowing, bleak and a beautiful prologue for what was to come. Its side ops were all fun and made good use of the same map, and overall it actually felt like something Kojima had put some time and effort into, rather than just a prologue chapter cut from the start of TPP. You could argue it should have been included in TPP, but for me it works best the way it is. It’s a good, short story that sets up everything in TPP, it tided me over and as a game, as a separate release, I enjoyed it enough for it to easily have a place on this list. Also it has a beautiful use of Joan Baez and Ennio Morricone’s “Here’s to you”, which is always a good thing.
3. Wolfenstein The New Order
This was something of a surprise, all told. On the run up to release I was intrigued by its setting and story, but suspected that it could, like a lot of games, go completely wrong when I actually got my hands on it. An update of a classic (indeed, THE classic in this case) first person shooter with an alternate history story, I imagine a lot of people would have been satisfied with The New Order being decent, or at least not shit. Well that wasn’t enough for Bethesda, who gave us the best first person shooter single player campaign I’ve played in a long time. It mixed old school fun with more modern shooter sensibilities and somehow managed to gel the two together nicely, its story was given the drama and gravity it required along with a genuine human element, and B.J Blazkowicz was reborn as a weary, beaten-down soldier whose quiet, desperate narration of events and surprising sense of humor made him seem like an actual person on top of his super-human qualities; a man with an almost-all consuming hated of Nazis, whose main skill is killing Nazis thrown into a world where the Nazis won World War II. Great gunplay, great story, absolutely worth checking out. Also it’s given me hope for the new DOOM game Bethesda’s making.
4. Shovel Knight
(Note that while I did play the original PC release of Shovel Knight in 2014, I didn’t finish the game until I played the Xbox One version this year, so this will be based on my experiences with that)
Shovel Knight is a beautiful game, and I say that as someone who never owned a NES, and has no real nostalgia for that general era of games. That’s how strong the art style, music and gameplay are; they all come together to create an amazing platformer that had me glued to the telly from start to finish. It’s fun, it’s challenging, it has a great sense of humor and it manages to pack in more genuine emotion than every game David Cage has ever made combined. The ending had the same effect on me as the ending of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1, though they were tears of a decidedly more positive nature. So moving is the end of the game, and so well crafted is the journey preceding it that even though I beat it this year I felt compelled to put the original version on this list. It can be frustrating, as is the nature of the games from the period this emulates, but it’s a balanced, satisfying game with a great story that really needs to be experienced. Roll on whatever Yacht Club Games is doing next, and hopefully we’ll get a sequel to this beast at some point.
5. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle
I don’t tend to review fighting games, as a rule. I enjoy them a lot, but I have no real technical skill, nor can I critique the systems within them beyond a very basic level. I did feel able to review this though, as even by my standards “All Star Battle” is a rather simple fighting game (you can hammer square to let off a full combo that leads into a super, and perform an ultra with one button press). What it excels at, however, is being a JoJo game. Based on the manga of the same name and its currently on-going anime adaptation, it has the characters, the moves, the arenas, the style and it all works brilliantly. It does have problems, namely that it needs more arenas and its story mode is crap, but if you’re a fan of either the manga or the anime, this is an absolute must have. What it lacks in complexity as a fighting game it makes up for by lovingly re-creating the JoJo universe with care, effort and pain-staking detail. It’s fantastic as a piece of fan-service, and I’m looking forward to the same team’s next JoJo game, which I really hope gets localised (it currently only has a Japanese release date).
6. Assassin’s Creed Rogue
Unfairly swept aside as “The other one” due to being a last-gen counterpart to AC Unity that used the AC4 engine, AC Rogue actually turned out to be easily the most interesting and one of the best games in the entire series. It’s the only game to let the Templars have their say, and it shows them in a lot more reasonable light than before, to the point where it’s actually made me switch sides. Gameplay wise it was basically just AC4 but set in AC3’s world (with new areas, mind) with a few new features, but it’s the story that’s the stand out. Misguided, selfish Assassins, brutal, ruthless Templars and good people on both sides, it’s genuinely interesting, gripping story in a series where the narrative always seems to fall short of something to just keep the action going. I get the feeling they won’t, but Ubisoft really should continue with this as a series; games made by Ubisoft Sofia that let you play as Templars. They’d be a damn sight more interesting than just going through the motions with boring Assassin after boring Assassin. This, AC2 and AC4 represent the bench mark for the series, a sign that Ubisoft can make great games when they put their minds to it.
By James Lambert