Hi, all. I’m Liam, and I’m the weird one here. I’m the guy who thinks Rayman Origins is the greatest looking game ever made, and that Waluigi is the best character in the Mario-verse. Do with that what you will. We’ve reached that point in the year wherein everyone scrambles to declare a GOTY (Game of the Year), or at least a selection of games that have managed to outshine the rest in what has been a pretty strange year for videogames as a whole. As Tyler pointed out, it’s fairly likely your own personal GOTY list won’t line up with our respective Top 5s, and this is especially true with me. I can’t afford/don’t want a “next gen” console, mostly because I can’t justify that kind of money to play the latest sequel to a game I’ve already played over and over again on older hardware. As such, you’ll find no flashy next gen shooters or Assassin’s Creeds on my list, not because I have anything against those games, I just find most of my gaming time is now dominated by the smaller, weirder corners of the PC market. That, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Simply put, I liked oddball games that try something new and interesting, or those that try to capture what made us fall in love with the classic games of yore (the 90s). Agree or disagree with any of my choices? Why not tell me about it in a polite and engaging manner, and we can all have a Merry Christmas. In a ramshackle, unspecified, but undoubtedly particular order:
5.) The Banner Saga
It’s easy to forget about games that were thrust upon is in the awkward post-turkey month of January. I missed out on The Banner Saga when it first came out, despite it being just about the most me game you could ever make. A tactical, turn based RPG set in a Norse inspired fantasy world, featuring real, tangible choices and a Mulan-esque art style? I think Stoic Games might have been reading my mind on this one. The Banner Saga did something most “choice based” games failed to: it actually made you feel like your decisions impacted the the world around you. Every choice, be it major or minor, impacted someone or something, but not in a cheap “do a bad thing and get horns for it” sort of way. Do you let a drunk clansmen stay with your party, despite his negative effect on everyone else in the caravan? Do you kick snotty Prince Ludin from your main fighting party, even though his skill with a spear generally outweighs his overwhelming pomposity?
Although by no means perfect (combat could have used a little more depth, and the whole thing seems to end rather abruptly), The Banner Saga delivers on its promise of hard hitting decisions and clear-cut tactical gameplay, both on and off the battlefield. If you’ve been disappointed with BioWare’s most recent efforts for not allowing for great amount of narrative manipulation, The Banner Saga is something you really ought to be playing.
4.) Escape Goat 2
I couldn’t very well write a GOTY list without including a GOATY now could I? Although I enjoyed Goat Simulator, I appreciated like it I do a baby eating chocolate pudding or the first two thirds of The Phantom Menace: it’s an awkward, adorable mess. The best goat game of the year is most certainly Escape Goat 2, a tricky, punishing puzzle platformer all about fast thinking and faster reflexes. Bright, beautiful and brutal, Escape Goat 2‘s difficulty curve is more like a difficulty trampoline, but the adrenaline rush one gets for solving one of its dastardly puzzles is worth every ounce of effort.
It’s smart, punishing, and has one of the best soundtracks of the year (eat it Game Awards), there’s very little at fault with Escape Goat 2. In a genre that has reached a point of saturation, Magical Time Bean’s sophmore effort stands above its contemporaries as a slick, superbly engineered genre classic. Escape Goat 2 is puzzle platformer porn. But not goat porn, that would be disgusting.
Bastion is one of my favourite games of the past five years. I loved its unique approach to telling an emergent narrative, and although it was probably the weakest aspect of the game, I still thoroughly enjoyed its fast paced, weapon-focused combat. Where Bastion really shone though, was in its production values. Call me a hypocrite, but sometimes, if a game looks and sounds beautiful, one cane easily overlook a lot of the things a game does wrong. The same thing happened with Supergiant Games’ second effort, Transistor, an utterly gorgeous cyberpunk game with a similarly haunting soundtrack.
Although Transistor all too often relied on vague pseudo-sci-fi terms to push its narrative along, it was still an intriguing game to play, and its strategic, combo based battle system was truly inspired. The whole thing plays out like beautiful, flowing ballet, only with giant talking swords instead of Tchaikovsky. They might not always get everything 100% right, but Supergiant Games is a unique and passionate force in the games industry, and Transistor more than proves that.
2.) Broken Age
Tim Schafer’s studio Double Fine Productions has come under fire recently, most notably for their fairly shady release of Spacebase DF-9, and for generally taking on more projects than they can complete. I was even unsure of whether I should include Broken Age on here, what with it technically only being half finished at this point. But that’s just how good this game is; it so perfectly blends modern game design and sensibilities with classic 90s adventure games, gorgeous art work and an all star cast, it almost doesn’t need to be finished.
The game’s writing is as sharp as an arrow, its two leads (and secondary players) give wonderful performances – simultaneously tragic and hilarious – and everything is encompassed an all at once strange yet familiar brand of sci-fi/fantasy surrealism which lands somewhere between Adventure Time and Logan’s Run. Some games make you sad, some make you scared, others make you laugh or smile – Broken Age manages to do all four and more.
1.) This War of Mine
It couldn’t really be anything else. In an age where AAA games seem to be trying to out-power fantasy each other, I have the utmost respect for any developer who dares challenge conventional concepts of “power” in videogames. Amnesia, Spec Ops: The Line and Among The Sleep, have all experimented with vulnerability, and Spec Ops in particular managed to blend said vulnerability with important “moral” choices (who are we kidding, that game has no morals). Unlike those games, though, This War of Mine is oddly addictive and re-playable, in spite of its positively ghastly subject matter.
Set in an Eastern European warzone, This War of Mine is a blend of simulation and stealth games, one wherein survival is the only goal. The game pulls no punches, takes no quarter and throws some of the most heartbreaking choices your way in order to test your metal. This War of Mine is certainly not for everyone, but it’s a unique and harrowing experience, one that expertly blends systemic storytelling and gameplay.
It might not mean much, but congratulations to 11bit Studios, you made this weird kid’s favourite game of the last three hundred and sixty five days.
Close but no cigar: