Archives for posts with tag: Games of 2015

The pressure was surely on. After some missteps with Halo 4, and in the wake of the disastrous launch of last year’s series celebration The Master Chief Collection, 343 industries had quite a bit too prove. Seemingly against all odds, that’s exactly what they’ve done with Halo 5: Guardians.

The rebuilding is thorough. Here we have a campaign comprising eight playable characters across two four-person squads, that takes place across multiple planets playing host to expansive environments populated by dozens of enemies. Multiplayer showcases what was always great about Halo – tight arena gameplay, equal starts, on-map pick-ups, and balance, balance, balance! To that end, gone are Halo: Reach and 4‘s equippable Spartan Abilities, replaced by a suite of standard abilities that every player always has at their disposal, meaning you always know what your opponents are capable of.

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The most visible of these is a directional dodge that you can use to quickly boost a few meters, even changing direction in mid-air, and coupled with a Titanfall-style clamber you can use to quickly climb over everything in the environment to get the drop on your foes. There’s also an incredibly powerful melee charge, a quick slide, and, most interestingly, stabiliser jets that will keep you in the air for a few seconds when you zoom your weapon, and with a bit of momentum behind you, can even be used to extend your jumps. If you’re feeling particularly gutsy, you can also aim a jet-powered ground pound at enemies below you, at the cost of hanging in the air for a few seconds while it charges up. Halo has always been a relatively mobile, vertical shooter, and these new abilities continue that tradition while adding a number of new wrinkles to the much-loved golden triangle of guns, grenades and melee.

All of this added mobility also informs the level design. Campaign spaces are the densest, most intricate environments the series has ever seen, with multiple paths through, over and under, with tons of hidden areas for you to wall-charge through to find an advantageous overlook to perch on. Wider levels also make use of your squad members, who can be ordered about with a single, contextual button press. Want them to pick up a specific weapon? Aim at it and press up on the d-pad. Want them to take up position on a gun emplacement, jump in a vehicle or focus fire on a certain enemy? Same deal. It’s simple, clean and elegant. Best of all, the AI won’t get in your way; while they’re competent enough, they aren’t going to complete the game for you, and if you’d rather not have to worry about them, those slots can always be filled by real human friends in four-player drop-in, drop-out co-op.

Then there’s Warzone, 343’s new 12v12 PvP plus PvE-ish mode. Taking place on huge maps with multiple objectives to capture, AI enemies and super-bosses to clear out, a typical Warzone match quickly descends into utter chaos as players get access to better weapons, vehicles and power-ups. This is where the Req system comes in, selectable cards that work much like Titanfall’s burn cards – use them once and they’re gone, die immediately after spawning with a shiny new power weapon, and yep, it’s gone too. This mode is certainly not balanced in any sense of the word, but then it’s not supposed to be. It’s gloriously insane Halo sandbox mayhem.

Blue Team's Kelly

There are some chinks in the Mjolnir armour, of course. The narrative could certainly use some work, and while I’m planning on writing a more in-depth piece specifically about that, character motivations are the first casualty of the expanded cast. While there’s plenty of in-mission banter, there are no real character moments in the cutscenes, which exist solely to push the story on at the expense of giving players someone to latch on to, empathise with, and thus contextualise the story through. Enormous, galaxy-changing events happen in Halo 5, but the delivery sometimes falls flat.

In gameplay terms though, Halo 5 is utterly sublime. The new additions to character movement, the adherence to a strict 60 frames update, and the fantastic, intricate level design all come together to offer perhaps the tightest Halo gameplay we’ve seen in years – it just feels so damn good in the hands. When you’re jumping, boosting and clambering through huge environments scoring headshots left and right as you soar through the air, before dropping a ground pound on an unsuspecting foe, Halo 5: Guardians is a triumph.

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Steins Gate

Steins;Gate, PS3, PS Vita

Originally released on Xbox 360 in Japan back in 2009, this wonderful visual novel finally made it to the UK this year on Vita and PS3. Steins;Gate stars teenage student Okabe Rintaro, the self-proclaimed insane mad scientist of Akihabara, as he sets out to create the world’s first working time machine in the summer of 2010. Of course, things don’t exactly go to plan.

Okabe is a wonderfully nutty eccentric. Going by the pseudonym Hououin Kyouma, he founds the Future Gadget Laboratory to further his mad scientist dreams of bringing chaos to the world, telling anyone who’ll listen of his apparent paranoid delusion of being chased by ‘The Organisation’. In reality, he’s got a really bad case chuunibyou. Although, you know what they say, just because you’re paranoid…

He finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy through space and time, doing all he can to fix the timeline he inadvertently messed with, and he’s joined by an equally engrossing cast of characters, including his childhood friend Mayuri Shiina, his right-hand man Itaru Hashida, and the new girl in town, aloof overachiever Kurisu Makise. Then there’s Suzuha, the mysterious ‘part-time warrior’, the cat-eared maid café waitress Faris NyanNyan, the quiet, unassuming Luka and the ‘mail demon’ Moeka Kiryu, nicknamed Shining Finger by Okabe for her prodigious emailing talent.

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On the surface, these characters might sound like archetypes, but they’re far more than that; each has their own opinions, desires and beliefs, and each of them is more important to Okabe than perhaps even he will admit. Steins;Gate is a lengthy game, with a single playthrough taking upwards of twenty hours, as well as six endings to see, so it helps that the cast are such an engaging lot. When you finally put the game down, you’ll feel like you’ve lost a group of friends.

Though it seems like pretty standard anime fare on first blush, Steins;Gate can be pretty heavy-going, both emotionally and conceptually. This is a science fiction story, and while it takes plenty of liberties, it certainly doesn’t skimp on the theoretical physics, with plenty of lengthy discussions about the theoretical possibilities of time travel, or theological ruminations on the existence of the human soul. And of course, being set in Akihabara, it has its fair share of nerd-culture callouts, even if some of them are purposely obscure or camouflaged (I’m sure everyone can figure out what ‘Gunbam’ is, however).

Steins;Gate also goes to some seriously dark places, especially in some of the endings, which can be incredibly bleak. There’s also a lengthy section about halfway through the game that almost feels designed to emotionally break the player, but the game would be weaker without such inclusions. Steins;Gate spends hours building up its characters and getting you to care for them, before savagely deconstructing them in front of your eyes, only to offer possible salvation by jumping back in time and trying again. It might be a cliché to say that the experience is an emotional rollercoaster, but you’ll certainly want to get everyone to some semblance of a happy ending.

Kurisu

Put in the time, and you will. It can be pretty hard going at times, but Steins;Gate offers a compelling story and a fantastic cast of characters, and it’ll make you laugh, cry, cringe and smile. Sometimes all at once.

splat

Splatoon, Wii U

Splatoon was grabbing attention right from its announcement. Coming as something of a surprise in Nintendo’s 2014 Digital Event, here was a new IP from the makers of Mario that looked like nothing else glimpsed at E3 that year. Looking like the bastard offspring of Jet Set Radio and Fur Fighters, Splatoon almost feels like a lost Dreamcast classic and sees Nintendo embracing the online shooter, yet doing so on its own terms. In Nintendo EAD’s latest game, you don’t shoot bullets, you fling brightly-coloured ink; you don’t die when you lose to an opponent, you simply get splatted. Where other shooters delight in the spray of claret, Splatoon sees you painting the world with glorious glossy globs of neon-coloured ink.

Of course, everyone knows what Splatoon‘s all about by now, right? Short, sharp three-minute rounds of 4-on-4 multiplayer madness where all that counts is how much territory you’ve claimed once the time is up. You claim that territory by pasting it in the aforementioned shiny goo, the coverage changing by the second as each team tries to paint as much ground as possible. Switching to a squid form allows you to swim through your own ink at speed, which can be used to evade or get the drop on opponents, and even swim up walls to reach higher ground if those walls have been splattered first. Usefully, the much-maligned GamePad shows a live, eagle’s eye view of the map, easily enabling you to see where your attention is needed and launch yourself to a team-mate’s side. The daily two-map rotation may irk, but those quick, fun matches (and the even quicker matchmaking), combined with the regular free content updates, keep the ‘one more go’ factor going until you’ve lost hours bringing life and colour to the world.

Splatoon Inkling Stay Fresh

When talking about the game, it’s generally these Turf War battles that take centre stage, but Splatoon‘s best kept secret is that it’s actually one of the year’s best platformers. Yes, Splatoon has a single player mode, and it’s really good! Set across five ‘worlds’, each with a small handful of separate levels and topped off with a fun boss fight, it’s not the longest game in the world, but it’s fantastically inventive despite its brevity, running at around five hours across its 27 levels and five boss stages.

Where multiplayer is all about inking territory to win, Splatoon‘s single player mode offers a set of platforming and combat challenges, with the odd bit of light puzzling thrown in. You’ll find yourself navigating narrow paths and making timed jumps across vertiginous platforms, often under fire from enemy octolings, and the designers delight in upping the complexity level-by-level, mixing up the formula by introducing new things to throw your ink at, like those pesky sponges that you can expand to create makeshift platforms, but will also shrink under enemy fire, often sending you plummeting to your doom.

All of this comes to a head in the boss battles. They’re of the typical ‘hit the weak spot three times’ template, but they manage to test your grasp of the mechanics introduced over the course of the proceeding stages and provide a decent challenge, at least until you figure out the rhythm to them. The game’s final boss though, certainly tests your reflexes and decision making, and it’s one of the most memorable encounters I can remember in recent years. In truth, it’s more of a boss stage, with the multipart battle taking place across a lengthy level, throwing all manner of mayhem at you and giving you precious little time to pick a target. It is intense. Seriously, when you finally beat that last boss, your hands are going to ache (and not just from gripping the GamePad).

Splatoon Sunken Scrolls

The game may not be all that long, but hunting down all the hidden Sunken Scrolls will take some time.

Looking back at that E3 2014 reveal, it’s interesting to see how Splatoon showcases a younger generation of talent at Nintendo. Its lengthy unveiling in that first Digital Event was led by the three young creators, Producer Nogami and dual Directors Amano and Sakaguchi, as they talked us through the design process behind the game. And if it feels like Splatoon has the punkish edge of a turn-of-the-millennium Dreamcast classic, it still retains all the hallmark polish and solidity that typifies the best of Nintendo.

In recent years, some have wondered whether the company’s reliance on development legend Shigeru Miyamoto may be stifling the creativity of young, up-and-coming developers, while others still have complained about the company’s reliance on well-established IP like Mario and Zelda. Splatoon seems purpose built to dispel such worries, showcasing what Nintendo’s younger talent can do when allowed the freedom to create what they want. Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend that we’ll see continued on NX.

Oops. I’ve done it again, haven’t I? Rest assured, this blog hasn’t been abandoned, I’ve just been incredibly lazy recently. I’ve got some stuff ready to go, though – four GOTY 2015 articles, and then a couple of specific pieces that I’ll put up in the coming week. For now, I’ll post one of the GOTY pieces a day, starting today, with…

Ori and the Blind Forest, Xbox One/PC

You could tell Ori and the Blind Forest was something a bit different from the moment it debuted on Microsoft’s stage at E3 2014. As the trailer played, hundreds of lights winked into life, filling the auditorium, and we knew this was something a bit special.

The debut game from Moon Studios, a developer of no fixed abode made up of a team of individuals scattered across the globe, Ori is a true labour of love. A ten-hour platform adventure where no two pieces of scenery look alike, everything is hand-crafted with exquisite care, and you can really tell that this is a game that Moon Studios – led by ex-Blizzard cinematic artist Thomas Mahler – have always wanted to make.

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We’ve seen a grand revival of the 2D platform-adventure/Metroidvania genre in recent years, owing largely to the booming indie scene, and it’s understandable that some might be starting to feel a little bit of fatigue. If you’re a fan of the genre, however, you owe it to yourself to play Ori – it’s one of the best Metroidvanias the genre has ever seen.

Of course, a platformer lives or dies on how it feels, and here, Ori excels. The best platform games are those that make it a joy to simply move through the world, and it’s clear from the start that Moon Studios understands this. The controls are utterly sublime; there’s the perfect arc of Ori somersaulting through the air, or scrambling up a surface for a second before you execute a wall-jump. There’s the pixel-perfect air control that enables some of the most challenging platformer gameplay we’ve seen in recent years, and with abilities like Bash (which allows you to slingshot Ori off of enemies and projectiles), there’s plenty of opportunity to chain together multiple moves to soar through the air for minutes at a time. Who wants to stay on the ground, anyway? Besides, sometimes it’s literally lava.

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And then there’s the presentation. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the most visually-striking games of the last few years. It’s almost as if the renowned Studio Ghibli decided to create their own platform game, with beautiful, hand-painted fantasy backdrops, and incredible, hand-crafted animations that bring the world and its characters to life. Coupled with a gorgeous, subtly-melancholic orchestrated soundtrack (with occasional, beautiful vocal pieces from Aeralie Brighton), it’s clear that Moon Studios put Microsoft’s financial backing to good use.

The result is a resolutely hardcore, old-school platform-adventure with a thoroughly modern, utterly sumptuous audio-visual presentation. Where the franchise goes from here is currently anyone’s guess – though we are getting an expansion at some point in the future – but one thing is clear: Moon Studios are certainly a team to keep an eye on. If you have the opportunity to play Ori and the Blind Forest, don’t hesitate.