Starting this month, USgamer will highlight the best games released over the past few weeks. This month brought with it a monstrous new IP and a brand new entry in one of Nintendo's most popular franchises, but the USgamer staff was ultimately more impressed by the story of a girl and her sword and a shooter that went back to its roots.
Editor's Choice Award: Transistor
Supergiant Games' sophomore effort dazzled us with its terrific combination of music, sound design, and depth this month. It's not a stretch to say that Transistor is a superior effort even to Bastion, which was an admirable achievement in videogame storytelling but lacked the sort of depth found in Transistor.
As Jeremy wrote in his review, "Despite the utter linearity of the quest - even the interactive story points that other RPGs would turn into character-driven choices give you a single mandatory option here—Transistor presents its freedom, its role-playing, through the combat system."
Not quite an action game, and not quite a turn-based RPG, Transistor skillfully weaves together elements of both with combat that engages the mind while still being fast-paced and exciting. The seemingly simplistic customization likewise proves its depth with an interesting mix of primary, secondary, and passive skills, encouraging plenty of experimentation in the quest to find an optimal build. It sits right in the goldilocks zone of RPGs—not too difficult but not too shallow either.
Over the course of the adventure, Transistor pulls together various elements of sight, sound, and interaction to tell a thoughtful and emotional story of a girl and an AI. As with Bastion, it's a compelling example of how to use the medium's strengths to craft a story that hits a variety of emotional chords. After two outstanding efforts, we can wait to see where Supergiant Games goes next.
Runner-up: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order is almost diametrically opposed to Titanfall. Where the latter is entirely focused on pushing shooters ahead with a supremely well-crafted multiplayer experience, the former looks back to its roots with a terrific single-player campaign.
You know a shooter is doing interesting things when Jeremy has nice things to say about it, as he did in our What We're Playing feature a week ago: " I feel like this genre suffers from something akin to the music industry’s loudness wars, pushing gamers into a constant frenzy of high-energy action and failing to offer sufficient respite. In that sense, Wolfenstein plays like an early '90s shooter, and it’s satisfying in the same sense as listening to a great early ‘90s master of a good rock album: You get both the highs and the lows, and both have greater impact for the contrast."
Jaz was a bit more ambivalent about what he considers to be cheap deaths and a silly inner monologue in his review, but he appreciated its ambition: "Ultimately, Wolfenstein sets out to go big, and it certainly does. Perhaps too big, as its flaws all seem to stem from the game simply needing a little more time to finesse – and perhaps it being too much for the team to fully do so. But, in the end these flaws don't overly tarnish what is otherwise a bloody good shooter. While it'll occasionally make you groan, and might sometimes make you want to hurl your controller across the room, in the (rather anticlimactic) end, Wolfenstein's enduring memory is one of glorious guts and gore, magnificent vistas and maleficent villains, spectacular set pieces and a storyline that’s epic in every sense of the word."
In a genre that emphasizes brain-dead "setpieces" and painfully linear design, Wolfenstein comes across as a real breath of fresh air, even if its not the most polished game in the world. It's a game that knows its roots, and is simultaneously self-aware enough to maximize its silly but enjoyable setting. Frankly, we need a lot more shooters like Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The Best of the Rest
May ultimately had a nice little selection of games to choose from ahead of E3. The biggest, of course, was Watch_Dogs, which has already sparked plenty of debate in the gaming commmunity. Jaz really liked it. Maybe you do, too?
With its simplistic graphics, Super TIME Force may have flown under the radar for some of you. Our reviewers liked it, though Jeremy admitted to being unsure whether it had reached its potential: "There's so much potential here, yet STF ends right as it starts to come into its own. It feels very much like a game caught between its run-and-gun origins and its more intricate ambitions; the straightforward level design just doesn't offer a sufficiently devious playground for the complex interplay and capabilities afforded by the time travel mechanics. "
And of course, there was Mario Kart 8, which offered a surprisingly fresh take on a very old formula with its winding, multi-dimensional tracks. It's fun to play as ever, even if it still hasn't caught up with Diddy Kong Racing in terms of vehicle selection. Where's our airplanes?
That's what we're playing after this month. Feel free to share what you're playing in the comments below, and get ready for E3! It's going to be a wild one. Or if not wild, then at least very telling about the future of the medium.