With E3 just around the corner and an inevitable slew of new games to check out, we thought it was a good time to take stock of the year so far, and talk about your favorite game of 2015 at this point.
Which game has really captured your imagination - or maybe there hasn't been anything that's really caught your fancy. Either way, we're interested to hear what you have to say.
Here's what the USgamer team has nominated as their favorites of the year so far.
No question. Axiom Verge.
In fact, nothing I've played all year comes close. The appeal of Axiom Verge doesn't come from its retro-style graphics or the way it riffs frequently on one of my favorite games ever; it's the fact that that none of these things are done haphazardly or for superficial reasons. Instead, everything this game does, it does in service of creating a better game, a better experience. It all is in there for a reason, and I really appreciate that.
At the same time, I love the fact that it goes back to the primal origins of a genre to rethink how that style of game should work. When most developers create a metroidvania, they tend to simply swap the graphics and layouts of the genre's masterpieces and retread familiar territory. Axiom Verge presents players with an unconventional feature and skill set, reintroducing the element of surprise to a style of game that often feels content to iterate on a masterpiece from 1994 ad nauseum. This adventure digs even further into the past to find inspiration, and as a result of its reaching into history it comes up with something new and unique.
And finally, there are all those glitch effects. They're not just there to be cute or gimmicky; they speak to a shared experience between game creator Thomas Happ and anyone who played the same old NES games he did and saw Mario glitch out into junk data because a bit of dust obscured the cartridge contacts. Axiom Verge turns that collective memory into a game mechanic. Really, the question for me isn't why it's become my favorite game so far this year; the better question would be, how could it not?
Ooooo. This is a tough choice for me. On the one hand, Axiom Verge is just brilliant, while on the other, Project CARS has been taking up more than its fair share of my gaming time.
But then again, if truth be told, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is by far my most-played game of 2015, but I can't include it on this list because it was released at the back end of last year, so it doesn't count. So back to Axiom Verge and Project CARS to try to choose between the two.
Axiom Verge is a simply superb game. It's a metroidvania if you aren't familiar with it, and it's an absolute gem of one at that. One-man developer Thomas Happ has poured years into what is clearly a labor of love, and the end result is a game that is beautifully paced, brilliantly designed and packs plenty of mystery and intrigue. It's a fantastic arcade adventure - as they used to be called back in the day - that looks and feels like a classic metroidvania, but despite treading what seems like familiar ground, still manages to be interesting and surprising.
Project CARS is obviously a completely different beast - it's a hardcore racing sim that looks absolutely gorgeous, and boasts a wealth of different tracks. And despite not having quite as many cars as the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo, still manages to be interesting because its vehicles are so varied, ranging from hot hatch road cars all the way up to high-end Le Mans Prototypes, and with everything between, from GT and open-wheel cars to karts and historical racers.
It's not a perfect game - it does have a few bugs, and despite making plenty of concessions in terms of assists, it's still a hardcore racing game that can be fiendishly difficult to drive, especially in its variable weather conditions that include torrential rain - but its racing action is as visceral and realistic as anything else currently available on any console.
So which one should I go with? I think Project CARS just edges it for me, simply because I'm such a huge racing fan. But man, Axiom Verge is still an absolute peach, and I'm betting that by the end of the year when Project CARS' addictive charms have worn off a little, I'll probably nominate it my game of the year.
It took me a while to button down all the games I played this year, but Colossal Order's city simulator is probably the game I've dropped the most hours into. SimCity was such a terrible disappointment and it looked certain that no one was going to pick up the crown. I should've realized that something was up when I interviewed Paradox Interactive's CEO Fredrik Wester and he mentioned that he would like to do a "hardcore city-builder".
Cities: Skylines is that hardcore city builder. Is it perfect? No. It lacks a compelling endgame and some of the services could definitely be tweaked. But the core of what was released to retail is so damn solid that it blows SimCity 2013 out of the water. It's still focused heavily around transportation like Colossal's Cities in Motion, but they've reached far beyond what they've done before.
Want to play offline? Rock out. Want to mod the game? There were a hundreds of mods available a few days after launch, but now there are thousands. New maps to build your cities. New buildings, new traffic patterns, a first-person mode, a Sim-Copter-style viewpoint. The mod community is doing amazing things and integration into Cities: Skylines is seamless and painless.
This was the SimCity we all wanted and it just keeps getting better.
There have been a number of worthy games; but alas, I haven't gotten to the best of them yet, like Bloodborne. Axiom Verge, believe it or not, didn't really speak to me. I recognize its brilliance, but I might just be burned out on Metroidvanias. I'd like to say Darkest Dungeon, but I'm hesitant to highlight an Early Access game. So I'll just go with the game that I nearly awarded a perfect score — Pillars of Eternity.
In my review at the time, I wrote, "Pillars of Eternity is more than an appeal to nostalgia; it's a rich RPG in its own right, boasting enjoyable combat, a strong story, and masterfully paced quests. What flaws it has — poor pathfinding A.I. and a Stronghold that feels somewhat derserted — are comparatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Right now, its biggest problem is a surfeit of bugs, which seem endemic to Obsidian's RPGs. Ignoring all that, though, Pillars of Eternity is enormously entertaining, and may end up making a strong claim to being one of the best RPGs of the year."
I still believe that, though Witcher 3 may end up making a strong challenge (we'll see!) I'm just really impressed by the craft that went into the design, the sharpness of the pacing, and the sheer amount that there is to do in the world. You can tell that Obsidian has been itching to make a game like Pillars of Eternity for quite a while; and given the opportunity, they've made the most of it.
I suppose that speaks to my desire to play a great RPG over anything else. More than anything else, I just wanted a great party-based game to sink my teeth into. Pillars of Eternity offers that for me.
As for whether it's the best game of the year so far, I think that title might actually go to Bloodborne based on the buzz that it's generated, but I'll reserve judgment until I've actually had a moment to play it. That's the tyranny of being a game reviewer: Sometimes even the best games end up falling onto the backlog while you're busy with something else (cough, MLB: The Show, cough). But out of everything I've played, Pillars of Eternity is still my favorite.
It’s been a rough year for me and games. When I asked myself this week’s community question, all of the games that came to mind are still in Early Access. Bummer.
So because I obviously can’t go on about my awesome Killing Floor 2 co-op experience or the crazy things I’ve crafted with my friends in Don’t Starve Together --two games I highly suggest you give a whirl if you enjoy co-op survival-- then I guess my next option is Life is Strange: Episode One.
You play the role of Max Caulfield, an 18 year old high school senior who’s typical in every adolescent way. Oh- except for her unexplained ability to travel through time! Life is Strange: Episode One is an interactive drama adventure game where player choice takes center stage. Events unfold before you, you make a choice, and you advance down the plot tree, one way or another. Think, Heavy Rain, but instead of getting stuck with whatever crappy choice you made, time travel allows you to rewind and make another. The time travel feature is so cool. It made me wish all the story based adventure games I’ve played before it had it. Then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten stuck with the bad ending in Heavy Rain (see the pic to the left).
The feel of the plot and characters is very WB supernatural teen-drama. Think, Vampire Diaries or Veronica Mars. The dialogue is rather unnatural and characters are stereotypical, but the overall story is compelling enough to make you crave more. If you don’t enjoy adventure games that are more about the narrative than the actual gameplay, there’s nothing I could say to convince you Life Is Strange is a game for you. If you you’re looking for a good story to sink you’re teeth into, this is my first recommendation. Look out for the pop-culture references. Bueller?
I’m going with an early access PC title called Reign of Kings. It’s a game that a friend gifted me, then hounded me to download for a solid month before I finally gave in about two weeks ago. If you’ve never heard of it, think base-building, crafting and survival, only your base is a castle and the goal is to claim a throne and rule the land amongst a server full of other players. I’d watched some gameplay on YouTube before installing it, but honestly had no clue that I’d like it, let alone sink 60 hours into it during the first half of May.
When you first spawn into Reign of Kings you have a wooden club and a cloth that acts as your only article of clothing. From there you have to gather resources, build a crest, and claim some land. You’ll spend hours mining stone and iron, then crafting building blocks that will act as the bricks that make up your home. From a construction and creativity standpoint, it’s not that different from Minecraft.
While most people tend to get lost in the base-building and resource gathering, the point is to claim the throne, then hold on to it from the onslaught of people who will no doubt think they can do a better job as ruler. There are public executions at the gallows, breaking into a rival guild’s base, or even smashing it to the ground with a trebuchet attack.
It’s not a flawless game by any means, but even in its infancy it’s managed to develop a big following. If you do decide to look into it (which I suggest you do), try to find a server that is private and features role playing. You haven’t lived until you’ve been chased around the land by a three foot dwarf wielding an eight foot sword, and all because you stole his prized duck feet.