The year is nearly over, so the customary thing to do in the gaming world, is looking back on all that you've played, and recall your absolute favorite experiences. I'm not really looking for this as a definitive list, or to promote arguments over what game deserves some objective status as our industry's GOTY.
Rather, I'm hoping to give you fellow Polynauts an excuse to discuss the games that grabbed you the most this year. It can be a specific moment you loved in a game, a brief summary of why X game is great, a list of your favorite games, or to bring attention to an more obscure game you think deserves a deeper look. Maybe your loving description of a game will get others interested enough to try it. So post your games below, even if you want to just highlight your personal GOTY.
To get things started, I've enjoyed quite a few games this year myself. So I'd like to list a few to share why each resonated with me, and maybe get some of you to look into them. I'll format mine with a brief description, listing 10 favorites counting down to my #1 favorite experience.
10. Guacamelee! Gold Edition: It seems there is no end to inventive indie platformers, and this one is great for how it balances the combat with platforming. I haven't played a 2d game that meshes traversal and combat so well, with most of your fight moves doubling as ways to keep your character moving into the air to get past hazards. You're also a luchador complete with various grappling moves, including a very effect aiming throw that never gets old. Diverse enemies, inventive level design, and a dose of humor that involves being polymorphed into a chicken, is what you can expect from this game.
9. Don't Starve: This game proves to me that Klei Entertainment isn't a one-hit wonder with Mark of the Ninja, and that they're willing to go outside their comfort zone. Instead of fast-paced action, you're instead greeted with a slower paced survival simulation. Like FTL, this is game takes the drama of rogue-like perma-death, and makes it accessible through well done randomization that makes you want to explore. Even if you die, the game plays out so differently that the lost of progress doesn't feel like it matters, as the real meat of the game is the fun of exploration, the tension of surviving in it, and the fairly robust crafting. Never before I have been so happy for a game that has a hunger meter.
8. Rogue Legacy: Yes, here's another game that makes the rogue-like experience more accessible, and does so through something both ingenious and hilarious: lineage. When you die, which you will, you will pass on the resources you gained to improve your stats, buy armor/weapons, and gain new abilities. This creates a very enjoyable loop, which encourages you to continue because you don't lose everything, and still get a heavy dose of challenging randomization that is exciting and unexpected each time.
7. Sang-Froid - Tales of Werewolves: Now this game also doubles as my most underrated of the year, or just unknown, because barely anyone I've talked with has even heard of it. This is likely the most Canadian game you'll ever play, with you controlling some very manly lumberjacks against the forces of the devil (clue: includes lots of wolves). The experience plays out as an odd mix of tower defense trapping, survival components, action-y combat, and RPG progression. What amazes me is how well it all meshes together, where you begin each day with a top down strategy view, see the areas where enemies will spawn, and plant your limited number of consumable traps. During the night you control your main character, equipped with an axe that relies on a stamina meter, a gun that takes significant time to reload, traps you have to lure enemies into, a fear mechanic to deal with overwhelming numbers, and a talent tree system for augmenting your abilities. There really is nothing quite like it out there at all, and the folk-esque music happens to be great too.
6. Gunpoint: As a person who now works as a paid game designer, I am jealous that Tom Francis was able to pump this out as his first game. Why? Well because this game is both strikingly unique, and yet incredibly well executed. Gunpoint's main innovation is the ability to rewire electrical components in a given level, and use that to gain entry to your objectives…often through manipulating guards. You also have some handy underpants that let you leap in an arc on top of people, and some light decision making. The writing is fairly witty, the soundtrack jazzy, and importantly it is perfectly paced to not outstay its welcome.
5. Skulls of the Shogun: I've always been a turn-based strategy game fan, and they've enjoyably made a comeback in recent years. I see this happening for two reasons: better visual/auditory feedback for your actions, and more intuitive interfaces for newcomers to pick up and play. Skulls of the Shogun is another example of this, forgoing the slower clunkier tile selector for movement in favor of a ring-based radial range system, utilizes smaller amounts of troops, limited base building, and not too many unit types. Trust me though, that doesn't make the game shallow, the unit restrictions force you to manage them better, and add emphasis to range and healing. Each level provides a new challenge to you, or just a new way to play, all coated in some charming humor about being an undead samurai commander.
4. Company of Heroes 2: Even though I'm starting to feel that the 1st game might be superior, more Company of Heroes is better than most other games, regardless of genre. Some may not like the WW2 setting/aesthetic, but don't let that dissuade you. No other RTS plays like it, the battlefield is just as important as you customizable troops, the new weather and line of sight mechanics afford more surprise tactics, and resources through capturing points on the maps avoids turtling. Even if you're losing, there are multiple ways to turn the tide, and they all rely on your ingenuity and skill. While it is a bit difficult to pick up at first, there is so much satisfying depth to the experience, that it's more than worth taking time to learn.
3. Shadow Warrior: This game came out of nowhere for me, easily my surprise title of the year. In the last few years, I've been disappointed in AAA shooters, largely disliking the majority of their push towards constricting cinematic design with regen health behind cover. Shadow Warrior skews that by clinging to old school design, focuses more on high-speed dodging than hugging cover, and utilizing a channeling spell to recover partial heal, along with medpacks. The real meat of the experience though is the sword…easily the most engaging weapon I've used this year. That sword is living proof that first-person melee can be amazing, and on its own elevated this game to something great for me. It is the most visceral, balls to the wall fun I've had this year.
2. XCOM: Enemy Within: My 2nd favorite game last year again reclaims the title by just adding more greatness to a game that was already amazing. This expansion takes flaws of the original, and instead of removing them, fixes them through new mechanics and systems. Meld encourages players to take more risks and keep pushing forward, leads to new units that are both fun and needed later on, a human faction that you have to deal with, and base invasions! New levels add much needed variety, and are built to facilitate all the new features. The expansion retains the solid foundation, and builds on top of it to become an even more satisfying experience that I've dumped more hours in than anything else on my Steam list.
1. Dishonored Knife of Dunwall + Brigmore Witches: Yep, my favorite game this year is a 2-part story DLC expansion. Am I crazy? Nope, I've just come to realize that as this gen closes, Dishonored was my favorite singular experience...and more of it with new enhancing features outstrips all other games. The main reason for this I've found boils down to Dishonored wholly representing what I value in video games: freedom to explore/move in the space around me, encouragement to use my mind to experiment/tinker, promotes player agency to generate a individual story, strives for immersion to ground me in a world, facilitates dynamic play through versatile tools/mechanics/systems to stay refreshing, and has stellar execution down to basic controls. The level design in the main game, and continued on in the DLC puts most other games to shame, while still supporting a variety of ways to play. As I move through a space, I don't feel overly restricted because the devs want to script out their pre-written story in my face, but rather present a world for me to find it through interaction...content to respect that I am a player, not a follower.
Honorable Mentions: Divinity: Dragon Commander, Tomb Raider, Monaco, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Spelunky, and Antichamber.
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