I recently spoke with a friend who we'll call Dave - because that’s his name - who claimed that playing original Xbox or 360 games on a shiny new Xbox One felt wrong in some way. That prompted me to draft this shortlist in order to debunk his nonsense theory, so, basically, here’s a select few games that I think prove Dave a wrong’un.
KOTOR released on the original Xbox way back in 2003, which, in the world of videogames, pretty much makes it an antique. It runs about as well as you'd expect and it won't win any beauty contests, but, it makes up for what it lacks on those fronts with its surprisingly in-depth systems.
Fully exploring the handful of open areas on offer is encouraged, as each location has its own distinctly unique feel and side quests. Players are given free reign when it comes to deciding how they want certain situations to play out, although it can be difficult not to stray towards the dark side when so many folks are susceptible to Jedi mind tricks or will just straight up pay you to leave them alone. Man's gotta eat.
On the surface, this 2D platformer may come across as just another Super Mario clone, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Braid, at its core, is more of a puzzle game with platforming elements.
Tim, the protagonist, has the ability to rewind time, which is essential when it comes to solving many of the game's challenges and erasing any unfortunate deaths. Tim's obsession with undoing his previous mistakes is a trait that becomes integral as the enthralling story unravels, gradually adopting a much darker tone. It’s more than a little bit Manhattan Project-y.
There's even a secret (and very difficult to attain) ending for those with the required patience and dedication, though it’s definitely worth the effort.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Before Skyrim was ported to every single device you own, predecessor Oblivion was top dog in Bethesda Game Studios’ house. It plays in much the same way as its more spritely sibling, but, despite its age, Oblivion is by no means the lesser of the two.
As you’d expect, there are activities aplenty to keep you entertained (or rather distracted) as you march (or rather meander) towards the inevitable final showdown. Guilds offer memorable questlines to anyone that happens to make contact, iconic side quests rival the main story, whilst a generous spattering of Oblivion Gates - portals to a fiery hellscape which must be closed to prevent their demonic denizens from escaping - will have you proudly pushing out your chest as the hero of the realm.
Trials’ simple, physics-based mechanics make it incredibly easy to pick up and play, but, as you progress, environments are deviously built upon to the point that they require savant levels of execution. Beginner tracks require little more than an understanding of the basic premise - get from A to B quick and clean - though before too long you're expected to pull off aerobatic manoeuvres that shouldn't be possible on a bike.
There's an unequivocal feeling of achievement to be taken from just shaving a few seconds off your best time and knowing, should he choose to embrace backwards compatibility, that Dave will never best me on the leaderboards. Isn't that what friendships are really all about?
The inclusion of a track editor increases the game's longevity by a huge margin, especially since many community creations play so well that they seemingly could’ve been designed by developer Red Lynx themselves.
Was Dave wrong to doubt the viability of Xbox One backwards compatibility? Have any of these suggestions convinced you to revisit a classic? Let us know and share your own picks in the comments below.
The recent double drop of Earthfall and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 saw an unprecedented peak of interest in frenetic cooperative action games here at PTC towers, with Sam even pitting the two against each other to see which is the better romp through an apocalyptic world for you and your friends.
The Lord of the Rings
Squint whilst playing Vermintide 2 and you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a slice of Middle-earth, rather than high Warhammer fantasy. Axe-wielding Dwarves? Check. Large hordes of repugnant enemies? Yep. Towering baddies bringing about the end of days? It’s got ‘em.
No doubt there are modders out there capable of giving Fatshark’s latest effort a Middle-earth makeover on PC, but it’d be great to see the supremely satisfying melee combat of Vermintide 2 officially melded with Tolkien lore.
Any of the franchise’s signature set pieces – the mad dash through the infested mines of Moria, the desperate battle in the woods around Parth Galen, or, perhaps most excitingly of all, the siege of Helm’s Deep – would make perfect settings for epic co-op action, plus the world is rich enough in factions and heroes for there to be any number of enemies and playable characters, each with their own unique weapons and abilities.
Aliens vs. Predator
As was made evident in the infamous Aliens: Colonial Marines, and to a lesser extent the human campaign of 2010’s Aliens vs. Predator, turning H.R. Giger’s terrifying, eight-foot-tall space ants into mindless fodder, easily knocked back and culled by puny humans, all but eradicates their mystique.
Ditching the human element in favour of Predators would make much more sense in any L4D-style iteration; not only do they have a bespoke arsenal of melee and ranged gadgetry, but, most importantly, their natural physique means they’re feasibly able to hang with the iconic, interstellar monstrosities in close-quarters combat.
Before there was the Covenant and the Master Chief, there was the Flood. Coming up against this parasitic life form in the original Halo was almost like a precursor to the L4D games themselves. Agile, deadly, and with a nasty habit of attacking in numbers, the Flood and their various forms are basically already tailored to the genre.
A campaign focussed on the Forerunners’ desperate war to stop them could be an awesome way to both reinvigorate an ageing franchise and explore some of the lesser known lore that’s only really been significantly touched upon in the expanded universe.
Plus, the Forerunners’ advanced array of technology means there’s no shortage of badass weaponry to play with. You could even have Monitors fill in if you’re short on co-op partners for added immersion.
So, those were just a few franchises we think would look good wearing a Left 4 Dead skin. What do you think of our choices? Are there any we missed that’d be perfectly suited to the genre? Let us know below or sound off in the forums.
2017 was a pretty great year for games, wasn’t it? Games like Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7 and Wolfenstein 2 were just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.
Nintendo fans are eagerly anticipating new Fire Emblem, Kirby and Yoshi titles for the Switch, not to mention a potential new Pokémon game, as well as the remastered versions of Bayonetta 1 and 2 that are just around the corner. With a fresh suite of reveals from the recent Mini Direct topping things off, Ninty look set for another strong year.
With yet more exclusives and, of course, an endless supply of multi-platform releases on the horizon, allow me to present my picks of the bunch to help focus those wandering eyes.
The Last of Us Part 2
A bit of a cheat pick straight out of the gate, I know, as it isn’t confirmed to be releasing this year, but a girl can dream, no?
I was unfashionably late to the PlayStation 3 party, finally getting one after watching a trailer for what I deemed at the time to be a Western Resident Evil, without the awful voice acting and story that has often gone hand-in-hand with the (in)famous Japanese series.
The game turned out to be a great deal more than that, combining stealth gameplay and brutal combat with fully-formed characters and a story that far surpassed the usual zombie apocalypse garbage. The multiplayer was pretty damn good, too.
The two trailers released thus far by developer Naughty Dog have shown a glimpse of returning characters Joel and Ellie, alongside some newbies and one helluva lot of violence. Fingers crossed we get to continue this story by the end of the year!
Sea of Thieves
I grew up on Rare’s marvellous Nintendo 64 years - GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie, et al - but have to be honest when I say, I haven’t enjoyed a great deal of their Microsoft output in the ensuing years. This all looks set to change with the colourful pirate plundering of Sea of Thieves.
Band together with a shoal of chums, hitting the high-seas in a quest for treasure, adventure, cannon and cutlass-based skirmishes, and a good few tankards of grog!
Personally, this is exactly the kind of fun-filled experience I was looking for when I climbed aboard the good ship Xbox back in 2016, so I can’t stress how much I’m looking forward to getting lost in Sea of Thieves’ world with the PTC mob.
The granddaddy of open-world RPGs finally returns, after way too many years in the wilderness.
Regular visitors to PTC may recall my plea for remastered versions of the original two games after part three was first announced, and although things have been quiet on that front, 2018 seems to be the year that we’ll finish Ryo Hazuki’s slow-burn quest to avenge his Father’s death.
A truly groundbreaking game on release in 1999, Shenmue set the precedent for open world adventure/RPG titles. The main quest was fleshed out beautifully with a brilliant Virtua Fighter-influenced combat system, side quests and mini-games to play, along with some of the most unintentionally amusing script writing and delivery of all time.
For me, these extras are as vital as the story and combat, so here’s praying Yu Suzuki and his team get it right and we finally get to duff-up that bastard Lan-Di, with or without sailors.
Charming art, beautiful music, a rich colour palette and an isometric viewpoint; I could easily be talking about any of the top-down Zelda games, but it’s a different adventure I’m most looking forward to in indie-land this year.
You’ll be exploring a massive world as a little fox, encountering baddies to battle, secrets to search for and puzzles to ponder. What’s really impressive here is that the bulk of the work has been done by one man: Andrew Shouldice. Check out the first of his developer updates and try not to be impressed by what you see. I can’t wait to delve deeper into Tunic later in the year.
Intelligent Systems, a Nintendo second-party studio, are famous for their output in the world of strategy RPGs, most namely with the fantastic Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series’. Both of these great franchises are a clear influence on Chucklefish Games’ Wargroove, a pixel art strategy title releasing across the major platforms.
The game promises an impressive twelve different campaigns, in which you’ll select a commander to follow from one of the four warring factions. Combine this with full co-op and competitive online and local multiplayer, as well as a map creation suite, and it really does seem like a generous package.
Having sampled the game at last year’s Rezzed, I can tell you first-hand how ruddy good it is. I got thoroughly lost in its world, art and gameplay, even going as far as to go back and replay it. Being an indie game, it’s very likely that Wargroove will launch at an attractive price point, providing yet another reason to take a look when it launches early this year.
Keep your eyes open for more from us on all of the games mentioned above, but, most importantly, have a happy new gaming year, folks!
I must admit, chums, I find end of year lists rather hard to compile. The reason in chief here is that I don’t often get around to playing all of the major releases that I would’ve liked to - it’s a hard knock world, I know - be it down to life or simply not owning the hardware (sorry Super Mario Odyssey).
Yeah, yeah, I know: most folks find sports sims as interesting as spending the afternoon with their spouses’ family, but for me, Ashes Cricket is the best sports game released this year. Dirt 4 came close with it’s rambunctious rallying, but the pure joy of putting my own stamp on a fully licensed Ashes series is just too glorious to deny.
Aussie developer Big Ant builds on the disappointing Don Bradman Cricket 17 with improved visuals, motion capture and audio, to create a game that offers up a grand experience to both the cricketing pro and novice. To do so on a budget the size of titans EA Sports’ biscuit account is even more impressive.
4. World to the West
I first sampled World to the West at this year’s rezzed, and I have to admit, I found it an average adventure during my first foray into its universe. How wrong I was, as the game world turned out to be one of my favourite of not only this year, but this console generation so far.
The game sees you switching between four main characters (a mind control expert, an aristocratic strongman, a shovel-wielding child and a teslamancer) to explore the lush, cel-shaded world, solve puzzles and fight bosses. It’s charming, fun, full of things to do, and sticks just the right side of inspiration over parody with its use of Zelda and Metroid staples - what more could you want?
3. Stardew Valley
I’d been fretting over the choice of Sundered or Hellblade for the final spot on this list, but when I picked up ConcernedApe’s fair farming simulator that ceased to be an issue. I’d always fancied trying Harvest Moon, and here was a modern equivalent that was affordable (£14.99 or less UK-ers) and that I could easily pass off to the girlfriend if it failed to grip me...
Well, it gripped both of us, chums, and its stranglehold is yet to weaken. From the chunky SNES-style visuals, to the many, many side quests, to the pleasure of watching your farming empire rise from a few parsnip seeds - grazie Mayor Lewis - to trying to find a wife/husband by bribing them with gifts, every aspect of the game is truly joyous. If you have children or needy animals be warned, mind: Stardew Valley is one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played!
2. Serial Cleaner
In any other year - naughty Zelda - Serial Cleaner would be walking away with the title here, without question. The premise is simple: you are hired to clean crime scenes of bodies, evidence and blood, without being caught by the rozzers.
Serial Cleaner is, for me, one of the few independently made games to take a fabulous idea and actually compress it into a fully formed diamond. Its simple premise is fleshed out with superb comic book-style visuals, a hilarious 70s setting (complete with costumes, disco and nods to infamous serial killers of the time), easy-to-understand-yet-constantly-evolving gameplay, and the best cop show soundtrack of all time. The indie game of the year for me, without question!
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said, honestly. Zelda has always had a special place in my heart, mainly down to the wonderful blend of quality gameplay, wistful story and guaranteed ethereal, beautiful music. Breath of the Wild boasts all of these, and though I found the dungeons and final boss fight a little disappointing compared to the genre/childhood defining Ocarina of Time, there’s no denying just how glorious an experience the game was - and still is - overall.
There are moments of wonder at every single corner, from the way the beautiful, cel-shaded (I think I might have a thing for this graphical style…) grass moves in the wind, to the goosebumps that I feel every time a soft piano riff suddenly creeps in, to the depth of the game’s crafting and cooking systems. The sheer amount of freedom on offer it staggering, and really does make up for the ever-so-slightly underwhelming aspects of the game.
I’m still searching for every shrine, side quest, new horse and treasure chest, putting in nearly 100 hours thus far - that might not sound like a lot to some, but anything over 30 hours for a non-sports game is huge for me - and that doesn’t show any sign of stopping, especially with The Champion’s Ballad DLC now live. If you’re one of the strange hermits of mink hollow yet to play the game, I implore thee to venture out of the burrow and enjoy one of the best game worlds ever created.
What do you think of Rob’s picks? Let us know and share your favourite games from the past 12 months below.
For me, 2017 continued the trend of offering up far too many great games to accommodate in a mere 365 days. While that means I haven’t found the time to play big-hitters like Horizon Zero Dawn and Super Mario Odyssey, the many I have gotten to still made whittling my picks down to just five quite an involved process.
Shoehorning an open world into a linear series is very rarely a good idea, but Tango Gameworks obviously didn’t get the memo, because they artfully implemented sandbox environments into The Evil Within 2. The only comparable example that comes to mind is the excellent Batman: Arkham City, whereby rich and spontaneous encounters make scouring environments opposite to the generic busywork we've come to expect.
This acts in conjunction with a bevy of improvements over the original, which itself was a return to form for the (at the time) misguided survival horror genre, to complete one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
4. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
After being blown away by Uncharted 4, I approached The Lost Legacy equal parts excited and uncertain. More Uncharted couldn’t be a bad thing, surely, but a standalone expansion with a new leading lady? That wasn’t going to match Nathan Drake’s full-fledged magnum opus...
Well, I was wrong. Controller in hand, I seamlessly cut a path through the game like a hot knife through butter, every quiet moment and set piece punctuated by characterful banter. Not only did The Lost Legacy deliver the goods, but it did so in generous fashion, costing half as much as your average game whilst being twice as good and lasting just as long.
The outstanding visuals are also worthy of specific mention. I haven’t put my Xbox One X through its paces yet, but The Lost Legacy on PS4 Pro surpasses anything I’ve yet seen from the beefiest console on the market.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR
Never having played Skyrim - where have I been for the last six years, right? - made my virtual reality trip to the Nordic region all the more memorable. Being fully immersed in such a well-realised new frontier, in which you grow with each and every action, had me prioritising my virtual life as a dark elf above all else throughout November.
Accurate motion controls helped to further anchor me in the simulation, whilst small nuances that would go unappreciated, or totally unnoticed, in any other version of the game flourished into standout moments. These tangible differences make Skyrim VR a must, both for virgins and veterans.
A mixed launch reception has left Prey out in the cold as we wade through awards season. That’s a travesty. Prey is a mechanics and systems-rich game set in an exquisitely realised location, all of which worked in tandem with a gripping narrative to pull me in and keep me firmly rooted in my seat throughout its course.
BioShock ranks amongst my favourite games of all time and Prey expertly channels it without feeling cynical or derivative. For me to say it even comes close to Irrational Games’ seminal 2007 experience, of which I’m quite fond, if I hadn't mentioned, doesn’t come lightly and should help illustrate Prey’s quality.
1. Resident Evil 7: biohazard
I was thoroughly spoilt this year as a big fan of survival horror. The Evil Within II and Prey perhaps offered a glimpse into the genre’s future - the former defying expectations with the fantastic implementation of an open world, the latter an enemy that creates constant tension by mimicking everyday objects - but by revelling in its storied past, Resident Evil 7 surpassed them both.
The microscopically detailed Baker household evokes the original’s iconic Spencer Mansion, a locale so incredibly conceived that these years later I can vividly recall my way around it. It’s a good sign then that I could draw you a map of the Baker home eleven months down the road, even pinpointing every encounter with its brilliantly deranged inhabitants.
Playing in virtual reality further elevates all aspects of the game, most notably imbuing it with a guttural horror that at times got so intense I needed to pause and let my heartbeat recover. In being so affecting and consistently bringing me back with a strong suite of downloadable content, Resident Evil 7 tops my 2017.
Agree with Sam’s choices? Let us know and share your own below.
Good tidings, chums, and welcome to a festive feature with our very own Krampus; yours truly. There’s plenty to look forward to this Christmas though, with a plethora of both corpulent and meager budgeted games, accessories and tidbits. With that in mind, please join me in delving deep into the stocking for a look at some of this season’s succulent silicone satsumas.
Echo - PS4, PC
Echo is one of those games that should be played with all the lights off. The initial hours hooked me with their trippy, sci-fi stylings, inspired use of lighting and mysterious characters. What builds from there is a truly heart-racing third-person stealth/action game that casts the setting itself - a creepy future palace decked out in gold, with faces on every door, and clones or “echoes” of the protagonist - as your enemy-in-chief.
A thinking man/woman’s Resident Evil/Deus Ex in space is the closest comparison I can make, with the way shadows and lighting are used to freak the player out, but it’s the evolving nature of the echoes that really steal the show. The game is under £20 quid, and well worth it for action or stealth fans who are looking for something unique.
Verdict: A trippy, original game well worth playing.
Cat Quest - PS4, Switch, PC, Mobile
I had the good fortune of sampling this entertaining cat-venture at this year’s MCM Comic Con, where I thoroughly enjoyed my fifteen minutes of fun. The full-fat experience is no less brilliant, as you step into the claws, purr-box and dragon-filled kitty world ripe for adventure.
You set out on a Zelda-esque top-down adventure, to save your sister from the evil clutches of a white cat blessed with the power of dragons... lots of dragons. Follow the main storyline or undertake the many side quests posted on town notice boards to level up, get better gear, and ultimately become one hell of a badass kitty. This one is available physically too, so can be wrapped up for the cat-loving adventurer at home.
Verdict: Meowvelous fun!
The Pillars of the Earth - PS4, Xbox One, PC
Based on Ken Follett’s classic novel, The Pillars of the Earth takes the source material and transforms it into a three-part visual novel/point-and-click adventure. There’s a great deal to admire in the charming art style, characters and music, but it’s the lovely pace of the game that stands out the most.
Book one is available now both physically and digitally, with books 2 and 3 to follow (2 is now available on Steam), so you certainly get your money’s worth for the £20 or so you’ll spend. Essential if you enjoyed the novel or TV series, and definitely worth a punt for anyone else with an interest in historical fiction, sublime art, or branching storylines.
Verdict: A gorgeous, well acted and emotional adaptation.
Snakebyte Game:Pad 4 S - PS4
Last up, we have this wired PS4 controller from the fellows at Snakebyte. Having owned their earlier PS3 effort I can happily say that this is definitely an improvement, but not without its flaws.
First and foremost, the wire is plenty long enough to play from the sofa or bed, so no worries there. The ergonomic design of the controller is decent enough, presenting a smaller, yet stockier design more in line with the Xbox pad - but certainly a few leagues lower in terms of comfort and performance.
The buttons and sticks are a bit hit-and-miss, though. The face buttons are accurate enough, but sit loosely in the controller, resulting in a horrid, cheap plastic rattle every time the workmanlike rumble kicks in. The bumpers are on the soft side, making it hard to tell if you’re actually putting pressure on them, and the triggers are functional but lack the comfort of the Dualshock 4 or the official Xbox pad. The clickable touch-pad is brilliant, though!
The sticks are the real let down though, unfortunately, as we encountered problems on all four diagonals while testing games Stardew Valley (diagonal walking speed is painfully slow for some reason), Ashes Cricket (precision batting and bowling is made difficult) and The Last of Us (aiming issues).
As a backup to your DualShock - think local multiplayer FIFA sessions, etc. - then this is fine, but by no means should this be your number one, especially when, at £30, you only have to shell out an extra fifteen or so for the real deal.
Verdict: More potato than present!
And with that we bid you farewell for now, folks. Have a cracking Christmas!
It’s been a good year for gaming (less so for my wallet) with the Nintendo Switch, 2DS XL, SNES Mini, Xbox One X and a new gaming laptop all making their way into my collection over the past twelve months, giving me quite the selection headache – the good kind, as they say in football.
5. WW1 GAME SERIES
Technically this counts as two games, but M2H and Blackmill’s decision to house both Verdun and Tannenberg under the WW1 Game Series umbrella means I don’t have to pick between two of my favourite shooters from the past year, which is fine by me (and our editors, I hope).
Though Verdun arrived late on Xbox One (it was supposed to launch last year alongside the PS4 version) it was exactly the sort of game I wanted Battlefield 1 to be, forgoing semi-realistic aperture sights and hip-firing heavy machine guns for a more realistic First World War shooter that was incredibly satisfying to play once mastered.
Tannenberg continued the developers’ stellar work on the series, this time bringing the action of the Eastern Front to the fore and ensuring the game remained in a constant playable state thanks to the addition of bots. I was a bit sceptical about the lack of controller support (being the filthy console peasant that I am) but the natural limitations of the era’s hardware means you don’t need pro gamer level reactions to enjoy this game.
Turn-based RPGs are one of my least favourite types of game (second only to fighters) so I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed South Park: The Fractured but Whole’s gameplay; turns out all the genre needed to keep my attention was liberal helpings of crass humour, hilarious boss fights and quirky super powers.
With South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker at the helm the comedy credentials were never in doubt, but the fact that the gameplay outshone the humour at times is a testament to its quality.
For a game that’s all about taking down a death obsessed cartel in a war-torn country, Ghost Recon Wildlands is weirdly relaxing.
I’ve probably spent more time than I should have watching the dynamic weather roll across the game’s stunning scenery whilst melancholic guitar riffs sound off in the background, and since the patch adding Xbox One X support went live, fictional Bolivia has never looked so good.
Luckily, Wildlands is also bloody good fun to play, whether solo or with friends, and for those that are willing to go looking for it there’s a decent story about the moral complexities of a war on drugs to be found.
As great as Breath of the Wild is, after the initial sense of awe began to wear off I found myself yearning for the more structured design of the Zelda titles of yesteryear.
BOTW’s shrines are fun, for the most part, but even the best one’s I’ve come across so far pale in comparison to the classic temples the franchise has seen throughout the years.
Still, exploring a broken, almost dystopian version of Hyrule and uncovering its hidden secrets is immensely rewarding, but without the iconic temples the package just doesn’t feel complete, and it’s because of this the game just misses out on my top spot.
1. CALL OF DUTY: WWII
Despite Sledgehammer’s willingness to play it fast and loose with the game’s historical accuracy (aperture sights in the 1940’s, seriously?!) Call of Duty: WWII really is a return to form for the franchise, particularly on the competitive side.
The campaign, while enjoyable, is still your classic by-the-numbers Call of Duty affair, but I haven’t been this hooked to the series’ multiplayer since back in its heyday.
War mode is the main highlight, taking inspiration from Overwatch’s escort missions and Battlefield 1’s Operations, blending those with the frantic, fast-paced arcade combat of CoD to deliver a truly moreish experience that I keep going back to.
Do you agree with Liam’s choices? Let us know your own highlights from the past year below or over in the forums.
Join the Pass the Controller team as they choose their top five games for the year, starting with Editor James Parry.
This year has been unusual. Not because I’m rapidly facing my own mortality as I finally hit 30 years of age, but because I gained not one but two new consoles. The Nintendo Switch was an eyebrow-raiser from when it was first announced and the reality proved to live up to the intrigue of its concept.
On the scale of known quantities, I knew what I was signing up for with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Having not owned a Nintendo console since the Wii era, I knew the Mario Kart series was something I needed to own to fulfill one of the Switch’s vital functions - local party play.
More than a few couch split screen sessions were had, an increasingly rare feat in the modern gaming world, and (perhaps with the help of some alcohol) fun and merriment ensued.
The reliable experience I was looking for was delivered across the board with a level of design and polish fitting Nintendo’s top quality first party offering, speaking of which...
4. Splatoon 2
The only shooter on my list, much to my surprise, is the sequel to a game I’d heard good things about but never played. Splatoon 2 set the barrier of entry low, a welcome feature for any follow-up, and has a skill ceiling which can be difficult to spot at first glance, thanks to its cartoony presentation.
There are certainly some curious design decisions, which only Nintendo could get away with. Limiting maps to two at a time on an arbitrary rotation? Nonsense! Only a handful of modes, gated by yet more arbitrary-ness in the form of level requirements? Preposterous!
Despite these quirks, the game is just such simple, sit down and play fun which you can find real depth and satisfaction in if you have the commitment (and time) to devote. The fact this is one of two games which not only drew in me, but also my other half, is telling of how slyly it introduces new players.
Get inked with the video review.
Putting this game on the list seems almost redundant at this point. Official Game of the Year from The Game Awards aside, every member of the team who has picked this one up has gushed (and will no doubt gush further) about just how great a game this is.
It is fantastic, of course, (hopefully my own gushing review told you as much), but it has its flaws too. Why make weapons so brittle that I scarcely want to use them? Did the world truly need to be as vast as it was to have the same effect? Why only let me decorate my map, MY MAP, with just 100 icons?
The puzzle elements were certainly a highlight though, in the way they challenge you to look again at how things might work, and step right up to the limit of frustration before finally relenting. A beautiful and expertly crafted game like this needs no higher praise than managing to get away with the least convincing (and, arguably, necessary) cross-dressing of the year.
Return to Hyrule with our video review.
Joy. That is how to sum up Super Mario Odyssey in one word. Plenty of Mario games have you living in fear of lava or racing against a timer, when those same elements crop up here they have a sense of levity to them (I mean, you can literally become the lava after all).
Hundreds more moons than needed to progress can make the pursuit of them accidental as much as hard-fought, which keeps everything exceptionally well balanced as you progress through the game. Don’t like the feel of a level? Never mind, you can basically skip it without much impact.
Even dying is only a temporary setback, far more than any other title in this list, and the game encourages you to explore and embrace the world as you go, not just one world either, but a technicolour spectrum of some of the most inspired level design the 3D platforming genre has to offer. Having all that with you on the go? Even better.
Portability is a big reason why this game makes it to the top of my list. As a standard game you can just plug into in front of your big screen at home, there’s still an excellent game to experience, but it’s when you let it slowly overtake your life, stealing moments at every turn, that it really goes that step further.
Crashing two different IPs together is no mean feat, particularly when one is as world-renown as Mario, and Ubisoft have done an exceptional job. While visually Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle doesn’t quite reach the caliber Mario’s own quest does, and, you might argue, nor should it, but the presentation is smooth and the gameplay gripping.
Creating something which looks easy but can actually be quite challenging is somewhat of a recurring theme of this list, and Mario + Rabbids does the best job of it, giving you what you never knew you always wanted. A surprising, addictive experience which is just the right length and difficulty to suck you in without it becoming too much, and paves the way for greater things going forward if Nintendo continue to let others play with their toys.
Want more? Here's our video review.
Do you agree with James’ choices? Let us know your own highlights from the past year below or in the forums.
It was quite difficult choosing my top five games of the year, not least because I seem to have trouble grasping the concept of time and originally added in two titles from last year...
The Escapists 2 improves on the original in a multitude of ways: upgraded graphics make a notable difference right off the bat, prisons are bigger than ever to accommodate up to three other players in co-op - without making them so expansive as to make navigation a pain - there are new challenges to complete, new escape methods, an expanded crafting system, and a suite of customisation options that further set it apart from its predecessors. It's by no means a perfect game, but the budget price and relaxing pace make it a good shout in my book.
The closing moments of Mass Effect 3 seemed to divide people the way Marmite does, in that you either hate it, or you're wrong. Andromeda shies away from that controversy by setting itself in a galaxy 600 light years away.
Starting anew meant that significant changes could be made to the formula, and, although they weren't all well received, it felt like a much needed fresh start for the series. Of all the criticisms levelled at the game, you can't say the story was uninspired because, as we pointed out in our review, it was quite literally inspired by the original trilogy. Even derivative, some might say. Regardless, it was a solid attempt at something new and there's a lot to build on going forward.
The Stick of Truth was an outstanding game that needed no improvement. Evidently, Ubisoft didn't get that memo because The Fractured But Whole fixes things that weren't even broken.
The most striking change is the completely overhauled combat system, which has been upgraded to such an extent that it makes revisiting The Stick of Truth seem like a real step backwards. There are more classes to choose from, more companions to assist you in combat, or whilst exploring, and tons of references for fans of the show.
Add to that a completely bonkers story that wouldn't be possible in any other universe, and you've got a near flawless gem.
Another sequel that ditches the old formula and replaces it with something fresh, Assassin's Creed Origins takes the skill tree from the Far Cry series and the extensive map from Ghost Recon Wildlands and meshes those elements with its own DNA, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Visually, it's nothing short of stunning (especially on Xbox One X), with populated urban areas, open air markets and temples giving way to rolling sand dunes around the Pyramids, making grabbing screenshots with the in-game photo mode a genuine treat.
To top it all off, the clunky, never-quite-right combat system has been reworked into something more accessible without being overly simplistic.
1. For Honor
For Honor definitely had a rocky start, but its unique "Art of Battle" combat mechanics keep a devoted few coming back. Actually, "few" is maybe a little unfair, as more and more players are picking this up thanks to the occasional free weekend and ongoing improvements.
The game is incredibly easy to pick up and play, but mastering a particular hero takes dedication. While it's possible to pull off devastating combos, an experienced opponent almost always has a way of countering you and turning the tables.
Ubisoft haven't confirmed a second year of content, though with long-awaited dedicated servers on the way it seems fairly likely. It’s also worth noting that Rainbow Six Siege was in a similar position upon release, which has me hopeful for the future.
If you're yet to get your hands on this innovative fighting game, now's as good a time as any.
What do you think of Chris’ picks? Be sure to share yours with us below or over in the forums.
Nintendo have a habit of tinkering with their handhelds, rehashing and improving designs over a console’s lifespan until we usually end up with a product that, arguably, should have been the one released to the public in the first place.
An improved stand
The current stand that pops out of the back of the Switch is, to be honest, a bit rubbish. The flimsy plastic feels like it’s going to snap every time you try to open it, and it’s so small and unstable it struggles to hold the console upright on anything except a completely flat surface.
Even if you do find one of these there’s no guarantee it will remain upright, as I recently found out when attempting some Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in (coincidentally enough) a moving car. The Switch just refused stay upright on a fold-down table, flopping onto it’s back every time the car came across a bump in the road or a gentle corner, rendering the impromptu multiplayer session over before it could even begin.
What’s more, the angle of the stand is far too steep and can’t be adjusted, so in order to get a comfortable viewpoint while playing, the Switch must be either on a surface that’s almost at eye level, or placed further away from you, meaning you’ll most likely struggle to see what’s happening on the six-inch screen.
Both these problems could be solved by sticking a proper stand on the back of the Switch, preferably one that runs the entire length of the console and with decent grip for added stability, and can also be fixed at multiple degrees for better viewing angles.
More comfortable Joy-Cons
I have no problem with the concept of the Joy-Con, in fact, as I mentioned in our recent look at ARMS, I’ve been nothing but impressed by their versatility for things like split-screen multiplayer and their accuracy when used as motion controllers. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved upon, most notably in the comfort department.
Using the Switch as a handheld for any significant amount of time is very reminiscent of the original 3DS, who’s angled edges were not very welcoming to the palms. While the Joy-Cons aren’t as uncomfortable as that, a slightly thicker and more rounded design, one a little bit closer to those found on regular controllers, would help alleviate hand cramps and any discomfort that comes with longer gaming sessions, and wouldn’t necessarily damage the console’s portability either.
The same could be said of the Joy-Con’s face buttons, which are a little small and can start to dig into your fingers, especially when playing games like Mario Kart where you’re constantly holding down the A button to accelerate. The control sticks could also do with some tweaking, just to make them a bit more accurate. They’re fine for games where they are mostly used for movement and camera control, like Breath of the Wild, but FPS fans may find the rigidity of the current design off-putting.
The Pro Controller does, admittedly, deal with the latter two issues, but it would be nice if the original design of the Joy-Con was good enough that the Pro could be thought of as a luxury, and not a necessity.
A dock that won’t damage your console
This isn’t technically a handheld issue like the other two, but it’s such a big problem that it needed to be included. How Nintendo looked at the dock before release and decided it was fit for launch boggles the mind.
For such an integral part of the Switch’s ethos, the part that actually helps give the console its name, it’s incredibly poorly built. The plastic feels cheap when compared to rest of the Switch (minus the aforementioned stand), it bends easily, and, worst of all, it has a texture that I can only think was chosen by someone who hates screens and wants to see them die.
The fact that people are selling tiny pieces of sticky-back felt on eBay, perfectly measured for the runners that guide your Switch into the dock, so you don’t scratch the screen is almost ridiculous. As Sam pointed out in his first look at the Switch, docking and undocking with the current design requires almost surgeon levels of steadiness, which can hardly be what Nintendo had in mind when they came up with the concept.
If Nintendo do break from tradition and stand by the design of the Switch, then they at least need to address the dock issue as its damaging such an integral part of the experience.
So, those were a few improvements I’d like to see on any Switch redesign. Do you agree? What would you like to see changed, or is the Switch good as it is? Sound off below.