I’m going to level with you - I’m a pretty habitual human. With the false perception that I have ‘all the time in the world’, I can be easy prey for monotony. I’m not saying I’m constantly glued to re-runs and forever eating the same two food groups (pasta and chips, of course), but I do have a penchant for stagnation. So, when the clock struck midnight on 1 January 2018, I forged a New Year’s resolution; break the cycle and get my shizz together because time is ticking. So, fittingly, the first game I picked up in 2018 was The Sexy Brutale.
But then something unusual happens: the clock is reset, and Lafcadio goes full-on Bill Murray and wakes up to begin the entire day again from scratch. Yep, his magic pocket watch is straight outta Groundhog Day. So now Mr. Boone knows that whatshisface in the next room is about to be brutally executed, he has to somehow find a way to prevent his murder.
Cue the intro to a fabulous game dynamic in which you essentially play the same 12 hours over and over again. It should be mind-numbingly boring, though it’s anything but.
A number of guests are being knocked off around the clock, and you’ll prevent them meeting their grizzly ends by sneaking around and solving a myriad of amusing puzzles. It’s a genius concept. A concept that keeps you smirking with joy at its cleverness each time you hear the gunshots, crashes and other horrific sounds that go hand-in-hand with the murders taking place at exactly the same hour each day.
As formerly expressed, being a creature of habit, this type of gameplay - as enjoyable as it was - seemed to eerily echo my own procrastination cycles. Seeing the cutscenes play out identically and the same old mistakes made reinforced my belief that my brain was occasionally ‘stuck on repeat’. I became somewhat keen on the idea that unravelling Lafcadio Boone’s predicament in this murderous masked ball was tied subliminally to breaking my own stale routine this coming year.
TSB’s shining narrative also helped to keep me hooked throughout this journey of self discovery; the game’s writing is equally essential as its structure to achieving brilliance. Narrative designer Jim Griffiths ensures the dialogue crackles with macabre wit - so much so that the simple description of a cellar filled with booze begged to be uploaded to Instagram - and the conspiracy at the heart of the hotel draws you in, just as Lafcadio leans towards the peephole of a door for a cheeky eavesdrop. TSB leaves you eager to uncover more of its victims and perpetrators’ secrets long after completion. In fact, I’ve often gone back for a wander around the mansion since finishing… I guess old habits do die hard.
A fabulous game dynamic in which you essentially play the same 12 hours over and over again. It should be mind-numbingly boring, though it’s anything but.
Any true completionist will appreciate the chance to keep delving deeper long after the credits roll, though the cryptic path of murder prevention can be a rocky one. Some puzzles aren’t complex enough, being solved all too easily or possibly even by accident, whilst other times you’re left scratching your head, holding a key to a door you won’t find for hours.
In the event you do get stuck, the original soundtrack is truly something to behold and should keep you ticking as you mull things over. The colourful music draws influence from 1920’s jazz, with a sprinkling of funk and the echo of an enthusiastic mariachi band. In parts it feels comically in line with the pithy quips uttered by the NPCs, and at other times its a super sneaky compliment to the stealth side of the game.
When I finally finished TSB, I met with one of the most beautifully profound and well written endings to a videogame since Shadow of the Colossus. You don’t expect it, you definitely won’t welcome it, and you’re left with one sombre realisation: you can’t set your own watch back eight hours and relive the entire spectacle again.
So, after enjoying a game built around reliving the same old existence for hours on end, for me it marked the beginning of a new start in my ambitions. I drew close to unravelling the mysteries at the heart of TSB and I couldn’t help but see the madness in my own sluggish addiction to familiarity. It did – has - changed my life. I don’t have all the time in the world. Tomorrow is a gift; that’s why they call it the present. Duh.
This past Wednesday Nintendo unveiled their Labo range, a series of cardboard-based peripherals - or Toy-Cons (the name is adorable, admit it) - that are used to interact with specific software and provide “a new way to play” your Switch. The products have caused quite a divisive stir, further fuelled by the announcement of a weighty pricing model; as such, we’ve polled team PTC to gauge the reaction in our cosy corner of the Internet.
Editor, James Parry
Announcements which make you say 'Oh' could suggest a spectrum of emotion:
'Oh god, what have they done?’
'Oh wow, that actually looks really cool!’
‘Oh… how underwhelming...'
In the case of Nintendo Labo (surely up there with the Wii as one of the most Nintendo names of all time), for me it's probably a mixture of the first two.
Putting aside concerns about the use of plastic - a hot topic right now - the idea at first glance is one I can't see coming from any other games company, or at least no other company would be able to get away with it. The Joy-Cons as a piece of hardware are excellent, however their broad technological potential, and, by extension, Labo, are mostly lost on me due to sticking with Switch games that have more traditional control methods.
For kids though, it's a different story. Imagination is something Nintendo has always had a knack for capturing, and the pair of cardboard creations revealed so far already offer up near limitless possibilities in the right hands. Some parents may raise their eyebrows at putting down around £70 for some cardboard, understandably, but with so much samey-ness around and the ability to encourage creativity with pocket money-friendly customisation packs, why not?
Staff Writer, Chris Brand
I think the concept of flat pack controllers is ridiculous. I was never one for building or creating things so, for me, this sits comfortably between constructing a LEGO set and assembling an Ikea wardrobe on the entertainment scale. Like LEGO, much of the fun with Labo is to be had on the journey and, although I can see the appeal, it's not an activity I would ever willingly participate in.
There's also the cardboard issue. It's not known for being the most durable material and seems decidedly unsuited to being roughly handled. With the (not insignificant) price point, this could be an issue when it comes to replacing damaged kit.
I can see it gaining some traction but ultimately it's a gimmick and I suspect the novelty will wear off sooner, rather than later. However, I thought the same about Dubstep and that's, somehow, still a thing.
I reckon this is a rare misstep from Nintendo.
Staff Writer, Liam Andrews
Although it took me a full minute to realise the cardboard props being shown in the trailer were the actual product, and not just a lengthy build up to a reveal of some more flashy item, the fact that Nintendo is selling cardboard boxes isn’t all that surprising considering they were shifting empty Splatoon 2 packaging last year.
Still, I don’t quite know what to make of Labo. The idea of sitting down with a clear set of instructions and following them to create an awesome end product certainly appeals to me having grown up with Airfix kits and LEGO, but the price point that’s been floating around since the reveal seems far too excessive for what Labo is.
As Sam mentioned already, the total cost does include the software required to turn the cardboard into actual gaming peripherals, but I can’t see the games themselves being anything other than glorified tech demos, especially if they’re aimed at a younger audience. People have already pointed out on our forums that the combination of kids, expensive electronics and cardboard does seem like an accident waiting to happen.
Having said all that, I fully expect Labo to shift millions of units. I mean, who wouldn’t want their own Joy-Con RC car?
Staff Writer, Rob Holt
Like many others, I waited patiently for Nintendo’s 10pm mystery reveal, praying for the rumoured Link’s Awakening remaster, or perhaps a new iteration on the Switch. What we got were a series of cardboard nets that only the hardiest of Nintendo enthusiasts could describe as “exciting”.
For me, Labo will only ever appeal to young children; I don’t know any adults who would pay for a 13-key cardboard piano, robot backpack (is that where Project Giant Robot ended up?), or a cardboard fishing rod for that matter. Leave music to proper instruments, and videogame fishing to Sega, please, Nintendo.
It reeks of a grand, cynical money making ploy from one of my favourite developers, with price points to match. Mini-games locked inside cardboard nets for a lovely fat price, and nothing more. The only real surprise is that it wasn’t ready for Christmas - think of the guilt-tripping parents would’ve experienced!
To add further insult to injury, they’ve coined the products “Toy-Cons”, a name so bad that I required incense, lemon, ginger tea and an intense Enya listening session to calm down. I’m still on the fence with the Switch and its tiny buttons, but my Labo views are certain: burn that fucker down.
What are your thoughts on Labo? Dead against it like Rob? Open to something new like James? Let us know in the comments below or over on our forum.
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.
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.
Ever since it launched on Xbox One roughly nine months ago, Verdun’s already small player base has been steadily declining over the course of the year to the point where you’d more than likely struggle to find the 32 players needed to populate the game’s standout mode, Frontlines, if you were to venture online nowadays.
The game does have its drawbacks; the class menu is still overly clunky and it’s not exactly a world beater when it comes to visuals, but the unique and strategic gameplay far outweigh these shortcomings and its continued marginalisation by the console community is unfortunate, as there really is nothing else like it available on Xbox One.
Verdun's continued marginalisation by the console community is unfortunate, as there really is nothing else like it available on Xbox One.
As far as can I see, the only way of ensuring Verdun remains playable in any meaningful form is by enabling cross-play with PC. Out of all the platforms on which the game is available, it’s the only one that has a consistent populous; at the time of writing, Verdun’s 24-hour peak on Steam was 444 players, a figure that’s more than healthy enough to support multiple lobbies and matches.
In fact, the game’s done well enough on Steam that developers M2H and Blackmill Games have brought a standalone expansion to the platform, taking players to the eastern front and introducing Russian forces. Somehow, I don’t see Tannenberg being announced for consoles anytime soon.
Although this is by no means a perfect answer, due to the balancing issues that come with putting console players up against the greater accuracy and reaction times afforded to PC players by mouse and keyboard support, the game’s First World War setting, and the developer’s commitment to historical accuracy, may actually help to partially mitigate these issues.
While a lot of shooters will stick an enlarged set of iron sights or semi-historically accurate reticles on weapons in order make life easier for its players (I’m looking at you, Call of Duty), Verdun is unapologetic when it comes to replicating First World War-era firearms - particularly rifles, the weapon of choice for most players – ensuring that both console and PC users are at the mercy of their limitations, including tiny, hard to use iron sights and limited fire-rates.
Coupled with the need to draw breath in order to ensure a steady aim, the advantages of mouse and keyboard control don’t seem like they’d be quite as advantageous in Verdun as they would in other shooters where fully-automatic weapons and large magazines are the norm.
Even if it does mean having my ass handed to me by the gaming master race every now and then, I genuinely hope, and I’m sure those who enjoy Verdun just as much as I do agree, that whoever is in charge of these decisions takes note of this plea, because the game deserves better, and it may be the only way to ensure I can keep enjoying Verdun on my platform of choice.
Do you have any old favourites that you’d like to see revived by the implementation of cross-play? Let us know in the comments below or over in the forums.
We’re also working on a review of the Tannenberg expansion, so stick around for more on Verdun.
On a beautifully clear, crisp autumnal morning, I ventured forth from the homestead, braving a treacherous business-folk drenched train from quaint St Albans to the big smoke of London. Two further underground feckers later, I found myself wedged inside a DLR filled with Batman, Luigi, Wonder Woman and so many brightly coloured haircuts I didn’t know where to look. Did I wish I’d dressed up as Bananaman? Undoubtedly, yes. But pray tell, chums, I hear thee cry: “Where the buggery funk art thou, Bobby?” Why, MCM Comic-Con 2017, of course…
Jokes aside, it was all good fun, and I especially enjoyed playing Arms for the first time. The presence of Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario, Luigi, et al) was very welcoming, too. New stuff was what I was after, mind, so I barrelled over to Fire Emblem Warriors for a bit of the old hack ‘n’ slash.
I thoroughly enjoyed its Wii U cousin, Hyrule Warriors, so I entered expecting much of the same. Unfortunately though, comrades, I had no such luck. Objectives felt dull, the same combat system I enjoyed so much in Hyrule had gone hard like a Sunday morning posh-loaf of sourdough come Monday, and the constant pop-in and muddy background visuals left all four of my eyes aggrieved. I adore many of the Fire Emblem games, so it was great to see Chrom and the gang, but Warriors lacked any soul, and, ultimately, fun.
My hacking ‘n’ slashing muscle felt rather weak after its pitiful Fire Emblem Warriors workout, so I decided to do a few more reps with Dynasty Warriors 9 next. I can hear your chants already: “But Bobbo, these Warriors games all be the same!” And by the power of Greyskull are you right, folks; Dynasty 9 is the same punnet of shiitake mushrooms Koei-Tecmo have been flogging for years - dull, dirty and gone-off.
With those disappointments under my belt, I felt it would be a good time to see what lower-budget treats the show had tucked away. There were slow-paced horror adventures like White Day, pulsating SHMUP delights such as Raiden V, and text-heavy readathons like Dangaropa V3. Two games stood out for very different reasons here, though: Cat Quest and Gal Gun: Double Peace.
Cat Quest puts you in the claws, tail and anus of a cat on - you guessed it - an adventure… The top-down perspective, charming visuals and funny, funky characters reminded moi of Nintendo’s very own Zelda universe, with a feline twist of course. The sub-quests were enjoyable, the dialogue was amusing and the combat was fabulous. We especially enjoyed the extra strategy of the boss fight on show, where careful planning and learning of tells proved very effective in constructing his demise. Check it out on Steam now, or wait for its console release in the near future.
Gal Gun has been out for awhile now, apparently, but I definitely wasn’t aware of its existence - it’d be hard to forget, honestly. The game is a rail shooter unlike any before it; instead of firing bullets at angry aliens or roided-up meatheads, here you shoot kisses at waves of oncoming female classmates, stopping them from confessing their love for you. Yes, chums, you read that correctly, and for that reason only - and because it was so bloody hilarious - we’re happy to present Gal Gun: Double Peace our (un)official Wackiest Game of the Show award!
Still reeling from our truly bizarre experience with double-G, we stumbled towards the hidden-behind-ultramega-secret-curtains area belonging to Ubisoft. Once we’d completed the classified handshake and coughed up the password (“same old shit”), we slithered in to sample Assassin’s Creed: Origins and South Park: The Fractured But Whole (both of which we have full reviews in the works for, so keep ‘em peeled).
The former is everything you’d expect it to be, albeit reskinned with an Egyptian flavour. It was fun for five minutes, but, to be frank, I’ve personally been Bogtrotter'd with the series for a long time - time to put the assassin’s down now please, Ubi.
The highlight of my playtime was a QTE-filled sexy dance, where I had to control Sidekick’s hip movement and flatulence...
South Park fared better, but again I left with the feeling that it wouldn’t hold my interest in the long term. Playing as Sidekick, you infiltrate a strip club alongside Captain Diabetes, trying to find a dancer with a phallic tattoo. The highlight of my playtime was a QTE-filled sexy dance, where I had to control Sidekick’s hip movement and flatulence to extract information from a couple of seedy punters. It was funny, but I reckon the humour and RPG-style fights will wear thin rather quickly for non-hardcore fans of the show.
The long-awaited Ni No Kuni 2 was also playable on the show floor, and, although RPGs certainly aren’t my forte, I thoroughly enjoyed the luxuriant Ghibli-influenced art, as well as its compelling boss encounter during my session. This has the potential to be the RPG I finally bother to play through, grinding and all!
Comic Con isn’t just games either - as the name suggests... - so I took a jaunt around the venue and out of my comfort zone to see what else the show had to offer. There were plenty of Marvel bits and bobs, as you’d expect, but they stood alongside much smaller properties, where my personal highlight was meeting a fellow who calls himself BompKaDunk. He draws and writes a lovely comic titled Dungeon Crunch, but what really caught my eye was his drawing of a character that had gherkin-like genitals. This was for a commission, gang, and apparently not that uncommon a request…
So, we come full circle to my game of the show; none other than the fabulous Super Mario Odyssey. I eagerly awaited my turn for what felt like an age, hairline receding dramatically, until finally I got my hands on those far-too-small Joy-Cons. Time crumbled into dust, such was the perfection of platforming, humour, gorgeous colourful graphics and wonderfully invigorating music. Odyssey proves yet again - alongside Breath of the Wild - that Nintendo are still the masters of creating astoundingly enjoyable, fun-filled video games.
And with that, my time was up. I had trains to catch, a three sausage sandwich to eat, and an editor (James Michael Parry, of course!) to liaise with for old man ales. Had I learnt much about the comics world? I can’t be sure. Did I still wish I’d come as Bananaman? You betcha.