Not every series is Assassin's Creed yet
Video games are increasingly expensive products to create. Every generation as graphics increase in quality, the sheer size of teams required to put together new amazing, fantastic worlds grows dramatically. With video games costing so much to produce, it's no wonder established franchises are annualized and brought back out time after time, ensuring healthy profits for investors.
While Assassin's Creed comes around every year for another round of milking the cash cow, today we're talking about an entirely separate variety of games. We're talking about new brands created this year, risking assured profits for creative scope. Yes, it's time to talk about the best new IPs that were launched this year.
While Undertale's release this year was a complete surprise to most people who played it, a turn-based JRPG bullet hell game that remembers your actions, allows you to avoid murder, and has dateable skeletons is a pretty easy pitch to get people to check it out.
The game has quickly amassed a rather large and dedicated fan following, and it's not hard to see why. The unusual blending of genre mechanics, the homages to EarthBound, the stellar writing, and the screenshotable nature of the cast was just prime for spreading like wild fire.
Undertale may not be the longest game, and it's unlikely to ever get a direct sequel, but it has firmly cemented itself deep in the hearts of many a gamer this year. I laughed, I cried a bit, I screamed in frustration, and I walked away guilty. That's more of an emotional ride than can be said for most video games.
Even if I now do feel my sins crawling on my back.
While Bloodborne had a considerable head start on many of our best new IP contenders, as the spiritual sequel to the highly successful Dark Souls games, this particular IP did not take the easy design route.
Taking Dark Souls' unforgiving combat style and pairing it with a rich new lore, additional mechanics that incentivized aggressive combat techniques, and a considerably upped gameplay pace, Bloodborne invites players to fight their way through a world that was memorable, challenging, and surprising on a regular basis.
While there is a new Dark Souls on the way, Bloodborne is the franchise I'm more excited to see a sequel to.
Splatoon is the very embodiment of Nintendo looking at what other people were doing, and creating something fascinating by adding its own Nintendo Twist. The idea is simple: make a competitive online shooter where players' primary aim is not to shoot other characters, but to shoot non-sentient structures and surfaces.
Online shooters are incredibly popular as a genre, but there's very little in the way of options for younger players to get into playing (you know, unless they play Call of Duty in spite being seven). It's an under-served market, and Nintendo seized it perfectly.
Splatoon not only managed to capture attention with a unique art style and colour palette, its consistent long-term roll-out of new content has kept players engaged longer than many other comparable releases.
Okay, I'll be the first to admit my beloved Life is Strange isn't perfect by any stretch. It's melodramatic, it's at times stilted in its writing, and it has some major issues with pacing. Still, the series is also one of the most memorable things I played this year, and it does things no other games are daring to do.
Life is Strange managed to get a lot very right. It used time travel as a gameplay mechanic to get around not knowing the context of your choices in episodic narratives, allowing players to properly commit to choices they made. Pick a choice, watch it play out, rewind, check out another choice, decide which you want to commit to, and go ahead fully in favour of your actions.
Life is Strange also managed to tackle some tough themes in a tasteful way, giving agency over real-life situations to powerful effect.
Oh, and I really, really like Chloe. I played the entire game constantly trying to kiss her at every possible moment.
Her Story is an ambitious game that tried something untested, and managed to pull it off. Set on a late-nineties British Police computer database, the game tells a nonlinear narrative through tagged, live-action video files.
The concept was simple. Start with the word "murder," search the database for any relevant clips, investigate a woman's statements to police, and unravel a deeply bizarre crime.
The performances of the game's leading lady were truly top notch, as was the narrative and the natural structure for unraveling plot threads. There was always something to look for more information on, and as additional clues became visible, the plot had numerous unexpected turns.
Seriously, Her Story is really damn strong.
SOMA is a terrifyingly grounded horror story about themes of desolation, humanity, sacrifice, and what it means to truly exist. Yep, those are heavy themes to tackle, but SOMA handles them admirably. Giving a wholly bleak view of humanity's future, it makes a strong case that everything we do is ultimately meaningless.
Not a depressing thought at all.
Besides the strong story, it also wowed with its presentation. From elaborate degrading structures to creature designs that twist expectations, I was constantly impressed with the cohesive structure of the game.
Also, SOMA is just plain scary.
Until Dawn is an interactive horror movie game, built from a collection of well-known genre tropes mashed together. Throw a bunch of kids in a spooky remote cabin with nightmare monsters, and see what happens.
The genius of Until Dawn's design is that the tropes being drawn from are not consistent or predictable, making plot turns hard to see. Experienced horror genre fans will at times see what's coming and be able to make informed choices regarding what to do.
Personally, I was a fan of deliberate murder. Let's see what we can do to kill everyone off as gruesomely as possible. I suppose you could try and keep people alive too, if you want.
I just hope we get new Until Dawn games in the future that are not on-rails VR shooters.
On a simple mechanical level, Ori and the Blind Forest is decent, but nothing special. It's a side-scrolling metroidvania that does everything solidly, but doesn't push much in the way of new ground.
So, why is it on this list? Because it was god damn beautifully, visually and as a narrative. Picture those Rayman games from a little while back, but done to a much higher level and accompanied by a Ghibli-esque soundtrack. Ori and the Blind Forest is a technical masterpiece and I can't wait to see what the studio works on next.
The Beginner's Guide is a weird game, in that it caused a huge splash upon launch, with many reviewers hesitant to say anything at all about it. People were affected by it, not always positively, and it clearly had a strong impact on many players.
A few months on, it's still unclear how genuine the narrative told is, or how much we can rely on the narrator of the experience. But if you have around and hour and a half and want to be floored by an unexpected narrative, you'll be hard pressed to do better than The Beginner's Guide.
Just make sure to complete it within your Steam refund window, as there are legitimate reasons to want to return this game after purchase.
[To clarify the above statement regarding refunds, while I view this game as a work of fiction, and recommend people play it as such, many players view the narrative as an accurate work of non fiction.
If you fall into the camp that view this as non fiction, an aspect of the narrative implies that the content is stolen wholesale from another developer. While I paid for the game and believe doing so is a morally acceptable action, what I wish to make clear is that if players disagree with my reading of the narrative and feel I reccomended them an experience they didn't morally agree with, there is a financial way to back out of that purchase.
This is not an encouragement to back out of payment due to length, but simply me pointing out that if you finish the game and believe the narrative to be non fiction, and if you believe that you purchased stolen goods, there is a way to avoid your money remaining with that developer in this very specific case.
My initial vague comment was an attempt to avoid a major spoiler for the narrative, but has unfortunately left the reasons for my recommendations open to wider interpretation]
In the lead up to launch, many people following Dropsy assumed that before its end, it would take some upsetting or dark horror twist. A point-and-click adventure, it is actually anything but a horror experience. It's a simple game about a socially isolated individual who wants nothing more than the simple joys of companionship.
Beneath the initial appearance of Dropsy the clown is an individual whose primary interaction with the world is a hug button. Quests are told through pictorial desires. You bring people together, people see the good in you, and you hug.
Dropsy is one of those games that's a beautiful palette cleanser. If you're feeling video game murderer fatigue, it's an experience poised to make you feel just a little better about the world.
Gravity Ghost is a simple game mechanically. You play the ghost of a young girl, jumping among planets and stars to reunite animal bodies and spirits. It's relaxing. There are no punishments for failure, and the experience is almost mesmerically smooth and simple. It is a gorgeous, laid-back experience hiding a deep and relatable human story.
The game deals with themes of growing up. It deals with taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions, processing loss, and the connection that remains to those we lose. Gravity Ghost's narrative is simple, elegant, and resonant in a way few games manage.
Read Only Memories is a charmingly written, wonderfully stylised, instantly memorable point-and click-adventure that released earlier this year. It tells a cyberpunk story of crime, politics, technology, and relationships that's super intriguing from start to finish.
Oh, and it also happens to have a cast full to the brim with simply handled diversity. You've got gay characters, trans characters, a bunch of other different types of characters, and the fact they may be gay or transgender never becomes the forefront of who they are. They just happen to be those things without any fanfare, and it's wonderful to behold.