First post of 2015 and it’s a look back at 2014. This post was originally written for Expansive, but I’m cross-posting here as it’s a good reflection of how the last year played out (fnar, fnar), and that indie games come in all shapes and sizes. There are a few bigger titles in the list as well.
For me, it’s been a weird year in gaming. Not in a bad way, just… different. I moved from Xbox 360 back to PC gaming, having built a Steam box that sits on top of the hifi next to the TV. Then I discovered just how much a new-born takes up your gaming time. And while I’d love to get more gaming in, there could be worse things to take up my time. Finally, I really started to take notice of the indie scene since I started my own PR company working with small developers. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind,
In no particular order, here are the games that affected me most in 2014. Some of them came out before this year, some of them aren’t even technically out yet, but I enjoyed them all in some way, enough that they made an impression.
Alien: Isolation (PC)
After a lot of ropey and average games based in the Aliens universe, it took a company famous for strategy games to take an unexpected route and turn the series on its head. Alien: Isolation doesn’t feature Colonial Marines or dropships… just you, a motion tracker and whatever you can scavenge on Sevestopol Station, hiding away in lockers.
The game isn’t perfect, though. I felt the Xeno reveal came too early: the game could have teased flashes of tail or eerie sounds for another couple of hours. Some of the twists were a bit obvious, but still satisfying. But the stars of the show were definitely the Seegson Working Joe androids. They were far more terrifying than the Xeno, in both sound and action. And the extra gameplay that comes with the download is pretty cool.
My hope is that if they do a sequel, it’s based off of Aliens, and gives the series some well deserved justice.
Yes, it was released last year, but now it’s had a full year (and some DLC), we have a chance to take stock. The game has a better-than-previous-games campaign, but that isn’t where the magic happens… Arma 3 really comes alive with the huge and devoted multiplayer community. From serious military simulations, to the more random Wasteland mod, there’s something for everyone.
Gang Beasts (PC)
I remember seeing this game at Update Festival, early in the year. It was an early – but playable – alpha build. There were sofas, a TV and 12 wired Xbox 360 controllers. This is what local multiplayer should be like… simply presented, yet deep gameplay, lots of personal vendettas and loads of fun.
Boneloaf, the team behind the game, also had a great year, with the game being picked up by Double Fine to publish. They’re also thoroughly nice people with oodles of enthusiasm. I think this game will forever be in my party-game library.
Sky Force 2014 (Mobile)
Although there’s a general distaste for in-app-purchases, when done right, they can be completely non-invasive and a good source of income for the developers. Sky Force 2014 is a top-down bullet-hell shooter that follows the IAP model, but keeps the fun at level 10. Unlocking new weapons and upgrades is never too much of a grind, and keeps you coming back for more tries of the levels you have beaten.
Goat Simulator (PC/mobile)
Because games need more crazy, they made Goat Simulator. What started out as a joke that got out of hand, Coffee Stain Studios went with it and now we’re here… This is probably the only game where bugs are actively encouraged, and it makes it so much better:
“What we don’t want is bugs that crash the game, because that kind of ruins the gameplay, but with all the physics we’re using that’s still going to happen,” Ibrisagic said. “We’re adding an achievement when you crash the game that’s called ‘Involuntary QA.’ All the other bugs, like the physics for your neck and everything, we just think it’s really hilarious so we’re definitely going to keep that.”
The game packs so much ridiculousness in, that you’ll spend hours uncovering all the little easter eggs, from Deadmau5 to satanic rituals. And it has split screen coop for those of you that have friends.
I have a [rubbish] confession to make: I’ve never played Flappy Bird. I know what it is, how it works, etc, but I’ve just never installed it. That being said, Retry is a fun little spin (no pun intended) on the Flappy bird phenomenon. Each time you tap the screen, you propel your little plane up and forward. Hold down too long and you do a loop de loop.
The game is brilliantly addictive, so simple and you can’t help but do what the title suggests. As someone with a pretty low concentration span, the fact I come back to this game says a lot.
RUNNING WITH RIFLES (PC)
You know what game needed to be brought into the 21st Century? Cannon Fodder… And that’s pretty much what RUNNING WITH RIFLES is! Although thin on story in the campaign, there’s loads of atmosphere, humour and plenty of tactics. This is probably one of my best Early Access purchases ever. The developers are on the ball and enthusiastic, so it’s easy to see how much progress they’ve made!
Grand Theft Auto Online (Xbox 360)
The fact that the media is still regularly talking about it, and that I renewed my Xbox Live Gold subscription is testament to how much there is to do in GTAO. The regular and seasonal DLC keeps the game fresh, and I’ve been known to just fire it up and drive around when I have an hour free…
Any game from the makers of Red Orchestra is bound to be of high pedigree, and Insurgency doesn’t disappoint. This game is gritty, unforgiving realistic gameplay stripped down with no frills. Forget your levelling up, your unlocks or tricks, it won’t wash here… This is the closest we’re getting to Rainbow Six until Siege comes out next year. And even then, you’ll have to put up with that awful Uplay software.
Among the Sleep (PC)
I backed this on Kickstarter, and for good reasons. Flawed but with a great premise and good atmosphere, this is why the indie scene not only exists, but flourishes. The developers even released some free DLC for people that bought the game, which is nice.
Door Kickers (PC)
Insurgency might be the closest (decent) FPS to the R6 series (I’m looking at you, Takedown!), but Door Kickers gives you a great implementation of the hybrid planning/realtime-assault that goes into old school tactical shooters. The game is unforgiving, endless in depth of gameplay and features a map randomiser to keep you playing.
I only wish there was some way to implement some sort of multiplayer element that could bring together different players, either cooperatively or competitively.
BONUS: Minecraft (PC)
I think this game will be in many people’s top list for years to come. It’s such a brilliant concept, the folks over at LEGO wish they’d come up with it. Mojang have had a great year, having been bought out by Microsoft, and (in my opinion) the real genius is the fact that the game won’t ever age, as the graphical style is already retro! I’m just looking forward to teaching my son to play it in a few years.