The latter months of 2014 was marked by a string of big-name releases being delayed, and February was the month when they started to drop. But as it turned out, some of them dropped more than just a release date.
Evolve (PC, PS4, XB1)
All the positive impressions and previews couldn't get people past Evolve's high barrier of entry
There's been a lot of discussion lately about the value of multiplayer-only games, and perhaps the worst offender of all was Turtle Rock and 2K's Evolve, which went from being one of the most anticipated games of 2015 to being a symbol of poor pricing.
It's not as if the game was atrocious out of the gate. The core loop of chasing a monster, co-ordinating your attacks and treating the whole experience like a boss fight is a lot of fun. It's been improved as well (the dome coming down instantly, instead of being delayed, for instance). But the hordes of people who enjoyed the asymmetrical monster hunter at conventions and during the open beta weren't lying or making it up to spare 2K's feelings. The game was genuinely fun.
Sitting down and enjoying a session chasing around the Kraken or the Goliath is one thing, however. Being asked to choose from several DLC bundles and not being entirely sure what you're getting is another entirely.
The stigma around free-to-play was already subsiding before Evolve — it'd successfully worked for many MMOs, including The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online, and Dota 2/Path of Exile enjoyed great success with their model — but the launch of Evolve was when I started seeing people en masse recommend games be free-to-play out of the gate. It certainly would have made Evolve a lot more palatable at launch, and I hope that 2K/Turtle Rock will revive the 1v4 multiplayer title next year.
Grow Home (PC, PS4, Linux, SteamOS)
Ubisoft's track record with passion projects continues to impress
If you look at the list of "indie" projects, or small ideas that Ubisoft has been happy to throw money at, it's remarkably impressive. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Child of Light. Valiant Hearts. Grow Home.
Compare those against the last four AAA titles from Ubi: Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege, AC: Unity, Far Cry 4. It's not a bad mix, granted, but not as consistently good as the four above.
Most people will have gotten a taste of Grow Home these days thanks to the game winning the public vote for the September PS+ games, where Ubisoft Reflections' platformer pipped the Aussie-made Armello. I've heard some refer to Grow Home as the evolution of the 3D platformer, and while I think that's a stretch too far (no pun intended), the fact that the most interesting evolution in platformers is coming from something tagged with the Ubisoft name is certainly something to smile at.
After all, this is a conglomerate roundly criticised for homogenising the open-world experience. And yet that same conglomerate is continuing to push a variety of smaller passion projects with great success. That's good news for the developers within major studios, it's good news for gamers and if more games like Grow Home come out that don't require UPlay, then it gets two thumbs up from me.
The Order: 1886 (PS4)
Let black borders never be a thing, ever again
Much has been made of Sony's weak lineup of first party games this year, and The Order: 1886 certainly didn't help proceedings with a final act that ended without any closure whatsoever, a story that barely lasted six hours and the presence of black bars, one of the most frustrating inclusions to video games in the last few years.
Kirk wrote described The Order as one of the more depressing games he's played, and that was one of the nicer points. "It’s a brief, drab adventure starring a group of characters who all seem to dislike their lives and one another, and if it managed a single new gameplay idea over the course of its runtime, I didn’t catch it," he wrote.
The game's since gone on sale for around $30 online and in stores, a far more palatable asking price than what was initially demanded. I'd still venture that there are plenty of other games worth your money first, but if you're after a simple, narrative experience that works for a fan of shooters ... no, there's still better options. (Like Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.)
Hand of Fate (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Hand of Fate marked the beginning of a great year for Australian games
It probably says everything about how good a year Australian indies have had that one of them appeared in a special, Australian only, bundle for the Xbox One. It didn't gain as much traction with the public as some of Target's absurd bundles towards the end of the year, but the prospect of an Aussie game getting in a position like that is something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Aussie games, after all, simply weren't held in that high a regard. But it's been a fantastic 12 months and it began with the February release of Hand of Fate, a wonderful hybrid roguelike that was voiced by one of the best narrators since Bastion or Transistor.
The story behind Defiant Development itself is great, but that would amount to nought if Hand of Fate wasn't fun to play. But fortunately the mix of genres and styles that make it such a difficult game to describe is also what makes it work.
Dragonball Xenoverse (PC, PS4, XB1)
I can't go through February without dropping a mention for this one
My girlfriend and I were sitting on the couch the other weekend; she was playing Hearthstone, and I was pondering what to play. After a moment of indecision, I said, "Sorry, but I'm going to play something really, really stupid."
So, naturally, I fired up Dragonball Xenoverse.
I've spoken before about how I've been steadily enjoying Xenoverse as the year has gone on, and my appeal for the game is largely rooted in the same place that lets me enjoy games like the Naruto Shippuden Ninja Storm series or One Piece Pirate Warriors 3. It helps that Xenoverse has a fairly robust fighting system, and as it turns out the game's time-travelling nature is also the best way of parsing a universe with as much content as Dragonball.
It gets even better if you treat the entire game like Dragonball Z: Abridged, running around taunting Krillin and watching Yamcha get punched mercilessly. I remember one Steam review described the game as a bad Dragonball fanfic that made you the writer, and that's a fantastic way to think about it. I can't speak to the quality of the online play — being from Australia, it probably wouldn't turn out that great — but the campaign has been (quite literally) a blast.
Other games from February that come to mind: the Homeworld Remastered Collection (which I wrote about yesterday), Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Cities XXL, Frozen Cortex, Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball, Total War: Atilla and Pokemon Shuffle. What games from February stuck with you the most?