It's coming to the end of the year, so let's remind ourselves about all the good — and bad — games that came out. Just in case, you know, some of them pop up for sale over Christmas.
Grim Fandango: Remastered (PC, PS4, Vita, Linux, Mac)
One of the all-time adventure greats finally returned to our screens this year
After making fans wait for many, many years, Tim Schafer and Double Fine remastered one of the most beloved point-and-click adventures of all time for PC and the PS4 at the start of the year. Apart from the slight sharpening of all the environments and the models, one of the most exciting parts was the revamping of the control system, perhaps the most frustrating element of the LucasArts classic.
But Mark found that Grim Fandango had aged terribly, and I can't help but agree. The characterisation and dialogue remains as excellent as ever, but there's a reason that modern adventure games don't use inventory systems like this. There's a reason modern adventure games don't feature camera perspectives that change as wildly as this. There's a reason things have moved on.
Playing Grim Fandango Remastered reminded me of all the legacies of design and conventions that gaming has outgrown. That doesn't mean we've outgrown Grim Fandango as well, although I suspect many of us have.
Saints Row: Gat out of Hell (360, PS3, PS4, PC, XB1)
In many ways, Gat Out Of Hell is a symbol for the direction for the Saints Row franchise
It feels like it's been aeons since we've seen a Saints Row game, and the reminder that Gat Out Of Hell actually came out in January will probably surprise quite a few people. Because when most people think of the series, they think about Saints Row 4 — which came out in 2013.
Gat out of Hell was a US$20 standalone epilogue for Saints Row that took the series into Hell. But Nathan found the entry to be perfunctory and bland, as much as a Saints Row game set in Hell could be. "If you want more Saints Row IV-style lightspeed dashing, side-questing, and power-up orb-collecting, Gat Out Of Hell is a decent enough playground. But that’s about all it is," he wrote.
I've had a love/hate relationship with the Saints Row series over the years which, by the time SR3 rolled around, eventually developed into general apathy. I was happy to pass on Gat out of Hell when it launched, although a couple of friends of mine who are Saints Row fans enjoyed their time with the game.
Grey Goo (PC)
The pedigree in Grey Goo's developers can be seen through their cut-scenes alone
Petroglyph Games had planned to push out Grey Goo, their first RTS since 2007's Universe at War: Earth Assault, in March last year but delays meant that battles between the Humans, Beta and Goo kicked off proper in January. There was a quiet amount of interest when it launched: the market isn't exactly awash with traditional RTS titles, thanks to the rise of MOBAs and the lingering affects of the Dawn of War series, and Petroglyph's pedigree got a lot of hopes up.
They certainly deserve some measure of credit for their campaign: the CG models used are nothing short of astounding, and the cut-scenes are pretty decent for what they are. The Beta faction is even voiced by New Zealanders, a bit of a rarity in video games.
But as soon as the Goo campaign kicked in, everything completely fell to pieces. Those last few missions rank as one of the most infuriating gaming experiences I've had all year, while the Beta and Human campaigns prior to that were perfectly enjoyable. I haven't tried the DLC and was warned off the multiplayer by a good friend of mine — one of the few professional StarCraft 2 players in Australia, so I take his advice seriously — and if you're picking this up over the holidays, understand it'll be purely for the story.
Dying Light (PC, PS4, XB1, Linux)
Many have forgotten that Techland's parkour-laced zombie killer came out this year
The visceral nature of taking a metal pipe to the face of a reanimated, rotting carcass isn't something that you forget easily, but many have forgotten is that Techland's Dying Light finally came out in January. It wasn't supposed to, of course, with the game being bumped from 2014. The 360 and PS3 versions of the game were also cancelled, and plans to target 60fps on consoles were later shelved in other to keep the resolution at 1080p.
Like most, Yannick enjoyed the core gameplay loop although the story left much to be desired and there were quite a few performance issues at launch across multiple platforms. "While the [day-night cycle] makes this a unique and revolutionary first-person adventure, the former leaves me with the disappointing realisation that it’s still just an unremarkably routine stab at a well-worn genre in many ways," he wrote.
Heroes of Might and Magic: HD Edition (PC, Android/iOS)
Still the best game in the franchise, but not the best version of it
Ubisoft has enjoyed a solid track record with their smaller titles, but not everything this year came off. The HD re-release of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 sounded ideal in theory, but was utterly buggered in practice — and for once, it genuinely wasn't the publisher's fault.
The problem with HoMM 3 HD was that Ubisoft couldn't get their hands on all of the original source code, particularly the code for the Armageddon's Blade or Shadow of Death expansions. Apart from adding more heroes and more story content, the AB expansion added a random map generator and the Conflux faction.
While many are happy to leave the Conflux by the wayside — their existence is far more uninteresting than the sci-fi themed race 3DO/New World Computing originally had planned — the lack of a random map generator was a death knell in Ubisoft's release. The fact that it cost more than the Complete edition available on Good Old Games — which has all of the expansions — was the final nail in the coffin.
Life Is Strange: Episode 1
Dontnod Entertainment's adventure not only treated the episodic format with respect, but took everyone by surprise at the same time
The rapid-fire nature of Telltale releases these days has worn quite a few out on episodic games, and many people have found themselves in the position of treating episodic games like Early Access releases. "I'll play it when it's done," the refrain goes. And you can't blame them.
That pent-up scepticism didn't bode well for Life is Strange, an adventure game from Dontnod Entertainment. The French studio's previous title was Remember Me, a mediocre action-adventure that had one spark of life in the game's memory-remixing puzzles. I always approached Life is Strange with the perspective that the entire game was essentially the best bit of Remember Me.
And hasn't it done well. I don't think it's unfair to say that Life is Strange has been one of the best games of the year for everyone who's played it, and it's undoubtedly one of the best uses of the episodic format in a while. New chapters have been released in a timely manner, with less than 3 months between each release, and the low cost of entry got the tick of approval from the general gaming public.
Keza wrote that Dontnod's adventure was "exactly three games I’ve ever played that has successfully communicated some of what it’s like to be a teenage girl". It's got a 96% rating from over 30,000 reviews on Steam for a reason. If it goes on sale again over Christmas, pick it up.
So that's a pick of some of the games that came out in January. What games were released at the start of the year that caught your eye?