February saw the first of the year's major AAA titles land — or at least the ones that were delayed from 2014 — but March was when gamers truly got to get excited. Sony got some more exclusives. Indie darlings dropped their long-awaited sequels. Some long-awaited Kickstarter projects were finally released to the public, and there was even a new Mario Party to crow about.
Still the best Jack the Ripper simulator around
Sony didn't get much credit in the first-party stakes for February's release of The Order: 1886. Bloodborne, on the other hand, was the one game that started convincing more and more people to jump on board with the next generation of consoles. It wasn't quite the game that fans of the original Dark Souls were hoping for — maybe Dark Souls 3 will finally fulfil that void — and the long loading times upset a lot of gamers, particularly those who were coming into the Souls series afresh.
The more aggressive style of play worked for a lot of people though, Patrick included. "I could write about Bloodborne for another thousand words," he said in his review. "Bloodborne is a fantastic game all its own, and requires no experience with anything else to enjoy and appreciate. It may be a riff on an existing idea, but it forges a standalone identity. It’s special, and there’s little else like it."
Cities: Skylines (PC, Mac, Linux)
Paradox's reputation continued to grow with the success of Cities: Skylines
The mountain of problems that EA and Maxis created for themselves with SimCity was astounding. Things were so bad with the game that CHOICE, the local consumer group, awarded EA a Shonky Award in 2013 for forcing local gamers to call a support hotline that charged them $2.48/minute.
So it was understandable that there was a void unfilled, a gap that SimCity should have covered. Finnish developers Colossal Order tried a couple of years prior with the Cities in Motion series, but Paradox refused to approve the budget necessary to broaden the scale and scope of those games to something larger. Eventually they did, however, and the support for modding out of the game ended up being a huge feather in the Skylines cap.
"You never feel constrained, like you need to pack a certain area in because you’ll run into an invisible wall," Luke wrote in his Cities: Skylines review. "I mean, those walls are out there eventually, but I’ve been playing this game non-stop for over a week now and haven’t come close to hitting the map’s limits. Trust me, if you’ve filled in every area you can eventually unlock, you have made one hell of a big city."
The majority of the issues people had with SimCity, the itches left unscratched: those were dealt with when Cities: Skylines launched in March. And if Skylines didn't tackle them immediately, then the immense amount of mods released shortly after did.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PC, PS4, Vita, Mac, Linux)
The top-down indie with a brutal legacy
If you're coming from an Australian IP, you still can't buy Hotline Miami 2 on Steam. The game was dogged out of the gate ever since previews questioned the implied rape scene, a scene that the Classification Board later used as justification for refusing the game an R18+ rating. The developers responded by telling Australians to pirate the game, and that they wouldn't be changing the content (although it was optional).
I didn't play it myself, but from memory the game got a reasonable reception at the time. Not as good as the first Hotline Miami, of course — the Steam rating certainly isn't as stellar — although the soundtrack won plenty of plaudits. And that special edition vinyl is pretty bloody sweet.
Sid Meier's Starships (PC, Mac, iOS)
Firaxis and space are two things that just haven't worked since Alpha Centauri
Fresh off the disappointing heels of Civilization: Beyond Earth's launch was another Sid Meier title that also failed to reach the cosmos: Sid Meier's Starships. There was a nice cross-over where you could continue saves from Beyond Earth in Starships, but given that Starships was shallow throughout you weren't gaining much from the experience.
Perhaps the best description of Starships would be to classify it as Master of Orion-lite, although so many better alternatives exist, such as Galactic Civilizations 2, Sins of a Solar Empire, Endless Space or Distant Worlds. (And that's not to mention the suite of options due out in the next 12 months.)
Battlefield Hardline (PC, PS3, PS4, XBO, 360)
Hardline was smooth at launch, but failed to pull players away from the main franchise
The existence of Battlefield Hardline is still a curiosity to me, and while the 80's cops and robbers campaign never quite took off the thought of major publishers and studios taking gambles with their AAA franchises is still a nice sign.
That didn't mean the broader community was going to give EA and Visceral a free pass, though, and they responded by going back to Battlefield 4 before too long. The game only has a few hundred players left on PC worldwide, and the figures on consoles aren't much better. BF4 has more than five times the player base of Hardline across all platforms, which ultimately tells you all you need to know.
Mario Party 10 (Wii U)
There's no party quite like a Mario Party Party, right
There was actually a point this year where I was very, very seriously finally getting my own Wii U just so I could have Mario Party 10 in my household. I kid you not. I'm that insane kind of creature who tries to enjoy these sorts of games — and then I sat down and watched about 3 hours of footage before quickly chastising myself for such stupidity.
Granted, Mario Party 10 isn't actually the worst in the series. But goddamit, the series as a whole could use a decent shake-up. Mind you, if I'd have gone through with that purchase I'd still be having a great time — Nintendo's had a good year — but enjoying Mario Party 10?
No. That's a thing that probably wouldn't have happened. Even I have to be realistic about that. Bugger off this kart-sharing nonsense, Nintendo, and let's get back to the original formula. Mind you, reusing some of the systems from the Animal Crossing board game wouldn't hurt.
Helldivers (PS4, PC)
It's been a good 12 months for Arrowhead
Arrowhead got their name on the map as a studio with the release of the original Magicka, but since then their takes on top-down adventures in less maniacal settings have proven to be the most successful. After the surprisingly decent reboot of the Gauntlet IP, Arrowhead caught a bit of attention in March with the digital release of Helldivers.
Like Gauntlet and Magicka before it, Helldivers thrives on the magic of co-op play. The heavy Starship Troopers vibe and the collaborative Galactic Conquest is fun enough that I'm actually considering purchasing the game a second time on PC just so I can have more people to play with — although if I'm lucky, Helldivers will pop up for free on PS+ before too long.
Pillars of Eternity (PC, Mac, Linux)
One of the most successful Kickstarter cRPG's, Pillars launched in March to warm, if isolated, praise
I can think of a few people in our office who would shoot me if I didn't mention Pillars of Eternity here. Hell, I'd feel pretty awful myself: I picked up the game for just under ~$40 the week it launched and, thanks to Bloodborne at the time and then every release that followed thereafter, have barely found the time to venture beyond a few hours.
It's a shame because Obsidian's RPG is, by all accounts, very solid. After being given enough time to work through the many companions, mobs, dungeons and reams of text, Jason found the writing and dialogue was excellent throughout — although it was best enjoyed by those who had an appreciation for the isometric cRPGs of years past.
Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, XBO)
Ori and the Blind Forest remains a thing of beauty, in a year with many stunning games
It fascinates me that in a year where there has been so many titles with such striking visuals — Battlefront and The Witcher 3 come to mind for obvious reasons, Axiom Verge and Nuclear Throne exemplifies the best of the 8-bit retro style, and the level of realism in games like Project CARS is worthy of appreciation too — Ori and the Blind Forest still manages to stand out.
There's much about the 2D platformer that brings a smile to my face. The soundtrack is reminiscent of the qualities that made Ubisoft's Child of Light so memorable. The controls, platforming and challenges are tight and well designed. Mark loved the environments and the opening; I can't get enough of either of them.
I'll be grinding out the rest of Ori over the holidays. It's the kind of pleasant experience that serves as a great time killer for a few hours, precisely what everyone needs over Christmas when you're all stuck in the same place for several days on end.
March was a stacked month. Here's some of the others that also came to mind, but I didn't have time to summarise: DmC: Definitive Edition, Shelter 2, Five Nights at Freddy's 3, Screamride, White Night and Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty. What caught your eye from March, and what do you think of the games above?