Two major titles characterised May this year for me, and it was an unusually stacked month even without having to dig through the indie pile. There was even some cracking titles released on mobiles, and the next-gen consoles also got some extra love with some notable ports.
Splatoon (Wii U)
The most iconic shooter of 2015
I've met very few people that played Splatoon who weren't utterly thrilled by it. If anything, the only true disappointment about the game was how few people actually got to play Splatoon, simply because of the platform it was released on.
The game's been a success for Nintendo nevertheless, which is fascinating given that Nintendo themselves had to be won over to the concept. It's one of Mark's favourite games of 2015, and while he had many nice things to say the one that resonated with me the most was this: "Splatoon is probably the only ‘shooter’ I’ve comfortably played whilst my two-year-old son is around."
It's always great when something old can be introduced to a newer, younger audience in a way that still works for everyone. Splatoon offered the freshest take on a shooter there's been all year, and it's a shame it's only available on the Wii U.
Galactic Civilizations 3 (PC)
Stardock's iteration to their turn-based 4X series has taken a long time to come together
It's probably telling that several months after its April release, Stardock only just added some fairly basic features to Galactic Civilization 3's diplomacy system. "Order them out of your territory (darn aliens, get off my lawn!), proclaim friendship to allies (besties 4ever!), demand tribute from your enemies (you should pay just to be in the presence of my awesome), and more," the developers announced last week.
The game just felt a little empty, a charge that could be levelled just as fairly at Civilization: Beyond Earth. In two or three months the space 4X might better match the vision that Stardock originally had. Let's hope so.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (PC, PS4, XBO)
Image courtesy of SweetFX
Project CARS (PC, PS4, XBO)
Car porn at its (current) finest
For years, Project CARS held this mystical, almost unbelievable quality. But the galleries that Slightly Mad Studios published, the trailers their fans created, were stunning. Even Mark couldn't help himself when new trailers came out. It wasn't just porn for cars; it was porn for games.
But aside from the ridiculous graphics, and the absurd support for 12K resolutions (good God), pCARS stands out in my mind thanks to a moment it gave me with my father when I popped into a Formula A car for some laps around Bathurst. You can re-read that memory here if you like.
(As an aside, thank you to everyone for their warm wishes during that time. My dad's doing much better now — it was touch and go for a while — and he was very moved by your kind words as well.)
Invisible, Inc. (PC, Mac, Linux)
Klei continued to showcase their stealthy skills with their turn-based roguelike
I've had Invisible, Inc. sitting in my Steam library for the majority of the year, and I put a couple of hours into its turn-based, roguelike charms a couple of weekends ago because I desperately wanted to get some time with the game before 2015 is done. It's an interesting, stylish follow-up from Klei, the makers of Don't Starve and, more famously, Mark of the Ninja.
I also wanted to mention it here because it's the type of game that has very easily gotten buried, which is a bit of a shame. Luke said in his review that Invisible, Inc. would be close to the perfect game for some, and noted that it has a difficulty slider that can transform proceedings in a way that can make the experience wonderful for anyone.
"This is a game anyone who cares for tactics, espionage or just good times on a PC really needs to check out," he added. It'll probably become reasonably cheap over Christmas, and if you want to scratch that XCOM-esque itch for short while until XCOM 2 lands, Invisible, Inc. will do it.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PC, PS4, XBO)
Wolfenstein: The New Order and The Old Blood offers some stunning opportunities for bullshots at times
I've seen quite a few comments over the past couple of weeks proclaiming what good value for money Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was, although that wasn't the view Luke took when he reviewed the standalone expansion/prequel earlier this year.
"This isn’t a full-blooded sequel, and Machine Games clearly didn’t have the budget or time to make something on the scale of New Order," he said. "And it’s obvious from the level design to the tone of this game that it’s an intentional throwback to older Wolfenstein games, especially Return to Castle Wolfenstein. New Order was a reboot, so Old Blood is circling that reboot back around to reacquaint it with older games in the series."
If you're the kind of person who treasures older shooters — and got a massive kick out of the Shadow Warrior and Rise of the Triad remakes recently, The Old Blood will probably still be an enjoyable romp for four or five hours. Those who latched onto The New Order's tonal shift, discovered a FPS with heart and never wanted to let go: that's not what The Old Blood offers. Buyer beware.
Axiom Verge (PC)
Amongst a sea of retro platformers, Axiom Verge garnered much acclaim
I have a friend who's obsessed with roguelikes and Metroidvania-esque platformers, so it's no surprise that Axiom Verge is one of his favourite games. I've always viewed Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge as a dual package: if you're interested in one, you owe it to yourself to play the other.
But that's a tad reductive, and it doesn't communicate some of the game's genius. Whereas Ori and the Blind Forest works through its visual charms, Axiom Verge relies on you to uncover its secrets. That doesn't work for everyone, but for those whom it does it can be very special indeed.
Carmageddon: Reincarnation (PC, Mac, Linux)
Carmageddon's style of handling always had its detractors
Nostalgia, sometimes, comes at a price. Sometimes it's the rose-tinted memories masking the muddy textures and blocky models of games past. Sometimes it's ignoring the tropes, flaws in design or bugs that were never corrected. And sometimes it's overlooking the controls, controls that lacked the precision and refinement of their predecessors.
Carmageddon, with respect to the latter, has always had this problem.
It's not that the controls are bad per se, but the cars are deliberately very heavy. A lot of people mistakenly treat that as a fault, but it's by design. It's part of the challenge; it's part of the depth.
Modern audiences were never likely to stomach that kind of rigidity though, especially from a game that isn't advertising its realistic physics or driving simulator credentials. But the fact that Reincarnation, at least until a few weeks ago, was poorly optimised is what stopped the comically violent racer from being anything more than a blip on the wave of Kickstarter successes.
That's the main games that stuck in my mind from May. Others that cropped up, but I simply didn't have the time to summarise, include: Magicka 2, Audiosurf 2, Sunset, the Final Fantasy X/X-2 remaster and the Android port of The Talos Principle. What were your highlights for May?