Here they are; the coveted top spots. In a year full of stellar releases, these five have stood themselves out from the pack and rightfully earned their places. To see the rest of the picks, click here…
5. Hotline Miami
Commonly described as “Drive: The Game” this 2-D, top-down, thug-‘em-up pits you against floors of ‘80s white-suited gangsters armed with only your wits. Well, your wits and whatever you find lying around to cave their heads in with.
The essence of the game is timing, finding the fastest way to rush a room and kill all the inhabitants without catching a bullet yourself, which happens a lot. A lot. Despite the constant restarts, the game manages to never annoy, only spur you on to do better. The feeling of finally nailing every brutal, pixelated assassination in quick succession leaves you wanting more, and questioning your new sadistic side.
The music fits perfectly with the neon Drive aesthetic, along with the protagonist who, under the range of bizarre rubber animal masks, could easily be Ryan Gosling’s character in the movie. A must-have for the adrenaline-fuelled psycho in all of us.
4. Forza Horizon
The newest game in the Forza motorsport series saw a departure from the clinical, disciplined world of track-racing to an open world free-roam at a bizarre music festival.
The Forza franchise is best known for providing players with a gaming experience that highlights the harsh, unforgiving reality that you are, in fact, NOT a driving god, but the latest instalment is a little more lenient on the automotively challenged. The Horizon festival hosts huge name bands from the global circuit too, providing a great soundtrack to the races, which buck the trend of simple point-to-points with contests against planes and helicopters in the lush and varied environments of Colorado.
Overall, the whole experience seems very organic and inclusive, allowing racing veterans to tailor the game to their liking while leaving the door open for newcomers.
Taking almost 5 years to arrive after its initial announcement, this labour of love for indie developer Phil Fish blew minds when it swivelled onto screens in Spring this year. Playing as Gomez, you are imbued with a magical Fez hat, allowing you to perceive your originally 2D world in three dimensions.
The implications of this reality-shattering event result in you being able to perform feats impossible to explain in words, as you are given the ability to rotate your newly cuboid world at will, creating an entirely new set of platforms to jump around.
In addition to the mind-bendingly Escher-esque level design, the number of secrets and puzzles will have you reaching for notepads to decipher languages and symbols, reminiscent of the olden (or should that be golden) days of gaming where not everything appeared as an objective on your screen.
A beautifully crafted rubiks cube that will have you obsessing over the significance of owls for days.
2. Sleeping Dogs
GTA clones rarely make a dent in the release calendar, seeing as there’s never a single one that can take the mantle of the undisputed king, but this year Sleeping Dogs proved that Rockstar aren’t the only ones who can do crime in the big city. Set in the busy, bustling high rises of Hong Kong, the plot resembles a seminal work of HK action cinema, Infernal Affairs, which was most recently adapted into Scorsese’s The Departed.
You play undercover cop Wei Shen tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee triad organisation, starting as a low-level recruit working your way up to take down the bigwigs at the top of each faction. However, unlike GTA where your climb up the crime ladder is unhindered by anything as petty as morals, your position as an undercover cop trying to take down those you are getting close to takes its toll on Shen’s psyche.
The gameplay is fantastic too, as well as the usual gunplay and driving (which could be tweaked a touch but isn’t the worst) there are also freeflow martial arts brawls with a ludicrous amount of environment interaction. An absolutely thrilling playthrough lasts around 60 hours and with the constantly evolving plot, never becomes a chore.
1. Borderlands 2
2009’s Borderlands brought the hack and slash looting genre to a new group of RPG-lovers, with first person shooting in a space western setting and literally bajillions of different guns. Ok, maybe not bajillions, but the procedural randomisation of weapon stats apparently meant there were over 17.75million possible guns, and Borderlands 2 brought a bunch more to the party.
It’s not just the number of guns that got a leg-up, the art-style and plot have both benefitted from clear direction in the sequel, as well as bringing in the comedic writing of Anthony Burch to provide even more zany characters and dialogue.
Missions are often referential to pop-culture (or even 4th wall shattering meta-references) and the range of different playstyles available, as well as the option to play with 3 other friends, means one playthrough is not enough. The world of Pandora has also been re-organised, with areas no longer feeling like stock stages or levels and a more cohesive thread of design running through them all, linking them together into an enormous world that feels much more real.
There is a singular villain this time round, Handsome Jack, which helps galvanise your desire to succeed, as does his constant mocking and psychopathic ramblings on the notion of heroism (which may make you doubt your actions a little more than was possible intended by the writers).
Overall, BL2 takes everything great about its predecessor and ramps it up to 11, making an adventure that can be played alone or with friends without missing a step.
Picture courtesy of 2K Games, with thanks.