Hitman, SUPERHOT, Egg Inc., Rise of the Tomb Raider, Journey
Hitman: Absolution seemed like a bad idea at the time. With the release of this latest entry in the series, it is now abundantly clear that it was an unthinkably stupid direction to take the franchise in. By ripping out its soul and attempting to appeal to a wider market, Absolution lost what made Hitman great in the fist place. Giving the player that crucial sandbox freedom once more and opting for a perfectly matched episodic approach, Hitman has returned to greatness.
I remained sceptical for a few months after release. While each level looked superbly designed and full of interesting opportunities to take down targets, the idea of repeatedly playing the same mission over and over until the next episode saw release was off putting. So I waited until the season was halfway through before jumping in. I spent ten hours replaying Paris, the opening mission, before even moving onto the second. An insatiable desire to see every nook and cranny combined with a well implemented unlock system made it easy to go back time and time again.
A problem past games in the series always had was properly communicating to the player exactly what the AI was thinking and what it might be able to think based on the current scenario. Here that issue is solved with a clean and simple UI that clearly conveys everything a would be assassin needs to know, making it obvious which areas you’re trespassing in, who can see through your disguise, and which individuals are out to hunt you down when things inevitably go bad. All of this potentially overwhelming information is conveyed with such elegance that it is surely the culmination of years and years of iteration.
By making the game episodic, Hitman was a year long event. It felt like a live, ongoing tale of revenge against the abusive rich and powerful and I was always delighted to enter Agent 47’s world again when a new piece of content dropped. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the utterly genius elusive targets, which are unique time limited hits that players only have a single chance of accomplishing. Elusive targets feel like Hitman at its purest. Players take everything they’ve learned over the course of the game, all the equipment they’ve unlocked, and attempt to solve a new sandbox puzzle, with the knowledge that failure is not an option ratcheting the tension up to a delightful and often unbearable level. The thrill of succeeding here is among my most memorable gaming moments of the year, while the anguish of failure of is devastating. Such is the nature of the mode and it wouldn’t work any other way. It’s a masterful addition, one which will surely help the game remain relevant between seasons.
Marvellously dense level design, a terrific use of the episodic formula, a wonderfully silly tone that affords some incredible ambient dialogue and set-piece moments, and mechanical perfection make this Agent 47’s finest moment. 5/5
No doubt one of the most visually striking games of the year, SUPERHOT backs up its distinctive style with an equally standout gameplay innovative. It’s a first person action game but time only moves forward when you do. In this sense, it’s more puzzle than action. It has an exceptional ability to make the player feel like a badness by allowing them to punch guns out of enemies’ hands, dodge around fire, and even slice bullets in half midair.
All of this is wrapped up in a bizarre but fairly fascination meta narrative and presented through a low-tech mock OS. It’s a short experience, clocking in at around two hours, with the game’s asking price a little steep for what’s an offer but there’s no denying that those two hours are intensely distinct and enjoyable. (It’s a shame the recently released VR version is Oculus exclusive as I’d love to try it. VR has been a disappointment for me this year and that so many games are exclusive to one headset when there’s so little worth playing is immensely frustrating. VR desperately needs unification to succeed.) 4/5
My brief fascination with this tapper was more a result of circumstance than it actually being what I would describe as a good video game. That’s a little harsh most likely as for what it is, Egg Inc. is among the most refined and well presented of the tapper games I’ve seen. You simply tap to hatch chickens. The more you tap, the more are born. And that’s…about it. Arbitrary numbers increase, your farm grows in size, and you move onto another.
The reason it’s even remotely appealing is because the feedback sensation is satisfying in an almost tactile way. Setting your phone down and rapidly tapping on the screen with as many fingers as you can fit is oddly satisfying, as hordes of chickens emerge and the many clucks turn into a resounding chorus. As an admittedly stupid and nonsensical distraction during down time abroad, it was just fine. 3/5
Rise of the Tomb Raider
I never played the reboot from a few years ago. It looked to me like little more than an imitation of Uncharted (which was itself something of an imitation of the original Tomb Raider series, how cyclical) which I never enjoyed so it just didn’t appeal to me. With Rise though, there’s a renewed emphasis on exploration, puzzle solving, and actual tomb raiding, and I found myself drawn towards it.
Unfortunately the game does still largely indulge in its weakest elements. There’s bombastic moments aplenty, waves of generic bad guys to murder, and a laughably poor popcorn blockbuster narrative. It’s a shame because the performances themselves are good but actors have the most trite Hollywood bullshit to work with. But Rise really does shine when it drops all this baggage and releases the player into a wide open environment. The tombs, which are largely optional, are the unquestionable highlight of the game and the reason to play it. They range from cosy to vast and while the puzzles themselves are never particularly complex or involved, it’s a joy to explore these spaces and finding meaningful rewards at the end.
What a shame it is that only two of these large hubs are present in the game and that the tombs are a side diversion rather than the deserved main event. 3/5
It somehow took me four years to finally play thatgamecompany’s highly lauded Journey. When it first released my PS3 was out of action and it fell off my radar. Having arrived late and with expectations as high as they could possibly be, I found Journey to be worth the praise. Even knowing about some of the more significant portions of the game ahead of time did nothing to dampen what is quite simply a magical experience. That sounds like empty bullshit over-praise, I know, but it isn’t.
It’s a little pointless trying to convey exactly what makes it so brilliant because it largely amounts to feeling. Yes, its audio-visual presentation is mesmerising, sliding gently across glistening sand dunes is hypnotically relaxing, and stumbling into another player and forming a bond is a thrill. But ultimately, Journey is a game of feeling and each person has to experience it for themselves to really understand. For me, the emotional response it evoked was staggering. If any video game is truly special, it’s Journey. 5/5