Review: South Park the Fractured But Whole

Its quite something that South Park: The Fractured But Whole manages to deliver a really entertaining super hero themed turn-based RPG, whilst constantly and mercilessly mocking super hero franchises, and turn-based RPGs.

Throughout the game you’ll encounter combat in the streets of your quiet mountain town, and just when you’re beginning to take the grid-based battle seriously, you’ll be interrupted and scorned by passing cars yelling for you to get out of the road. Its an occasional friendly reminder that many of the game’s enemies are just children with tinfoil on their head, and there’s something very endearing about watching them break character mid-battle to scurry out of the road.

The Fractured But Whole is full of these moments, from the name itself to the items you collect or the powers you amass. That isn’t to say that the game is suddenly a sweet, nostalgic dive into childhood make-believe – rest assured it is still very much indicative of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s sharp, satirical humour. Whatever your background or beliefs, this game is out to insult and offend you in the most inclusive way possible.

Boss fights don’t get as dark as the zombified aborted foetus of a reality TV star (an actual enemy in the first game), and this time round no scenes warranted European censorship, but Fractured But Whole has its moments. Among the worst of these are scenes in a strip club and a church, though I’ll refrain from spoiling just how terrible they are.

If you’ve played the Stich of Truth, you’ll be familiar with all this, but the sequel builds on its predecessor by expanding combat and adding enough content to almost double the length of the game.

sp2-chaos-1920_208824The biggest upgrade is in the game’s new grid-based combat, which adds greater complexity to the turn-based mechanics introduced in Stick of Truth. The moves are still largely fart jokes, true, but the system itself has matured to give the player greater agency over play-style. New considerations for your team’s moves based on positioning, range and knock-back potential gives the combat the depth it was missing in the last game. These mechanics also evolve throughout the game, introducing more moves and demanding more from the player, with real-time timers that endanger or incapacitate multiple team members in a set zone and enemy summons that prolong the battle. There are also several battles that include swarms of  enemies that don’t stop coming until you make it from one end of the battle to the other, to escape the battle. It doesn’t do much for the game’s difficulty but it keeps battles from getting too stale as the game progresses.

Equally you unlock more options for your team, each with a specialised set of moves to try out. Knowing the strengths and styles of your teammates is vital, and it fits in perfectly with the narrative of the show. The (slightly) more considerate Kyle has a focus on shielding your team and pulling them close to heal, where Clyde’s moves are largely centred around grossing out your opponents, and the seemingly immortal Kenny’s are typically rash.

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One of the things I found most impressive around this is the tailored banter between the characters. It gets repetitive if you continually use the same team as is often the case with RPGs in this style, but each of your team mates has dialogue specifically targeted toward certain members. Super Craig might single out the Human Kite during a fight to call him lame, whereas you would get entirely different dialogue if you swapped one for Cartman or Clyde. It’s a clever touch that makes each team feel fresh.

You also have a similar level of customisation with your own character development. Armour and clothing continue to be largely cosmetic, but Fractured But Whole introduces new ways to tailor New Kid to your play style. You begin with choosing a class of hero from three distinct styles based on speed, strength and range, but you can return to Cartman to amend this even in the early game. As you go on however, you have access to a greater range of choice and can mix and match within that selection, including Cyborg, Elementalist, Psychic.

Rather than levelling up in the traditional sense, your level is based on artefacts you assign to your character. Starting off you have one slot, but this expands to multiple slots each with greatly varied options. You can choose artefacts that not only increase your overall level, but buff your abilities in particular moves. You could choose moves that focus on knock-back for example, and select artefacts that give a boost to knock-back damage.

Despite the added complexity of combat, it is at times a little too easy. Personally I didn’t find this to be a negative thing, as the variety of experience is still engaging and the hilarity of writing kept me hooked, but if you are someone who needs a challenge to keep you interested you may find this somewhat lacking even on the most difficult setting.

This is also true of the game’s ‘puzzles’, which given their simplicity shouldn’t be considered puzzles at all in the sense you might expect from an RPG. It reminded me a lot of Zelda games, not for clever memorable dungeons design but for those moments where you notice a hookshot target early on but don’t have the right equipment yet.

That said, there is a lot to keep you interested outside of actual gameplay. Exploration of South Park is still entertaining as ever, with plenty of inside jokes to stumble upon or familiar characters to seek out and take a selfie with. Mini games like this will appeal to completionists, as will collecting costumes or seeking out memberberries. Its not that they’re exceptional side quests but they give you an excuse to go out an explore every inch of the town, which will expose you to how much effort has gone into hiding jokes in every corner.

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If you’re a South Park, fan you should absolutely invest in this game. It isn’t your average licensed game, like some of the early South Park titles. As someone who played South Park, South Park Rally and Chef’s Luv Shack on the N64 in the late nineties, I know what happens when you lazily slap a well-known-name on something that’s below average. This is a world apart from those early games, and its very apparent that a great deal of work has gone into this both from the studio and Trey Parker and Matt Stone themselves.

Essentially what you’re getting for your money is an epic, twenty hour episode of the show wrapped up in a parody of super-hero films and turn-based RPGs. If you’re a fan of all three, you’ll be blown away.

TL;DR

Pros

  • Combat is more complex, with new grid-based mechanics
  • It is likely the funniest game around, both in narrative and dialogue
  • Looks and feels like you’re in a South Park episode

Cons

  • Fairly easy and unchallenging
  • Less daring than the first game, in terms of dark humour (this could easily be a pro depending on you)
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Review: What Remains of Edith Finch

A world apart from action heavy shooters and massive open world RPGs, What Remains of Edith Finch is the latest in a recent trend of critically acclaimed first person, story-driven games.

Exploration based titles such as Gone Home, Firewatch or Journey have set a high standard for what we expect from these experiences, and What Remains of Edith Finch rises to that level with gorgeous style and engaging story-telling.

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At its heart, the game is a love story to the grief that can accumulate in a home. Its developers Giant Sparrow manage to weave the tragic tale of the Finch family into every fabric of the game, tasking players with exploring the Finch’s home and its incredibly sad history in order to uncover why seventeen year-old Edith is the last surviving member of her household. Edith returns to the home with the intent of investigating the so called family curse and recording the sad stories of her relatives.

As you uncover their tragic tale, you’re pulled through a stunning series of sequences that illustrate the family’s history in incredibly clever ways. Exploring the home reveals a series of additional rooms, designed and built by the family over generations and sealed upon the death of their resident. Each one of these serves as a memorial for the room’s original occupant, full of their belongings and preserving their memory.

As you uncover these memories, the gameplay evolves into a completely immersive, fantastical imagining of their final moments. Far from a gruesome cut-scene, each family member’s demise is retold in beautiful but heart-breaking style through short narrative mini-game segments.

Speaking to the Daily Express just last month, Giant Sparrow’s creative director Ian Dallas defined their focus as, “Basically the sublime, the experience of being in that dual state of something being aesthetically really engaging but also including this ominous, unsettling feeling as well.”

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Giant Sparrow’s BAFTA award winning debut title The Unfinished Swan (2012) was critically praised for its originality and innovation, casting you as a young boy chasing an escaped Swan through an unfinished painted world. That same unique art and original premise is what makes Edith Finch so memorable, but the lack of challenge and interactivity might be disappointing for some players.

The Finch home is beautifully designed, with thoughtful details that define each family member and give you a true insight into their life and death. I couldn’t help but think however that the environments would be more engaging if it were possible to interact more with that scenery and perhaps uncover additional content. Despite this, the game’s environments are so well developed that just exploration alone is entertaining.

Throughout What Remains of Edith Finch’s two hours of gameplay, I was constantly impressed with its striking artwork and the intricacy of its world building. The game’s greatest strength is storytelling, which is almost entirely achieved through obsessively detailed environments and clever, illustrated allegories that bring the family’s history to life in bizarre and beautiful ways.

It’s an achievement in any medium, across all genres, to make your audience grieve your characters in just two hours. Giant Sparrow manages to pull it off with exceptional style.

TL;DR

Pros

  • Fabulous art-style creates an engaging environment
  • Innovative, immersive story-telling
  • Exceptional attention to detail in each area really brings the story life

Cons

  • Limited interactivity
  • Very few puzzles or challenges to solve
  • Some slight performance issues, particularly for PS4 users

5 Mobile Games to play this week

Whether you’re a seasoned mobile gamer or you’re on the lookout for a new game to fill your morning commute, here are five of the best mobile games to pay attention to this week.

Rabbids Crazy Rush // FREE

This free-to-play, level-based runner from Ubisoft is seriously worth a go. Guide this rabid creature through a variety of environments as you dodge obstacles and collect cans to fulfil your crazy lunar dreams. The system is rewarding (and therefore addictive!) and the visuals are really nice, looking great on iOS and android.

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The Warlock of Firetop Mountain // £4.99

This is one of those games that makes you feel instantly nostalgic. A cross between choose your own adventure comics and turn-based tabletop dice rollers, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain presents that classic gameplay in 3D on iPhone and iPad. Choose your hero from four characters, and navigate through a deathly dungeon as you complete their unique quest. The game costs £4.99, but further content can be unlocked starting from £2.99.

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Dungeon Rushers // £4.99

Playing this and Warlock of Firetop Mountain in the same week, its easy to draw parallels. Both are tactical dungeon crawlers with turn-based combat, but Dungeon Rushers from Mis-Clos and Goblinz Studios has a little less story and way more action and customization. This 2D adventure is more about the clearing out dungeons, slaying monsters and filling your boots with loot. You can even build your own dungeon, which is awesome, laying out traps and enemies for other players to take on.

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Turmoil // £5.99

A seriously unique take on simulation, Turmoil gives you the reins of a budding oil empire in 19th century America. The art style is really lovely, and although its missing some of the depth you might get in a serious simulator, the game is fun to play. Dig for oil, research tech to upgrade and watch the town grow up around you as the cash pours in. There’s even political intrigue as you beat out local rivals to be the next mayor.

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Wobblers // FREE

This free to play arcade-style game will have you obsessively striving to beat your last score. Maintain your balance as your wobbler blasts through levels avoiding obstacles and bombs, and collecting the constant stream of coins and stars. Umbrella have packed the game full of content, with hundreds of levels and an army of adorable wobblers to pick up along the way.

5 Mobile Games to play this week

Whether you’re a seasoned mobile gamer or you’re on the lookout for a new game to fill your morning commute, here are five of the best mobile games to pay attention to this week.

Mage The Ascension: Refuge // £4.99

If you like interactive storytelling, this strange futuristic tale of magic and political intrigue might be for you. Mage the Ascension does a good job of delivering a magical thriller that lets the player choose the direction of the narrative. From the mind of critically-acclaimed author Karin Tidbeck, the game’s story is set in modern- day Sweden but grants the player the ability to shape reality itself through sheer force of belief. The only criticism is perhaps the story could have been filled out and extended a little more, to justify the price, but overall its worth a go if you like this kind of thing.

Digby Forever // FREE

If you haven’t already picked this free-to-play endless runner up, Digby Forever is absolutely worth having on your device. This endless digger follows adorable Digby’s relentless digging in search of crystals, whilst avoiding potential pitfalls. The gameplay is fairly simple but adding things like unlockable DigBots (super cute helpers) and ability cards lets you mash up gameplay to keep things interesting.

Hidden Folks // £3.99

Between the cute hand-drawn art design and the nostalgia factor, Hidden Folks is really charming, and surprisingly funny. It’s essentially Where’s Wally? for your phone, and it works really well at creating bustling scenes for you to search through. Just poking around in these drawings is really entertaining, and just about everything you do to mess with the world has a reaction that rewards constant interaction.

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Lit the Torch // £0.99

An attractive platformer with creative and satisfying puzzles. After launching in select regions last month, Lit the Torch finally became available worldwide this week and its well worth look for puzzle-lovers. You take control of Night Watch ember, navigating your way between two worlds as you light the torches. The multiple universe idea adds a good angle to the puzzles, in a very Stranger Things kind of way, and the artwork differs significantly between the two.

Tiny Striker: World Football // FREE

Football fans will enjoy this adorable free to play 3D sequel to Fat Fish Games’ original Tiny Striker game. This one has great, simple flick shoot gameplay, challenging you to rise through the ranks to become a global star one goal at a time.  It’s the first of the Tiny Sports series to introduce the 3D perspective, and there’s also a training mode to raise the stats of your striker, improving your chances of getting the ball in the net when it matters. If you’re looking for an easy and addictive game to fill a half hour commute, this might be the one.

5 Mobile Games to Play this Week

Whether you’re a seasoned mobile gamer or you’re on the lookout for a new game to fill your morning commute, here are five of the best mobile games to pay attention to this week.

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The Godfather // FREE

If simulations and city builders are your thing, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in the the Godfather game. This is great for scratching that itch, but it also doesn’t really offer anything ground-breaking. Build your crime empire, upgrade your mob and take the city in a very predictable but still entertaining free-to-play.

Thirteen Souls // £2.99

This 3D fighting game has great character and environment design, and manages to deliver some good looking moves and combos. Choose from 12 fighters and a wide variety of arenas to challenge opponents. Single player campaign is entertaining enough, with online functionality on the way.

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Okay Golf // £2.99

If your commute is particularly stressful or you’ve had a hard day, Okay Golf is a good place to calm down. Between the simple controls and the serene environments, there’s something really calming about this drag and release golf simulator. If you like puzzles and challenges then the non-competitive nature of Okay Golf probably isn’t for you, but for such a mindless game its actually really fun.

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A boy and his Blob // £4.39

You may remember this title from way back on the Wii or Vita, but now the game is available on Android devices for just £4.39. Even the release a few years back was a reimagining of the NES classic, and there is still something very nostalgic about its design. Feed jelly beans to your blob companion to transform it into a number of useful forms, in order to solve the game’s puzzles. Best of all, it has a hug button. I should have started with that really.

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Maze Lord // £1.99

Maze Lord offers some decent level design and puzzles as you make your way through a dungeon maze, collecting loot and avoiding danger. Classic fantasy style artwork in a turn-based dungeon crawler that will test you just enough to be fun.

5 Mobile Games to play this week

Whether you’re a seasoned mobile gamer or you’re on the lookout for a new game to fill your morning commute, here are five of the best mobile games to pay attention to this week.

Fire Emblem: Heroes // FREE

Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo’s third mobile release and the second free-to-play title. But whereas Miitomo struggled to keep players interested and Super Mario Run was criticised for its price tag, Fire Emblem Heroes seems to strike a balance with a decent amount of content for a free game. Battle enemies in turn-based combat within the popular and summon heroes to save the world. The usual. There are predictable micro-transactions that you can throw money at to advance the game, but it’s still very playable without these and worth a try for Nintendo fans.

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Warlock’s Tower // £3.99

This cute 8 bit puzzler has you completing challenges in just three steps, making each move you make stressful and challenging. The aim of the game is to climb the tower to stop an evil warlock from destroying the world, but the three steps and you die rule will test your problem solving. Aside from the brilliant level design, Warlock’s Tower is great as a nostalgia piece.

Papery Planes // FREE

Lovely minimalist artwork and simple gameplay makes this side-scrolling paper plane simulator rather relaxing. Guide your plane left or right to avoid obstacles and collect points, but one wrong move and it could be the end of your origami aircraft..

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The Frostrune // £4.99

The incredibly stylish hand-drawn artwork of this game is really impressive, and completely ties in to the atmosphere of the narrative. This point and click adventures has you stranded on a mysterious island, on which you can piece together the narrative through uncovering objects and secrets.  The Frostrune explores Norse mythology in a really interesting and engaging way.

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Snailboy: Rise of Hermitron // FREE/£3.99

Firstly, this platformer looks genuinely gorgeous. Guide Snailboy as he seeks to return peace by restoring the Guardian Shell. The gameplay is a satisfying mix of exploration and combat that makes trawling for treasure and power ups really fun. At the very least Snailboy: Rise of Hermitron is worth a look for its first five levels, which are free to play. You can then unlock the remaining 20 for £3.99.

Top 10 Games of 2016

Wherever you are in the world and whatever your political persuasions, 2016 has been an incredibly divisive year. The only thing that’s lightened the mounting stress of world crisis, electoral argument and the loss of some much loved figures, is the whirlwind of quality TV, movies and video games.

We’ve been spoilt with some exceptional releases and unforgettable entertainment – which makes it that much more difficult to whittle this intense year down to just ten of my highlights across games, films and series.

Of course, my top ten is not necessarily yours, and there are plenty of critically acclaimed games released this year that haven’t made the list purely based on personal opinion. If you want to share your top ten list, feel free to comment or let me know on Twitter your picks for the year and why.

To kick off, here’s my pick of the top 10 games for 2016;

10. Mafia III

This is a controversial opener, as the game was met with decisively average reviews – but for me all the little details in Mafia III, from its soundtrack to the retro Playboy magazine collectables created an incredible, immersive 60s atmosphere that made for a truly entertaining game experience.

The most innovative aspect of the game is its framing mechanic – from the very beginning the story is told as if the entirety of the experience is a documentary. Some returning characters give their account of the events – and occasionally, if you mess up a level, you’ll get an amusing outro of a confused narrator claiming “that can’t be how it happened..”

Some of the gameplay itself feels a bit dated if you’re used to polished open world adventures, but it’s still enjoyable to play and absolutely worth picking up for the story alone.

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9. Layers of Fear

The reason this game made the list is I still remember how unsettling I found the story. Rather than relying on jump scares alone, Layers of Fear delivers its terror layer by layer (appropriately!), creating an uneasy experience and a deep feeling of dread that really sticks with you.

I’m reluctant to say much about the story because I don’t want to spoil anything, but the general premise is fairly simple; you’re a painter desperately trying to finish your masterpiece, in a creepy Victorian mansion. You aren’t running from zombies or hiding from psychopaths, instead the fear comes from an emotional and unsettling atmosphere.

The attention to detail that goes into the setting and the way the protagonist’s past is slowly revealed to you over time really drove me to finish this game, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a fondness for psychological thrillers.

  8. PokemonGo

As a mobile game, PokemonGo was a bug-ridden mess and frustrating to play from release. Despite that, it quickly became an international phenomenon – making headlines across the world for its immediate cultural impact. It is for that reason that this augmented reality app is one of my favourite games of the year, despite its many issues and regardless of how quickly the obsession died.

It’s also worth saying that for a free to play game, Niantic were very generous with content and the game was fun and enjoyable, without intrusive advertising or near-compulsory micro-transactions.

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   7. Twilight Princess

As a WiiU owner and Zelda fanatic, I had to put the HD remaster of 2006’s Zelda Twilight Princess on this list. This is a game I previously attempted to replay only a few years ago, dusting off my Wii for a sharp reminder of how little I missed motion controls. In contrast the WiiU version reminded me of why I loved the game in the first place, and it looked surprisingly good on my 4K screen running at 1080p.

    6. Last Guardian

Having waited a casual eight years or so for this game, it was almost surreal to finally have a copy in my hands. Despite some clunky controls, the game tells a beautiful story in a really intelligent and understated way. It can be frustrating at times, but that’s almost part of the charm of maintaining a relationship with a giant bird dog. I’ve played this game enough for it to make my top ten, but I haven’t finished it yet so it may have climbed higher by the end of the month. Watch my unboxing of the Last Guardian Collector’s Edition here.

  1. The Witness

I never thought a puzzle game would be one of my favourite titles of the year, but the Witness is not like anything I’ve ever played. The way the puzzles are entrenched within its beautifully designed environments and the clever way in which it teaches you how to complete the game one puzzle at a time is really impressive and absolutely the kind of game that gets into your head.

If you’ve ever dreamt about Tetris shapes you’ll understand this feeling, and the Witness left me spotting puzzles in places I walk past every day.

Has anyone pitched Thekla Inc. ‘The WitnessGo’?

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  1. Final Fantasy XV

After ten years in development, Final Fantasy XV delivers a memorable open RPG adventure through a bizarre and beautiful world.Its a really beautiful looking game with a an entertaining RPG game play loop and exploration and battle mechanics that make the first half of the game really fun to grind through.

The game’s story draws heavily on the themes of the wider series, which puts it in constant conflict with its desire to appeal to newcomers. But whilst the story is a little weak and often confusing in its delivery, the strong supporting cast and the relationship of the four main characters make this endearingly strange video game really entertaining

For all its flaws, its one of the most entertaining games I’ve played this year.

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  1. Rise of the Tomb Raider

As a Playstation 4 owner, the 20th Anniversary edition of Rise of the Tomb Raider released this year was my first real taste of this epic adventure, and easily one of my favourite games of the year.

Despite being released a year earlier on Xbox consoles, nothing about the game felt dated and I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Lara’s dark journey of survival in a freezing wilderness. The weapon crafting and skill tree mechanics added a surprising amount of customization to a traditionally story driven action game, and the huge open areas made the game feel bigger and more interwoven than ever.

Lara herself is brought to life with intricate physical design and rich emotional character development – her fierce survival instincts, strong moral compass and compassionate interactions with (comparatively weak) supporting characters made it easy to empathise with this infamous leading lady.

It was absolutely worth the wait, so much so that I’d even consider its sequel a potential system seller, if Xbox secure timed exclusivity again.

  1. Pokémon Sun and Moon

The second Pokémon game on this list, but by far my favourite of the two.

After twenty years of the pocket monster franchise, Sun and Moon has a unique style that breaks the conventions of its predecessors without straying too far from the game that took the world by storm all those years ago.

The long awaited seventh generation of the RPG franchise delivers a beautiful new region to explore, with a thoughtfully crafted style that really outshines previous areas for its distinct feel and engaging environments. The tiresome HM system has been cut and gyms are replaced with island trials and totem Pokémon, but the core collecting, training and battle mechanics remain largely unchanged.

Although I found the opening few hours a little slow, overall I think Sun and Moon really managed to shake up the series in a way that really built on all the strengths of previous games. It also managed to appeal to casual gamers after the success of Pokémon go, without alienating veterans of the franchise – which is an impressive feat!

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  1. Dark Souls 3

My favourite game of the year is the third instalment of FromSoftware’s twisted action RPG series. Dark Souls 3 was exactly what I wanted and everything I’ve come to expect from a souls game, with a rich and rewarding story that can unfold without you even noticing, unless you’re paying attention, and many nods to the themes and theories that have built up around its predecessors.

My hype for the game was fairly high, but the unforgiving environments, unique bosses and clever level design really delivered and whilst it certainly wasn’t the biggest release of the year, I genuinely enjoyed Dark Souls 3 more than any other game I played. You can read my full review here.

Honourable mention;

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Firewatch

I first noticed Firewatch because of the stunning artwork of Olly Moss, but it was the engaging, melancholy story and the excellent, well-delivered dialogue that made it such a memorable experience.

It’s almost therapeutic to wander in solitude around the vast national forest, all the while unravelling the game’s mystery. The voice acting is superb and the narrative addresses sad, emotional themes that we can all sympathise with in one way or another. There isn’t much in the way of actual gameplay, but Firewatch almost made this list because it’s one of the year’s best examples of interactive storytelling.

Skyrim Special Edition

Skyrim returned this year with remastered graphics and faster loading times, as well as all the DLC content bundled in and the inclusion of mod support for console users. Whilst you could easily take a fairly cynical view of this, it was the perfect upgrade for Elder Scrolls fans and a great option for anyone who inexplicably missed this huge release the first time. It ate a few more hours of my time but ultimately for me it didn’t add enough to the original game to make it onto this list.

FIFA 17

Normally I wouldn’t consider an annual release game like FIFA as a highlight of the year, but this year the game’s career mode really stepped up to at least deserve a mention. I was surprised at the level of detail put into Alex Hunter’s story and the various supporting mechanics that complemented traditional gameplay. In addition to controlling his performance on the pitch, you are responsible for career-shaping decisions that supplement his rise to fame.

EA would sell copies of FIFA based on multiplayer alone, so it’s good to see them rewarding fans with additional features and strong cinematic storytelling.

Hitman

Agent 47’s latest missions were released in a new episodic format that meant it may have flown under the radar for many gamers.

The game is a collection of varied levels that require you to adopt a mix of stealth, disguise and creative kills. You can run in guns blazing if you like, but for me it was much more fun to watch the various NPCs complete their routines and discover interesting ways to do away with your target and escape unnoticed. It is for this reason that the episodic release makes sense, because it encourages you to replay missions before moving onto the next, discovering new secrets every time. The only negative of this is so many major titles were released between the first and final episodes that hype for the next instalment would often fizzle out. Having said that I’m the sort of person who waits until the end of a Telltale series before binging on every episode, so this may just be me.

 

Games I’ve not got around to yet that might have made the list;

Dishonoured 2

Telltale’s Batman

Uncharted 4

Overwatch