Judging 2015: The Lists, Volume 3, “The Video Game Edition”

This edition will be another mixture of games that were released last year and games that I just happened to play last year. I’d love to hear everyone else’s favorite games from last year because I simply did not have the time to explore as many games as I wanted. Let me know and I’ll add it to my list for post-graduation in May.

  1. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

    I reviewed this game back when it first came out, so I recommend read that post for my expanded thoughts. In short, Rapture is a haunting and mesmerizing indie game, in which you play as somebody sent to investigate what happened in a sleepy English village after all its inhabitants suddenly disappeared. The game is experiential, rather than puzzle oriented, which threw me off at first, but I have grown to really love this genre of games that make the player slow down and let go of self as they immerse you in a new world and story. Rapture is a spectacular example of what this genre can do, from the cinematic visuals and musical score to the complex and creative character development

  2. Fallout 4

    Everyone has been talking about this game for the last couple months and for a great reason: Fallout 4 is truly fantastic. Somehow the developers made traipsing around in a post-apocalyptic nightmare version of Massachusetts while one fends off radioactive mutts and raiders reminiscent of The Road quite fun. Well actually, I’m not sure fun is the right word–the game can be pretty bleak, and it forces the player to work through some difficult decisions about the role that technology should play in human society. For instance, will you choose to treat sentient robots called “synths” as human or merely machine? The outcome of the game depends heavily on which post-war factions you decide to work with and subsequently what kind of missions you embark on. All of this, however, is built into a world that feels believable and open enough to keep a player occupied on side missions for many, many hours. If you are curious about what makes such a bleak world appealing, I recommend watching PBS Game/Show’s video “Why Do We Love Fallout 4’s Awful World?”.

  3. Gone Home
    "Gone Home" by The Fullbright Company - http://www.thefullbrightcompany.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
    “Gone Home” by The Fullbright Company – http://www.thefullbrightcompany.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
    After spending a few months abroad in Europe, you return to your family’s home to find it deserted. Where are your parents and your sister? What happened while you were gone? This game is a first person narrative puzzler in which you have to use what you find in the house to solve the mystery. What is remarkable is the compelling story and characters that emerge as you literally walk around an empty house. I have played many puzzlers in this vein, but I was not expecting to become so invested in that family and the events that unfolded in their lives. This is another example of a game that exhibits the power of the experiential gaming genre. It’s also available for Mac/PC, so even if you don’t have a console, you should be able to play it.

  4. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery

    I actually haven’t finished playing this one, but I have really enjoyed it so far. It’s quite unlike any game I have mentioned in this post. The graphics are reminiscent of gaming’s early years–pixellated and flat. The story is simple, and the characters are not the kind to whom you become attached. But all of these simplified elements contribute to the stylized and quirky nature of the game, in which you play as a Scythian warrior conquering her quests by solving puzzles, battling mystic creatures, and exploring her dream world. In fact, the simple aesthetic is so evocative that it received several awards in the gaming world. My favorite part of this game, however, is the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and snarkily worded narrative observations. (Click for an example.)
    The game is available for iOS, so you can play this on your tablet or phone.

  5. The Nathan Drake Collection

    The Uncharted games are really familiar to most gamers, so I won’t say much here. For those who don’t know the franchise, it’s a first person adventure game where you play as Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter and pseudo-anthropologist, who traipses around the world, getting in trouble, while he tries to uncover historical secrets. It’s a bit of a modern-day Indiana Jones with lots of puzzles and an equal amount of bad guys. The Nathan Drake Collection is a rerelease of the original trilogy in which each game was remastered to match contemporary video graphic technology. Despite the many video game tropes and subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) misogyny built into these games, they’re a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the new edition coming out this year.

Special Mention: Depression Quest
This is the game that sparked the whole Gamergate controversy. It’s a text-based, choose-your-own-adventure game about what it’s like to live with depression. I was skeptical about the game’s efficacy (though I’m very supportive of the women targeted in Gamergate), but the game proved me wrong. It’s definitely simple, but I found it to be thoughtful and enlightening. If you know anyone battling with depression, or if you think you might be depressed, I recommend checking it out. It’s a quick game that you could finish in one sitting.

I’m cheating a little bit with these next two games, but I couldn’t remember the year in which I actually played them. And they’re just too good to ignore!
Special Mention: A Dark Room
This is also text-based, but in the sense that old-school video games were text-based. There’s a whole world to be explored outside of the dark room in which the game begins. I was fascinated by how quickly I became immersed in a world described but not illustrated for me. As for the narrative, well that you just have to find out for yourself. You can play on your iPhone or tablet or via this link on your computer, so it’s very accessible for all.

Special Mention: The Room series
This is purely a puzzler with only the vaguest semblance of a story, but it is SO good. The visuals and music are so atmospheric, lending a gravity to the quest of breaking out of each room. I have played the first two, and now a third game is out which I’m excited to try.

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