5. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
After years of stuttering action adventure games Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition offered a brief glimpse of what it was like to own a maxed out PC rig. After sinking entirely too much money into a current gen system I wanted something to show it off. Although essentially a last-gen game given a cursory makeover, Tomb Raider was made new again by the kind of frame rate and control responsiveness usually reserved for extreme action games. Tomb Raider stood out against the rest of the first-quarter releases, its platform shooting the best of an early crop that tended to skew basic and uninvolving.
4. Desert Golfing
My favourite thing about Desert Golfing is the sound design. Everything is satisfying in its simplicity, from the hollow PUTT when you strike a ball to the crunchy Atari 2600 fizz when you finally manage to sink it. There's no music, no extraneous noises. There's basically nothing. Desert Golfing is relaxing, like someone reached into heyday The Simpsons and dragged out a weird adjunct in the Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge series.
3. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and PT
Two KojiPro demos that deliver concise, excellent experiences. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes wows thanks to some carefully considered controls. Snake is wonderful to manoeuvre, Hideo Kojima having long since left behind the awkward, claw set-ups of earlier Metal Gears, crafting an interaction model more in line with recent stealth stand outs Hitman: Absolution and The Last of Us.
Ground Zeroes' inputs tend towards simple prods and holds based around how physically taxing each action will be for the player character. There's a constant sense of immersion, risk versus reward. Want to pick that lock? You'll have to sit out in the open while Snake gets to work jimmying it. Snake also moves with an impressive clip, keeping a brisk pace even if he's lying face down and crawling. You'll need all the help you can get. On Hard Ground Zeroes' guards never fail to pursue noises, or really anything out of the ordinary, when conducting sweeps.
PT does as much with even less. The entire game experience is one L-shaped corridor that repeats incessantly. After a few loops new details start to bleed in. You notice the squalor, key colours change, a presence or two makes themselves known. You might even gain access to a bathroom.
PT gives you something mundane then tweaks it over and over, adding jarring sounds and piling on the unease until you don't even want to move. There's no sense of escape, make it to the other end of the corridor and you're back where you started. Games tend to be about progress, ticking up a number or a value. In exploration games you learn the cues that signal you're on the right track - new paths, key items, enemies to fight. PT has none of this, progress is obscure and contradictory. A breakthrough might be stabbing at the analog sticks while on an options screen or examining an item you've already looked at twelve times before.
2. The Last of Us: Left Behind
The best standalone DLC since Minerva's Den for BioShock 2, The Last of Us: Left Behind is a short, supplementary campaign that comes on like an adjunct but ends up being a way for Naughty Dog to explode the form and function of their game. Left Behind is an even split between a romantic stroll through a dilapidated mall with your best friend and a fraught struggle to locate medical supplies in a similar space months later.
Pace in the former is largely dictated by the player, you can rush to conclusions or try and wring out every single item or dialogue prompt. Gunplay and distraction mechanics become literal games, part of your bonding experience with the friend who has returned. You can smash windows competitively or chase each other around a Hi Fi separates store with Super Soakers. The object here isn't survival, it's the simulation of interpersonal connections. Friendship blossoming into desperate, teenage affection.
Destiny is a tremendous disappointment, particularly for a studio so adept at lacing action setpieces around po-faced intergalactic fictions. Destiny has none of this. There's nothing here to touch Halo 3's Scarab attack, bosses in Destiny are usually scaled up generics with infinite health bars. This dismay is compounded by a post-release maintenance schedule that prioritises wild goose chases and exorbitantly priced DLC.
Fuck all that though, I had my fun. I hadn't gotten caught up in the pre-release hype and I certainly didn't expect to get ten years worth of play out of it. All I wanted was a multiplayer destination. The deciding factor in even purchasing Destiny was knowing I had a ready-made fireteam of work mates chomping at the bit. Co-op can elevate any game, the interplay with your buddies trumping any of the cackhanded moments the game makers have prepared. This emphasis on palling around made a virtue out of Destiny's insignificant framing - barring the pre-gameplay pep talk cum loading screens, there wasn't much story getting in your way. Destiny was all shooting, all the time.
What makes Destiny kind of exceptional is a moment-to-moment gameplay model that is nothing but satisfactory feedback. Shooting is rapid and fun, headshots are unusually easy to score. Mundane tasks stay agreeable far longer than they have any right to purely on the ease of interaction. It's no exaggeration to say that just firing your weapon in the vague direction of an enemy was fun - if it hadn't been people wouldn't have gotten so obsessed with the loot cave. Destiny only really becomes unsatisfactory when you consider the variety of things being shot. Enemies never evolve, locations stay very similar. Destiny is a basic call and response so finely tuned that if the wallpaper changed often enough you'd be playing forever.
Far Cry 4 / Raiden IV: OverKill / Wolfenstein: The New Order / Alien: Isolation / Escape Goat 2 / Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare / The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo
Gutted I Missed:
Titanfall / Sunset Overdrive / Everything Nintendo put out - the Kyoto company had a banner year.