Growing up reading Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun's Charley's War left me with an indelible interest in shell-shocked men winging their way around muddy mazes, clubbing and shooting everything in their path. That, and an all-consuming hatred of authority. Battlefield 1 is the first game to really scratch that first itch, framing popular seek-and-shoot multiplaying within a gorgeous, smoke-choked evocation of The Great War. Armed with primitive, era-specific weaponry, players find themselves relentlessly trapped in situations that naturally track from long-range snipe-offs to desperate trench thwacking.
Dark Souls III
At one point during Dark Souls III you get the opportunity to slip out of the natural order of things and explore the ruin that awaits should you fail in your quest to rekindle the world's flame. The Untended Graves is a short, completely missable area that houses a depressed boss thrashing around in his failure and precious little else. It's dark and unforgiving, the few basic enemies that have survived long enough to dwell here are twisted and malformed, perhaps feeding off the unending night.
Press on and you'll discover a forgotten version of the game's usually friendly hub area. It's empty this time, except for an old crone who thinks she might've met you before. There's no sense of relief or safety here anymore. The place feels invaded, hope has been vanquished. Dark Souls III builds itself around these kind of feelings, exploring an apocalypse as a state of existence that can be traversed rather than an end unto itself. Failure is never final in this world, that'd be too easy. Instead it's grist for your relentless, pig-headed march towards victory.
Not since Halo 3 has a shooter campaign taken such delight in assuring the player that they are this realm's apex predator. It's not enough to just shoot your way through the flailing, injured hellspawn, Doom wants you to catapult yourself towards your foes, dig your fingers into their body and rip them apart. Played at maximum clip, Doom has you careening around occult arenas blasting demons until they're groggy, then auto-angling your looming, POV presence in particular, unintuitive ways just so you can activate the most visceral coup de grace possible.
Hidden My Game by Mom - Escape Room
Hidden My Game by Mom - Escape Room sees you assume the role of a child scouring the living room in search of his confiscated 3DS. The first few levels have you snooping around, smashing pots and toppling bookcases in an attempt to reveal the contraband handheld. Before long though the titular Mom gets inventive, employing acrobats to block your path or feeding your toy to a hungry elephant. Escape Room is a series of simple tapping puzzles that lean heavily on joke manga staples like magical pendants and defecating animals. Perfect for short commutes.
Playdead's Limbo follow-up steps back from exhausting puzzles and pixel-perfect leaping to focus on a series of alarming reveals. Where Limbo skewed abstract, Inside stays investigative, slowly prodding your wheezing, vulnerable child along a conveyor belt of horrors that run the gamut from extrajudicial killings to the body-rending expulsions of an enormous, industrialised nightmare. Inside isn't the least bit precious about the human body either. Like Dark Souls III, your failure to protect a fragile little figure is as much a part of the story as any of your successes.
Ninja Senki DX
Like Mega Man games? Disappointed that Capcom have stopped making their faux 8-bit sequels? Furious that Mighty No. 9 turned out to be an opportunity for Keji Inafune to build a multimedia empire rather than a deeply personal passion project? Not to worry, Tribute Games have got you covered. Also ideal for those of us who missed out on Alex Kidd in Shinobi World on the Master System.
A supernatural adventure game about extremely talkative teenagers looking for terrifying, inter-dimensional triangles. Oxenfree is a scavenger hunt in which you comb the landscape for fixed items and buttons that allow progress. Night School Studio massage this basic interaction with a deep and well thought out conversation system that allows you to play a variety of roles within the high schooler collective. You can slowly prod romantically interested parties together and make nice with your new step-brother, or you can slap people around and burn bridges. If you really want to, you can say nothing at all and score a trophy in the process.
Completely immersive, even without Sony's VR head-set, Rez Infinite surrounds the player with colourful, pulsing feedback as you glide through a psychedelic shoot-out. Tetsuya Mizuguchi has built his career around visual signals and gameplay elements that build on and around an all-encompassing soundtrack. His games give players the opportunity to feel like they're directly interacting with a living, evolving musical experience. VR takes this even further. You're not just staring at a bright little window, now you're inside the action, turning your head to watch the targets as they obligingly queue up on their way to being blasted.
Eric Barone's love letter to 16-bit farming games is a beautiful example of loop gameplay. Your early days in Stardew Valley will be spent rising early to water your slowly expanding farm before limping off into town to burn your last dregs of energy networking and scouring the notice board for quests. Concepts that break or compliment these tasks are introduced slowly and surely. Pop into a one of the shops near the pier and you'll score a fishing rod, keep planting the same seeds and eventually you'll be introduced to the pitfalls of seasonal crop. There's no hurry in Stardew Valley, precious little danger either, instead you get to enjoy a slowly expanding sense of routine.
In a year full of excellent shooter campaigns, Titanfall 2 is the very best. Respawn approach game design in a similar way to Nintendo or Valve, filling their single-player full of situations and ideas that can only be expressed through gameplay. Story and character both play important roles in Titanfall 2 but they are secondary to the sheer joy wrung out of stages designed like luxuriously curated dares.
Every level Respawn introduce a new input proposition that takes the game's core mechanics and asks you to do something a little bit different. The studio twist and invert these concepts over the length of the course before discarding them and moving onto their next eureka moment. You know, just in case there was any chance you could get bored of scaling an enormous conveyor belt producing futuristic Ikea showrooms or skipping back and forth in a building's lifetime.
BioShock: The Collection / Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare / Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered / Dead Rising (PS4) / Dex / Islands: Non-Places / The Last Guardian / Let It Die / No Man's Sky / Pang Adventures / Sky Force Anniversary / SteamWorld Heist / Street Fighter V / Uncharted 4 / Virginia / We Become What We Behold