Shacknews is preparing to release its selections for 2015 Game of the Year. Before we get to the staff's selections, Shacknews is taking a look back at the past 12 months in video games, spotlighting a handful of major releases, including a few that readers may perhaps like to include in their own personal GOTY conversations. Next up: May!
If it looks like there weren't many high profile games released in the month of May, it's because few dared to stand up to CD Projekt RED and the final part of its trilogy, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. But while The Witcher 3 mostly lived up to its lofty expectations, there were still a few other notable games to release in that month, including a ink-tastic multiplayer shooter, a long-awaited crowdfunded racer, and a return to World War II for more anachronistic insanity.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
What is there to say about Geralt of Rivia's latest gaming adventure that hasn't already been said? The sheer amount of depth in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is rivaled by few games, blowing away even the deep experience of the previous Witcher games. The world of the Northern Realms is overwhelming, merely scratching the surface of the game's explorable world. All of it is filled with story quests and side quests, along with characters that need the help of a powerful Witcher. And that's without even mentioning the assortment of creatures that lurk the world, whether they be wild, mythological, or even spiritual.
The new streamlined combat system made The Witcher 3 feel more accessible than previous efforts, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to work for. Enemy weaknesses aren't obvious from the outset, but part of the game's charm is doing copious research on potential weaknesses and working out various strategies. The feeling of being the town's go-to hero is quite a rush, but there's nothing like working out how to defeat the towering behemoth that threatens to tear you limb from limb.
All of that is without even touching on the story, which CD Projekt RED told brilliantly. It's not just the main plot, either. Beyond Geralt looking to protect Ciri from the Wild Hunt, many of the game's NPCs have their own intricately woven backstories, all of which players can see through to the end, creating alliances and even romances. The Witcher 3 came into May with a lot of hype and CD Projekt RED lived up to pretty much all of it.
From our review: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is a masterfully written rollercoaster, and though there is a lot to do in the game, I never felt overwhelmed by the Side Quests and optional tasks. CD Projekt Red has done a great job of bringing this saga to a close. The best part about all of this, however, is the fact that CD Projekt RED stayed true to its word. Every choice you make will determine how the story unfolds, and what the world becomes at the end of it all.
One of the constant knocks on Nintendo is that it often relies too much on its established franchises. Some even doubted the publisher's capability to even create successful new IPs. But May introduced a brand new franchise, taking Nintendo into largely unfamiliar territory that it was still somehow able to conquer.
Splatoon falls under the category of a shooter, something that isn't typically in Nintendo's wheelhouse. However, the game's novel take on the genre created a more wholesome kind of violence that was also wildly fun. The goal wasn't so much to kill opponents (though that's a viable strategy), but the objective is to cover as much of the map in colored ink as possible. That leads to intense tug-o-war matches and back-and-forth intensity, creating a far more competitive environment than one would expect upon seeing the basic premise. The controls also utilized the GamePad effectively, using its gyroscopes to aim, while also using the screen to navigate each map.
On top of everything, Nintendo has put a wealth of support behind Splatoon. To this day, the game continues to receive free updates and new content for no extra charge. Splatoon is one of the most pleasant surprises to emerge from the house that Mario built and offers up a major breath of fresh air for what can so often become a stale genre.
From our review: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Splatoon, whenever I was simply playing it. My complaints all revolve around the periphery: factors like map selection, matchmaking, and gear. That the core is so solidly built is a testament to Nintendo's skill at refining a unique concept, but taking note of other shooter norms would have made it more welcoming on the whole.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
Bethesda and MachineGames successfully revived the old Wolfenstein franchise last year with the amazingly successful The New Order. So what would it do for an encore? A DLC campaign? Not exactly. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is more of a prequel to The New Order. It's a standalone adventure that introduces some new environments, while never leaving World War II-era Europe.
The Old Blood was largely marketed as Blazkowicz taking on Wolfenstein's take on Nazi Zombies. And while that did happen eventually, the game ultimately unfolded like more of The New Order. That certainly isn't bad in itself, especially since the intuitive controls of The New Order returned fully intact.
More of The New Order is certainly not a bad thing, but the game was nearly over by the time the zombies arrived. It's a shame that more of those sequences weren't left in, as opposed to some of the game's disappointing boss fights, but The Old Blood was certainly a fine standalone effort, especially for its lower price point.
From our review: The Old Blood also works as something of an experiment, no matter how brief. I came away from this game wanting some more of a "Nazi zombies" kind of game with the New Order game mechanics, so it's too bad that this portion of the game was so short. For those that don't have the time to devote to The New Order, this abbreviated Old Blood experience should suffice.
Not A Hero
If there's one thing Not A Hero doesn't waste its time with, it's details. A futuristic rabbit is running for mayor on the platform that he'll kill everyone if he doesn't win. Why? That's not important. The important thing, the idea is to help BunnyLord, because reasons!
There are certainly worse premises for a side-scrolling shooter and the flimsy story can certainly be forgiven when the shooting mechanics feel this good. Players can shoot, slide, and reload, but can also use the environment to their advantage. That means taking cover and going from cover-to-cover to get a better shot. Worst case scenario, it sets up a powerful slide tackle that's just as capable of taking enemies down.
With bonus objectives and stealth sequences, Not A Hero is a fun, mindless romp that's enhanced by a lot of whacked-out humor from the murderous BunnyLord.
From our review: Despite its quirks and difficulties, Not a Hero is a spectacularly addictive game. The thrill of running through a building and shooting everyone in sight is backed by a fantastic sense of humor, illustrated by off-the-wall weapons (like an exploding cat), along with BunnyLord's slideshow presentation and after-action comments at a nearby diner. For example, he likens his election to planting an acorn, that will one day grow into a heavily armed tree. Yes, the humor loses a little something when it's not taken in context. But, as frustrating as some of the missions can get, it's worth all the blood and sweat just to see the next phase of the plan is.
Project CARS underwent a lot of delays before it finally saw the light of day. For Slightly Mad Studios, though, the wait was worthwhile, as it was able to put together one of the better-looking racers to release this year.
There was a lot of attention to detail in Project CARS, down to the game's environments and a day/night cycle that allowed drivers to watch the sun set before their eyes. Combined with realistic physics, it made Project CARS feel like a true driving sim. While its lack of game modes may make it feel more shallow than its competitors, Slightly Mad Studios captured what it means to truly drive a powerful vehicle.
Even if it's not the best driving game on the market, its VR support is something to be lauded, showing off one of the great potential uses for virtual reality.
From our review: Only those who are really into realistic driving simulators may flock towards Project Cars, although they might get bored easily considering there really aren’t any unique game modes either. It carries a sense of realism in spades, but there isn't much under the hood. At least it supports VR headsets, so I could also see those looking to get that level of immersion within their racing games giving Project Cars a shot. Outside of those target demographics, Project Cars will most likely frustrate mainstream racing fans with its real-world driving mechanics, but may entertain realistic driving simulator fans who know their way through similar games. One thing is for sure: Slightly Mad has created one beautiful racing sim that highlights the look and feel of high performace vehicles.
Hot off the heels of Magicka Wizard Wars, Magicka 2 brought the adventure element to fans of the series. It's mostly more of the same Magicka action with a few new spells, but that's definitely not a bad thing, as there's still a thrill in destroying foes with powerful magics. And there's also that strategy element of making sure you wipe out your enemies and not your partners, since friendly fire is still a prevalent element of this game.
Puzzle & Dragons Z/Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Edition
Puzzle & Dragons has mostly been a casual mobile game, but the 3DS seemed like a good enough home for the franchise. However, this package went above and beyond any simple mobile effort. Puzzle & Dragons Z features a full-blown RPG story that sees players exploring environments, interacting with NPCs, and tracking down secrets. Meanwhile, Super Mario Edition uses the traditional Mario level formula, allowing players to get their one-and-done fix and have shorter sessions. The result is a surprisingly deep package and one that helps scratch the puzzle itch that handhelds are so often good for.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III
NeoCore Games has put together one of the more underappreciated dungeon crawlers in recent years with its Van Helsing games. The third and final installment of the series adds more monsters, more powerful magics, and becomes more of a buddy comedy, thanks to the presence of the ghostly Lady Katarina. In fact, the back-and-forth between Val Helsing and Katarina is one of the major highlights of this adventure, as it adds some levity to the game's narrative. Not much has changed about the game's dungeon crawling formula, but it does close the book on the previous game's major twist, giving Van Helsing a well-deserved send-off.
Join us at Shacknews as we continue our look through the year 2015, month-by-month. Coming up next, it's time to become the Batman!