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: June!
While June marks the start of a lot of summer vacations, it typically isn't known for major new releases. A big reason for that is because the gaming community is so wrapped up with E3 and in trying to hype up the coming fall releases. This year, June was another mostly slow month. Part of that is because few wanted to go toe-to-toe with the Dark Knight, who was ready to wrap up his Arkham story.
Batman: Arkham Knight
This is another of the year's most anticipated games, with fans dying to get a crack at a new Batman Arkham game from the folks at Rocksteady games. And on top of that, it was the first one to release on next-gen consoles. There were plenty of delays, but June finally marked the month to become the Batman and journey across a larger-than-ever Gotham City.
Arkham Knight's explorable open world's size put Arkham City to shame, offering multiple sectors of explorable real estate. The larger size came as a double-edged sword, offering more opportunities for exploration than ever before. The thrill of gliding above Gotham is every Bat fan's fantasy come true. But it also meant finding the myriad of secrets was tougher than ever before and it made finding Riddler trophies even more of an impossible task, which made finding the third "true" ending all the more aggravating.
But the city's size was as good a reason as any to introduce the Batmobile, giving players a chance to drive stright into criminals and fill them with jolts of non-lethal electricity. In addition to the numerous story missions that featured some intriguing (and to be fair, some groan-worthy) twists, there was also an ample amount of side-missions that introduced a handful of Batman's other rogues, some iconic and others that only the most die-hard of comic book fans will recognize. Arkham Knight's story was fan service for anyone that's picked up a Batman comic or played the previous Arkham games, culminating in a final ending that made sense, even if it wasn't entirely satisfying.
Arkham Knight had its issues (races are not riddles, Eddie!), but as a goodbye to Rocksteady's stint with the Dark Knight, it did a fine enough job. (Of course, the less said about the PC version, the better.)
From our review: Overall Batman: Arkham Knight is a welcome finale to Batman's story. The combat that has made the series such a favorite is still very much alive, and I still can’t get over the happiness it gives me to leap down from the skies and kick a thug in the face. Though the Batmobile seems excessive to the point of tiresome, the combat within its special Battle Mode is both smooth, and mostly enjoyable. However, every positive–the twisting storyline, the iconic villains, and the superb combat–are undermined by other factors. Mediocre acting, rough dialogue, and overuse of the Batmobile, leave Batman: Arkham Knight that much less cohesive than its predecessors.
While Double Fine is largely considered one of the pioneers of video game crowdfunding, it hasn't had an entirely spotless record. Fortunately, for those that funded the RTS Massive Chalice, the game finally made its debut in June and it did not disappoint.
Massive Chalice is more than just an RTS game. The premise is about building entire generations of soldiers, with characters falling to the ravages of age just as easily as the end of an enemy spear. The idea isn't just to defeat the enemy, but also to keep family bloodlines going in order for the kingdom to have enough members to thrive across centuries. It's a cool idea, largely helped by Double Fine's grasp of RTS controls and systems.
Micromanagement can get a bit hairy and sudden events like entire generations dying of old age can be a bit annoying, but Massive Chalice remains an interesting take on the RTS genre, thanks to the new wrinkles introduced.
From our review: The tactical gameplay is satisfying, but the game could do better if it made use of cover. Standing behind objects can block line of sight or impede movement, but cover does not actually mitigate damage. In fact, your archers have to step out from behind a tree in order to see and fire at something down the line. Between the bloodlines, research, and combat, Massive Chalice tosses a ton to micromanage, and it can feel overwhelming. But it all builds up to a spectacular ending that makes it worthwhile and satisfying.
Heroes of the Storm
When Blizzard commits to an idea, it goes all the way with it until it's among the kings of the genre. It happened with World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Hearthstone, and now it is happening again with Heroes of the Storm. Following a successful college tournament, Blizzard committed to releasing the full version of Heroes in June, giving players a chance to see that it was no mere clone of Dota 2 or League of Legends. Blizzard had successfully made Heroes of the Storm a game that stands on its own merits.
Heroes focuses on two major elements: accessibility and teamwork. The inherent intimidation factor that's present with MOBAs is drastically reduced with this game, from characters that are ranked by difficulty to a presentation that largely reduces the emphasis on individual heroics. As long as a player fulfills their role competently, it's possible to be competitive in Heroes of the Storm. And even if things go south, the community isn't as frothingly toxic as the ones for the other two MOBA giants.
Blizzard has also added in a tremendous amount of variety, not just with its characters that come from across the pantheon of their greatest games, but also when it comes to the actual battleground design. Win conditions vary from map to map, making battleground selection an actual factor when it comes to strategizing against opponents. And with frequent updates, Blizzard continues to feed the game's variety, even debuting a map that doesn't allow for base rushes at all. Heroes of the Storm may not have the competitive following of Dota 2 or League of Legends, but its overall package and easy learning curve easily make it the most fun game of the three.
From our review: Heroes of the Storm is the least intimidating of the major MOBAs and that's a good part of what makes it so easy to keep coming back. It's easy to pick up and learn, while the option to turn Allied Chat off makes the game a pressure-free environment. The stereotypical angry MOBA player has yet to turn up for me in unranked matches, though I'd imagine the intensity increases with the ranked Hero League. [...] As it is, I can only look at the unpurchased Heroes as more reason to keep plugging forward. And with as much fun as each Heroes of the Storm game has been for me, I have no problem doing so.
Rounding out the month of June was a game that appeared to be a stealth game on the surface, but quickly revealed itself to be a breakneck-paced action game. Ronin centered around a katana-wielding badass out for revenge, so while stealth was certainly encouraged, there were plenty of places to slice and dice baddies without breaking a sweat.
And really, it's hard to make the case that developer Tomasz didn't intend that from the beginning. After all, there were certain sequences where stealth was all but impossible, encouraging the most violent path. While one would expect this to turn out like the iconic Kill Bill scene with the Crazy 88s, the game's mechanics weren't exactly perfected. Precision was slightly off, meaning players would spend more time digging out of holes of gunfire than anything else. Ronin certainly had potential to be something great, but instead wound up being a merely competent action effort.
From our review: Ronin has a brilliant concept, but its execution leaves something to be desired. The gameplay demands a level of precision and control that the game doesn't completely deliver. It's too bad, because most other aspects of the game are very enjoyable, from the artwork to the fantastic soundtrack. But there are too many instances where it felt like the controls were working against me, and I found myself screaming at the screen because something seemingly crazy happened - like the one guard who breaks pattern and aims for where I'm going to land instead of where I am. The all-or-nothing rewards system, combined with the unforgiving gameplay, took away much of the incentive to do better. Eventually, I stopped caring whether I did well or not.
LEGO Jurassic World
The LEGO games are what they are at this point, so those expecting anything drastically different from LEGO Jurassic World were left disappointed. Still, the LEGO formula capably retelling the Jurassic Park series of movies is always good for a romp with the kids, especially since some of the scenes were re-written to be a little more slapstick-y.
J-Stars Victory VS+
It definitely wasn't the most polished game in the world, but J-Stars Victory VS+ did scratch a certain anime itch in that it included 45 characters from across the Shonen Jump universe. So that Goku/Monkey D. Luffy dream match was now on the table. Still, given that this was making the jump from the PS3 to the PS4 made J-Stars Victory VS+ feel like something of a disappointment and a failure to live up to the potential of its strong premise.
Perhaps PC and console offerings were light this month, but there were strong games hitting the mobile gaming space in June. Square Enix Montreal continued its mastery of the platform, releasing Hitman: Sniper. This took players behind the barrel of Agent 47's sniper rifle, tasking him with taking out targets in as discreet a manner as possible. That meant knowing how to take shots in such a way that corpses would naturally hide themselves or even take out another target in the process. The puzzle element to Sniper was well-implemented and the online leaderboards only made repeat jobs worth undertaking.
Of course, if we're talking about strong mobile efforts, perhaps no game sucked up more time than Fallout Shelter. The idea is to build and maintain a Vault, dealing with disasters as they come. Keeping Vault Dwellers happy was an immensely tough task, requiring intense resource management. The result is something surprisingly addictive and one that helped feed an absolutely wild Fallout 4 hype cycle.
Join us at Shacknews as we continue our look through the year 2015, month-by-month. Coming up next, a seemingly-inconsequential addition to the PlayStation Plus freebie lineup becomes a gaming phenomenon.