The Shacknews staff is preparing for its long winter's nap and will be revealing our Game of the Year countdown starting next week. First, though, we're sitting by the virtual fireplace and recalling some of our own personal favorites. These games are among the ones that stood out the most to us this year.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate
After what was a disastrous transitional year for the annualized franchise, this year's Assassin's Creed felt like a return to form. Syndicate isn't a revolution, but it is the best Assassin's Creed game in years, possibly even surpassing the excellent Black Flag. While I appreciate the addition of new traversal tools and the stylish grace of the animations of protagonist Evie Frye, I have to give most of the credit to the setting.
The beautifully rendered London cityscape shows a wide variety of architecture, with the River Thames splitting it down the center. The streets and waterways are teeming with business, making the city feel lived-in like never before. And though the series' tendency to invoke famous historical figures can be eyeroll-inducing, there's something undeniably joyful about interacting with famous literary and scientific minds like Dickens and Darwin.
I've lost many an hour promising myself I'd just take down one more Templar gang leader or free one more factory of children, and that's not something the Assassin's Creed series has managed to inspire in me for a while.
Batman: Arkham Knight
A fantastic game that didn't quite stick the landing, Arkham Knight admittedly left a sour taste with the utterly unsatisfying revelation of the Arkham Knight's identity. However, it would be unfair to cast aside the entire game on account of that one failing. Rocksteady returned from its hiatus to prove this series still had legs with a final chapter that did justice to why we loved it in the first place. The combat was rock-solid and the traversal was better than ever. Even the Batmobile portions, which could have gone wrong in a thousand ways, were mostly enjoyable.
Most importantly, though, it told a great Batman story. Arkham Knight revelation aside, it found a clever mechanical underpinning for the Joker's presence that played perfectly into the guilt and frustration Batman must have felt after Arkham City. It made literal what has always been the metaphorical conflict, that Batman's fight against the Joker is an internal one. The ultimate resolution of that conflict so perfectly expressed the heroism and determination at the heart of every Batman story that I couldn't help but cheer alone in my living room.
Not every game has to be a big-budget blockbuster. Sometimes it's as simple as perfectly executing a simple concept. Box Boy! from the studio behind Kirby, is just such a game. Packing a simple Gameboy aesthetic, this clever puzzle-platformer introduces easy-to-grasp mechanics and then iterates on them with an absolutely astounding amount of creativity. It goes to show how much content you can get out of such a simple idea when a studio is willing to squeeze every last drop from it.
SteamWorld Heist almost missed the cutoff for our Game of the Year voting, but it's well worth considering. The action-strategy hybrid is one of the best portable games of the year, offering procedurally generated stages to keep things fresh and a smooth difficulty ramp that always offers just the right level of challenge. Something akin to XCOM in 2D, but with skill-based bank shots to reward sharp gunslingers, it's a game that can keep you occupied for hours. By setting itself in the SteamWorld continuity, it adds another rich layer to the burgeoning franchise.
Steve Watts posted a new article, Our 2015 Favorites: Steve Watts