40. Ori And The Blind Forest
There’s a lot to be said for the classic action platformer, but all too often we see jump and collect games that pile mechanics on in the hopes of achieving significance in hitting the market. That’s not the case with Ori And The Blind Forest. There’s a lot of mechanics at work here, sure, but each one feels naturally at home in the delightful game world and, crucially, each one feels entirely justified in its implementation.
Ori, a young orphan spirit meets Sein, a manifestation of the Spirit Tree that governs the forests. Together they embark upon a journey across lush natural landscapes to restore order to the world around them. It’s pretty standard stuff, but where Ori and the Blind Forest excels is in its application of perfectly complex mechanics against an eye melting backdrop of gorgeous visuals, with the atmosphere and storyline soaring equally high in critical estimation. As you leap from ledge to ledge, watch Sein pummel enemies, and flip and swing your way through each level, there’s an uplifting sense of destiny. Ori is undoubtedly one of the cutest video game characters we’ve seen in a while, and with the grand stage set behind them and the soft music accompaniment it’s easy to be swept up in their story.
39. Brothers – A Tale Of Two Sons
Journey may have popularised a new breed of indie adventure game, a trek through awe-inspiring nature with emotional undertones, but Brothers – A Tale Of Two Sons very much put its own stamp on the pseudo-genre. This story explores loss and grief and the determination to keep on going in spite of it. It’s unmissable.
You play the two titular brothers. After having lost their mother to the sea, their father has now taken seriously ill. The only cure is water from the mystical Tree of Life, and so you set about making the considerable journey to reach it and save your last remaining parent. What sets Brothers apart is its unusual control scheme – it’s essentially single-player co-op. Each analogue stick controls a separate brother, and it’s through this asynchronous movement that you can solve a variety of puzzles.
The setting of Brothers – A Tale Of Two Sons is unforgettable, from quaint countryside to gloomy caves and icy waters. It fully immerses the player in nature, with various creatures also helping and hindering along your quest.
Ask around what people value most in a video game, and though the answers will be varied, “a good story” is likely to be up there. And while that may immediately bring to mind the beautifully written, near-filmic experience of something like The Last of Us, there’s another style which shouldn’t be ignored: emergent storytelling. It’s this style which is the bread and butter of RimWorld.
How does it work? RimWorld has very little in the way of a formal storyline, dropping you in one of a handful of vague scenarios – as the survivors of a crash, for example – and letting you get on with it. But from then onwards, you’re at the mercy of its ‘AI storytellers.’ These will throw a variety of different events your way, from being raided by pirates, to receiving a distress beacon or a warning of man-eating animals on the prowl. It’s these unpredictable events which cause all sorts of chaos and memorable moments – for better or worse. Perhaps Carol has had a mental break from slaving away mining for resources all day, and has gone on a murderous rampage, stabbing your pet raccoons.
Because of its simple visuals, RimWorld encourages you to use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Each of your colonists has a unique personality and set of traits that determine how they act, and so it’s not long before you start feeling something for them. This adds even more flavour to the experience.
37. Katana Zero
If you dig 80s action movies, Katana Zero was made for exactly your demographic. This thrilling slash ’em up fuses pink neon with a thumping synthwave soundtrack in a story revolving around a secret government conspiracy.
You play as an ex-military ninja of sorts with unmatched combat prowess. For reasons not initially clear, you can cognitively slow time to a crawl, letting you react to situations and slaughter enemies in a split-second. Even deflecting bullets with your katana is possible, a move that never gets old. This resourceful ninja will kill in any way necessary, through explosives, ambushing from behind or even throwing nearby objects with lethal force, like bottles and statuettes.
The action of Katana Zero is undoubtedly its main draw but it also benefits from an engaging plot. It takes time to learn who you can trust and what’s truly going on, and unraveling these mysteries is all part of the draw.
36. Night In The Woods
It’s not often that a game manages to capture the feeling of a whole generation but the story of college dropout Mae Borowski gave it a good shot. Returning to the small mining town she grew up in, Mae struggles to find out who she is and where she wants to go in life seemingly stuck in post-adolescent indifference.
Throughout the game, you reconnect with old friends and as you try to settle back into the life you once knew but something is different. Although she can’t quite put her finger on it she knows something is wrong. Exploring the autumn hews of the sleepy town you’ll have to get to the bottom of what’s happening and find out what it is that’s in the woods. It’s a strange and vibrant adventure that continually entertains with its colourful personality. The characters might look like an assortment of wildlife but this is very much a human tale at its core with character development taking centre stage.
35. Ape Out
‘Hotline Miami but you’re a gorilla’ must have felt like a questionable pitch to make for the devs of Ape Out, but it landed them a publishing deal with Devolver Digital nonetheless. And with good reason. This stylish whirlwind of a game is no less than a stroke of genius.
The game begins with you breaking out of your cage in an animal testing laboratory. Understandably, you’ve had enough with captivity and you’re ready to make a bid for freedom – at all costs. Armed security guards are stationed throughout the facility between you and the exit and so you have to make it through using a little stealth and a lot of brute force. It’s some real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action, with bullets and blood and body parts filling the levels within seconds.
A standout feature of Ape Out is its procedurally generated soundtrack. Loud and discordant and energising, it reacts in real time to the actions you take. It’s fantastic, and something that we’d love to see in more games.
34. Rocket League
Unless you’ve been living off the grid for the last 5 years you probably already know what Rocket League is. Originally known as Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars – quite the mouthful – Rocket League found phenomenal success on PC rising to eSports sensation we know it as today. It might have climbed to giddy heights since its humble begins but the core, simple to learn but hard to master, gameplay remains the same.
Its energetic car-based take on small scale football still hooks in tens of thousands of players every day with dedicated leagues springing up all over the world. If you’re looking for some quick, straightforward fun then you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better. Nothing beats soaring through the air your exhaust boosters flaring bright smoke to connect with the ball and score a goal from halfway across the pitch. Even if football is not really your thing Rocket League is definitely worth a shot.
If you’ve ever been told to get off the computer and go play outside, you’ll enjoy Firewatch. What starts out as a relaxing first person adventure quickly becomes a fairly anxiety inducing mystery. Manning a fire lookout station in ShoShone National Forest, protagonist Henry is all but isolated from the outside world, save for the a small walkie talkie connecting him to his supervisor Delilah. The story of Firewatch is told through highly subtle but incredibly powerful environmental storytelling, with Henry’s capers across the gorgeous setting opening up new chapters of a buried story with every twist and turn.
Deliciously addictive, Firewatch revels in the fear of the unknown. You never really feel 100% clued in as you travel through mysterious encampments, discover eery transcripts of your conversations, and stumble through suspicious research facilities. That is, you’re never completely sure of where you stand until the final few plot points unfold, and when they do, you’re perfectly primed for the emotional response of a lifetime.
32. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
With so many fans of the Castlevania series among us, it’s little wonder Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the platformer’s spiritual successor was released to such success. Bloodstained started life as a Kickstarter and quickly spiralled into a cult phenomenon before it even hit store shelves. Building on the depth and reflex combat of the original title, Bloodstained introduces new mechanics and ideas that offer fans new and old something unique to hack and slash through.
31. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Are you one of those gamers for whom story is king? The type to snivel at the latest shootyfest royale or annual sportsball release? Well, have we got the game for you. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a classic RPG with reams and reams of lore, story and dialogue to read. And it’s all bloody fantastic. Oh, and if you’re book-shy, an astounding amount of those words are actually voice acted to a level of quality that far outstrips the usual cheesy fantasy drivel.
Deadfire is slow, methodical and engrossing. Even just getting around the large world and meeting all of its inhabitants will take you tens of hours. Battles are demanding and intricate, so you’ll need to make good use of the pause button every couple of seconds – and yet they still somehow feel thrilling in spite of this glacial pace.
Apparently, Deadfire didn’t sell very well. A crying shame. Do yourself a favour and pick it up if you haven’t already.