The long-running assassination series returns in an intriguing episodic structure that invites you to explore as you kill Episodic games have proliferated in recent years but, until now, have broadly conformed to a specific blueprint in which storyline has taken precedence over gameplay. High-profile examples such as Life is Strange, the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have myriad merits but underneath their visuals belong to the most archaic of genres, the point-and-click adventure. So when a major franchise such as Square Enix’s Hitman makes the move to a piecemeal structure, it amounts to a noteworthy change of tack. You might not have flagged Hitman as an obvious candidate for such an experiment but it turns out to have been an inspired move. While the series is ostensibly about stealth it also offers meticulously realised environments, providing its taciturn star Agent 47 with all manner of ingenious means to fulfil his sinister business. In Hitman games, you are really playing your surroundings. Having experienced the prologue and Paris-based mission that constitute Hitman’s first episode, plus most of the following mission (set in the fictional Italian town of Sapienza), it’s clear that putting Hitman out in this format has given Io Interactive a newfound freedom to craft missions that explore the intricacy and richness of these environments in new ways.
Set in the Stone Age, this game is nothing like the previous instalments of the franchise, lacking modern weaponry and an arch-villain Finding a game disappointing because of its similarity to last year’s instalment is one of the great complaints levelled at the modern industry and its love of annual franchises. Far Cry 4, for example, was certainly accused of being too much like Far Cry 3, and the more you play Primal, the more it feels like an elaborate attempt to challenge all the assumptions around sequels and spin-offs. This time around, Ubisoft Montreal has certainly created a startlingly different Far Cry game, simply by setting it in the Stone Age – 10,000BC, to be precise. Unlike its forebears then, you can’t describe it as an open-world first-person shooter – it’s still first-person and open-world, but all guns, vehicles, explosives and gadgets have been summarily ripped out.
A mysterious island begs to be explored in the sublime new indie game from Jonathan Blow, Unravel is a bit woolly and Bravely Default’s sequel has little of value to add (PC, PS4 , Thekla, cert: 3) ★★★★
The greatest fighting game series of them all is back, but its return is half-cooked, with much of its advertised features yet to materialise Seven years ago, Street Fighter IV felt like a spiritual revival. Capcom’s hyperactive martial arts series had been absent for close to a decade and, under the enthusiastic watch of producer Yoshinori Ono, its return was a triumph. By simplifying the game’s move lists it lowered the entry bar to newcomers, but it then also offered a long, deep learning curve for those willing to set out on the warrior’s journey. In this way the game attracted a devoted community of competitors, who trained with the dedication of real-world martial artists, and who now compete in professional tournaments for enviable prizes. Street Fighter V’s launch, by contrast, feels lacklustre. For the first time in the history of the series, there will be no release in the arcade, that frontline of competitive play where Street Fighter has, traditionally, always debuted. Capcom has been unable or unwilling to fund the game’s development alone, forging a financial partnership with Sony (thereby preventing the game from coming to Microsoft’s console). And now, on arrival, the Street Fighter V of February 2016 is plainly unfinished, with many of its modes and functions unavailable. The game is a statement of intent rather than anything resembling a final delivery. You’re told that you’ve unlocked a new costume for purchase in the in-game store – which doesn’t launch until next month Street Fighter V has been delivered early to meet a financial deadline, rather than an artistic one.
With its little hero made of yarn, this short, sweet puzzle platformer has a story to tell about the way love connects us Unravel is promoted as a tale “told completely without words”, but that’s not entirely true. In the photo album where the story is collected, a handwritten message summarises the themes of the game: “Love forms bonds, like strands of yarn. Like yarn, those bonds can be fragile, or get all tangled. But when they’re kept and cared for, they can bridge any distance.” Words also appear in the first level of this much anticipated puzzle adventure, to tell you how to run, jump, grab, climb, swing, throw a lasso and build a bridge. These instructions are nicely arranged, floating in the sky at the point you need them, but that doesn’t disguise that this is a tutorial crammed into one level, expecting players to quickly grasp how to move through the world.
Set amid the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park, this enigmatic adventure offers a compelling meditation on love, loss and loneliness Firewatch is a game about solitude and space, a first-person journey through the massive wilderness of America’s Yellowstone National Park. It’s a space of such magnitude that it almost unavoidably conjures mysteries and conspiracies of corresponding size. But at the close, we are drawn back down to the essential and human. You are Henry.
A brilliant concept coupled with smart design choices results in a hugely rewarding game that over-delivers in almost every area Among XCOM’s distinctions is that it is a difficult game, so the sequel’s concept is quite brilliant: the first time around, you lost. Firaxis’ 2012 strategy title was a remake of a 1994 original, UFO: Enemy Unknown, which cast you as the commander charged with responding to an alien invasion of Earth – building up the eponymous organisation, responding to attacks across the globe, and hunting down alien operating bases. Chances are if you played it, you also failed to save humanity. And this is where XCOM 2 kicks off. Twenty years have passed since the original game’s events, with Earth now ruled by an alien-human dictatorship known as Advent. It’s a clean and organised dystopia, with people efficiently marched through weapons scanners and dispatched for any infractions real or perceived by Advent’s troopers. This staple enemy type, though humanoid in appearance, is an unholy genetic hybrid – and just the tip of the iceberg you’ll eventually uncover.
3DS title provides nice, if non-archetypal, way for devotees to re-enter the universe while they await forthcoming XV and VII instalments The genre-defining Japanese RPG franchise Final Fantasy is one of the games industry’s great lumbering beasts – and is set for a Kraken-like reawakening with both Final Fantasy XV and the reimagined-for-current-gen fan favourite Final Fantasy VII due this year. In the meantime, impatient enthusiasts can blow the dust off their 3DS handhelds, and avail themselves of an amuse-bouche in the form of Final Fantasy Explorers. A modicum of expectation management is in order, however. Explorers is determinedly atypical as far as Final Fantasy games are concerned although it is, at least, easy to describe. Bizarrely, it shoehorns the gameplay from Monster Hunter (a franchise that is huge in Japan but steadfastly fails to capture the imagination elsewhere in the world) into the Final Fantasy universe.
From a reworked boardgame to the brilliant GTA, a new crop of games for iOS Making the most of the relative paucity of major console releases early in the year has traditionally seen a good crop of gaming apps released into a cold, dark January. This year is no exception with colour and light illuminating the gloom from mobiles across a variety of genres – indeed, even the humble boardgame has proved susceptible to a makeover. It’s been done beautifully in Brass (Cubio, iOS, £3.99), which recreates an excellent table-top title set in the north of England during the Industrial Revolution. The idea is to build up cotton mills, coal mines and iron works and connect them through a series of canals and railroads, without going bankrupt. The rules can be daunting so it’s well worth playing on an iPad at first to make reading the text prompts and various cards easier. The tutorial doesn’t do the best job, so hunt around online for a full PDF of the rules. Perseverance does pay off, however, and once you are up and running there is a rewardingly complex challenge to discover, which can be enjoyed both online and offline. With every tiny mistake you make at the start resulting in dire consequences later on, it’s certainly not easy, but failure only increases the desire to learn and improve, making for a compulsive just-one-more-go experience.
In this morbid and demanding role-playing adventure, only the least stressed-out will survive “Slowly, gently,” intones the noble bass of Darkest Dungeon’s narrator as a foe bleeds out and slumps to the ground. “This is how a life is taken.” Except it is sometimes anything but. During one quest I stumbled across an altar and, despite specific warnings, offered flame and summoned some Eldritch terror from the void. My party was terrified by the sight – then, as the first member was cut down, they were driven mad.
The long-awaited game from the makers of Braid takes the format of classic PC adventure Myst and draws you into a world of puzzles Seven years is a long time to speculate, but despite Jonathan Blow and his team at Thekla revealing few details expectations for this game have remained high. After all, the company’s was important not only for its role in the rise of independent games but for showing what video games could be. People have watched trailers for The Witness and theorised that the game’s little mazes are secondary to the real, deeper purpose. But those maze puzzles are the game. The Witness answers the question: what would a very smart man who loves puzzles do with a lot of money?
Who would want to buy a game that can only be played through a maximum of 24 times? Everyone The world was going to hell, and it was all my fault. For six months I’d been working as part of a team fighting deadly disease outbreaks around the globe. Things hadn’t gone entirely to plan, and now the virulent strain of flu that had swept through much of Asia had hopped the Pacific to establish a foothold on the US west coast. To make matters worse, outbreaks of a highly contagious fever in Latin America had led to widespread civil unrest, making travel in the region hazardous. And as for sub-Saharan Africa, it was starting to look like there was nothing we could do to save it from complete and catastrophic collapse.
This autobiographical game explores the death of a boy and shows the possibilities of the medium of video games It was once trendy for major game developers to talk about how they would one day make players cry. You don’t hear it so much now – partly because this sentiment resulted in a lot of , but partly there was a realisation that away from the mainstream industry, games have been doing it for years. Indie developers have always used games to explore real-life topics from a personal perspective, whether that’s a life-changing event, or just settling in a new town. That Dragon, Cancer is in this lineage but the experience, losing a child to terminal illness, is so painful even in the abstract, you may at first wonder who would choose to share it. While I was playing TDC, Barack Obama devoted a portion of his last State of the Union address to declaring war on cancer, a clarion call only slightly dampened by it being 45 years since the Nixon administration’s National Cancer Act promised the same. I say this not to jeer at a noble cause, but to show what an universal and intractable obsession the disease has become for our longer-lived societies. I still remember a careers teacher telling a class of bewildered teenagers that one-third of us would get cancer – he’d dropped the bomb about our parents “not being around forever” a few weeks previously.
CityDash, and its younger sibling Undercover, offer the most accessible introduction to live gaming yet For most of the past 30 years, live games have straddled a bizarre divide. They have, simultaneously, been a niche subcategory of an already niche pursuit, while also being enjoyed by millions across the world daily. The latter, you’ll know as playground games like hide and seek and tag; the former, if you know it at all, as LARPing, or live-action role-playing – the practice of playing dungeons and dragons-style role-playing games in the real world. Both take play into the outside world, away from tabletops or video games, but they do so in a way less focused on pure skill and athletic ability than conventional sports.
The future looks dim for film-style storytelling as more games enable you to plot your own adventures For a while, the trajectory of video games curved toward cinema. Technology’s advance allowed characters and scenes that were previously composed from rudimentary sprites (Super Mario’s porno moustache, for example, was grown because people found it difficult to make out an unadorned mouth on a 16-pixel-high character at the time) to be newly rendered in full detail. Hollywood actors and artists began to lend their talent to games. The Oscar-winning film composer Hans Zimmer provided the score to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Beyond: Two Souls, a cinematic game that stars . In this way video games began to look like and sound like films and, in turn, through the use of , films began to look like video games. The enduring appeal of video games has always been in their ability to cast us into the role of an active participant