Though certainly not at the time of its release when the platform had enough problems to warrant a Willy Nelson benefit concert, it wasn’t long into the Steam lifespan before it obtained a certain magical aura.
To understand why that is, you have to delve back briefly into the PC gaming dark ages. While it’s easy to romanticize the time when PC gaming was closer to a pirate operation than a true industry, the truth is that old-school PC gaming was often a frustrating experience.
Steam helped to fix many of these issues by providing a unified platform. In truth it wasn’t doing anything that third party programs and retail stores weren’t already doing, but by giving PC gamers a hub for their every need, Valve was able to open PC gaming to more and more people while simultaneously advancing the platform and industry into a new age.
A big part of this was Steam sales. In a short time we went from video games dropping below full retail price maybe once or twice a year, to suddenly having thousands of games available at deep discounts. It was an unheralded concept that helped gamers everywhere grow their libraries exponentially, and in the process start to fall in love with Valve as one of the most consumer friendly companies in gaming.
I really can’t think of a game that deserves to be a dollar more than Murdered: Soul Suspect.
I know that sounds incredibly insulting, but let me explain. Right now you can get Murdered: Soul Suspect off of the Square Enix Humble Bundle for the minimum donation of $1, and you absolutely should.
It’s likely that you either vaguely remember this game from its 2014 release, or don’t remember it at all. Well, there’s a simple explanation for that. It’s not very good.
Following the story of a murdered detective who comes back to our world as a ghost, and attempts to solve his own killing (along with a few other mysteries), from a gameplay standpoint, Soul Suspect falls well short of the flag bearers of the genre.
With each passing year it becomes harder and harder to release a game under the radar.
Oh sure it sometimes feels like a hundred games come out every week, thus increasing the odds that one of them will go unnoticed, but the increase in media coverage and social network chatter means that anything with potential will likely be getting some kind of buzz prior to release.
Yet, 2015 has provided us with more genuine sleepers than I can remember in recent history. Whether this is due to the ever growing indie market or rather a growing level of cynicism that has us expecting the worst out of certain upcoming releases, it has truly been a pleasure to constantly be surprised by new releases this year.
What’s better is that this year has not only provided some of the best sleepers in recent memory, but those games have themselves been among the best of the year. We’ll be lucky to see this trend continue in the coming years, but for the time being here is my attempt at ranking these diamonds in the rough.
Considering that the first trailer its first trailer was released in 2013 and the developers are the same that made some of the finest survival horror games ever, it’s not that we didn’t see SOMA coming, it’s that most had no idea how great it would be.
The developers said they didn’t even design SOMA initially to be a horror game, which I completely believe given how much of the fright comes from the environment. There are moments of pure, intended terror in this game, but they are either outshone or bolstered greatly by the general sense of dread that fills you as you navigate the game’s watery depths.
SOMA is a slow burning game, but takes little time to just get under your skin. Lend it a little patience, and you will find one of the greatest sci-fi horror games of all time.
9. Mad Max
To be fair, Mad Max is not a great game. It is, however, a game that few expected to enjoy as much as they did.
You can chalk this up to the environment. There’s so much character and little touches packed into the games wasteland, that simply driving around without real purpose can yield some of the greatest rewards. They pale in comparison, though, to some of the game’s grander set pieces, where sweeping sand storms suddenly cover the world and leave you awestruck with the realization that video game world building has reached this point.
Mad Max could have been a cash-in on one of the biggest film properties of the year, but instead chose to take all the things that make the franchise great and convert them into one of the most purely entertaining open world experiences of the year.
8. Dying Light
“Not another zombie game” is a warranted common saying among modern gamers. It often feels safe to say that the concept has nothing left to show off, and few expected the developers of the disappointing Dead Island to be the ones to prove that mentality wrong in 2015
Yet Dying Light does just that. By incorporating a free-running gameplay system similar to what we saw in Mirror’s Edge, Dying Light dials back on the more pure survival aspects associated with this genre and instead focus on creating an action adventure playground , populated with the undead.
It results in this great mix of survival based scares and all-out action that isn’t always easy to come across. We may yet see the end of the zombie genre, but Dying Light showed there is indeed life left in the concept.
7. Life is Strange
Its first episode released in January of 2015, and since then Life is Strange has spent the entire year taking gamers by surprise.
Brilliantly marrying the concepts of time manipulation with choice based gameplay, Life is Strange takes pride in providing a narrative that doesn’t quite feel like anything before it. It delves into some very personal issues and explores minute character traits, but somehow does it in the midst of a story that spans a series of alternate timelines.
Think Catcher in the Rye meets Primer, and you’ll get an idea to the type of inventive narrative that makes Life is Strange one of the most compelling stories, and games, of the year.
6. Her Story
We’ve been treated to some pretty novel games over recent years, but few have fully realized the potential of their concept the way that Her Story does.
In it you play a detective charged with analyzing tapes of a murder suspect’s testimonials. What makes this so very different from other detective games is the lack of traditional gameplay elements. Instead, you really are responsible for tying together loose threads that only begin to unravel only after careful analysis of the tapes available.
This type of free-form gameplay is rare for a genre usually dependent on the player following a trail of breadcrumbs, but once experienced It’s hard to imagine going back to a more constructed style. Her Story is a triumph of ambition through minimalism.
5. Cities: Skylines
After the resounding disappointment of the latest SimCity, gamers everywhere became jaded to the city-building genre, and treated Cities: Skylines as little more than a knock-off when it was announced.
As soon as the first reviews began to hit, though, it became apparent that this was indeed the modern city builder that we had long waited for. Cities: Skylines removes a lot of Sim City’s bells and whistles in favor of deeper mechanics. The result is a game that is a little more daunting for the casual player, but is truly capable of keeping up with the imaginations of the most creative users in the world.
As the year goes on, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there are few limits to what can be achieved through Cities: Skylines, as well as more and more difficult to imagine the type of experience that will dethrone this game as the king of the genre.
4. Ori and the Blind Forest
Gamers are seemingly always on the lookout for a game that’s easy to point to in the defense of the “Games are Art debate” which makes it all the more surprising that few saw Ori and the Blind Forest coming.
In terms of art direction, Ori and the Blind Forest is simply one of the most visually gorgeous games ever made. Go beyond those Disney quality visuals however, and you’ll find some truly great puzzle based gameplay used to lend substance to a deeply emotional story.
There is a quality to Ori and the Blind Forest that is only achieved through the developer’s total devotion to every single element. It overwhelms your senses with its beauty.
3. Until Dawn
Until Dawn was a game not built to fly under the radar. After all, how many modern graphical masterpieces featuring Hollywood voice actors go largely unnoticed until release?
You can blame that on delays or an inconsistent marketing campaign, but whatever the reason once we actually got our hands on Until Dawn it didn’t take long before it became a YouTube and Twitch viral darling. The depth of consequences in this choice based game would be impressive on their own, but when combined with an atmosphere that serves as a glowing love letter to the horror genre (specifically 80’s slashers) you end up with an experience you simply have to share with others.
Within a few days of its release Until Dawn was everywhere. It’s impossible to be satisfied with this game until everyone you know shares in it alongside you.
Based on what major publishers will have you believe, Undertale should be the poster child for how not to make a successful modern video game. Made largely by one person and featuring graphics that lie somewhere between the NES and SNES eras, Undertale doesn’t impress through screenshots or videos.
Instead that comes through (surprise, surprise) actually playing the game. It’s there that Undertale reveals its deep heart and world class clever writing. Yet the most impressive element may just be its gameplay, which takes what are traditionally the most boring parts of RPGs and addresses every issue that makes them so. There are slow moments in Undertale designed to be such, but there are no boring moments.
The only precursors to Undertale have been once in a generation experiences. It stands as a testament to what genuinely good writing and a desire to think outside the box can contribute to gaming. There is so much intelligence and heart in Undertale that the question of whether you personally like the game becomes slightly irrelevant. The real challenge is to find someone that can’t respect it.
1. Rocket League
There are other games on this list that I may like better than Rocket League, but if we’re talking the number one sleeper hit of 2015, the choice is obvious.
Rocket League is a phenomenon. It takes just about any gamer a few minutes to get how to play the game, but hours and hours to become truly skilled at it. You’ll gladly devote every second, though, as Rocket League manages to tap directly into the fun factor that draws people to playing video games in the first place.
Many of us may did not see Rocket League coming. However, it would have been impossible for this game to stay under the radar, as its near flawless basic design has proved to be an almost universal siren call.
There is a very good reason that products are field tested. You can run something through every lab and every expert, but until you get it into the hands of the general public you have no real idea just how exactly the product is going to perform.
Hearthstone cards are no exception. While straight-up bad or niche Hearthstone cards are designed intentionally for various reasons, many cards are built with the intention of being game changers.
Sometimes, though, it just doesn’t work out that way. A card can have everything going for it on paper, but it has been proven over and over again that until it comes down to trying to slot it into a deck of 30 and winning with it, you will just never know exactly what you’ve got.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped experts and players everywhere from placing their full faith and credit into a card when it is announced, only to have to eat their words when it turns out that it just doesn’t work.
Hey, it happens.
10. Piloted Sky Golem
Why it Was Hyped:
It’s an aggressive six drop hunter card that is hard to remove, and can often win the game if left unchecked. In Piloted Sky Golem, many saw a kindred spirit to Highmane. Just a point below the famous hunter card in health, and capable of spawning an equally aggressive drop of its own, the possibilities of this card began to boggle the mind.
A six attack, four health minion that can spawn a Chillwind Yeti? How could you lose?
Why it Was Overhyped:
Well first of all, four health at the six mana spot turned out to be way too prone to removal. Hearthstone is often a game of inches, and that one point of health turned out to be an inch too few in most scenarios.
Much worse, though, is the crippling fact that most four drops simply aren’t that great. The most optimal of cards at that spot tend to come with a battlecry ability (making their sudden appearance on the field somewhat useless) and even the better cards don’t generate the kind of tempo needed to make Sky Golem viable.
As it turn out, everything people expected from this card would be reserved for the Piloted Shredder. One of the greatest Hearthstone cards of all-time.
9. Dark Iron Skulker
Why it Was Hyped:
In its darkest hours, those that knew Hearthstone knew that there was incredible potential for the struggling rogue class to become a tempo god.
Tempo is essentially the CCG equivalent of “Anything you can do…” It’s a style built around dictating pace, and the Skulker’s ability to clear a lot of board situations on turn five, and leave the rogue with a decent body on board to boot was exactly the kind of card many felt the concept needed to be launched into the competitive stratosphere.
Why it Was Overhyped:
The thing about tempo is that you have to make sure that each play builds off the last. Sadly rogue proved to have trouble formulating enough good plays to get the full value out of Skulker on turn five, if they were even able to get it out at that point.
Even worse was the growing presence of cards like piloted shredder and Dr. Boom, which made Skulker’s effect either useless or purely detrimental. It all combined to make the optimal scenarios in which this card could be used few and far between.
I remember in the summer of 2002 playing Morrowind on a friend’s Xbox. Never having had access to a computer powerful enough for true PC gaming prior, this was my first real taste of the type of “hardcore” RPG experience I had heard others speak of.
Morrowind was a truly incredible game of its time, especially when weighed against other console offerings. Beyond some fairly impressive visuals, it yielded no easy rewards for the player. Instead you had to delve into gameplay that featured ambiguous directions, long periods of nothingness, a complicated (often broken) combat system and a lot of text reading to find that Morrowind is in fact one of the most thorough games ever made.
I’ll be honest. I used to consider myself a crafty consumer that was above being screwed over by a video game purchase. I told myself I knew the rules (stay away from EA games, buy nothing that isn’t released to press beforehand, stay away from day one releases, etc.), and even thought that, by and large, gamers were well into “shame on me” territory when they got burnt by the same tale of woe.
Yet somehow, I still managed to convince myself that ArkhamKnight for the PC would be a good purchase.
As the recent abomination of film and humanity at large Pixels has proven, gamers are still subject to a number of negative stereotypes among the public at large. No matter how popular video game culture (or for that matter, “geek” or “nerd” culture) may get, it seems there is always going to be a sect of people who will picture your average gamer as a pasty basement dweller afraid of interactions with the opposite sex.
To be honest, considering that it’s impossible to achieve universal love regardless of the type of person you are, dwelling on these perceptions ultimately seems kind of petty. However, there are some perceptions about gamers at large that I feel remain prevalent enough to cause harm to truly advancing game design.
Among those stereotypes, one of the most baffling is the seeming perception that gamers don’t like sports.
That’s the way I’ve chosen to start looking at it anyway. As someone who made the questionable decision to pre-order the game for a discount, and can still only play it at a performance level just below functional, I’ve elected to forgo anger and disappointment and instead embrace the pure comedic absurdity of the situation.
This does make me worry about my mental trajectory taking the same path as the Joker’s, but I digress.
But just because I’ve chosen to joke about Arkham Knight’s PC release more than I rant about it, doesn’t mean that I’m not still angry. I’m angry at the money I spent on the game, the growing culture of these types of releases and the fact that what should be celebrated as one of the great gaming franchise of all time now has this black mark on its legacy.
Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.
Dark Souls is a great game. Actually, as the title of this article suggests, it is a masterpiece.
I’ve only thought of Dark Souls more recently with the release of Bloodborne, which has reignited my love of the Souls franchise like a freshly kindled bonfire in the hopeless night.
Yet as much as I love Dark Souls (I once wrote it ruined me for other games, and stand by that statement in many ways) it is not a perfect game. Some of its flaws didn’t become evident the first time through, nor the second or even the third. But as I go through what will be my fifth playthrough of From Software’s great contribution to gaming, I have found there are things about Dark Souls which do hinder the game. Some of these hindrances are small. Others…well to be honest some of them continue to impact the franchise to this day.
So with respects to my fellow Dark Souls travelers, I present the biggest flaws of Dark Souls.
The Magic System
Magic in Dark Souls was intentionally dialed back from its Demon Souls counterpart, on the grounds that the old magic system made certain parts of the experience meant to be challenging in a specific way, far too easy to get around.
That’s fine, but the problem became that making a pure magic character in Dark Souls is a huge chore. Even assuming you have a slight indication of where to go and how to manage your path to pure sorcery (which, as I’ll be discussing later, is a big assumption) you’ll find your ability to manage the early game on your limited spell repertoire alone to be nigh impossible. Even the act of casting a spells will require some online fact checking for many new players.
Eventually, you can get a handle on how the process works, but this doesn’t mean the game makes this class pursuit any easier. Compared to regular weapons, truly useful spells are incredibly difficult to locate even for the more thorough players, and Dark Souls system of granting you a limited number of casts per bonfire visit means that at some point you will have to devote resources to an alternate form of combat.
I’m sure that this is where some Dark Souls players who went through the entire game with nothing but spells will tell me I’m crazy, and that devoted magic builds are incredibly powerful late game, but the fact remains that Dark Souls treatment of magic throws every possible hurdle at the player who wishes to use it as a primary resource.
And that’s what really bothers me about the process. Not that magic isn’t viable or entertaining, but that for a game already so focused on making things as difficult as possible, the heavy restrictions placed on such a primary mechanic simply feel arbitrary.
I don’t mean this entrant to be as controversial as it will inevitably be, but I am of the camp that says Blighttown is an uninspired misery.
Let’s start with something everyone can probably agree on. Blighttown’s framerate, especially pre-patch, is a joke. It’s so bad in crucial moments, that the conspiracy theory that it was intentionally implemented into the level to add to the general misery doesn’t actually sound that unreasonable.
Beyond that, the entire basis behind Blighttown seems to have been to throw the most miserable aspects of the game at the wall to see what sticks. That means curses, unavoidable enemies at the bottom of ladders, leaps of faith courtesy of awkward platforming, unreasonable distances between bonfires, annoying enemies and poison around every corner.
Some of these can be countered through shortcuts and the right combination of inventory, but in true Dark Souls fashion it’s going to be very likely you won’t have acquired much of it by the time you get to Blighttown. That means you’re in for multiple, miserable attempts through the long way around.
And that sucks. Dark Souls is at its best when it’s difficult, but fair and Blighttown eschews that notion in favor of introducing the kind of annoyingly overwhelming (and wholly unenjoyable) level of frustration non-Dark Souls fans have come to unfairly associate the series with. On my multiple playthroughs of the game, it is always the one area I roll my eyes at, even with the shortcuts.
Surviving Blighttown has created a brotherhood among Dark Souls players, due to that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that comes with besting it. However, that doesn’t make it a good level. Just an epic pain in the ass.
Earlier this year I managed to upset a few people by suggesting that Nintendo was making an error by not even bothering to acknowledge the Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon. I believe the phrase “click-bait” was tossed around.
Despite some of the more enthusiastic claims to the contrary, it wasn’t my intention to insult Nintendo or its fanbase to any serious degree. It’s just that as a fan of Nintendo who happens to live in the modern world, it became frustrating to see another instance of them falling so far behind the times, in terms of adapting to, and even taken advantage of, modern internet gaming culture culture.
Nintendo’s going through some rough times at the moment, that admittedly have very little to do with whether or not they gave Twitter shout-outs to Twitch. But for a company with a history of sticking to their ways to a fault, it was disheartening to think that they were not learning from the past, and were very much willing to repeat it.