In some ways, the fourth title in Naughty Dog’s wildly successful action adventure series looks like the archetypal join-the-dots sequel. We’re still following roguish Nathan Drake as he scours the planet for ancient artefacts. We’re still solving simple environmental puzzles and shooting the bad guys. And the script still plunders just about every cliche it can from the Indiana Jones films.
But that’s only part of the story. This wonderfully entertaining game is effectively about marriage – or, more accurately, the things we have to learn about ourselves to maintain long-term relationships. Nathan lies to his partner Elena and leans heavily on his friend Sully, but has to learn to be less selfish and irresponsible – a lesson made all the more urgent and poignant by the arrival of his troubled brother, Sam. That a big popcorn blockbuster is exploring these themes so engagingly and movingly is a testament to how this medium has matured over the last five years.
Meanwhile, we also get everything we want from a lavish big-budget game: astonishing visuals, imaginative locations and some truly thrilling set pieces – the Madagascan marketplace scene is a classic. Even if you don’t fall for the love story, you’ll fall for the well-paced, well-engineered action – and if the ending doesn’t get you right in the gut, you’re not human. Read the review.
Sure, many players tired of this slight, stripped-down Pokémon adventure after the first glorious fortnight. But its brilliance lay in how it used augmented reality and location-based technology to captivate not just early-adopter geeks, but whole families. Wandering through towns and parks looking for Jigglypuffs and Caterpies, meeting other players and exchanging tips, proved one of the highlights of the summer. For many of us still, no walk is complete without it. Read more.
With beautiful visuals and a haunting story of personal discovery, Firewatch was one of the year’s most fascinating experimental titles. Lead character Henry has escaped a difficult life to watch for fires in the Wyoming wilderness, but while he’s investigating odd events in the woods, the real focus of the narrative is his relationship with radio operator Delilah. Using the conventions of an open-world adventure, developer Campo Santo produces something much more haunting, unusual and important. Read the review.
Danish developer Playdead attracted massive critical acclaim in 2010 for its moody, monochrome adventure Limbo. This spiritual successor is, if anything, even more sombre and impressive, set in a dark, Orwellian dystopia where people are mere cogs in an unknowable machine – that is, until one small boy makes a dramatic bid for escape. Employing the mechanics of a 2D platformer, Inside is something much more profound, offering a thoughtful fable as well as a diverting challenge. Read the review.
Part farming sim, part role-playing adventure, Stardew Valley was the surprise indie hit of the year, offering charm, wit and a beautiful little world. Created by lone coder Eric Barone, it’s an exploration of, and alternative to, the Harvest Moon series, allowing the player free rein to set up a farm, pursue relationships, and take on quests as the seasons pass in a flood of colour and whimsy. Tech Weekly podcast discusses Stardew Valley.