DUBAI: From an indie “zen-puzzler” to a double-bill of time-loop trials, these were the video games that grabbed us most last year.
“It Takes Two”
This inventive, moving and unique co-op game from indie developers Hazelight was an absolute delight from start to finish. There was so much innovation on show it was hard to keep track.
Married couple Cody and May have just told their daughter Rose that they are getting a divorce.
Rose tries to deal with this by role-playing with her handmade dolls, who resemble her parents.
And Cody and May end up trapped inside the dolls’ bodies. You must collaborate with another player to get Cody and May back into their real bodies, and attempt to reconcile with Rose and each other. But doing so involves a series of tasks that require true collaboration to complete.
The gameplay is engaging and challenging, and the story is genuinely touching, but with a light humor that never allows things to get maudlin. It’s a wonderful game.
This gorgeous throwback to tabletop board games is an absolute gem. Created by Worldwalker, a tiny indie studio in Texas, this fantasy RPG a great example of how much depth games can have when they’re made by passionate people. From the hand-painted 2D characters and backgrounds to its witty writing, “Wildermyth” manages to do what so many big-budget games claim to, but rarely deliver — that is, to create unique experiences for each player based on your choices as you lead a band of heroes from their humble origins up to their noble deaths or deserved retirement (and even then former colleagues, or their kids, might rejoin you later). The setting may be familiar — a fantasy RPG with turn-based combat which you might play as a warrior, mage or hunter — but the skill and care with which this world is built make it an entirely new experience.
Tricky first-person shooter, in which multi-talented assassin Colt is stuck in a time loop of a single day during which he must take out eight targets at a party before midnight. Fail (which you will — many times) and you start from the beginning, with one advantage: You remember previous loops, and the other characters don’t. Developers Arkane Studios judged the balance between frustration and reward just right, and “Deathloop” is wildly fun to play.
We loved this low-key release from Aussie studio Witch Beam, which billed “Unpacking” as a “zen-puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home.” It really is that simple, but behind the aesthetic choices and block-fitting lies a cunningly crafted narrative that means you’re also unpacking the life of — and constructing a backstory for — a character you never see over eight house moves marking major life events.
Developers IO Interactive announced this would be the final entry in its “World of Assassination” trilogy, concluding the single-player story that began in 2016’s “Hitman.” Agent 47 and his allies are tasked with hunting down the leaders of a secretive organization bent on world domination. From the glamorous setting of Dubai to the Carpathian Mountains, you control Agent 47 as he sneaks around the globe carrying out hits. This isn’t a simple shoot-em-up, however — players are rewarded as much for smarts as for sharp-shooting.
Another time-loop scenario, this time a third-person shooter that has elements of horror and sci-fi. You play Selene, a space pilot stranded on an alien planet and stuck in a time loop (although the environment can change in those loops). You must cross the planet — taking on a variety of foes — in search of the source of the “White Shadow” signal that lured you there in the first place. Developers Housemarque nailed so many tricky tasks with “Returnal” — it looks great, it plays great, and the difficulty level is challenging enough to be rewarding, but not so tough that you’ll rage-quit.
The great thing about Shedworks’ open-world exploration game — in which you play the titular young girl from a nomadic clan who must find a rite-of-passage mask that is right for her before she can return to her tribe — is that it really is an open world. There are some puzzles to solve, but there is no combat and no ‘forced’ storyline that must ultimately be followed. It’s all about discovery of the beautiful hand-crafted landscapes. While there are some gripes — the driving mechanics of the hoverbike can be annoyingly glitchy — overall this was a lovely, understated game that offers a truly personal experience.