Man, in a year like 2015 even picking the runners-up to Game of the Year is tough! Still, a blog's gotta do what a blog's gotta do. After pouring over the release list and replaying a whole bunch of stuff from throughout the year, I've chosen two of the best of the rest. One's a spectacular title that probably flew under everyone's radar, and one from aaaaaall the way back in January you might have forgotten to check out.
So what exactly is Soma, other than an amazing story? Well, Soma is predominately a 1st-person adventure game with several sequences dedicated to sneaking around, or running from, creepy critters. This is the long awaited next title from the horror game masters over at Frictional Games (Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Penumbra). While reusing a number of game mechanics from their masterpiece, Amnesia, Soma's horror sections don't consistently deliver the raw terror of that previous title. There were only two out of the half-dozen or so 'hide from the monster' segments that truely got to me. The game also isn't the best at telegraphing when to run and when to hide. I believe that 'competent' is probably the most appropriate term to use in describing these sequences. It's no great loss. Every scare Soma might miss with its gameplay, it more than makes up for with one of the most unique yet unimaginably soul-crushing settings of all time. The sheer horror of your situation is a thousand times bleaker than any monster in a darkened hallway.
While I'd love to say that this is a no-brainer for everyone to play, I (sadly) know a great number of scaredy-gamers that wouldn't make it thought the horror themed sections. Still, it is worth checking out, even if you have to do it with a group of friends or via YouTube. Just try to find a Let's Play that doesn't involve some moron cracking jokes or cheesily shrieking the whole time, okay?
Dying Light pulls off one of the big no-nos in gaming: 1st person parkour. And comes pretty darn close to nailing it. As opposed to Dead Island, Dying Light is all about speed and environmental navigation rather than slashing your way through hordes of zombies. While the post-process effects may be sensory overload for some folks, there's no doubt that when a player finds their groove, leaping from rooftop to lamppost to bus roof to the patio balcony railing of the high-rise across the street, it delivers a thrilling sense of motion and 'flow' quite like a good racing game or platformer.
Dying Light perfects what more and more games are failing at: Making the moment-to-moment act of actually playing a game enjoyable. In an age full of sloppy, unresponsive 3rd-person action titles and FPSs so linear they might just as well be on rails (You know that dude named Follow who's always yelling at you? I HATE him!), Dying Light makes every sprint, every clamber, every breathtaking leap, and every swing of an electrified, razor blade covered baseball bat pure joy.
A fun video game. What will they think of next...