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The best video games that kept fans busy

From Batman: Arkham Knight to Star Wars: Battlefront, we bring you some of the top games released this year.
Life is Strange. Courtesy Square Enix
Life is Strange. Courtesy Square Enix

Life is Strange Square Enix Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One

Time-travelling teenage photography student Max Caulfield attempts to solve the mystery of the disappearance of fellow student Rachel Amber in this episodic adventure. Max is shy and awkward, a burgeoning hipster-to-be with a penchant for taking photos with a Polaroid camera (and presumably uploading them to the video-game equivalent of Instagram). She discovers she can rewind time when Chloe, a punk-rocker high-school drop out, and Max’s sometime best friend, is shot in a school bathroom – Max intervenes, saves Chloe’s life and together they attempt to track down Rachel.

With a story that plays out over five episodes, the choices you make have consequences. The gameplay is somewhere between Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead and Quantic Dream’s “choose’em-ups” Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, in which your decisions will return to hinder, haunt or help you.

Many reviewers had issues with the dialogue, the pacing, or the plausibility of the plot.

The dialogue is naturalistic, and that is a little unsettling – it is not overwrought like the Hollywood-inspired barking of characters in most video games. Whether or not the teenage dialect is entirely current, it is plausible that at least a few teenagers have spoken it at some point.

Some sections of the game felt slow but, in retrospect, they were justified as a way of heightening the drama of the climactic moments. The plot varies between teenage reality and Twin Peaks’ surrealism – in neither aspect was is it a bigger departure from plausibility than The Walking Dead games.

With a mostly-female cast, great art direction and an excellent script that follows the ebb and flow of teenage life, Life is Strange is a refreshing change of pace and setting from the male-dominated video-game arena.

It’s a great game about a girl who uses something other than violence as a means of solving problems. That alone sets it apart from many of the year’s releases.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt CD Projekt, WB Games Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Witcher 3 is one of the best examples yet of how to make an open-world game. Geralt of Rivia – a sort of medieval Clint Eastwood, who moves from place to place offering to murder fictional creatures for money – is a great character. The combat mechanic is satisfying and fun, the dialogue is well-written, and the quests frequently sparkle with wit and verve.

This game contains some genuinely beautiful sword fighting – the equal of the superlative Dishonored series. The environments are beautifully drawn, and it is long – it sets a new standard for narrative endurance in an open-world game.

Batman: Arkham Knight WB Games Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

I had never completed all of the optional quests in a game before Batman: Arkham Knight. The storytelling is wonderful – the psychological duel between Bruce Wayne and the Joker captures the spirit of the asymmetric warfare (brains against brawn) between the two nemeses. The large supporting cast was a treat, and a great way to encourage completionism. As Batman, you must fill Gotham’s jail with his rogues gallery. The satisfaction of finally putting the Scarecrow or the Penguin – or, after an especially extravagant set of side-quests, the Riddler – behind bars is well worth the grunt work – or so it seemed to me at the time.

Fallout 4 Bethesda Softworks Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

It’s worth playing just for the soundtrack, which will boost your appreciation of 1950s jazz and jazz-influenced pop music. Skeletal robots stalk the ruins of Boston in the game’s Massachusetts wasteland – The Commonwealth – which is rich with spoils and story. It will eat up hours of your time. The story, which borrows heavily from Blade Runner and Deus Ex, involves an attempt to uncover the mysteries of the Institute, an entity not specifically identified as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presumably for legal reasons. Solo sojourns through the wilderness of Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic imagination and will have you meeting a beached, Civil War-era frigate manned by robots, that becomes a crime-fighting superhero. There is plenty of fun to be had.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: Trespasser Electronic Arts Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Sometimes you just want to get the old gang back together. Bioware long ago grasped the English poet Philip Larkin’s idea: all that will survive of us is love. The effort spent in developing the characters – individuals each given their own authors, most of whom had written novels – is what makes DA:I and other Bioware games so special. The Trespasser expansion pack leads you to a “sequel-inducing threat” – and sets up Dragon Age IV whatever that will be called. But what matters most is the reunion of friends – like turning up at a party where you’re happy to see everyone around you. Trespasser does this wonderfully. It then makes you wonder how exactly you came to be so attached to sets of pixels and vectors.

Star Wars: Battlefront Electronic Arts Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Battlefront has flaws. It lacks tactical depth, there’s a low ceiling to the amount of skill needed to succeed at it, and you could be forgiven for wanting more variation and progression from a mostly multiplayer game. But what Dice, the developers, did manage was to exactly capture the spirit of Star Wars. The attention to detail in the visuals and sound design means that it really does feel like you’re in that galaxy far, far away.

Evolve 2K Games Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

Evolve is a unique, asymmetric multiplayer concept that brings to mind Left 4 Dead 2. Players alternate between a four-person team of hunters, and a rapidly-mutating alien monster. The monster must evade hunters while killing and eating local fauna to power up. The hunters must cooperate intelligently to make the most of their special abilities and buffs. The result is a rapid game of cat and mouse: with the dynamic between hunter and monster capable of changing in an instant. You won’t like the cost of the DLC – adding new hunters and monsters is unreasonably expensive – but the core mechanic is a lot of fun.

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Blizzard Entertainment Microsoft Windows, OS X

StarCraft II is a better game than chess. It is at least as good tactically and strategically – it is visually more appealing and has aliens and lasers. Expansion pack LoTV gives SCII fans a reason to dust off their Battlenet apps. The campaign follows the Protoss. Like Star Trek’s Vulcans, they are one of those humourless alien races who are not much fun and take themselves very seriously. The campaign is the least entertaining of the series – somehow even B-movie aliens, The Zerg, were more plausible. (Hollywood star James Woods was somehow recruited for the project, and he spends his time attempting to sound as dastardly as possible.) But when playing LoTV, you realise that this isn’t the point. SCII is a multi-million-dollar e-sports franchise because there is nothing quite like its gameplay. It is an incredibly intricate game, as intellectually stimulating as any. A few new units and a lacklustre campaign are more than made up for by Star Craft II’s status as history’s greatest real-time strategy game.

abouyamourn@thenational.ae

Updated: December 26, 2015 04:00 AM

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