GAMETECH: A great year in gaming for reworked classics

VIDEO games continue to evolve, but that doesn’t always mean taking a step forwards. This year, some of the best-received games were updated classics or older franchises that stuck to their roots, says Ronan Jennings.
GAMETECH: A great year in gaming for reworked classics

Take Shovel Knight, for example. It looks like a game from the early ’90s, but that didn’t stop critics and players, well, really digging it. Shovel Knight took inspiration from console classics like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Mario, but updated that experience with modern design touches and a knowing wink. While the gameplay was a tribute to older titles, Shovel Knight was funded in a contemporary fashion: It was a Kickstarter project, raising almost €300,000 from the public for development.

Kickstarter also laid the foundations for Pillars of Eternity, the game that finally brought Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing back to the PC. Roughly 20 years (not quite an eternity, admittedly) had passed since the genre’s heyday. Thankfully Pillars of Eternity delivered. It’s a fantastic game, one that places a refreshing emphasis on text and reading to build its sprawling world.

The modern role-playing experience, however, is a very different creature. It doesn’t build its world through text, but through stunning visuals and professional voice actors. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is many people’s choice for game of the year, and it’s a fantastic example of role-playing evolved. While combat in The Witcher 3 is all button-pressing and action, the Kingdom of the North itself is one of gaming’s most impressive destinations, full of detail and brilliant stories. The action can get repetitive, but it never gets boring, and Geralt of Rivia is a fantastic protagonist.

When it comes to world-building, however, no one can beat Rockstar and the Grand Theft Auto series. While Grand Theft Auto V was released in 2014, the PC version only hit digital shelves earlier this year. One simple addition — a first-person mode — changed the experience completely, reinvigorating an already astonishing game.

Super Mario Maker did something similar for side-scrolling Super Mario, finally giving gamers a chance to design their own Mario levels for other players to tackle. Nintendo, famous for their level design, will have been amazed by some of the content produced — many of the player-created levels were simply jaw-dropping in their intricacy.

Perhaps the most exciting releases of the year also turned out to be the most disappointing, for different reasons. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was this writer’s game of the year, right up until the story finished abruptly, without a proper ending. Konami and Hideo Kojima, having clearly run out of time and money both, released a game that needed another ten hours of gameplay and story to feel complete. Still, for the 20 or 30 hours up to that point, The Phantom Pain was the best game of 2015.

Destiny started out disappointing and grew into a much better experience. At first, the online shooter didn’t have much of a story and players complained that the gameplay lacked depth, with too much grinding and loot-chasing. Over the course of the year, however, and with the release of The Taken King last month, Destiny started to live up to its name, and became a worthy successor to Bungie’s tradition of co-op fun. Meanwhile, Bungie’s former creation, Halo, received a lukewarm reception for its fifth entry. Halo 5 received good reviews, but didn’t reach the heights of the earlier games. It was criticised for lacking split-screen co-op, one of the series staples in the past.

Finally the year’s two most enjoyable games approached evolution from different perspectives. The first was Undertale, an 8-bit style RPG that played on the conventions of old-school Final Fantasy to tell a hilarious but melancholy tale about a kingdom of monsters plagued by a curse.

The second has finally lived up to its own name. Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 retook the football crown from Fifa this year, returning the series to an emphasis on playability and the ‘feel’ of real football, without sacrificing fun or player control. New animations and a new engine changed everything for Pro Evo this year, allowing it to take old sensibilities and drag them into modernity — the theme, overall, of a fantastic 2015.

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