This article appeared on VICE UK.
Today, the nominees for the 2015 Mercury Prize are announced. This award supposedly recognizes the outstanding British and Irish albums released over the past 12 months, and when I was writing about music full-time, I always found plenty to say about it. Prior to this year's shortlist of 12 records being confirmed, bookies' favorites included Jamie xx's In Colour, an album of dance music for people who hate dancing, and Everything Everything's Get to Heaven, polished-to-irrelevance "quirky" indie fare for students too young and/or ignorant to have ever heard Enon and Q and Not U.
In video gaming, there's no obvious Mercury parallel, no award that offers just the single category, encompassing indie and major releases alike, that holds one title aloft above all others and declares: yes, this is the game. (Unless you count the GameCity Prize, but I'm not sure many people know about it, and it's not clear if it's even happening in 2015.) I talked to a few journalists at this week's Games Media Awards about this gap in the self-congratulatory calendar that probably doesn't need plugging at all—it's not like there aren't awards dished out on the regular for video games that are better than other video games. We all agreed: it'd be real easy to draw up a list of 12 excellent video games from the British Isles released over the past dozen months that would comprise a shortlist worth turning Twitter into a battleground (again) over. Pointless, probably, but it could be done.
So I'm doing it. For no other reason than it's Mercury announcement day and it's comforting to feel like you're producing topical content. Oh, the C-word. How it stings. Here's 12 video games released during the same "catchment period" as the 2015 Mercury Prize—from September 9, 2014 to September 25, 2015—presented in a list of sorts that only exists because you're reading it.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
Brighton-based indie studio The Chinese Room got itself an all-formats number one in August with …Rapture. You do a lot of walking in it, which cheesed some reviewers off. Not me. The game's so pretty I was content to crawl around its astoundingly peaceful apocalypse, and I wrote as much over here.
This stylish stealth game—that unexpectedly shredded my nerves when I played it on its August release—is the follow-up to maker Mike Bithell's breakthrough puzzle-platformer Thomas Was Alone. It features ready made levels to creep around, a solid 100 of them, spread across a story mode, and also a build-your-own option which makes the create-a-park component of the latest Tony Hawk game look like kids chucking Duplo bricks at an old man's haggard face. Great music, too.
Scared the shit out of me. The best video game based on the sci-fi horror film franchise since Alien 3 on the SNES. Yes, since Alien 3 on the SNES. VICE just marked its year anniversary with a piece right here.
Did she do it? Didn't she? Sam Barlow's FMV-driven investigative puzzler of June is a terrifically inventive experience that puts the player in the position of deciding the fate of a young woman who just might have offed her husband. It's set in the 1990s and the old-school computer effects, which extend to the clacking of the keyboard you're not actually using, are brilliant. Read our interview with Sam here.
The unlikely critical hit of the summer just gone, this PS4 exclusive mixed horror and humor in a compellingly creative style, asking the player to essentially direct their own slasher movie. A bunch of not-quite-teenagers, a spooky old house on a cursed mountainside, and just a squeeze of sexy potential: stir and leave to simmer across a few evenings of watching everyone die horribly. With little mainstream marketing from Sony, Supermassive's surprise success could have easily been missed. I like to think that VICE's coverage of the game helped secure at least a few fans.
Football Manager 2015
It's Football Manager, of course it's like a drug—one that some players have been known to get rather too addicted to.
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A.k.a. Sackboy gets some friends. While the single-player aspect of Sumo Digital's November-released platformer is somewhat forgettable, its backwards compatibility with previous series entries' user-made stages and overhauled creator mode—share your devilish levels with others online using an intuitive UI; laugh maniacally as they die and die and die by your wicked hand—make it the Super Mario Maker-like must-have for anyone dumb enough to not own a Wii U. Check out more words on the game here.
What was it that our own Carolyn Petit wrote about this steampunk crime caper, from BAFTA-winning indie studio Size Five? Oh, yep, that's it: "Every decision is yours and the stakes are so high that The Swindle succeeds at capturing the feel of being in a heist film better than any other game I've played." And that includes Grand Theft Auto V, which has really good heists.
It's the Han Solo simulator that you've always dreamed of, obviously. But don't just take my word for it—Andy Kelly penned some fine words of his own on Frontier's galaxies-spanning epic, and exchanged a few with its director David Braben (OBE), back in November.
Grow Home wasn't supposed to come out. It began as an in-house, private project at Newcastle's Ubisoft Reflections studio, an internal experiment that had very little in common with the open-world extravaganzas of the company's parent publisher. But the team soon realized they had something special sitting right in front of them. The player controls a little robot who's doing all he can to collect seeds from a gigantic beanstalk thing on an alien world in need of oxygen. More plants means more O2, so the more seedlings that our mechanical hero can nurture, the better, albeit mainly to reach new areas. And these things can grow big, which is sort of the main point of the gameplay: once the central plant reaches a target height, congratulations. There's not a lot to Grow Home, really, and it's criminally short, but while you're in its grasp you'll be thinking of nothing else.
OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood
More excellent side-scrolling shredding from the dudes of Roll7, a BAFTA-winning London-based studio that VICE already profiled as not only being able to duke it out with the bigger boys of the gaming industry, but proving more than capable of knocking them on their asses.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Punch famous villains in their stupid faces, over and over again, until you no longer know where you end and the Dark Knight begins.
I hear you, I do: where's FIFA? Thing is, right, that FIFA 16 was made in Canada. I know. Canada. Equally, LEGO Dimensions came out two days after the cut-off point, so misses out. Those exceptions aside, I dare you to pick at my list and not conclude it represents the best spread of relatively arbitrarily assembled video games made within the past 12 months, somewhere that isn't too far away from where I'm sitting right now, where I might even be able to drive to, where they just about speak my language and I can use real money to buy fries, an entirely relevant snack given how salty the internet would be right now if this was a legit prize with a winner and everything. Which would be Until Dawn. Obviously?
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