It's a fallacy, utterly, to say that summertime means no new video games, because there is a handful of potential greatness coming up in the next couple of months. Volume arrives on the 18th of August, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture just a week before that, both Sony console exclusives; the Rare Replay collection (so excited, but I'm old, y'see) is released on the 4th of August for Xbox One, and The Flame in the Flood at the end of July; and good-looking isolated-cabin horror Until Dawn is finally out on the 26th of August.
But given that a great many gamers won't be rushing to these rather more niche delights (compared to what comes in September, anyway, with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Mad Max, FIFA 16, LEGO Dimensions and Super Mario Maker), it does make sense to use this period of relative commercial calm to remind everyone of the games of 2015 so far that have been really quite special. Not necessarily the best the year's had to offer so far (despite the headline here – gotta get those eyes on the prize), but favourites, certainly.
I asked Twitter a very simple question: what one game of the year so far would you recommend to a friend? I read the replies, and this is what I've been left with: five brilliant games of the past six months that, assuming you're British and you know it's going to piss it down through most of August, you should pick up now in anticipation of so, so many rainy days.
Life is Strange
Parisian studio Dontnod's five-part episodic adventure game puts you in the shoes of teenager Max, back on her childhood stamping ground of Arcadia Bay, Oregon after time away in Seattle. She reconnects with old friends, gets on with her education at Blackwell Academy, and discovers she has the ability to rewind time. Which is ever so useful for avoiding falling lighthouses, changing her mind about the best means to intervene between argumentative supporting characters, and pulling loved ones out of the way of oncoming trains. It's a leisurely paced, somewhat meditative experience, now three episodes deep, full of wonderful licensed music (including Bright Eyes, Mogwai and Sparklehorse) and atmospheric lighting. Gentle puzzles, little fetch quests and lots of dialogue give Life is Strange a point-and-click accessibility, and the affecting relationship between Max and best friend Chloe keeps the player locked in for the full five instalments – the next will be out soon.
Read more about Life is Strange:
We Were Younger: Life is Strange and Nostalgia for the Moment
On Time: How Life is Strange Makes Us Remember Our Regrets
Interview: The Unexpected Girl Trouble of Life is Strange
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Polish developers CD Projekt RED have delivered a fantasy role-playing game of amazing scale with the third main entry in their Witcher series, which sees the player assume the role of a professional monster hunter whose usual quarries take a back seat to the pursuit of his adopted daughter. If you've ever yearned for a Red Dead Redemption-style open-world adventure, but with a Game of Thrones-recalling aesthetic draped across its epic landscapes, this is the game for you. I'm on my second playthrough, and I'm regularly finding previously unseen extras – absorbing side-quests, new dialogue with shady might-be allies, shiny armour and lethal blades that I'd missed first time around. The depth of this game is unreal. The Witcher 3 is where I go to when I need picking up, its world of magic and menace utterly entrancing, completely escapist, and yours to explore almost however you see fit. If you stopped the year right now, this would be my favourite game of 2015.
Read more about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt:
The VICE Gaming Verdict
Just Passing Through: The Witcher 3 and the Legacy of the Rōnin
What Can Fallout 4 Do Now That The Witcher 3 Is the Best Open-World RPG of All Time?
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Capcom's portable behemoth is like The Witcher 3 in the sense that your avatar has a penchant for tracking and slaying foul beasts, but its design is based around much shorter sessions, its maps compact but varied of terrain. Pick your contract, scoff a meal to activate perks, armour up as best as you can afford, and hit the plains, caves and deserts in search of guts-spilling glory. 4 Ultimate is the first 3DS Monster Hunter to support online multiplayer, so there's fun to be had stalking and stabbing in the company of friends, ganging up on creatures that one player alone would struggle to best. (Although it's still best played in local co-op, so you can shout instructions at your wingmen.) It looks sharp on the 3DS screen, with fewer rough edges than expected; the 3D doesn't make you vomit up your breakfast on the train to work; the music is completely charming, likewise cat-like Felyne companions; and improved movement, including the ability to scale rock faces and jump-attack enemies, makes this an addictive commute companion.
I've never truly got along with either Dark Souls game, despite my best attempts, and Demon's Souls remains in my ever-growing pile of shame, untouched. But Bloodborne has at least eased my stress with From Software's series somewhat, showing that with a little dedication I can just about crack video games that are, basically, really bloody difficult. Hands up, I've not progressed super far in this meticulous hack-and-slasher, personally – to say that other distractions have come along is an understatement – but its gloom-kissed environments and bestiary of grotesque enemies to slaughter are beautiful in their grimness, and once I had perfected the counter attack (and you really do need to master it, as soon as possible, or else face a near-vertical struggle), I was doing away with Yharnam's horrors left, right and centre. Assuming I get the chance for any catching up myself this summer, this is the game I'll be turning to – once LEGO Jurassic World's polished off, of course. The cleric beast's got nothing on a blocky indominus rex.
Read more about Bloodborne:
This Is What Happens When You Play Bloodborne for 24 Hours Straight
My Dark Souls II Redemption Has Been Ruined by Bloodborne
Bloodborne Is Merely the Latest Example of Humanity's Habit of Sucking at Life
On Motherboard: Original Gamer
(Recommended by me)
Last year, Mario Kart 8 was my I've-got-15-minutes-I'll-just-have-a-quick-spin go-to game. This spring, it's been Splatoon, Nintendo's frantic, funny, sometimes infuriating (but only ever for a few seconds) multiplayer shooter/decorator where the objective isn't the annihilation of the opposition team (of anthropomorphic squids in snapbacks and hi-tops, obviously), but the coating of the map in more of your squad's paint than your rivals. It's paintball meets de Blob meets Quake III meets Jet Set Radio meets everything you've always loved about Nintendo: quirky, colourful, instant to click and effortless in its just-one-more-go addictiveness. Catchy music, too, from Zelda series composer Toru Minegishi and Shiho Fujii, who last worked on MK8 – the kind that's still rattling around your head three hours after you've put down the GamePad. It won't keep you glued to your telly like The Witcher 3, for several hours in a single sitting, but if it's pick-me-up gaming for sizzling short-play sessions you're after, for crying out loud buy a Wii U already.
Look, yes, lots of good games have come out in 2015, so far. These are just five of them, as suggested by people on Twitter. If your favourite isn't here, it doesn't mean I think any less of you. You're just lovely, and you've got great taste in games. We can definitely be pals.
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