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Year in review: The games that surprised us

Occasionally a game comes along that unexpectedly sweeps us off our feet. Is there any better feeling when playing a game, going into it unsure as to what it’s about, how it plays, or, importantly, if you’ll even enjoy it, and then coming away completely amazed?

Ori & The Blind Forest

I thought it looked good during the announcement, but I didn’t think it would play this well. Ori is in my top three games of the year, and the most satisfying game in its class. It combines endearing art with fantastic gameplay design that borrows the best conventions of an era gone by and modernises them to great effect with its own flair and direction. It embraced the Super Metroid comparisons, and used that existing framework to craft a game like no other in 2015 — or this generation, for that matter. It rekindled my love-hate relationship with a challenging 2D action-adventure game, and is the rare breed of game that has me scouring every nook and cranny for power-ups and the coveted 100% exploration acknowledgment. Sadly I only got 96% and cannot continue after the endgame.

Star Wars Battlefront

I can’t believe it but Star Wars Battlefront is actually my surprise game of the year. After the lousy beta my hopes for the game dropped to an all-time low: I felt the game was too wooden and stiff for my liking, lacking the type of personality I expected from a Star Wars game. Fast-forward to a week out from release and I renewed my EA Access subscription to try out the 10-hour trial, and that’s where I became hooked.

I know it’s not a perfect game, and the criticisms concerning the lack of content for a fully priced game – one that hasn’t made the reality of more paid content showing up further down the line – are all certainly valid, but damn it isn’t Battlefront just a heck of a lot of fun to play. I often boot the game up to play a few rounds of multiplayer before bed, or try to max out the stars on one of the Survival missions. The gunplay is simple and not overly complicated for someone like me who isn’t a big fan of online shooters, and the sights and sounds transport me perfectly into the Star Wars universe.

At time of writing I’ve dropped more time in Battlefront – almost 30 hours – than possibly most of the games I’ve played this year that isn’t Xenoblade Chronicles X. That’s a big deal for me!

LBX: Little Battlers Experience

The Nintendo 3DS game nobody would remember or have bought half-way through 2015, LBX: Little Battlers Experience, was my biggest surprise of 2015. Made by Level-5, the same RPG developers behind the recent Yokai Watch craze and Ni no Kuni, LBX was an excellent robot-customisation RPG with a charming localisation that had actual effort put into it, unlike many other niche Japanese titles that made it West.

LBX has some serious depth to its robot-fighting gameplay systems and tons of stats, cosmetic customisation and even a whole New Game + mode to keep players entertained for well over 50+ hours. Its story, while seemingly childish in nature, surprised me in a good way with some well-done twists and themes that were actually quite dark and mature – though kids playing through it would hardly notice. With something I intended to be a filler title to tide me over before Yokai Watch, I honestly fell in love with this little game and can’t wait for the remainder of the series to be localised in the West.

Mad Max

It flew under the radar because of a lacklustre marketing campaign and poor timing next to the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but Mad Max had a lot of things going for it. I think Avalanche created a really engrossing game world, one that honed in on emptiness and loneliness of the wasteland so meticulously portrayed in the Mad Max film series. Some of the mission design wasn’t great, but the game world was filled with interesting side-quests and characters, and its in-game image and video capture took up many, many hours of my time. I actually think Avalanche did a better job of creating an open-world experience with Mad Max then they did with Just Cause 3: the latter lacks much of a narrative drive, whereas Mad Max’s wasteland is in and off itself a character with a story to tell.