The Best Games of 2015

6. Life Is Strange

I’d quite like to live in Arcadia Bay. I mean sure, someone is going around abducting people, the local college is a horror of vindictive social politics, and the town is going to be destroyed by a tornado in a matter of days. But isn’t the Two Whales diner just delightful? The breakfasts, the booths, the jukebox. I’d love to sit in a quiet corner and
watch the town go by, ideally with a cup of coffee, black as Kyle Maclachlan’s hair.

This, I think, is Life Is Strange’s greatest accomplishment. Its teenage time-travel drama takes place within a strikingly believable location populated by human and empathetic characters. It may prostrate itself in front of the Twin Peaks altar a little too enthusiastically, while its dialogue can induce the odd wince due to its sentimentality and bizarre jargon (although one could argue that both are hallmarks of adolescence).

But it remains a remarkably absorbing tale, and its exploration of the bond between protagonist Max and her rebellious friend Chloe is both touching and heartbreaking in equal measure. It’s a shame the final episode is a bit of a stuttering mess, because the lead-up to that point is far better crafted.

The Best Games of 2015

5. Pillars of Eternity

Honestly, I struggle to believe that Pillars of Eternity was released this year. March feels like such a long time ago, and so much has happened since. Perhaps it has something to do with this game’s essential nature too. Pillars of Eternity is a throwback to the classic RPGs of BioWare, Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, subtly and cleverly updated to appeal to both established and newer audiences. It's a game crafted with a love of the past, and acknowledgement of the future.

It also has plenty going for it; a rich, inviting world that blends hand-painted backgrounds with more modern lighting and shading techniques, a completely unique RPG system that streamlines various traditional mechanics but nevertheless creates deep, tactical fantasy combat. A grand fantasy story with a complex, adaptable dialogue system. But what really made it for me were the characters who accompanied you on your adventure, the fierce priest Durance, the sonorous, affable Chanter Kana, the wonderfully juxtaposed dual personality of Aloth. It's a splendid adventure, and it's wonderful to see Obsidian finally reach their potential free from any particular license.

The Best Games of 2015

4. Grow Home

Grow Home is a truly singular experience, a boundlessly cheerful and optimistic game quite literally about reaching for the stars. It centres around a happy little robot called BUD, and his mission to retrieve the seeds of the Star Plant by encouraging it to grow to a stratospheric height. But what the game is really about is the ascending of the plant's enormous, looping stalk.

Climbing is frequently represented in games, but rarely explored in much detail. It's usually viewed as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. But Grow Home zooms in on the notion of ascent, emphasising every metre of height gained and how that brings you closer to your goal.

The act of climbing is conveyed through the left and right triggers of the pad/buttons of the mouse, and is complemented by BUD’s brilliant procedural animations. As you ascend higher and higher, your surroundings gradually shift. The curvature of the planet becomes visible below, and snow dusts the magical floating islands that surround and support the Star Plant. As you approach your final destination, the air thins revealing the blackness of space and the stars that inhabit it.

It’s a simple premise executed brilliantly, and can be completed in a single evening. If you haven't played it yet, you should do so, right now. I guarantee it will be one of the best evenings of gaming you’ll ever have.
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