Games We’d Recommend For People Who Haven’t Played a Game in the Last 5 Years
Rock Paper Shotgun co-founder and comic book scribe Kieron Gillen hasn’t played a new game in a couple of years. Wondering what he had been missing, he posed the question to Twitter: what 5 games of the last 5 years would you recommend to showcase the new things that have been happening in gaming? The tweet exploded with suggestions, lots of them excellent.
But the question got me thinking. What qualifies a game as new? Is it about pure originality? Perfecting an imperfect idea? Cultural impact? It’s harder to pin down than you might think. The time frame has its own implications too. Since 2014, we’ve seen major studios shut down, Battle Royale dominate the medium like nothing has in years, and surefire blockbusters become cautionary bombs. It’s been a hell of a few years for the industry… but does that mean it’s been an exciting five years for the medium?
Pondering these questions, I came up with dozens of recommendations, but I whittled my list down to ten. These games aren’t all new in the same way. Some of them have original gameplay, but lots of them build on ideas that came before. I realized in making this list that to me, newness wasn’t simply a pure measure of a new mechanic. It’s about how mechanics impact presentation and storytelling. These are ten of the games I think best embody the spirit of originality since 2014:
Into the Breach (2018)
This is the most obvious kind of new idea- one so genius that it’s hard to go back to the way things were before. Into the Breach is a strategy game with a clean interface that hides nothing from the player. I could give this game to someone with only a rudimentary understanding of gaming, and they could figure the whole thing out from context alone. But the real coup is its transparency. Other strategy games use random number generators, or fog of war to obscure what’s going to happen next. Into the Breach tells you everything, feeling more like a complex game of bugs and robots chess than XCOM or Starcraft.
While the radical clarity is the most obvious innovation, Into the Breach does a lot of other things right. It has a great story- penned by the legendary Chris Avellone no less- but the story is told through passing remarks and little hints. It has a time travel mechanic that allows you to bring experienced characters back to the beginning of a run, which ties into the story and the mechanics simultaneously. If you are looking for polished, genius ideas, Into the Breach is it.
No Man’s Sky (2016, and arguably 2018)
If you are looking for a messy, ambitious failure, No Man’s Sky must be mentioned. Actually though… is it a failure? The game must be mentioned for its complicated procedural universe generation alone, but arguably the bigger impact is the one it had on the culture. When No Man’s Sky came out, reactions ranged from mild disappointment to blind rage. The player base starting shrinking fast until all that was left were a few dedicated weirdos. And they kept playing, and kept giving feedback to the developers, and then a weird thing happened. The narrative shifted. The game started updating, based on how people were playing it. No Man’s Sky morphed, slowly at first, until 2018 when the No Man’s Sky Next update completely rebranded the experience from failure to… something else. Headlines started to turn positive. The game came back to the conversation.
As it stands today, No Man’s Sky is not a great game, but it’s one with admirable aspirations and notable originality. Love it or hate it though, it marked an important turning point. Now whenever a bad game comes out, it’s hard to immediately write it off. The success and failure of No Man’s Sky forces you to ask: is this fundamentally a bad game, or just a game that hasn’t gotten good yet?
It’s a little hard to justify Bloodborne’s inclusion on this list. It’s basically just the fifth game in the Souls series that started way back in 2009. Sure, it arguably perfected the formula. And it was pretty wild in terms of aesthetics, weaponry, and setting. Mostly though, a lot of people called it a faster version of Dark Souls and liked it fine. But without spoiling too much, Bloodborne has story aspirations that earlier games developed by From Software never did.
Ambient storytelling has been popular since Half Life. And the iterative loops that trigger every time you die is an old idea (Mario games could be described this way), given a modern coat of paint in Dark Souls. Where Bloodborne really makes them feel fresh is how they all come together. The story goes to some surprising places. The Lovecraftian aesthetic criticizes itself like a latter day Wes Craven movie. The game plays meta-tricks with its own rules, sometimes letting NPCs stay dead. All of it adds up to a totally unique storytelling experience. I may prefer Dark Souls gameplay, but no other game has ever used horror action gameplay to tell such a jarring tale of post-colonialism. And that’s all I feel like I can say about it.
Superhot VR (2016)
It’s a shooter that only moves when you do. It is so fun. Bullets freeze in the air, giving you a moment to take stock of your surroundings and plan your next move. I found myself playing the same levels over and over again, trying to choreograph the best action movie setpiece with the limited polygon graphics. The story is a pretty paint-by-numbers meta-narrative: you’re really playing as a gamer who is playing a game called “Superhot,” trying to figure out what it all means. But the mechanics alone make it worth a try, and its simplicity makes it the rare shooter to shine in VR. There’s something special at looking around you at the diorama of carnage you just engineered. And there’s the timeless chanting that announces your victory, which should forever be part of the gaming cannon: Super! Hot! Super! Hot! Super! Hot!
Click on through to page 2 for more games on our list…