Braid (PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3)
Among the first crop of titles that defines the “new wave indie” era, Braid is a platform game created by the mercurial Jonathan Blow in which the protagonist has to rescue a princess from a monster. So far, so Super Mario Bros. – but Braid’s innovative techniques both in gameplay (it allows you to rewind time to solve puzzles) and narrative have made it one of the highest-rated games of all time. It makes a perfect introduction to the new generation of indie titles.
The Walking Dead (PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS Vita, PS3, iOS, Kindle Fire HDX, Ouya)
Few could have predicted a resurgence of the point-and-click adventure genre, but Telltale Games’ multi-episode game set in the world of The Walking Dead (the comic rather than the TV show) showed that people will always flock to great interactive storytelling. Not only does The Walking Dead offer superb writing and relatable characters, it offers the player choices which are genuinely heart-wrenching at times. This is a brutal, nasty world – and your decisions will have some truly harrowing consequences.
Few video games are able to elicit tears of anything but frustration and anger, but many a hardened gamer will find themselves blubbing like a baby come the end of the first five-part “season”. The second season is now well underway, and shows no signs of dropping in quality.
READ MORE: The Walking Dead: Episode One review
The Banner Saga (PC, Mac)
A Kickstarter-funded RPG that blends old school turn-and-tiled-based combat with “caravan management” (that’s more exciting than it sounds, honest) and dresses it all up with gorgeous Disney-esque artwork and epic orchestral music, The Banner Saga is the first part of a projected trilogy.
The game’s Norse-inspired fantasy world is rich and involving and, despite the story being a little more linear than we’d have liked, you’re going to have to make plenty of choices that go way beyond which stats to increase when levelling your characters up. People will live and die on your calls, and The Banner Saga rarely gives you options that are obviously bad or good. It can be an emotional ride.
READ MORE: The Banner Saga review
Papers, Please (PC, Mac)
A game in which you sift through immigration documents all day might not sound particularly compelling, but Papers, Please manages to convey a sense of place, time and desperation better than almost any game we’ve played of late.
Casting you as a lowly border control agent in a fictional dystopian state, it weaves an enthralling story through its portrayal of day-to-day drudgery against the backdrop of social unrest, mass poverty and 1984-style surveillance. Do you let in half a married couple because only one has the necessary papers, or look the other way and risk punishment from your higher ups? Do you take bribes in order to feed your family, or perform your job to the letter and hope the regime rewards your loyalty?
Stamping passports has never been so gripping.
Hotline Miami (PC, Mac, PS Vita, PS3, PS4)
Describing Hotline Miami as a “top-down shoot ‘em up” does it no justice whatsoever. It’s a blood-drenched tour de force that mixes stealth and all-out carnage into a heady brew that’ll have you coming back time and time again.
The gameplay and controls are tuned to perfection, and even at its most maddeningly difficult it’s always rewarding. If you die – and you will, a lot, in horrible ways – it’s probably your own fault.
A brain-mangling story, style in abundance and an evocative electro soundtrack are three cherries on top of an already irresistibly iced cake. Little wonder we’re excited beyond words about this year’s sequel – and also that Hotline Miami made our top 20 greatest games ever made.