Christine Caruana | Writer, CVG Australia
The last time I was genuinely scared playing a game - the kind of scared that had me constantly glancing over my shoulder - was Silent Hill on PS1. That was over 10 years ago. But now that fear has returned with ZombiU.
Placed in the position of the 'everyman', you are not skilled at combat, you can't fire a gun properly, and your best hope of survival is to push zombies away with your trusty cricket bat. The combat may be clunky, but that's how it's meant to feel. After all, imagine if you woke up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. We're not all skilled killing machines.
The real tension comes from the need to keep your character alive. You may spend as little as 30 seconds with someone, but you grow an immediate connection once you wake up in the safe house. You don't want to see them perish - nor do you want to lose any precious loot you may have pocketed.
Survival horror titles have been lacking in recent years, but ZombiU renews my faith in the genre.
Rob Crossley | Associate Editor, CVG
Hotline Miami isn't meant to look polished or refined; quite the opposite. This game recreates that blurred hedonism of '80s culture by making everything farcically vulgar. Even the title screen and fonts - which drunkenly sway in neon colours - are deliberately designed to be harsh eyesores.
This retro-styled depravity simulator takes players to an assortment of derelict buildings across Miami to fulfil the straightforward task of murdering everyone inside. Think of it as a mad weekend with that slightly dodgy friend-of-a-friend you usually avoid at social gatherings. It's a sudden spiral into immorality that brings shame to your good name yet is undeniably a good weekend.
The action is maniacal but by no means mindless. The splendour of blowing people's faces off whilst wearing a pig's mask gives Hotline Miami that initial hook, but the underpinning strategy and escalating challenge is what will keep you gripped. It takes several hours to complete but is so perversely hard that the credits are met with a sigh of relief.
It employs AI that offers no flashing icons, no pauses for breath and no mercy once enemies know you've entered their yard. And while the music does dip into signature synthy melodies that are now mandatory for anything set in the '80s, the soundtrack is a fantastic compilation that seems to have been put together by the coolest person you know.
Tamoor Hussain | Writer, CVG
These days pure stealth games are few and far between. Marquee genre franchises have increasingly been diluted and now, for the most part, stealth is a novelty, and not a necessity. It's unfortunate, but it makes rare gems like Mark of the Ninja all the more precious.
Set in a beautifully crafted 2D world, Mark of the Ninja is a game where clinging to walls, tucking yourself behind objects, grappling onto ceiling fixtures and slinking around searchlights is essential to survival; where watching and waiting is more rewarding than slicing and dicing. It demands patience and a deft touch, and enforces these requirements with carpets of obscuring fog and deadly enemies. Only with surgical precision and careful judgement will you outthink the wiley AI and successfully navigate the deviously-crafted environments.
Klei Entertainment's game is a chimera created from best of Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell and Tenchu. It looks fantastic, is effortlessly slick and super smart. And it's, unequivocally, the best stealth game we've had in years.
VIRTUE'S LAST REWARD
Matthew Pellett | Deputy Editor, GamesMaster
Though the UK version is clearly and unacceptably hobbled (the lack of audio localisation after the brilliant US dub is an atrocious oversight, and don't get me started on the save-wiping bugs and the single save file on the 3DS version...), Virtue's Last Reward is up there with Telltale's The Walking Dead when it comes to shocking twists guaranteed to blindside players.
Part graphic novel, part locked-room puzzler, it's a direct follow-up to the incredible import-only 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The Saw-esque Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition story (short version: a group of strangers are kidnapped and forced to play a Crystal Maze-like game against their will, with losers and rule-breakers executed for their troubles) is terrifically penned, and the black comedy, the width of the branching story, the cat puns, the talking rabbit, and everything else too random to explain makes for an experience like no other. One that has to be replayed multiple times for the full truth to emerge.
A lot of people act snooty when they see the words 'graphic novel' as if it's the mark of a game somehow less worthy of our time than, say, a shooter. But those people are robbing themselves of an adventure more gripping than any of the year's so-called biggest blockbusters. Purrfect.