The first Amnesia game, The Dark Descent, is the most terrifying game I have ever played. The sequel is slightly less terrifying, but more ambitious. The game questions the morality of war, the efficacy of religion and the social impact of industrialism all while immersing players in a disturbing and incredibly well-realized world.
Towerfall is a simple, four-player game in which players shoot arrows at one another. Players generally start with only a handful of arrows, which makes every shot and maneuver count. The game's basic controls make success more dependent on cunning than dexterity. It is an experience that translates incredibly well in group settings: friends observing matches have been nearly as enthralled as those of us who were playing.
There is no stated objective, no score and no dialogue - just a world to explore. Proteus is a beautiful and imaginative experience that manages to say much more than most games with far less content. It is the opposite of the stereotypical, male, power-fantasy video game as it makes players feel small and encourages them to stand in awe of the world around them.
It is almost impossible to describe what The Stanley Parable is without spoiling the experience. At first glance it is a parable about why we play video games, but the more you play, the more there is to discover both mechanically and philosophically. In short, it’s a stunningly simple game that poses incredibly complex questions about fate, free will and the human desire to make meaning.
6. Tomb Raider
In many ways, Tomb Raider is the typical third-person shooter in which players are asked to gun down countless bad guys. The game, however, centers on a young and apprehensive Laura Croft who isn't always confident and witty. When fighting enemies, players can press a button to make Laura frantically scramble away. The result is the rare shooter where fighting feels appropriately frantic and desperate.
Proteus makes players feel small and encourages them to stand in awe of the world around them.
Papers, Please, a self-described “dystopian document thriller,” puts players in control of a border crossing inspector in a fictional Soviet country during the Cold War who must examine travel documents to make sure people can legally enter. Players must contend with a slew of difficult moral decisions and open their eyes to the oppression people have faced and continue to face today.
Spaceteam is a four- to eight-player cooperative game where each player controls various aspects of a spaceship attempting to escape an exploding star. Players must vocalize commands that are hilariously difficult to pronounce and shake their devices at the same time or flip them upside down. It forces players both to listen to each other and make themselves heard, making it as welcome among a random group of high-school students as it is in a team-building session among business professionals. Henry Smith, the game's creator, wanted to make a game that would bring people together and he succeeded.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the first 3-D platformer of its kind, puts a player in full control of two characters simultaneously. You must control the older brother with the left stick and the left trigger and the younger brother with the right stick and the right trigger. As you gain competency in controlling the two brothers, they also gain insight into their relationship. The result is a beautiful and innovative game about learning to value those closest to us and the eternal impact we leave on each other.
2. Gone Home
Gone Home gives players permission to be voyeuristic. We’re put in the shoes of a young woman who comes home from a year-long trek through Europe to find her house empty and a disconcerting message left by her sister on the family answering machine. The entire game is then spent exploring the house and examining every note, keepsake, book and bill to determine what happened. The game tells two very different love stories: a coming-of-age love story and the story of a married couple striving to hang on to love.
1. Cart Life
Cart Life puts players in control of one of three characters whose task is to set up a profitable street-cart business. The result is an empathetic game about the complexities of human relationships and the economics that influence them. I interviewed Richard Hoffmeier shortly after Cart Life released about his core motivations in making the game and he said, "I want to change the world for the better, I want to change how people behave, I want to coerce them into behaving better." In a sea of bigger, glitzier and more polished games, Cart Life shines as the most realistic and perhaps most Christian game of the year.