Earlier this week I managed to drag our game examiners away from the hamster wheel of game content analysis in an attempt to discover which of this year's games they personally found worth playing. This is not easy since they are frequently to be found 'in the zone' concentrating intensely on what is happening in the game in order to determine the appropriate PEGI rating. However, the smell of a doughnut or other sugary item will usually draw them away from the screen long enough to get a few mumbled words of conversation out of them.
Though it may seem to be the equivalent of working in a chocolate factory, I can assure you that the reality is rather different. They don't, for example, 'play' a game in the way you and I would; indeed, the whole point is really not about fun and enjoyment, or whether the game is good, bad or indifferent, but to objectively identify those elements within a game – violence, sex, bad language, etc – that will result in a particular rating. Yes, I know. It's grim work, but someone has to do it!
The following list then comprises those games which for a variety of reasons our lab mice found to be particularly engaging. Let me emphasise that these are NOT endorsements for particular games. What the lab mice find interesting or entertaining may not sit with what you enjoy. In addition, this is going to be wholly subjective and limited in scope, so don't give me a hard time if your favourite game doesn't feature.
Finally, I've had to use false names for our examiners in order to protect the guilty... sorry, innocent!
From Belinda our first offering is Ori and the Blind Forest rated PEGI 7. This is a Platform adventure following Ori, a white guardian spirit, who has to make his own way through the forest when his adoptive mother dies. Ori must restore the forest after a cataclysmic event by recovering the light of three main elements supporting the balance of the Spirit Tree, Nibel. Belinda notes that: "I liked it because it’s visually stunning and a very sad tale is told in the opening cut scene – purely by animation (no words). I think it’s difficult to create a character that people can fall in love with without the need for voices and that’s what they did in the first 5 minutes of the game."
Hot on her heels is Jane who's come up with two games, starting with Dying Light (PEGI 18) which is a "Survival action game. You play as Kyle Crane, exploring the zombie-infested city of Harran, looking for anything you can use to assist the remaining survivors, while following leads on your own secret mission. The difficult gameplay is the main reason I like the game. Your character is good at scaling buildings and out-running the (slow, Dawn of the Dead style) zombies. Even so, the zombies are not easy to kill and you can easily be overwhelmed. Your (mainly melee) weapons will keep breaking and you constantly have to scavenge for resources. At night, the zombies become more alert and dangerous which can make the game quite scary also."
Her second choice game is Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (PEGI 7) which, I am told, is a "Cute, but difficult, action game where you fly around in a spaceship, defeating evil robots and rescuing space bunnies. This 1- or 2-player local co-op action game is worthy of a mention as players work together to control the battleship."
Next up is Katy whose top pick is Oddworld (PEGI 12) though mainly "...cause it's a remake of a game I loved when I was younger." To this she adds that Metal Gear Solid V (PEGI 18) is a real favourite simply because she's a big fan of all the MGS games.
In the world of apps, our IARC examiner, Sally, reckons that her personal favourites are Akinator the Genie and... er... Cow Evolution. Of the first she says: "It's a game which involves thinking of a famous person or character and a 'genie' asks various questions, eventually guessing the right answer. It worked every time, even if they are quite obscure." As for Cow Evolution, Sally says: “Cow Evolution is one of a series of games involving animals. This one involves cows popping out of crates on a farm and the player has to add them together so they mutate into new varieties. It goes on forever and is quite addictive!"
Finally, to Larry who picks out Project Spark (PEGI 12) as something a little different from the norm. He tells me: "The game has a number of different modes. In Play Mode the player can play through games created by the developers: Team Dakota and the global Spark community; in Create Mode the player can use the Project Spark tools to create a world and games from scratch and in Crossroads Mode an in-game wizard helps the player to create a world based on the parameters selected." Then goes on to add: "An enjoyable game which allows a great deal of creativity on the part of the player. There is plenty of help via YouTube for those interested in the creative aspects of the game."
So there you have it. Words from the wise and all-knowing. Have yourselves a happy, gaming Christmas and next year we get to do it all over again.