There is a lot of game development happening on our little island – probably more than you think, because a lot of it is kind of under the radar. Did you know a good chunk of Disney Infinity is developed in Brighton, for instance? I’m willing to bet you didn’t even know some of the games on this list were British. (I certainly didn’t.)
This summer, especially, British games made their mark on 2015, and the 15 games below are testament to the range and quality of modern British game development – from two-person projects to gigantic, expensive franchise giants, from minimalist takes on existing genres to conceptual games that defy categorisation. Check back tomorrow to find out which of them will be crowned our British Game of the Year.
Even though you don’t actually play a detective in Her Story, it was the first game that made me feel like a detective. Presented with a computer loaded up with videos of a series of police interviews, you must search through the clips, sifting them for clues and trying to make sense of the fragments at your fingertips.
The queries you enter into the search engine begin to feel like questions, like you are interrogating the suspect yourself, not watching a recording of an interview after the fact. Words like ‘Murder’, ‘Alibi’, and ‘Body’ all bring up clips that come close to the answer you would want. I sat there with a notebook when I played, scribbling down and crossing out leads as I dived into the database, looking for answers.
Since first playing Her Story seven months ago, it has come back to me time and time again. I’ve never played anything like it and I don’t know if I will again. -Jules
Developed by Sam Barlow.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Possibly the most English game ever made, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was developed in Brighton by The Chinese Room, and it is quite easily the best-looking and best-sounding of all the games on this list. It is The Archers meets supernatural mystery, set in an English village that is both the sum and the reduction of every real English village. You never actually meet the game’s characters, but you come to know them regardless: their hopes and fears, their mistakes, their inner darkness. Its extraordinary score, by Jessica Curry, brought actual tears to my eyes more than once.
It might seem like a literal walk in the park, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is more intelligent and layered than it might feel while you’re actually playing it. This excellent breakdown of the game’s subtext opened up several new avenues of thought for me, once I’d seen the “end” of the story. -Keza
Developed by TheChineseRoom.
The joy of Grow Home, what makes it so compelling, is controlling BUD – the game's red, robotic protagonist. Instead of the canned animations we’re used to in most games, BUD’s movement is all procedural. To climb, you have to direct him with the thumbsticks and use the triggers to grip with each hand. It's simple, physical. Grow Home is centred around growing and climbing a giant beanstalk into the stratosphere of an alien world of floating islands, endless waterfalls, and bug-eyed sheep. All bright colours and chunky geometry, Grow Home seems simple, but it's deeply satisfying to play. -Jules
Developed by Ubisoft Reflections.
I’ve genuinely never been so enthralled by a racing game. As I wrote about earlier this week, everything in Dirt Rally is crafted to focus your attention on the road immediately in front of you, to make you drive in a way where you’re only ever reacting to the next turn ahead. It pushes you to slip into an almost semi-conscious state where you forget the room around you, becoming aware only of the weight and power of your car.
Dirt Rally is the closest Codemasters has come to making a simulation in years. It is a brutally hard, unforgiving game where a momentary lapse in concentration can undo an hour’s work climbing the rankings of a championship, but that challenge makes the eventual wins feel earned and so, so satisfying. It’s the finest racing game the team has ever made. -Jules
Developed by Codemasters.
I did not know until after I’d finished it that Until Dawn was British, because it’s such a perfectly knowing pastiche of American horror-movie tropes that I felt it must have come from across the Atlantic. I kept wavering between thinking that it was extraordinarily clever and bafflingly dumb, but in the end it doesn’t matter: Until Dawn is unusual and great fun, even for a total wuss like me who screeched obligingly at every jump scare. It’s given people the unique experience of a movie night, but with a game, being just as well-suited to playing together in a group as it is to scaring yourself alone. Our American colleague Kirk called Until Dawn one of the best surprises of this year – I am inclined to agree. -Keza
Developed by Supermassive.
I first fell in love with Tearaway Unfolded when I caught a squirrel in my controller. I could hear it chittering inside the peripheral and it would squeak and skitter if I shook it. It forged a tight relationship between the virtual world behind my screen, and the real world where I sat on my sofa playing.
Media Molecule’s game is forever playing with the relationship between the virtual world and the physical devices we use to interact with it. You stroke the touch pad to summon gusts of winds to blow through Unfolded’s papercraft world, you use the light on the back of the controller as a torch to light your way through the environment, you catch squirrels and then throw them back into the world with a swipe of the touch pad.
That relationship is strengthened further by the tangible world on-screen. Unfolded’s world bristles with life: craft paper trees flutter in the wind, an ocean of paper ceaselessly rolls and unfurls; even a place between the pages, made entirely of blank script, unfolds before you as you walk. Every virtual space feels handcrafted, attentively assembled by a team working with a shared passion.
Throughout the third-person adventure there are moments when the papercraft world and music come together perfectly. The relationship the team fosters between you and the game is something special, unique, and touching. -Jules
Developed by Media Molecule.
The best skateboarding game since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. That should be all you need to know, but in case you need more: OlliOlli 2 is a two-dimensional, finger-bending skateboarding game with a rad soundtrack and a very cool look. London developer Roll7 also brought us the cheerfully violent Not a Hero this year, around the time of the most depressing General Election in my lifetime, but it’s OlliOlli that stuck with me throughout the year, offering a moreish challenge on Vita. -Keza
Developed by Roll7.
Sunless Sea is a game of frequent, often fruitless, expeditions. You start Failbetter Games' RPG(-of sorts) as a penniless captain docked in harbour at Fallen London – the name given to the city ever since it was carried away from the overworld by a swarm of bats and brought to this subterranean ocean. You set sail out into a dark ocean filled with Lovecraftian horrors in search of fortune, but more often than not you’ll find starvation, madness, and sea monsters.
It’s a challenge to capture what exactly Sunless Sea is. It’s an open-world naval explorer where you try to peer through the fog of war to find islands to make landfall and trade. However, it’s also an RPG, where you’re forever trying to better yourself, your crew, and your ship, not to mention trying to better your standings back in London. Yet, most of all, Sunless Sea is a choose-your-own-adventure novel filled with the most exquisite writing. Your ship’s prow may be heading towards maddening horrors, but they will be described with elegant precision, conjuring up dark images that will stay with you for hours. -Jules
Developed by Failbetter Games.
Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games are some of the most successful on the planet, but for long-time players the games have also been getting a bit tired in the past few years. The same formula stretched over almost 20 games is bound to wear a bit thin, but the lovingly handled presentation and kooky humour always saves them.
Lego Dimensions is a different deal, though, a funny, clever, freewheeling, wildly creative mashup of different Lego worlds that made me feel like a kid again. There is surely no child or adult on the planet who could not find *something* to love in this enormous (and expensive) game (it even distracted my Destiny-obsessed 10-year-old stepson from endless bloody loot-drop loops for a couple of weekends, which is a result). The Doctor Who and Simpsons adventures were personal highlights, but for others it could just as easily be Back to the Future or Portal or Scooby Doo or, well, any of them really. The expense might be eye-watering, but Lego Dimensions is far from a cash-in. -Keza
Developed by Traveller's Tales.
Batman Arkham Knight
In a year filled with open-world games, Arkham Knight has a unique flavour. Gotham City has almost no open spaces. It is a densely packed city, filled with tall gothic architecture, layered roadways, and the clutter that makes the world feel lived in.
Returning to Gotham’s dark and perpetually rain-soaked streets was a joy (so long as you weren’t trying to play on PC). With a tap of a button you could summon the Batmobile, sliding into the driver’s seat and using it as an extension of Batman’s utility belt and combat abilities. When you fell into a fight with the multitude of goons that prowled Gotham’s streets you would fight with a hand-to-hand system that has matured over three Rocksteady Arkham games. Now, more than ever, your kicks and punches have the sensation of physicality to them. Plus, grappling and gliding around a city riddled with starkly intricate architecture is eternally fun. -Jules
Developed by Rocksteady Studios.
Based off the teaser trailer alone, I backed Prison Architect as soon as its crowdfunding campaign went live back in 2012. Over the past three years it has proven to be one of the best examples of the Early Access model (though it launched before Early Access was a formalised concept). The game that was finally released in October delivered on what I backed three years before: a prison management sim that lets you construct a facility of punishment or rehabilitation (or a blend of both).
There’s something irresistible about the systems of a prison, about managing the needs of a captive population. You have to feed, house, and contain a rapidly growing group of people who, when treated poorly, will become violent. As the updates steadily rolled out new features, new systems and new challenges were added, complicating the game but never straying from the original compelling premise. The Prison Architect of today has gangs, riots, a legal system surrounding in-prison capital punishment, and education systems. It’s one of the fullest management simulations available and yet it remains accessible and easy to parse. It’s a staggering achievement from a tiny indie team. -Jules
Developed by Introversion.
Guitar Hero Live
When we broke the news earlier this year that Guitar Hero was going to be revived, there was one important detail that we missed: it was being developed in the UK, by FreeStyle Games. I’m so pleased that it’s turned out to be as much fun as it is. Guitar Hero Live brings 3 innovations to rhythm-action: a new six-button mechanic, a first-person perspective that is the closest thing imaginable to actually being up on a stage playing in front of a crowd of thousands at a festival, and the worrisomely addictive, always-running Guitar Hero TV channel. FreeStyle Games has taken what could have been a re-hash and made it quietly revolutionary.
Guitar Hero Live is Guitar Hero for a new generation; that’s reflected in everything from the ever-evolving song catalogue to the business model, which moves away from DLC and towards something more Spotify-like in nature. But everything about it still works for me. It also feels appropriate that Guitar Hero should be made in Britain, a nation with incomparable musical history and culture. -Keza
Developed by Freestyle Games.
There’s a seed of randomness in almost every action you take in Chaos Reborn. When you summon a creature to the board there’s a chance the spell cast will fail, wasting your wizard’s turn. Whenever your wizard or his creatures attacks an enemy there’s a chance your attack will miss. It creates a tension to versus matches that is missing from turn-based tactical games like The Banner Saga. I’ve gone back to Chaos Reborn repeatedly through the year, seeking that randomness. It’s caused me to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (and defeat from the jaws of victory).
Julian Gollop may no longer in the UK but until we write a Best Bulgarian Games of 2015 feature we’ll give him an honorary spot as an expat, particularly when he’s made a game as good as Chaos Reborn.-Jules
Developed by Gollop Games, Snapshot Games.
I love The Swindle’s attitude: it's a steampunk burglary roguelike, randomly generated, that has you nicking stuff from well-protected houses in an alternate-Victorian London as a cat burglar. You've got 100 days to sort yourself out before Scotland Yard cracks down on all crime with a sinister mega-surveillance device, and defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory at any time, at a moment's notice. It can lacerate your ego if you get cocky. It's all about the delicate balance of risk and reward, and kitting yourself out with weirder, cooler burglary gadgets so you don't end up stuck in a house with no good way out. Part stealth game, part platformer, The Swindle does a lot with its ideas. -Keza
Developed by Size 5 Games.
As a modern retelling of the Robin Hood featuring Danny Wallace and Andy Serkis, Volume could scarcely be more British; happily, it’s also pretty good. It is not a totally friction-free stealth game, but the frustration is a valid part of play, and the way that it lays the elements of the stealth experience bare visually – not just sight cones, but sound, layout, the guards’ alertness – is a clever innovation. Abstract, stylish, political, dystopian and well-plotted, Volume is careful never to let your attention stray for long, introducing new gadgets that slightly remix the rules of play every few levels. It’s a clever approach to a tricky genre from one of Britain’s young development talents. -Keza
Developed by Mike Bithell.
Come back tomorrow to see which of these 15 games will be crowned our British game of the year - and let us know which other British games you enjoyed this year in the comments.
Correction: We originally included Davey Wreden's The Beginner's Guide. Wreden collaborated on The Stanley Parable with Brit William Pugh, which is where the confusion stemmed from.