Driving along the shore as water from the beach splashes on the screen while the sun sets beyond the horizon with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony playing on the radio. Further down, I come across a deserted area with wrecked ships, perfect for taking the dune buggy out of the garage, letting loose and attempting some cool-looking stunts. Night sets in, and I’m now in the forest with nothing to guide me but the lights from my car as I try to hit 180 miles per hour for a speed challenge. I’ve never been more laid-back with a controller in my hands. This is Forza Horizon 3.
Video games are meant to be fun, and they are. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that video games are kind of stressful. I tend to spend a lot of time playing competitive multiplayer games, which is pretty much an invitation for frustration. I love Overwatch, but I get mad when I get killed a lot or my team fails to play the objective. Same goes for games like Halo 5 and Battlefield. It even extends to single player games. Dishonored 2 would leave me mentally exhausted after each mission. So, after a long day, is that the kind of game I want to relax with? Not really.
We all need that game we can unwind with. A game that we can just lean back on our chair with and play without any stress. Forza Horizon 3 is that game for me. It’s exhilarating to drive around the beautiful sights of Australia without any real objective other than “do what you want.” It also got me to thinking of other games that are good for the purpose of relaxing with. Games that don’t really ask much and just want you to have fun.
Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios)
“Players assume control of Ori, a white guardian spirit, and Sein, the “light and eyes” of the Forest’s Spirit Tree. To progress in the game, players are tasked to move between platforms and solve puzzles. The game also features a system called “soul links”, which allows players to save at will, and an upgrade system that gives players the ability to strengthen Ori’s skills.” (Wikipedia)
Ori and the Blind Forest is not an easy game. It’s quite hard, actually. But it’s incredibly soothing from an atmospheric standpoint. The world Moon Studios built here is haunting, yet beautiful all the same. The score is sometimes cheery, sometimes dreadful, depending where you are on the map.
Like I said, the game isn’t easy. It requires precision platforming, especially during the big escape sequences, where you will die a bunch. But the art, music and story work in perfect harmony that I just couldn’t get frustrated even if I tried.
Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac Games)
“The player controls an employee of FizzCo, who has to fight off the OD, short for Overcharge Drinkers: humans who have turned into mutants after drinking FizzCo’s energy drink beverage. In the dystopian Sunset City the player character can wall-run, use zip-lines, and grind rails to swiftly navigate through it, with a large arsenal of weapons to use.” (Wikipedia)
Ever wish you could blow stuff up while grinding rails in any of the Tony Hawk games? Sunset Overdrive allows you to do just that. Bouncing off cars, swinging from street lights and landing on a grindable power line while firing fireworks at groups of zombies, all in one seamless motion, makes for some of the most fun action you’ll find in games. Insomniac, no stranger to creating some creative weapons, is in top form here, and every gun is a blast to play with, from the Captain Ahab harpoon to the TNTeddy rocket launcher.
The story isn’t too bad either. It doesn’t take itself serious, blending humor with a small dose of social commentary. My favorite missions involved a group of LARPers that had the game briefly become an RPG parody. Throw in an eye-popping art style with saturated colors and you’ve got a game that’s perfect for kicking back with.
Tearaway Unfolded (Media Molecule)
“Tearaway takes place in a vibrant storybook-type world made almost entirely out of paper. The player gains control of one of Iota or Atoi, a Messenger tasked with delivering a letter to a portal in the sky called ‘the You’, which has mysteriously been opened. However, the messenger must also save the world from Scraps, small villainous creatures which are invading the paper world via the opening to cause disruption.” (Wikipedia)
There aren’t too many 3D platformers being released nowadays, so I definitely take notice when a new one comes out. Tearaway is a charming game that makes full use of its paper-craft premise and the DualShock 4 controller. Things like using the controller’s lightbar to illuminate dark areas and tossing squirrels into the controller, and being able to hear them through the speaker, felt like unique, creative ways to have the player interact with the game outside of pressing buttons. This is further reinforced by having designs created by you make frequent appearances through the game world. It always brought a smile to my face to see the dumb thing I drew wind up on something like a butterfly’s wings.
The Witness (Thekla Inc)
“Inspired by Myst, the game involves the exploration of an open world island filled with natural and man-made structures. The player progresses by solving puzzles, which are based on interactions with mazes presented on panels around the island or hidden within the environment. The player will have to determine the rules of each puzzle from visual clues and audio recordings scattered around the island.”(Wikipedia)
Who would’ve ever thought that drawing lines on panels for over 30 hours could be so cathartic? The puzzles get pretty hard deep into the game and The Witness does not hold your hand, forcing you to figure out the rules for yourself. But it’s never unfair, and most of the time the solution is a 20 minute break away, leaving yourself open to that beautiful “aha!” moment when you finally solve it. You’ll tell yourself “one more puzzle” a bunch of times throughout the game, only to find yourself doing 30 more.
There’s always something calming about nature and The Witness’ gorgeous environments are not only a pleasure to look at, but they also plays a factor in many of the puzzles, from lining up the panels with far off rocks to the sound of chirping birds.