For the next ten days, Dan will be posting picks for the Games of the Year in no particular order. These are favorites from 2015 that he actually played and were released during the calendar year. Enjoy!
The Magic Circle was created by former developers of Bioshock, Deus Ex 2, and Dishonored. The lineage is clear, but the game absconds with some of the most basic parts of the first person shooter (FPS) genre. In fact, calling The Magic Circle a "shooter" is a misnomer. The genre definition doesn't fit. While it does seem like an adventure game, this classification is also a disservice. The Magic Circle is best thought of as a something more, something different. It is a mix of game development and culture commentary with puzzle solving wrapped around a personal story. Or something like that.
The Magic Circle is about an unfinished sequel to a fictional text game also called The Magic Circle. The main mechanic has the player editing other characters within the game world. Changing the behavior of enemies is satisfying and, thus, all combat is indirect. Special behaviors and abilities can be mixed and matched at will between the various creatures and objects. I got a rock to be my friend and made a turtle fly around while I rode on its back. It is frankly amazing and feels so original. In a world where lots of games feel the same (even ones on this Games of the Year list), The Magic Circle is cool and refreshing.
The originality makes seeing the edges and limitations easy to ignore. The game is made by a small team and I truly wished there was a lot more. We live in a time where some Ubisoft or Activision franchise spawns dozens of near-identical sequels, and I wonder if we will ever get a deeper, big budget iteration on The Magic Circle. Few games linger in my imagination solely because of its ideas and concepts.
The art design is impeccable. There is a overarching theme to the graphics, and it really shows that realistic graphics and larger texture sizes are not a prerequisite for immersion. The Magic Circle looks and feels like a video game version of an art-house movie playing at a local film festival.
The story and aforementioned commentary is where The Magic Circle becomes something grander. Being a game about a game, it touches upon preconceived ideas on how a fan envisions development and what it actually takes to create and release something. Many games rely on sentiment and emotional attachment to reach players, but The Magic Circle reaches for a higher ground. It made me think about the creative process and personal sacrifice in trying to meet expectation, both personal and societal.
The ending is fantastic and has to be one of the best of the year. Deeply intelligent and funny, The Magic Circle is an easy addition to this list.
Come back tomorrow and delve into the dungeons so dark that they must be the darkest.