So 2016 is here and I guess that officially means I cannot put off making my 2015 lists any longer. I wanted to get to so many games that I just didn’t have any time for. I still haven't dived into Sword Coast Legends and I feel bad for missing the biggest game made by my dear friends at n Space. If I haven't done so yet it’s just because I want to give that game the time it deserves. After listening to the Giant Bomb GOTY discussions I really want to play a number of games they discussed, like Soma, Cradle, Hacknet, and Elite: Dangerous. Some games I did play but are too small or one-note to make this list, like Regency Solitaire, Cibele, Emily is Away, Grow Home, or Tap Titans. A couple I played and really liked but they just didn’t make the cut like Guitar Hero Live or Battlefront. A number of games are on my “would really like to check out from this year” list like Fallout 4, Just Cause 3, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and others. But I gotta stop giving shoutouts to games outside the list (Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!) and get down to the meat of it. Here are my 10 favorite games from this year.
10. The Beginner’s Guide
I think this year is the year that proves that these small interactive storytelling games are here to stay. I have incredibly high hopes for this genre inside VR, but that’s next year’s list. This game and Cibele hold similar places in my heart for different reasons: they’re both intimate pictures of a part of someone’s life. Maybe the distance I have from The Beginner’s Guide edges it onto this list because Cibele made me really uncomfortable to look back on the person I was in that time in my life. But I digress. Davey crafted a very intimate and visceral look into the heart and mind of a game developer. Of a creative person. Of someone generating content for the Internet. Of so many of the things that I have always found so incredibly fascinating in others. I honestly feel like I could write a lot more on this game but I won’t do that here. This is all without talking about how this guy made The Stanley Parable and had a very intense experience following that game’s release. This is without talking about the larger questions of interactions in the digital age. This is a great game. You should play it. Talk to me when you do.
9. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This game is such a testament to good QA and quest design and worldbuilding by a relatively small studio that it would probably be higher on this list if I had ever found the time to dive deeper into it. I think that a lot of what draws people to open world games, and open world RPGs in particular, is the feeling immersing yourself wholly into another world. I think that The Witcher did this better than any other game this year. The game is huge, but it’s huge in the right way. This isn’t Assassin’s Creed map full of icons pertaining to the same repeating activities over and over again, it’s a world that feels alive and real and full of possibility. I’ve heard a lot that the seams in that start to show, and that it does ultimately get fairly repetitive, but my time with the game left em superbly impressed with CD Projekt Red. Its also worth mentioning that it might be the first big game to launch on both of the new platforms that was actually stable and ran well.
8. Life is Strange
This is another game I have not finished yet but I can’t help putting on this list. Just enough interaction and fresh mechanics to not just feel like another adventure game in a post-Telltale world. Fantastic writing, acting, soundtrack. Great art direction. A lot of people don’t like the first episode but I think it does a fantastic job of setting up the narrative and getting you to give a shit about these characters while raising enough questions to propel you forward. I’ve been spoiled on things I haven't seen yet and it just makes me want to see it more. I think the way the narrative and the time rewind mechanic interweave is fantastic, and is exactly the kind of thing that works best in an interactive media. I look forward to finishing this (hopefully soon) and seeing where this story goes, but for now it sits nicely near the bottom of my list.
7. Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture
I don’t care if it’s a walking simulator. I don’t care if it had a run button in it that I didn’t know about until after I beat it. I don’t care if the ending was a bit wanky. This game is, by far, the best one of these interactive environmental storytelling games I have ever played. I very nearly went back to platinum this game after I beat it, but I didn’t want to ruin the world that I just explored by gamifying aspects of it. I didn’t want to turn this thing into a checklist after it had been such an incredible experience. This was the first game of 2015 that made me cry. This was the first game of 2015 that I sat down and played through in one sitting. It’s gorgeous, the soundtrack is incredible, and the story that it's telling is such a great meeting of small-town interpersonal dynamics and science fiction with some great love stories and just enough humor that it creates something larger than the sum of its parts. I went onto message boards and subreddits after this game came out and engaged in the fucking ARG. I spent hours trying to decrypt hidden messages in the game. It’s so easy to dismiss this as just another walking simulator, but beyond the simple mechanics lies a fascinating world beautifully presented.
Just wait until they port this shit to VR.
6. Destiny: The Taken King
The Improved Guy Hammer for Best Expansion Pack definitely goes to The Taken King. I know my old roommate has been hot on this game from the beginning, and I tried like hell to get into vanilla Destiny, but it just never took root for me. This expansion fixed almost every irritating thing about the game and added a ton of great content. I still think the game is either balanced towards group play or people who have spent way more time playing console shooters than I have, but I think Bungie’s recognition of how deeply they dropped the ball with Destiny at launch and this xpac’s movement towards fixing that deserves a spot on my list.
5. StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
StarCraft will always hold a special place in my heart. I still have banners hanging on my wall from the 2011 MLG Orlando tournament. There is simply nothing like it in gaming today. In a world full (FULL!) of MOBAs and shooters, Starcraft has kept the RTS space alive in spectacular fashion. Sure, the pro scene has kind of fallen to the wayside while pro LoL and Dota have taken the reigns, but there’s still nothing better than watching a close match finally fall to a single small choice or unit control. All that being said, this is all about the campaign and hoo boy what a campaign. It takes a lot of the best stuff from the previous campaigns: overarching progression, powers, and unit selection, branching paths, spectacular voice acting (holy shit John de Lancie. holy shit) and just turns the fucking anime up to eleven. The missions are varied enough that they never really feel repetitive, and they don’t ever seem to force you down a particular build path once they start opening up more units. It’s easy to see where they learned from previous installments in the series and really iterated on the mission types from those games. Of course, the mechanics are rock fuckng solid, as ever. But the story.
The fuckin story, y’all.
I was pretty sure that Metzen had used up the last creative bone in his body around the time he was writing the trainwreck that was Diablo III but now I’m totally certain that they need to put that man out to pasture and find some fresh blood because hoo boy is this shit flat and derivative. If you’ve played a Blizzard game in the last decade, you’ve probably already seen this story so you’re not really missing much. They don’t even have the courage to commit to the end of the game, retconning something really important in one of the most cliche after-credits sequences I’ve ever seen. Brad talked a lot about this game in the GOTY podcasts and I can’t help but agree with every word he said. But despite all of this sillyness, I had a lot of fun playing this game this year. I’m happy to see StarCraft 2 wrapped in a ncie bow and sent on its way. Bring on the next Blizzard RTS.
The most recent addition to this list and probably the most surprising for me. I, like everyone, saw the hype for this game when it dropped and just turned my nose up at it. Yeah, it was made by Toby Fox, a guy most notable to me for Homestuck. Yeah, it had a pretty cool oldschool RPG aesthetic. But it just couldn’t possibly be the masterpiece that everyone was calling it, right? For the first hour or so, it’s not. I can’t help but feel now that this is on purpose. Not just so the later parts are surprising, but also so it’s certain that you’re committed to the game and whatever it throws at you. This game is fucking hilarious at points. It’s honestly pretty terrifying a couple times. It’s incredibly sad and deeply thought-provoking. It’s so many things while still being an EarthBound-style JRPG. It’s only a few hours long. It has what might be my favorite soundtrack of the year. It’s so many things that I don’t feel like I can talk about without spoiling them.
It’s got Napstablook and you laying on the floor feeling like shit and floating through space while listening to music. There are a number of moments where I just sat there staring at the screen trying to really comprehend what was happening and what was being asked of me. It does absolutely everything that a great game should do: great story, great presentation, plays with expectations, and does things only an interactive medium could do. The hype is real, you should play this game.
3. Batman: Arkham Knight
Okay. Right. I know. This game was a broken mess on release. This game set the bar for how broken a game could be at release. But between the fact that it came free with my video card, ran well on my machine, and was the first of these Batman games that I completed, it totally won me over. This is a subjective list and my experience with this game was fan-fucking-tastic. I loved the Batmobile. I loved the story. I spent a lot of time with my jaw on the fucking floor looking at the environments in this game. It is such a tremendous shame that all most people saw when they looked at this game were all the flaws, because at the core of it you are the NIGHT, people. The Arkham series set the standard for open world combat, and this one is no different. Fights feel better in this one than any of the other ones I’ve played. Fluid and crunchy and responsive, if a bit repetitive in the end. The flexibility you have in how you approach those combat encounters is also fantastic, second only to my #1 game. Mark Hammil fucking crushes it as the Joker. The last couple hours of this game are probably my favorite ending to any game this year, and I just talked about Undertale.
I see its flaws. I understand people’s problems with this game. But Goddammit, I fell in love with it and saw it through to the end. In a year that I was hard pressed to find time for videogames, that says a lot.
2. Rocket League
This game is perfect. It’s a 10/10. It’s fresh and original while somehow being dead simple: It’s football with cars. It’s so incredibly easy to pick up and play that you can invite a buttload of people over to your house that have never played it before, set up a bunch of displays and consoles, and have some of the most fun you’ve ever had playing a videogame. Blocking a pass and scoring a goal at the last second is just pure joy. Getting deeper and deeper into overtime is intense and stressful in all the right ways. The controls are tight and responsive, the gameplay is balanced and polished to perfection. Rocket League is the best multiplayer experience I have had in a long, long time. I look forward to having it again.
2015’s Game of the Year:
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I lost sleep over this game. More times than I would like to admit I looked at the clock to notice that it was almost 5 am and I absolutely HAD to go to sleep. It’s been said by many but this game set a new standard for open world game design and mechanics. Not to mention enemy AI and character animations. Anything feels possible in this game. I can’t tell you how many times my back was against a wall and I felt like there was no way out, only to throw some weird Hail Mary and find that the game could totally deal with it and in fact had a whole set of mechanics built around it.
I’m not blind to the story problems in this game, though I really had zero problem with the twist that everyone seems to hate. It’s a freakin Metal Gear game, after all. I recognize that there are a ton of real problems with Quiet, but I loved her arc enough that I ignored Kojima’s weird pervy bullshit. I totally recognize that Konami totally wrecked shit with this game, both behind the scenes and with all the post-release shenanigans. Like so many others have said, despite ALL of this, this game is just one of the most incredible ever made. I put more time into the campaign of this game than anything else on my list, and I don’t regret a single moment of it. This is my favorite game to come out this year, and the game by which I will measure every open-world action game to come. Kojima’s magnum opus is a game befitting the legacy of a crazy, weird, ambitious creator’s last game with a dying studio. I can’t wait to see what he does next.