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Dave Lang's Top 10 Games of 2015

D-Leazy takes a break from plotting his revenge to put 10 games through the Spanish announce table.

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Dave Lang is the head of Chicago-based studio Iron Galaxy. He also used to be the head of the most villainous stable in PAX Wrestling history, Team GFB, until he was fired by commissioner Greg Miller. Now he wanders the Earth, making business deals and devising his plans of forthcoming revenge in roughly equal measure. Ask him for his new cell number via Twitter.

When Alex asked if I was going to do a top 10 this year, I replied “yes,” without really giving it much thought. When I sat down to write said list (approximately five hours before it was due, as the ancient texts foretold), I had a hard time coming up with 10 games released in 2015 that I even played, let alone really enjoyed. I bought several games I haven’t played yet (Life is Strange, Witcher 3, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Fallout 4), and there’s an even longer list of titles I have yet to snag (Undertale, BLOPS 3, Overwatch, Bloodborne, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Mario Maker). Why mention this at all? So you will take pity on me, and express your sympathies regarding my lack of free time, obviously. PITY ME, DUDERS!

10. Minecraft: Story Mode

I bought this for my kids. All three of them have an obsession with Minecraft proper. They love the game, they wear the clothes, and they have read every single book set in the Minecraft universe. Did you know there were Minecraft books? There are approximately 9 billion of them, and my kids have memorized them all. It’s because of their bookish nature I figured they would adore Story Mode, and I was correct. In a rare stroke of parenting genius, I placed a rule around this game: We can only play it when all four of us are together, and each kid has to pass the controller to a sibling every 15 minutes. It’s worked out better than I had hoped. Turns out Telltale-style decisions work great with groups of people; the kids yell out what choice they want to be picked, and cheer/jeer when their sibling with the controller makes a selection. The game is super well put together; it feels like you’d hope a Telltale version of Minecraft would.

9. Rocket League

Haven’t played a ton of this, but like a lot of “sports” titles you can pick up the controller, play one match and instantly come to terms with its overall quality, and thereby determine if those qualities appeals to you personally. For Rocket League and me, the answer is a definite yes. It controls amazingly well, and when I watch someone really skilled play I’m often left wondering if they are playing a different game than I’ve been. I’ve always been fascinated by games with super high skill ceilings, and games where I frequently bump into my own personal skill ceiling, and slowly nudge it upward, are often among my favorites.

8. Killer Queen

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I guess this didn’t come out this year? Is it even out now? Who can say? Shogunai. We bought our cabinet this year so it makes my list. For those that don’t know anything about this game, it’s a 5-on-5 arcade game, where each team is playing on their own cabinet. One player on each team is playing as the “Queen” and the others are her minions. Minions can transform into different classes, and the classes play very differently. There’s three different ways to win: Kill the opposing Queen three times, collect and bring enough berries back to your team’s base, or ride the neutral Snail to the edge of the screen. All sounds simple enough, but the genius of KQ comes from the push-pull of monitoring these independent win conditions during frantic 10-player action. Should we try to use the snail? How many deaths does their Queen have? How many deaths does our Queen have? Oh shit they have the berry lead someone better get on that. The game requires godlike situational awareness, and the possibility space is so large that it takes a long time to come to terms with the most basic KQ strategies. Do some googling and see if there’s a cabinet anywhere in your area. If there is, get four friends and go play it. You’ll be screaming at each other in no time.

7. Downwell

I was originally super-skeptical that this game could work on iPad. I haven’t really enjoyed any super-twitchy games to this point on that platform, so why would this be any different? Turns out the reason it works is because it only has 3 buttons: left, right, and shoot. You play as a character who, get this, is perpetually falling down a well. You float from side to side during your drop, and you shoot your rocket boots with the action button. It’s a roguelike in nature; if you die you have to restart at the surface and drop into the top of the well to begin again. The magic of Downwell surfaces through the vast customizations of play style. The player finds items that affect how your rocket boots shoot, shops that you can upgrade your abilities at, and post-level buffs that stick with you during your run. Each of these items greatly affect your strategy as the player… simply put there’s a lot of variability from one run to the next solely from the order you find power-ups in. It controls incredibly well, and Downwell gets an insane amount of mileage out of the game’s simple premise.

6. Hitman: Sniper

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When Hitman Go dropped, I was impressed with how Square Enix Montreal managed to make a game that stayed true to Hitman with a control scheme that works so well on mobile. Hitman Sniper continues that tradition. You play as Agent 47, and he’s trapped in his own personal Groundhog Day. Agent 47 finds himself atop a snowy perch, overlooking a mansion. As the mission clock starts, you’ll see the mansion spring to life with activity. Characters move from one room to another, have conversations, and even get sexy on each other sometimes. You’ll finish your first mission and move onto the next, and you’ll notice it all feels eerily similar. During the third mission you’ll realize that the game world is completely deterministic, and the characters in the simulation do the exact same thing each time the clock starts.

A core conceit of the game is that you learn the character’s routines, down to the second. This is because as the goals for each mission get more demanding you’re going to need to pop your crosshairs between characters at the drop of a hat, and the mansion is so large you won’t be able to find them in a timely manner; you’ll need to already know where they will be. Do you remember that scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray came to terms with his situation, and uses his near-omniscience to make the best of his crummy life? You’ll learn the ins and outs of the people in this mansion as well as Bill Murray learned Punxsutawney, and exploiting that mastery to achieve the increasingly difficult goals the game puts in front of you is incredibly satisfying. Oh and you get to shoot people, if you’re into that sort of thing.

5. Door Kickers

I found Door Kickers on Steam after I did my top-ten list last year, otherwise it would have been in the top-three for sure. If you’ve never seen Door Kickers in action, it’s “Rainbow Six Mission Planning Mode: The Game.” You control a squad of elite police officers, and are tasked with taking doors and kicking ass in the name of the law. Each mission sets up with some known parameters (there’s between 5 and 8 bad guys, they have a hostage, you have 2 minutes before they execute the hostage), and you have to take your squad into the house and deal with whomever is found inside. There are four different “classes” of police officers to use, and each class has a lot of gear (different guns, grenades, non-lethal weapons, gadgets, etc.) they can unlock and equip. This gives the player lots of tactics to try, and finding my preferred play-style was a ton of fun. The game gives you a rating based on very objective criteria when you’re done with a mission, and I often find myself playing “one more time” to try and get that often-elusive third star. I definitely prefer the Steam version to the iOS version, but if you don’t have a PC or Mac the iPad is more than an acceptable alternative.

4. Her Story

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Just finding out what Her Story is, in itself, is a lot of fun, so I don’t want to say too much about the premise here. I think it’s safe to say it’s a mystery adventure game without giving away too much… but that doesn’t really do it justice. It’s mechanically unique, and the execution on the game’s premise is so fantastic that I would really encourage anyone interested to just pick it up without reading anything specific about the game. It’s super cheap, and is easy to get through (my play time was just under two hours). If you’re into mysteries and/or adventure games, just go buy it already.

3. Destiny

I played more Destiny than any other game this year. I’m also aware the most of the readers of Giant Bomb love it when you talk about Destiny at great length. They can’t get enough of it. Because of this every time I’m going to be on something Giant Bomb related for 2016 I’m going to bring up Destiny. I already know you will love it, and I’ll do this because I love you. DESTINY DESTINY DESTINY.

2. FIFA 16

Hey guess what? I still love FIFA. Allow me to cut and paste this blurb from my 2013 top-10 list as it 100% encapsulates how I feel about this year’s version:

Do you know how I rank games? I tend not to think about them in terms of “best/worst” and more in terms of “favorites.” This is convenient because it divorces overall quality from how much I love a game, and allows me to freely adore deeply flawed games. On my GOAT list is FIFA for the 3DO, and let me be clear I understand it is imperfect. I played this game enough to drag my GPA down an entire point in college (BS in EE from Illinois, for the record. 2.8 GPA. Were it not for FIFA I’d be a Silicon Valley Millionaire). 3DO FIFA is the last FIFA game I’ve played a substantial amount of. I mention this because I want you to understand I’m not a soccer hooligan, wandering the streets looking for anyone in an Arsenal jersey to assault. I don’t really even know the rules of soccer! Despite that, every time I score a goal in FIFA, I’m grinning ear to ear for the next fifteen minutes. Does this mean that FIFA is perhaps the most casual sports game in history? I don’t know, probably not? There’s all the normal season and franchise stuff in there, and the tutorials and challenges are amazingly well put together…it all seems pretty hardcore when I’m thumbing through the menus. If all this confuses you, if you’re unsure if FIFA is a game you’ll like… well, I can’t really help you. I’m not even sure why I like it so much. Was that helpful? Who is number one goalkeep?

1. Until Dawn

I played this in one sitting during my Extra Life stream, and holy crap do I love this game. It’s Scream: The Videogame: A bunch of shitty teens are trapped in an abandoned ski lodge during a snowstorm, and there’s a murderer afoot! I don’t think I need another reason why this should be my #1 game, but I’ve got more and I’m going to share them because I’m just that sort of person.

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Until Dawn features a story line that branches heavily based on a player’s actions (or inactions). Once past the prologue any of the playable characters (control switches between the entire roster of the shitty teens over the course of the game) can live or die. The story has lots of pivotal moments, and presumably the plot can dramatically switch depending on player performance during these sections. The game calls these moments out in a very specific way, dubbing the total of the player’s choices the “Butterfly Effect.” The player can go to the pause menu and review all the choices they’ve made (some even unknowingly), and see the effects their choices have had on the story. It’s a super-satisfying way to let the player see and feel the impact they’ve had.

Did I mention all of said shitty teens could die? They can, and sadly, several did during my play through. I kept the entire cast of shitheads alive until the very end of the game, and then really blew it and only ended up saving three. Each time I lost one, even characters I didn’t really care about, it got under my skin. Sometimes the deaths were very clearly my fault…I made an obviously poor choice in the heat of the moment. Other times it wasn’t clear what I could have done differently to save the shitbag teen in question, and it’s this ambiguity that got to me. Maybe a choice I made four hours ago actually sealed this character’s fate? Maybe I’ve been staring at what’s effectively a ghost-proxy for this doomed teen for the last three acts? I’ll never really know, and I really, really want to. This is Until Dawn’s magic.

I love this game so much the fact that the narrative takes an inexplicably ridiculous turn fairly deep into the game doesn’t keep it out of my number one slot. I can’t stress this enough: I exceptionally disliked a choice the writers made with the plot in a game that’s ostensibly defined by the quality of its writing and It’s STILL MY NUMBER ONE GAME. Play this game and bask in the glow of shitty teens being shitty. It’s fantastic.