Hello again internet! I think it's about time to post some more of my favourite Horizon Zero Dawn screenshots. This time around I decided to go with a theme, black and white. These shots will be from all over the game in terms of story, so SPOILERS if you haven't played it yet. You may see some locations, characters, armour, weapons or events you haven't encountered yet. With that, off we go.
That's it for this week folks. Look for more updates in the future!
I loved Horizon: Zero Dawn, and it's such a beautiful game that I found myself hitting the SHARE button on my controller constantly. It was also the only time I've used the photo mode in a game extensively. Now that I've finished the game with a collection of shots sitting on my hard drive, I decided to do something with them. I'll pick a few I really liked and post them once a week maybe, or whenever I can. With that, here's a few shots from early in the game.
The past year sucked in a lot of ways for me if we're going to be honest, 2015 was not entirely kind to me. A slew of issues involving family and work arose and were it not for some amazing loved ones helping me along the way I'm not sure how I would've dealt with the past year. It was also a year that reminded me of my love for gaming, it isn't simply a hobby, but a passion. And for times when one needs it, an escape. Even if the game you're playing is small in scope, losing yourself in a world or a story is a great way to forget about having to pretend you're an adult, if only for a short time. So, with that here are some of the games I enjoyed the most this past year. Also some side stuff, mostly other games I played or wanted to play this year, but didn't meet the requirements of a game that came out in 2015 that I finished in 2015. One mention might not even be a video game! Intrigued? I know I am! Let's get this poorly edited, probably incoherent series of ramblings underway!
These are some games that didn't necessarily fit into my top 10, either because I didn't have time to finish them in 2015 but I liked what I've seen so far, or they're just not top material.
I mentioned these games on my list last year, and they remain super enjoyable. The use of smartphones as controllers is ingenious and most of their games are easy to pick up even for those who don't play many video games. The games are a constant source of inside jokes with friends (For example: The meat room at the airport, Tom Cruise and R), and will likely remain a game night staple for us for some time.
Cards Against Humanity
You know it, we all know it. It's still a great game. CAH remains popular at parties and the new supply of card packs adds more horrible fun with each one. It isn't a video game, but I wanted to give it a special mention. I normally don't really do card or board games, but man, CAH remains one of my favourites.
Over the past year and a bit I've dug myself a fairly large Disney Infinity-shaped hole. I had little interest in the game, until they started releasing Marvel figures. I thought it would be a fun challenge to attempt to find all of them, a challenge which I completed a couple of months ago. Yes, I have ALL of the Marvel figures, and all of the Marvel-themed power discs. I have a problem, I know that. And that problem is worse now because after Marvel, came Star Wars. My ongoing quest to see how many of these little figures I can fit into my living space will continue well into 2016 I'm sure. I mean, I could probably stop, but those Light FX ones are so cool. I need to find the Vader, I need the glow from his red lightsaber. I need it. Anyway, the games themselves are pretty okay. They're a bit buggy, and I have little to no interest in the creation tools but the playsets are fun, lighthearted pieces of fan service. And with 3.0, Star Wars figures are not limited to certain playsets the way the Marvel ones were. So if you want to have a young Anakin and a young Luke run around and have timewarpy father-son adventures together, you totally can.
Rock Band is back! Mostly. There really isn't much to say about this one, in a slightly disappointing way. I was hoping to be more excited about the return of Rock Band. Though the new entry in the franchise is a bit light on features, and was a bit of a mess at launch (especially for those of us with large song catalogues) it does feel good to have access to most of my songs on the new consoles. I've put hundreds of hours into Rock Band over the years and will likely continue that trend. I haven't spent too much time with the new game yet, but I'm sure I'll be breaking out the drums and guitar in no time.
This is a game, or series of games really, I definitely want to spend more time with. It is a lovingly crafted collection of 30 Rare, Ltd. games, some of which are very fun to play. Some aren't though let's be fair, but even those are interesting from a historical perspective. And the bonus content surrounding the games is worth the effort playing some of the not exactly legendary entries.
I have only played the first episode, but so far I'm picking up what Life Is Strange is putting down. And hearing the discussions on the GOTY Bombcasts recently has made me want to get back into the game soon. Aside from the incredibly clumsy and clearly Google-translated-into-English-from-another-language teen dialogue, the characters seem earnest and the plot is intriguing. I haven't played enough to warrant it being on a top 10 list, but it has grabbed my attention so I wanted to give it a shout out.
Now this is obviously a game that didn't come out in 2015, but I played it in 2015, so there damn it. I am a fan of the Wolfenstein franchise, have been since I was young so I was very excited to dig into The New Order this year especially given the positive buzz it received in 2014. And even with some of those expectations, I was blown away. From the visuals, to the sound, to the music, to the narrative, to the gameplay, I loved every second of it. I rarely hunt down achievements or trophies these days, but I was pulled so deep into the game's world that I had to go for the platinum trophy on PS4. As someone who studied history in university and has always been a sucker for alternate history stories, I loved the narrative. During my time in school I had the good fortune to meet Holocaust survivors and study that horrible period of history under the tutelage of some amazing professors, so I appreciated the developer's attempt to respect their grim source material. The New Order weaves a narrative that is both goofy, over the top, and eccentric but also very bleak and poignant at times. And, they managed to make a super fun video game while they were at it. To steal an idea from the crew here at the site, Wolfenstein: The New Order would definitely be my Top Old Game of 2015.
Top 2015 Games I Hope To Get Around To Playing In 2016
A quick list of 2015 games that for one reason or another I didn't have a chance to play in 2015. Some of these might have made it onto my top 10 list had I played them, but I didn't, so they're not. Maybe one of them will be my 2015 game of 2016. I was going to write a little blurb about each one and why I'm excited for it, but nah, this blog post is too long already. So in no particular order, here we go, there's a lot of them.
Top 10 2015 Games I Somehow Found The Time To Finish In 2015
Well, here goes. This is it. I will probably reorder this list 17 times before I post it, because I'm weird like that. You, the one reader, who is my girlfriend, will only see the final "product" though, so enjoy. Let's do this shit. (I may divulge SPOILERS for some games, so you've been warned.)
I decided to throw on this game's soundtrack as I write about it. Which is something I may do with the other games on this list to put myself in the write (oh snap) frame of mind. It also helps that EGTTR's soundtrack is phenomenal. Jessica Curry we all know is super good at the whole music thing, and this score is no exception. It would be impossible for me to talk about this game without talking about the fantastic soundtrack. If I had one criticism of the game's music though, it would be that it is too good, too produced, too designed to elicit a specific emotional response from the player. Now that I've said that, I will admit that it completely worked on me. The music is one of the largest reasons this game made it onto my top 10 list. It is so beautiful and moving, yet also bleak when it needs to be. The music carries you through a town in the English countryside where you wander the empty streets and houses because, as the title implies, everyone has gone. The town is not entirely devoid of life though, traces of the citizens are left. Glowing trails and balls of light guide you through memories imprinted in time, memories from those who lived in the area. Through the apparitions, (which some online have come to call "time ghosts") you come to know the people of the town, and slowly start to unravel the mystery of what happened to them. Some of the specific character stories you encounter are more interesting than others, but they all pull you a little deeper into the town's history and the connections between the people living there. While exploring I found myself not only moved by the music and the townspeople's stories, but the visuals. EGTTR has some beautiful art design and lighting effects and has probably the most convincing hanging laundry I've seen in a game. Seriously, those cloth physics, amazing. If there was a category for best laundry, this game wins. And would be a close contender for best wet pavement as well.
I was originally thinking I was going to put this game higher on my top 10 list, but then I recalled my frustrations with it. The walking speed was terribly slow. It seems a minor quibble, and I understand the developers wanted you to experience the game at a certain pace. Were it not for the movement speed one would probably miss some of the music or visual queues one was meant to experience, but it's really damn slow. Also, the open-ended nature of the exploration of the game actually forced me to play the game a second time, and I'm certainly glad I did. I missed so much on my first time through. I would lose track of the glowing memory light alien orb things and assume they were gone and move on to the next area. One orb actually froze in a spot on my first time through and wouldn't move on to the next memory, so that character's arc was done for that playthrough. At one point I was thinking that I should probably turn back and explore areas I hadn't been to before because I feared I was nearing the end, and I was, I got locked into the final area and was forced to finish the game before I was ready. On my first run I missed the ending of at least 3 character arcs, which was disappointing. However when I really took my time and explored the town once again, even knowing how it ended, the experience still worked on me and the game is short enough that a second go doesn't take too long. The game is beautiful, with a story that is right up my alley, and it was definitely one of the best games I played last year.
Now for a game that is almost as much of an emotional journey, You Must Build A Boat. Like most mobile games, I think I only played this game for a couple of weeks, but man, what a couple of weeks. This game is full of life, energy and quickfire gameplay. Another game that I could hardly talk about without mentioning the music. Seriously, go look up the soundtrack for this game, actually here, I'll do it for you. There. Listen to that while you watch the image below.
How could you not be excited listening to that? Anyway, let's talk about the game. YMBAB at its core is a match 3 style mobile game mixed with a dungeon crawler. The goal is match pieces on the board quickly in order to fight enemies, open chests and continue sprinting through each dungeon as quickly as possible. I usually don't enjoy games that force me to do things on a time limit. It freaks me out and I succumb to the pressure. With YMBAB though, I found it a fun challenge. And even if you fail a run in the first few seconds you're still rewarded with something. The quick failures also make the longer runs that much sweeter. As you go through the different levels, you build up your boat, and new characters come to live on it. The new characters can give or sell you new abilities that make your dungeon sprinting easier. Easy to play in short bursts, it is a super fun and challenging game. It only takes a few hours in total to "complete" it but beating the game opens up harder runs with access to more skills. And towards the end of 2015 the game was updated with daily challenge modes. I may have to get back into this gem. You have to spend time sitting on the toilet anyway, why not play something fun? (If you play this game and like it, play 10000000 as well, it's the previous game in the series. Not as deep as YMBAB, but still great.)
Remember the 3D platformer? Remember how that genre died? Well, maybe except for various Mario games which are awesome but aside from Nintendo, there aren't many studios putting out games like this anymore. Grow Home is a major exception. The game has you controlling B.U.D. a happy little robot sent down to a planet to collect Star Seeds, which will only grow once you make a giant plant blossom. The triggers on your controller give you control of the robot's hands, allowing you to climb up the side of mountains, drag plants and animals around or pull power crystals (used to upgrade your jetpack) out of the ground. As the giant plant grows, sprouts pop out of the main stalk, you can then ride these sprouts as they grow, controlling their direction, in hopes of connecting them to floating islands in the sky where the plant can get more nourishment. The game lets you shape the very world you're playing in. Sometimes the sprouts don't reach quite far enough and you'll have to grow another from the branch you just extended to reach the next island in the sky. It is a fun and meaningful connection to the world around your character. Want to be able to make the jump to another island? Grow a branch towards it. The deceptively simple visuals are vibrant and pleasant. Standing at the top of the full grown plant and staring down shows off the wonderfully vertical nature of the game, and makes you feel a sense of accomplishment. I didn't plan on collecting every power crystal and star seed, or obtaining all of the trophies, but once I completed the first major goal I found myself wanting to spend more time in that world. It was such a relaxing, yet engaging experience and I was sad when it was over. Even though I spent my last 26 minutes with the game just using a leaf to glide in circles to get the last trophy I needed.
This game is nostalgia in its pure uncut black tar heroin in a syringe straight to the eyeball version. And I will say, I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. I played the beta, and had some fun with some friends running around blasting Rebel/Imperial scum off the face of whatever planet we were currently on. However, I felt like the game was pretty shallow overall, and some of the preview coverage following the beta wasn't too encouraging. The lack of a single player campaign and fairly small selection of weapons made the game seem like it would be fun for a week or two and that's it. Something definitely not worth paying full price for, especially being here in Canada where full price games are now $80. Something did keep making me think about the game though, it was probably the mixture of fun I had playing with friends in the beta and getting caught up in all the Star Wars hype in recent weeks. Let's face it, it is probably the best looking and sounding Star Wars game ever developed. Really, it looks fantastic, even on the PS4 which is relatively under-powered compared to where PCs are these days. And the sound, wow, I mean, of course it sounds good it's the Star Wars sound library mixed with DICE's game making technology, but it does sound great. TIE Fighters tear through the skies, blasters tear new holes in Stormtroopers and Gonk droids tear you a new Gonk. I managed to pick it up during Boxing Day sales and having not paid full price for it has made quite the difference in my brain. With the sale and a bit of money in my PSN account, I paid only about $45 for the game which feels like the right price for it.
The game is definitely a bit shallow, but I still find it fun. I will probably get bored with it pretty quickly, like I do with most shooters, but for now I am enjoying my time with it. One mode in particular has caught my attention, and that is the Fighter Squadron mode, which is an all air vehicle match. X-Wings, TIE Fighters etc, take part in dogfights for supremacy with the occasional objective of shooting down an enemy troop transport for extra points. I've found that I'm on average WAY more skilled in this mode than I am most of the standard shooter modes. In the couple of dozen matches I've played I have regularly been in the top 2-3 players on my team and sometimes on both teams. I am big fan of simple-ish space shooters like Star Fox or Strike Suit Zero, and Fighter Squadron scratches that itch while I wait for Fox and the gang to hop into their Arwings again in 2016. I really hope that Star Fox game doesn't suck. As much simple fun as it is, the mode isn't without its flaws. The A-Wings the Rebels fly seem incredibly over-powered. They are highly maneuverable, sturdy little ships that can out fly pretty much anything else and my score is consistently higher when using one of them. The game in general also struggles with server issues, especially balancing ones. I have been in some horribly lopsided Walker Battles that featured teams of 11 vs. 20. The smaller teams have very little hope of winning under these circumstances and getting killed 20-30 times in a match isn't much fun. Despite its issues, I find the game good, lighthearted entertainment and might actually go shoot some ships down when I'm done writing this paragraph.
Her Story is fascinating. This is game that most people in the "mainstream" will never hear about, but I'm glad I follow outlets like Giant Bomb that do cover things like it. I guarantee you that no one I work with that plays video games has heard of Her Story, and that's a shame. There are some who I think would like it, but they're not likely to ever give it a try, and it's a tough game to explain to someone and make it sound interesting. I had known about the game for a bit and a few weeks back my girlfriend (whose love of Nancy Drew was a great help) and I sat down with the intention of "finishing" it. Actually, I made the mistake of firing it up briefly the night before just to "check it out" and was immediately pulled in by the mystery and the mechanics, but it was late so I had to go to sleep with questions racing in my mind and a list of potential keywords on my phone. The game takes place on a desktop, one of a seemingly archaic operating system. You're shown the basics of a database where clips of police interrogations of a woman are stored. All of the videos are transcribed into the database so any word that the interviewee says can be searched for, but the database can only display 5 results at a time. Her Story makes you feel like a detective as you replay clips and make note of words that are said so you can type them into the search bar after you play the current bank of videos. The deceptively simple construct leads you down a deep and winding path of a story that could be straight out of any murder mystery fiction.
The wonderful Viva Seifert plays the main character in a demanding role. I can't imagine it's easy to be the only actor on screen for what amounts to about a full length movie's worth of clips. Without her performance, I honestly don't know if the game would be worth playing, at least not for me. If the clips weren't actual video, or the dialogue was just text bubbles above of an animated character I don't think we would've been driven to dig as deep as we did. The game had my partner and I constantly running through the events out loud in an attempt to put the story into whatever order we could manage. We went back and watched previous clips, made notes of time stamps, clothes, hairstyles, body language, any clue we thought might be important. It was a fun and rewarding experience that ends essentially when you want it to end. The game has no finish state. Once a couple of the major revelations happen, and you've viewed a good chunk of the clips, the game simply asks you if you're satisfied. And if you say yes, the game ends. Genius. We of course weren't satisfied, we had to view all the clips. So after typing probably more than a hundred keywords and looking at some suggested keyword lists online, we finally made it. We solved it. Or did we?
Arkham Knight is a game I have looked more fondly on since its release. Like a lot of other geeky people, I love Batman, he's a great character. And I was so pleasantly surprised by the Arkham Asylum in 2009. It was such a tight, well-crafted Batman experience. It made you feel like Batman. And its sequel did the same, but in a larger world, which made the feeling even more grand. Arkham Knight takes the scale from its predecessor and essentially triples it. The city is big, 3 entire islands of Gotham are open to you now, and each seems like it's about the same size as Arkham City. When first firing up the game, I heard the fantastic score that has permeated each game in the series and was energized. And when I first entered Gotham, I was blown away by the visuals. Really, this game looks amazing, probably one of the best looking games I've ever played. I was so excited to have an entire city to explore as Batman, but found myself disappointed in the early stages of the game. It felt like just more Arkham City, the same basic objectives, the same basic combat, and a plot that wasn't really going anywhere. A large part of the draw to Batman fiction for me is the story and the characters. I found those things lacking in the early hours of Knight, especially the villain. The Arkham Knight is a rather generic bad guy, he doesn't like Batman, he has an army of goons and drone tanks and he clearly knows who Bats is, because of course he does, it's a shortcut to tension. The developers originally said they created this character for the game, and he is not a character from the comics. That is only partially true, all they did is give a new costume and name to a character that already exists. My comic book knowledge isn't the deepest out there, but even I was pretty sure who the character was from the beginning, even before they so obviously telegraph it during one cutscene.
Also, The Joker is back, because of course he is, even though they said he wouldn't be, because he died in Arkham City. He's still dead mind you, but this time, he's in Batman's head. Any good Batman fan knows that Batman cannot exist without The Joker and vise versa. Bats misses him, obviously, that missing combined with Scarecrow's fear toxin makes him see the Clown Prince of Crime everywhere he goes. At first I was disappointed with them trying to find any way to cram The Joker, as much as I love that character and Hamill's portrayal of him, into the game, It felt forced. As the game went on though, the use of The Joker I found effective, and impressive from a game design perspective. The Joker will randomly appear on rooftops Batman lands on, leaning against a rail or wall and will have some Jokery thing to gleefully shout at Bruce. It really does make it feel like he's everywhere, he really is slowly taking over Batman's mind. You'll start seeing his face on statues in the game, which change back to normal with a flash of lightning or when you look away. It's ingenious, and actually startled me a couple of times. The plot starts to scratch at the surface of one of the more interesting concepts in Batman stories, that Bruce Wayne holds some personal responsibility for Gotham being the way it is. That his actions as Batman, have created or encouraged bizarre criminal behaviour in the city. Unfortunately, the game doesn't really go anywhere with this notion. Though the main story didn't excite me much, moments like Joker's appearances are fantastic, both in terms of narrative and design.
Now let's talk about some more things I didn't like, cool? Okay, the Batmobile. That thing sucks. I didn't seem to hate it as much as many others did, but it does kinda suck. Ripping through the streets while chasing some baddies is indeed a bit of fun, and the machine looks and sounds fantastic. The races though, ugh, the Batmobile controls aren't tight enough to make the races any fun, and there's lots of them. If you want to get all of the Riddler trophies, which I did, you'll have to do several races, and even more have been added in DLC as part of the season pass. The races are bad, they're not fun, at all. The controls for the car-tank-thing feel too light and unwieldy for precise driving, and any time you're forced to restart a section because you got stuck on a wall and died is seriously frustrating. Some of the story sections actually force you to out drive enemies as well, it isn't just the optional races, an entire boss fight is centered around it. It's a terrible boss fight. Don't worry though, even if you lose control of the thing and skid off the road a bit, the only people that are on the streets are baddies and they only receive a mild electric shock when you hit them. Even if they clearly went under the tires or got crushed between the car and the wall. The game goes to ridiculous lengths to show that Batman hasn't killed anyone, ever. And the Batmobile is basically a narrative dissonance creating machine. It is impossible to believe that when I rammed that car full of gangsters at full speed off of a bridge, and it went flipping through the air down to a construction site a few stories below and exploded, the passengers would exit unharmed. Anyway, there are better articles out there on the divide between narrative and gameplay than this one, so I'll stop, back to the mechanics of the game. The Batmobile combat isn't much better than the racing, and there's a LOT of it. With a few exceptions, it isn't that difficult, but when it's easy it's so damn tedious you want to pull your hair out. Anyway, I mentioned the DLC, so I'll dive into that a bit. It's pretty bad. Granted, I haven't played all of it yet, but I bought the season pass, so I will. The entries I've played so far are letdowns. The DLC packs that aren't just new races and skins for the Batmobile are mostly short, inconsequential story bits that amount to a couple of minutes of cutscenes and beating up some goons for about 20 minutes. The Batgirl expansion is the best I've played so far, mostly because it actually has a new area of the city to explore, its own story, and takes about a couple of hours to finish which seems epic after some of the previous releases.
Let's end the ranting though, like I said, the more I look back on this game, the more I remember it fondly. It was certainly disappointing plot-wise, and some of the new mechanics they added like the Batmobile, left a lot of be desired. However, the game remains a good addition to the Arkham franchise. We mustn't forget that the Arkham series was preceded by years of crappy Batman games, and Rocksteady finally broke the mold. This probably isn't the best entry in the series in terms of impact, at least for me, but it's still one of my favourite games from 2015..
I need to play more Splatoon. That game is so much fun. Nintendo made a shooter, how weird is that? And it's the most Nintendo-ass shooter ever. Your guns don't shoot bullets, they shoot coloured ink. The goal isn't to murder the opposing team, it's to cover as much ground with your team's ink colour as you can before the time runs out. There are some new modes with different objectives, but that's the basics. And man, is it ever great. The game is so colourful and entertaining, and even if you're getting your squid-butt kicked you feel like you're contributing to the overall goal.
And it isn't just the visuals that are vibrant and impressive, the music is delicious. It's basically squidpunk. The melodies are gibberish, but the tracks are so bouncy and catchy, they will get burned into your brain. It's better than most pop music. Most of the game modes have short matches that keep you coming back for just one more. I haven't touched the game in a couple of months because life and other games get in the way, but I can't wait to dig it up again. Nintendo has been vigorously supporting the game with new maps, modes, weapons and gear in a seemingly constant stream of updates. I will definitely be playing some in the next few days as I've heard some of the new modes are good. There's also a pretty solid single player campaign that teaches you the mechanics of the game whilst you battle various octopus creatures. If you own a Wii U, and want to play a fun shooter that has all of the intensity but none of the pressure of a regular shooter, do yourself a favour and play Splatoon. I feel like this paragraph is short, but I don't know what else to say about the game other than the fact that it's fun. A very pleasant surprise to come out of 2015.
My section on Arkham Knight was largely about my disappointments with the game, which begs the question why it ended up at #5 on my list, right? Well buckle up, because Fallout 4 will probably be the same. I honestly don't know why I felt so disappointed with Fallout 4, especially during my first 20-ish hours of gameplay. I'm not sure what I was expecting. Maybe I hoped there would be less bugs, or the main story would be more involving. Fallout 3 hit me hard back in 2008. It was my first Fallout game, and I came to love that world. New Vegas continued and grew that love. In the meantime I also dumped a couple of hundred hours into Skyrim, and became thoroughly engrossed in the way Bethesda builds open worlds. I was so excited for Fallout 4. Perhaps too excited. Maybe I was expecting too much. I hoped it would be the same type of leap in scale that we saw in Arkham Knight, triple the size of the previous game in the series. It's a new generation of consoles, why not right? So I felt a bit bummed out when I started playing the game and it was basically just more Fallout 3. The new stuff they added, the weapon crafting, the settlement construction, none of it interested me at first. Other than the incredibly addictive feeling of scrapping everything you can find in a new settlement, making it as post-apocalypticly-spotless as possible. Most of the new features felt like work though, and I didn't enjoy them. It wasn't until I discovered the "ammo glitch" that I started to have a good time with the game. The glitch, for those unfamiliar, essentially allowed you to clean out almost any vendor of their entire stock, including their bottle caps. It has since been patched, but boy, did I ever take advantage of it before they did. I routinely cleaned out half a dozen vendors in the game almost every time I played. It made me want for nothing for dozens of hours of gameplay. I had all the money, guns, ammo and supplies for my settlements I could need. And all it cost me was my time and probably some substantial wear and tear on the X button on a couple of PS4 controllers. (I pressed it probably about 50,000 times. Not joking. Sad, I know.) The exploit made me appreciate how PC gamers must feel when they play games like Fallout. You can truly play it the way you want. It may be the drive to finally put a decent video card in my desktop. Since there are no console commands on the PS4 version, this was my way to get past need to grind for supplies. Once I had no worries about how much junk I could bring back to my home workbench or how expensive that next cool gun was, I started to really enjoy the game. I was happy to be back in the wasteland once I didn't have to worry about supplies and I could simply explore.
For what it's worth, the main story quests became more interesting. I try not to use the "it gets better once you're 20 hours in" argument too much, but in the case of Fallout 4, it was true for me. The story deals with that most popular of subjects these days, is artificial life really life? And does it have rights? If we create artificial intelligence, and put it in a walking, talking body, does that being now have the same rights as humans? The game doesn't answer these questions in any meaningful way, but does present the questions themselves in an interesting way. Different perspectives on the issue are represented in the game's various factions. The Institute created the androids with artificial intelligence, called Synths, but mainly views them as tools, a means to an end. The Railroad considers the Synths fully sentient lifeforms with the same rights as humans, and tries to "liberate" them from their slavery. The Brotherhood of Steel considers the Synths an abomination of technology that needs to be destroyed, along with anyone else in their way. In typical Bethesda game fashion, I joined up with all of the factions, and had a fun time trying to push each faction's story as far as I could before locking myself out of one or another. I found one can actually go pretty far in the game with this strategy. Being a member of each faction allows for some interesting ways to pit the groups against each other. While working for The Institute, they informed my character that some Synths had run away to Bunker Hill and I was being sent to reclaim or eliminate them, along with a Courser (basically a Terminator) that had been assigned to accompany me. Since I was friends with the BOS, I decided to inform them of the incoming attack on Bunker Hill so they could set up an ambush before I met with the Courser. While the battle between The Institute and the BOS raged on above ground, the Courser and I went into the bunker to find the Railroad-guarded Synths. Upon finding them, I took the opportunity to execute my Courser partner and free the Synths hiding there. I then returned to Father, the leader of The Institute and told him I had no idea how the BOS knew about the rogue Synths or The Institute forces coming to reclaim them. It was very satisfying to pull the deception off and still manage to help my Railroad friends get the Synths to safety. The quest reminded me of the grand scale that Bethesda games have that no one else can seem to replicate.
Fallout 4 also features some of the most memorable characters I've met in any video game recently. Particularly, Nick Valentine. A Synth detective in Diamond City. The story of who Nick is and how he got to Diamond City is fascinating and heartbreaking at times. Once Nick hangs out with you enough, and begins to trust, he will start to divulge details of his background and why he is a detective. I hung on his every word and couldn't wait to help him find some of the closure he needed. I have since moved on to travelling with other companions, but Nick will always be my go to, I just want to see some of the other companion quests before my time with the game is over. Don't worry Nick, I'll be back.
It may have taken some time, but I began to very much enjoy my time with Fallout 4. And it is definitely the game I put the most time into in 2015. I'm about 150 hours deep and show no signs of stopping.
I struggled with where to put this game. I had it as my top game of 2015 for a long time. I think all of the games on this list are good, but not all of them are truly exceptional. The Phantom Pain is exceptional. It is without a doubt one of the best video games I have ever played. I have issues with it, of course, but those issues are fairly insignificant in the grand scheme that is this game. My first game in the series was Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I had attempted to play previous games but never cared for the controls or the stealth mechanics. Guns of the Patriots was so popular and so well regarded that I had to give the franchise another try. What followed was an obsession with the ridiculous characters, and the self-serious yet completely absurd and convoluted storyline all Metal Gear fans know and love. I watched all the cutscenes from previous games after playing GOTP, and have gone on the journey once again here at Giant Bomb with Metal Gear Scanlon. The Phantom Pain game takes place in 1984, and fills in some of the gaps in the Metal Gear timeline which began in the original Metal Gear released in 1987, up to now. It is an alternate history and anime-as-all-hell universe that deals with the Cold War, nuclear proliferation, private military corporations, assassins that can't wear clothes because they breathe through their skin, fiery space whales, and David Bowie references. All from the mind of one Hideo Kojima and his team. Kojima himself is living through his own convoluted storyline where he was placed on "vacation" then left the publisher Konami to start his own studio. Lots of places to look up that story if you want, it's long, fascinating and heartbreaking. Kojima is as close as we'll probably get to gaming having its own Tarantino, an auteur who pours so much of himself into his projects that no one else can replicate the formula.
In this game Snake wakes up from a coma, it's been 9 years since Ground Zeroes. His base and army of mercenaries are destroyed and he must rebuild. Along the way he'll encounter some old friends, and enemies, a scantily clad assassin, viruses that are spread through language, and a man called Skull Face. Yes, that is his name, and no, it doesn't get any less ridiculous when characters say it over and over. Nor does hearing Keifer Sutherland, who voices Snake in this game, shout "ROCKET PUNCH" as Snake's mechanical arm detaches to fly around a base punching dozens of soldiers in the head. The plot has a "twist" at the end, which might have been the most obvious twist in a game ever, it is telegraphed from the opening. What I wanted to know was the reasoning behind what the characters did at the beginning, and they never really explain it very well. The ending may be disappointing, but there are some great moments leading up to it. Like all the Metal Gear games, the story is ridiculous, but still has some interesting themes. Kojima attempts to deal with the concepts of revenge, nuclear deterrents, globalization and lingua franca, and yes phantom limbs. The "phantom pain" some of the characters feel is not only physical, for the actual limbs they've lost, but emotional pain for the people they've lost and it drives their thirst for revenge against those they feel have wronged them. The story illustrates how some can become so blinded by rage and vengeance that they often lose sight of their original goals, eager to blame anyone for their problems. It is, at times a deeply emotional story, with some hits right to the feelings, and at other times it is the ramblings one would find in the journal of a teenager that thinks they understand the world. Kojima has always struggled with being very ham-handed in his morality or philosophical musings on the nature of war in the Metal Gear series. That, and his objectification of women. Some of the female characters in Metal Gear are super badass and interesting, but even then, they're just objects. The Phantom Pain is especially guilty of this with the character Quiet. Kojima almost makes her an interesting character with her own set of morals and motivations. Every time he gets close to making her a good character though, he ruins it with an uncomfortably long shot of her virtual ass or breasts to remind us that she's supposed to be really hot. They even tried to have an in-universe explanation for Quiet's outfit, because obviously a professional sniper wouldn't dress like that. They explained it though, so it's okay now right? It's not objectification anymore, cool? Cool. Kojima has used previous games in the series as an excuse to hang out with models, and that's fine, if you say you want to base characters in your game on real life supermodels because they're pretty, I don't think anyone would hold it against you. It's his attempt at justifying his character design that irks many, including myself.
On the subject of gameplay alone, no game has displayed the level of depth I have seen in The Phantom Pain. Within the context of the game, obviously, most missions can be completed in almost any way you can envision given the tools available to you. The game provided an endless supply of YouTube videos of crazy and inventive ways people completed different missions, ways which I would have never imagined. One of my favourites was a mission where Snake was meant to infiltrate a base, rescue a prisoner, and escape with that prisoner. The way the player did it in the video was by tossing several smoke grenades into a jeep, and then driving the smoky vehicle through the base and into the building where the prisoner was, tossing him in and driving him to safety. All the while confused Soviet soldiers in the base coughed and remarked on the trail of smoke. Amazing. I spent hours completing side missions and collecting resources so I could develop a new weapon or gadget to take with me on my next mission. I could start listing all the ways I can think of to beat missions but there would be far too many, it's a fantastically open-ended game. Attaching Fulton balloons to everyone and everything is an endlessly entertaining way to obtain staff and resources. You haven't lived until you've convinced someone to work for you by attaching a large balloon to them whilst they sleep, which launches them into the sky so they can be recovered by a helicopter and sent back to your sea base.
Not only is the gameplay deep and a pleasure to experiment with, the aesthetics of the game are amazing. The retro-futuristic technology looks great (i.e. Snake's cassette playing walkman with a holographic display) and so do most of the character designs. The fidelity of the visuals and crisp sound contribute beautifully to the overall experience. The cutscenes are visually stimulating and packed with silly dialogue that all of the actors take incredibly seriously, which makes it that much better. The soundtrack is great, with epic pieces reminiscent of Hans Zimmer and a selection of 1980s pop songs on cassette tapes that can be collected and replayed at any time. Want to run around a Soviet base in Afghanistan and shoot soldiers with tranquilizer darts while listened to some Hall & Oates? You can do that. I'm not particularly a fan of '80s music, but some of the song selections are great and they did add some depth to the world. Even for the songs I don't particularly love, I can appreciate their thematic content because none of the song choices are accidental.
Friends have asked me if you need to be a Metal Gear fan to appreciate this game, and you definitely do not. Will you get more out of it? Absolutely. However, the game is still worth playing even if you know nothing about the characters or the long running and increasingly retconned universe. And that is probably the first time in that I could say that with this franchise. I will say that picking up the game now will make it slightly less fun for most players. The slew of microtransaction-filled bullshit Konami has been patching into it since release has made it more frustrating to play. Which is such a shame, because the core gameplay is phenomenal. It's too bad Konami as a publisher clearly only cares about squeezing every potential penny out of players, instead of maintaining the integrity of their product. I do find the game slightly harder to recommend now because it has become markedly worse since release. Couple that with the fact that I burned out on it so hard after making the mistake of completing ALL of the insanely repetitive side missions, I couldn't bring myself to place it at the top of my list. Despite all of the baggage though, it remains one of the best action games I have ever played. Long live Bastard Raptor!
This year I tried to think about what game I just had the most fun with, that's it, pure enjoyment. And the game that immediately jumped to my mind was Rocket League. This was definitely the best surprise I had this year, this game came out of nowhere. I had no expectations of Rocket League and it blew me away. No other game this year, or in recent years for that matter has had me jumping out of my seat and shouting at the TV in both agony and ecstasy like this game. I don't play a lot of "sports" games because most have become too realistic for my tastes. Most sports games try to be simulations of the sports they represent, but I miss the old arcade sports days. I think the last game I got this excited about was NBA Hangtime on the Nintendo 64. I played that game for hours and hours with my brother and school friends as a kid and Rocket League brings back many of those familiar feelings. Many have said that Rocket League is probably the best soccer game ever made, and I would find it hard to disagree with them.
Now, I still kind of suck at Rocket League, and I haven't played much in the last few weeks, so any skills I did have are rusty. It doesn't matter though, even if you suck, the game can still be fun. Obviously getting destroyed by a superior team isn't a good feeling, but sometimes even the losses feel great. And nothing beats Rocket League's firsts. The first time you score a goal, the first time you score a game-winning goal, the first time you score an aerial goal, the first time you make an epic save, they're all amazing feelings. I imagine it must be what athletes feel like when they do a cool thing in whatever sport has them doing sporty things. Rocket League has such a simple idea, but with so much depth. If you want to play Rocket League at a high level, it will take you ages to learn everything, but if you want to just drive some rocket cars around and hit a big ball into a goal, it's still fun to do that. Since the game's release myself and a friend have become huge fans of it, having an entire evening dedicated to it once every few weeks at least. Few games have stolen my focus like Rocket League, when I'm in the zone in a match, the entire world falls away and I feel at one with my top-hatted rocket car. I'm not checking my Twitter, I'm not reading news feeds, I'm in it.
The developer of Rocket League has also been supporting the game in great ways since release. A constant supply of new modes, new cars, new hats, new paint jobs, new modifications to physics or ball size keep the game fresh and exciting. I became a huge fan of the low gravity mode on the Mutators playlist, a post-release addition to the game. Being able to jump your car into the air and fly across the entire length of the field to hit a bouncing ball at the perfect angle right into the opposing team's goal is immensely satisfying. I may not be playing it with regularity any more, but Rocket League is a game I will keep coming back to over and over, especially when Psyonix announces new modes or cars. Congrats Rocket League, this is definitely the most prestigious Game of the Year award you'll receive.
Well that's it...
Thanks to the one person who made it this far, see you again next year! Hopefully 2016 is just as great of a year for games. Now, I need to go pick up a copy of Mario Maker.