By clagnaught 1 Comments
It is that time of year to write up a list of my favorite games. This time for the year 2015. Here we go!
First some Special and Honorary Awards, where I highlight some notable games that didn't quite make my Top 10 list, but were still noteworthy games for me.
Special and Honorary Awards
Best Game I Played Like 5% Of: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I’m at the part with the Bloody Baron and I met a witch who was probably in a previous game I didn't play, so I guess I have another 80 hours to go or something. Don't worry guys, I plan on finishing this game sometime in 2016.
Best Game That May or May Not Be Good: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls
I’m only 3 hours into this game right now, so I don’t really know how well it will play out. Initial impressions make me think the third person shooting is not going to be great, but the story definitely has that Danganronpa potential. Since both games were in my Top 5 list in 2014, chances are I will like this one too, once I get into it more.
Best Game I Watched Somebody Else Play (But Bought Anyways To Support the Developers): Contradiction: Spot The Liar!
Sure, I didn’t actually play this game, and with the Giant Bomb East Playdate, I probably never will. That said, I still loved this game and bought it on Steam as my way of telling the developers “You did good, kid! Please make another game like this!”
Best Game That Took Up Too Much of My Time And Is One of the Reasons I Didn't Play More 2015 Games: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft--Blackrock Mountain
Hearthstone slowly became one of my favorite games and Blackrock Mountain added a lot to the game that inspired some of my favorite decks. That said...I can’t play this game anymore. I felt like it was slowly consuming me, eating away at my time devoted to other games little by little. I sure love Hearthstone, but I think I would rather have more good, individual experiences than only one really good one.
Best Game I Wish I Had Other People to Play With, Presented by Nidhogg: Helldivers
I was really psyched for Helldivers and seeing the game out in the wild and the Quick Look made me really want to play it. But then on launch day I realized, “Oh right. I don’t really have a crew to play this type of game...Oh, and nobody is online. Huh. Well…there’s that.”
Best Game I Suck At: Downwell
Downwell is an exceptionally well crafted game that works surprisingly well on both a PC and an iPad, and the first world is a frantic, energized blast. I sure wish I could make it pass world two though. I don't even care about finishing this game. All I want is to get through the next area and see world three. Maybe someday…
Best Game I Always Felt Like I Was Doing Something Wrong In: Cities: Skylines
According to Steam, I’ve played Cities: Skylines for 18 hours and I feel like I’m on the cusp of being mediocre. To give you an idea, here is my Cities: Skylines cycle: 1) Play the game for 4 hours, 2) Have a wreck of a city, 3) Start a new city and hope this one will fix the other city’s problems.
Best Game Idea: Black Closet
I find Black Closet incredibly “neat”. It’s a visual novel. You and the rest of the student council solve procedurally generated private school mysteries. You have to find the traitor in your midst. You have to deal with a dark secret society. By the way, it’s also a lesbian dating sim and the main character poses like Gendo Ikari. I think there are at least 10 2015 games that I think are “better” than Black Closet, but dammit this game sure is really cool. (If I were to pick a #11 game, it would probably be either Black Closet or Crypt of the NecroDancer)
Best Games I Didn't Play This Year:
The Runners Up (Unranked):
And now for the big awards....
My Top 10 Games of 2015
#10) Heroes of the Storm
At the end of my first week playing Heroes of the Storm with other Duders (thanks again guys for being cool and welcoming to new players after the Quick Look!), I realized I was about to go down another dark path. I feared this was going to turn into another Hearthstone: a game I would play over and over and that will eat away at my free time, taking out all other video games in my path. Heroes of the Storm is a great playing game on its own merits, but the fact it is a MOBA a newbie can get into is a true accomplishment (or at least reveals how much Dota 2 isn't for me). Either way, that accessibility lead to me to having an incredible time with Heroes of the Storm…even if I don’t want to play it anymore for the fear of another Blizzard time sink.
If I had to pick one word to describe Undertale, it would probably be “quirky”. I was consistently surprised by the small details and the twists and turns some of the larger events take you. That said, and not to be too negative, I think the game is a bit uneven. The game definitely has some peaks and valleys, with some moments and characters being more interesting than others. Later on, I found the boss encounters becoming too frustrating, especially with the context of the rest of the overall experience, forcing me to repeat the same actions over and over and scrolling through the same conversations again and again. I didn't really expect to rage quit in a game where you are trying to be friends with everyone. But once I plowed through those encounters, I was rewarded by another out of the box situation or something that’s just plain funny. There are some great jokes and visual and gameplay gags throughout Undertale that made me want to see what else it had to offer. Even with those valleys, the highs can get pretty high up there.
The way I look at The Beginner’s Guide is it's a game in three distinct acts. The first act takes you on a tour through a series of video games, led along by a curator. The second act takes a turn and focuses on the fact that there may be something wrong with the creator of these games. The final act…well, I don’t really need to go there and I certainly don’t want to spoil the game for anyone. What I will say is The Beginner’s Guide kept surpising me. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I loaded up the game, but it certainly wasn’t that. What I love about the game is its pacing, the type of experiences I had in each of those acts, and how the game came together to tell a one of a kind story. Each experience was something unique, and I appreciated everything the game did, especially when you take it as a whole. The Beginner’s Guide in some ways is a story about games themselves, and the fact it does things only games are capable of doing is absolutely impressive.
#7) Until Dawn
I’m of two minds when it comes to Until Dawn. Despite the game hyping up its butterfly effect mechanic, the more I saw of Until Dawn, the more I thought about how the game didn’t quite deliver on that promise. In truth, it may have been better to downplay some of those moments, like the opening cinematic with the butterfly's wings. On the other hand, this game is a blast to experience. It might not reward you as much as other narrative driven games if you were to replay it multiple times or hunting for specific trophies, but the experience of going through the game is such a fun and exciting ride, that it doesn’t really matter. Spending a couple of evenings with Sam, Emily, Ashley, and the rest of Until Dawn’s cast through all of the cheese, the game’s kitchen sink approach to horror storytelling, and scares (both funny and legit) make it one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had this year. (It's also really fun watching somebody else play the game. If you haven't, go watch the Playdate or Dave Lang's Extra Life stream. They're both great.)
#6) Her Story
For me, Her Story isn’t really about knowing exactly what happened. It’s more about playing the role as a detective. It’s about listening to interview questions, writing down notes in a Word document, trying to pursue a line of questioning, and making your own conclusions. In general I love the idea of games that tells its story spread out and players can have different conclusions or start building a narrative in their head based on what they were able to uncover first. The ability to search for certain terms and names lit up that part of my brain while playing Her Story. At the certain point, the story finally clicks and the big story threads come together, but even then the game never spells out definitively what happened. It leaves you, as the game's detective, there to answer the Who’s, What’s, How’s, and Why’s. From the brilliant FMV and the acting, to how you play the game, and how there is no clear cut answer to the game’s big questions makes Her Story a captivating experience open to your interpretation. Also....
I know I'm probably in the minority, but I still think there was no sister. I know it makes more sense that there was a Hannah and an Eve, but I just love the idea that the woman made up that entire story to get away with murder. So I also kinda dig that version of the story.
In my opinion, Super Mario Maker is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of video game design in 2015. It makes creating and testing user generated levels shockingly easy. If you can draw, you can make the Mario level of your dreams/nightmares. Not only that, it made me feel like a game designer in a way no other game has really done before. Yeah, a lot of people have made straight up bad levels and there are enough of them they ruined the 100 Mario Challenge modes for me. Yeah, the filtering tools can be better (or, you know, built into the actual game). That said, there are still some great and inventive courses out there, even if that means you have to dig a little bit on the game's leaderboards or look up some courses your fellow Duders made. (If you're interested, here's a course I made: The Escape: 7934-0000-009C-790F) Super Mario Maker is also probably the most fun I had all year watching other people play a video game. Just take a look at the Giant Bomb levels, or Patrick’s Mario Maker Mornings, or Dan being a monster, making absolute garbage I would never want to play myself (but would gladly watch somebody like Patrick struggle through).
Earlier this year, I wrote a review for Persona 4: Dancing All Night on the site and gave it 4 out of 5 stars. For the record, I still stand by that review. While it isn’t perfect as a video game or a great visual novel, there were still a lot of things I really liked about it. I know I am an outlier when I say this, but it’s easily one of my favorite looking games of 2015 and it easily wins Best Music for me. Two months later, I'm still playing Dancing All Night here and there. Like when I get back from work. And before I go to bed. And then I played it a little more after I was good enough to play on the highest difficulty, “All Night” mode. For me, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is one of those games like Guitar Hero, where it starts off good, but becomes great the better you get at it. It is a great pick up and play game, which has lead to several situations where I said things like, "I should play more Undertale....Nah, let's go dance all night". As time goes on, I am more and more fond the way the game plays. I love the way it plays so much, it makes games like Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd, one of my favorite games of 2014, look almost bad in comparison.
#3) Rocket League
Rocket League is in some ways the perfect online multiplayer game. It is a very simple concept (“It’s car soccer”). You pick up the basics quick enough, but there’s still depth, tricks, and skills you learn the more you play. You can jump in quickly and play for as long or as little as you want. The moment to moment gameplay is so engaging and there is a constant immediacy to the action. For me, the key to Rocket League’s success for pulling me in is it's not super serious and the barrier of entry is so low. You can jump in and immediately start contributing to your team. The fact that you are new or haven’t played for as long as other people doesn’t mean you are going to smacked around or have an overall poor experience, like I would if I ever tried jumping into certain games I have no experience in, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. And even if your team is down 2 to 6 with 30 seconds left in a match, your team is still going to run after the ball, because it’s just so much fun playing a game. It doesn't matter if you win or lose. (Granted, winning a game feels pretty great, but you get what I mean) And I don’t know about everybody else, but even when I did screw up, like accidentally knock the ball into my team’s own goal, nobody berates me or says I should go kill myself. It almost always feels like a laid back and kind of goofy experience. To me Rocket League always feels like everybody is just driving around having a good time. That feeling behind a game that plays so well and is so engaging right out of the gate is truly something special.
[For the record, I kept flip flopping on these top two choices. This was a tough decision, but I think I prefer my #1 game is a little bit over my #2 game. Of course, for sort of entirely, apples and oranges, cats and dogs, polar opposite reasons. They are both so good and so close in my opinion, I almost feel like having them tied for first.]
#2) Life Is Strange
I’m going to be a little direct with this one: Life is Strange is one of the most emotional gaming experiences I’ve ever had. It is a charming, funny, dramatic, tense, creepy, awkward, touching, half slice of life, half sci-fi mashup that covers everything from nostalgia, to friendship, to high school drama, to a mystery surrounding a girl who disappeared, to maybe the end of the world. All of these things come hurling towards Max Caulfield in surprising ways that kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next.
I can go on and on about this game, so I'm just going to focus on one of the many things I liked about this game. For me the number one strength and the pull behind Life is Strange is the protagonist Max. From her internal monologue, to her interactions with people both significant and insignificant, to reading her journal, I have never felt so closely in a person’s shoes in a game before. You have control over Max and you make some pretty difficult choices over the course of the game. However, I never felt like she was a player surrogate like Lee Everett in The Walking Dead or Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. She always felt like a character. Somebody who was persistently trapped between a rock and a hard place. Somebody who is always on edge of being in control of a situation and succumbing to exterior stresses and her own self-doubt. Even though it is a time travelling game where you have the ability to rewind conversations back and forth and see an outcome of a decision before you have to permanently live with it, Life is Strange, like real life, isn’t always that cut and dry with choosing between the Paragon or Renegade option. I remember walking around my room for twenty minutes thinking about some of game’s decisions. Debating about what is right for Chloe and what is right for Max. Debating about what is better for that immediate situation and what might be better long term. Debating between two equally bad outcomes and trying to determine the least worst option.
I was always engaged with Life is Strange, even when moments were a little awkward, or stilted, or just “off”. Hell, sometimes it's funny or charming to see those types of situations just a bit "off". I was as excited to see Chloe and Max hang out for an hour as I was seeing those terrible maybe world ending omens. The main reason why I believe this works is being in Max’s shoes. From sitting on her bed playing the guitar, to walking down the Blackwell Academy hallway listening to music, to talking with her classmates, to hearing about her joys and anxieties, Life is Strange took me on a journey in a time, in a place, as seen through one fairly average, normal, and believable character. I’ve had plenty of memorable connections with characters in video games over the course of my life, but Life is Strange is one of, if not the most, intimidate experiences I’ve had with a game. (If you're interested, I also wrote this way too long blog that also talks about Life is Strange)
In a lot of ways, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the mother lode. For a start, it reinvents both stealth and the open world genres. I don’t think I have ever praised a game so much just for how well it plays. The simple acts of sneaking, running, CQCing, and shooting feels so elegant. There is a smoothness and accessibility from playing, controlling, and equipping weapons and items that most games lack. It is a stealth game that can be played quietly and sneaky, or loud and dumb. It is a game that makes you powerful and your enemies just as threatening if you are too careless or get caught with your pants down. In many ways, MGSV is the definition of a sandbox. From the enemy AI, the weather, the time of day, the vehicle patrols, the animals, it always felt like something was ticking in the background, waiting for you to poke at it.
The true strength of MGSV is the combination of these two aspects. The game gives you the abilities and tools to go up against an enemy base in dozens of different ways. Any minute something could change which could either open a door to a new opportunity or mess up the brilliant plan you had in your mind. It feels like 2015's best watercooler game, where you can talk to your friend about different missions and hear completely new strategies and outcomes to events. The story missions create unique and interesting situations for you to tackle, but the gameplay is so fun and rewarding by itself, you can have a hell of time running around taking over random bases and completing some of the over 150 side-ops, just 'cus. When I decided to stop playing MGSV, I was 110 hours in with around 64% completion, and every one of those hours was a treat.
Although MGSV doesn’t lack when it comes to content and what you can do in the game, it falls a little short when it comes to the story. People have reacted harsher than I have, but it is still nevertheless odd compared to the other Metal Gear Solid games, because it almost feels like Kojima went out of his way to cram those games with story. Even though I did find some aspects disappointing, I really enjoyed the overarching plot. Throughout the entire game I was intrigued about what Skull Face was doing and finding out what he was planning on doing, what was going to happen next to these characters, and how everything will come to a close. There are a few ways the story could have been better, but MGSV still has a fine Metal Gear story, even though it is not the best in the series.
Finally, there’s one aspect of MGSV that made me feel something I haven’t really felt before in a video game. It certainly wasn’t a "positive" experience, but it was oddly one of the deeper experiences I’ve felt in gaming. Since that goes into super spoilery territory, I'll just leave it at that. If you want to know what I'm referring to, you can check out this blog I wrote about that experience and my immediate reaction to it. That moment alone was one of the most impactful experiences I felt in a video game this or any other year. Aside from, you know, strapping balloons to shipping containers and goats.