Year of the Games, 2015

For my money, 2015 is one of the three best years of gaming ever (1998 and 2007 being the other two). Last year I struggled to find 10 games I wanted to put on here, and now I have more than enough. It seemed like every big AAA game I was excited for actually delivered, which means this is the first year where I haven't finished everything on my list. But that's ok! I can spread these games out to 2016, in between my daily Spelunky challenges (csl316 with two L's on the Vita, get on my leaderboards!) Honestly, a lot of these rankings don't even matter. All these games are fantastic.

10. Nuclear Throne

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Vlambeer games have a very recognizable gameplay loop. Things start simple, things continue to be simple, but there's a ton of depth to the gameplay and unlocks that keeps you coming back. It just feels intense, the music sets a good vibe, and I still feel like I'm just scratching the surface despite seeing the throne a few times. The game is unbeatable for me right now so I can't place it higher (the Vita version crashes every time I get to one of the last areas). But despite the crashes, I don't get frustrated because it's so fun to play. Kind of like Spelunky, in a way, where it's more about the tight controls than beating Hell again and again. Other roguelikes I thought of adding were Galak-Z (which I finished after 6 hours and never played again) or Crypt of the Necrodancer (which my friend gifted me the other day and have only put a few hours into), but Nuclear Throne is the game I can't stop thinking about. And running around hitting dudes with wrenches brings back the best memories of Hotline Miami 1. And seeing some of the chaos after a battle brings back warm memories of Project: Overkill for whatever reason. So that's nice.

9. Ori and the Blind Forest

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Ori is one of the reasons I bought an Xbox One. It looked nice, sure, and the trailers had good music. But once people starting making Super Meat Boy comparisons, I knew I had to play it. As I say year after year, I need a game to feel good to truly stick with me. Luckily, it felt superb and had some of the most impressive production values I've ever seen in a 2D sidescroller (outside of Dust: An Elysian Tail). I didn't feel it was difficult at all and some of the design choices were disappointing, but Ori made me glad I bought that Xbox. Can't wait to see what the studio does next.

8. Hotline Miami 2

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This one took some time to click. Finished Hotline Miami twice and I expected another simple, straightforward action game. This one had a confusing narrative, they expanded on the gameplay in ways I didn't favor, the music wasn't making an impression, and I was ready to put it down. But then I hit a level with an ominous story build up, you get off an elevator, and (Roller Mobster) hits. It was fucking on from there. At that point the whole game came together and I cleared out all the negativity I was reading. I got better at it, realized they did some cool stuff with the gameplay, and started to really pay attention to the story. Hotline Miami 2 was lovingly crafted and became one of my favorites of the year.

7. Batman: Arkham Knight

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This felt like the game I wanted Arkham City to be. It finally felt like I was driving around Gotham and this was my city that I had to defend. They nailed the gameplay and put together an engaging story. It looked absolutely stunning and ran great. The big secret to really get the most out of the game? Skip all the sidequests! The game had momentum and I couldn't wait to see how they would end things, so stopping to do side stuff probably would've colored someone's perception of that. Maybe one day I'll go back and do the side stuff, but as of right now my memories of Knight are extremely positive so maybe I shouldn't sully that. There were a few frustrating sections with the enemy mix and Batmobile fights on hard, but they did so much so well that I don't care. Should be noted that I played on the PS4 and had zero technical issues. Because apparently that was a thing.

6. Rise of the Tomb Raider

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Tomb Raider was my game of the year a couple years ago. Rise has not made that same impression, mainly because I haven't had a chance to finish it (planned to this weekend, but I've had stupid electric problems!) Everything the last game did is present and improved upon. It sucks that I can't stop using the survival viewer to find resources, to be honest. But the combat continues to be tactical and well-done, the tombs are creative in the way only Crystal Dynamics can do, the set pieces are exhilarating, and Lara has grown as a character in some interesting ways. Yet another game that looks incredible, and one that I can't wait to finish once my power stops going out randomly. I hear it ends pretty well, so if I had a chance to finish it I can imagine it'd be a few spots higher.

5. Metal Gear Solid V

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Oh my god, Metal Gear Solid V. There's so much to say about this game. It's not what I wanted Kojima's last Metal Gear to be. The story isn't what I wanted it to be. Venom Snake isn't as strong a character as I wanted. You don't get the varied environments and unforgettable narrative sequences you expect in MGS. So the game's biggest flaw is being called MGS V. But it also happens to be one of the best-playing stealth games ever made. Years ago, I decided to skip most side stuff in open-world games, but I couldn't stop playing this game and doing everything I could. I never got far into Peace Walker due to the base-building focus, and my worst fears of a big-budget Peace Walker were realized. But I couldn't stop sending dudes out on combat deployments and managing where to put my S-ranked soldiers. I beat the full game in under 40 hours and never got into the FOB side of things. So even though I felt I got deep into it, I know of other people that disappeared for months into the MGS V hole (ahem, @n7). As you can see, I'm somewhat torn on this game. But it's so good in so many ways! So spot number 5 seems like the right place for it.

4. Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void

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Wings of Liberty, despite its crappy story, was one of my most-played games ever. I was unemployed in early 2011 and spent an unreasonable time enjoying the campaign's impressive mission design, playing multiplayer as people were still learning, and watching SO MUCH esports. Heart of the Swarm had more fun campaign design, but the story killed my interest after a few missions. I popped in HotS about a month before LotV and remembered just how much fun Starcraft II is. The story also improved drastically as they moved away from the horrible Raynor/Kerrigan love stuff. The prologue missions to Legacy did a great job of building to the main games, and the campaign itself makes this feel like the end of a decades-long story (although I'm only a third of the way through it). I haven't even touched the multiplayer, so I'm honestly not even that far into this game. Why's it so high on the list? Co-op missions!! They're so great! I've been playing Terran since the first game, and the co-op gives me an opportunity to turtle up and fight AI in more varied ways than just rushing match after match. My friends are too far gone in MOBA land to join me, but the matchmaking has kept me coming back and I'm enjoying this expansion as much as Brood War and my time with WoL. Happy to see they'll keep supporting this game, because the core gameplay is so strong that I always want a reason to have it around.

R.I.P./Long live Starcraft II.

3. Halo 5

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Halo 5 is so good. After playing the beta, I knew they were on the right track with the multiplayer. Little did I know that Warzone would become the most fun I've had online with Halo since Reach. I could play Halo 5 all day, and as they keep adding stuff I'll keep turning it on. This was the first one where I played the campaign alone first, which means that I really got caught up in the mysterious tone they went for. This feels like a setup for Halo 6, sure, but the fast-paced action made the campaign feel fresh and exciting (though it could have used some Scarab battles). Still gotta go through it on Legendary, still gotta play dozens of hours of Slayer and BTB and Warzone, and still got lots of time til Halo 6 is out. But 343 knows what it's doing and I'm very excited to keep playing Halo for years to come.

2. The Witcher 3

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I'm not even close to finishing this game. Hell, I haven't touched it since the first month of release. But what I played was astoundingly good. The narrative stuff makes me want to do every side mission. The combat's improved. The world feels truly alive. The characters are well-defined. Novigrad feels like I'm visiting my home city of Gdansk in Poland. It had one of the hypest trailers I've ever seen (sorry, no other way to describe it, as a fan of the lore). And apparently the patches have fixed most of the gripes people had at launch, so an even better game is waiting for me when I return? Hot damn. I'm honestly taking my time coming back to it because I want it to last. With one supposedly good expansion out and one more to come, this could last me til CD Projekt Red comes out with their next game. Witcher 3 is everything I wanted it to be, and I'm glad it found an audience and has gotten as much praise as it has. It's a nearly perfect game in the Western RPG style.

1. Bloodborne

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I never finished a Souls game. I got 15 hours into DSII and that was the farthest I got. Bloodborne, however, is a game I couldn't stop playing til I saw the end and did all the side stuff I could find. I'm in the middle of the expansion, and it just reinforced that this is my game of the year. When I boot up Bloodborne, I'm in Yharnam. I have no worries except opening the next shortcut or taking out one of the horrifying bosses. It's one of the most immersive games I've ever been in. The art is top notch, and the OST is one of the best I've ever heard. Even the main menu gave me chills and makes it feel like there is no hope. (links with boss names ahead, if you consider that spoilers) Cleric Beast hits you early and lets you know how oppressive this place is, Blood Starved Beast is disturbing and makes you want to go home, Ebrietas feels like you're fighting the god damn universe, Ludwig welcomes you back with a reminder that you shouldn't have come back.

Maybe the soundtrack is the game of the year, I don't know. But I can say that Bloodborne makes every moment feel tense, every victory feel like the best accomplishment of your life, and the story goes places I couldn't have imagined. I don't care that it funnels you toward a certain playstyle, because some of these fights felt like something out of a character-action game. From has finally crafted a combat system that's the sort of dodge-heavy, fast-paced feel like I prefer in action games.

So the game's superbly crafted in every way I want it to be. Game of the year. No question. But fuck those snake piles forever.

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