I’ve been lost in The Witcher 3’s world for months now. I’ve occasionally felt like I should press on towards the end of the main story, but then I feel guilty that I’d miss out on the high quality content that’s around every corner. The game is populated with quirky characters and incredibly detailed side quests, there is so much to do, and I've never felt more compelled to see every last bit of it.
Plotlines are interconnected, much like in its predecessors, but in an open world game of such scale, it's nothing short of phenomenal that the logic stands up throughout, constantly surprising and delighting with new ideas and new takes on combat and adventure. There's a heap of Witcher Contracts which task Geralt of Rivia with taking down a specific and unique monster, and these have been my favourite missions because they commonly involve some sleuthing, some decision making, and some difficult combat that rewards combat research and deft use of spells, potions and blade oils.
The game's been on its own journey, launching with some technical issues that never got fully ironed out on PS4; It's kind enough to give me a good 40 seconds to think about how I can improve after I die and reload my save. A new control mode was added in, making it much more responsive and satisfying to play. Hearts of Stone, a truly impressive expansion, was also released and adds even more in, with another even bigger expansion coming next year.
Never before has an RPG engrossed me in such a way, and it has won over my head and my heart to be my Game Of The Year for 2015; I recommend it without hesitation.
MGSV is the greatest playing stealth game ever created. The act of sneaking around this open world is just so incredible, the tools at your disposal are satisfying to use and try out, and being able to infiltrate a base from any which direction you choose means that even with repeated mission parameters across the same ground, you can still be trying out new approaches long into your career with the game.
I enjoyed playing about in this sandbox, upgrading my arsenal of cool weapons and gadgets along the way, taking different buddies out for missions, fultoning everything from soldiers to cargo containers to tanks, staying glued to the screen for every cutscene, and genuinely loving the entire experience.
It's more than worthy an addition to my favourite game series, and although I wish there was more story content, the journey it took me on offered some of the highest highs in entertainment for 2015. I was absolutely engrossed for over 50 hours during the first few weeks, and wouldn’t stop until I was satisfied that I had seen pretty much everything it had to show me.
Bloodborne is the only Souls game I’ve finished, despite trying to get on with Dark Souls I and II. What did it for me this time around was the speed of combat - they don’t give you the option of a shield and instead encourage you to be more agile - as well as the Lovecraft-inspired horrors that await you around every corner. The game delivered some of the biggest adrenaline bursts of the my year, suggesting a creeping evil was stalking you in several areas of the game. I felt lost whilst navigating through the Forbidden Woods, and felt both powerful and very very lucky after dealing with 3 bosses in a row on my first attempt.
It’s been quite a while since I played it, but I still have vivid memories of a great amount of the game, its inhabitants, and the strategies I came up with to deal with them. The thrill of seeing the next lamp up ahead, teasing you with the chance to retain the progress you’ve made whilst inching forward through unknown territory, it’s an incredible feeling. This will be nothing new for big fans of these games, but the changes made with Bloodborne have made it something that I’ve been able to experience as well, and I definitely understand what all the fuss is about.
The mystery, the dread, the feeling of discovery and helplessness, all converge to offer one of the most powerful experiences in gaming.
Rocket League was an instant classic as soon as it released on PlayStation Plus. Whole swathes of my PS4 and flesh-bag real-life friends were hooked on it. It speaks to our group in particular as possibly the greatest form of virtual football ever - whilst clearly not a realistic representation of the sport, the way it encourages communication and teamwork, as well as speed and accuracy, makes it something that has us all shouting down the microphone in excitement, as we score brilliantly set up goals, and desperately save the opposing team’s efforts from off of the goal line.
There are several ways in which Rocket League has been a success story. Clearly the accessibility of it helps - you can easily explain the game’s core concepts because of their familiarity. The choice to release it on PS Plus at launch meant that it had a huge player base from the start, leading to match after match with no waiting, encouraging you to stick around for just one more game. Psyonix has supported the game with a combination of free and paid DLC at a regular pace since launch, and the common response from my peer group has been to give them the money due to the build-up of good will, mixed with a slight feeling of guilt from having obtained the game at no extra cost (or at the very least, the best reason to have a PS Plus account yet). There is personality in the unlocks available that allow you to pick your car, colour scheme, rocket trail, flag and hat to create a unique look for yourself, or agree on a uniform for your team to use and instill fear in your opponents with.
The final layer that seals the game as a favourite is the learning curve that exists with the in-air controls and barrel rolls, which once mastered unlock an entirely more spectacular form of competition, as you boost up to collide with an airborne ball to angle it toward goal, much to your opponent’s dismay. None of us have nailed down the techniques to excel at a higher level, but some of us have gotten our last gasp goal-tending worked out, which boosts the confidence of your team immensely. We’re sure to be dragging Rocket League out for the occasional session as we move forward, such is its pick-up-and-play nature. Fingers crossed everyone else feels the same way so matchmaking doesn’t take too long.
Between the release of Rock Band 3 and now, I’ve learned how to play an instrument for reals, and wasn’t sure what to make of the return of both the Rock Band series, which I was a diehard fan of, and the Guitar Hero series, which had fallen out of favour a long time ago. Guitar Hero Live made significant changes and has become one of the games that I regularly turn to for a quick bit of entertainment. The new guitar design forces you to re-learn some basic concepts, a very strange feeling going from expert difficulty with the old 5-button system to struggling with the regular difficulty with the 2-rows-of-3. It was a nice surprise that it wasn’t just more of the same, and is the main reason I've stuck with the game.
The Live mode is throwaway - the FMV is cringeworthy and difficult to watch at times, but it’s a fun few hours of gameplay that tries something new. I’ve sunk hours into the other half of the package, GHTV. I love how the song library is handled, because I get to play the entire expanding selection without having to pay for individual tracks or packs. Not only has that saved me from possibly ploughing a small fortune into it just to play the songs I know I’ll enjoy, it’s also had me discovering artists I didn’t know about! The music channels have enough variation to avoid being too repetitive, and if I’m not feeling it I’ll dip into the song library and play a la carte, and have never felt that I was running out of play tokens as the channels and progression is generous enough. I’m seeing new songs popping up often, so I’m very happy with the game and consider it one of the year’s biggest surprises. I’d rank it among my 3 favourite instrument games of all time.
I’m going to keep this one short, because this is a game that deserves to be played sight unseen, in a single 6-7 hour sitting if you can manage it. Simply put, Undertale is a treat, an inventive and exciting little adventure packed with detail and love from its individual creator, entertaining from start to finish. I couldn’t wait to see what the next creative take on an enemy encounter was going to be. It’s genuinely funny and perfectly paced, and entices you to take a second crack at it - something I will certainly be doing once the dust settles on this year. Undertale is going to stick with me for a long time to come.
Splatoon is the most pleasant of surprises, and I want Nintendo to give us more stuff like it. It's super Japanese, from the day-glo art style to the J-punk music, and its fresh take on multiplayer combat is a resounding success - win by covering the environment in paint! The entire package is cool, and Nintendo has been building it with regular updates that add more maps, modes and ways to customize your squid-kid's look.
It's one of those games that plays great on the Wii U GamePad, building a case for why you should own the console. The map is displayed at all times, showing where your team hasn't splattered with their colour, and a quick tap on the screen will boost you through the air over to the location to get into the thick of it quickly. By default, the Y-axis is set to motion controls, and after suppressing my initial knee-jerk reaction to turn it off, I found myself enjoying the speed with which I was able to whip around my paint-gun - it's more important to cover the environment then it is to get attacks in on the other team, so it makes sense! I've been away from my Wii U for ages now, but I cannot wait to see what's been added recently!
Hotline Miami 2 gave me everything I wanted out of a sequel to the incredible original. I compare it to what Portal 2 did on top of Portal: In place of the original’s purity, it crams in a ton of interesting new mechanics and characters, pushing the existing concepts to the limit. The game features multiple playable characters that all play quite differently, keeping things interesting for the duration of what turns out to be a surprisingly long story. I particularly enjoyed playing as Jake’s Irvin mask which puts a silent and deadly Nail Gun in your hands, and the Davis siblings, who don Swan masks and are both controlled by the player, offering close and long range combat at the same time. It features cutscenes and combat-less sections to flesh out the overall package, which tantalisingly serves up more questions about the story than answers.
I enjoyed that it ramped up the difficulty; From the very start, it poses challenges that are up there with the hardest sections of the first game, and from there you get thrown levels that took me close to an hour to complete, forcing me to learn new methods that had me clearing huge groups of enemies in a single, non-stop stretch, darting from pillar to post and improvising weapon use until no-one was left standing. The final piece is the soundtrack which galvanises the action just like the original did, and it's an awesome selection of tracks.
Forza 6 was a pleasant surprise, because although it may appear to be yet another entry in a tried and tested semi-sim racing series, the changes made this time make it my favourite racing game of the year, and perhaps even the best feeling game of its kind. A big contributing factor is the Xbox One controller and its impulse triggers, offering asynchronous rumble on each side of the controller, and a feeling of resistance when pulling the accelerator and the brake. This was in place last time around, sure, but the addition of wet weather environments means that we have aquaplaning when driving through puddles, and that's just about the best feedback I’ve ever gotten out of a controller - a feeling of being on the edge of control at high speeds.
The new street racing locations that they’ve added are a great deal of fun to race around, from the steep descents of Rio de Janeiro to the sloping hillsides of Prague. The career progression is a little more exciting than in the past, giving you a choice between 6 different car types between each tournament, and then upping the overall vehicle class at the end of each series. I’ve still got plenty more Forza to get through, and I’m looking forward to picking that controller up again.
Black Ops III is the first Call of Duty that I’ve picked up since the original Black Ops, and the last time I really got into the series multiplayer was with Modern Warfare 2. Six years later, and the old receptors are still getting fired up by the game’s fantastic and satisfying combat, its pace and snap drawing me in for several hours at a time, despite my reflexes and natural ability paling in comparison to my golden days in competitive gaming.
The game is packed with options, and an admirable breadth of content - the kind of which is sorely lacking in most other multiplayer shooters from this year. I’ve only put any significant amount of time into the core multiplayer’s public matches, matchmaking into random games on my own. It may well have taken a spot higher up my list if I’d played through the campaign, zombies mode and multiplayer with a group of friends, but as it stands I’ve enjoyed trying out the unique abilities of each Specialist, and experimenting with different weapons and unlocks to find something I can excel with. I think the best thing about this series right now is how the agility of each player factors into how combat plays out, full of wallruns and boost jumps. This is the online multiplayer shooter that has stuck with me the longest this year.