Top 10 List for 2015
Top 10 List for 2015
In a year with a new entry in two of my favorite franchise ever, one of the best RPGs ever made, and a sequel to one of my previous games of the year, it's a small indie game about teenagers that ends up being my favorite game of the year. No way in hell I'd have guessed that. Looking back on what Life is Strange is it should have been obvious that it would be a candidate however. While they've started to wear thin I've really liked the 'new' TellTale style of adventure games. I'm a complete sucker for the small town 'twee' style stories despite not wanting to admit it. I liked a lot of what DONTNOD tried to do in Remember Me with regards to its presentation and style. I have quite liked Time Travel stories. I love a good murder-mystery. I have said “hella” seriously more than once. All the pieces for there to appeal just to me.
That said there were a myriad of ways they could have screwed it up. If the story wasn't interesting, if the characters weren't good, if the time travel wasn't 'believable', if the episodes the games were released in were too far apart, if the choices felt like they didn't matter, and hundreds of other small things. Somehow it all came together and worked better than I could have ever expected.
There’s a dozen of things I could rattle on about for this game. I could talk about the use of the rewind to change choices and reuse newly learned information to manipulate people. I could talk about how the choices in this game were the first time they’ve felt ‘real’ since The Walking Dead Season 1 as opposed to the clear ‘diamond shape’ most episodic games do (I still cannot imagine how the game would have played out if I made a different set of choices at the end of Episode 2). I could talk about the amazing cast of secondary characters like Warren, the geeky kid with a giant crush on you; Joyce, the owner of the Two Whales diner and mother of your best friend who takes no shit from anyone; Nathan Prescott, the spoiled rich kid involved in some terrible stuff, and several other of the supporting cast that make the game great. I could talk about how this is the best game to use the episodic format that I’ve played, releasing episodes just long enough in between for me to spend that time both needing to know what was going to happen next and discussing with other people on these forums what they thought would happen, but not long enough for me to forget the details and lose interest.
I could go on, but the core of the game and the thing that kept me locked to it was the relationship between Chloe and Max. More than I wanted to know what happened to Rachel Amber, more than I wanted to know the true secret behind all the crazy shit that was happening in its world, more than I wanted to know why Max got her powers, I wanted to see what happened next between Chloe and Max.
There are so many good things to talk about in Life is Strange, but that core relationship between those two was the thing that kept me bolting home on the day a new episode was released and unplugging all my other wired connections and temporarily disabling my WiFi, so I could download and play that next episode just a few minutes sooner. It’s watching the two of them joke around, argue and fight, console each other other a terrible situation, and depending on the choices you make fall in love. It’s the big moments like watching them flee from a psychopath and changing the entire course of history. It’s the small moments like watching them playing around in a junkyard or falling asleep to Blade Runner. All of it comes together to make the most captivated by a relationship since…? And even though I figured out how it was likely to end about half way through, it left me feeling sick and depressed for days after finishing it in a way few games manage to do. It’s an incredible game in every respect and I cannot overstate how happy I am to have experienced it.
The Phantom Pain is essentially a large scale Peace Walker which back in 2010 I called the second best MGS game. Depending on what day you ask me this may be the best. The moment-to-moment gameplay is the most fun I've had with a game in years. Slowly sneaking up on people interrogating, knocking them and an entire camp then sending D-Dog out to retrieve them all never stopped putting a smile on my face. When that plan didn't work out I never became upset, because running from cover trying to get out of the mess I made as alarms and bullets rang out across the gigantic battlefields was somehow even a more exhilarating moment. Then once I finished in the field I'd return back to Mother Base, where I'd spend far too long looking through my new recruits, combing through them and moving them around until my base was running at maximum efficiency, before returning to the field and doing it again and again and again and again. While I was still satisfied with the story it isn't as strong as other Metal Gear games which was initially a disappointment, but that doesn't stop it from having some of the most grueling and intense moments of the year both handcrafted in the missions or from a stumbling player. It's an incredible game and a hell of a way to end one of my favorite series.
I don't like fantasy. I'm sure I'm missing something but I can't think of a traditional fantasy game with swords and magic and dwarfs that I've finished. I also don't typically enjoy gigantic length RPGs, usually quitting shortly before the half way point. It's a testament to The Witcher 3 that despite those hang ups I put 40+ hours into it and adored it as much as I did. There's the big things such as the story at large; the relationships between Geralt, Ciri, Yennifer and the others; the grand environments that you could spend hundreds of hours exploring and not come close to touching, the combat with it's emphasis on patiently waiting for your moment to strike and planning ahead with potions and drinks. Then there are the smaller touches; the numerous small quests that turn into grand adventures all on their own, calming riding on Roach to your next destination with the slow flutes playing in the background, watching the grass and trees sway in the wind while the sun sets in the background. The Witcher 3 is one of the best RPGs I have ever played without a doubt, and I can't wait for the next expansion for a chance to relive even a small part of that again.
Mortal Kombat is a franchise very dear to me. MK1 was one of the first games I ever played. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was one of the first fighting games that I strove to be the best at, even if just among friends. Mortal Kombat 9 was one of the games that got me watching and learning about the FGC. To say I had high hopes for MKX is putting it mildly, and I'm mostly happy with how it turned out. The gameplay is the best it has ever been for an NRS game, both from playing it and from a spectator's perspective. The hits actually sound impactful, the visuals flourishes and effects are eye-catching, and it has some of the most gruesome fatalities I've seen in the series. While I've always sort of defended the new characters and story in the later Mortal Kombat games, this is the first where I felt all the new additions and characters were worthy of being in a Mortal Kombat game. About the only complaint I can leverage against it is after the wealth of content in MK9, losing the challenge tower and tag modes make it feel slightly thinner on single player content, and I would have liked to see more MK characters in the DLC than guest characters (Leatherface? Really?) but these are just minor complaints for a fantastic game.
Hotline Miami 1 was the best game of 2012, so this had large shoes to fill. Initially I was put off by a lot of what HM2 does; it has more of an emphasis on playing unique characters with different abilities, the larger environments, and most controversial a need to use guns instead of melee weapons which is something anyone who got good at HM1 knew to actively avoid. Eventually by around the half way point I finally gave in and starting learning to love it for what it was instead of comparing it to the first, and then it clicked. Once again that smile crossed my face, the sound of bullets filled my ears, the music was popping and so were the poor bastards on the other side of the screen and I went into that trance-like state again. Run, shoot, die, restart, run, shoot, die, restart, run, shoot, next floor, die, restart. Hotline Miami 2 doesn't hit everything it tries with some sections such as the jungle in particular still being weak, but it's a worthy follow-up to one of my favorite games.
I thought I was done with this kind of game after Rock Band 2. I played a little of Rock Band 3 and the later Guitar Hero games with friends, but for the most part they were pure party games at that point that I would have been alright with to never touch again. A few years later I felt I could give them another shot, and with Guitar Hero Live's new controller and presentation it seemed like the one to get back into, and sure enough I was hooked again. The new 2x3 fret layout sounds like a minor change but instead completely forced me to relearn how to play in a way I haven't since Guitar Hero 1. The FMV is goofy in all the ways I want it to be and it's fun to play. The real reason I've been sticking with it is the Guitar Hero TV mode, where you can just stream song 'channels' for free. For the past few weeks I've been coming home from work, turning it on and just playing whatever random song comes on, and don't see myself stopping anytime soon.
While it would have been incredibly easy for this game to just be pure fan service (and it absolutely has that in spades), it some how still managed to be a fun dancing game full of heart. The core gameplay isn't the best rhythm game I've played, there's not any real character development for the main cast, but damn if I didn't have the biggest smile on my face playing the ending song. The story mode could have been a quick 2-3 hour thing quickly shoved in there and propelled along by its absurd premise and fan service, but instead it was several hours long with new characters that I grew to care about and helped reinforce how much I love the main cast and this world. As a giant fan of the series I don't think you need to be to enjoy this, but as one I played enough to platinum it and buy most of the DLC.
That said I'm alright if this is the last time we ever see this cast. Bring on P5!
I'm not quite in love with it the way some people are but Undertale is a quirky and charming game. While it's easy to pass it off as just another indie darling its unique battle mechanics and subverting of RPG genre tropes helped to make it a stand-out game. That said it is a slow burn, the first few hours are sort of dull and likely would have made me uninstall it if I hadn't heard many of the people singing (tweeting?) its praises say similar things, but once it gets going it doesn't stop. The final encounter of the 'Neutral' ending is also one of the most oddly horrifying things I have seen in a game in some time.
Who would have guessed that Nintendo would make the best shooter released this year? Brilliantly designed, gorgeous to look at with it large brightly colored world, and an incredibly unique take on a genre I had started to give up on. It felt thin on release and didn't compel me to return to it as often as it should have with its DLC schedule, but the two or so weeks that I was REALLY into it were some of the most fun I had this year.
Damn this game looks good. While playing it was certainly frustrating in spots the incredible animation and soundtrack kept me going, and I enjoyed bouncing around the world enough to almost 100% it. They just announced a "Director's Cut" version and I can't wait to see what it is.
This would probably be around #5 if I had finished it, as of now I'm about half through through part 2 of 5, 16ish hours in and loving it but can't justify putting it in my Top 10 without having completed it. Still what a wonderful bizarre game.
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