RecSpec's Game of the Year 2015

I'd had a lot of trouble writing an intro for this year's GOTY blog. It's been a weird year. I didn't play that many games, I skipped most of the AAA stuff this year after The Taken King came out (Which is an expansion, so not eligible, and I probably wouldn't put it on here if it was). Almost much every game I finished and liked was up for consideration. Shoutouts to Her Story and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for being great but missing the cut, I can only fit ten.

10. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

D-Dog learning how to fulton people turned him from joke buddy to best buddy.
D-Dog learning how to fulton people turned him from joke buddy to best buddy.

Metal Gear is such a weird franchise now. I lost faith in Kojima's storytelling after the ending of Metal Gear Solid 4 and the events of Peace Walker. Watching Revengeance do the old Metal Gear thing better only made that stand out more. I read all the spoilers for MGSV because I had no intention of buying it until MGO came out a month later. The ending I read was so dumb that I had to see it for myself. The game did nothing to change my opinion on Kojima's storytelling, but let's talk about that gameplay! I thought Ground Zeroes was a neat demo but was bored with it, so I had my doubts about more of that for MGSV. I was wrong. Figuring out ways to stealthily take out checkpoints and bases was fun, and even though it was just a much better Peace Walker, I really liked the gameplay in there. It's just a shame that everything else around it didn't keep up. It's probably not a good thing to say the best story beats of your game is unlocked through cassettes after getting the true ending. I played Peace Walker, so a lot of the stuff people found disappointing about chapter 2 wasn't new to me. I guess that's the best thing I can say about MGSV. There was a lot of disappointing things, but I was ready for it, so I could focus on the best part. I don't even want to talk about MGO, I just hope they iron out the problems with it eventually. As someone who loved the first two MGOs, that probably hurt most of all.

9. Life is Strange

The accurate teenage dialogue makes me cringe sometimes, but this is a great line.
The accurate teenage dialogue makes me cringe sometimes, but this is a great line.

Life is Strange has great characters, an overall decent story (until Chapter 5), and a really cool concept with the rewinding feature. I don't know if playing the whole game over Thanksgiving weekend gives me a drastically different perspective, but I feel like the game peaks pretty early with the rooftop scene. I do appreciate the game being weird. Time travel is a hard thing to work with, and it's bold to try and fight the "None of your choices matter" dilemma most adventure games with choices run into. I appreciate the game being ambitious over the actual story it was trying to tell. Probably the best ending of the year though. I had issues with the story throughout the game, but managing to put a satisfying ending in there fixes a lot of problems.

8. Yo-Kai Watch

Just look at that goofy face, he's the best!
Just look at that goofy face, he's the best!

Pokemon killer, this ain't, but this game doesn't need to be. This game manages to replicate the feeling of the Pokemon anime, something the games never really did. It's less about being the best, and more about everyday life in this world. Yo-Kai are ghosts that inspirit other people in town, and throughout the game you encounter so many types, and they each have their own little story, it's really charming. My favorite is definitely Jibanyan. Before becoming a yo-kai, Jibanyan was a cat who got run over by a truck, therefore, he haunts the intersection he died in, trying to fight trucks. Why? Because his owner was a girl that thought he was lame for getting run over. So Jibanyan wants to prove that he's not lame by defeating a truck. He's the best. The collecting aspect relies on randomness too much, and the gameplay is unfortunately basic until the end of the game. The main takeaway is definitely meeting new Yo-kai. Here's hoping we get Yo-Kai Watch 2 (released in Japan a couple years ago). This is a really great start.

7. Until Dawn

The in-game psychiatric evaluations are a smart break in the action, so twisted.
The in-game psychiatric evaluations are a smart break in the action, so twisted.

Heavy Rain was my game of the year in 2010, and hands down my favorite game of the last generation of consoles. This game is the real successor to that game. From the group of characters you slowly get attached to, to the way that everyone can die and will die. That tension is something I've missed. This game does a lot of cool stuff to add to the stress, like totems that show events from the future and having a great mystery surrounding the location. There are a ton of threats, and you aren't sure exactly what is going on until much later in the game when the cards are shown to you. I played this recently and haven't really got to dig much deeper, checking alternate endings, finding more items, etc. If I had, this game would be way higher on my list. Go into this as blind as possible if you can, grow attached to people, and watch them horribly die because you messed up. A fantastic horror game, and one I'll be playing a lot more of.

6. Mortal Kombat X

Brutalities are a great way to end matches.
Brutalities are a great way to end matches.

The last Mortal Kombat successfully rebooted the series, and made people cringe all over again with its fatalities. Mortal Kombat X managed to surpass that, with some gruesome fatalities that made me go "You really need to see this" like the first game did. Shock factor aside, they added a lot of cool things that made everything before the fatalities fun. The three different variations on each character was a nice way to let people adapt while keeping their main character, and the re-imagined Brutalities turned one of the dumbest Mortal Kombat features into one of the best. In a series that has added some of the dumbest characters in fighting game history, it was a pleasant surprise seeing a bunch of new characters added that not only felt like they belonged in the game, but were fun to play.

5. Rocket League

Learning to hit aerials is so rewarding.
Learning to hit aerials is so rewarding.

Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. Have you heard of it? It was one of my favorite PS3 games and a predecessor to this, but nobody played it. When Rocket League was announced I was excited but assumed that it would be like the first one and ultimately ignored. And then it blew up. The game is easy to get into but you are able to pull off amazing things if you put the time in, and there have been many times where plans to play other things got erased because of this. The game's popularity allowed the developers to put time into creating a lot of new content, which kept the game fresh. The modifier mode with Pinball and Moonball rules were a ton of fun, and the current Snow Day playlist with hockey are smart spins on a great formula. Really looking forward to seeing how they keep building on this game.

4. Hotline Miami 2

Boss fights aren't new, but are smartly used in this game
Boss fights aren't new, but are smartly used in this game

I really liked the first Hotline Miami game, but I played most of the stages the same, I didn't feel the need to change up my strategy. Hotline Miami 2 forces you to play as different people and adapt to different situations, and I loved it. From being a character that could kill people with his fists to having to use a variety of weapons, I thought Hotline Miami 2 was pretty fresh through and through. While the gameplay was on point, that was expected. I didn't expect the deep and crazy story with this game. You play as a ton of characters, and eventually seeing how they connect to each other (and with the characters from the previous game) is really cool. Figuring out how to get through each level as efficiently and ruthlessly as possible with an amazing soundtrack is still the calling card of this franchise, but the interesting characters and story push it to another level.

3. Splatoon

SPLATFEST!
SPLATFEST!

Splatoon is so damn cool. Yeah, the gameplay is really well done, and uses motion controls really well, but that's not why Splatoon is cool. It's the world of Splatoon. When you start each session, you are greeted by a news broadcast starring Callie and Marie, telling you what maps are currently in the rotation. After they sign off ("Stay fresh!"), you hit the plaza, and it's awesome. Seeing various Miiverse posts as you walk around seeing other players character is one of the best things of the year. From seeing a completely different game take over drawings in the Plaza (Undertale), to watching the community mourn when Satoru Iwata passed away, it was always a neat experience. Sure, it's not that different from exploring social media when you think about it, but the way it was presented is great. It reminds me of the Scramble from The World Ends With You, except those are real people's thoughts you are reading. The game's story details the conflict between octopuses and squid, and is secretly a struggle reflecting the in-game music industry. The music in the game is performed by various in-game bands as well. Just a lot of thought went into creating it. Last but not least is the Splatfests, monthly contests that have you choosing a side and fighting for that side to claim superiority. It's the logical evolution of Everybody Votes. The buildup to the first Splatfest was one of my favorite things this year, they day before, there were trucks in the Plaza. It had this Animal Crossing feel that something was going to happen soon, and then it happened and the plaza completely transformed, it was a huge party, with miiverse pictures everywhere and all of the maps taking place at night. Nintendo managed to take what was fun about Animal Crossing events and apply it to a different game. It's so damn cool

2. Undertale

Undertale actually has a neat timing based attack system you never really use unless you play the evil route.
Undertale actually has a neat timing based attack system you never really use unless you play the evil route.

Undertale has you meeting a bunch of animal friends with a great soundtrack and a touching ending, but that's boring. Let's talk about the Genocide run. The genocide run is where you kill all of the monsters and bosses instead of befriending them like the game encourages you to. While that seems like a minor change, once you successfully trigger the run by killing all of the monsters in the first area, the game warps into a twisted alternate to the other versions. I was expecting a similar game than the nice version, but that doesn't happen at all. In an early part of the game you go through a maze set up by one of the other bosses, in the evil run you stroll through it, literally, straight through, like a serial killer. The characters comment on your lack of emotion and how something seems wrong with you, and a town full of nice monsters in another playthrough is abandoned because they are afraid of you. You don't become an anti-hero that ultimately does the right thing, you become the villain, and everyone in the world is out to stop you. It is neat seeing how the game changes based on this perspective, you one-shot bosses because you are ridiculously overpowered. When characters in the game strong enough to fight back eventually do, they are easily tougher than anything else in the game, because they are the hero, not you. The last actual boss battle in this run is the most satisfying gameplay sequence of the year, because it's a twist on another boss battle, but exponentially different because of who you're fighting. It's twisted, but the evil run is the best part of this game for me, and a big reason why I love this game so much.

1. Tales From the Borderlands

The main characters in Tales From the Borderlands are easily some of the best in the entire series.
The main characters in Tales From the Borderlands are easily some of the best in the entire series.

I really like the world of Borderlands, but the story in the shooters are not so great. Everyone seems to be a one note character for laughs. Tales From the Borderlands manages to separate themselves from this by introducing a bunch of brand new characters and actually giving them depth. The entire first episode was a brilliant surprise, and showed that the series had a ton of potential. Rhys, Vaughn, Fiona, Sasha. Like previous Borderlands games, there is your team of four characters that all succeed at various things, and this is a big reason why Tales works great for fans of the shooters. It manages to connect things from the main series, without making it seem like pandering (for the most part. Remember those loader-bots in Borderlands 2 you killed thousands of? They added a personality to one and he is the best character of the year. Characters I hated from previous games (sup Scooter) actually become likable, and I started caring for them, which sounded insane before this game came out. The majority of the story focuses on new characters (with one exception) and it does a brilliant job. It runs on the same old Telltale engine, but manages to play with the formula in ways that you don't expect, and are truly funny. As a whole this game is funny, which is really hard for games to get right. A late game shootout is probably the funniest scene in the entire game because of how ridiculous it is, and the game plays it straight. People have raved about how awesome the opening sequences are, but that's only part of why this game is amazing. It is a very well-written game that manages to combine two tired things (Borderlands stories and Telltale games) and make something beautiful out of it. I couldn't wait for each episode to come out, and worried that the next episode would bring the game crashing down, and it never did. When you realize what is going to happen in the final chapter, it just feels perfect.

Congratulations to Tales From the Borderlands, my Game of the Year
Congratulations to Tales From the Borderlands, my Game of the Year

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