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GOTY 2015

In recent years there has been a fascination with not only ranking the top 10 games of a given year, but comparing the entire years themselves (i.e. the "is this years great games as good as 1998?" discussion). 2015 is a different kind of great year but one worthy of recognition imo.

Maybe it doesn't have the clear cut instant Legend like a Super Mario 64, a Grand Theft Auto III or a Half Life 2 that feels like it will change games forever. But what it does have, in spades, is sheer quantity of all-star caliber games in a wide swath of genres perhaps a number heretofore never seen before.

What's almost easy to forget is how different that is compared to where we were a mere 12 months ago. 2012-2014 were years with some really great underappreciated titles, but were years that didn't feel very deep, especially as some genres just didn't really have any compelling offerings for fans. And even recent strong years like 2010-2011 seemingly didn’t have more than a a couple dozen or so serious contenders at most.

That is definitely not the case this year. For example seriously just look at this list @little_socrates compiled of the games submitted by Giant Bomb's guest contributors. There is well over 100 games on that list (and growing), of which ~30 I could potentially see a good argument for my own list and at least 50+ I want to play at some point and another 5 or so I don't see on there that could be. Even high watermark years of days gone by rarely ever hit seemingly half that number. I suspect the proliferation of indie games have made this kind of variety a reality. It's simply fantastic.

What a great for playing games it's been. There has been so many, it's almost been stressful to try to make sure you don't miss out.

I think what I'm going to do in a year or so, is make another longer updated version of this list, because I think it could easily change to the point I might turn over half this list or more. e.g. I'm 90% sure once I get to Rise of the Tomb Raider it will likely knock something off here once I get to play it on PC.

List items

  • There's no game I think that's a better litmus test about what you value most in games this year than MGSV:TPP. That being said I was extremely surprised by my own reaction to it. I always figured I was a story/world exploring guy first, but I guess I must be a gameplay guy first because Witcher 3 did the former better imo and I like MGSV better. Nothing enthralled me this year nearly as much as MSGV. 110 hours in, I still haven’t finished and I only stopped briefly because I wanted to touch some other titles before GotY was upon us.

    Make no mistake this is a game that is divisive with good reason and has some significant flaws (and is game that is only getting increasingly flawed through active disruption from Konami's post release business monetization strategy). Whether it be how it parses out the story in the second half, how Quiet is portrayed, the FOB bull$hit, the sidequest bloat etc, the f2p-esque timers on upgrades, there are a myriad of very valid reasons to dislike MGS V.

    But if you focus only on the flaws of something, I think you risk missing perhaps the seeing something truly amazing. And what is good here in MGS V is gold. There are a lot of Open World/ Sand Box games these days, but startlingly few make meaningful use of their worlds other than wallpaper. What MGS did was make the actual terrain a key gameplay element by incorporating stealth and camouflage into it. I found myself looking at every aspect of the topography while I tried to solve each mission’s stealth puzzle that I’d normally blow by in another Open world games as I race from mission point A to mission point B. Couple that with Kojima’s attention to detail, a stealth system that isn’t a purely a pass/fail affair, destructible environments and perhaps the most intuitive, responsive and versatile control scheme ever in a third person action games and you have a game that’s just a joy to play. It’s surprisingly variable too, in that there are a lot of “right ways” to finish a mission. Many of the old MGS mechanics are retained here (like distracting a guard with porno mag or hiding in lockers/dumpsters), but oddly now they seem more useful in this anything goes MGS world. Then there are the Peace Walker secondary mechanical systems on top of that, from the Mother base building stuff to the seemingly endless weapon upgrades. All things I’m a sucker for as I do love watching numbers go up.

    A lot has been made about Kojima’s trademark longwinded cutscenes being gone make it not a “great Metal Gear Solid game”, I think it made it better although perhaps he took it a little too far. Certainly I wouldn’t have minded some more explicit and faster moving plot stuff in parts , but what was lost there I felt was made up for by the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in a videogame cutscenes. Kojima certainly is a Hollywood fan and he certainly tried to let the action tell the story in a way I felt admirable. The camerawork helped make rote scenes in a videogame (such as a chopper being shot down with you aboard feel vibrant and powerful that 99% of games don’t achieve).Even the little change of being able to listen to tapes on the move as opposed to having to essentially listen to a codec feels incredibly liberating while still retaining the feel and sound of a Metal Gear game.

    And to my own deep surprise I liked Kiefer Sutherland’s take on Big Boss much better than David Hayter’s. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but there’s a range to the performance that just wasn’t there in Hayter’s more straight action hero version that I feel does suit a more straight forward good guy character like Solid Snake better than a more nuanced character like Big Boss.

    But what I think sealed it for me, was the game took place in an era and a place and a character that most interested me. This was a story I always wanted to experience, even though it may not have played out to everyone’s satisfaction (I haven’t finished it yet but I know a lot of people feel let down). As a person who loves lore and backstory I always wanted to witness the story about how Big Boss’s Outer heaven came to be with the child soldiers, the mercs who came to believe in a charismatic leader who challenged the world and the giant super robot tank armed with nuclear warheads . Metal Gear was the real Gi Joe game we never got. There was a grittiness and rawness to the original 80’s Metal Gear games that I felt the Solid games really lost as they became more SciFi. Kojima’s ideas to me even today feel like something that belong in the 80’s/90’s fiction more than today.

    There’s almost a cult like devotion Kojima fans have towards the man and his games, one I could appreciate from afar but also one I never really felt. I wouldn’t say I feel it even now but I can say I do get why he is special. I think there is something truly special seeing a creator get to tell such a long arcing story over thirty years. What Kojima did with the Metal Gear franchise, starting all the way back on the NES is something we will probably never see again. There are other long running prominent series, but none have anywhere that kind of ambitious narrative continuity (Resident Evil and Metroid are about as close as it comes and those seem largely accidental).

    His tragic departure from Konami is truly a loss for all of us, but what he got to accomplish is still nothing short of incredible.

  • The main draw for the Witcher series for me has long been the kind of storytelling and careful lore that seem to come best from the world of books. And I’m pleases to say it really upped the ante. I havent’t played any content yet that feels like pointless busywork, there’s narrative carrots seemingly everywhere enticing me along. It also helps that Witcher 3 is finally getting to the interesting questions the original works left hanging (namely what happened to Yennefer and Ciri before the events of Witcher 1). It’s pretty rare and gratifying to have a game actually offer a payoff on the core story arc for a series.

    Witcher does this so well it frankly makes other WRPG world building kind of seem bad, the difference just really became stark this time now that CD Projekt Red has the budget and experience to play on the same playing field as the Biowares and Bethesedas of the world. Granted those companies also allow you significantly more agency in terms of what kind of character you play which necessitate a perhaps less detailed approach as they can’t be sure what you’ll do, whereas Geralt is Geralt. I’m not sure I can think of series that has improved more dramatically from its first to its third game like Witcher has.

    I also can’t say I was expecting perhaps the best RPG minigame since Final Fantasy Viii’s Triple Triad. Witcher ‘s previous gambling side games certainly weren’t bad by any stretch, but they weren’t nearly this fun either.

    But what ultimately holds it out of the number 1 spot for me is the nuisance things like the inventory screen and the way Geralt moves. You gotta get these things right in a game you are going to play for a ton of hours. Witcher 3 didn’t at first, and while I understand they have been improved in later patches , I haven’t had a chance to go back and recommit myself. I’ve had a lot of games to play this year, but I hope to dive back in when I get ahold of the DLC.

    I don’t see it shaking MGSV out of the number spot for me personally, but I could see it sharing the spot. Which is sort of how I feel right now anyway.

  • Leave it to Nintendo to turn an existing genre on its head and make one of the few shooters anybody is talking about this year. While the non-violent shooter may not be a purely novel concept, this is definitely the first time it felt compelling to me. There’s something cathartic to basically just painting a space.

    It’s really refreshing to see a major AAA game be competitive without having combat as its core mechanic. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy combat in games, it’s just that there is a lot more to life than hitting/killing other people and that’s something AAA games seems to have forgotten since the Arcade days. I think Games have a lot of untapped potential to create compelling mechanics that just frankly do other things. Games like Splatoon are the tip of the iceberg.

    Splatoon may not be the greatest thing for a primarily single player guy like myself, but it feels like a great throwback to the 90’s Nintendo mentality of creating gameplay coupled with iconic characters.

    Who can’t like that?

  • I think this was number 4 before it got deleted out of the database. Anyway I remember calling this the Ken Burns FF and that I felt the combat was fun and liking the gameplay loop

  • I really love Transformers, they have always been my go to franchise. And yet I’ve never liked the games much other than from a pure fanboy aspect. I feel like there has been a common refrain among fans of waiting for someone to “finally get it right” with a G1 Transformers game. High Moon’s Cybertron series duology is about as close as it’s gotten (other than the very very surprising Transformers based on the Armada cartoon series) and I kind of figured that was the best I was likely to ever get as G1 TF is 30 years old now…

    But then this game seemingly came out of the sky and made by Platinum no less!

    I’m sad to say this isn’t it either. But it does get a lot right and inches ever closer still, namely the look and sound of the series. And perhaps most importantly it realizes something that seemingly no other transformers game ever has (well I’m not counting that atrocious Beast Wars fighting game) that the Transformers fights have a huge melee grappling aspect to them. Previously most developers essentially turned them into generic third person shooters, whereas if you look in the fiction the most iconic fights almost end up hand to hand. If you think about it, it makes sense. What’s the fun of watching of robots shoot each other, when they can pound each other with giant steel fists? Fortunately that sort of stuff is right in Platinum’s wheelhouse.

    I don’t know what the right kind of TF game would be exactly, but I can tell you this one is definitely one of the best TF games ever made so far.

  • Shadowrun:HK is basically on here because I realized too late Dragonfall should have been on my list year. I’m not super deep into HK, but it seems to be more iterative of DF than another leap forward so far.

    But that’s ok for me. I’m totally ok with 20-ish hour campaign that matches XCOM light tactical combat with D&D decision making in a rad gritty neon cyberpunk setting with compelling characters.

    I could play a lot of these games. This could get bumped off the list once I get to my copy of Pillars of eternity, but you know I have to start that first.

  • Life is Strange is a game I suspect may not stand the test of time. But it’s novel in the sense that Gone Home was covering the type of young women coming of age in America story that is very common in other media but comparatively very rare in video games thus far. It also took the surprisingly novel approach of pairing Time Travel mechanic with the Telltale style of dialogue choices. Honestly I’m amazed no one has tried that before now.

    The fact that so many are understandably upset by the occasional awkward sounding line which shatters the sense of authenticity I think shows just how close the writers got to nailing it and how well Ashly Burch and the others performed their parts. It wouldn’t be bothersome if you didn’t care about the characters. And then it got super soapy and fantastically contrived in places, but that seemingly happens to most stories involving Time Travel.

    And like Until Dawn later down the list it’s good “one of those”, and I really like where to see where this new type of Adventure game/interactive fiction genre is going, the possibilities for new to video game types of stories are seemingly endless.

    Telltale has opened the floodgates and it’s great to see other creators like Dontnod step through.

  • I’m not a big fan of heavily derivative works and Axiom Verge is definitely unashamedly that. It looks Metroid, it sounds like Metroid and it plays like a fusion of Metroid and Contra. At least when it starts and then it gets weird and starts to allow you to subvert the world it has laid for you in a way I think Hack & Slash meant to, but didn’t really pull off in a compelling way. It’s a hallmark of <ahem> “metroidvanias” to allow you to gradually unlock more of the world as you acquire new tools, but Axiom Verge seemingly lets you alter aspects of the world itself not just unlock color coded doors. That’s a neat twist on the old formula

    The Boss fights are bit more standard fare, but do feel like genuine 80’s action platformer boss fights. Find the correct pattern with the correct weapon, dodge, shoot when safe, Rinse & repeat, spam it until you win. Doesn’t sound glorious when actually written out, but it’s long been an oddly fun thing to do since the Mega Man days.

    I’m about halfway through it as of this writing and am enjoying the heck out of this.

  • Level editors and makers are not my thing. Something I have always appreciated from afar and only very only occasionally dabbled with myself. Ultimately I’d rather play games than make them, in part because I instinctively know it’s hard to have time to do both.

    Still this isn’t the first time something like this has come around. Little Big Planet never held much appeal to me, but I often wondered if I just found it off-putting because of the floaty physics. But this is Mario we are talking about and who hasn’t wanted to mess with a Mario level a bit? The real genius here is that Mario Maker is essentially the return of long forgotten Mario Paint albeit fused with actual Super Mario Bros platforming. The simple symbol UI philosophy works just as well today as it did 20 years ago and feels totally accessible yet robust to a casual non professional.

    What’s considerably less genius is the level discovery and sharing. All of that is considerably harder than it ought to be, although there is surprisingly high signal to noise ratio when I’ve looked for things to play.

    All in all I’d still rather play a Miyamoto designed Mario game by far, but being a game with Mario physics done right, it’s hard to not have fun with this game.

  • Similar to Life is Strange, Until Dawn is oddly novel because this is the type of story, that is exceedingly common in movies, you just don’t see in video games really ever. Certainly there has been plenty of horror games before and a robust subgenre known as survival horror, but Until Dawn is the first game to me to really capture experience of one of those teenage slasher flicks like Friday the 13th. Unlike Quantic Dream or Telltale games, the developers here seemingly do a really good job of hiding machinery of the decision making from the player to where every action seemed impactful. At least it fooled me enough to maintain my suspension of disbelief. Will it work on me a second time? I’m not sure, Telltale’s games don’t for me after Walking Dead as the machinery is too visible to me now although I still enjoy some of them for the writing.

    It’s also one of the very few games that makes me wish I had a PS4 and the only one on this list I watched.