Does anyone else agree that the last three years have been underwhelming for games? The excuse for 2013 was “well everything has slowed down because we’re in a holding pattern for new consoles.” Then for 2014 it was “well it’s the first year of new consoles, developers need to find their sea legs, so this is sort of like 2006 and next year will be the 2007 for these consoles.” 2015 was being hyped as what would be one of the best years ever. A lot of people said it would be 2007 again. In case you forgot, 2007 is a candidate for best year of games ever. Everybody remembers it, I don’t need to mention any. Well 2015 was not like 2007. It wasn’t half of what 2007 was. Now, predictably, that pressure that was on 2014 and then 2015 has moved to 2016. I think we’re in for more disappointment, but we’ll see. I hope I’m wrong. At least we got The Last of Us before gaming died!
I definitely feel like this is the weakest list I’ve ever written. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the games that made my list, more that they just don’t hold a candle to other games that have made my previous lists like The Walking Dead, State of Decay, Dark Souls, Mass Effect 3, Bulletstorm, Gemini Rue and yes, The Last of Us. (I didn’t make a 2014 list but Fez would also be in this group as my second favourite game of the past 5 years.) Another way to say that is there was no clear cut game of the year for me this year, so it went to the game I played the most and was the feel good game of the year.
I’ll also mention that I’ve skipped a lot of the popular releases this year because that’s kind of just my thing. I didn’t play Dying Light, The Witcher 3, Batman Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, Mad Max, Halo 5, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Star Wars Battlefront, Super Mario Maker (or any other Nintendo games). So for what it’s worth keep in mind I didn’t play a lot of the big fare this year.
I have two honorable mentions which also happen to be the two games I looked forward to the most this year. The first is Bloodborne, which I talked about a bit already and don’t want to anymore. It’s fine. It’s great to play once. I’m not playing it again or touching the DLC but it was great for that 80-100 hours I spent doing everything once.
The second is Fallout 4, which I haven’t talked about. Fallout 4 is so much like Fallout 3 that this is simultaneously a good and bad thing. It’s good because Fallout 3 is great. It’s bad because Fallout 3 came out seven years before 4. Fallout 4 looks like a sequel that comes out one or two years after the previous game by how it plays. It feels exactly the same, some systems have been improved, others are more confusing, and the weird bugs are basically still the same. My experience hasn’t been as bad as what I’ve heard from others (my game has crashed once and I’ve run in to no game-breaking glitches) but I acknowledge there are obviously those same old Bethesda problems. Fallout 4 was kind of the most predictable game in the history of ever, we just keep thinking Bethesda is going to change. They’re not going to change. I’ve enjoyed my time with Fallout 4, it’s a ton of fun, but it’s fun to me because I loved Fallout 3 (and New Vegas, which is still the best of the three modern Fallouts) and had the itch. It’s been mostly scratched, so beyond that there isn’t really anything Fallout 4 does that’s new and interesting. The settlement stuff is a great idea in theory, and you can make your own fun from it, but it certainly is glitchy as fuck and weird and broken and non-intuitive in the Bethesda ways you would expect. It’s about as simple as this: if you didn’t like Fallout 3 you won’t like 4; if you liked 3 and wanted an evolution you won’t like 4; if you liked 3 and could settle for more of the same then you’ll probably enjoy 4. You’ll get an interesting main story, better side quests, but nothing the quality of what we saw in New Vegas.
Beyond honorable mentions there are some games I’ve started but haven’t dedicated the time to finish that I hope to soon, like Life is Strange; the first episode is promising so far but I haven’t gone back yet. I’ve heard mostly good things so I’m looking forward to that. One game that has blown me away with the roughly 8-10 hours I’ve spent with it: NBA 2k16; I’ve only ever played arcade-y basketball games like the NBA Jam series but decided to just dive into the deep end this year. Since I was a kid the two sports I’ve been attached to at the hip are football and hockey. I’ve played more editions of those sports’ major game series than not; you can confidently consider me an NHL and Madden expert. I’m as qualified as anyone on the planet to talk about those games. So it pains me so much to realize that, after getting into MLB The Show a few years ago and finally the 2k NBA series this year, those two series are so much better than NHL and Madden. Now, I play a fuckton of Madden. I’ve been playing Madden 15 non-stop for 16 months now. I love football and the NFL (the on field product; as a corporation I despise them and want to see them perish in the flames) and you always hear the same line that every year Madden is just this dependable product that gets closer and closer to replicating that Sunday experience, but it’s really not like that at all. The presentation of Madden has always been lacking, there are a ton of features that are half-baked and even more that are missing, it’s full of weird bugs (in over 25 years of making the same game they’ve not once figured out how to stop players from running through the back walls of the endzone stands after scoring a touchdown) and it has serious balance issues. I still love it and play the shit out of it because it’s all I have, and the basics are good enough so it’s fun for me.
But boy do I wish the Madden experience was a fifth of what the NBA 2k series is. My go to mode with every sports game is the franchise mode; whatever mode lets you be the general manager of a team and make most of the decisions, that’s the mode I want. This shit is overwhelming in NBA 2k16: I would tell you with a straight face that it’s so deep you could call it a role-playing game. Talking to the owner of your team, talking to the players, talking to the media, the TV personalities and their deep well of commentary, the play-by-play through each game, it’s all intertwined so well, they say shit and it makes sense. I cringe and roll my eyes every time in Madden, when I’m winning by 30 points in the fourth quarter and I gain two yards on a running play, Phil Simms says if I want to win this game I’m going to have to come up with better plays than that. Really Phil? Come on.
That dumb crap never happens in NBA 2k16! There must be 800 zillion lines of code in that game because it seems to me like every scenario is covered. They comment on my record, my losing streak, how a certain player shot from the field two nights ago, it’s amazing. The overall presentation is very satisfying. I just had to mention this game because it’s on the doorstep of my list and I’ve gained a lot of respect for this annual series, especially when compared to my bread and butter football and hockey games.
Okay, on to my favourites of 2015!
#6 – Grim Fandango Remastered
I had never played Grim Fandango outside of a demo version back in ’98 or ’99. I was pleased to see it given a second thought as we continue our incessant digging through the past. I haven’t finished it but am nearing the end of the third year (meaning I’ve played approximately 74% of it). It seems that mostly everything my trusted sources have told me about Grim are true: the story is good, the characters are a hoot, and the puzzles are shit.
I can indeed confirm those things. The last especially. The puzzles are shit 70% of the time. The other 28% they’re simply frustrating, and there’s probably 2% that are in the neighborhood of logical. Yes, you’ve guessed it: Grim Fandango is a classic adventure game! Except in 3D with way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way worse controls.
As dumb as most of the puzzles are I come back because those first two things, story and characters, are wonderful. And… in a way… the pacing is kind of perfect, though that’s hard to put my finger on why exactly. Every major area seems to be just large enough that there’s usually at least one goal that, A) is obvious and B) generally clear to see a hazy path to achieving that one goal. So while overall the puzzles are batshit insane there usually is one thing you can find that’s easy-ish to suss out.
I imagine that the best part of this Remastered version is the audio commentary that was done by Schafer (I don’t know who else, if anyone, is involved) but I haven’t got to that yet, since obviously I don’t want to play for the first time with that turned on. Otherwise nothing about this version of the game seems to be “remastered” for anyone wondering. Oh, except you can control Manny with a controller’s left analog stick rather than “tank controls.” I remember the original PC version controls being particularly bad, so this is probably a good thing, because the controls are only pretty bad on the version I’m playing (PS4) as opposed to intensely in-your-face horrendous.
When I think back to other games of its time I would point to Grim Fandango’s voice acting work as exceptional. Everyone really sells their characters. I wish Glottis was a real thing and my real life friend. He’s just so damn lovable! He’s got to be the best demon there ever was.
What are you gonna do about it, Capra Demon?
#5 – Mortal Kombat X
Prior to this year I hadn’t played a Mortal Kombat game since 3, which I think came out in the mid ’90s. The first two games were out around the time I was 9 or so, also around the same time Doom graced the world with its presence, so you can imagine that this was an eye-opening time in the violence department. MK3 was sort of okay but by that time I was mostly over the games. I’ve never been a big fighting game fan, probably only having played Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter outside of MK. I knew MK had been sort of successfully rebooted a few years ago but still had no interest in it. I bought MK X (I still don’t know if more people call it “Ex” or “Ten”; I say “Em Kay Ex”) on a whim after I finished up The Order and Bloodborne and I can’t say I remember why; maybe I just wanted to enjoy the feeling of buying as many games as I could at $69.99 before they transitioned to $79.99 — side note: have I mentioned (complained) about that before? I feel like I have. Games are eighty fucking dollars in Canada, people. Can you Americans just invade us already and give us your dollar?!! I’d really appreciate the cheap beer too. But I still want my healthcare.
Um, anyway, MK X has just filled a stupid-fun void for me. I have performed hundreds of fatalities and brutalities and am still playing it usually at least once a week. I guess I’ve just had said void bouncing around in my head for years and it’s been a great game to play in 30-60 minute bursts while I listen to podcasts. It’s also well known that Mortal Kombat is the non-serious fighting game franchise for non-serious people who don’t care about intense fighting game culture (which I certainly don’t!) so that’s just fine by me. Sometimes I play online to complete daily/weekly goals (goal chasing, yay!) and it always makes me hate myself – I’ve become really good with a handful of characters offline, executing stylish combos and getting Flawless Victories against AI opponents, but take those “skills” online and I’m just doomed; if I get more than three hits on people online I freak out in excitement. However, it typically goes like this: I attack first, miss, and then the other person perfectly keeps executing combos that don’t let me get a single hit in and I die without hitting them once. Then I do that two or three or however many more times the daily goal asks me to, then I get the fuck outta there. Plus there’s lag. Anyone who plays fighting games online is a fool. LAN or go home! If you want one reason why MK X is fun and ridiculous go on YouTube and look up Cassie Cage’s “selfie” Brutality. Do it!
#4 – Tales from the Borderlands
I’ve discovered the exact formula which Telltale needs to follow to have a successful game release:
- Once the second episode comes out or, once they’re all out, make the first episode free.
- Make it not have crippling bullshit technical issues like The Wolf Among Us did.
I don’t care much about the Borderlands games. I played the first one and thought this is pretty cool and stylish; played it for about 4-5 hours, lost interest. I played the second one and thought it was exactly the same with a bit more polish; played it with friends (which was a hoot) for about 6-8 hours, lost interest.
I don’t know any of the characters and still won’t be fooled into buying more Borderlands stuff to find out. That has/had no bearing on my enjoyment of Tales from the Borderlands. I believe 90% of the cast was original to this game. I know Handsome Jack was a character before, and some of the vault hunters too (z3r0 or however he spells it; emoticon guy). I didn’t care about Borderlands before TFTB and I don’t care after. I feel like that’s totally acceptable; this seems to be the consensus thought.
I downloaded the first episode for free some time I believe in the fall of last year. This is the best thing Telltale can do for their episodic “adventure” games. If they execute on those first two hours and get their hooks in they can probably keep this model up for a few more years. This one has anecdotally had the best word of mouth buzz since The Walking Dead but I still don’t know if I would have bought it all if that first episode wasn’t given away – I just didn’t trust them after TWAU. I don’t know if Telltale deserves credit or it’s simply due to the PS4’s obviously better hardware compared to PS3, but I didn’t have any technical issues with this one. That really made all the difference. I heard all the dialogue, and saw it come out of characters’ mouths at the right time! Imagine that.
Anyway, the game itself is good too, it’s not just that it runs smooth. I laughed hysterically many, many times. That’s not what I go into most games for but it’s a nice break from the serious stuff. I think they did a really nice job of quickly building the main characters up and laying on the funny stuff consistently. There’s no major dip in quality across the five episodes, though I do agree with Steerpike’s assessment to some degree that there are some weird and maybe unnecessary story turns in the last episode. It didn’t impact my enjoyment at all though, I went along with the weirdness and had a good time through the end. I don’t know for certain but would imagine the first episode is still free on all platforms – I recommend it to all. You’ve got nothing beyond 100 minutes to lose.
#3 – Until Dawn
I didn’t know what Until Dawn was until the hype machine revved up during the week of its late summer release so this was probably my most going-in-blind game of the year. A lot of people have been comparing it to Quantic Dream’s style of game – Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, you know, those guys. I don’t entirely agree with that, but I guess it’s the closest comparison you can make simply because it’s a cinematic game experience in which over its course you’ll sorta clumsily-ish-ly control multiple characters. (For the record I think this game controls much better than Quantic Dream’s games.)
If you know what Until Dawn is about, then you know. If you don’t… well I don’t want to say a lot outside of: it’s a really clever and smart take on the “teen horror” film genre. I assume it was a full-priced game in the States (it was $75 here) but am not positive on that. I think, much like The Order: 1886, if they knocked the price down a bit, say $40 instead of $60, that would have been enough to boost it to universally acclaimed instead of just mostly well regarded and quite liked. (Publishers: are you seeing a trend here? Would you like to hire me to advise you on optimal pricing solutions for your games?) Aside from needing a price adjustment I don’t have any complaints. I say it constantly: I want new experiences, I’m welcoming to any kind. Until Dawn scratched that itch for me and although I can’t say it exceeded my expectations (because I had none) it fully satisfied me to the point that I not only played through it completely a second time, I noodled around even more to see some branching paths I missed but was curious about.
In short: the game is about 8 stupid late-teen-aged friends who meet up at a pretty swanky lodge somewhere in the Alberta wilderness for their annual getaway of typical adolescent jokes, sex, and hijinks. You the player control each of them at varying points though a binary conversation choice system that allows for many branches to stem off of the linear narrative. Action scenes are made up mostly of QTEs (you’ll be fine). There are obviously twists and turns and all the things you’d expect, but most of them are done differently enough and the game surprises enough that, to me, it reached the point of being a successful sort of interactive experiment. Like I said, I played it a second time and had just as much fun. For anyone with a PS4 and money to spend on one AAA-priced game in 2015 my top recommendation to them would be Until Dawn. So…make it so!
#2 – Three Fourths Home
If you trust recommendations I’ve made in the past, or if you tend to align with my tastes, I would really, really, really like for you to spend 5 bucks on Three Fourths Home. It takes an hour to play through, it’s 5 dollars (remember when I said that fifteen words ago?) and it’s an experience I loved. All you do is hold the right trigger on your controller the whole time (or whatever button it is for PC, if this game is on PC, which it probably is because it strikes me as a game that was on Steam three years ago) to drive a car while you select conversation choices as you’re talking on the phone invariably with your mother, father, and brother. (You’re the daughter who left home and now your family misses you and you’ve been a crappy daughter/sister and everybody’s sorta bummed about life, etc.) That’s the whole game: driving (holding one button) and picking dialogue choices. But I think it’s great.
I love stuff like this; low entry point, done in one sitting, something thoughtful and which manages to stick with you after the credits. I’d be surprised if even the most soulless/heartless boob (Gregg B perhaps?) played this and thought it was 5 dollars poorly spent. That’s just two coffees! Or in America, what, sixteen coffees? Even if you aren’t fulfilled as I was you could probably at least feel good about giving 5 dollars to people who are doing small, thoughtful experiments like Three Fourths Home.
#1 – Rocket League
MOTHERFUCKIN’ CAR SOCCER WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!!!!!
Do I really need to say anything here? Rocket League is fantastic stupidity in the best way imaginable, and even if I think this was a weak year for games (which I do, again) it would still make my list somewhere in any other year. As it happens, it’s #1 in 2015. Yay, Rocket League! Has anyone else heard the “spent 2 million, made 50 million” thing about the development cost versus profit of Rocket League? I’ve heard it a bunch on podcasts so I just assume it’s true. If it is…well that’s sweet for the developers. I hope they all have lovely vacations or something. They deserve it after making this fun simulator. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!1!!11!!!1 [sic]
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