Uranium is one of the most abundant elements on the planet.
This surprises many people, who assume it must be rare because it’s valuable, and valuable things are typically rare. Uranium is not rare. It’s as common as tin or zinc. Swing a cat in the Earth’s crust and you’ll hit some uranium. If you want some uranium, go outside and get a rock. Pitchblende is your best bet, but so long as you pick a really boring rock, there’s probably a little uranium inside.
But uranium is only useful when it’s fairly pure. And uranium does not do pure. That is not how uranium rolls. It feels miserable when it’s alone so you’ll never find it that way in nature. But it also hates itself. Fear of solitude and denial of self-worth cause uranium to hang out with losers — indescribably banal minerals rather than cool ones. Since it doesn’t believe it deserves friends at all, it’s pathologically loyal to the ones it has.
Gold and other good stuff that lives in rocks will come crashing out like the Kool-Aid man if you so much as ask nicely. Uranium no. If you want it to come out of your rock you’re going to have to go bananas on that rock. It’ll take months and cost millions, and in the end you’ll wind up with two or three atoms of uranium. It took decades to realize uranium was everywhere because it hides in tiny, tiny quantities in sucky rocks nobody gives a damn about. But those rocks are, on average, a lot more common than the other kind.
2015 was such a rock: monotony pudding at first glance. It was a wait-and-see year, a year that spent most of its time talking up the next year. Ask 2015 about itself and it’d gush about how big a deal 2016 was going to be. Taken as a whole, it feels underwhelming, but peer deeper and it’s got an atom or two of hidden stuff. As I prepared this list, though, I found myself qualifying nearly everything on it: “I loved Game X, but…” and that’s sort of uranium-y too. For all its utility, the element has a bit of a dark side. 2015’s winners are also, to some extent, the losers; and it’s all hidden in a lackluster slurry of ambivalence.
Zombie-Infested Electric Pickaxe Jungle Gym
Sometimes great games slip out of memory faster than they should. I don’t know why this is. But it certainly applies to Techland’s parkour-and-zombie thrilla, a game I’ve essentially forgotten despite the raw fact that it was far superior to most of what 2015 had to offer. Dead Island, their earlier effort at the same formula, was okay but missed too many important beats. Dying Light corrected course almost entirely. It’s a highly enjoyable game made even better by of how I played it: in campaign co-op with McShane, Eric, and Pete – my three best friends and the same three guys with whom I’ve spent over 200 hours in Borderlands 2.
Full story, campaign co-op is how we like to play online. We’ve had some good luck with mission-based stuff like Payday 2, and I think McShane and E have spent a few hours in Vermintide; the four of us also had a lot of fun during our brief obsession with Ragnar Tørnquist’s underappreciated The Secret World. But campaign co-op – that is, cooperative play where you go through the story of the game with friends – is rare, and rarer still for four players. Not so very long ago the Borderlands series seemed like our only option. Dying Light came at the perfect time. It performs and plays exceptionally, and the experience is radically different depending on whether you play alone or in co-op. Same campaign either way, but multiplayer is an energetic damn-the-torpedoes sort of thing, while single player feels stressful and much more dangerous.
Dying Light’s fictional Turkish city of Harran is a balancing act, always in danger of falling to one philosophical side or the other. Rich and poor, fundamentalist and secular, ancient and modern; Harran was probably always a powderkeg, this giant sprawling city where slums grow like hornets’ nests up against luxury high-rises and a single wrong turn will take you from a brightly-colored Turkish market into a dark alleyway where you’ll probably get your hands chopped off. So when most of Harran’s people turn into zombies and the city gets blockaded, it’s kind of a relief. The plot is at times eye-rollingly contrived, but Dying Light wasn’t really about story. In fact, our running Skype commentary made the sometimes ludicrous storyline and dialogue even more fun. You can’t mock something that’s all deep and shit.
Dying Light’s multiplayer is a little clumsy – single-player hero Kyle Crane simply becomes four Kyle Cranes, and it doesn’t do a good job of clearly stating that your co-op progress is being saved. Stuff like this is silly, but easily balanced out by the rest of the game. The focus on natural movement to clamber around the city during the day is amazing. You feel the sense of momentum even more than in Mirror’s Edge. You feel running, climbing, tumbling. You feel the wind in your hair and you feel the bone-cracking falls.
Then the sun heads down, and there’s no more completing quests, no more side explorations, no more expeditions into abandoned houses looking for loot. When the light starts dying, the calculus changes radically and you have to work as a unit or everyone’s going down. Daytime zombies are chiefly dangerous when swarming, with a few specialized ones to keep you on your toes. After nightfall the real predators come out, and they are terrifying. This held true no matter how “powerful” you were or how much progress you’d made.
Here, Have A Two-Hour Dickpunch
Unfortunately, you – or at least I – can’t talk about Dying Light without bringing up The Problem. I’m guessing The Problem would be sucky and disappointing in single-player mode; in co-op The Problem was an irredeemably terrible experience-ruining shitsplosion.
The Problem is the ending.
After forty hours of good clean co-op fun, Dying Light abruptly breaks the fourth wall and coldly informs you that your co-op time is over, booting you back into single player mode for the climax of the game. You then get to endure a solitary, interminable, abhorrently bad travesty of an obstacle course while your friends howl with rage over Skype, each trapped in their own jumping puzzle hell. The final two hours are so badly designed compared to the rest it feels like a different game entirely.
Dying Light is about movement, not jumping puzzles. The cadence of your momentum is the reward, and Techland clearly understood that, so most of Harran is easy enough to navigate at high speed once you get the hang of it. Traversing the city doesn’t require complex problem-solving and is almost never limited to one correct path. The opposite was true of Mirror’s Edge, which is the primary reason it wasn’t much fun: in a game that’s all about building and maintaining momentum, forcing the player to stop is rarely a good idea. Of course Techland did insert occasional acrobatic challenges – climbing cell towers and such – to break things up a little. But these are brief asides and not a significant portion of the game. Until the end.
It’s not just a two hour jumping puzzle. It’s a brutal two hour jumping puzzle, punctuated by combat sequences that would’ve difficult for the four of us together. Alone, each one became an infuriating, repetitive misery. It was the god-damned video game trail of tears. Much profanity was invented over Skype that day, I assure you.
After the trail of tears part is done, the cherry on top is a Quick Time Event. QTEs are annoying no matter what. But if you’re going to have them, have them. Don’t do what Dying Light did and be blissfully QTE-free while building toward a final ultimate confrontation for 40+ hours, then make that confrontation into nothing more than a timed button press.
I loved Dying Light, and I think the other three guys did too. But to this day, when it comes up, the first thing we all remember is the part we’d love to forget.
Still the Best Reason to Own a PS4
For a long time before its release, Hidetaka Miyazaki’s next-gen exclusive had existed in the public awareness only as a codename – Project Beast – and a scary dog photo. People thought it was Demon’s Souls 2. It turned out to be Bloodborne. And since fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s games tend to be kind of obsessed, well, Bloodborne sold a lot of PS4s. It’s why I have mine.
The gloomy, diseased city of Yharnam is an architectural spina bifida: a twisted, soot-caked Victorian nightmare town with its zigzagging alleyways and warped vertical construction. Gutters churn with blood and human waste; tortured brambles claw, ivy-like, up the stonework. Yharnam’s streets are choked with dead horses and overturned carriages, traces of a last, desperate, doomed attempt to flee the city ahead of a quarantine, ahead of a pestilence so terrible nothing would escape it. They were too late. By the time you arrive in Yharnam, the quarantine is in place and the Beast Plague has spread its black wings. Not long after, the nightmare begins.
Imagine a world where religion is physical rather than spiritual. There’s no soul; an organism is defined by its blood instead of its spirit. Imagine a world where sanctity is dependent on vigor, where being blessed basically means being healthy. Imagine a church that says sickness is sin.
When plague grips a city, the faith unleashes the Holy Order of Church Hunters.
Their black attire is synonymous with fear, a loading screen whispers.
Bloodborne’s world-building resonates even more powerfully with me than the sweeping Medievalism of Dark Souls. Yharnam is under quarantine until the Beast Plague is eradicated. Church Hunters have been pouring into the city since the outbreak began. Urbane and highly educated, decked out in natty top hats and eveningwear, their job is to purge the infected, and the potentially infected, and the potentially potentially infected. Armed with vicious weapons engineered to spill maximum blood before they kill, Hunters go about their business with typically religious zeal… inevitably getting sick themselves. Blood, after all, defines an organism’s sanctity. You will be drenched in blood, saturated by it. The Beast Plague is sickness. Sickness is sin. The Healing Church (maybe) loves the sinner… but it hates the sin.
The whole concept – gloomy Victorian setting, blood-obsessed religion, city gone mad, the lurking possibility that it’s all just a lucid nightmare – it’s awesome. Miyazaki has only been in the videogame business for about ten years, and he’s still hitting his creative stride.
First Rodeo Syndrome
There’s a case against Bloodborne that has nothing to do with the following. It is arguably the weakest of Miyazaki’s work to date, though still vastly superior in quality of experience to most other games. Subjective arguments against it are minor at best, and many are relevant only in the context of comparison to Demon’s and Dark Souls. It has a few inarguable, objective problems as well, but issues with Bloodborne aren’t what I want to highlight here on the other side of its coin. Suffice to say they exist.
For me, the trick with Bloodborne is that it came after Dark Souls, and Dark Souls was my Revelatory Miyazaki Experience. I played Demon’s Souls – I played a ton of Demon’s Souls – but I never… got it, I think in part because I never believed I could get it. I allowed Demon’s Souls to remain an enigma, so in a way when Dark Souls came along, it was my “first” Miyazaki game even though I’d put a hundred hours into its predecessor. I bought it believing it’d remain just as opaque, that I’d enjoy it for a while and move on. Not until weeks later did I realize that I understood it, that I’d even come to inhabit it. At the same time I realized I could have inhabited Demon’s Souls too, but for whatever reason I’d subconsciously chosen not to. Anyway, the point is even though it technically wasn’t, Dark Souls was my first rodeo.
Bloodborne was not my first rodeo. You can only do something for the first time once, and wishing won’t make it otherwise. As it happens, it was the process of actually experiencing Dark Souls and learning to speak its language that made it most special to me. Since Miyazaki’s games are essentially variations on a theme, that process was absent from Bloodborne. I felt the same way about Dark Souls 2, by the way… it wasn’t my first rodeo. That wasn’t its fault, but it explains the difficulty with sequels in general, especially sequels to stuff we really love. Secretly we don’t want a sequel, we want the original again, for the first time, even though we’d complain if that’s what we got. What we really want is to go back and have that delicious first experience again, because you never truly appreciate it until after it’s over.
Of course the very fact of our appreciation is what prevents this from happening. Sequels and spiritual successors are the best you can do, but often feel disappointing no matter whether they’re good or not. This happens to me with many games I really love: Thief, STALKER, Dark Souls, Wing Commander, No One Lives Forever, all the way back to childhood and Mega Man. In some cases the successors just weren’t as good, pure and simple, but that’s not always the case. It’s an emotional thing.
For some people, Bloodborne’s going to be the first rodeo. To those lucky people I say: good on you. Enjoy it. I’m jealous. It’s true Bloodborne has problems the others didn’t, but that’s not why I don’t love it. I don’t love it because it’s not my first rodeo, and never will be again.
Life is Strange:
Every Day is a Winding Road
My friend Pete (of Dying Light fame above) takes good advantage of technology. He and I texted back and forth constantly as we played through The Last of Us and Mass Effect 3 in our respective homes. It’s kind of a fun way to play a game, a shared text experience.
Pete also texted us a photo of his dog in a hat:
Then, last night, Pete texted me this:
“Oh noes! [SPOILER] has been [SPOILER]! [SPOILER] my [SPOILER] ways!”
Pete’s playing Life is Strange, the episodic coming of age adventure from French developer Dontnod. If you’ve played, you can guess exactly where he is in the game.
(the dog in the hat doesn’t have anything to do with anything. It’s just… I mean come on. It’s a dog in a hat)
Life is Strange is finding a place among many Game of the Year lists, deservedly so. Mechanically similar to Telltale’s adventures, but more nuanced and focused on humanity. Certainly one of the most thoughtful games I’ve ever played, and also one of the most realistic, which is kind of surprising since there’s time travel and precognitive dreams and stuff.
Maxine Caulfield is a very normal young woman who’s sitting there in photography class when she abruptly discovers that she can rewind time when she pulls the left trigger wants to. Not far, at first, but far enough. Far enough to fix little mistakes or undo little teenage rebellions before anything bad happens. Then bad things start to happen because she’s rewinding time and it spirals out of control from there.
Unsurprisingly Life is Strange actually flat-out has a butterfly in it and the butterfly sometimes flaps its wings. But this game isn’t trying to be The Sound of Thunder. It’s not a cautionary tale. It doesn’t usually club you with its messages, though it does ask you to ponder the idea of consequence. Even the least important things are infinitely special when you look at them in the context of all the things that happened before, leading up to them. The same is true of people.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that Life is Strange would be the perfect choice to introduce videogames to someone who’s never played them before; even someone suspicious of them. It’s very straightforward, with nothing intimidating about the presentation or mechanics. It’s challenging, but minimally so, neither simplistic nor frustrating. The plot is interesting enough to keep anybody engaged, but also “normal” enough — despite the time travel — that only the most insufferably tight-assed realists would call it farfetched. It looks great and features generally outstanding voice work. As an added bonus, Life is Strange has one of the most beautiful soundtracks in the history of composition.
For the present, Life is Strange is kind of in a class by itself, thematically speaking. The gameplay is obviously Telltale-inspired, but the way it tells its story (and what the story’s about) is new. A very abnormal week in the life of an otherwise painfully normal high school girl. It is touching, in part, because of its normalcy. Most of the decisions it asks you to make are very pedestrian. Do you call your classmate a megaslut or not? Do you answer your cell when it’s not convenient, or do you let it ring? It’s possible to sample most branching paths before you commit, thanks to Max’s time-rewind power, but personally, the deeper I got into the game, the less I did that. I began to take ownership of my decisions, even the bad ones. I began to want to own them.
It’s rare and lovely and complex, and believable in its humanity. Life is Strange doesn’t hit every beat perfectly, but the overall experience so drastically outweighs the missteps that they’re hardly worth mentioning except as curiosities. You’re not exactly in it for the journey — this is the kind of game you play because you want to find out what’s going to happen at the end — but an end is the culmination of the journey you were on, and the way in which Life is Strange presents that rather obvious message is quite touching and often beautiful.
Life is Strange:
Now with Murder and Sex Crimes
I played two Telltale-ish adventures in 2015: Life is Strange and Telltale’s own Tales from the Borderlands. Of the two, Life is Strange is the far better, more important game; Tales from the Borderlands is the one I’d play again.
Ts from the Bs has an unfair advantage there, because it’s a comedy and comedy feels… more inviting, somehow. More like something you’d want to do again. Life is Strange has amusing moments, but it’s pretty heavy overall.
It also gets really, really dark. Episode One’s tone isn’t representative of Life is Strange as a whole. The change happens slowly at first, then faster and faster; by the beginning of Episode Four it’s wall to wall date rape and statutory rape and regular rape and attempted murder and regular murder and assisted suicide and regular suicide and suicide pacts and roofies and underage drinking and dogs being shot and people being shot and stuff on fire and electronics dangerously close to swimming pools. None of the content is that shocking — you’ll see worse on prime time TV — but I wonder if some of the audience was turned off by later episodes, if they felt like it’d been a bait and switch.
Life is Strange could be accused of some causal inconsistencies as well. The implication is that Max’s time-rewind power is somehow connected to assorted other happenings throughout the game. Dontnod takes so long to clarify the narrative that when it finally does come together, there’s practically no time for denouement, leaving some events and characters frustratingly unexplained. And though the how of it is finally — if somewhat unsatisfyingly — made clear, the why never is. Which is weird, because the whole of Life is Strange is a meditation on the why of stuff.
Space is Big
Keen-eyed readers will note Elite:Dangerous graced my 2014 list as well. It was a December surprise, one I highlighted back then in part to contrast it with the appalling X Rebirth and in part to emphasize the scale of its ambition. But our Games of the Year lists aren’t limited to games of any particular year, and besides, in terms of games played by volume, Elite:Dangerous is up there in the top ten of 2015 for me.
Yet I don’t really consider it a game, and I’m always hesitant to recommend it to others. Certainly as a technical achievement it deserves a great deal of applause. This is a 1:1 scale model of the Milky Way galaxy, all hundred billion stars of it. Where Hubble data existed, Hubble data was used. One mile equals one mile. Nothing ever has, or probably ever will, fully communicate the enormity of the universe the way Elite does.
Preference for solitude and dislike of all life led me to be an explorer. It’s a job that lets me be on my own for months at a time with a buffer tens of thousands of light years wide between me and any other human being. Also, unlike history’s explorers (who endured discomfort and bugs and stuff), I can do it from a faux-leather bucket seat in a climate-controlled spaceship cabin. To me that’s a positive thing, even if it’s pretend. I fly to remote star systems, probe their mysteries using outrageously expensive and sophisticated sensors, poke around a little, and move on. From time to time I grudgingly return to populated space and sell the data I’ve accumulated.
McShane and E (again, Dying Light above) bought Elite a few months ago, and they tend to be more conventional, emotionally healthy people than me, so they were playing it as it’s meant to be played. They stay in populated space and do jobs for governments and corporations; they fight and occasionally engage in piracy; they visit space stations; that kind of thing. Naturally as they were finding their way around they wanted me to join them, so we could kick space ass. I was in Sagittarius-B at that particular moment, looking for black holes, which placed me 50,000-ish light years from their position. It took… let’s just say it took a while to hook up with those guys. Space is big.
That’s what Elite:Dangerous is all about from my personal perspective. It’s a meditative experience, the singular objective of which is to make you know humility in the face of the void. That it accomplishes this objective so well is what makes me keep coming back to it.
Space is Seriously Mega-Big, I Tell You What
So space is big and I’m weird, but beyond that we can agree Elite is more a concept than full-fledged reality right now. And the full-fledged reality may turn out to be kind of dull. This is a game about being in space because space is really fucking big. It’s hard to say whether that alone will have staying power.
One of the things I like about Minecraft is that every now and then, usually deep in the bowels of the earth, you see something far away. Something you can’t instantly recognize due to its distance or the angle or whatever. Usually it turns out to be a trick of the light or a funny rock formation or something, but the mystery of it is surprisingly varied. Minecraft worlds are staggeringly huge, but the way it builds them assures remarkable things can be found even in the tiny fraction of any given world you’ll explore.
Space is bigger than a Minecraft world by a factor of billions, and Elite:Dangerous attempts to model that. While I’m sure there is or will be lots of remarkable things, they’re correspondingly farther apart, and what’s in between is very very similar. I have visited more stars than most Elite players ever will and I can tell you that one star looks pretty much like another. Blue giants are bluer and giant-er but otherwise strikingly alike in most ways to a red dwarf. Even close up to things, you’re so far away it sometimes feels you might as well… you know, be far away. The Horsehead Nebula looks pretty much the same from Barnard’s Loop as it does from Sirius.
Admittedly I chose this job, but exploration’s rewards are thin and I suck at Elite dogfighting. The Horizons expansion adds planetary landings and some other stuff to the game – desirable stuff – but punishes Elite adopters by forcing them to buy the game again. Frontier Developments has pretty much confirmed that all major Elite expansions will be this way, so instead of buying a game that’s ambitious but somewhat empty, you’re buying a game that’s ambitious but somewhat empty, then paying regularly to watch them fill it up.
That Elite:Dangerous is drawing comparisons to Star Citizen is probably unfair, because they seem like fundamentally very different games with very different intents and philosophies. It’ll be interesting to see how Star Citizen resonates with people of different stripes when it finally arrives.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The Idea of Bo Derek
The Phantom Pain is probably a lot of people’s Game of 2015, so its presence alone on such a list might not come as a surprise. If you know me at all, though, you know that its presence on my list is something worthy of comment. Sexist fanservice, incomprehensible stories, and tactical sneakiness are not a recipe that gets Steerpike’s attention.
I’m forty years old so I remember 1987, when the very first Metal Gear came out. It didn’t interest me at the time because the ad in Nintendo Power made it look kind of simplistic and boring, a top-down bullet hell type of thing along the lines of Ikari Warriors. Anyway, I’ve been aware of Metal Gear since forever. I understand how it’s evolved as a tactical sneaker over the years, that it’s always been ambitious, featured cutting edge technology, and has a really devoted fanbase. But I also understood it to be a narrative word-salad, which usually turns me off; also other than Thief, tactical sneakers have never held much interest for me. But I’d played and enjoyed the one-hour proof of concept Ground Zeroes as a PS+ freebie, and reviews of The Phantom Pain would have been hard to ignore regardless. So I figured why not.
And it doesn’t take long for The Phantom Pain to make its impact. The broad-stroke narrative is just as incomprehensible as I’d been led to believe, but the broad strokes are totally irrelevant. The story it’s telling is easy to pick up. It’s also remarkably powerful, that story; and at times painfully sad. It is anything but the war-porn I’d expected, glorifying violence as a way of arguing against it. If you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss eventually stares into you. A life defined by violence, even in the service of a noble cause, is still life defined by violence; eventually that’s all that will be left, though by then it’s too late. The Phantom Pain gives you a good man who is also a monster, then, piece by piece, it removes the good man part.
Scale has always been a problem with open world sandboxes — they lose scope in pursuit of scale — and while The Phantom Pain is no exception, its scope is staggering by itself. This is closer to being three or four entire games rolled into one, all of them satisfying. As I played The Phantom Pain, I suddenly realized the meaning of ten. A “ten” is not Bo Derek but the idea of Bo Derek, even with Dudley Moore attached*. It’s not a game that’s perfect, not necessarily. The Phantom Pain is anything but perfect. A ten is a game that delivers blockbuster feel in blockbuster packaging despite anything that might hold it back. Most of the games that have mattered most to me, and probably the ones that have mattered most to you, are not “tens.” The ones I remember and cherish are not tens, but the tens don’t have to be ones I remember or cherish.
Dark Souls is not a ten. Thief is not a ten. STALKER, Phantasy Star, Shining Force, Portal (well, maybe Portal)… not tens.
You know what’s a ten? Gears of War is a ten. It didn’t change anybody’s life, but it’s a ten. The Phantom Pain is a ten.
Hideo Kojima has finally accomplished what he’s been trying to accomplish since 1987. People stayed with him as he tried because each attempt was a glimpse of what he really had in mind; he wasn’t some crazy person laboring away at an idea nobody believed in. It’s just that all the pieces didn’t come together until now. The Phantom Pain validates every shred of his thirty-year ambition. He has a philosophical point, which he makes. He also manages to wrap that point in a staggeringly enjoyable game. As it turns out, this was his last chance; Hideo Kojima’s career fell apart around the same time this game went gold, though the one has little to do with the other. Appropriate, then, that it’s the one to vindicate him. It’s also no accident that The Phantom Pain is the direct narrative prequel to the 1987 original.
It’s a game that feels like it was three decades in the making, and one that’s not likely to be topped for decades to come.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The Loneliest Number
Okay, now imagine what The Phantom Pain would have been like if, instead of making it a 200-hour monstrosity, if they’d made it fifty hours and used all the remaining resources to tighten and perfect those fifty. Imagine what The Phantom Pain would have been if it didn’t lose itself in its ridiculous enormity.
“Washington doesn’t know how to spend money,” a principal villain says wryly. This line comes around the end of the middle of the beginning of the middle, maybe 35% according to the main menu. By then I’d already played The Phantom Pain for over a hundred hours and fatigue had long since set in even though the game was still introducing more stuff.
Most would argue that Washington, DC has a unique gift for spending money. That’s the irony, the sarcasm, in what this guy is saying. But he’s a villain with a villainous plan so actually he’s making another point too, which is… government waste? Amateur hour.
This game has a similar problem.
Very few games can make me play them for a hundred hours, and to be honest very few games should try. Especially story-driven games. Dark Souls took a hundred hours for reasons that are obvious to anyone who played it; Civilization… sure, games like that it’s not uncommon to sink in hundreds of hours because of the way they work. The Phantom Pain is not Civilization, and it does not need 100 hours, let alone twice that.
It offers more newness than most open worlds have. A ridiculous amount of newness — the tactical stuff, the strategic stuff, R&D, base building, resource management, and don’t even get me started on the peculiar multiplayer. Every single minute of The Phantom Pain had me good and enthralled until one day when I looked at the main menu thingy and it said I was 28% done. At that moment, when I realized how much remained and also how little that would differ from what I’d already done… that’s when The Phantom Pain started being an actual pain.
At $80 million it was expensive but hardly a budget horror story, especially given how it turned out. Kojima Productions kind of pulled of a miracle making this game for only $80 million. Grand Theft Auto V cost twice as much and is marginally smaller. Bioshock Infinite cost three times as much, uses a licensed engine, is entirely linear, and takes maybe fifteen hours to finish. Really, seriously, accomplishing what they accomplished with $80 million is pretty amazing.
With that in mind, I ask again: what if The Phantom Pain had made itself with 40 million of those dollars, and then taken the other 40 million and used them to polish and perfect what the first 40 million had gone toward?
Why must they always make it eighty million dollars long instead of eighty million dollars good?
I say again: The Phantom Pain is ridiculously good. But it’s ridiculously bloated, too, for no good reason. That doesn’t de-ten it, not by a long shot, but it sure begs the question of what it might have been.
So Awesome and So Not, But Maybe Just Not Yet
Very briefly, because only my Mom is still slogging through at this point (hi Mom!):
2015 wasn’t a hardware year. Not much happened there. Video cards and CPUs improved, incrementally. No console releases. Not much memorable, except Valve’s Steam hardware, which like everything else on this list is a plus/minus situation.
Steam Link, The Unassuming Little $50 Brick That Could. I love it. It does what it says it will do, which is allow you to slump on the sofa while it streams games onto your television and your PC does the heavy lifting in the other room. Elegant and easy, Steam Link packs a surprising amount of horsepower. It’s more broadly capable of doing its job than it was expected to be, offering an embarrassment of connections and top of the line standards when it could have cut corners. Try to take away my Steam Link and you’re likely to lose a hand.
Speaking of hands… Steam Controller rarely finds itself in mine. After hours of trying it’s still too big and still feels too different. The effort is admirable, and I’ll bet the second generation Steam Controller will address all my complaints about the first. Because it is so very close. But I don’t use it. Whenever I get something I mean to play over Steam Link, I always start with the controller in my hands and always put it down in favor of a workhorse 360 controller before the Dance of the Logo Screens has finished. Every time.
I’d like to give some honorable mentions, but I think I’m going to skip it because many come with explanations or qualifiers and this article is already the word-equivalent of The Phantom Pain.
2015 was funny. Both xtal and Gregg are right: it was an underwhelming year and a very good year. I’ve started 2016 with a pair of 2015 games — Just Cause 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider — both of which impress but which I haven’t yet devoted enough time to fully judge. The rest of 2016, assuming it rolls out as planned, has a lot on offer: the Pathologic remake. Dark Souls 3. Star Citizen. No Man’s Sky. Uncharted.
All in all I liked what I played in 2015, but I don’t know if I’ll remember it; I had to work hard to find what I was looking for. Like the uranium, it’s there in the rock, but man was it a chore to discover.
Geologists may offer corrections via Steerpike@Tap-Repeatedly.com.