How about one last blog post before we close down for the Christmas break? At this time of year (okay, often sooner for everyone else), everyone does their year-end lists. As is tradition for etg, we close the year with our favourite games of the year. I think this year will be the last time we do the 15 for 15 thing because it was very hard getting to 15 games. Next year will probably be a top ten or something.
For now, here is our list of our fifteen favourite games of 2015. They may not be the best games of 2015 but they are the ones that I loved the most.
Life Is Strange
French developer Dontnod isn’t exactly a big player in gaming. Life is Strange is only their second game. Their first game, Remember Me, was an ambitious brawler that tried to mix in platforming and puzzles and a story about society’s dependence on technology but it all fell apart in the final third of the game. Either it was rushed out the door or Dontnod just wasn’t sure how to bring it all together for the conclusion. What was an 8/10 game for the first half stumbled home to be a 6/10 experience.
Life is Strange brought the focus down to story and puzzles built around a main character who had the ability to rewind time. It seems very Prince of Persia at first glance but there was no combat and the puzzles all relied on various uses of the rewind mechanic. From a gameplay perspective, Dontnod focused on the one mechanic and did it right in a variety of ways in order to keep the player engaged.
The real star of the game was the story. Life is Strange started as a generic teen angsty story and evolved into one about dealing with supernatural powers and coming of age and mental health and drugs and money and so much more that the former premiere episodic game maker, Telltale Games, wouldn’t dare get near with their stories. It charted its own path and created a memorable experience as a result. It certainly was the emotionally gripping game of the year.
I meant to write a spoiler-filled review for the whole series and I might in time for the “Definitive Edition” release at the end of January. People complained about the ending citing the usual argument of your choices not mattering. I didn’t have a problem with the ending because I think that it was always destined to end that way. The various mysteries were always going to come together with a final confrontation of sorts and facing the apocalypse. I think that there was an ending that I was expecting that Dontnod didn’t go with but I was satisfied with the alternatives presented.
We don’t really give out a formal Game of the Year award. There is, however, a reason for the ranking on this list from top to bottom. Life is Strange is at the top of the list for a reason. For me, it’s the 2015 Game of the Year. If Square Enix wants to throw that accolade on a box, they’re more than welcome.
Ori and the Blind Forest
It’s funny that I’ll call Life is Strange emotionally gripping and then immediately start talking about a game that I tell people will make them cry in the first five minutes. That’s everyone’s first experience with Ori. It will make you cry in the opening cutscene.
What plays as a nearly crippling difficult platformer (that often gets the Metroidvania tag thrown at it) actually has a lot of heart. There’s a story about environmental harmony and dealing with loss in this game that feels unimportant to the game after the first five minutes. This is also the most beautiful game of 2015. The hand-drawn aesthetic of the characters and backgrounds along with the absolutely perfect score make this the best game on your TV this year.
I’m actually quite surprised that this ended up on so few best of 2015 lists. For a game that I rated 10/10 and received quite a few 90% or higher scores, it was forgotten by the end of the year behind a number of indie darlings and triple-A efforts.
This year’s divisive Game of the Year nominee, Her Story is the one game that everyone has an opinion about. One of the hottest debates in gaming is what is a game. Her Story is another example of something that is called a game but many people disagree about whether you can call it a game. I can understand why. There’s no real win or fail state. You use the mechanics in the game to reach a result but there is no feedback along the way.
Her Story does tell the story of a woman, her family, her love life and her marriage. Being told through FMV, it would be easy to watch the story be dictated to you in chronological order. Instead, developer Sam Barlow had you search key words from the videos to bring them up. It’s the perfect mechanic for a game set in a world where all the information imaginable is a Google search away.
By forcing you to search videos for evidence, the story is presented out of order and it’s up to you to make sense of it and form the story in your own mind. There are so many little subtleties in the game that you can have hypotheses but completely miss the proof because it’s both obvious but hidden. It’s the challenge of trying to solve a mystery without a game handholding you through the solution that makes Her Story not just a game but one of the best games of 2015.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
A lot of long-time StarCraft fans weren’t too happy with how Legacy of the Void wrapped up the story of StarCraft. It’s a story that’s been some 17 years in the making so there are gamers who have been waiting the better part of their lives for the story to end. To the StarCraft community, this was the Mass Effect 3 ending on their scale.
That being said, I loved the actual gameplay. I’m not very good at RTS games but normal mode was enough of a challenge for me that I didn’t feel overwhelmed though I felt like I was sleepwalking through at times. On the plus side, I felt that the game did a good job of introducing units and integrating them into the story missions in a way that made sense. And apart from rushing through the epilogue, I thought that the Whispers of Oblivion and Legacy of the Void stories were reasonably well done. I wasn’t expecting an award-winning narrative but it was a fun little adventure that wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously.
There is more than just the campaign in Legacy of the Void. There is the standard multiplayer with the new inclusion of Archon mode but it doesn’t sound too popular. The co-op missions are fun but Blizzard is only at seven commanders and missions which makes things get repetitive after a while. They’re rumoured to be looking to add more commanders and missions over time but I think the emphasis should be on missions since that’s where your game variety comes in. If none of that strikes your fancy, Arcade has a whole host of minigames to keep you busy. I do have a fondness for Zealot Hockey.
Also, the ladder is evil. Most gamers’ time will be spent on the ladder but it’s evil. For all the emphasis on micro skills in LOTV 1v1, it’s still a game focused on macro so don’t slack on your economy if you want to win.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about LOTV is that there’s something for everyone to do. It would be easy to make just a single-player RTS or just a multiplayer RTS but StarCraft has those and co-op modes and minigames and achievements all over the place to keep you busy. I suddenly understand why people can spend hundreds of hours playing it.
If I can make the time, I’ll be writing a full review over the course of the next couple of weeks. My Lowdown partner-in-crime Jackie was the one who turned me onto this game and after playing through about half of it, I couldn’t help but wonder how it wasn’t on more best of 2015 lists.
Until Dawn is a gorgeous, if technically feeble, homage to 90s teen slasher movies. This is a marvelous looking game but Digital Foundry’s testing showed that the game would run anywhere from 20 to 40 FPS. The wide range in frames per second is pretty easily perceptible to my eye but I’m getting used to seeing these swings in FPS on my PC.
While it’s not a technical marvel and therefore not even a really great showpiece for the PS4, it gets the genre right. It’s a hybrid of a David Cage game and a 90s teen slasher flick. The plot, characters, setting, ambience, musical stings and everything else you would expect from your stereotypical slasher movie is done perfectly. Combine that with the fact that your actions and decisions decide the fate of the characters and you have one of my favourite games of 2015.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I haven’t had nearly enough time with The Witcher 3 to complete it. How Long To Beat claims an average time to beat of over 40 hours and I’m maybe a handful of hours in at my trademark slow pace. It doesn’t take long to realize that TW3 is a special game.
The first thing that you realize is the game’s sense of scale. Going anywhere feels like it’s an adventure in and of itself. There are enough side quests and busy work to keep you busy for some 40 hours beyond the 40 hours that the main story is supposed to take. You couple that with the amazing graphics, voice acting, soundtrack and storytelling and you have what’s become one of the consensus best games of 2015.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Much like The Witcher 3, I haven’t had that much time to power through it. It’s a 40-hour game but I’ve only got so many hours to game and write and far too little of it to spend on games I don’t have review code for. I’m probably not a popular person with a few PR companies.
Anyway, MGS5 was the subject of much controversy, almost entirely caused by Konami. To think that the sniper in a bikini character (Quiet) was going to be the big controversy. Instead, it was about Konami trying to scrub Hideo Kojima’s name off the game, cancelling the planned Silent Hills which Kojima was working on and rushing MGS5 out the door before it was complete. I’d hazard that Konami’s actions probably cost MGS5 quite a few GOTY awards.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the first (main) game in the franchise to move the player into an open-world. I’ll admit to being a little overwhelmed in my first mission. Running and gunning seemed like a poor option. So did stealth but stealth killing people was the only choice I had if I didn’t want to just run and hide (a third viable option). It was that variety of options that set The Phantom Pain apart from the previous efforts in the MGS franchise.
I’m sure as I get further into the game, I’ll come across some of Kojima’s trademarks such as the anti-war stance. I’ve already seen some of the legendary epic cutscenes and some of the strange moments that seem to be trademarks of Hideo Kojima’s games. Games usually start slow but MGS5 throws you right into the middle of the action at the start. It’s a memorable way to start even if it was in all the pre-release trailers.
Heroes of the Storm
Blizzard’s entry into the MOBA genre has been in development since around 2010 when Blizzard DOTA was just a mod in Wings of Liberty. Since then, it’s become its own standalone entry into the genre which spent some 13 months in various stages of alpha and beta testing before getting released this June.
I’ve been in and out of HOTS since launch. There are negative points when you compare it to other MOBAs. For example, I don’t like the relative lack of vision around the maps without wards. I also find that I actually have more play sessions where people are annoying salty and require muting than I have in League. On the plus side, HOTS is so very different from the rest of the MOBAs on the market. It keeps the core of the MOBA mechanics intact but putting a unique spin on the genre.
I know that jungle camps that push lanes and no item shop and no individual XP and no bans in ranked mode keep away those who are used to the standard MOBA fare from League or Dota. However, no other MOBAs have characters like Abathur, Cho’Gall or The Lost Vikings. No other MOBAs are built around teamfighting and objectives as the primary key to success. And no other MOBAs have average match times of under 22 minutes.
Sure, Heroes of the Storm might have a reputation for being a MOBA geared towards the casual players. However, not everyone in a MOBA should need to be super serious (though good luck finding people without that mindset in any MOBA match). If you’ve never played a MOBA before, this is as good a place to start as any. If you’ve become disenfranchised with the genre, it’s a nice little corner of the MOBA world to get back in on.
When you think of how crowded the shooter genre is, you wouldn’t think that the top game in it in 2015 would be a game that’s rated E for Everyone and has minimal violence. Yet here we are talking about Splatoon. If you told me that the best shooter of 2015 would be a family friendly game by Nintendo, I would have thought you mad. Instead, it’s Nintendo showing that they aren’t willing to lie down and play dead when third-party developers and publishers seem to want them to.
Rather than your standard shooter with chest-high walls or randomly firing bullets, Splatoon was a game about covering as much of the map as you could in your team’s colour of paint using either paintgun weaponry or brush-based weapons. Sure, you could gain an advantage by splattering your opponents with your paint and “killing” them so you would enjoy a temporary man advantage but the goal keeps you focused on painting first and KD ratio second. If only people playing HOTS had as good a mentality about objective as Splatoon players.
With third-parties not running in with support for shooters on the Wii U, Nintendo just went out and did it themselves. They created one of the best shooters of the year and an award-winning multiplayer experience too. And just when we thought that Nintendo might be running out of steam, they come out with a new IP that they can get one game per generation out of from here on out.
You Must Build a Boat
Usually, game sequels are just rehashes of the original game with a few new mechanics thrown in to make it feel a little different. Sometimes there’s just a new story or some graphical polish. You Must Build a Boat is the sequel to 10000000. The basic principle is the same: To progress, you slide tiles to match three or more tiles as you run through a dungeon. There were also some RPG elements thrown in for good measure.
YMBAB continues on from the previous game. Now that you’ve escaped, you must build a boat to presumably return whence you came. EightyEight Games shook things up by adding multiple levels with unique visuals, music and monsters which was an improvement over the single level in 10000000. The RPG elements have been amped up with more than just equipment upgrades which makes completing your assigned goals a priority so you don’t get quickly annihilated in subsequent levels.
It’s a hybrid between the casual games that are exemplified by these match-three type games and more core experiences that are exemplified by the combat and RPG elements. YMBAB is a nice bridge between what I would stereotype a mobile game as and what I’m looking for from a game, regardless of platform. I can’t wait until EightyEight’s next game.
One of my favourite recurring segments on the former Top Gear was the various car sports that the presenters played. They did these events once a year at most which made every time they played special. Rocket League doesn’t quite hold up over repeated sessions like watching Richard Hammond slamming into James May.
What Rocket League does right is that burst of adrenaline you get from real sports as you gear up for that big play. Even a quick match casual like me still busted my ass when I saw a clean shot on goal or knew I had to fly in for a big save. With other sports games, there’s a disconnect between the buttons you push and the actions on screen. Rocket League might have the closest one-to-one ratio between your actions and the results on-screen.
Rocket League is a fun little game and certainly has gotten its fair share of praise. I would have thought it would be higher on my list considering how high it is on everyone else’s but I was never really drawn back into it. When I moved onto other games, I never felt compelled to come back even for short sessions. It had its burst of popularity at launch but I never particularly cared after that.
And as I tend to do on my year-end lists, here are a few more great games in 2015 that I haven’t played but certainly plan to as soon as possible.
Super Mario Maker
In a gaming world where people are more than content to create their own worlds, what’s wrong with a big publisher releasing their own game that does the same? Super Mario Maker takes the old SNES Mario Paint game and updates it to modern standards.
Okay, that last statement does SMM a disservice but that was the original vision. Super Mario Maker allows players to design their own Super Mario levels and share them online. It sounds so simple in concept but the result is nearly endless gameplay at any difficulty level that you want. To get the value out of SMM, you need to be connected online but nowadays, very nearly all gamers are online.
Of all the games this year, this is supposed to be a near-consensus GOTY nominee. You would think that the Wii U not getting a new Zelda or Star Fox game would make it a bad year but they didn’t do too badly thanks in part to Super Mario Maker.
The little indie darling that is expected to be poached for ideas for years. As I understand it, the premise of Undertale is that your decisions actually matter. Yes, I realize that’s a catchphrase that we’ve been hearing for years from the games industry but all it took was one man to actually put it into action.
Critics loved the fact that you could choose your own approach to combat and play a run of the game that was anywhere from full pacifist to full genocide and have the characters react to you in different ways depending on how you play the game. That’s the real difference between Undertale and so many other games. This game is impacted by your choices. Combined with an estimated eight-hour play time, it pretty much screams replayability.
There was also a lot said about the writing of Undertale. Critics praised the humour and the characters of the game. Witty is how the game is often described. These are also descriptors that we often hear applied to games. I recall hearing that about Tales from the Borderlands and you’ll notice that it’s not on this list.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
In a year when both Rock Band and Guitar Hero returned to the current generation of consoles, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes was 2015’s hot party game. Okay, it probably didn’t sell as well as either of the other two games but this is the one that captured the core gamer’s imagination. A little asymmetric co-op multiplayer game where only one player can actually play but probably isn’t the most important member of the team.
Watching let’s plays of Keep Talking, I wondered how this game wouldn’t result in crippled friendships and I’m a terrible enough person to want to see how this works in practice. There’s plenty of room for blame to be thrown around when things go wrong. It’s like the Monopoly of the gaming world. It’s so absurd and different that I look at it as a game I could play with non-gamer friends. I have far too many of those.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
When you ask people about the year’s top PS4 exclusives, the likes of Bloodborne, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and Rocket League will rightly be at the top of the list. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture will be at the top of some lists and at the bottom of others.
Developers The Chinese Room have a reputation for being divisive among gamers. Ask fans of the Amnesia franchise to compare Frictional’s The Dark Descent to The Chinese Room’s A Machine for Pigs. They have a reputation for making very atmospheric games that often rightly get called walking simulators.
Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture is similar to previous The Chinese Room efforts in that it’s more about atmosphere than gameplay. Sometimes, that makes for a very good experience. Others, you just wish that the game would come to a swift end. It’s the same with critics and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. There are six perfect scores and 22 more scores at or above 90%. Alternatively, there are nine scores at or below 50%. I’ve had scores on either end of the spectrum when reviewing walking simulators so I’m interested to see where this one lands.