If I were to wrap up 2015 in one word for me it would simply be “time.” As in I ain’t got enough of it. Life got real busy this year as my time usually spent playing video games gave way to other, more family-centric things. Since my children are still too young to be co-op buddies for games like Destiny, I find myself doing other things or playing more friendly games like Super Mario 3D World or LEGO Jurassic Park. Similar to Addam’s list, I’m stuck with a bunch of games I still need to play or games that I need to go back and finish.
It was also a year where I feel like there isn’t one particular game that everyone seems to be loving. There were many standouts this year but none that felt like runaway successes or clear winners for Game of the Year like I’ve seen in the past couple of years with games like Destiny, Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us. Still I’m left with a lot of good games, ones that I personally absolutely loved. But before I get started I have some honorable mentions to get to.
Mario Party 10
Of the games that launched in 2015, Mario Party 10 is probably my most played title. Now naturally this is because I have played an astonishing number of hours with my wife and kids, but it still stands up as a fun experience every time I play. The weird way they went with linear boards and everyone moving together on one vehicle is very unnerving for a long time Mario Party player, but once you play it enough, you see that the main focus is still competing in the mini-games and getting that lucky roll that ends with you ruthlessly stealing stars from someone else. Add in cool mini-bosses and an incredibly unique Bowser mode utilizing the Wii U Gamepad and you have a solid entry in the series.
When I first heard the idea of Evolve and saw the talent behind it, naturally I drew comparisons to Left 4 Dead. I feel like there’s a lot of hate out there for Evolve and, although I can see the faults, it was a game that I had a ton of fun with under the right circumstances. In other words when I got together with my PC Elite crew and played four player co-op versus an AI controlled monster or a full five person roster with a rotating monster, there was a lot of fun and depth to be had with Evolve. A brilliant idea that maybe didn’t quite hit the mark but, outside of Destiny, it was the most fun I had online this year.
Batman: Arkham Knight
So apparently I was one of the few players out there who had only minor issues with Arkham Knight on PC. Some mild framerate stuttering whenever you raced through the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile about summed up my problems. Luckily I got to experience Arkham Knight the way it was meant to be played and it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. The main storyline is fantastic and as with every Arkham game before it I felt compelled to run around completing every last Riddler challenge and wrapping up each side mission. The Batmobile stuff didn’t quite click like I would have liked but from the open world to what I still think is the best melee combat around, Batman: Arkham Knight was a great ride.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara’s latest adventure reminds me a lot of Far Cry 4. I can see all of the same elements that I loved in the previous game, and I can see the various ways that improvements have been made, but for some reason it just can’t pull me in quite as much. I enjoyed every second of Rise of the Tomb Raider, which features gorgeous, varied environments, great exploration, brutal combat and finally a bunch of tombs! Even with all these great features, I still found myself mildly underwhelmed. The original Tomb Raider reboot stuck with me long after it was done, while Rise just doesn’t have the same effect. Even still, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an incredibly enjoyable experience that I would recommend anyone check out.
Now for my actual Top 5:
5. Dying Light
I had basically no expectations for Dying Light. Everything I ever heard about Dead Island was that people enjoyed it despite all of the problems and glitches. Luckily for me, Dying Light is completely absent of these issues, instead providing a wonderful, parkour-filled open world to run around in and open endless containers in the hopes of finding shiny loot. Oh and also there are zombies. The concept of using noise to attract stronger, faster zombies is a cool idea and the brilliant night-time mechanic that offers a great risk-reward setup always got your heart pumping when you just barely made it to a safe zone with a trail of zombies behind you. Even with zombie games starting to die out in popularity, Dying Light shows that there is still really good things to be done in the genre.
4. Until Dawn
I have always enjoyed David Cage’s story-driven, QTE-laden games. However each of his titles has had its own issues that have kept them from being truly amazing games. Leave it to Supermassive Games, probably best known for making LittleBigPlanet DLC, for achieving and surpassing anything Quantic Dream has done so far. Until Dawn is a game drenched in B-movie horror/thriller action. It provides great atmosphere that will certainly give you chills and the threat of knowing that any of the game’s characters can die, leads to a lot of tension when making decisions like whether to run or hide or when going through complex QTEs.
More importantly, though, are that the decisions are rarely laid out to easily see what the best action is. The relationships between characters could easily determine whether someone will save someone in a certain situation, while simple choices, like whether or not to shoot a bird, can have serious ramifications. The game also adapts itself based on your choices using the Analyst, a scene-chewing figured played by Peter Stormare. Tell him that you are afraid of clowns? Now the bad guy is going to be wearing a clown mask. It’s meta in a way that you don’t see often and works great. Until Dawn nails the element of choice, making for an experience that truly ends up as your own.
3. Tales from the Borderlands
I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Telltale Games. I play nearly all of them but something about the sheer amount of games they put out and the massive amount of waiting in between episodes has started to turn me sour. All that being said, Tales from the Borderlands sits as yet another great example of how Telltale can apparently turn almost any property into gold. Settling their tried and true formula in the incredibly stylistic world of Pandora, we get perhaps the most complex story yet, with two protagonists set against a framed narrative that sometimes delves into delightful embellishment rather than straightforward retelling of events. Most impressive is that Tales from the Borderlands is pure comedy, and much more often than not it hits just the right beats.
The series is full of great moments, like the return of the always hilarious Handsome Jack, a somber trip into space and, best of all, a finger-gun battle. Plus the ending plays out in straight up Mass Effect 2 style where all the choices you’ve made throughout the game culminate to offer multiple ways to deal with the game’s final baddie. Even better than all of the great moments is the characters you get to know. For the first time in a Telltale game, I found myself making decisions more based on how I felt the characters would choose, not just how I felt about the situation. I think that goes to show just how strong the storytelling has become for Telltale.
2. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 is an absolutely daunting game to tackle. I have picked it up and put it down several times, through no fault of its own, just because of the scale and sheer amount of stuff to do in the game. What is perhaps most impressive with The Witcher 3 is that so much of the content, from main quests down to simple contracts, are all thought out, interesting quests. Most similar open-worlds RPGs will give you quests like “hey go to this place, kill all the things and then come back.” In stark contrast many side quests are barely indistinguishable from the main questline with involving, multi-faceted steps and usually a fair bit of choice involved as well.
To go with the massive amount of content in The Witcher 3 comes a living, breathing world filled with wonder and evil. Characters are complex and often transcend stereotypes – this goes for both humans and non-humans alike. World design and creature design are similarly top notch. It also doesn’t hurt that the game is absolutely gorgeous both from a technical and artistic level. Gameplay can be brutal at times but Geralt’s motions in combat give a true flow and feeling of actual swordsmanship. Even not having finished the main quest line, I have no qualms saying The Witcher 3 is one of my favorite games of the year.
1. Ori and the Blind Forest
While I talked about how there aren’t many obvious standouts for Game of the Year in the industry as a whole, for me personally no game this year comes even close to affecting me as much as Ori and the Blind Forest. The game opens up with a charming, hand-crafted world filled with wonder and beauty. The entire game feels like a Studio Ghibli film in the absolute best way. The scenery is lovely to look at and the music is soft and arresting. Then the game gives you a swift punch to the stomach, causing one of the quickest turnarounds from pure joy to pure sadness I’ve experienced. People are making references to the beginning of Up for a good reason.
From there on you are treated to a glorious journey that manages to nail the gameplay as strongly it does visuals. On the outside it might look like something light and fluffy but in reality it is a hardcore, twitch-based platformer. It requires perfect timing, fast reactions and, like the best platformers out there, feels immensely rewarding when you finally do pull off the perfect sequence. Aided by the ability to practically save anywhere, it avoids most of the annoyances associated with brutal platformers of its ilk.
Like I said, no game affected me anywhere near as much as Ori and the Blind Forest. Joy. Sadness. Tension. Fear. Happiness. Anxiety. Relief. The game forces you to run the gauntlet of emotions like few games ever have. It delivers on every level it can, resulting in what I easily think is my favorite game of 2015.