2015 was a very good year to me in terms of video games. I was able to complete the most games ever in a single year (42), which is pretty surprising given that I put 200+ hours into both Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. My Game of the Year list is really all over the place because of the plethora of experiences available over the past 12 months. This leads me to believe that the current console generation is really maturing well along with the continued presence from indie developers. In fact, 2015 stands as one of the better years in gaming for me; making the process of selecting my list very difficult.
Of course, a difficult GOTY list is always a good thing and, because I liked so many titles this year, I have quite a few honorable mentions I’d like to get in before the list proper. As you’ll soon find out, 2015 was a heck of a year.
The Uncharted Collection – I was a 360 owner during the past console generation, so I missed out on this great series. The remaster is an incredible value and the big set pieces have aged well. That said, it didn’t feel right putting this game in the top 10 when so many new games were so great. In 2014, this probably makes the list, but not here.
Citizens of Earth – This was a game I was really looking forward to in early 2015. It’s Earthbound inspiration was evident and the battle system looked interesting. Sadly, myriad technical issues pushed it down the list.
Not A Hero – I like Not A Hero’s styyyyle and Bunny Lord is a pretty fun character. Unfortunately, the game quickly becomes pretty repetitive and, though I enjoyed my time, there are better games from this year.
The Order: 1886 – This one had a lot of potential. While the gameplay was lackluster, the graphics were super slick and the story had some interesting hooks that should’ve turned into a solid story. Then the game ends during the first act and we’re left wondering if Ready at Dawn will ever get funding to finish what was apparently seen as a trilogy.
Fallout 4 – In my “Thoughts On” article about this game, I compared it to a synth. On the surface, it looks and plays better than past games in the series, but it lacks the heart that made those old games special. I stand by the comparison and still can’t recommend this game. That said, I have to assume that anything I was able to play for 200+ hours is, in some way, “good”, so I’ll give it an honorable mention to sate my ego.
Her Story – It’s barely a game and the story is preeetty dumb. That said, I think the story has be “out there” if you want to make the gameplay experience worth it. This is a very interesting experiment in how to do interactive story-telling and I hope Sam Barlow gets to continue pushing the medium in new and interesting ways.
Tales From the Borderlands – Tales was probably going to make my list due to its humor and solid characters. But then another game came along and demonstrated how powerful episodic, narrative-driven games could be, and Telltale’s brand become infinitely less impressive. This is, for all intents and purposes, number 11 on this list and you really should play it. I just think there are better games out there.
10) Rocket League
The nature of my job is that I’m basically working 16 hours a day, seven days a week during the summer. So, you’ll forgive me if I missed the initial rush of love for Rocket League. In fact, during that first month, my only real knowledge of the game was my brother texting me things like, “yo, this Rocket League game is pretty good” and, “I can’t stop playing”. As soon as my summer season wrapped up, Rocket League was the first thing I jumped into and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. As I get older, I’ve started to value fun-factor above just about anything else (other than maybe story) in video games. I don’t really care if it looks pretty or if there are some buggy technical stuff, I just focus on how much fun I had when I was playing it. Rocket League wasn’t the most fun I had in gaming this year, but Psyonix has seemingly synthesized a “fun-drug” and turned into a video game that, much like my brother, “I can’t stop playing”.
9) Until Dawn
Until Dawn is a game you can play through in an afternoon. For some, that’s a turnoff because “eight hours isn’t worth my 60 bucks”, or something like that. If you get past that, you’ll find my favorite horror game of the year (though I haven’t gotten around to SOMA) that takes a great teen slasher and turns it into a David Cage-esque Quick Time Event game. The writing is appropriately campy, the characters are spectacular in their own ways, and your choices actually matter. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday night.
8) Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Your mileage with Keep Talking likely comes down to whether or not you can find a good group to play with. Luckily for me, I play countless board games with my friends and family, so Keep Talking was a pretty easy sell to both of my board game groups. It doesn’t get much better than watching your mom and grandma try to “work with” your aunt to solve a puzzle using Morse Code. And when I say “working with”, what I really mean is your aunt is yelling and terrified because there’s only 30 seconds left, your grandma is so confused she can’t see straight and your mom is yelling at you, asking, “why are you laughing at me? The world is about to explode!” If you have a party coming up, put down your 15 bucks, print out the manual and prepare for big laughs and bigger thrills. Of all the games on my list, I can easily see Keep Talking being relevant five years from now because of how great it is as a party game.
7) Nuclear Throne
It feels kind of weird putting Nuclear Throne on this list when I’ve probably only played 4-5 hours of it. Compared to my 300 hours in Binding of Issac, that feels like nothing in a Roguelite. That said, in games like these, when I know, then I know; and I know that Nuclear Throne is my favorite Roguelite in quite awhile. Right now it feels super fast and hectic, but I can slowly feel it slowing down and my skills are catching up to the point of respectability. If you liked Issac, I would give NT a try.
What follows is a typical conversation my girlfriend and I had during my first Undertale playthrough:
GF: What have you been up to today?
Me: Well, I went to go fight this skeleton, but couldn’t beat him, so he captured me. I escaped and then he captured me again. That happened like four times before he took pity on me and realized that I just wanted to flirt with him. So he invited me on a date where we ate spaghetti and he showed his room and his “cool dude” clothes. Then we went on a super date, during which he decided I loved him more than he loved me, so he couldn’t date me and instead we just became best friends. I have his number now and we talk a lot, but it’s totally platonic.
That’s why Undertale is on my list. It’s dumb. It’s silly. I love it. Now it’s time to see the other endings.
Bloodborne is first real experience with a Souls game (I played DS2 on the 360 for a few hours, but then they announced that they would port the game to PS4, so I decided to wait and sent it) and I was in love from my first death. The punishing difficultly is something that I’ve craved in my AAA releases for awhile. When I turn most games up to their highest difficult, it feels more cheap than hard, which is why I gravitated so much to games like the Binding of Issac. In Issac, and Bloodborne, your death is your fault. The game isn’t cheesing you by sending out stupid amounts of enemies or limiting your health. It’s your execution that put your corpse on the floor and execution is something you can work on. I still haven’t beaten Bloodborne, but it has been such a great experience for me that I’m salivating at the impending Dark Souls 3 release in early 2016.
4) The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
Prior to 2015 started, I probably would’ve told you that The Witcher 3 would be the front-runner for my game of the year. And for awhile, it looked like that would be the case. The opening 20-30 hours are pretty incredible story-telling and the character building is some of the best in the business. But then the boring gameplay starts to wear on you and the story slows down considerably. By the end of the game, it felt more like a slog than I had expected and, even though I loved most of my experience, the full experience never captivated me like those first big quests did. Of course, I still think it’s the fourth best game in a year full of huge games, so it’s far from a bad game. It’s just not quite as great as I thought it would be. Well worth your time though.
3) Super Mario Maker
I’ve probably watched more Super Mario Maker than I’ve actually played this year; largely due to the excellent Dan Ryckert-Patrick Klepek feud that lasted the entirety of the fall. That said, this level editing tool is an incredible game that really should have been on Wii U from Day 1. That would’ve undoubtedly driven a few more console sales for Nintendo. Sadly, it took a few years to get Wii U a real “system-seller” and, with The Big N seemingly looking ahead to the NX, it’s tough to see SMM having as big of impact outside of core gamers that it could have. That’s really a shame because, like Wii Sports, SMM makes this platform. You simply couldn’t do this game without the gamepad and the core Mario game is fun for casuals and hardcore players alike. Nonetheless, I sure am excited to have infinite Mario in my future.
2) Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange is the most powerful game I’ve played in a long time. This narrative-based game from DontKnod forced me to take a step back from the story being told and examine my own life. That’s something great art does and I can’t remember that happening for me before in a video game. I realize that the reasons this game spoke to me are deeply personal and aren’t something everyone is going latch onto. That said, even without those big, personal moments, I think the story told here is pretty interesting and the time-warp mechanic is the best addition we’ve had to the Telltale formula. As I said in my “Thoughts On” article, this game is worth your time. More so than almost anything else released in 2015.
1) Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Like I said in my Rocket League entry above, fun factor has become huge for me of late. I honestly can’t think of a more fun experience I had in 2015 than playing through MGSV. Yes, the story is pretty garbage and, in some ways, it barely feels like Metal Gear game. However, the moment-to-moment gameplay is so engrossing and open, that it doesn’t really matter. Kojima really, truly nailed “Tactical Espionage” in a way that has never happened before.
I don’t want to get into too much hyperbole, but I would probably call this the most technically perfect game I’ve ever played. Would I love to have 10 more hours of story that actually explains things in a way that satisfies us fans? Absolutely. But if you put the story aside and just analyze the gameplay, there wasn’t a better, more fun game released in 2015. And that’s why it tops my list.