My 2015 was a little bit like Luke’s: I never felt like I had a shortage of cool things to play at any given moment, but when I sat down to pick my top ten, I wasn’t all that overwhelmed by my options.
In past years, I’ve always wound up listing more than ten games. (Those lists: 2012, 2013, 2014.) This year, it wasn’t difficult just sticking with the ten. That’s partly because I wasn’t all that won over by some of the year’s big indie darlings, and partly because I didn’t spend enough time with my Wii U. That being said, some of the games I played in 2015 will likely endure as all-time-favourites, so it’s hard to feel too put out about anything.
At any rate! Let’s do this. Here are my favourite games from 2015.
Tales From The Borderlands
One of the funniest games I’ve played in a long time, and a welcome surprise on several levels. It actually wasn’t the Borderlands part that surprised me — I played Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, and I know how charming the Borderlands universe can be. What I wasn’t expecting was how well it’d work with all of the shooting and looting removed and the story put front and center. Tales From The Borderlands was just the sort of wacky sci-fi caper that so lends itself to the Telltale storytelling format, and they pulled it all together with good humour, style, and heart. It certainly didn’t hurt that they lined up a murderer’s row of voice talent (let’s not forget that other time Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Ashley Johnson were all in the same game) as well as some of the best licensed music choices I’ve ever seen outside of Grand Theft Auto. I’ll never forget you, Loader Bot.
Turns out my motto is, “If it’s enough like Far Cry 2, I will enjoy it.” I wasn’t expecting all that much from Dying Light, truth be told. I wasn’t a big fan of Techland’s last game, Dead Island, and wasn’t convinced they could actually nail the first-person-melee-zombie-parkour thing that they were going for with their follow-up. How cool, then, that the finished game managed not only to get all that right, but also managed to channel some of the more unforgiving, immersive qualities that I so love in a game. Great graffiti, too.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Speaking of games that are like Far Cry 2… how’s it going, Snake? So: This fucking game. I know that the story was a total mess even by Metal Gear standards. I know that it had crucial scenes cut and that the ending was, generally, a huge disappointment. I know that the game was apparently the result of some shitty practices by a publisher whose top brass really seem like they ought to know better. But I can get around all of that, because when it comes down to it, The Phantom Pain is the finest stealth game I’ve ever played. It’s so good at so much of the video game stuff that I love most, with a ridiculous number of complex systems that interlock with a fluidity that I’ve never before encountered. I’d grown so used to the expected limitations of video games that for a good 10 or 20 hours, I honestly didn’t know what to expect next. How smart are these enemies? How expansive is this simulation? How deep does this Mother Base business go? After 100 hours, I’ve got all of those questions more or less answered, but I’ll be returning to Metal Gear Solid V for a long time to come.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
If you look at Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture in terms of its component parts, it doesn’t seem like much. Empty post-apocalyptic town, check. Lots of thinly disguised audio diaries, check. Minimal interaction, check. Yet this game managed to get under my skin, thanks in part to Jessica Curry’s phenomenal musical score, but thanks also to its consistent tone and the way it conjured such a thick, distinctly British blanket of mysterious emptiness. I played through this game several times — once as my visiting parents raptly looked on — and eventually wrote out a ridiculously overlong analysis of the characters and plot. I can tell you more about the townsfolk of Yaughton than I can about most fictional characters I encountered this year, largely because I had to piece so much of their stories together for myself. Turns out the biggest mystery wasn’t what happened to everybody, but who they were before the fall.
I’ve long had an appreciation of Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software’s Souls games, despite the fact that I’ve never actually managed to finish one. That all changed with Bloodborne, a game to which I fully committed myself, mind, body and soul. Every time I talk about this game, or read about this game, or hear this game’s music, or hear someone say “blood” in passing conversation, I feel a dark corner of my brain stir to life. I can still feel the controls under my fingers; the horizontal tautness of a sidestep and slice, the brilliant pop and pause of a perfectly timed counter. I play a lot of games, but few of them affect me with Bloodborne‘s distinct physicality, and few video game locations embed themselves in my brain like Bloodborne‘s city of Yharnam. What a hell of a thing.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Whenever I play Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, I try to put my finger on just what it is I like so much about it. It’s just another Assasssin’s Creed game, right? There’s still a map with a ton of icons to visit, the controls are still weird, the futuristic meta-story still falls flat. So why do I have such a fondness for this one, in particular? It’s the music, I’ll think. That’s part of it. It’s the city. That too. It’s the grappling hook. It’s Jacob Frye, being much more charming than his dopey hat suggested he’d be. It’s Evie Frye, kicking the shit out of a bunch of dudes in a fight club. It’s all of those things, I guess. I’ve always liked Assassin’s Creed games, and in the end, I liked this Assassin’s Creed game more than pretty much all the other ones.
As I neared what I assumed was Undertale‘s conclusion, I found myself charmed but faintly underwhelmed. Given how excited whole portions of the Internet had become over this game, I was expecting something more immediately amazing, more obviously impressive. Then I finished the game… and then I really finished the game, and: Yep. Undertale is brilliant. It all but requires full completion in order to understand it as a creative object, but now that I’ve achieved that understanding, I’m in awe that writer/designer Toby Fox was able to create it more or less on his own. I will never tire of seeing brilliant talent expresses itself, and Undertale is one of the purest expressions of brilliance I’ve encountered in a long time.
Life Is Strange
I remember editing Keza’s initial review of Dontnod’s Life is Strange‘s first episode way back in January and thinking, “An adventure game about supernatural teens at a private arts school in Oregon? How the hell did I not already know about this?” The game itself lived up to that initial promise, initially impressing me with its polish and presentation and eventually going in all sorts of crazy directions and unexpected places. For all weird narrative turns and various other issues — and there were issues, don’t get me wrong — I had a great time getting caught up in the lives of Chloe Price, Max Caulfield, and Max’s plant. I know, plant. I know. I’ll never forgive myself for what I did to you.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Rare is the 80-hour game that’s so good I play through it twice. Rarer still is the 80-hour game that I play through twice and still kind of want to play through for a third time. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is just such a rare game, and I shudder to fully account for the time I’ve sunk into this thing. Other rare things Wild Hunt accomplishes: It manages to be both goofy and actually mature in ways that its bawdy cleavage-ladies and metal-god hammer-bosses do not suggest at first glance. It manages to spin an epic yarn from a humble start to a fulfilling and affecting climax, and it threads that yarn over an unusually well-placed assortment of peaks and valleys. (Yarn can do that, right?) Developers CD Projekt Red displayed an exemplary commitment to improving and expanding their game after launch, all at no extra cost. Its first paid expansion was not a disappointment, and in fact in several ways outdid the base game. I’ve lost track of the number of times Luke Plunkett and I have wandered off whatever topic we were on to once again to geek out about how much we love this game, so I’ll just echo some of the things he called out in his own excellent tribute: The wind. The mountains. The midday sun. Geralt’s brief turn as a stage actor. Geralt’s stubble. “Thanks bunches.” The old friends, the new friends, and the goodbyes. The Bloody Baron. Yen. Ciri. Shani. And of course, the Unicorn.
Destiny: House Of Wolves And The Taken King
When I included Destiny on my list of 2014 favourites, I did so almost bashfully. I’d played so much of the game, committed myself to it so fully, that I couldn’t imagine leaving it off. This year, its inclusion is much more clear-cut: May’s House of Wolves expansion managed to finally get me invested in competitive crucible play, and my journey to the Lighthouse on Mercury remains one of my proudest video game accomplishments. On top of that, September’s The Taken King was a massive improvement to every other aspect of the game. I stopped regularly playing Destiny back in November, and I probably won’t be back until the next major expansion drops. But for a couple of months there, I thought I might never stop playing. More, I cried, give me more! More aliens, more guns, more engrams and hidden missions and easter eggs and stupid emotes and meta debates and devious crucible strategies. More reasons to play every day, more excuses to meet up with Jason and the rest of my Destiny bros and joyfully jump and race and shoot things together. And that’s just what Bungie gave us: more, more, more. Phew. I’m spent.
There you have ’em! My favourite games this year.
Games that I still really liked: Her Story, Ori and the Blind Forest, Invisible Inc., Until Dawn, GTA Online, SOMA, Helldivers
Games that probably could’ve been on here but that I didn’t play enough of because I’m only human: Pillars of Eternity, Downwell, Super Mario Maker, Splatoon, Prune, Rocket League, The Room 3, Rainbow Six Siege, doubtless like 20 others.
I hope you all found some good stuff to play in 2015, and that 2016 brings nothing but glad tidings for us all. Have a happy New Year, everyone.