Well folks, it’s another year down in the books, and with that we come to yet another look back at the best games of the year. 2015 was a bit of an odd one for videogames; looking back there was an absolute barrage of huge AAA games that were released like Witcher 3, Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, Star Wars Battlefront, Mad Max, Just Cause 3, the list goes on, but truthfully I barely played any of these and only really felt a connection with a handful of games. In fact, this list comprises just about every game I can even remember playing this year. That being said, this small group comprised of some very memorable experiences, and I’m extremely excited to see what these developers all do in the future.
Honorable Mention: Her Story, by Sam Barlow
Her Story was one of those games that comes out of nowhere every year and is a real genuine surprise, something I rarely get to experience anymore since I follow games so religiously. But one week early this year I heard a lot of industry people talking about how great and different it is so I figured hey, might as well check this out. I’m really glad I did because it really does provide a completely unique experience that’s pretty cool. Not quite game of the year level cool, but still very much memorable. The game looks like an emulated 90’s computer, and the gameplay consists of watching videos of an actual actress give a police testimony and trying to guess the keywords to search to find videos that unravel more of the story. The story is pretty creepy and interesting, and the game did a really good at making you feel smart like a detective every time you found a new video. But what the game does really well is making the player feel like a character in the game. Eventually you start to wonder, what’s the context here? Why am I looking through all these old testimonials on an old computer? It’s weird to think about while you’re looking through all these old videos. Altogether though, Her Story is a really well put together game with a great aesthetic and performance and is definitely worth a shot.
No. 5: Grow Home, by Ubisoft Reflections
One thing Ubisoft doesn’t get enough credit for is letting their developers make weird, little fun games to compliment their AAA catalogue. Last year, they released both Child of Light and Valiant Hearts, and this year Grow Home. Like Her Story, this one came out of nowhere and thankfully it launched on PS+ later that year else I might not have had a chance to play it. Grow Home is just really appealing in its simplicity. You’re just this cute little robot trying to climb up a giant plant, you know? The game mostly consists of controlling his arms and simply climbing up that plant, and using seeds on the stem to grow the plant upwards. It just knows what it wants to be and it succeeds exceptionally well. The bright polygonal art, insane sense of scale, and fun sound effects come together to create a really fun, charming experience.
No. 4: Until Dawn, by Supermassive Games
Until Dawn was a game I was really looking forward to this year. As a streamlined, choice driven story game a la Heavy Rain, it seemed like it would be right up my alley. And in the end, it did end up being a really great memorable game, just not one that I’d rank before Heavy Rain or even another game later in this list. Until Dawn’s basically a deconstruction of B horror movies, letting you control eight separate characters that all can either live or die based on your actions. It’s a pretty great premise, and it’s executed flawlessly. The writing does a pretty good job overall at making you feel for these characters, some more than others, and when some of them die you really feel down about it. In my playthrough, 6 of the 8 characters actually died and it’s really fun to talk and think about it and what you could have done differently to save them, or how other choices would have affected how the game plays out. Because in addition, the choices are really well handled and there are good pros and cons to almost every decision, making most choices something you need to think about. The only things holding it back for me were its pretty static color palette of muted blues, browns, and blacks and a few story elements here and there. Other than that, it’s a really fun game, especially if you’re playing with someone else watching and you can make the choices together.
No. 3: Batman: Arkham Knight, by Rocksteady Games
If you know me, you know that Batman’s probably one of the of the top two important things to me. It’s up there. So Arkham Knight was probably my most anticipated game going into this year. In fact for full disclosure, I spent about $140 in total on the game for the special edition and season pass, which in hindsight was perhaps a bit overboard. But for a sweet statue and the story to not be spoiled for me, I figured what the hell and bit the bullet. And in my review at the time, I really, really loved it. After some time has passed, I still really like, but there’s just something about Arkham Games that makes them quickly forgettable and sadly that still applies to this one. Perhaps it’s just that I’m still saudy about being forever stuck at one trophy away from the platinum or that the season pass was a complete and total waste of money, but I felt the same way about Arkham City and Asylum too. Thinking about it, these games are basically the open-world equivalent of Uncharted, essentially an action movie from start to finish where so much is always going on. Once you get off, though, you just move on. The game doesn’t resonate as much as most other games on this list, which is unfortunate because it does tell a really solid, fun story and is definitely the best of the series.
No. 2: Bloodborne, by From Software
Bloodborne was a game I was really interested in since it was announced but wasn’t really sure when I’d get around to it. But when it seemed like everybody in the industry was talking about it when it was released back in March, I decided to bite the bullet and jump on the ol’ hype train. And I’m really glad I did, because Bloodborne seriously changed the way I think about games and game design. It really does feel like, as Steve Burns put it, like learning another language. It uses all the same letters as the Latin alphabet, but the rules are so different. At face value, Bloodborne looks like any other game, but it just feels so different. And like everyone says, it’s really, really hard but in a fair way. Playing it though, I found you go through a clear set of emotions:
- This is awesome! I’ve heard it’s hard but I can take on anything! Haha I died, it’s so hard!
- Fuck, this is really hard, maybe I can’t do it, maybe it won’t click with me
- Oh my god I beat the Cleric Beast! I get it now!
- Wow, exploring in this game is awesome! I love this game haha!
- Oh my god, I beat it, but oh! There’s so much more! Like, a ton more!
- Man, when will this end… Just end already…
I’ve been chipping away at this for months now and finally, finally got the platinum so I can delete it and be done with it. Unfortunately, I had to end on feeling #6 so there’s a bit of a sour taste for me, but I did have a really great time with Bloodborne and it would’ve been my favorite game this year by far if it weren’t for this next game.
No. 1: Life is Strange, by Dontnod Entertainment
I don’t know how else to put it but Life is Strange is a really special game that everyone should play. It’s just a near perfect blend of smart gameplay and amazing writing. The main time travel mechanic is a really smart way to serve as both an interesting mechanic and story beat. Dontnod makes every decision feel important by giving legitimate pros and cons to each side of every decision so that it feels like every decision really impacts the story of the game. It’s really great about making decisions that aren’t the videogame cliché life-or-death choice like Heavy Rain or Until Dawn. Choices can be important that don’t end up with people dead, yea? Plus it’s such a great game to have conversations about and play with others. Like, my sister and I played through this game together and it was a really great time. It’s really easy to get emotionally connected to the not just Max and Chloe but all the side characters too, so all together it’s really been my favorite gaming experience this year and up there even with some of my favorites ever.