Wednesday, December 30, 2015

THE BEST OF 2015 - The Best GAMES Of The Year


- If there's any quick-and-easy way to categorize gaming in 2015, it's that this was the year that the big guns came to play. For the last couple of years, it still felt like we were in that awkward adolescent phase of the latest consoles' lifespan. There were a handful of interesting Triple-A games, a lot of very interesting indie games, but few huge, era-defining blockbusters. It was starting to feel like the way forward for gaming was via the indie game revolution. Maybe we didn't need the big blockbusters anymore. Maybe, even as console hardware grew more powerful, the influence of mobile gaming and digital distribution was taking gaming back to basics.

Well, in 2015 big blockbuster gaming roared back to life, as several megaton releases showcased the power of the PS4 and XBOX One, and made the argument that there is still an immersive experience and a wow-factor that you just can't get elsewhere. Games like Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight, and more reigned supreme in 2015. And yet, they co-existed with another wave of amazing and innovative indie games - of which I've only played a fraction. But having the ability to switch between the big AAA games and smaller art-games and retro-throwbacks made gaming great this year. After a period of uncertainty - was console gaming on its last legs? - things finally seemed to fall into place. The games industry seems to be in a relatively good place.

The industry also seemed to finally move past the ugliness of last year's GamerGate fiasco. Sure, there were still remnants of it here and there. But mostly, gaming culture seemed to step up to the challenge of more diverse games and less exclusionary practices both in the games themselves and in the communities that surround them.

There are still some troubling things that cause concern about the industry's future though. The continued struggles of Japanese developers, for one thing. The seeming implosion of Konami seems like a bad portent. If Konami is really getting away from major mainstream game development, that's a sad moment for the industry. There's also a lot of question about Nintendo's future. The Wii U's prospects seem to have lifted a bit this year, with some well-received games (Super Mario Maker, Splatoon, etc.). But where do they go from here? It will be interesting to see whether there's a new Nintendo console announced this year, and it will be interesting to see if the Big N finally tries to be a real competitor to Sony and XBOX - with a new console that can play home to multiplatform games, which for two generations now their consoles have sorely lacked.

And here's hoping that first-party game output ramps up a bit in 2016. I'm excited, for example, that Sony finally seems to have a stacked first-party lineup for the coming year, with much-anticipated games like Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last Guardian on the horizon. This year, I was lucky enough to attend E3 once again. As amazing of an experience as it was, it did feel like the presentations of both Sony and Microsoft felt lackluster. Let's hope that this year's show brings with it some huge new game announcements and surprises. I know that there is sometimes negativity about E3, with people wondering whether the games industry relies too heavily on this once-a-year event to get fans excited about its upcoming product and games launches. I see the point, but I also think E3 is one of the unique things about the gaming industry that makes it so special - a week of pure excitement and anticipation that is like a week of Christmas for video game fans.

On a personal level, this was one of my busiest years ever. Long work days and a re-focus on things like writing kept me from playing anywhere near as many games as I would have liked. And the ones I did play ... well, let's just say that I've only barely scratched the surface of many of my favorites from this year. But I remain incredibly excited about gaming and where it's going. Even with all of the sequels and re-makes out there, I still feel like this is a medium where originality, weirdness, artistry, and innovation still shines and is celebrated. It's a medium with so much cool stuff going on that there's endless room for discovery and discussion. Games were great in 2015, no question.


1.) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

- I finally got to really dive into this one over the holidays, and was sort of blown away. I mean, I loved Skyrim, but I also ultimately prefer games with great stories and characters. And The Witcher 3 felt like the perfect melding of Skyrim's vast open-world high adventure and fantasy with the sort of detailed story/character work we've seen in series like Mass Effect. I also found the combat in the game to be relatively intuitive and a lot of fun - something that can't be said for most of its competition. And finally, the graphics in this one are just unbelievable - with a beautifully-rendered world to explore and discover.

2.) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

- Metal Gear Solid is maybe my favorite game series ever. I love the mix of badassery and quirkiness. The fifth entry in Hideo Kojima's groundbreaking franchise does not disappoint - a sprawling open-world twist on classic MGS gameplay that also serves as a satisfying swan song to the series. There's been a lot of talk about Kojima's departure from Konami and what it means not just for the company he helped build, but for games in general. I will say this: the fact that a series like Metal Gear - with all its weirdness and idiosyncrasies - can be one of gaming's most revered - well, that's part of why I love the world of gaming. This is a huge blockbuster, sure - but it's also the intensely personal vision of one guy. How many more games like that will we ever see? The end of Kojima's Metal Gear may very well be the end of an era - and for that it should be celebrated.

3.) Tie: Fallout 4 / Batman: Arkham Knight

- Fallout 4 was my first journey into the wasteland, and I was immediately won over by the scope and scale of the world and its endless possibility. The epic opening - in which you see your character's idyllic suburban life shattered by the threat of nuclear war - immediately hooked me in. And I'm now definitely on the bandwagon of loving the series' 1950's-meets-post-apocalypse aesthetic. Plus, this one lets you explore an irradiated version of Boston - how cool is that? Seeing familiar Beantown locations that have been irrevocably-altered post-bomb drop never gets old.

As for Batman: Arkham Knight, well, I love the Arkham series. The latest iteration was, overall, excellent. The graphics were mind-blowingly good, the story was suitably epic, and Gotham has never been more immersive or amazingly-rendered. My only issue was - no big surprise - the Batmobile. As others have talked about at length, the mechanics around the Batmobile just felt clunky - especially as compared to the ultra smooth swinging and combat that have made the series so slick in the past. Batmobile aside though, Arkham Knight is a fitting end to the trilogy, which when all is said and done is one of the coolest Bat-things ever in the history of Batman.

4.) Axiom Verge

- I love the whole "Metroidvania" genre of 2D action-adventure. So Axiom Verge, a lovingly made tribute to games like Metroid was right up my alley. The game looks, sounds, and feels awesome - with just-right throwback graphics and a badass 80's-synth score that evokes the old NES classics. And it's got the classic blast-and-discover gameplay that made games like Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night such all-time greats. What's more, the game knowingly plays with the conventions of the genre, turning certain expectations upside down and introducing intentional glitches in the system that are actually part of the gameplay. If you love old-school games, Axiom Verge is a must-play.

5.) Until Dawn

- A meta horror-adventure game that's like Cabin in the Woods in game form? I'm down. Until Dawn is an interesting game - it's relatively light on gameplay, but it sucks you in with its winning writing, atmosphere, and horror-movie bonafides. It reminded me of Telltale's games in terms of how involving it was - simply by creating the feeling that your every decision is driving the story forward. Plus, give Until Dawn points for originality. An interactive cabin-in-the-woods horror game is such a no-brainer, it's amazing it hasn't been done until now. But Until Dawn pulls off this amazing yet simple concept with style and endless entertainment value.

Other 2015 Recommendations:

- Rocket League
- Game of Thrones (Telltale series)
- Shovel Knight (new to PS4)
- Grim Fandango: Remastered
- NBA 2K16

No comments:

Post a Comment