I sit here on December 30th as I enjoy one of the last glasses of gin I can have in 2015 pondering the games that impacted me the most this year and as I look back, I can’t help but think that the year was not one of negativity but of fantastic experiences. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that 2015 was one of the best years of gaming, but it was definitely a monumental one for me. I made less video content than ever and cut back on my crippling Dota habits, but also played more games and enjoyed more time with games than I have in a long time. 2015 even had some of my favorite games ever, which is far more than I can say about 2013 and 2014. Although I see my list as weaker than in the past, the top games truly feel like top games. They even raise my expectations for a beautiful 2016.
2015 was a positive year for me in general and included plenty of life-shaping decisions and moments. It reminds me that our remembering of games is also affected by the times in which we played them. They resonate like music and the visual reminder of a game can take us back to a time. That’s why I feel like the games I played this year will remain a lasting impact on my life. Stop me if I’m getting to sappy, but you can’t, and also I don’t care. I’m always happy I play games and this year was a solid reminder of why I do. I can balance work, life, a girlfriend, and games and games can truly enrich relationships.
This year was also, in my humble opinion, the year of the podcast. We did plenty of memorable work, good bits, and had some really solid conversations on games. The podcast was our vehicle for communication. Even with the distance between us, we kept going and there is no doubt in my mind we’ll keep doing them, listeners or no. Mandate Radio is a highlight of each week for me. I love it to death.
So here are my top ten games of the year, from 10 to 1.
You Must Build A Boat
I must, oh, I must. Feverish is my only description for my addiction to ‘YMBAB’. I played this on my tablet while my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers were playing for the NBA Finals. I would come home, make dinner, turn on the Cavs, and get building. No other match three games other than 10,000,000 (which was made by the same developer) has ever grabbed me like this game did. One more run. You can make one more run. You always have time for one more run. This is a fantastic implementation of the rougelike format and a wonderful adventure into a mobile game that chooses not to trap you with micro-transactions. ‘YMBAB’ is great and you should definitely give it a go, even if you’re turned off by the match-3 genre.
I’m less tolerant of experimental games than ever. They’ve become so commonplace that they are far less interesting than ever before. I can no longer stand the guided walkthrough game. I didn’t bother with ‘Beginner’s Guide’ or ‘Everybody’s Gone to Rapture’ this year because I’m sick of those games being considered an adventure in narrative. They’re as much an adventure in narrative as being read a book before you go to bed. Well, just as I became bitter at those “experiments”, here comes along a game that actually does the whole experimental game thing well. Rather than guide a player along a path, ‘Her Story’ indirectly tells you the story of a woman looking for her lost husband. All you do is type words into a database, but it really makes you feel like a detective. As you type in these words you see video clips of this woman talking to the police. The game has no logical ending, but eventually you will come to a conclusion about what everything meant. It’s a game worth a night of play and a week of thought. Finally, a game that seems experimental and actually seems like an experiment. I’d recommend playing this with somebody and trying to suss out the story together. It’s my best short game of 2015.
Talk about surprises. No, don’t let me tell you what to do. I’ll talk about surprises and you can listen. I liked ‘Heavy Rain’ but ever since that I’ve grown increasingly weary of games that use quick time events in lieu of real gameplay. I also could care less about horror movies or slasher flicks. But ‘Until Dawn’ leverages both of those ideas into something interestingly unique. Upon finishing ‘Until Dawn’ with sweet Malinda, I was perplexed by the depth of the decision making. I had no idea who could survive the game and who could die. Turns out it’s just like Burger King, if Burger King posted all their menu names with weird obscure decisions that wouldn’t initially have any impact on your thinking. You order the fried potatoes but instead of fries get hash browns. The result is still satisfying although ultimately confusing. ‘Until Dawn’ is also one of the best games of the year in terms of setting a tone and environment. It’s intense and foreboding throughout. Even after you get a feel for what’s going on, the world feels like it’s built to terrify you. The characters are really dumb and I kind of wanted to watch them all die, but luckily, ‘Until Dawn’ gives you that option. I’ll never forget watching Malinda purposefully screwing up a quick time event of a character she despised, sarcastically saying “oops”, and gleefully watching that character die. I secretly also wanted that character to die. ‘Until Dawn’ may not inspire an intense amount of afterthought, but the whole thing is really a beautiful experiment in the “Huh?, “What?” genre of games.
This is one of two “Metroid-vania” style of games on the list but strikes a definitively different chord. ‘Axiom Verge’ is a throwback with a twist, which is exactly the type of throwback I enjoy. The story is incredibly cheesy, but who cares when a game is this good? It took me a while to get used to the directional shooting and become comfortable with the difficulty, but the depth and secrets are absolutely worth the time. There’s a completionist element to ‘Axiom Verge’ that doesn’t usually hook me, but I wanted to discover every nook and cranberry of that map. The boss fights were also some of the best of the year. To top it all off, the game was developed by one dude, which is an incredible feat. At a point of the year when I couldn’t get into too many games, ‘Axiom Verge’ pulled me out of my rut and reminded me of what makes games so wonderful. Oh, and the music is some of the best modern retro stuff you’ll ever hear. Top notch ‘Axiom Verge’, top notch.
Monster Hunter IV: Ultimate
I finally played a ‘Monster Hunter’ game that I could comprehend without the use of a detailed strategy guide! and it was fantastic. ‘Monster Hunter IV’ has some very cool things going. For a month I lived for the hunt. I went out in an attempt to slay bigger and better things. I wanted new armor. I wanted new weapon upgrades. I wanted to best the monsters who seemed too big to topple. ‘Monster Hunter’ is very much its own entity and nobody has quite matched the beauty of the fight and run quite in the same way that it gets captured here. I probably won’t go back to ‘Monster Hunter IV’ any time soon, but in the moments that I was playing ‘Monster Hunter’ it was all-consuming. I really hope they continue the series with a release on a big console. I want to play one of these games with modern graphics and a legitimate online system. That would be beautiful. For now, I’ll dream of killing that Great Jaggi 12 times so I could fashion his skin into a chest piece.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I never quite remember having an experience like ‘Metal Gear Solid V’. It’s one of the only games that I felt was polarizing. Let me clarify. Not polarizing to a bunch of people, but polarizing to me. 30 hours into the game I was fully prepared to deem this the game of 2015. The first two hour segment of weirdness is divine, the gameplay loop of dropping into the world and approaching a combat scenario is insanely addictive, and the weird city management done through a menu gives you a legitimate sense of progress. But after that 30 hours the game robbed me of my work with a plot related twist. It forced me to see story missions. I lost the freedom I felt it had given me for so long. As I reached the final mission and experienced an atrociously ham-fisted twist, I was exhausted by the audacity of the project. It felt half-finished in a way that no other ‘Metal Gear’ ever had. Why did it force me to play the same missions after I had finished the first act? Why were the story pieces spread so far apart? Why were the enemies so underwhelming in a series where I typically kill cyborg ninjas and vampire-men and mind-controlling psychopaths? I’m not really sure. Regardless, ‘MGSV’ is a fantastic video game. It says plenty that I was so turned off at some point but still revere it as an incredible title. I was just hoping for some more signature Kojima-inspired moments.
Ori and the Blind Forest
‘Ori’ initially captures you with a heartbreaking story and a fantastically imagined art direction, then slowly comforts you with some fantastic feeling controls set in the “Metroidvania” style of game. Initially, when I first picked up ‘Ori’, I didn’t know anything about it other than that it looked pretty. I thought it would be a puzzle platformer. Instead it was the second most difficult game I played this year. ‘Ori’ requires patience and trial and error on a whole different level than ‘Bloodborne’ however. There are minute long jumping sequences with no respite. They are rarely frustrating and demand a level of platforming skill out of the player that few Metroidvania style of games do. The story raps up disappointingly, but it didn’t really matter to me. What did matter to me was dumping all of the time I did into ‘Ori’ and wishing I had put even more time into it before finishing. I would, just as a note, say that this is the best looking game of 2015. Also, the cutest. And, spoiler alert, Frank dies at the beginning, but I set out to avenge him.
I don’t care at all about soccer. Who’s Messi? I don’t care. He’s definitely a human being? Let’s hope so, because robots aren’t allowed to play soccer. Cars are plenty allowed however and boy does that make for the best sports game of the year. Not that I played any other sports games, but I know deep down in the bottom of my vacuous gullet that ‘Rocket League’ is the best of them all. If you asked me what game I played the most consistently throughout the year I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that. I still play ‘Rocket League’ at least once a day when I get home from work because it’s a perfect mix of relaxation and frustrating. It’s something that seems so difficult at first but the more I played it the more challenging and rewarding it became. There’s an artistry to being great at ‘Rocket League’. Some will master the intricacies and others will fail miserably. Regardless, it’s just a fantastic time, be it alone, with friends, or with bots. Go enjoy ‘Rocket League’ if you haven’t yet. It’s well worth every minute.
I thought I wouldn’t finish ‘Bloodborne’ this year. Then, in a two week span, I consumed it as quickly as an estus flask, err… blood vial, err… bolt paper, err… soul of a lost soldier, err… kin coldblood. Sorry, my analogies have been waylaid by the all consuming nature of my Souls Addiction.
Souls Addiction- A proclivity for the Souls Series, including the games ‘ Demon Souls’, ‘Dark Souls’, ‘Dark Souls II’, and ‘Bloodborne’. Symptoms include sweats, anxiety, an intense desire to parry even when there is nothing to parry, and fat roll.
In truth, that wasn’t a real Webster’s post, it was just an overused cliche joke. I’ve come to terms with that. Terribly thought out jokes aside, ‘Bloodborne’ is truly wondrous. It’s by far the best looking Souls game and I would say the turn in gameplay direction was for the betterment of the series. The game is fast, exciting, and brings you to the edge of your seat. Quite literally, I would get out of my seat at boss fights and move as close as possible to the television to “wreck fools”. It’s hard for me to praise this series any more than I already do, so I can only praise ‘Bloodborne’ in the light of its predecessors. With that being said, I think ‘Bloodborne’s plot is the most engrossing of the series and although the lore isn’t as in-depth as ‘Dark Souls’, living out the Hunter’s Dream was far more appealing to me than the classic “light vs. dark” motif and the ending remains something I am constantly thinking about. I didn’t think I would finish ‘Bloodborne’ but I’m ecstatic that I did.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
‘The Witcher 3’ falls somewhere in my top ten favorite games ever made, which is the first time anything has moved out or into that list in awhile (sorry ‘FTL’). It has tight controls, an intricate lore, dope magic system to exploit weaknesses, amazing Monster Hunter-style beast hunts, and a wonderful card game called Gwent. I loved all of those things and that is all a large portion of why I enjoyed ‘The Witcher’, but that’s not what vaults it into my top ten. Rather unexpectedly, knowing my very particular reasons for enjoying video games, the driving forces behind my love for ‘The Witcher’ are the characters and story. The motivation for the game is very real and an interesting take on a long-standing story for RPG’s. Instead of you being the piece that can save or destroy the planet, you set out to find that person, but your motivations for doing so are entirely separate from saving the world. Geralt just deeply cares for Ciri. I can honestly say ‘The Witcher 3’ was the only game I played this year which related to me on a human level. Every other game on this list was fantastic but no other game reminded me of how beautiful is it to feel strongly for an individual. No other video game reminded me of how deeply caring for a person can outweigh any other consequence the world can throw at you. No other game has ever showed me the impact of the most subtle decisions and how they impact our relationships with others. Beyond everything else that is beautiful about ‘The Witcher’, that is what will stick with me the most and is why it is by far and away the best game of 2015.
That’s it everyone! Happy 2015! May 2016 be just as prosperous and not terrible as 2015! Sorry for any grammatical errors, I wrote this somewhat in haste. Thanks for reading and listening, please keep doing so. We love you very much!