Adam’s Top 10 Video Games of 2015
With how much I’ve been getting into board games in the last couple years, I wasn’t even sure I’d played ten video games this year when I sat down to write this list. I’ve missed a lot of the really big AAA titles that I’ve been meaning to play, and even some of the smaller indie titles I know I’m going to love if I ever do get time to sit down with them.
But, I was able to find plenty more than ten that I enjoyed and as it turns out, cutting items off of these lists is just as excruciating as it always has been. I’ve ended up with a list that I know lot of people will not agree with at all (#10 even on its own being listed is probably basically heresy), but I’ll try and explain why I think they’re all so worthy of recognition.
Super Mario Maker
I feel like I’d need to justify why this isn’t higher up on the list before having to justify it being here at all. This game is just Nintendo at their absolute finest, showing that signature polish in every corner of the game. I’ll keep coming back to it when a new level idea strikes hot, or when I want to play some cool new Mario jams.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Real primal fear. Every time. A super creative game that has one person flipping around a bomb to diffuse, the other (unable to see the bomb) flipping through a gigantic manual of instructions trying to relay them fast enough. I played this game with an oculus rift and hand sensors, and it was genuinely terrifying – especially right at that moment when we both knew I was dead. Really creative awesome game.
Exploratory games have got nothing on Her Story. Everything you do is an exercise of pure discovery, and you get to your conclusions and the end credits your own unique way. It makes you feel like a legit PI through it all and it feels legitimate. The actress is sublime and all the little details left me guessing for a long time after.
Batman: Arkham Knight
A wonderful conclusion to a game-changing series. The batmobile was fun as hell and all the stops got pulled out for the story. Every villain is up to be recaptured, and my favourite, Scarecrow (albeit heavily modified to make him seem more badass), was the ringleader for once. It’s the final form of their excellent batman formula and it sure feels as refined as it can be.
I shouldn’t find this so fun. I shouldn’t have found any of the souls games fun. I don’t like super challenging games and the RPG style of levelling was never something I was interested in. Against all odds, I loved every souls game including this one, which thematically, appealed to me even more and had fantastic lore to match. On top of that, the playstyle (light armour and lots of dodging) was exactly my style from games precious so the transition was very painless.
There’s so much about Until Dawn that isn’t very good. The ending really left me feeling horrible, the characters were largely unlikable. But the butterfly mechanic worked on me like a charm and I’m such a sucker for B-movie style horror that I couldn’t get enough of the terrible quirks. I think this is the most significant advance for interactive storytelling in ages, and does what I wish Heavy Rain could have done more of.
Another game that was suck in Alpha Mode early-release limbo. When it came out, I played it nonstop. I wanted to perfect every facet of my prison design, and then make new creative designs. I haven’t enjoyed a sim game this much since roller coaster tycoon. Its formula for the tycoon game style clicks and fits together really well, and makes learning about the new systems and how they fit together super satisfying.
Then, it actually bothered to have a story. The story isn’t great. It made me laugh out loud more than once at times it probably would not have wanted me to. But, it attempts to address some more serious themes and it ties the cartoonish, tight game it comes with into it all somehow. Each time I shut my whole prison down to perform an execution, they make you really feel it. Everyone goes to their cells except the warden and a priest and the guards, and witnesses and family are brought in and they make you go through the whole process, including making you hit the button. And clean up after. It’s super morbid.
But then you get fuckin PAID. Thousands and thousands of dollars. But make sure you have some lawyers on hand who can cover your ass in case that prisoner is successfully exonerated post-mortem (…er my bad, guys. Seriously, I really dropped that ball).
This game rules.
This game wasn’t originally on this list. I actually went back and changed it. I played the first few hours of this game and was 100% not impressed. I’m not one for RPGs, never played earthbound, didn’t care for the game structure, wasn’t drawn in enough to care about the world or characters.
Then, magically, I was. I saw a spoiler for the genocide run (which I’m about to describe, so spoilers): that occurs the first time you kill all the monsters in one region, which rewards you with “…but nobody came.” This terrified me, and the way it was presented hit on some underlying anxiety I didn’t even know I could feel. I came back with a renewed sense of purpose, finished the game, and was absolutely floored by what happened. That makes two severely backloaded games I’ve played this year – turns out sticking with it was fully worth it.
My next move was to play it in genocide, which I promptly gave up on (spoilers): when I had to kill Papyrus, which I did as he offered me a hug of friendship, and the last thing he told me before he died was that he wouldn’t ever give up on me. I cried at this. I guess a diehard fan of this game would say I didn’t “have” to play the game that way, or do anything. I promptly restarted the game and finished it in the happiest way possible, and I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw there either.
This game says some very real things and it made me feel real, raw emotion. And I hate RPGs like this. It is a testament to its quality that I was able to enjoy it as much as I have.
No other game this year made me sit and think or start nearly as many deep conversations that this game does. It’s not like any of it is fundamentally new – philosophically, it brings up a lot of common thought experiments surrounding the self, and puts them into a futuristic setting with bleepy robots. It just does it in the context of a horror setting that is really gut-wrenching to experience.
It flops pretty hard on its dialogue, with a thoroughly unlikable main character and really overly tired reflection on the things that are happening in the game world. It spends too much time pointing out the obvious and leaving the main character to spout dialogue that is not relatable and very unconvincingly delivered. (It’s salvaged a bit by its other main character. I won’t name them and spoil it but you’ll know who I mean if you’ve played. That dialogue is a perfect response to the inanity of the character you play as).
Where SOMA shines most is in its back half, after establishing a bunch of rules and boundaries that feel like going through the motions. The very final turn in the ending is excellent, when it shows you a simple bit of game-world interaction that it used very early on, changing nothing about it, and does magnificently well to show how much you as a person have changed during the game by how differently you respond to it. It brought tears out of me and is a really gorgeous bit of storytelling.
Now that said, it did that for me because I spent time diving into these thought experiments on my own, not within the game world itself. I recommend this game to anyone who can put up with (or enjoy, even) a horror game, and put up with its really slow beginning to get to the philosophical bits, which are delivered with a nauseating horror that I really enjoyed thoroughly. This is probably the most back-loaded game I’ve ever seen.
Final warning, if the concept of the self, etc. are ones that you find really tired and have gone through yourself to death, you’re going to be made downright furious by this main character. Seriously, he is an idiot, too much so to be at all believable. No empathy there whatsoever.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to the concept of what makes Rocket League mechanically fun, but it’s a wonder in its execution. It shows hours and hours and days and years of playtesting, refining the physics, refining the whole experience down to a perfectly executed little package. Perfect really is what it is – it executes everything it sets out to do flawlessly. There isn’t really a thing I or anyone could change about it to make it better. Playing it introduces the best game flow possible – controlling the car is easy, and hitting the ball is easier still. It’s your own lack of experience that makes it miss the net, or makes you lose a game. You have no one else to blame.
Watching my friends and I slowly get better even hearkened back to my own days of playing soccer as a child. When first starting, all the kids ran after the ball at once, trying to be the star, kick it first, and ignoring working as a team. So went Rocket League in the early game – everyone just ran straight for the ball, trying to hit it as much as possible, following it around like a group of kids. Soon people figured out how to play positions, and show restraint, and act as a team, with more calculation behind their moves and strategy. Eventually more skilled maneuvers became commonplace, and we’re still reaching for the stars in terms of how we play the game together.
Watching it evolve is nothing short of watching a sport get revealed, layer by later, exposing the real depth that makes the game so enjoyable. This is a video game I’m talking about here. That’s incredible.
I’ll be playing this one for years to come.