Better late than never, right? Yes, I decided it was finally time for me to compile my list of games that I enjoyed the most from last year. It took me longer than expected to put them in an order I was happy with, but here we go. Before I start with the list, I think it’s important that I give mention to a short list of games that are noticeably absent from my top ten. Not only can I not play every release of every year, but (as our podcast’s closing statement states) some games just aren’t for me. Here’s what you won’t see on my list:
-“Super Mario Maker” – This one was the most difficult for me to keep off my list, as I have the utmost respect for this game. I simply didn’t put a lot of time in this game, and that’s mostly because I don’t have a creative bone in my body. The game is seriously well-made, though, and I’m totally happy that it exists.
-“Bloodborne” – I won’t say I didn’t like this game. I didn’t give it enough of a chance, as I got frustrated well before the point that I expected to be frustrated. I plan to return to this one in the future.
-“Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” – This is another game that I feel I would have enjoyed better if I had given it a better chance. I fell off the Metal Gear bandwagon after “Sons of the Patriots”, but I still have a deep respect for this wacky series. The game really blew me away from the beginning, but after I hit the open world, I began to feel immediate fatigue. It probably didn’t help that I had just finished playing “Witcher 3”. So like I said, I need to put more time into this one.
-“Star Wars: Battlefront” – As much as I loved how this game looked and controlled, it was a very short experience for me that made me wish for a more robust single-player game set in the Star Wars universe or a new “Rogue Squadron” game.
-“Halo 5: Guardians” – I actually didn’t touch this game until 2016, but I did play through the campaign in a single day. It was a ton of fun, but still wouldn’t have cracked my top ten list.
All right, now that the absentees are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. Here are my top ten, and we’ll start with #10.
-“Gears of War: Ultimate Edition”
Yes, I know. The original “Gears of War” came out in 2006, and this is merely a remake. I agree, but the Ultimate Edition was so much more for me. It made me feel about “Gears of War” the same way I did back when I played it when it first came out. There’s something to be said about a remake that has the ability to do that, but The Coalition pulled it of by building the game from the ground up. The original was also one of the few multiplayer games at which I was a decent player. One of my fondest memories from the Xbox 360 days was teaming up with friends on a nearly-nightly basis. The remake offered an updated version of the multiplayer with a leveling system that scratched the itch perfectly. Overall, it was a great experience, despite being a game I had literally already played.
Over the years, I’ve found myself in the minority of people that actually get creeped out when playing horror video games. Since the original “Resident Evil”, I’ve been looking behind my couch for zombies, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I enjoy being freaked out, and don’t have a problem allowing myself to bask in that enjoyment instead of hiding behind a tough-guy facade. So when “Until Dawn” came out of nowhere and offered genuine scares with a choose-your-own-adventure style of storytelling, I was on board. This game stands out as one of my favorites in particular because of the experience I shared with a close friend who does not usually play games. He sat on my couch and watched me play almost the entire game in one sitting, and he was absolutely riveted. Even though this is a single-player game, we turned it into a two-player experience as my friend helped me to decide which decisions to make that would ultimately determine the outcome of “our” story. It’s a game that I feel a lot of people played, but a lot more still have yet to try; and I truly hope they do, because I still believe that it’s something special.
-“Tales from the Borderlands”
I understand that a lot of people are tired of the Telltale Games formula. While I understand that sentiment to a degree, I still play every one of their releases (except “Minecraft: Story Mode”) at release. It’s too bad, too, because “Tales from the Borderlands” is something unique in this ‘genre’ of video game in that it added something that the other games didn’t have: a sense of humor. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion by the well-written lines delivered by a stellar voice cast. Even if you’re not invested in the Borderlands universe, you’ll still be able to find enjoyment in this title. And the story is genuinely an interesting one that takes some unexpected twists and turns that left me guessing until the very end. Don’t let your fatigue of these games steer you from this one; it’s genuinely worth playing through.
I haven’t been able to commit to a multiplayer game since the above-mentioned “Gears of War” in 2006. I have a severe case of gamer A.D.D. that keeps me looking for the next experience. That usually keeps me unable to spend a good amount of time with a single game long enough to become competitive. But then comes along “Rocket League”, which by all accounts is a game I shouldn’t enjoy. But enjoy it I did, and I think that’s attributed to the accessible control scheme that also offers a degree of expertise if you want to dive into it. But the beauty of this game is that you don’t have to be an expert to be competitive. Almost every match I go into is one that my team has a fair chance to win; that’s a statement that I feel I can’t say about too many multiplayer games. While I admittedly haven’t put a ton of hours into the game, it’s one that I see myself playing on occasion even through the remainder of 2016.
-“Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”
I can’t think of a game last year that gave me a more original sense of freedom and dense storytelling than “Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”. The world was the most immense and wildly populated one I’ve ever seen. It’s also a game that made me forget about the main story and instead focus on the incredible writing of the side stories. Seriously, I spent probably over eight hours on a story arc that could have been a stand alone game if it had released several years ago. In addition, the leveling system is one of the most satisfying I’ve played ever, much less last year. On top of all that, the developer listened to their fans by making requested changes to the core gameplay and even offered FREE downloadable content. If you have the time to commit to this monstrosity of an RPG, you need to check out this game, even if you haven’t played the first two in the series.
-“Batman: Arkham Knight”
Boy, did this game get a lot of hate. Sure, it was burdened with some technical difficulties on the PC version, and the season pass was a bit of joke; but man, was this game gorgeous and a ton of fun to play. Gotham felt like how I’ve always imagined the dark city to look like. I get a lot of flak for feeling this way, but I loved driving the Batmobile. I never got tired of it. While many others dreaded the Batmobile sections of the game and wished they were instead taking part in the popular fighting mechanic, I felt exactly the opposite. Outside of one frustrating boss battle, I wanted more Batmobile segments. I would have even taken an entire game centered on that mechanic. You couple all of that with a story that surprised me over and over, and you’ve got a winning combination in my book. I loved it.
-“Ori and the Blind Forest”
Remember the Pixar movie “Up”? The first five minutes of that movie had almost no dialogue, yet tugged on my heartstrings more than almost any romantic movie I’ve seen in years. “Ori and the Blind Forest” starts with a very similar moment that sets the tone for the remainder of the game. From that point on, the games plays similar to a 2-D Metroid or Castlevania game, but this feels much more organic. Outside of the beautiful art style in this game, the difficulty feels almost perfect. It’s far from easy, but just difficult enough to make you feel like you’re really good at video games without making you want to throw your controller against the wall. The exploration also feels interesting and rewarding and makes me want to go back and explore every inch of the game. “Ori and the Blind Forest” is hands down the most beautiful game I played all year, and I’m genuinely excited that it topped our game of the year.
-“Life Is Strange”
It’s really too bad that so many people have fatigue from the gameplay style that Telltale has popularized over the past several years, because “Life Is Strange” feels like a Telltale game done right. The ‘rewind’ mechanic allowed me to much more carefully assess my choices and removed the ever-looming clock over my head. Plus, the mystery behind the story was immensely intriguing that reminded me of an even darker “Butterfly Effect”. None of the decisions feel like the “right” decision, so each one made me feel uncomfortable (but in a good way). I may have been initially put off by the teenage angst-fueled dialogue, but it very quickly felt genuine, and I grew to actually appreciate it. This is a game that I wish more people would give a chance. It’s simply too special to miss.
-“Rise of the Tomb Raider”
This game follows the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is very much similar to its predecessor. Of course, it looks far superior graphically and controls even better; but the core of this gem is very much the same. Yet there’s nothing wrong with that. Crystal Dynamics gave us exactly what we wanted: more, but better. And it’s hard to argue with that. Simply put, if you loved the last game, you must play this one. It scratches so many of the right itches I have with games, and I can’t recommend it enough.
I feel a bit guilty about picking my #1 game to be one that I’ve finished more recently than any other games on my list. “Fallout 3” was my first Bethesda game ever, and I put more hours into that than any other single-player experience in my life. I adored the vastness. I longed for the emptiness. I craved the interesting storytelling through discovering new locations and the remnants of a broken world. I felt right at home in the Boston wasteland, and it was the game I thought about the most when I wasn’t playing it. Although I spent the majority of my time going through satisfying side quests, I still felt genuinely surprised by how my main story played out. To me, it’s a true mark of a great game when I found equal enjoyment in its primary story and its secondary ones. There’s something special about being dropped into a world with the ability to go in literally any direction with none of those directions being the wrong way to go. I didn’t even touch the settlement building in this game, but that’s OK. That’s the beauty of this game; I can choose to anything, everything, or nothing; and it becomes my game. Isn’t that what a role playing game should be at its heart?
And there you have it, my top ten video games of 2015. There shouldn’t be too many surprises, as I didn’t play too many obscure games that I would consider one of the best of the year. Overall, 2015 was a pretty good year in gaming, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings us. So which of your favorites didn’t make my list?