I know, right!? What kind of outside-the-box, original thinking is this? A Top Games of 2015 piece? Isn’t that pushing the envelope a bit too far? Isn’t this exactly the kind of crazy, experimental piece that risks undoing all of the goodwill I’ve managed to build up over the last few months? Honestly though, I hear what you’re saying, but that’s just how I roll, folks – a non-stop thrill ride of the cray-cray and the avant-garde.
Still, stunning lack of originality aside, I do quite like list-ey type pieces, and not least because they give me a rare opportunity to engage in a bit of thoughtful reflection and assessment. Top Games pieces in particular, allow me to re-live a year of gaming (which is fun in itself), and to evaluate what I liked, didn’t like, and how I might’ve behaved as a gamer throughout that year – and ultimately whether there’s room for improvement or growth in the year ahead.
Obviously, there’ll be some crossover here with many of the other (bajillion) pieces doing the same thing, but, like many gamers, I suspect there were many games that were a resounding “meh” for me, despite critical acclaim, and others that I thought were actually considerably better, but that were largely ignored and/or panned by the critics. This is a part of what makes the gaming community quite interesting, I think – and much like with films and books – there are so many areas of agreement and disagreement, and hundreds of sub-areas within each, that it can be quite interesting trying to assign labels like “the best”, or even “the best FPS”.
And, just to be clear, I’m not saying I’ll be pulling anything spectacularly original out of the proverbial bag here, but more that this will be a textbook ‘subjective’ list – and actually, one that will be based more on the degree to which a game captured my attention, or even just feature ones that I enjoyed the shit out of, rather than focusing on any of that technical-ey type stuff that all your fancy-schmancy, proper journalists who know what they’re talking about might focus on.
Basically, it’s a list of stuff that I thought was “good an’ that”, that amused me, or that sucked me in – despite my rather limited attention span. If you’re looking for an in-depth analyisis of graphical fidelity, or game-engine maximisation, you’re in the wrong place, friend – but then, if you’ve ever read anything of mine, I expect you’ll already know that!
So, anyways, off we go:
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
This is, to some extent, a non-controversial inclusion, but…. I’m putting it first because whilst I mostly enjoyed it for the most part, I had a definite love/hate relationship with it – and, really, it probably only just made my list. There’s no denying that MGS: TPP was a huge – and hugely ambitious – project, and there’s no denying that it was well executed, but I didn’t think it was flawless; and I certainly didn’t think it was worthy of the 10s-across-the-board type scores it was getting in most of the reviews I read.
Sometimes I’d actively have to force myself to turn the game on because it felt like I was spending more time grinding than if I were playing a Tony Hawk game, but then, having done so, I’d actually end up getting sucked in for hours. Other times I’d be itching to turn it on, but then found myself just getting really, really bored as I spent a whole afternoon doing essentially the same thing over, and over, and over again. I also had a few issues with the tone of the narrative in places, and I felt Kojima relied on tired cliches and well-worn tropes waaaay too often.
All that said though, MGS: TPP was often a lot of fun, and it was properly batshit crazy in just about the right kinds of ways for a lot of the time I was playing. I sunk many hours into it, and at the expense of other games – so it definitely had a little som’thin’- som’thin’ going for it. I’ve never really got into the Metal Gear Franchise either, so if it was fun and absorbing for a non-fan like me, I expect it was considerably more fun and absorbing for anyone who has played and enjoyed the other games. If there was a stronger line-up in the middle of this year, it’s possible that the game wouldn’t have even got played – let alone make my list – but because I used it to fill the time before Silly Season kicked off, because I played it a lot, and because it can be a lot of fun – it makes my list here.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
If a certain other game hadn’t come out this year, this almost certainly would’ve been my top game-playing experience of 2015. The first Tomb Raider reboot was excellent, and Rise of the Tomb Raider was, in my opinion, considerably better than that was. With a strong narrative arc, excellent mechanics, and some genuinely fun collectibles and extras, I was completely besotted with the game, and it was a joy to play from start to finish.
It was also – if I’m being honest – a big part of the reason I bought my Xbox One when I did, and I had no reason to regret handing over my (future) kid’s college fund to play Lara’s latest adventure. With some stunning scenery, sweeping vistas, and fantastic character animation, Rise of the Tomb Raider looked pretty damn great too, and that’s always a pretty sweet bonus, I find.
As I said in both my First Impressions piece and my Full Review, my only real complaint was a lack of genuine puzzle-y stuff, but aside from that, I thought Rise of the Tomb Raider was a very strong contender for game of the year – and it is unquestioningly included in my Top Games List.
Batman: Arkham Knight
OK, it wasn’t exceptional – and it wasn’t necessarily as good as it was expected to be – but the 2015 instalment of the Arkham series was undoubtedly a shitload of fun. As any fool knows, time spent being Batman is officially 368.25% better than time spent not being Batman, and Arkham Knight proved it yet again, but this time with added Batmobile appeal.
Whether the game was a worthy addition to a much-loved series is probably a discussion for another time, but there was still plenty to love about the game, and plenty of genuinely exceptional moments. I spent many a happy hour exploring the seedy, oppressive streets of an impressively realised Gotham, and many more hours figuring out The Riddler’s more intriguing puzzles. And, of course, kicking the shit out of an infinite number of henchmen was as fun as it’s ever been thanks to the game’s exceptional combat mechanics, and ubercool gadgetry.
KAPOW. WALLOP. THWACK. etc, etc.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (Full Game)
If any of the games on my list are likely to raise an inquistive eyebrow or two, I expect it’ll be this one. I’m a big fan of most things Resident Evil-ey anyways – so I’m not claiming total impartiality here – but I thought RE: R2 was a nice little addition to the Resident Evil canon, and a damn good game in its own right. There was a pleasing amount of shooting-zombies-in-the-head-ishness, a fair few genuine scares, and – believe it or not – some pretty impressive narrative oomph too.
In fact, with the seperate-yet-overlapping narrative device working quite well, I felt RE: R2 managed to create a thoroughly absorbing story, within a well-realised Gaming Universe, and I had a great time exploring it all from several different angles and directions. Also, I mentioned all the shooting the zombies in the head, right!?
If you’re still not convinced about Resident Evil: Revelations 2 – or you think I’ve lost my grip on reality in general – you can read my Full Review here, wherein I might be able to convince you to give it a try via the medium of a larger number of, like, words and such.
Or not, obviously.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
When Silly Season hit, things got a bit messy for me, and whilst having to play loads of games in quick succession isn’t the worst problem in the world to have, I do feel quite bad that I haven’t yet had chance to go back to AC: S. Having played enough to write a First Impressions piece, and with shedloads of other games calling out for playage, I’ve reluctantly had to set the game aside for longer than I intended, or wanted, to.
That’s not a reflection on the game itself though – in any way – and I was pleasantly surprised by my time with Syndicate. The Assassin’s Creed franchise had been in very real danger of entering “same-old, same-old” territory, but the last couple of iterations have managed to keep it reasonably fresh without fixing anything that wasn’t really that broken. They still haven’t fixed some of the shit that is broken, mind (particularly some of the ‘wafting your crotch in a guard’s face’ type issues), but Syndicate’s real trump card was its Victorian London setting, and this really allowed it to be something particularly great.
Mixing some superbly rendered architecture with a suitably majestic soundtrack, and throwing in some Dickensian atmosphere for good measure, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate provided an excellent snapshot of time and place that couldn’t fail to pull me into it. I’m a History Geek, admittedly – and a big fan of Victoriana in particular – so that might not be, like, a totes universally appealing thing, but I certainly felt that the world of Assassin’s Creed was one of the most fully realised, and intriguing ones I entered into this year. I’d probably still be absorbed in it – or would have certainly returned to it much sooner, if it wasn’t for……
Let’s face it, Fallout 4 was the game of the year, and anybody who says differently is a goddam fucking liar. I jest, obviously (and actually, Rich Keech makes a pretty compelling argument for another GOTY contender here), but for me, it absolutely was the best release of 2015 – and, to be honest, my favourite Next-Gen release so far. Of course the Fallout games aren’t for everyone, and sure they’re not going to be winning any graphics awards anytime soon (although, to be fair, Next-Gen Fallout is reasonably good looking), but there’s just something so compelling and addictive about that freakin’ wasteland.
There’s nothing particularly original in Fallout 4 either, but that’s kind of the point, I think. There’s all the Fallout-ey goodness that has captured so many hearts and minds over the years, as well as a few new doodahs and thingumyjigs that keep it fresh and challenging, even for veterans. I was intially critical of the degree to which it can all seem overwhelming, and the often counter-intuitive nature of some of Fallout’s mechanics and whatnot, but once you have got to grips with everything, there’s just so much to love about the game.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit exactly how many hours of my life I’ve lost to Fallout 4 already – but suffice it to say, it’s a whole motherfucking shitload, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the New England wasteland. I’m currently experiencing an enforced hiatus from the game, and I’m not going to lie, it’s been pretty tough to handle. Once the shakes and nausea have passed, I expect I’ll find it easier, but holy shitballs, I’m missing Fallout 4 like you wouldn’t believe.
Obviously, the strength and severity of one’s withdrawal isn’t necessarily the most reliable way of objectively measuring a game’s quality, or appeal even, but I’ma go right ahead and suggest it means that, personally speaking, it’s certainly the Game that’s had the most impact on me this year.
And that’s quite impressive, because 2015 was a fairly strong year for Next-Gen Gaming, particularly on the PS4 and Xbox One. There were plenty of other games that I really enjoyed playing, and plenty more that I’ve yet to get around to starting
I’m also very much looking forward to 2016 in terms of releases too. Whatever your chosen platform, or genre even, there are some real gems due to land over the next 12 months, and it’s looking like 2016 will be a pretty great time to be a gamer.
Whether it’s the next Uncharted you’re looking forward to, Tom Clancy’s The Division, the intriguing Quantum Break, or the mahoosive and amazing No Man’s Sky, there’s something for just about everybody to be excited about. I will, hopefully, write something more about all of this at a later date, but for now, let’s just go with a more general ‘Yay – there’s going to be loads and loads of dead good games an’ shit, innit!?’ (that’s not going to get me a Pulitzer, obvs, but it’s a fairly accurate representation of my excitement, regardless).
Indeed, as great as 2015 was, there’s every reason to expect even more from 2016, and that’s a fantastic prospect, and it may very well be a Happy New Year for gamers everywhere.