Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Five 2015 Games I Enjoyed in 2015 - Opinion

This year in games was really tense for me—the games have been great but I've been desperately shoving everything I've been wanting to play into these last few months. So unlike last year, there's a whole lot of potential contenders that could've been on here if I had a little more time to play them this month rather than next (SOMA, Pillars of Eternity, Her Story, Ori and the Blind Forest, Downwell, Witcher 3... the list goes on). Yet just as with last year's list, know that the order is relatively loose and subject to change, and above all else, that numerical list-making is a largely fatuous pleasantry that shouldn't be the end-all-be-all of opinions. On with the show!

Axiom Verge may be easy to dismiss merely by judging it on face-value (another 8-bit Metroidvania?), but like with my #1 Game I Enjoyed, there's a lot more to it than that. Tom Happ's game revels in its foreign atmosphere, possibly being the best 2D game about an alien world since Super Metroid. Controls are smooth, the weapons are varied, and the locales are both eerie and inviting. Plus, the lab coat is the best power-up I've had the chance to fiddle with all year. It's not too often you get to play something this immaculately designed.

Wowsers! Who would've thought a game about two gal-pals hanging out and dealing with school drama would've been so fascinating? Of course Life is Strange is more than just he-said she-said hearsay—it's more about the nature of friendship and whether or not you can fix mistakes. There's more to the characters than you can glean at first glance and the gentle art style fits the game's highschool hipster theme like a glove. It's an evocative, colorful tale that's a must-play if you have a soft spot for nostalgia, mystery, and regret.

There's a reason the background for my blog comes from The Beginner's Guide—it's a stellar, deep, and ponderous game. It feels uncomfortably personal, like looking back through someone's Facebook posts and analyzing every argument they've had... without any of their consent. Despite its movie-length brevity there's a lot of material presented here that you can mull over, and even if you're not into the haughty intellectual commentary regarding author-player relationships, The Beginner's Guide remains an interesting (and troubling) game about video game development and validation.

There are a handful of franchises that could become yearly sequels that I'd never tire of, and the Souls games definitely fit in this category. While not strictly a Souls game, Miyazaki's indelible touch is nevertheless present in Bloodborne, soaking through its tattered cloth and into the beastly hide that lies below. Its world is bleak and the combat is fierce; there's really nothing more I could want out of this Lovecraftian nightmare (outside of build variety). And out of all the games on this list, Bloodborne is the one that's going to get the most playtime from me—the only reason it's not higher is that the franchise formula isn't entirely fresh, but it's still a hell of a lot of fun to play.

Undertale deserves all the LOVE love it gets. It's a truly remarkable, impactful tale that captures the whimsy of going on a silly adventure and making new friends. But it's not entirely innocent; Undertale asks you just how far you're willing to go to treat its charming characters as lines of code, forcing you to confront your willingness to empathize with something that's not entirely real. It's an extremely funny, sharp game that takes you on a roller coaster of emotions, utilizing some meta-concepts unique solely to gaming. Not only is it my favorite game this year, but it's also the most meaningful game I've played in a long time.


Deus Ex is kinda light-hearted and wacky, but it's pretty entertaining. I spent a lot of time talking about how wild the game is in my blog post (the Illuminati is in it for goodness sake), but I failed to mention just how reinvigorating it was to play an oldschool FPS that doesn't hold your hand and demands that you explore its world thoroughly. There's a multitude of ways to tackle each area and the pace of the game flows nicely from one set-piece to the next, providing plenty of playtime over a variety of different settings. I think it's a far cry from being the best PC game of all time, but it remains fun to play through even today.

Deus Ex obviously deserves a spot for its greatness, but Dracula X also needs to be recognized for being a really excellent Castlevania game. Pit against Rondo of Blood, it's nigh-unanimous that people prefer the original version of the game, but Dracula X remains competent and fun. While Rondo has better paths and sleeker presentation, I actually prefer Dracula X's level design, visuals, and final boss more. It feels more like the true sequel to Castlevania III instead of a strange offshoot of the formula (Super Castlevania IV, Bloodlines), retaining the classic level of punishing difficulty the franchise was known for. Like Dark Souls II, it gets disparaged too often amongst fans; it's likely my favorite fourth generation Castlevania game.

I would have loved to say I didn't finish a bad game this year and have this section turn into a discussion of whether I found Hotline Miami 2, The Evil Within, or Okami more disappointing (they're good!—just disappointing), but Imagine Me takes the cake for being my gameplay nadir. It feels like an early access game most of the time, being unfulfilling and imbalanced, except... ya know, this is the final product. I wouldn't exactly compare it to the travesty that was Fahrenheit (though being able to look back on it, that game is growing on me akin to Wiseau's The Room), but there's still plenty in Imagine Me that makes it contemptible. There's far worse on Steam, but Imagine Me remains a poor game through and through.

In theory, I adore Super Mario Maker. The game gives fans the job of being a level designer, learning the ins and outs of the mechanics and gameplay systems. It's one of those brilliant ideas where you wonder "why didn't they make this sooner?" However, it can be crushing to spend hours pouring over the layout and design of your stage, just to have it receive a 10% clear rating and one star. Even when I set about making more simple and friendly levels, the gate for being able to upload new levels is extremely low for someone with no designated followers, and I burned out on the game when I reached my limit. It's a shame, because I really like making 4-level "world" sets, but Super Mario Maker promotes brief ingenuity over a more classic-play experience. It's a fun game for sure, but unless you have the opportunity to watch someone run through your levels, it can be surprisingly lonesome.

Fallout 4 let me down. The spotty dialogue, general jank, and perforated story came together to create an experience that felt mostly like more Fallout 3. I enjoyed Fallout 3! But when I play the sequel to a 50 hour game, I expect those new 50 hours to offer something different. The addition of settlement building is super cool and the gunplay is worlds better, but there just weren't enough positives to outweigh the negatives. Honestly I walked away from it a bit drained, wondering why I didn't just play Wasteland 2 instead.

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