by Adi Stein
2015 was a great year for gaming. The newest generation of consoles has finally started coming into its own, game genres are broadening and reforming, and now those who play video games have more diverse options than ever. We saw great sequels, amazing new IPs, and finally saw the fruits of a few long promised Kickstarters. I was lucky to be able to play a lot of games in 2015 and I loved so much of what I played that I decided to make a Top 10 list. So here you go: My Top Ten Favorite Games of 2015. Enjoy!
Downwell is one of the most rewarding, satisfying, and fun experiences I had in 2015. To describe it quickly and poorly, Downwell is a reverse platformer where you’re trying to drop down as far as possible while jumping on enemies and using your gun boots (they are what they sound like) to slow down your speed and kill baddies along the way. I played this game on my iPhone and while the touch controls were not ideal, I eventually figured out the rhythm and grew to love this great little game. Thanks to brilliant sound design, every kill and gem that you collect feel hearty and satisfying, making that “just one more round” itch all the more intense. After lots of practice and trial by fire, Downwell became my go to “this metro isn’t showing up, is it” game and I’m very grateful for that.
#9: Destiny: The Taken King
Fuck this game, man. Seriously. I hated that it was on my top ten last year and I hate that it has wiggled its way back onto my top ten this year. I’ve never hated a game that I enjoy so much. But here we are. End of the year and Destiny is still on my list. While The Taken King is not technically a whole new game, it basically is. Bungie has taken a lot of the complaints from fans to heart and fixed so much of what was bad about the base game. Drops are more fair, materials are less complicated, and the leveling system? Well it makes something closer to sense now. It feels like a more fair game andthat made me feel just a little better about spending so much time playing it, which is important when, ultimately, the best thing about Destiny is the moment to moment gameplay. There are few shooters out there that have such satisfying gunplay and combat. Overall this is an expansion that is not only great in its own right, but makes the game it’s expanding upon greater as a result of its existence. People have been saying it after every update, but there has really never been a better time to jump into Destiny.
Earlier this year I wrote extensively about the social commentary that Volume is making, and if you want to read that just search for the game in our blog page. What I didn’t spend as much time talking was how the game actually plays. I am a huge fan of stealth games. I don’t mind the trial and error nature. I find it satisfying. Figuring out the most efficient and least lethal path is a really exciting action puzzle in my eyes, and Volume nails that loop. With short levels and (some would say too) generous checkpoints, Volume encourages exploration and experimentation with how you approach each situation. Do you make a made dash to a checkpoint knowing that you’ll be caught but that you’ll just spawn right there, or do you wait, study patterns, and slowly move across the playing field? Do you distract the guard with a well timed whistle or do you zap them and walk past with ease? Each level that Mike Bithell has designed is clever in its own way, but the well curated user created content had me coming back to the game in a way that user created options rarely do. By fusing this great gameplay with really compelling and thought provoking story telling, its easy to see how this game makes my top 10.
#7: Massive Chalice
Massive Chalice is a game I didn’t even know I wanted. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I liked the 2012 X-COM reboot just as much as the next person, but I found it a little too challenging so I never ended up finishing it. Turns out, swapping science fiction for fantasy and adding that signature Double Fine humor and personality is exactly what I needed. Massive Chalice is still very challenging, but the focus on eugenics and long term character investment made for a more thought provoking experience than I was expecting. You haven’t really thought about your actions in a game until you’ve accidentally married a brother to his younger sister and asked them to breed a new generation of warriors. Woof did I feel bad about that one. But that’s what is so unique and exciting about this game. It made me see how society has developed into the patriarchal, xenophobic, and family focused version of itself we currently live in. I don’t want to marry these two families because if I do they might create some defective, waste of a person and what’s the point in that person existing if they can’t do anything? I’m not saying this thinking is right - quite the opposite - but it did give me pause and make me think, which is more than I thought I was getting from this turn based action strategy game. Well played, Brad Muir. Well played.
#6: Rocket League
Rocket League caught everyone off guard this year, and for good reason. A seemingly throwaway free PS Plus game that’s the sequel to a game that was basically ignored? No chance in hell for success. Turns out, that could not have been further from the truth. Rocket League is the definition of the term “less is more.” Here is the basic formula: Cars + Boost + Soccer = Rocket League. I have spent countless hours this year playing match after match of this game. It’s both saved and almost destroyed friendships. It is competitive yet fair, strategic yet impulsive, and fun yet frustrating. I don’t have much to say about it beyond that fact that I will definitely be playing it well into 2016.
#5: Until Dawn
I’ve always wanted to enjoy horror games more than I actually do. I’ve tried games like Dead Space and Resident Evil but I rarely finish them because I just can’t handle the stress. But this year I found the antidote: Brandon McCoy. See, it turns out playing scary games is way less scary and way more fun when you have a partner to help you out. So this year ended up being the year of horror for Brandon and me as we played P.T., Outlast, and, finally, Until Dawn. Until Dawn was the perfect combination of scary, tense, funny, self aware, and just downright fun. I loved learning about these characters and thinking about how my actions would affect the moments to come. With a fun script and committed performances from the actors, Until Dawn ended up being better than most people expected. Maybe it was the surprise. Maybe it was a “sum of its parts” situation. No matter what the case, I still can’t wait to jump into that second play through and try to actually, you know, save some of these characters.
#4: Life is Strange
Life is Strange has heart. So much heart. Like, way more heart that I’ve seen in a game. It gets the biggest A for the biggest effort. Subject wise, this game tackles so much that we’ve never seen in games before. Everything from classic teenage angst to suicide. There are conversations about gender roles, about sexual fluidity, about rape, and about what friendship really means. Admittedly, the writing is often times cringe worth for all the wrong reasons but ultimately it does succeed in getting you emotionally attached to these characters and the small town in which they exist. You can’t help but reflect on every choice you make, not just because the game literally asks you to before moving on, but because the impacts of your choices can’t possibly be 100% certain. Life is Strange needs to be played if only to see the potential power of interactive storytelling. In art we often talk about authorial intent, but this game moves that intent from the author to the audience, thus highlighting the power that those who engage with this game have. I didn’t walk away from Life is Strange thinking about the world these developers created. I walked away thinking about the choices I made and the world I left behind in the wake of those choices.
Much like horror games, the Souls series is a franchise I’ve more wanted to enjoy than actually enjoyed. I tried Demon’s Souls but got stumped fairly early on and I’ve never played a single Dark Souls game. But for one reason or another, I decided that Bloodborne was my moment to really try this franchise out (and yes, it might not be related by title, this is very much a Souls game). I could not be happier with my choice. What I found was an oppressively dark and brooding world that was perfectly countered by it’s unparalleled sense of exploration and discovery. It’s a game that begs you to examine every nook and cranny. It demands that your undivided attention. Wanna check Twitter for a hot second? I hope you’re in a loading screen because otherwise, chances are high that some werewolf thing just took you out. But even outside of the game, some of my favorite moments revolved around texting my friend, who was also playing this game when it came out, and saying crazy things like “What the hell am I supposed to do with this umbilical chord this dying mannequin just gave me?” His response? “Eat them.” What?! I don’t entirely understand the story of Bloodborne, but I do understand the world of it. I understand that it is dangerous, sinister, and that nothing in it can be trusted. I also understand that every challenge can be overcome, and that working together to overcome said challenges lead to some of the most rewarding moments that gaming offered me this year.
#2: Fallout 4
I’m a sucker for Bethesda’s modern generation of sprawling, open world, RPGs and Fallout 4 is no exception. I love this game. I write love and not loved as it is still something I keep coming back to. The world, the characters, the options, the possibilities; all of these defining things in a Bethesda game are cranked up to ten here. I have story after story about amazing situations that my character found herself in. I’ve decimated islands, rescued robots, stolen from well guarded vaults, and fallen in love (Curie, you’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a Bethesda companion). I love simply walking around the world that Todd Howard and his team have created, just exploring and talking to people along the way. When push comes to shove, my character is not afraid cut you to pieces, but I tried to play with as little violence as I could, leading to conversations that I’m so glad I was a part of. Sure I could bash your head in with my super sledgehammer, but why not simply flirt with you to get what I want? There is so much content in this game that I find myself will a full quest log even after 100+ hours of playing this game. Not to mention the elaborate home customization that I haven’t even started to mess around with. Similar to Bloodborne, I also love the stories I’ve shared with friends who are also playing the game. I spent a full three hour car ride recently just talking about how my friend set up his Sanctuary. I want to know as much about this world as I can, whether from my own experiences or by hearing about the experiences of others. And those experiences are so much easier to have thanks to streamlined gameplay, more dense worlds, and a more cinematic dialogue interface.
#1: Broken Age
Double Fine’s Kickstarter baby technically started coming out in 2014, but the game as a complete product was finally released this year and it took my breath away. I don’t like point and click adventure games. I don’t like the puzzles. I don’t like the pixel hunting. I don’t like the moment to moment gameplay that typical point and click adventure games have. But gorgeous visuals, an exciting and unique world, funny dialogue, and flawed characters made sure that Broken Age had its hooks in my from the get go. I heard every word of dialogue, picked up every possible item, solved every puzzle, and I still want to just sit in that game’s start screen. With beautiful art direction from Nathan Stapely, an endlessly listenable score by Peter McConnell, and clever yet emotional writing from Tim Schafer, it’s hard to not feel all warm and cuddly inside while you’re playing this game. But the heart of this game is in its world and characters. This world, which is simultaneously alien and familiar, is brought to life with such skill and love that I want to live in it. I want to get to know these characters who are funny, flawed, and beautiful. I want to have lunch with them. I want to go on adventures with them. I want to spend more time with them. With this game. I recommend it with the fullest of hearts and I am proud to call it my Game of the Year.