Andrew’s Top 5 Games of 2015
2015 was a big year for games, one which I unfortunately was not able to be more of a part of. The Witcher 3, Just Cause 3, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Undertale, Metal Gear Solid V, Rise of the Tomb Raider: all of these are only a handful of the critically-acclaimed releases from this year alone which I did not get a chance to experience for myself.
So instead of opting to make a definitive “Best Of” list for 2015, I decided on listing the five most impressive games from this year which I actually got to play through. It was the year of the AAA title, it seems, given the impressive amount of big-budget titles which actually managed to offer up innovative world-building and intriguing gameplay derivation. So without further ado, here are the five games I played this year which most impressed me and left me wanting more.
I’ve been a rabid Dark Souls fan since the second iteration first released. After battling through the horrific and challenging monsters and dungeons which fueled the combative sequences of both games, the announcement of Bloodborne immediately got me psyched. But it wasn’t only the intense and innovative combat style which satisfied my longing for FromSoftware’s latest masterpiece. Nor was it only the engrossing world-building or rich, subtle macabre storytelling. What cemented Bloodborne as the greatest game I played in 2015 was not just how perfected every gameplay element felt, as I gripped my controller in my sweaty hands and sat at the edge of my seat all the way through; it was the thematic proportions from which the narrative built itself up, convincingly arguing concepts regarding the destruction of the God-given world as a consequence of Mankind’s sickened ignorance. The idea that Man will eventually evolve to the point of inwardly destroying itself from bloated curiosity fuels this psychologically-devastating horror game, and is in fact only further evidenced by the player’s determination to see it through to the end, no matter how many times they see the blood-red words “YOU DIED” sprawled across their screen.
Personally, I normally can’t stand games which promise the player an experience where “every decision you make affects the overall outcome.” Most of the time, with games like The Walking Dead or Heavy Rain, the effects are so limited they too often come off as inconsequential, which just ends up disappointing my expectations. But Until Dawn, the latest horror masterpiece from Supermassive Games manages to not only design an intriguing gameplay system where the player’s choices truly affect the mortal outcome of the characters, it revels in its system by refusing to pander to the player’s expectations. When a character dies, it is the player’s fault and it could have been avoided, if only they were paying attention to the subtle clues the game dishes out throughout. Or maybe they wanted a character to die, and so props to them for succeeding. Regardless, where Until Dawn draws its true horror from is fitting the player simultaneously within the role of the killer and the victim, pitting their own mind against itself as it ponders whether they enjoy being the hero or the villain, which is something special for the video game medium, indeed.
Batman: Arkham Knight
The Arkham series has possibly been my favorite game series since Asylum first blew me away back in 2009. Arkham City further expanded upon the idea of “being Batman” by opening up the world for players to explore and fit themselves into a legitimate vigilante role, and Arkham Knight takes it a step further, arriving on new-gen platforms and dressing itself up in wonderfully garish but still somehow vibrant tones of color. While it delivers much less of an impact as the previous two iterations did — much of it felt largely similar to the functionalities of its predecessors — it’s bigger and bolder definitions allowed it to surpass them in terms of setting and control, regardless of how disappointing certain features felt throughout (ie. the lack of intriguing boss encounters, the overabundance of Bat-tank levels, the whiny antagonist). Where the game truly excels, however, is in its storytelling, where the Bat’s mortality is ultimately questioned and a city gradually crumbles despite any interference he attempts to make. Consequently, the player often finds themselves exhausted from the abundance of crime flowing through Gotham, much like the Bat himself, making for the penultimate Batman experience.
I haven’t been as obsessed with a game as I am with Fallout 4 since, well, Fallout 3 probably. Given how I constantly label its predecessor as my absolute favorite game of all time, it should come as no surprise that I was more excited at the announcement of Fallout 4 than I’ve ever been for anything gaming related. And wow did the game match my expectations, which in itself deserves acknowledgment. But what truly makes Fallout 4 such a fantastic experience is both how familiar it feels and how different, delicately pitting the player within a world they’ve likely seen before but constantly engaging them with unexpected vistas, sprawling countrysides which take on a beauty of their own, decayed urban areas which house monstrosities and ravaged individuals looking to strip away the few things you have left (which incidentally is likely quite a bit given how important it is to lug around a bunch of junk). It retains the intriguing themes regarding the differing concepts of true patriotism within a nation all while excelling at delivering a fantastical open world for players to discover amidst the ruin. All in all, it gives more, it takes more, and it allows more for the player to experience than any iteration before it, constantly spewing out another task to accomplish or building to explore or character to grow attached to, just when you think its content has finally run dry.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent remains one of the most effective horror titles I’ve experienced (despite its lack of replayability and its backwards-thinking “sanity” function). It effortlessly weaves puzzle-based gameplay into its storytelling all while constantly maintaining a level of unease few games ever manage to even hint at. Much of the same can be said for SOMA, Frictional’s latest survival horror offering; however where Amnesia excels in its classification as a survival horror experience, SOMA instead offers its horror through the notion of existential dread. The overall experience is certainly lacking in terror from a gameplay perspective — enemies appear and you have to hide or run away from them as reminiscent of Frictional’s previous games — however its narrative is quite the accomplishment in eliciting insightful ramifications regarding the player’s own humanity, tossing and turning throughout to cause a state of humanistic panic as the game ponders what it truly means to be alive. Add gorgeous scenery, a setting brimming in depth, and well-paced sequences and SOMA ultimately succeeds as one of the most psychologically-intriguing games I’ve ever played.