Wow, what a year, huh? I mean, sure, 2015 kinda sucked for me. I’m sure you’ve heard it a bunch of times, but my house blew up. Plenty of school-related garbage happened, more mental health stuff, and my living situation has pretty much been on the rocks since Jan. 1. But I sure as hell turned it around!
I started freelancing for real this year with the stuff I did for Pixelkin.org (which you should 100% check out), I got an awesome job that I’m not supposed to talk about (but it’s cool), and I’m back in a stable house with a roof that isn’t exploded. Oh, and if you haven’t heard me brag about it enough, I’ve written about video games almost every day for all of 2015. Now that’s an exhausting task, but I think I’ve done enough patting myself on the back. Let’s talk about video games!
What a year for gaming 2015 has been. I mean, if you like story in your video games, you’re covered. If you like video games in your video games, holy shit were there some games this year. My list is pretty reflective of all walks of life in games, I think. Across the year, for sure a great year for Irrational Passions Podcast, we’ve talk up and down about surprises, like Undertale and Dying Light, to hopefuls like Until Dawn and Life is Strange. Plus, the heavy hitters (for the most part) delivered, so Metal Gear and Witcher 3 made for incredible AAA experiences. For me, 2015 has been the best year for games since 2008, and with next year looking just as good, if not better, I feel really good about the industry.
Sure, there have been some pretty big hits too, like Kojima being pushed out of Konami, Konami leaving console-based video games just in general, the fiascos surrounding certain releases of games (I’m looking at you Arkham Knight PC!) and of course, the irreplaceable loss of Mr. Satoru Iwata at Nintendo. I think we are getting an unfortunate idea that the current video game consoles on the market just aren’t going to keep up with PC, but with stuff like Arkham Knight and Witcher 3 looking so good on these console platforms, it’s clear they can be optimized to a great degree.
But enough about that, let’s talk about my favorite games from last year. There were too many to fit on my top 10, but that just reinforces how many games I loved came out this year.
You can listen to my list with all my podcast host buddies right here:
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Tales from the Borderlands
10. Yoshi’s Woolly World
Cute. This game is so damn cute it’s almost too much for my tiny brain to handle. No, that’s not the only thing that makes this game special for me, rest assured. It’s also an incredibly solid Nintendo platformer, which is to say some of the best in its class. The yarn aesthetic plays so much into the feel of the game, past just how it looks. When Yoshi unravels something with his tongue, it uncoils and recoils into a little yarn ball for him to throw at enemies. Not only is it well portrayed and practical, it’s goddamn adorable.
The game plays with level design conventions of a platformer as well. Many levels focused in on hubs and hub areas, just within a single level. You go around collecting and completing certain tasks to return to a central area and move forward. It’s different, it’s fun, it has a lot of heart, and toward the end, a ton of great challenge. Plus, there are so many different adorable Yoshi’s that you can just eat your heart out haters.
9. Tales from the Borderlands
This one definitely came out of nowhere for me. A lot of people told me how great, how funny, and how brilliant this game was, and they were right. Tales from the Borderlands is not only the best looking and feeling Telltale game to date, it’s also the best directed, best shot, and one of the ones with the most heart. Though I think it still doesn’t hold up to The Wolf Among Us, it redeems what Telltale is doing a lot for me.
The game creates a lovely and fun group of misfits trying to accomplish something way out of their league. It feels fresh in a lot of ways, and adds little touches to Telltale’s way overdone formula that keeps it from dragging. Plus the performances of the two main characters, portrayed by Troy Baker and Laura Bailey, are just so excellent that they can hold you through the brief and far between slow moments of the title.
8. Until Dawn
Until Dawn is kind of a crazy thing. One, how has no one ever thought of this before? Two, why do I like it so much? Three, why do I just want to keep watching new, different people play through it?! I have “experienced” Until Dawn three times this year: once with my two best friends, handing off the controller. The second time entirely by myself, saving all the teens from certain death. And the third was during Extra Life, a video that hopefully, someday, you’ll get to watch. Each time it didn’t get worse, as the layers of mystery peeled back from the surface, it actually got better.
I hate teen horror. I really hate traditional, PG-13 horror movies, made to get teens out of their home on Halloween and in a movie theatre. I hate them. With a passion. They’re predictable, stupid, and more comedy acts than I think they intend. That being said, combining that circus act with a video game just makes for one of the best experiences of 2015. Both the act of playing it with two of my closest friends, who don’t play a lot of games, and just having a fun, open mind with it, really blew me away. It’s impossible to talk specifics of Until Dawn without taking a bit of the experience away, so grab some friends, hand off the controller, and have an unforgettable evening together.
7. Destiny the Taken King
Never did I think that Destiny would make it into one of my favorite games of the year. After hearing all the buzz surrounding Taken King, and dipping my toes in earlier in the year, I had to check it out. I was kind of blown away. Mostly at the fact that Destiny is a game that I actively want to play with people. I’ve gotten to keep the dream alive, so to speak, and play Destiny with a bunch of my podcast and online friends, something I only ever wish I could do with most online games that come about. I think that pretty much speaks for itself.
Sitting down with the many “raid parties” I have had with the game has been absurdly fun. In of themselves they’re parties, with jokes, in-jokes, and laughs to be had from all of them. Vault of Glass pushed Tony to get the game which started me actually playing video games with him, a feat that I still think he doesn’t believe. Destiny has a cool cinematic story to tell, some really excellent set-pieces, and a six-person raid that is superb. Taken King makes the game worth playing, especially as someone who skipped the Vanilla content and got to play all of that too.
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Bloodborne boils down the Souls games to its pure, mechanical essence. In a way, it’s the most pure the ‘series’ has ever been. I put hundreds of hours into this game over the course of the year, getting the Platinum trophy, playing through it with friends, and mastering it myself. What really stands out here above anything else is the gameplay. Where it is a bit more repetitive visually than the series has been in the past, sticking to its gothic look, it switches up how you approach and play ‘one of these games’ in just about every which way.
Adding in the trick weapons, taking out the shields, and making the lock-on/dodge mechanic so much more integral to the ebb and flow of combat revitalizes that experience in a big way for me. It’s just so satisfying and so fun to move in, strike, and move out within combat. Plus every weapon you choose has at least two playstyles to approach encounters with, making it feel like you have more tools right at your fingertips, as opposed to hidden behind walls of mechanics or magic spells. But the game doesn’t lose that either! Bloodborne is bloody, grotesque, and insanely fun to play. The aggressive loop of its combat will have me coming back for a playthrough here and there for years to come, even if I’ve seen all the game has to offer.
It’s kind of hard to talk about Undertale, especially with so many vibes about it out there. With as much as everyone else talked Undertale on the podcast, you would have thought that would have taken something, anything, away from my experience with it, but on the other hand, I had my own unique experience with Undertale. What it gave me was probably a little different than what it gave everyone else.
Scott and Tony tend to commend this game for giving you truly the full spectrum of RPG options: killing everything in the world, or not killing a single damn thing. For me, the “pacifist” route is really the only route (which is surprising to me to feel so strongly about, considering where I’ve been with ‘multiple ending games), mostly because only there do you get to experiment with things, play around with the ACT mechanic that they set up, and maybe even flex your enemy off the screen. Whether it was the reindeer with too much crap on his head, or the seahorse that wanted to flex himself all over the place, even the enemies you fight in this game have more personality than your average RPG. It’s a beautiful world of misunderstood creatures that genuinely teaches the player a little bit about themselves, and that’s something special if ever I’ve seen it.
4. The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt
I feel like the polarizing nature of The Witcher 3 is its own fault. It’s so big. One may even go so far to say it’s too big. But I love it. I love the world of The Witcher, because it really is unlike any other fantasy world out there. And a lot of that can be contributed to how you interact with that world, which is with Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is an actual, named character, who has a place in this world. He’s a witcher, and because of that people react to him a bit differently. Or a lot differently. Through his eyes, you get to experience one of the best RPGs that I’ve ever experience.
Things feel alive in the Witcher in a way that they don’t in other western RPGs. People live, move, do their duties, go through their motions, and sometimes you get to interact with them. They have their own life going on though, so the way they talked to you, depending on what you’ve done or what they’ve seen, can very so much. There is more humanity in this game than most RPGs, and Geralt tends to bring that out in people.
The story told here is one of the best, if not the best any open world game has ever told. It gets to tote that line, too, of being open world for part of it, and a fun, set-piece driven story focused game towards its end. That balance, along with all CD Projekt Red has put into making this world, creates truly and unforgettable world and experience. You should probably finish this game if you’ve tried to start it.
3. Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V is basically my fantasy game. I mean, sort of. It let’s me live out the fantasy of being a super spy, super soldier who can take out an entire base of ne’er-do-wellers all by himself. I can sidle up on a base full of soldiers, and stake it out for maybe 10 minutes of real time. Well crap, they’re wearing night vision goggles. Why? Because the game has responded to me always attacking bases at night and has come prepared. I have some of my soldiers, y’know, from my private army, working on destroying their supply chain of night vision goggles, but they haven’t finished quite yet. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to improvise. I like to improvise here.
First, I need to take out their comms. I shuffle around in my sneaking suit, avoiding any contact for now, planting C4 in the appropriate places. I’m not gonna detonate it quite yet, but just in case. Oh, and for good measure, I’m gonna throw some C4 on their power station too. Y’know, in case things really go to hell. My objective? I don’t even remember. Evacuate some VIP? Sure, that sounds about right. Regardless, I’m sneaking around, silently taking down thugs with my tranq gun with zero issues. Unfortunately, the pile of unconscious bodies I’ve been stacking up is starting to draw attention. Uh oh. In all of my improvisations, I didn’t really bank on that. I got to the VIP, but now I gotta get out in one piece.
Oh, a spark of a brilliant idea. Time to blow the C4. Their comms go down and they’re panicking because they can’t communicate with HQ. Oh, and the power goes out, because, y’know, I blew that up too. Sure they have night vision, but that ain’t gonna stop me now.
I did that in that game. Not just once, twice, but dozens of times. However I liked. Altering my approach and plan as needed. Never has a game let me feel so free to experiment, and never have those tools of experimentation been so well implemented into just about every aspect of the world. The Phantom Pain, for all of its shortcomings as a “Metal Gear” game, lives up to the idea of “tactical espionage operations”.
2. Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori is the total package. It blind sided me as not only a game I might adore, but a game I deeply love, and one of my favorite takes of the classic “Metroidvania” style in quite a long time. It takes everything that makes the genre great, and iterates on it, all while wrapping it up and one of the most beautiful games not only of 2015, but that I’ve ever seen. Seriously, looking at this game is unreal, and I don’t think a 2D world has ever had this much depth and beauty. Has ever looked quite this alive.
Foraging through Ori’s world is a pure joy. Not only because of how it looks, but because of how it plays. It’s probably the tightest platforming I’ve experienced since Super Meat Boy in 2010, and on top of that it layers on the multitude of fresh and new abilities that you expect to see in something like a “Metroidvania”. The “Bash” move, something you get within the title’s first major “dungeon,” is maybe the coolest and most unique platforming ability I’ve ever experience in one of these kinds of games. It made traversing the world always exhilarating, and faster than anything else out there.
It pulls at the heart strings in its storybook-like tale, but the real beauty of Ori is in its controls, its style, and its art.
1. Life is Strange
Here we are, at the end of my list. What did you expect, but a game that seeks to leave an emotional impression on its players rather than a mechanical one? It’s kind of my forte.
Coming out of 2014, a relatively weak year for video games, I had my eye on Life is Strange. The vibes I had gotten from it, from trade shows and the like, reminded me in a weird way of Gone Home, one of my absolute favorite games from 2013. I was pretty off base, save for maybe the fact that the hero is a female, but Life is Strange is so unique, so itself, while taking the things that inspire it and raising the bar to a new level.
Let me roll it back here. What I thought was just a science fiction adventure game about teens and their angst, turned out to be a story about Life. Life is strange sometimes, and it sends challenges our way that we’re not always ready for. Challenges like depression, bullying, suicide, friends getting hurt or going missing, or questions of what we would do if we could change the past. Sometimes these challenges leave us feeling more empty than we started off, but sometimes they let us spend time with the people that really matter. And to come back full circle, that’s what Life is Strange is about. It’s about friendship.
You get to experience, through Max Caulfield’s eyes, one of the realest and truest friendships ever portrayed in a video game. One that isn’t easy, one that hurts sometimes, and one that will have you making some of the hardest choices you could make in a video game. The end of Life is Strange left me quite literally breathless, and the impact its finale, and all its episodes for that matter, had on me, isn’t something I’ll soon forget. Or ever forget.