Best of 2015 Revisited

Yesterday, I gave my updated takes on 2015’s biggest problem children. So let’s review what I thought of it’s best honor students (I’m so glad I’ve been out of school for half a decade).

10. Batman Arkham Knight

What I said then: People were playing and beating Arkham Knight a little bit ahead of me. It came out around the time I moved so I was a week or two behind everyone who was playing it at launch. Maybe those early reactions about people frustrated by the Batmobile reconfigured my expectations but I didn’t have an overly negative response to the vehicle gameplay. It certainly didn’t feel right for Batman, but it was still fun. And I think I’d rank the game’s main story as the best of the series.

That said, if I never have to get another Riddler trophy, it will be too soon.

What I think now: No significant change here. I still think people blew the Batmobile parts of this game out of proportion. And I was very glad that Riddler Trophies felt very reined in with the Batman Arkham VR game. Now that the dust has settled, I think it probably falls in the middle of my Arkham rankings: City, Asylum, Knight, Origins, VR, Blackgate (which I never bothered to play).

9. Lara Croft GO

What I said then: By and large, I think the contempt a lot of console and PC players feel for mobile phone games is somewhat warranted. An overwhelming majority of the games on the App Store or Google Play are very basic experiences or clones of clones of clones of somebody’s else idea trying to cash in on the hot game/idea of the moment.

But when a game like Lara Croft Go comes along and rises above that, I try to reward that. The spiritual follow-up to Hitman Go, this game is an incredibly beautiful puzzle game. It does a great job introducing it’s different elements and combining them in fun and engaging ways. I hope it follows the path of Hitman Go and comes to PlayStation as well. I’d gladly buy and play through it again.

What I think now: It did follow the Hitman GO path and was launched at PlayStation Experience. I replayed it to get the Platinum trophy. And I hadn’t played the expansion puzzles from the original mobile version so I really enjoyed those new elements to the game (the stone monsters that can rebuild themselves and the Mirror Lara puzzle design from their respective level sets are phenomenal). It’s still a great puzzle game. And walking away from the game from about a year really helps in making it still seem satisfying when you come back and forgotten some of the trickier head-scratchers.

8. LEGO Jurassic World/LEGO Dimensions

What I said then: In 2015, I found a Player 2 to share my gaming experiences with in the form of my girlfriend Catherine. In trying to identify the right game for us to play together, I landed on LEGO Jurassic World. A fan of the LEGO games since the first Star Wars game, it felt like the right blend of gameplay and fun. We played through the entirety of the game together and it even became the basis for one of my favorite series to write about: Co-op with Catherine, where I document our experiences playing together.

Catherine and I shared a lot of nerdy interests. Chief among them is our mutual love of Doctor Who so imagine her excitement when I showed her the LEGO Dimensions trailer featuring the Doctor. It immediately shot to the top of her must have list. We’ve had a harder time getting through the main story of Dimensions but playing the opening moments of the Doctor Who Level Pack and watching Cat’s glee as the LEGO-version of the show’s theme song played might be my favorite single moment in gaming this year.

What I think now: I’ve already written at length about how hard it was to go back to LEGO Dimensions after Catherine and I broke up early in the year. But I ultimately did. And still find the game immensely more charming than it has any right to be. But my own baggage, and the fact that I downgraded from a big living room to a cramped studio for my gaming setup have prevented me from revisiting Dimensions as much as I think it deserves.

As for Jurassic World, it’s the same LEGO formula. Without a player 2, it’s not nearly as special so I wouldn’t expect it to have made my list otherwise. And it was followed up by a very disappointing LEGO Avengers and a somewhat underwhelming LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens. The former because of technical issues like a bad sound mix and trying to cram in too many movies and the latter because it tried to stretch out a single movie into the LEGO game standard of 3-ish movies.

7. Ori and the Blind Forest

What I said then: In addition to being my pick for best Art Direction in 2015, Ori and the Blind Forest was an incredibly enjoyable Metroidvania game this year. Brutally difficult at times like the genre’s predecessors, finally progressing through a section (the Ginso Tree, for example) felt incredibly rewarding. Somewhat lacking in story for my taste (the opening moments certainly tug at the heartstrings but in that same formulaic shortcut Disney has perfected over the years of losing a loved one), the gameplay more than made up for the game’s narrative shortcomings.

Playing through this game around the same time I played through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the Kinda Funny Book Club, I found myself appreciating just how Ori was building upon the legacy of its fore-bearers.

What I think now: I never did manage to go back and finish Ori and the Blind Forest but it’s still one of the best Xbox ecosystem exclusives and a great Metroidvania game. Maybe if I wind up wanting to scratch that itch in 2017, I’ll look back on this one (which have a Definitive Edition released this year with some extra content).

6. Rocket League

What I said then: I’ll be the first to admit that I probably wouldn’t have picked up Rocket League if it hadn’t been a PlayStation Plus game. I really haven’t been overly invested in sports games since the NBA Jam/NFL Blitz era of more arcade-y sports games or the WWF (yes F) wrestling games. I tried to play NBA 2K14 when I first got my PlayStation 4 and was desperate for some games to play on it but it was far more complicated mechanically than anticipated and I didn’t have the interest or patience to learn it. FIFA 14  fared a little better and benefitted from my enjoyment of the World Cup last year but even there I felt like I was barely scratching the surface on the game.

Fast forward to Rocket League and I immediately appreciated how accessible it was. A prime example of the easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master gameplay, Rocket League is probably the best sports game I’ve ever played. Jumping into a game against other players or the AI Bots can be immediately exhilarating and exacerbating in equal measure. It doesn't get much better than the excitement of boosting through the air over your opponent to score the winning goal at the last second of the match.

What I think now: I jumped back in for a little bit of Rocket League at some point this year. Only against bots. And dang had I forgotten A) how good that game feels and B) how easy it is to be really bad at it if you’ve let it out of your system. But I absolutely love the continued support Psyonix has given the game and Danny O’Dwyer’s noclip documentary on the game was a fascinating peek behind the curtain.

5. Rise of the Tomb Raider

What I said then: While it will eventually not be an console exclusive game (as has been covered ad nauseum), Rise of the Tomb Raider stands for the moment as my Console Exclusive of 2015 (i.e. the best game you could only place on one system).

I played the Tomb Raider reboot last year when it was remastered for the new generation of systems and had a great time with it. I occasionally tried to play various Tomb Raider PC games growing up but it never clicked for me. The reboot’s Metroidvania style appealed much more to my sensibilities and I had a great time with it. Rise of the Tomb Raider is very much more of that Metroidvania upgrading and collectathon-ing. I loved the combat in this game and the puzzles, especially the optional tombs, were fun and rewarding.

And bonus: I won't have to try and find time to play it during 2016's inevitably packed Fall season.

What I think now: I really was glad I played this a year ago and didn’t have to squeeze it in among all of the other games I’ve played and covered in the past few months. Really the only disappointment is that I would love to play the PlayStation VR exclusive version of the DLC. So I would gladly by just that on PlayStation but I don’t imagine they’ll make it available so maybe I’ll just eventually buy the whole game again on sale to experience just the DLC in VR. That’s the only reason I have Star Wars Battlefront after all...

4. Tales from the Borderlands

What I said then: When the first episodes of Telltale's Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones launched late last year, I eagerly played through them both. For the first time since playing Back to the Future, I had a pre-existing enjoyment of these franchises (skipped Jurassic Park when it was panned critically, never been a Walking Dead fan so I've never gotten too far into those games, and when I finally played through The Wolf Among Us earlier this year, it was with no pre-existing knowledge of the Fables stories).

But as with almost every other experience I've had with Telltale, I didn't bother to really revisit the series as the new episodes came out. So when I was looking at games to play for my Extra Life marathon, I landed on Game of Thrones (and during the stream lamented that I hadn't chosen Tales from the Borderlands instead).

Games of Thrones ultimately landed squarely in the "meh" camp for me in 2015. It's not a bad game but it spends too much time trying to be like the TV show and just came across to me as a pale imitation. Tales from the Borderlands, on the other hand takes its source material and uses it to craft what I have found to be my favorite story of anything they've done. They nailed the over-the-top, the music sequences of each episode are on point, there are moments of great pathos, but above all: Tales from the Borderlands has pitch-perfect characters and performances.

I finished my playthrough wanting to start replaying the game to see all of the other outcomes I could get. And I am incredibly hopeful that this partnership with Gearbox works both ways and that we wind up spending more time with these characters in Borderlands 3.

What I think now: It’s interesting reflecting on 2015’s list in the context of my 2016 list because I can point to a couple of these items and say, “oh interesting...that game has turned into this game on my 2016 list.” For example, I’ve got a Metroidvania like Ori above or I’ve got a narrative game like this one.

Tales from the Borderlands probably remains at the top of my list for Telltale games. Batman told a great story this year but the comedy and laughs I got out of Borderlands surpasses the drama I got out of the Batman game. And while Tales from the Borderlands certainly was a typical Telltale game in its technical bugs, Batman was rather consistently a bad, choppy experience: episode after episode.

3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

What I said then: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt might very well be the biggest game I played this year and I lament that I haven’t even been able to get back to it in months and enjoy more of CDProjekt Red’s epic tale. In my probably 50-100 hours with the game I didn't even get through Act 1 of the game. But the beautiful open world, deep RPG mechanics (possibly even too deep for me), and insanely powerful storytelling in quests like the Bloody Baron side quest landed the game on this list. After talking with friends about where the story goes in the close of Act 1 and the rest of the game, it's very likely I'll try to revisit it early in 2016 at the top of my backlog.

What I think now: I’m almost certain I didn’t spent a single moment with The Witcher this year. It’s probably the biggest downside of trying to mostly stay on top of the games as they come out. The rare instance where I did take the time to play an older title, I just couldn’t dive into something as intimidating as the Witcher. Like I said, I already put in 50-100 hours and didn’t even get out of the first act of the game. I’d still love to spend more time with it, especially having heard that the expansions this year were also great. But at this point I honestly don’t seen myself going back to something so daunting anytime soon.

2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

What I said then: If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Metal Gear Solid would be anywhere on my top 10 list, let alone number 2, I would have been somewhat incredulous. The game wasn’t even on my radar until a month or so before release when early previews and gameplay was shown. But it piqued my interest and I wound up giving it a shot.

I think the game gets off to an excruciatingly slow start in that first mission in the hospital but as soon as Big Boss is let loose in Afghanistan, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain becomes a master class in gameplay. In my review, I wrote about how I couldn’t think of a game that better handled how the enemies “level up” as you do and after a couple months of racking my brain, that statement stands.

Yes, when you boil it down the core gameplay loop of go to outpost, capture/kill guards, capture/kill objective, exfiltrate area can seemed repetitive when describe so reductively. (Super Mario Bros. could also be reduced to go right and jump on or over things without dying.) But the game never felt repetitive and that’s a testament to its mechanics. This was probably the best game I played in 2015 mechanically but it was just missing that special something that kept it from my top spot.

What I think now: I still look back very fondly with my time in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I don’t think about the game much (mostly because I’m just so typically focused on the here and now of what I’m playing) but when Kojima reveals Death Stranding trailers, I’m excited for the prospect of more gameplay compared to whatever random story stuff he’ll be infusing it with.

Especially in the wake of something like Final Fantasy XV, where the open-world is way bigger than it needs to be, I can look back on just how well Metal Gear Solid V matched up the size of it’s world with the amount of things to do in it and how to traverse it. Both games have huge swaths of land with nothing worth a second look, but MGSV gave you the ability to just fly in to the exciting parts from the onset (while Final Fantasy XV requires you to drive to a location first before fast traveling and doesn’t give you the flying Regalia until after beating the game).

1. Fallout 4

What I said then: I’ve already written at length about my time with Fallout 4. Replaying Fallout 3 in the lead up to its release led me to realize that Fallout may very well be my favorite franchise of the modern era. After buying the Pip-Boy Special Edition, Fallout Loot Crate, Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide Box Set, Limited Edition Art Book, Vault-Tec Messenger Bag, Vault Boy Bobblehead and Funko figures, and limited edition Nuka Cola Quantum Jones Soda, Catherine has been calling Fallout 4 my favorite game and I believe she’s pretty darn close.

The game wasn’t without its flaws, which I touched on yesterday. A few more crashes very likely would have booted it from my top spot. And it felt more like Fallout 3.75 than a full-blown next entry in the franchise (with Fallout New Vegas being the 3.5 in this analogy). This was somewhat disappointing as I was definitely hoping for something more akin to the leap from Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion to Elder Scrolls V Skyrim. But in the end, the Fallout universe is absolutely one of my favorite video game worlds and Fallout 4 has already given me a hundred hours of enjoyment and (like Skyrim before it) will continue give me hundreds more in the years to come.

If you need any more reasons why Fallout 4 was my Game of 2015, I encourage you to check out the 6500+ words I've written on the game between my Scouting the Commonwealth series and my final review.

What I think now: I touched on this a bit with yesterday’s Worst of 2015 Revisited when addressing the game’s bugs, I attempted to revisit Fallout 4 earlier this year. I even briefly rebooted my Scouting the Commonwealth series since I was rolling a new character (having modeled and name my original Vault Dweller on my then-girlfriend was a little painful to return to in order to explore the DLC). But too many other games were vying for my attention. So adding to that the fact that the game and DLC in question were still buggy, the incentive to stick around was low. It’s still very much a “comfort food” kind of game for me and I stand by calling it my Game of 2015, but with the grueling pace I set for myself in 2016 (putting some significant time into approximately 100 games), “comfort food” was not a luxury I could afford too often this year.

So there’s the full look back on my top ten 2015 games and what I think about them today (and some hints at my 2016 list). Check back tomorrow as I take a look at a lot of the high-profile games that won’t be appearing on any of my lists. And keep checking in this week for more Game of the Year content, culminating in my Best of 2016 games at the start of the new year.