Published on January 19th, 2016 | by Amber
GOTY 2015 Amber’s Top 5
2015 was a great year for video games, and for me it was a year full of surprises. So many of the games that I championed this year were games that either I did not expect to like or came out of nowhere; and on the flip side the games I was looking forward to ended up being more of a disappointment. Nothing was certain, questions were asked, and in the end video games were played.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT
If you had asked me in 2014 what was the game I was most looking forward to in 2015 this would’ve been it. While some did not like the open world gameplay that Arkham City introduced, I found that I could not get enough of it. The game was not perfect however, and I was excited to see what Rocksteady did in their follow up title to address some of it’s issues. Needless to say what we were given was something of a mess instead. I will state that I played Arkham Knight on the PC and the first third of that game became almost unplayable because of the frame rate issues. If I had played it on the PS4 or the Xbox One it might have changed my opinion of the game, but there were still plenty of other problems that ruined the game for me: Batmobile combat, predictable story twists, and way too many side quests. I won’t say Arkham Knight was the worst game of the year, and it did some things well, but for someone who was such a fan of Rocksteady’s previous Arkham games this one left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
HONORABLE MENTION: YO-KAI WATCH
I wish I would have put more time into this, but a slew of games towards the end of the year distracted me from returning to this title and only putting 5+ hours into it. What a charming game though. For me it brings me back to the days of playing Pokemon on my Gameboy Color for hours and hours, exploring the world and itching to see more of the Pokemon that inhabited it. Yo-Kai Watch does a great job of capturing this same joy while also evolving the game mechanics to bring about something fresh and fun. The battle system is quick-paced and focuses more on you supporting your yo-kai as opposed to picking and choosing every attack they need to do, allowing you to move through battles quickly and not get bogged down by the slog of them. Even the story, which from what I’ve seen is pretty basic, gives you a reason to continue exploring the world and trying to befriend more yo-kai. You can bet I will spend more time with this game in the next year!
Alright, now on to the list!
5. UNTIL DAWN
As someone who is a big wimp and can barely handle any kind of horror I’m just as surprised as anyone that this made my top 5. That says a lot about how much of a quality game this is. Taking the stereotypical horror plot of a group of teens stranded in a cabin as a psycho tries to get at them is a very tired movie premise, however turning this into a game where the player has the ability to save or let all the characters die is an inspired choice. The player’s choices now feel like they have a lot of weight to them, something that many games struggle to do right without having dozens of branching paths. The graphics are also a big pull in this game; the motion-capture of the actors is astounding, helping to capture the individual performances to propell the game forward (shout out to Peter Stormare and Rami Malek for stand-out performances). The environments are also incredible as they portray a foreboding atmosphere through the different sceneries. Not everything in this game is a home run though. The game does employ quite a number of cheap jump scares, sometimes in excess, and the “twist” in the story of the true nature of what is hunting the teens is a little cheesy. Until Dawn is still a great experience, and if you don’t mind some pretty graphic gore scenes I do highly recommend it.
4. ROCKET LEAGUE
This game reminds me of the episode of Top Gear where they play car soccer with a giant ball and some hatchbacks, and I remember watching that thinking it would be pretty fun to play as long as you don’t completely wreck your car. Rocket League takes that premise and cranks the volume up to 11; add boost and aerial mechanics and what you have is a fun game that’s hard to put down. The game is incredibly simple to pick up, but oh man is it difficult to master. Driving around a car is easy, but positioning your car in front of the goal and using boost to hit the ball in mid-air so it can sail into the goal takes some practicing. Once you finally do pull off a stellar move to get a goal though you feel like the king of the world. The satisfaction of scoring is a big part of what makes Rocket League so fun. For about a month I would come home after work and sink about an hour into random match-ups, wanting to improve my skills more and more. Also thanks to it being available for free on PS Plus for the first month the game gained wide popularity and made it easy to find people to play against, and the tools to customize your game can be a simple or complex as you want. The new additions the developer has included in the last few months have been great, from simple cosmetics to additional customized game options and even an ice hockey mode where the giant ball is replaced with a giant puck. I will admit I did fall off playing it a couple months ago, but that time I did spend with it was a blast. Now after writing about how good this game is I will probably boot it up and play a match after I’m done.
3. METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
Metal… Gear!? That’s right, someone that has never played a Metal Gear game in her life now has the latest Kojima game in her #3 spot. The last couple of years I had gone back and watched some let’s plays of the Metal Gear Solid series, so I knew the “story” leading up to this game. With there being lots of buzz about the new Kojima game I wanted to see what it had to offer, and boy was I in for a ride. Metal Gear Solid V goes in a completely new direction for the series, offering an open-world experience for the player to run around and just have fun in. The secret? Crazy fun game mechanics. Metal Gear not only gives the player the freedom to tackle any mission how they want, they give you plenty of options and tools to be able to pull it off. For me I usually went stealth, and while stealth in a video game can be difficult to pull off, this game gives you enough tools at your disposal to be able to do stealth well. What if you get caught? Well there are many ways to get out of a jam. You can create a diversion with a decoy Big Boss, you can run and hide in a dumpster and wait for things to cool down, or one of the most successful additions is the use of “Reflex Mode.” Boiled down this is basically a bullet time mode; when a soldier spots Big Boss you go into a slo-mo and are given time to be able to point your gun at the assailant and take him out. This became a lifesaver for me, and sneaking around a base and taking down guys with my tranquilizer gun and fultoning them back to my base was a thrill. Also on a similar note: fultoning soldiers and animals will never stop being amusing. The buddies you can utilize on your missions give the game an additional layer of strategy. You can call in D-Dog (who is ADORABLE) and he will be able to tag soldiers that you can’t even see within a certain radius. Quiet can go to a snipe point and take out handfuls of enemies either at your command or on her own, which proves to be even more useful once she gets a silenced sniper. Even D-Horse can be used to sneak past a base and make for a quick getaway if you’re in a jam.
Metal Gear does so much right as far as gameplay goes, but it does so much wrong that brings the overall experience down. The story is very lacking, between the lack of reaction or anything from Big Boss and the lack of cutscenes to tie it together the story felt like an afterthought. Also as far as characters go Quiet was the most disappointing thing all year. She has an interesting back story, she’s bad ass, she shows multiple times how much she can mess people up… and they use her mostly for boobs and booty shots in the most gratuitous way. And don’t even let me get started on the FOB online parts. On paper being able to attack other players’ bases and steal men and resources sounds pretty interesting, but the reality of losing resources that you’ve been collecting for hours in the main game is more of a slap in the face. Worst part is you don’t have an option, you can go into “offline mode” to try and avoid this but then you lose a big chunk of resources and available room for your men. To top it off if the servers are down and you have resources and GDP in your FOB then you are screwed, you won’t have access to those resources until the servers are back online. This happened to me and I ended up in the red, and my men started leaving the base because we had no money! Lastly there are a small handful of missions that you come across in the game that completely throw player choice out the window and force the player to use heavy infantry to try and survive. There are two main problems with this is if you’ve been playing stealth the whole game like I had: firstly you probably have not put much research into things like rocket launchers and assault rifles and are screwed, and second the game does not tell you when these missions will be. This happened a few times where I went in with a tranquilizer gun and non-lethal sniper rifle and it turns out I have to take out the massively difficult Skull unit before they pulverize me… I don’t think my tranquilizing weapons are going to cut it.
If Metal Gear had addressed some of these issues it could have been my top game, but too many of these bogged down the overall game to where I even gave up beating it in the end. That being said I did thoroughly enjoy my time playing it, and I wouldn’t mind running around the world to just take on some bases and fulton some soldiers. Never gets old.
2. LIFE IS STRANGE
I enjoy games that give the player control over choices and, like Until Dawn, gives weight to the choices you have made. Life is Strange proves that it can do this well while telling a compelling story mixing teenage drama with supernatural elements. This game takes place on the Oregon coast in a small, sleepy town named Arcadia Bay, where the prestigious Blackwell Academy is well into the fall semester. There you play as Max Caulfield, a shy and geeky senior, who one day has a premonition of a giant tornado destroying the town and everything in its path. If that weren’t weird enough Max witnesses one of her classmates accidentally shoot someone in the bathroom, and by trying to stop it Max discovers she has the ability to rewind time. Though at first it may seem that you will just be joining Max on a regular week of school, the story quickly turns dark as the week progresses. Max seems to get in above her head as she reunites with her old childhood best friend Chloe Price as they try to find out what happened to Rachel Amber, one of Chloe’s close friends and a student at Blackwell. The story becomes partially a mystery thriller and part of a coming-of-age story as Max interacts with Chloe and other characters in and around the school. There’s conspiracy, hints of danger, and corruption that plague Max as she tries to do the right thing. The characters become some of the most interesting parts of the game as you spend more time with them. You get to know Kate, a religious girl who had something awful done to her. You are bullied by Victoria, a stereotypical mean girl who shows glimmers of a deeper person. Even Nathan Prescott, the son of the rich family who practically owns Arcadia Bay, goes in directions that are unexpected. Chloe is the real star of the show. As Max spends time with her you watch as Chloe rebels, acts out, and ends up growing as a person by the end of it.
This rewind power becomes the core mechanic of the game, giving the player the power to say a response then rewind to choose a different response and judge which outcome they prefer. This becomes a great solution to a problem that sometimes happens with games, where the player makes a choice and the outcome is not what was expected. By giving the player the control to have the outcome what they want it to be and not feel like they were duped into a bad choice. The game also gives a handful of “big decisions” each episode that changes the aspect of the game, and while some seem pretty small those choices are some of the hardest to make. Do you let your friend steal money from a corrupt official to pay off a debt, even though it could possibly be for the handicapped? Do you pull a gun on a drug dealer to scare him off, or do you chicken out and lose your gun to him? I know these kind of decisions have been around since TellTale’s Walking Dead, but the game gives a lot of weight to every decision so it always feels like the stakes are high.
Without spoiling what happens in Max’s adventures, each episode builds on suspense of the progressing story until it gets to the end. I will admit the last episode is what I think is the weakest one as the story becoming a little confusing and convoluted, but the game does build to a pretty emotional ending. I don’t agree with everything the ending does, but the story does so many things that I still found myself still thinking about the game days after.
I’m sure this is a BIG surprise that this game was my top game this year. To be honest though up until about a month I was ready for Life is Strange to sweep the top spot. Undertale hit me like a ton of bricks. I know a lot of people on the internet have been yelling about this game, and people are somewhat sick of it, but all these fans are passionate about this game for a reason. Part of what makes Undertale so good is how surprising it is. I heard someone say it best that after the first hour you think you understand what the game is, after the second hour you realize there’s more to it, and by the time your finish the game you’re glad you experienced it. Undertale does so many things that many games that very few games try to do, and it does them all well. Take a spin on your traditional RPG, add actually funny writing, a cast of lovable and memorable characters, and a story that goes places, and you have a game that is hard to forget.
The premise of the game is humans and monsters coexisted together 100 years ago until war broke out, which ended with the fearful humans driving the monsters down underground to live out the remainder of their days. As the game starts you are a human kid who ends up in the underground, and with nothing but their determination they trek through the monster-filled caverns. One of the most unique things about Undertale is the very different paths it offers depending on how the player interacts with the world. Every single monster you encounter you can spare, and this becomes a big part of the game. You can choose to spare everyone, let some live, or attack everyone you meet, it’s all up to you. Sparing monsters is not easy as just hitting a button on the menu, you have to interact with them to help put them at ease with you so you can offer to spare. Sometimes that might be laughing at some bad jokes, or letting a germ-obsessed monster clean you, or even just petting a monster who is so overly excited their neck grows each time you pet them. Each encounter becomes a small puzzle, and couple that with the dodge system you have to use when the monster attacks and you have a battle system that is incredibly engaging. Whichever path you choose can lead to a completely different experience. The different pathways don’t simply have a slightly different ending, but some deviate to the point of becoming a different game entirely. I also strongly urge not to just play this game once, because I feel you get the least out of it if you do. I know saying that to truly experience a game you have to play it multiple times because that’s what the game’s creator expects seems cheap, but I found that after doing my first playthrough of it I had to jump back in. You see the first time you play it you’re just going along, engaging with the world as you would expect in an RPG. It’s not till you beat the game, and understand how this world works, that you want to go back and more clearly define which path you want to take.
Undertale is a strong example of game writing used to compel the players to experience more of a world. Every small interaction with NPCs, no matter how important or minor, is full of humor and plays around with tropes in video games. A good example of this is when you go to the town of Snowdin and enter into the local shop. If you go and try to sell some of your useless items to the shop owner, like you would in any other RPG, she becomes confused and lectures you that if she spent money on useless things like used bandages and sticks she would be out of business. Undertale is full of little winks and nods like this, but it’s the writing of some of the main characters that really stuck with me. Take one of the early characters you meet, Papyrus the skeleton. At first, he’s framed as a would-be villain who wants to capture a human but is thwarted by his own incompetence at creating puzzles and his brother Sans’ laziness, but as the game goes on you realize he’s not a antagonist at all. Just a skeleton with a ton of passion and enthusiasm. In fact, somewhere between battling with Papyrus and then meeting him at his house to go on a date together (yes you read that right), I went from enjoying Undertale to falling in love with it. The game is anything but predictable, and once I entered my date with the skeleton and saw all the silliness I was in for I couldn’t help but become completely enamored with this game.
I could continue to gush on about the great soundtrack, the subversive nature of the endings, or the different ways each boss battle changes up the battle system, but I feel I may have droned on enough. Undertale is packed with so much personality that I feel I don’t see in games enough. It’s silly, endearing, and playful, but can also be serious and dark when it needs to be. For me it was a memorable experience that I’m glad I had, and I hope more games can take some inspiration from this delightful game.
Now I’m going to crawl back into my Tumblr hole and browse more fan art :3