It’s not too late to post this just a month out, right? 2015 was awesome in gaming. I’ve always set the bar at 2007 for the best year of game releases, but I’d argue that 2015 has finally taken over that title. Let us begin.
I know that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt belongs on pretty much every game of the year list, but I can’t put it on mine. I didn’t play enough of it for me to qualify putting it on this list, but what I do know is my short time with it has blown me the fuck away. CD Projekt Red has created something truly special in this epic masterpiece of an action RPG. The combat and controls are tight and the open world is going to be a hard one to top. If I ever win the lottery and have the time to play it properly, I look forward to doing so.
I loved Hotline Miami. It was this absolutely out-of-nowhere hyperviolent descent into the neon underground. It grabbed you and beat the shit out of your eardrums with its amazing soundtrack while the object of the entire game was to murder absolutely everybody in every level. Hotline Miami 2 is not a whole lot different, but that’s perfect. Hotline Miami 2 focuses on the absurd backstory of the protagonist from the first game, Jacket, set in 1991. The levels are just as, and sometimes more frustrating as levels in the first game. The soundtrack absolutely did not disappoint and I regularly blare it. New masks and abilities add some excellent tweaks to spice up the formula. Since release, a map maker has even been introduced to the community. Like the first one, don’t miss it and hold on tight.
The much awaited sequel to the underrated Just Cause 2 released late in 2015, bringing along absolute insanity. Rico Rodriguez is back on an equally sized island, but with more gadgets and more explosions. Developers Avalanche Software clearly learned a lot from Just Cause 2 and know exactly what their fans want. The first mission of the game has you standing on top of an airplane firing unlimited rockets. Within the first fifteen minutes of the game, you’re given unlimited C4, a much improved grapple hook, and the amazing wingsuit. Just Cause 3 focuses a lot more on capturing towns a la Far Cry, but the objective is to literally blow up every single red-colored object within the town. The game wants you to create massive explosions. It wants you to fuck around in its beautiful sandbox and it succeeds in its goal. If animated GIFs had actual stock value, Just Cause 3 would make a lot of people rich.
I love the Batman Arkham Series a whole lot, sans Origins. When Arkham Asylum first came out, it blew everybody away. Arkham City only improved. Arkham Knight, their third and final chapter in the Batman trilogy, is their grand finale. The graphics are absolutely insane, the world is massive, and nonstop fun. They have designed Gotham City in such a way that it feels like you are truly the ruler of it. It’s hard to improve on an already perfect formula, especially on a game that introduced an attack-combo-block combat system that we see echoed in many games today, but it continues to improve on itself. The Riddler puzzles are great and the side missions made for a lengthy experience. Introducing the Batmobile was cool, but could’ve maybe done without the car combat. Batman fan or not, Arkham Knight is definitely worth playing. (But from the sounds of things, you should probably do it on a console)
As a self-proclaimed king of Guitar Hero, I was both skeptical and excited when Activision announced a new entry in a series that had been dead for 5-6 years, especially with a new guitar. Almost nobody has been playing Guitar Hero more than me since the original released over a decade ago. Who would’ve thought that FMV cutscenes could be kinda neat? Activision has completely innovated on their own formula, creating an experience that feels both familiar and new. Playing in front of a massive crowd of actual people felt badass in a way that the older games could never capture. The new double stacked frets instead of the traditional five buttons makes even the ultra expert like yours truly rethink the guitar rhythm game. The other mode, Guitar Hero TV, adds 24 hour streaming TV channels of music videos which you hop in and play at any time. More are being added constantly and it’s awesome to see them try something so different and pull it off. If they will be at this level, I hope to see more Guitar Hero games for years to come.
It turns out that when Nintendo doesn’t put Mario or Link in a game and throws a hail mary, it can come out crazy awesome. Splatoon is a multiplayer arena style game where the objective is to put more ink on the map than the other team sounds pretty crazy on paper. Turns out it’s a whole lot of fun. By keeping the game lighthearted with a bit of an edge, Nintendo instantly created a classic. The weapons are fun, the maps are great, and more content is being added for free all the time. Matches are only 5 mins long, but it’s real easy to get lost in hours of matchmaking, trying to fight for that little extra spot on the map as different colored inks fly everywhere. Some of the most crushing defeats in my gaming history have come from getting beaten 49% to 51% ink in matches. I picked up a Wii U just for this one, and I’m glad I did.
It was three years ago that a trailer was shown for a mysterious game called The Phantom Pain at the video game awards. It quickly came out that it was all one of legendary game designer Hideo Kojima’s big trolls. The Phantom Pain was the next Metal Gear Solid game. Created using the incredible FOX Engine, MGS V unintentionally became Kojima’s final Metal Gear game after a nasty falling out with Konami. Man, did it ever deliver. As someone who is not that big into the Metal Gear series, this is probably the best tactical stealth game I have ever played. The open world is gigantic as you take on mission after mission. You also operate Mother Base, a place to improve your own army you are building as you fight the enemy. This adds an XCOM-ish management sim to a Metal Gear game. The missions are always challenging, and teach you to get better as you continue to play. Of course being a Kojima game, it gets pretty absurd. In addition to stealth, you can just straight up go in and gun down everything in sight. You can upgrade the helicopter that drops you off to blast songs such as a-ha’s “Take on Me,” or Europe’s “The Final Countdown” as you land in hot zones. Not only is it hilarious, but it actually terrifies the enemies you’re about to fight. You can find various audio cassettes in the world and play them through a speaker. I found a six second tape of a man relieving himself, which I then looped and blasted out loud in a bathroom so enemies wouldn’t check in there. It’s those small, absurd Kojima details combined with a massive open world, an incredible game engine, and overall gameplay that makes Metal Gear Solid V a true masterpiece.
Splatoon is the reason you should own a Wii U. Super Mario Maker is the reason you need a Wii U. Super Mario Maker‘s goal is to essentially provide unlimited Mario levels, and it’s real good at making that happen. Allowing the player to use pretty much every block and enemy makes for unlimited hours of fun whether you’re on the creative side or the player side. Fans from all over the world are uploading some truly insane levels, which Nintendo has gotten very good at making sure you can filter to your liking. Players can follow their favorite creators and instantly boot up their newest level. It’ll even show the completion rate so you know what you’re about to get yourself into. Players are creating levels that if one move goes wrong, you’re cooked. They’re uploading musical adventures and even fucking RPGs on a Mario grid! You can even unlock new sprites from other properties, such as the Excitebike dude, to use in level creating. Recently, a well known fued of creating/playing between Giant Bomb’s Dan Ryckert and Kotaku’s Patrick Klepek has become a perfect example of the possibilities with this game. Look, it’s nothing new, it’s Super Mario, but it’s the incredibly well made game editor paired with the wonderful Wii U gamepad and about 30 years of fine-tuned game mechanics that makes this one of the best and most addicting Nintendo games ever made.
Did you guys know they made a new Fallout game? Let’s be honest, Fallout 4 is not a drastic improvement over Fallout 3, but considering the amount of detail and design that goes into these beasts, it’s pretty impressive. The combat is much, much sharper, making Fallout into more of a shooter versus a hidden numbers game. Picking up every little object actually serves a purpose now for the incredibly addicting settlement building mechanic. The Commonwealth is awesome to explore, and making the main town of the game inside Fenway Park was pretty sweet. The amount of work Bethesda put in for researching their world and delivering on it continues to be an absolute joy. While I think it’s time for Bethesda to go beyond their play-it-safe formula, one last hurrah in a world not explored for seven years scratched the itch. You can play the game in 14 hours or 400 hours, and it’ll always be a joy.
The follow up to Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 smash hit is absolutely incredible. The story in Rise of the Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft on a quest to find an object that was sought after by her father for many years. The game adds somewhat of an open world vibe with a much, much bigger emphasis on you know, raiding tombs. The tomb puzzles are insanely fun, and the game overall is completely gorgeous. Its very cinematic presentation is top notch, and it gives the Uncharted series a run for its money. Combat is very challenging, but is always satisfying. Every turn you take feels dangerous, but you want to keep playing just to take in this gorgeous looking world. The third entry is definitely coming, and it cannot come soon enough.
My game of the year is soccer, played with cars. No game this year caught me by surprise more, or had more of my attention. Rocket League is a game with a simple objective: put the ball in the net. There’s no offsides, weird penalties, or players falling over crying and claiming they were pushed really hard. There’s teams of 4 or less, with each player controlling a rocket fueled car, trying to put a big ass ball in the other team’s net. So what made me sink (so far) over 55 hours worth into 5 minute matches? Simplicity. In current gaming, there’s nothing but giant open worlds and complex systems. In Rocket League, it’s simply clicking find a match, and going. The controls are incredibly tight, which is a huge reason why it works so well. Cars can do massive jumps in the air with the push of a button. They can front flip, or even back flip. They can go sideways or fly through the air with rocket boosters. Nobody gets screwed over. You either put the ball in or you didn’t. You either saved it or you didn’t. You’re either good or you’re not. The ranking and matchmaking system is unforgiving, yet truly a great indicator of your skill level. It’s been fun to play alongside the launch of the game and work my way up to a current Level 29 pro. Defending the net and making game changing saves is consistently rewarding. Every goal you score makes you want another one. Everybody relies on their teammates and everybody has fun. Despite being a soccer game played with cars, Rocket League is the best sports game of 2015, and probably in a long time. With an actual ranked season coming, eSports competitions, and the final release on the Xbox One, look for Rocket League to get out of the underground and become a mainstream titan.
PS – As a bonus, below is a match in which a teammate quit and I won by myself versus 2, tying the game with 0.01 seconds left, and scoring in overtime. One of my proudest moments in gaming ever.