I was never intending to post a blog on this topic, but I had some inspiration (or perhaps a revelation), and found myself coming up with this. That said, I'm going to have to cheat a bit here, as I haven't really played much this past year that actually came out in 2015. Plus I'm bundling a few things together for reasons I'll explain.
5. Forza Motorport 6
Honestly, this one feels like somewhat of an obligation. It is a very good game, and a huge improvement over 5, but it's still not really reaching the same heights the series has before. A common thing you'll hear people say about this game is that it's what FM5 should have been, and that's because there's no better way to put it. Unfortunately, that's kind of damning with faint praise. It meets the expectations from two years ago. Expectations which, for me at least, were already tempered in anticipation of a bit of a step down, as the dev team transferred over to a new generation. That means the game is merely on par with what is expected from the series, instead of something that could top the previously lofty heights of 4.
Even so, it's still a great game. The graphics and sound are obviously brilliant. The handling is excellent, and probably the best it's ever been for pure driving. While it's sad to see some of the older tracks missing, the new track list is fresh and interesting, with some really good selections. Some lacking features are sorely missed, but the core is still very good, and it even has some things over the previous games.
4. Zeno Clash 1 & 2
This is the year I first experienced the wonderful madness of Ace Team for myself. These games are pretty rough around the edges in a lot of ways, but there's nothing else anything like them out there. They took a concept that shouldn't really work, i.e. first-person fist-fighting, and actually managed to make it pretty fun. But the real draw is just how surreal and odd these games are. In a way I think the unconventional mechanics are a compliment to the strange and absurd world and aesthetic of these games. In what other game can you run around a grassy plain punctuated by trees that excrete giant bubbles, getting in to fist fights with squawking bird-men with horrifying teeth? But at the same time there are some really breathtaking environments that are quite majestic. It's like stepping in to lavish prog rock album art. It's an amazing thing to behold and get lost in. It shows great imagination in aesthetic design, and such an enthusiastic embrace of the odd that you so rarely see anywhere.
The reason I put these games on my list like this though is because I only played them last year, but I played them both in their entirety in that time too. I also found the second far better than the first. Much more ambitious, with far better realised mechanics. But since they're so closely linked, I can't really mention one and not the other.
3. Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition
Generally I tend to think that remasters aren't really eligible as GOTY contenders, as they're re-releases. Maybe excepting when someone has not played the original game before. But in this case I have.
Yet I played the hell out of this one this year, and loved it. They took a game that was already right at the top of its genre and fleshed it out hugely. So many extra characters that were all very varied, and all had a great amount of attention put in to them to make sure they were as deep and involving to play as the original cast.
And of course the combat mechanics themselves are top-notch, as they always were. Everything feels very responsive and fluid, better than any other DMC game in my opinion, with wonderful kinaesthetic design, and a general all-round great aesthetic too. It's still visually impressive, despite not really being a noticeable graphical upgrade over the original early 7th gen. game.
2. Yakuza 3 & 4
I put these together because they are extremely similar, and because of how I played them. Although I started 3 a long time ago (earlier than 2015 I think), I only finished it last year. But when I did, I played 4 immediately after and got through the whole thing in a month, despite spending around the same amount of in-game time on it. So last year was the one I really fell for these games.
These games are just so full of personality and style, and have great mechanics to boot. While the hand-to-hand combat isn't as deep as something like DMC, it is really polished to be satisfying to use. There's also quite a lot of variety to it in 4. While at first it may seem all the characters' different fighting styles are similar, as they're based on a familiar core, once you delve in to it more and unlock more abilities, they each are significantly different to handle. On top of that the combat is pretty hilarious and goofy, like a lot of the game is. There are countless special moves you can pull off. While some can get a little too QTE heavy, they are just so comically ludicrous that they bring a smile to my face every time I see them.
The whole game is filled with that over-the-top anime-esque style that brings a real sense of life and energy to these games. I also love how unashamedly Japanese it is. While some spots may raise an eyebrow due to some... cultural differences, as a whole it's like a wonderful window in to another world. It's self-indulgent, but in the best way. The story too follows this attitude. It's goofy and silly, melodramatic to the point of comedy, but at the same time it's also pretty complicated. It's full of layers upon layers of intrigue and betrayal, involving some pretty heavy topics at times. Yet it always deals with them earnestly. These games have a real heart to them, which I just couldn't help but get sucked in to. I'm really looking forward to playing more of this series, and I'm glad it seems Sega is finally giving it a second chance in the West.
This one shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to my posts here this year, especially around spring and summer. I've been obsessed with this little game, and fallen totally in love with it. It's so fresh and exciting. I haven't had more fun with any other online shooter, which is a genre I haven't even played since Halo 3. It's full of so many new and interesting ideas that create not just a novel, but really fun and engaging experience. The combination of the ink and squid mechanics is genius. It manages to add extra depth over the usual shooter formula, while at the same time streamlining it and making it much more approachable. Diving in to the ink combines the sprint, reload, and stealth options all in to one command. The ink covering the map also makes map control very literal and easily readable. Unique weapons like the rollers and brushes also provide a different play style that doesn't require you to be a crack shot either, meaning you can still be competitive without having to be a godlike sharp-shooter. And of course the emphasis on map control means that you don't even need to engage in combat to be useful, even in the much more competitive ranked modes.
Yet all these things also lend depth to the game that can be quite amazing to see taken advantage of. The squidding mechanics add a whole new realm of movement options, allowing you to be able to get around maps in unusual and interesting ways. It also allows for some pretty technical and impressive methods for engaging with an enemy too, with clever use of ink coverage and squid usage allowing you to pull yourself out of some seemingly hopeless situations. The motion controls too allow you to do some very cool stuff, if you can get used to them that is. While I've been trying to train myself to use them, I've always found them very unintuitive. But when you see what can be done with them when a player knows what they're doing, some really amazing stuff can happen. Things like impossible sniping and lightning quick turn-arounds.
I also absolutely love the aesthetic of the game as well. It's so colourful and bright, with a real sense of style to it. The kinaesthetic design of just shooting ink and moving around is a pleasure in itself, and the cohesive sense of youthful, rebellious fashion is perfectly realised. The soundtrack in particular is brilliant. It's full of so many energetic and catchy pop rock songs with a really fun and unique squiddy twist for the multiplayer, and with odd, quirky tracks for the single player that I can't even really describe properly. Giant Bomb made an apt comparison in that is sounded like someone threw together a bunch of random synthesiser sounds, yet it manages to come out sounding tuneful and appealing. And the character design, I just love the character design! Those little squids are just so adorable! I love their big, black-masked eyes and their cheeky little smiles. Their floppy, squiddy hair, and the cute little gesticulations they make. The way they jump and bounce about as they move. But at the same time, they have style. Those squids have a great fashion sense!
And lest I forget, the single player campaign is great too. It's rather small, so often doesn't get the recognition it deserves. I also think just how different it is from the multiplayer makes people forget about it when thinking about the game. But it is definitely worth talking about. It has its own set of great unique ideas. Mostly things expanding around the movement mechanics, that I wish we could have seen implemented in the mutliplayer more sometimes. Overall it's designed in the way you would expect from the best out of Nintendo. Structured in a way to teach you things in a fun and easy to understand way, but also providing some well-designed challenges to prove what you've learned. I would really love to see this aspect of the game expanded upon. If Splatoon had paid-for DLC, I would want it to be an addition to the single player.
DmC: Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition - Much like DMC4SE, this is a great expansion on the original game. It took something that was already pretty great, and fixed more or less everything I didn't like about it. Very fun game, with a great style. It deserves better than it got, even though I still don't think it reaches the heights of the previous games, which is why it's in this section.
Fast Racing Neo - This is a relatively recent game, and one I haven't really put a huge amount of time in to, but still impresses quite a lot. I've never really played a game in this subgenre of racing before, but this one seems like a great introduction. Fantastic feeling to piloting the vehicles, and a very slick and cool overall aesthetic. Nice soundtrack too.
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse - This is another games that I only got very recently. In fact I've only been playing it a few days, but I'm already very impressed. Very smooth and nice feeling platforming. And so far while it seems pretty simple, it looks like future mechanics add a lot to the experience. But what I love most about this game is the style. Great aesthetic with some really nice pixel art. The characters are all very charming and fun too. The soundtrack is also excellent. As soon as I heard it, it got stuck in my head with its catchy and bouncy tunes. But another reason I can't put this higher is because I tend to drop off with these games long before finishing. Things seem promising with this one so far, but it's still early days.
Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae - Not really a game, but a huge demo. JRPGs have always been my nemesis. I want to like them, and have given a fair few a decent chance, but most of the time I bounce off them really hard. Not this time. I really loved exploring the little world they give you in this demo, with gorgeous visuals and stunning scenery. The combat was actually pretty fun too. While I tend to be very sceptical of JRPG combat systems that seem to want to avoid going full-on action as much as possible, this one seems close enough to actually be pretty engaging. Syncing attacks up with party members was really fun, and gave the combat kind of a rhythm game feeling to it, while still retaining a sense of immediacy and dynamism. It's a shame this thing was only distributed with Type 0 HD, as I expect it would convince a lot more people on FFXV if it was more widely available. Type 0 itself got boring pretty quick, but thanks to this demo I'm still looking forward to XV.
Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition - Yes, the name is stupid, but I was surprised how easily this game drew me back in. While it's basically exactly the same as the original version, aside from slightly nicer graphics and minor rebalances in loot drops, everything that was good about the original is good here too. A great visual style and world, with great combat within a fun Zelda-like structure. It was also great to play the game in 60fps on the PC, but that version has some serious problems. The game shipped basically broken, with a huge memory leak causing terrible stuttering, a lot of shadowing glitches, and aiming acceleration problems. Early signs to fix these issues seemed promising. Temporary stop-gap patches were put out, which fixed the stuttering. But since then, no progress has been made and the other issues still remain. The game is perfectly playable though, despite the smaller extant issues, but this is still only with the "temporary" patch, that you have to get by signing up for a beta program. No official final patch has been released, meaning the game is still technically as broken as on launch. So yeah, a shoddy, and seemingly abandoned port of a very fun game.
Forza Horizon 2 - This is more of a game for 2014, not 2015, but I still played it a lot last year, and I think it's worth mentioning in comparison to FM6. While that game felt like it was somewhat spinning its wheels, trying to recapture something that was already perfected before, this game still feels fresh and exciting. A solid evolution on the first game, and something with a bright future ahead of it. So now I'm actually looking forward to what this spin-off series has to offer in the future over the main games, even though it's technically inferior in some ways. It's got less frames, but more fun.