I can’t get over how good 2015 was!
Bloody hell 2015 has been a fantastic year, hasn’t it? I started Destructoid in back April with this being my first regular position at a major video game site and my god has it been a good year to come into it.
We’ve had a deluge of great games, both major AAA releases and from the indie scene. Of course, we’ve had a few duds (looking at you, Arkham Knight), and there’s been more than a few shitstorms (hey, Overkill), but overall this year has easily been one of the best years in gaming in a long, long time.
So without any further ado, I give you the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year!
Here are the games I really liked this year, but weren’t in my top five for various reasons. Some I forgot about after playing, some had huge glaring problems, and some just got pushed down by games I liked more.
Bloodborne: I’ve said it numerous times, but my least favourite game of all time is Dark Souls. So it’s hugely impressive that I do massively enjoy Bloodborne. It simplifies the Souls formula with less esoteric stats, snappier combat, and more easily readable level design. Plus the setting of Yharnam is just swell. Creepy, sure, but also swell.
The big problem I had with Bloodborne was its pacing and multiple seemingly arbitrary difficulty spikes. Often I would go hours with few problems, only to spend the next dozen throwing myself at a brick wall.
Cities: Skylines: Easily the best city-sim I’ve ever played. Skylines had the pure fun of designing an efficient city, and the in-depth simulation to keep things interesting once the city was all set up. I found the interface a bit wonky at times, and could’ve done without the faux-twitter yelling at me whenever I accidentally flooded a district, but I had a bloody good time with Cities.
The Beginner’s Guide: A fantastic look at the creative process and the moral problems that can arise from it. A few of the riskier storytelling elements didn’t quite land for me, but it still gave me a lot to think about in the months after playing it. That was going to be #5 on my list, but then I remembered another game and it, unfortunately, got pushed down.
Grow Home: Grow Home showed that big-name publishers like Ubisoft still have hints of creative brilliance deep inside somewhere. While it is yet another Ubisoft game about climbing a structure to unlock more areas, Grow Home did it in an utterly charming, colourful and low-poly style that made exploration a treat.
Dying Light: As a spiritual successor to the pretty alright Dead Island, Dying Light improved on it in almost every way. Fantastic combat combined with some of the best parkour I’ve seen since Mirror’s Edge in the dense and detailed city of Harran kept me playing for way longer than it really should have. While the main story is generic Soldier-saves-the-world guff, the side-missions were far more memorable.
The Top Five
Undertale was by far the best game I didn’t like playing this year. Gently tucked away inside some genuinely hilarious dialogue is an incredibly self-aware and emotionally engaging story fit to burst with lovable and memorable characters. Exploring the underground, hearing Toby Fox’s excellent soundtrack, Undertale is just bloody lovely.
The only problem is I wasn’t entirely sold on the core gameplay. I’m not a fan of JRPGs in general, and while Undertale played with JRPG conventions in really cool ways at times, once you got past all the meta elements it was still ultimately a JRPG with turn-based combat and random encounters.
I love Undertale as a cultural phenomenon, with its fanart and fabulous soundtrack remixes… but playing it really felt like a chore at times.
#4: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
It’s an absolute miracle that Syndicate was even remotely good. After the trainwreck that was last year’s Unity, I – a massive fan of the series ever since the first game – had become convinced that Assassin’s Creed was on the decline.
And Syndicate waltzes in and makes me fall in love with probably my favourite series of games all over again. The buginess and unbalanced combat of Unity was a thing of the past. Instead, we were treated to a fantastically recreated Victorian London that was fun to run and swing around in, and plenty of engaging side-missions to discover to work through.
Syndicate isn’t only my fourth favourite game of this year, it’s also now my favourite of the entire series. Let’s hope Ubisoft can keep this momentum going for next year’s inevitable edition.
#3: Crypt of the Necrodancer
I very nearly forgot about rhythmic roguelike Crypt of the Necrodancer. I first played it when it released in early access last year, and would’ve gladly put it on my top games of 2014 had it not been in early access. After it finally got its full release earlier this year, and I can safely say it’s one of the best roguelikes that has ever been made.
Necrodancer manages to have almost all of the standard genre trappings that are so appealing: permadeath, procedural generation, an entire bestiary of enemies and unending torrents of loot. On top of that, it managed to also ram in a pretty damn solid rhythm game too. DannyB’s stellar soundtrack works perfectly with interesting enemy patterns that make each encounter a fast-paced ballroom dance of a puzzle that kept me hooked in a way not even the likes of The Binding of Isaac have managed to.
To me, Crypt of the Necrodancer is the perfect roguelike. Every other one I play now is compared to it, and most of them fall far short of being anywhere near as good.
Oh, and the Deep Blues boss music has been stuck in my head all goddamn year.
#2: Life is Strange
With the episodes lasting from January to October, Life is Strange took up almost my entire year. During those ten months, no other game occupied my thoughts or conversations with friends quite like it did.
There were times when I was incredibly worried it would collapse under the weight of its sometimes darker subject matter. Dealing with topics like suicide, teen pregnancy and sexual assault in a game is difficult at the best of times, but in an episodic series where those narrative threads are left dangling for months at a time, there was always the risk of them really going wrong with it.
Fortunately, each time I doubted they could pull it off, developer Dontnod managed to come straight back with a respectful, engaging and memorable story with multi-dimensional and sympathetic characters. I cared deeply about Arcadia Bay and all of the people who live in it, and by the time the final episode came around I was genuinely sad to see the series come to an end.
None of this is even mentioning how well done the sci-fi elements, and the often incredibly designed time-travel focused puzzles resulting from it, are. They’re never layered on too thickly or too blatantly, making the whole thing feel like what would happen if The Twilight Zone happened in 2013.
Life is Strange wasn’t without its flaws, though. I feel that the series as a whole had a habit of introducing plot points to shock the player, only to drop them a little later and carry on like nothing happened. One of the most interesting and challenging decisions I’ve had to make in a game ever seemingly had no consequence further down the line, which was a huge shame.
What I’m trying to say in a roundabout and somewhat pretentious way is that Life is Strange is hella rad, especially when you play it on a tasty plasma.
#1: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
I’ve never been massively into “walking simulators.” Not due to any dislike of the genre, and I certainly don’t believe they’re “not games,” I’d just never found one that I enjoyed. I think I’m too young to really appreciate the ’90s nostalgia of Gone Home, and Dear Esther was slightly too poetic for me to keep track of, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was easily the most memorable experience I’ve had with a game this year.
Developed by The Chinese Room of Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs fame, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture takes place in the quiet, fictional Shropshire village of Yaughton after the world has come to an end. As nobody is left, the story is told through echoes of conversations the villagers had while they came to terms with the rapture.
What struck me about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is that it took what I liked about Life is Strange and went in a very different direction with it. Both games are sci-fi stories lightly draped over very personal drama, and neither of them avoids dealing with darker themes.
Over the course of Rapture’s multiple interconnected stories, the topics of religion, euthanasia, infidelity, disability, criminal justice and more all come into play at different times. The difference between the two is that while Life is Strange used its hard-hitting topics to up the ante at the end of each episode, Rapture takes a more introspective approach, dealing with them in a calm, quiet and very hands-off way. . Both games do what they do incredibly well, but I appreciated Rapture’s approach to it just that little bit more.
The Chinese Room managed to nail the non-linear storytelling of Rapture, effortlessly juggling and weaving together its multiple narratives in a way that was easy for me to follow, while also not giving away major plot details too quickly
Plot aside, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was just lovely to take in. It’s beautiful both from an art direction and a technical standpoint, with its rolling fields, fascinating world design, and excellent lighting effects. In a year where we’ve had technical powerhouses like The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V, the fact that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is still the prettiest game I’ve played this year is a big deal.
The true star of the show, however, is Jessica Curry’s amazing soundtrack. I don’t usually remember the soundtrack of a game by what’s happening while it was playing, but every time I listen to The Pattern Calls Out I vividly remember the planes flying overhead, and with Carry Me Back to Her Arms I remember the sun rising over the fields. It sends shivers down my spine every time. It’s so good I even bought the limited vinyl run they did, and I don’t have a record player to listen to it on!
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is my personal game of the year by quite a wide margin. Other people had complaints about it being a very slow and plodding game, but the atmosphere, the setting and the story all came together to make it a game I loved from start to finish. It’s not for everyone, but I’m super glad it was for me. Thanks, The Chinese Room.
Thank you very much for helping make 2015 one of my best years ever, Destructoid! Here’s hoping 2016 is just as good and full of just as many awesome games!