What A Thrill
Games are still great. This was stronger year in my opinion than last year as there were so many heavy hitters that really brought something of substance to the fore. Let me explain by showing you the Top 10
Honorable Mentions: Batman: Arkham Knight, DiRT: Rally
10. Destiny: The Taken King
Destiny might be the best redemption story of gaming in 2015. It launched with a distinct lack of content and a very wonky Light system that seemed to alienate all but its fiercest devotees. House of Wolves added sorely needed content but it wasn’t until The Taken King that the game really started to look like the game we all hoped it would be at launch. With the leveling system changed to be more natural, an influx and higher rate of interesting loot, and a story campaign that seemed to finally get its feet underneath itself, Destiny finally became such a enjoyable experience that I actually found myself pushing to max level for the prospect of raiding. Destiny flat out got better and that’s always good to see.
9. Madden NFL 16
My problems with Madden 15 are well-documented and made me appropriately wary of the next installment. I’m happy to say that Madden 16 fixed damn near all of my complaints. The defensive line play was balanced way the hell out, but the big thing for me was that receivers now go up and fight for jump-balls; dare I say jump-balling the f*ck out of it. The new interactions between receivers and defensive backs were fantastic and it made throwing the football a more organic experience, even if you yourself sometimes wondered how the hell your guy came down with it. Different catching options made receiving a much more engaging experience than in the past and the addition of Draft Champions gave the online play an inventive kick in the ass. Madden 16 is still a ways away from being the best football game ever made but they sure as hell took a big step in that direction.
8. Super Mario Maker
Personally, I thought Super Mario Maker was going to be pretty dumb. I never really had the fondness for the older Mario platformers since I got in around Mario 64 and I think the series peaked at Super Mario Galaxy. That nostalgia just wasn’t there when Nintendo talked about the prospect of designing your own levels. Little did I know that not only were Mario Maker‘s design tools surprisingly deep and complex, but simply playing custom made Mario levels was an absolute blast. Mario Maker is a game with damn infinite replayability in its 100 Mario Challenge alone, but the fascinating part of Mario Maker is that it makes for an outstanding viewing experience. This is one of the few games where it’s almost as much fun to watch as it is to play as you cheer and jeer your friends after every hard earned victory and every diabolical death in whatever hellscape of a level you’ve found yourself trapped in. Mario’s future is still in three dimensions but the rise of Mario Maker means that Nintendo can still innovate with it’s older IPs when it’s back is against the wall.
7. Fallout 4
I was ready to crown Fallout 4 as the Game of the Year back when Bethesda made its fantastic showing at its E3 Press Conference. It looked like a significant leap from 3 and with its settlement builder it looked like it had the tools to be a Game of the Decade-type of experience. It fell pretty short of that. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad game though, actually, it’s pretty good. Some of Fallout 3‘s stickier points have been sanded down as playing the game as shooter is now a viable option rather than having to live in V.A.T.S. all of the time. Character animations on occasion feel more natural, and inventory management, while still in need of improvement, is still ahead of where it was in 3. The main problem with Fallout 4, however, is that it feels too similar to 3. The music is damn near copy and pasted from 3 as you still hear tunes of not wanting to set the world on fire, how Bongo does not want to leave the Congo, and Butcher Pete chopping up all of the meat. Though there is more color to the world it still feels unsettling similar to 3‘s DC and the odd gameplay glitches, game-stopping bugs, and somewhat shocking frame rate dips are still in effect. The hope was that Bethesda would be able to eliminate some of these issues from the game after all these years of making this type of open-world, but it turns out it’s hard to polish it to a mirror shine with a world as dynamic, sprawling, and ambitious as this. Its great writing, quest design, and incredible in-world story telling are still present and one of a kind in the industry but the hope was that Fallout 4 would be a bigger leap than it actually was. It’s less of leap, more of a skip. But a pretty f*cking good skip.
6. Rise of the Tomb Raider
2013’s Tomb Raider was a fantastic reboot for the franchise that was twaddling about in the mediocrity of Underworld and Anniversary. Its development of Lara’s character from a bright-eyed student and archaeologist to a cold, determined warrior was a sight to see. Rise of the Tomb Raider continues to build her character while maintaining its high standard of third person shooting, traversal, and hunting trifecta. Its world looks fantastic, its story is engaging, and overall it’s so f*cking polished as a video game that it was hard to put down once I started playing it, which is saying a lot. After beating it within two days of purchase I came away feeling much like I felt after the original reboot: satisfied, impressed, and excited as all hell for the next installment. It’s a fantastic game.
5. Rocket League
The biggest suprise of the year is some of the most fun I’ve had with any game in the past 12 months. It’s such a simple concept: you have rocket propelled cars, there is a “soccer” ball, get it in the goal. Yet it’s also one of the most mechanically deep games I’ve ever seen. The amount of ways and tactics available to you for scoring a goal are mind boggling as it’s not uncommon to see experienced players perform a literal ballet in mid-air that will drop your f*cking jaw. Even when you can’t make your car dance with such deft skill it’s still incredibly fun to simply drive at the ball, launch into the air, and hope you make contact. Scoring a goal in Rocket League is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying moments in gaming, as the ball and goal explode as it crosses the goal line, and the replay slows down during contact with the ball just to drive the point home. Intoxicating is not bad way to describe it. Pair this with its fantastic post-release support and steady stream of updates and cosmetics and Rocket League feels like a game that is here to stay. And I’m sure as hell going to go back to it.
4. Heroes of the Storm
I had no idea what to make of Heroes of the Storm when it was in beta. As a League of Legends player for years, the idea of team shared xp, more team fights, a variety of maps, and shorter games seemed like an interesting proposition. Little did I know it would be the most fun MOBA on the market. HotS is simultaneously easier and harder than other games in the genre like LoL, Dota 2, and Smite. There is no last hitting, no items to buy, and no creep score to worry about, while level leads are hard to gain and even harder to keep as a slip up in concentration is more readily punished on a team level. Where in other MOBAs you can earn a margin for error if you’re able to grow your power early in the game, in HotS there is none of that. Your good plays benefit your team, not just you, and that goes double for your bad plays. Where you can farm kills and gain the sort of power that allows you to be greedy every now and then, HotS will b*tch slap you if you get that idea. Constant awareness, positioning, and strategy is demanded at all stages to win a game. If you’re not a fan of comebacks then you better not start feeling yourself when you gain an early lead because the other team will take a mile if you give them an inch. This leads to the best and worst part of the game: underperforming players can and will sink your ship. Where in other MOBAs a strong player’s power can make up for a floundering teammate, in HotS everyone is in the same boat and everyone needs to play well to win. This can lead to some of the most satisfying and keyboard-flingingly frustrating experiences I’ve ever had in a multiplayer game. If this is something that will scare you off, then by all means, don’t play the game. But you will be missing out on what may be the best MOBA in the genre. Does that sound ludicrous? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
3. NBA 2K16
I’ve said over and over again to anyone who will listen that NBA 2K16 is the best sports game of all time and a Game of the Year contender in an industry that seems to frown upon simulation sports for some reason. Offline, the 2K series has always been the crème de la crème of simulation basketball but its online play was always the main thing holding it back from true greatness. In 2K16, the online play was cleaned up significantly to the point that it actually became viable to play online again. That, mixed with its Park mode where you can play streetball with other players online in teams, its fantastic career mode, and its blindingly deep MyGM mode, work together along with its gameplay chops to be far and away the best sports game ever. Some people scoff at the idea of putting a sports game this high on a Top 10 list. I’m here to tell you f*ck those motherfuckers, this game is every bit as good as any Triple-A title. Bow Down to the King.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
You could tell me that Witcher 3 is the best RPG of all time and I don’t know how vigorously I’d be able to come up with a counter argument. It’s definitely in the conversation as games this big, this sprawling, and this well written don’t get made very often, much less at all. The world of Witcher is one of dark fantasy and medieval tones, and this mix is just intoxicating. It feels like a lived-in world with actual problems that are not only bigger than yourself but also very mundane, you know, like an actual world. Its visuals, characters, and animation are all spectacular but the quest lines and writing were the things that had me doing side quests that were waaaaay below my character to level just to the see the outcome. Its gameplay is solid, if unspectacular, but I never cared because I was so enthralled with the goings-on of the world. “World Building” may get thrown around more often then it should, but that’s exactly what Witcher did; it built a world. A world I love, a world I couldn’t get enough of, and a world I can’t wait to get back to.
1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
MGSV is an unfinished game. There is no getting around it. Its story has cavernous holes that leave you unsatisfied with its conclusion with next to no bridging to Metal Gear 1 and internal story threads are left to flow in such a way that it almost looks like the game just doesn’t give a damn. And with all of that said, it may be the best unfinished game ever made. It’s a masterpiece, there are no two ways about it. Metal Gear was always a series that seemed to not be able to get out of its way because it loved itself so much that it felt every piece of dialogue and story-beat was absolutely necessary and must be conveyed to the player no matter how long it took or what your time constraints were. This actually soured me on the series overall because whenever I wanted to actually play the damn thing it would stop me at the door to lecture me on the evils of ambition and the static state of war. MGSV, however, just says “F*ck It, Go” and I don’t think I was happier playing a game all year. The depth of its gameplay mechanics is mind boggling as there are so many different ways to approach every encounter in a game that typically even fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants strategies can miraculously work if you have the gall to try it, and its controls are so damn tight that anything really seems possible. There might not be a better playing game ever made and I simply could not stop playing it. A lot people are let down by the lackluster story, how token Snake feels, and the overall slapdash feel to some aspects of the game but personally the gameplay was such a revelation that none of those concerns ever mattered to me. Metal Gear Solid V is a Game of the Decade-caliber game that anyone with a passing interest in action-adventure games should play. It might disappoint die-hard Metal Gear fans on the story side (and rightly so) but gameplay wise, it’s perfect. Absolutely. Positively. Perfect.