Having begun this year reviewing the painfully plain Alphadia Genesis, I had a fear that I was going to be playing awful games for most of 2015. Thankfully, I was wrong. This year was defined by a delightful leap back into open-world games, a genre that I tend to avoid because of the titles’ tendency to eat up time. 2015 will also be remembered as the year in which I finally played Katamari Forever; I spent many a night neglecting sleep while gathering up sumo wrestlers, dinosaurs, and entire continents. Unfortunately, that game came out in 2009, otherwise it might be my Game of the Year. Fortunately, there were a plethora of other brilliant games released in 2015. Here are my top five:
5. Axiom Verge
Narrowly pushing Grim Fandango: Remastered out of my list, Axiom Verge pulled me into a genre that I’ve largely neglected. It’s a metroidvania shooter set on an alien planet, on which a scientist finds himself in the middle of a battle between the planet’s hulking robots. It has a story that is surprisingly complex, clever, and filled with interesting ideas. There are unreliable characters, and I was lured into thinking deeply, especially when the protagonist questions if he’s the same person after respawning at a checkpoint. The planet itself is full of crevices that are delightful to explore, and the gameplay mechanics are innovative, in that they subtly lure you to experiment, by offering you the ability to change enemies’ attacks and your surroundings. Top it all off with multiple endings, a diverse range of weaponry, and an alluring option to speedrun, and you’ve got a game that will keep you returning for years to come. You can check out my review for it here.
4. Beginner’s Guide
Beginner’s Guide, by Davey Wreden, creator of the amazing The Stanley Parable, observes what is to make a game by giving us a narrated tour through a variety of games, all created by a person called Coda. The narrator (Davey) is fascinated, and listening to his philosophical musings over what he sees, makes you think about them in an exciting way: not through the eyes of a player aiming for a goal, but instead, making us analyse a game creator through their creations. It isn’t a very long game (I passed it in 90 minutes), it’s not even very interactive, but something about the title is just so fascinating and unique. Its story is intensely interesting, each of Coda’s new games brings a twist, and the finale is one you won’t soon forget.
3. Crypt of the NecroDancer
This game was playable in beta for a long time, but it was only released in full in 2015, and I absolutely adored it. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a mishmash of rhythm and dungeon crawling games. You must work your way through several levels, moving to the beat in order to survive. The game often becomes a puzzler, as certain weapons reach further, or fire in different directions, items like bombs can cause damage, and deciding when to use which is taxing. It’s hard as hell, to the point of feeling unfair at times, but it’s a challenge that’s fun to chase down. There’s also a great amount of modifying available, with a customisable soundtrack being one particularly enjoyable feature. Adding different tracks like Final Fantasy VII’s One Winged Angel and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off provided me with plenty of ridiculous moments. You can read my review for it here.
2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The half-sized replica bionic hand included with my collector’s edition of MGSV still sits beside my PlayStation 4, with its middle finger proudly saluting me every day.
MGSV is an amazing game, a worthy entry to a series that I’ve adored for so long. Its story was filled with emotional moments, and some of the missions towards the end are quite poignant. The game as a whole sees us watching Big Boss slide down into darkness, and it was sad to see the once innocent character dragged further into a war between his group, the Diamond Dogs, and the rest of the world.
The gameplay is by far MGSV’s most innovative trait, and it challenged me to reassess all of the hard-wired processes I’ve had from the series’ previous entries. Getting spotted is no longer game over, and in fact, it’s incredibly hard to break into a base unnoticed. Often, you just have to go with the flow, and may end up shooting your way past enemy soldiers. More than any of the past entries, MGSV motivates you to be creative, it gives you a tonne of tools to play with, and a tonne of ways to play with them. Blowing up watch towers, knocking people out with a rocket fist, and dropping a horse on top of a soldier are all ways that I enjoyed messing with the inhabitants of Afghanistan and Africa. In a time when games tend to hold your hand as they guide you to where they want you to go, and what they want you to do, MGSV’s freedom feels like a wonderful revolution that others need to follow. You can read my review for it here.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
In contrast to my experience with the Metal Gear series, I hadn’t played any of The Witcher’s previous entries. But, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt quickly made me feel right at home, and lured me into its deep story with such an ease that the characters felt instantaneously familiar to me. The Witcher 3 tells the story of Geralt (or Gerald, as I fondly refer to him as, since it’s just a much more relatable name, and you can even abbreviate it to Gerry) searching for his adopted daughter Ciri, who is prophesied to save the world. It’s a deep otherworldly story lost among a war riddled with complications, but in a way it’s simply a dressing for the true tale.
The game is about the lives of people, and your presence as Geralt influences what will happen to them. What’s wonderful about The Witcher 3 is the lack of clarity in its many aspects. Making a decision is rarely clear cut, and one made with the best intentions may end up biting you in the ass. You traverse a treacherous world filled with people who are neither good nor evil, but filled with complex emotions that trail beneath their goals. Tales like that seen in the add-on content, Hearts of Stone, make you question who’s side you’re on, and how to best hinder your foes.
Couple all of the intricacies of its storytelling with a massive world to explore, and gameplay that is both complex and accessible, and you’ve got one of the best open-world games of all time. Instead of getting into the intricacies of potion-brewing and monster hunting, however, I think the developers, CD Projeckt Red, deserve a special mention. The amount of updates that have been released for this game has been staggering, and has shown a type of care that’s rarely seen from videogame companies today. The game instantly won me over when I opened the standard edition’s hefty box, and pulled out a detailed map, soundtrack, free stickers, and a thank you note, and it has continued to court me since then. Along with a consistant snuffing out of bugs, we’ve seen game-changing additions, such as storage points and additions to dialogue.
I’m eagerly awaiting the Blood and Wine expansion, and will gladly sink another 30 hours into the title, and that’s more than I can say for any other game that’s been released in a very long time. I typically finish a game, and discard it like an empty box, with all of its contents taken out and devoured. But The Witcher 3 is a box that I want to take into my house, spend some time decorating, and maybe just sit in it for a while. If MGSV had decided to include Mission 51, which rounded off the story nicely on YouTube, maybe it could have been that box. Maybe that bionic hand, with its protruding middle finger is symbolic of Konami’s response to Mission 51. It’s okay though, I’m just going to hang out with Gerry instead. He’d never keep the important parts of his life from me.