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Game (Experiences) of the Year – Justin Otto’s Picks

Rocket League Explosion

I’m going to be honest, I have not been able to play as many 2015 titles to completion as I would have liked. I only finished a handful of games released in 2015, and, truthfully, I was underwhelmed by the majority of them (looking at you Mad Max). By the time I got my hands on several titles that came out this year, it was too late to put an ample amount of time into them. Because of this, I played many for only a brief period, and as a result, I would like to give you a list of games played, have been intrigued by, and remain eager to play much more.

5. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I’m still having an internal battle with myself concerning The Phantom Pain. I’ve been a Metal Gear fan for a long time and loved just about everything the series has had to offer up to this point. I anticipated getting my hands on MGSV and not being able to let go. For the first 25 or so hours, this was certainly the case and I didn’t want to stop. Unfortunately, that feeling faded.

Metal Gear has always done a great job getting its hooks into players by introducing mysterious concepts and slowly unravelling the “truth” behind them throughout an often perplexing but riveting story. The Phantom Pain is no different in handling its narrative, but the typical density is even further convoluted by the game’s design. There are a few things that seemed to keep me at arm’s length after I initially distanced myself from MGSV. Things like the lack of focus on story and changes to the game’s online components. What really pushed me away was realising I could not progress without killing.

Phantom Pain 2

That last one was a big bummer for me as I’ve always enjoyed the stealth genre, and appreciate a game that allows for a non-lethal option. The Phantom Pain initially upheld this illusion. As I progressed, I spent several hours crafting each mission to be completed without killing even up to the point of not spending any money on lethal items. Getting deep into the game and then being forced to abandon my style of play was disheartening.

Although this put me off in a big way, I am still incredibly drawn to Phantom Pain. The enhanced depth and fluidity of the gameplay make it the most fun MGS to play. Then, of course, there’s always the interesting story that I will no doubt have to finish. I know that it’s only a matter of time until I get back into The Phantom Pain and I’m excited to see what happens in the end. (Our Review)

4. Her Story

This is the one game on this list that I will say I theoretically finished. I say theoretically because the “conclusion” is more or less subjective in Her Story, but that is a conversation for another article. Since I’ve explored what I believe is the majority of this game, it’s not the game itself that intrigues me but rather the concept of the game.

Her Story 3

If you’re not familiar, Her Story asks the player to play detective and sift through a number of videos using keyword searches. It honestly sounds like more of a chore than a fun game, but, upon being informed about various bits of information, it’s hard not to become enthralled. The game quickly had me wanting to find out as much information as possible. The limited details found within each video made me want to continue exploring without stopping. I wanted to find any word that would bring up unseen footage hoping it would lead me down another rabbit hole. I was hooked.

After spending time with Her Story, I can only imagine other games that could be created from a similar fabric. The key ingredients to Her Story are the allure of the mystery, allowing the player to control the delivery of the narrative, and the fact that the videos are well-acted by Viva Seifert. After writing this, I’ll probably go back to Her Story tonight as a result of believing there’s something I have missed. (Our Review)

3. Darkest Dungeon

I know I must admit that using this game may be cheating a bit as it is still in early access, and doesn’t actually release until this month (Jan. 2016), however, considering the time I’ve spent with the game and its current state, I feel as though it needs to be on this list.

Darkest Dungeon is a 2D, side-scrolling, turn-based RPG set in medieval times. At first the game may not sound terribly out of the ordinary, but the game makes itself unique in a few ways. The art style is particularly unique and serves the atmosphere well. Everything is hand drawn and has a “Lovecraftian” art-style to it. The games artist, Chris Bourassa, cites influences such as “B-movie, gothica… hammer horror.”  This leads to a striking presentation that matches well with the game’s themes and tough difficulty.

Darkest Dungeon

Several elements of the gameplay mimic a traditional “roguelike” wherein each quest/dungeon has random elements, the battle system is turn-based, and there’s permanent death for characters. The unique facet introduced is a “stress” system that can cause a number of possibilities to happen to each character. Leave characters in the dark for too long and someone may stab themselves from losing control; if a character takes too many hits without eating food, they may begin to harass other party members causing them additional stress; the list goes on. Not only does this add an additional element to the game, but it becomes a key feature that heavily impacts the experience.

I’m honestly not the biggest fan of item/ability management in games, as this can often lead to frustration, but this isn’t the case in Darkest Dungeon. I have found myself interested in learning how items can be used on enemies, and how they will impact members of my party, particularly their stress. I’m also intrigued by the difficulty within the game, as online chatter has me convinced that my early fortunes are nowhere near indicative of what the game has in store for me (Our Preview).

2. Life is Strange

There’s something unique about Life is Strange that isn’t easy to nail down or adequately describe. An exceptional puzzle system has been crafted within the game as a result of the time-travel mechanic, coupled with gameplay that emphasizes choices and relationships. It also helps that the atmosphere and tone of the game enhance the experience even with the occasionally corny, teenager-inspired writing.

Life is Strange

Admittedly, I haven’t even finished the second episode, but I’m heavily invested in the story and decision making. Never before have I been put into situations in which I have the ability to play out many scenarios, yet still debate on which decision I should ultimately make. Life is Strange does a great job of letting you know a vague direction in which your decisions may send you, but it never reveals its hand in full. There’s also a lack of frustration with this as you understand that you were given plenty if time to make your own choice thus making outcomes more acceptable. I believe this is aided by the writing that enhances the atmosphere and narrative.

I’ll be finishing Life is Strange soon. Not just because I have started it but because I genuinely want to know what happens to the beloved heroine. My investment stems from a deep interest in the protagonist, the people around her, and the conclusion of her story. Although I will be curious to see how much my decisions impact the narrative’s progression, I don’t see my final opinion of the game being fully determined by the outcome. It’s a great feeling when gameplay that heavily relies on decision making concludes its story without making the player feel unsatisfied, and I really hope Life is Strange fall into this category with a pleasant overall experience.

1. Rocket League

Playing this game has been the most amount of multiplayer fun I’ve had in quite some time. As a matter of fact, over the past several years, the only game I can remember coming close was Towerfall Ascension. I had previously heard about the game soon after its PlayStation Plus release and the hype-train didn’t subside for a long period of time. Upon finally getting my hands on the game, I spent the good majority of a weekend playing with three other friends and we didn’t put the game down.

Rocket League Air

Rocket League isn’t just a fun multiplayer game, it’s worth stating it’s an overall great game. The physics seem nearly perfect, the controls are easy to learn yet tough to master, and the car handling and speed fit the game in a manner that provides controlled madness. It’s amazing to see everyone in a match celebrate after a beginner hits a lucky shot or an expert pulls off something that seems impossible. The skill ceiling is deceptively high and provides nearly endless replay value. Rocket League has also become a game that I can recommend to anyone. People who don’t play video games, those who don’t like racing or soccer games, and even people who don’t like to be competitive can still pick it up and have a blast.

Since most of my friends play on Xbox One, I am increasingly excited for the game’s upcoming release on the system. I can just envision several upcoming weekends in which there will be drunken, trash-talking, 3v3 and 4v4 matches playing Rocket League into the wee hours of the night. It’s a game I look forward to enjoying for many months, perhaps years, into the future (Our Review).

Bonus: The Talos Principle

I didn’t include this on my list because it technically came out in 2014, but I feel as though I need to add it here because it’s the best game I’ve played this year, as well as one of the best games I’ve ever played. At this point in time, according to my Steam account, I have put 50 hours into The Talos Principle, completed it with 2 of the available endings, inching up on that 100% completion percentage, and have enjoyed nearly every single second of it.

There were several components of The Talos Principle that reminded me of the Portal series. Some were obvious, such as the emphasis on narrative and cognitively demanding puzzle design, but there were also less apparent similarities such as the incredibly fun and well-hidden Easter eggs. My favourite similarity was the feeling I received after completing puzzles.

In a recent review of Pneuma: Breath of Life, I knocked the game heavily for having puzzles that felt more like an overly simple chore than entertaining and challenging gameplay. The puzzles within The Talos Principle left me feeling exactly the opposite. I did not once feel frustrated in The Talos Principle and that includes the occasional, somewhat nonsensical puzzles to find stars or Easter eggs. Every puzzle resulted in a great feeling of accomplishment and that’s one of the most satisfying results coming from time spent with a puzzle game (Our Review).

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