2015 was a pretty good year for games. So good, in fact, that I predicted it would be really hard to choose my own personal Game of the Year. And boy was it. I haven’t agonised over a decision like this in anything other than a Telltale game in a long time.
But before we get into that, here are some shout outs to the games that were great, but honestly just not quite great enough to make it into my list.
Fallout 4 – expansive, fluid and subjectively unique; like Skyrim all over again.
Batman: Arkham Knight – shitty PC version, annoying tank battles and lacklustre finale aside, the rest of Rocksteady’s final Arkham game was the ultimate Batman simulator.
Her Story – the most original game in terms of storytelling method I’ve seen in a while, those “eureka” moments were genuine.
Tales from the Borderlands – like Telltale’s Firefly, and was just as good as that sounds.
Anyway, enough babble! On with the show…
I found choosing a number three game almost as hard as choosing between one and two, because at least then I could give the loser of those another spot. But with three, what I chose meant other game’s could not be included, so I really had to think about it. I arrived at Bloodborne because it was the game I didn’t really expect to enjoy but it somehow managed to win me over.
The foremost thing about Bloodborne that won me over was the look of the game. The Victorian England setting, the steam-punk attire and the copious amounts of blood made for a visually striking experience, both beautiful and terrifying. Each enemy was unique in its design, each environment was memorable and haunting, and the world as a whole felt massive beyond its linear limitations.
Now, I always knew I would like the way Bloodborne looked, I’d already seen all the trailers and screenshots before it launched. What I didn’t expect to like was the gameplay and the ruthless difficulty level, as constant repetition of a game’s sections has always ground my gears. I had avoided Dark Souls, developer From Software’s previous game, for this very reason. But I took a chance on Bloodborne, and I loved it. Is the game hilariously difficult? Yes. But you know what it’s not? Unfair. Play by Bloodborne’s rules and every situation can be overcome. Every defeat was a learning experience, every victory was earned. There was no better feeling than defeating a boss who’d been dealing out the pain for what seemed like forever…
I only wish the narrative was stronger. Don’t get me wrong, loved the story but I only got half of it by reading up on what hardcore fans had found from the plethora of vague clues contained in the item descriptions. As a storytelling method, I like it in principle, but in practice it wasn’t as effective.
The decision between my top two games was incredibly tough. I loved them both for the complete opposite reasons, and it came down to which one meant more to me in terms of what makes a game truly great. After much internal debate, and despite my love of a great story, I had to conclude that exemplary gameplay trumped an amazing narrative, so here we have Frictional Games’ SOMA taking out the number two spot.
But I want it on record that it came in at a VERY close second.
From a gameplay standpoint, SOMA was very basic and occasionally clunky. The enemy encounters were often frightening but quickly devolved into frustration due to unclear instructions as to how to evade them. Other gameplay aspects were fine, especially when operating the many machines and terminals of PATHOS-II as it really felt like you were using the devices, not just “pressing E to interact”.
But what did SOMA excel at? Story and atmosphere. I was more terrified wandering around the monster-free ocean floor sections than I was in the creature encounters. The overpowering sound of my oxygen tank, the creepy emptiness of the ocean beyond and the all too common drop-offs leading deeper and deeper into black nothingness left me with a sense of dread and isolation that really sold the rest of the narrative. How so? Because fully experiencing the isolation of PATHOS-II made some of the game’s more agonising choices that much worse.
SOMA takes the cake for gaming story of the year because I feel it was one of the few stories I encountered that could only be told through such an interactive medium. A film or a novel could probably convey similar philosophical themes (with better acting/writing too), but to actually be in the shoes of the person involved gave it a whole new perspective and haunted my dreams for many nights afterwards. A writer might tell me what a character would do and why in the situations SOMA presents, but the game asked me if I could do it. It didn’t judge me, didn’t tell me the right answer, just asked the question and let me think.
And months after choosing, I’m still thinking…
#1: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Surprising absolutely no one, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is my game of 2015. Me, a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, really liked the latest iteration of the franchise?! Somebody check outside for any airborne swine.
But before I go into the praise, first let me say that I thought Metal Gear Solid V was a mess story wise. The revelation at the end undermined the entire point of the game, replacing codec calls and actual cutscenes with obnoxiously long cassette tapes made the story dull, one of the chief characters (and the only female one) was incredibly sexist and horrendously objectified, and the latter half of the story was full of needless padding due to it being unfinished. I love Metal Gear Solid for its story, and Phantom Pain let me down hard.
All these problems, particularly those relating to Quiet, are not ones we should let off lightly and we should never stop condemning them. Always make them feel the noise, otherwise things will never change. But nonetheless, I still put Phantom Pain as my game of 2015 because it really brought it home when it came to gameplay.
Phantom Pain put so much effort into the little details, into the ways you could interact with your environment, the ways the environment reacted back and so much more. Enemy troops reacted to your strategies, sudden noises, the weather, each other, all of which could be exploited to better infiltrate whatever they were guarding. Every problem had many solutions, nothing you did was “the wrong thing”. Want to sneak in undetected and grab the VIP without anyone knowing you were there? Go for it. Would you rather swoop in on a chopper blasting “The Final Countdown” and tear that base to shreds? You could do that too, and all the while it felt fluid, responsive and incredibly liberating.
I could go on forever about every little thing I was able to see and do in Phantom Pain, but we’d be here for the next year and by then I need to have another game of the year picked. Suffice it to say, Phantom Pain was the game I had the most fun playing all year. I clocked more time with it in two months than I have playing Battlefield 4 online for two years, all because just diving in and mucking around within its mechanics and world was an absolute blast.
Hopefully Kojima takes on these awesome gameplay ideas and ditches the sexist objectification in his next game for his newly announced studio!