This year’s GotY will be presented from two different perspectives. Rather than just having my thoughts about what I consider to be the best game of this year, I decided to make things more interesting and so Wolfe and I will give our opinions on what games moved us the most.
Choosing my most representative title of 2015 is not an easy choice to make, as there have been multiple games that I have enjoyed greatly. Among those, I could count The Witcher 3, Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Ori and the Blind Forest (an indie game standing proud among AAA giants).
Arkham Knight will probably be remembered by its catastrophic launch on PC, and although that will serve as a warning for the developers who do not plan on paying attention to PC ports, it is a shame, as the game was pretty good. Having played the entire Batman series, Arkham Knight quickly became my favorite due to its story and refined action elements. Batman’s psychological conflict and Joker’s “return” were some of game’s excellent parts that will be hard to forget for me, and the confrontations with Gotham’s villains were also very enjoyable. Despite all that, The Game Slashers focuses on PC games and cannot forgive the state in which the game was launched, so Arkham Knight left a sweet and sour taste in our mouths. It is one of the best games of the year, but surely not the best.
The Phantom Pain finds itself in the same situation: excellent action and stealth elements accompanied by a poorly paced story and butchered second half of the game. Once again, it is a great shame. The open world and the great layers of customization offered the player the possibility of approaching every mission in so many ways, which makes The Phantom Pain the title with the best gameplay of 2015. However, the content that was not cut from the game was way too repetitive, while the content that was cut effectively left the game without a real ending to its story. To whom should we point the accusing finger? Konami or Kojima? Perhaps both. Nonetheless, The Phantom Pain tried and finds itself among the best games of the year.
Ori and the Blind Forest is the title that has surprised me the most this year. A platformer developed by Moon Studios, Ori is a game with a lot of heart and soul. It tells the story of a small white guardian spirit who is on a journey to save the Spirit Tree. For a platformer, the game features superb visuals, audio and atmosphere. These elements blend together perfectly and create one of the most engrossing experiences in video gaming. Ori’s story is both simplistic and symbolic, and at times very emotional. The game is also very challenging, with my frustration often reaching Dark Souls levels. After the 12 hours that I’ve spent with Ori, I was left wanting to see and explore more of its world, even though the ending had left me feeling content. Weirdly enough, the game has no noticeable minuses, yet it only occupies the spot of my second favorite game of the year. So who could be the first?
The Witcher 3 has left its mark upon me and has been my most memorable experience of the year. In the future, when I’ll be looking back to 2015, this will be the game that will first come up in my mind. It is a beautiful mess of contradictions: for all the downgrade fiasco, it still is one of the best looking games of the year, and despite its fantastic story, the gameplay elements are not on par with Arkham Knight or The Phantom Pain. Nonetheless, I consider The Witcher 3 to be the game that provides the best overall experience of 2015, especially given its huge scope. Its open world is probably the most impressive and consistent open world created so far from a visual and atmospheric perspective. In terms of audio, it offers a fantastic soundtrack and the voice acting is top notch. The narrative is where the game truly shines though: I found myself fully immersed in the story, investing 10 hours per day into the game even though real life expected certain things from me. CDPR showed once again that they have a knack for creating believable characters and decisions that will make you dread their consequences. As a long time Witcher fan, the ride has been very emotional and this ending was the perfect conclusion to a very long story. Sure, I’ve mentioned that the gameplay aspect was not up to par: the game was too easy even on the highest difficulty, the combat felt unsatisfactory, arcade and clunky due to the controls and the itemization was a mess. Some of these issues have been addressed in Hearts of Stone, its first expansion which delivered another adventure that was perhaps even more interesting that the base game. Regardless, even without the expansion, I felt that the minuses of the game could be easily overlooked given the passion and soul that was put into the world of the Witcher, its characters and its story. For all these reasons, The Witcher 3 is my game of the year and I’m looking forward to the release of its second expansion in 2016, Blood and Wine.
I could easily guess what Wolfe’s game of the year will be considering how much he was invested emotionally in the Witcher’s saga, for me though things are much more complicated. I’m having a hard time letting the flaws go and weighing their value against each game’s qualities is a tormenting task. It would have been much easier if Batman: Arkham Knight wasn’t such a technical mess, but that’s not the case and I have to cut this game from the list before I even start to make one. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was already described by me as the most disappointing game of the year 2015 and while it did get the best action that’s because of its great gameplay which isn’t enough to get a GotY (at least not on this website…).
If I take every game that was chosen as best in the respective category and start nitpicking none of them will be worthy of being GotY. Last year I’ve went for high production value and the rounded up quality of the features and to be honest as time passed by I wasn’t so sure that Dragon Age: Inquisition was the right choice. So, this year I was very close on not choosing any title, but I’ve decided constrained some of my calculated thinking in this matter and let loose some of my emotions (I’m human!). Wolfe went for the most critically acclaimed game of the year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, for different reasons than the common ones. My choice goes to a game that will probably get a cult following and hopefully a sequel of some kind: SOMA.
In a year of adventure games it seemed fair for an adventure game to be high up there, but I didn’t base my choice on that. SOMA is more than just an adventure game is a philosophical concept that uses a video game as a platform to get you thinking.
Usually, video games make the players feel important and heroic, they prey on the fact that most of the players want to be heroes. The sensation induced by playing SOMA was entirely different. I felt small, insignificant and bothered by questions without any answer at the horizon.
SOMA might be a stealth horror about a guy who wakes up 100 years in to the future in an oceanic research facility that should contain the last remnants of human kind and unintentional the horrors that hunt them down. This is the premise of a good horror game that has you sneaking around malformed robotic beings that went insane and now behave like killers hunting down the few living humans that define our species as we know it. But behind the scary curtain of a Frictional game hides a narrative so deep and intelligently engaging that had me thinking for days (writing this down doesn’t help me get past it).
SOMA is bluntly asking the question of what it means to be a human either trough the annoying protagonist or a series of scientific concepts that might be just theoretical in today’s scientific world but can become reality in the close future. Our mind is what defines us and what does this represent for our existence if the one thing that makes us who we are can be copied, multiplied and transfer into a computer? SOMA is toying with this idea in a logical yet disturbing way presenting an unforgettable landscape riddled with sci-fi drama, tragedy and horror at every corner.
Besides its book like quality of storytelling and an atmosphere that is hard to get rid of even after you stopped playing, SOMA has a good enough gameplay to have you going from start to finish. The gameplay is more tactile than everything I’ve played and while this doesn’t have much to do on how you solve the puzzles and conundrums on the PATHOS-II station, it helps immersing in the game’s twisted and claustrophobic world.
Into the story’s and gameplay help come the visuals which are great through their artistic design and level of detail, but lack in technological quality. The OpenGL engine feels limited and unable to give this game the graphics it deserves. The textures are washed up and the play of lighting and shadows is not what you would expect from a horror game. SOMA makes up for that building much of its atmosphere through sound effects and music.
Much of the sounds were recorded in nature and this is greatly reflected in the game’s sound design quality which is gruesome and awesome at the same time. The monsters’ screams the constant crackling of the metal structures under pressure and the water sounds intensify the tensioned atmosphere to a great extent with the music keeping the tone.
Last year I rewarded production value and this year I’m rewarding creativity and the courage of doing something different showing off to the world that video games are much more than a form of entertainment. SOMA is nowhere near a perfect game, but is not hindered by its flaws and continues to deliver a story on a high note ending with one of the most mind fucking conclusions that surprised me even if I’ve seen it coming.
Another year of gaming is ending. The year 2015 had a lot of good moments and sadly a lot of bad moments. Lessons have been learned, trust has been shuttered, doubts have been reinforced, but hope didn’t die.
The multitude of delays has turned this year somewhat dry ultimately being saved by many pleasant surprises coming out of nowhere. Though we can remember 2015 as a year of shifting sands, the year when GTA V finally made it to the PC platform together with a full Metal Gear Solid game. It is also the year that brought back to the main stage the adventure genre and continued the classic RPG renaissance. Another year filled with interesting crowdfunded projects and many promising Early Access game rising to the surface between many shady titles.
In the end 2015 was a good enough year that sets the path for a promising 2016 with a ton of major releases (in before delays again) and enough innovative indie titles to balance things up. Time will tell how things will turn out, but I’m positive we will have good games to play.