The 100% definitive, objective, indisputable top 10 games of 2015 (except for the ones I didn’t play)
Well, another year has whizzed by. Where did all the time go? Why are all those new year’s resolutions from last year so painfully unfinished? Why aren’t we all Adonis/Aphrodite-like billionaire-rockstar-astronaut-playboy/girls right now? That’s right, it’s due to our old time-sucking, life-leeching friend: video games. Now, I’m giving my opinion on the ten games I’ve found truly worthy of syphoning our precious youth in 2015. Bear in mind that these are only the games I’ve actually gotten around to playing, so if your favourite title doesn’t make the cut, you can safely assume it’s only because I haven’t experienced it yet (or it was just terrible). Francis hasn’t always had me reviewing the most visionary, blockbuster AAA masterpieces this year, so you can forgive me for any glaring omissions!
10. The Order: 1886
What an unspeakable horror! No, not the lycanthropic/vampiric creatures that infest the sooty streets of The Order: 1886’s steampunk dystopian London. I mean the very idea that I would include this critically panned game on my top 10 list. Our very own Francis DiPersio gave the game a dismal 2.5/5, citing the narrow gameplay and lack of replay value. Somehow though, this is part of why I really liked the game. In an age of games increasingly becoming open world safaris full of distractions, it’s nice that there are still some old fashioned rollercoaster rides. The Order 1886 will take you through a series of derivative but fun cover shooting sections, QTE battles that are uninspired but cool, and lingering cutscenes that are uninteractive but full of spectacle. It’s a refreshingly straightforward game that would have been commonplace 10 or so years ago, but is now – like The Order’s valiant Sir Gallahad – something of a stubborn, dying breed. It’s not original, but it’s worth playing for igniting Dickensian poorhouses full of machine-gun toting rapscallions with the awesome thermite rifle.
9. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
Drink some cider and ‘ave a ride on me tractor! Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is about the population of a quaint village in England’s West Country being abducted by a strange entity. The game moves at a ploddingly slow place like The Chinese Room’s famed walking simulator forbear Dear Esther. It forces you to evaluate its world like a lonely human without superpowers or guns, and really makes you take the time to savour its soberingly quiet world. It is filled with characters who aren’t remarkable, but who are disarmingly real and human. Perhaps it helps that EGTTR reminded me of my own upbringing in sleepy rural England. From the beer mats in the pub, to the magazines in the village surgery, everything felt startlingly true to life. It brings you into a world full of people who seem so tame and parochial on the surface, but on closer inspection have lives just as fraught and interesting as anyone else. Still waters run deep, and this game dives right in.
8. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Maddeningly frantic combat. 2D landscapes that bleed with psychedelic colours. A storyline that the developers must have created after looking at the original Hotline Miami and thinking: “Hang on, that’s not nearly depressing, confusing or nihilistic enough!”. Hotline Miami 2 is probably the closest I’ve seen a videogame come to translating the experience of being on mind-altering drugs. And no, that’s not some cliched way of saying the game is wacky. This game is pulse pounding and exhilarating when you’re tearing through waves of leisure-suited psychopaths, only ever a single stray bullet away from death. It will make you frustrated and anxious as you hammer the spacebar over and over, re-spawning into another yet another fast-forwarded demise. It will make you feel deeply uncomfortable with its graphic treatment of human suffering. It will finally leave you confused about what’s real like the most brain-destroying acid trip as it assaults you with a litany of angry synthwave and death. Seriously, it’s pretty good, except for the bits where baddies can shoot you off screen, that is!
7. Metal Gear Solid V
Snake? Snake, what happened? Where’s your hour long cutscenes? Where’s your meandering codec conversations about old movies while sneaking through a minefield? Metal Gear Solid V will disappoint a lot of fans in how it’s so light on story and heavy on free roaming missions and base management. There’s still some funny Kojima-esque idiosyncrasies, but a lot of the humour, emotional depth and quirky fun has been lost between MGSIV and MGSV (not to mention all of the David Hayter). Still, taken on its own merits, MGSV is a beautifully detailed game that lovingly simulates both infiltration and annihilation like few before it. There’s nothing quite like riding over the dusty deserts of Afghanistan on horseback like Lawrence of Arabia – listening to “She Blinded Me With Science” and blowing things up with a rocket launcher.
6. Magnetic: Cage Closed
One the subject of physically harmful science, there’s Magnetic: Cage Closed. In my review earlier this year, I said the following of this wonderful first person physics puzzler
“My biggest worry about Magnetic: Cage Closed was that it would be a poor man’s Portal. However, I can happily confirm it’s an upper-middle class man’s Portal (complete with a white picket fence and an obsessive concern about house prices).”
And that pretty much says it all. Magnetic has the same basic plot of a mute protagonist being imprisoned by a crazed jailer in a deadly testing ground, forced to try and survive using a physics manipulating gun. The main difference is that this time around, you’re using the gun to repel and attract magnetic objects. It’s a simple premise that provides the basis for countless rewarding puzzles. If you’re still jonesing for more Portal, shivering with desire to pick up metallic cubes, repeating done-to-death cake jokes under your breath like a gibbering loon, then Magnetic: Cage Closed can give you that sweet fix to get you through the day.
5. Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown
Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown set itself a tough target by attempting to mix cerebral turn-based isometric combat with the chaotic element of drawing your team-mates from an MMO community. Somehow though, they knocked it out of the park like the Baw-ston Red Sox. A simple, but elegant character progression system rewards bringing a well rounded team to each run, and working together to combine your disparate skills. There’s nothing quite like a motley crew of a troll shaman, elven street samurai, human hacker and dwarven rigger coming together in the spirit of friendship as you look back on a successfully completed job. That, and you can surgically detach cybernetic limbs from corpses and graft them onto your own mutilated body! Hours of grisly, gritty cyber-magic-punk fun! Shadowrun Chronicles also has the distinction of being the subject of my very first review for HeyPoorPlayer. Check it out here!
4. Victor Vran
Victor Vran really surprised me this year as it came as an exemplar of a genre I nominally find quite dull: the action-RPG. Beneath that wide-brimmed hat though, old Victor conceals a huge capacity for creative customization. You can have shotguns that leech a monster’s life-force, warhammers that create fiery explosions or swords that freeze enemies solid. There’s just no limit on the number of ways you can adjust your gear to decimate, perforate and incinerate your demonic foes, and there’s plenty of opportunity to challenge your self-made arsenal of destruction.
What’s that? You need more convincing? Then take my review! Take it, you damned handsome beast you!
If Faster Than Light and Mad Max had a baby – well, the scientific community would be absolutely rocked with the news that two fictional franchises were capable of reproducing. Also, the baby might look something like Convoy. It’s a 2D rogue-like game where you guide a massive tanker over the wastes, accompanied by a convoy of futuristic armed bikes, jeeps and tanks for escorts. Convoy has all the careful decision making of FTL. Do you buy that snazzy looking weapon from a suspicious merchant or do you save your scrap for fuel? With the potential of a game losing battle on every highway, each decision feels important. Battles are tactical, yet can change completely in the blink of an eye. Just as you’re getting overwhelmed with superior firepower, a single well placed ram can knock an opposing roadrunner into a firey collision with a canyon wall. Even better, Convoy‘s daring quests are filled to the brim with clever retro gaming references. It’s well worth travelling across the sand-blasted badlands to find them all!
2. Until Dawn
Until Dawn is a love letter to the schlocky sexed-up teen horror movies of the eighties, but it is powerfully engaging in its own right. It immerses you so much in its slowly unravelling tale of terror, you actually want to protect its cast of horny brats from being garroted! Until Dawn has probably the best use of the Playstation 4’s motion controls to date. When I was hiding away inside a creaky house, I’d have to hold my controller still and not move a muscle, biting my lip, closing my eyes, my palms sweaty, knowing the slightest movement could get my hapless teenager eviscerated. Then there’s the added tension of the game only giving you one chance at every encounter – auto-saving and continuing when you let one of the sexed-up millennials die, with the character’s permanent death being incorporated into the narrative. Just when you think you’ve sussed it all out, the story wrongfoots you at every turn with red herrings, creating an atmosphere of despairing uncertainty. The focus on the chaotic butterfly effect, where every decision can have countless unforeseen consequences, only deepens the stomach churning nature of every life and death choice you have to make. Until Dawn is a masterfully crafted piece of horror, and there’s only one game this year that stirred me up even more…
1. Sunless Sea
Some games just leave you struggling for words to describe them. In this case it’s because the writing in Sunless Sea is some of the best I’ve ever seen – in a videogame or otherwise – and any description seems to scarcely do it justice. Every single syllable you read radiates with mystery and intrigue. Sunless Sea is set in a steampunk world where Victorian-era London has sunk beneath the surface of the earth to border a massive underground ocean. As a budding captain of a ship, you’ll encounter unspeakable Lovecraftian horrors too immense for humanity to truly comprehend – and also an island where sentient rats and guinea pigs fight an unending holy war. Every island you disembark on is filled to the brim with secrets – some brilliantly absurd, some nightmarish, plenty are both – and every one you unravel makes you hungry for more.
Whereas most games have a currency of money and experience, Sunless Sea’s most valuable tender is the enigmas of existence, and the pull of getting rich is undeniable. Sunless Sea is a battle to pace your voracious desire to explore the unknown, lest you venture too far from London’s shores for too long and end up succumbing to the creeping madness – and sink forever beneath the waves. Every time you hear the re-assuring music signalling your return to the London docks, the sense of relief is euphoric. Of course, when you die – and die you shall – you can always leave a will to distribute some of your legacy to the next hapless captain.
Do yourself a favour, just take my word for it, buy the game for yourself, and take your rickety paddle steamer out onto the inky blackness of the zee…
Here’s a list of ten games that might well be on the list if I’d gotten around to playing them: SOMA, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Pillars of Eternity, Life is Strange, Witcher 3, Undertale, Dead State, Starcraft: Legacy of the Void, Yakuza 5
But hey, I’m sure I’ll find time to play both them and all the amazing looking titles slated for 2016 over the coming year! Right? Right?
Erm, happy new year everyone!