I’ll go ahead and admit this right now: after E3 I pretty much wrote 2015 off as the Year of Fallout 4. I mean, seriously; what was going to compete with THAT? But now that release day is here and we’ve had several more months of gaming to catch up on the year’s best before the November 10 nuke drop, I’ve noticed that this has been one hell of a year.
Even if Fallout 4 lives up to the insane expectations Bethesda created with their E3 presentation to be 2015’s Game of the Year (and reviews indicate that it does), there’s a ton of competition out there. And even pretending AAA blockbusters like Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, and Halo are no longer relevant (and we are), there’s no sure victory.
It’s been a monumentally great year for video games on every platform from massive releases down to the indie sleeper hits. These are just five of the many deathclaws and behemoths in 2015’s gaming Wasteland that could spoil Bethesda’s year-end victory party if their latest post-apocalyptic open world epic makes any missteps.
Upon release, Konami’s latest masterpiece of tactical insanity collected near-perfect scores almost across the board with game critics and sits at 93 on Metacritic, the highest rated console game of the year. That is going to make it a tough act to beat by itself.
Fans discussed the game as art, analyzing tiny details in search of metaphorical and philosophical meaning in its crazy narrative and critics praised the massive open world freedom and top rate production values that somehow retain the bizarre and personal feel of an indie title thanks to the deft guiding hands of series creator Hideo Kojima.
There was sexism controversy, cries of betrayal from long time fans (due to the game’s relative lack of the film-length cutscenes that have long been a MGS hallmark), and a successful online component to assure that all AAA bases were covered in terms of both gameplay and community discussion. One way or another, if you were a gamer in late 2015 you were bumping up against this game.
With this being the official swan song of one of the most revered and discussed creators in gaming and the culmination of a long-running and acclaimed series, this game has a sentimental factor and a rabid fanbase going for it as we hurtle towards the end of the year awards. If you ask Konami’s marketing executive, The Phantom Pain is the undisputed Game of the Year and “the most engrossing and stunning game of the year.” But there may be a conflict of interest there so humor me a little and read the rest of the list, ‘kay?
This is the little RPG that could. An independent PC release that will hopefully make it to consoles one day, Undertale is that rare game that can come along and change your entire way of thinking. The graphics ain’t much and the music is nostalgia fuel, but if you have a heart beating in your chest, this game will win you over eventually, one way or another. If charm and sheer creativity were the only factors in making a great game, this would be one of the greatest of all time hands down and it’s the only release to score as highly among critics as MGS V this year
It’s a title where the game’s characters occasionally address the player and game elements directly, turn game mechanics to their own advantage, toy relentlessly with the gamer’s expectations, and test them in ways they’ve never been tested by a game before. And arguably more so than any other game, the story really does depend on your actions. That is to say you can play Undertale as a typical RPG where you kill the monsters that bar your path and turn it into the story of an unstoppable genocidal maniac, you can look for non-violent solutions to your problems and have a heartwarming story of friendship, or do a little of each for a different outcome yet.
Even taking the creative mechanics, the mind-melting metafiction, and the groundbreaking philosophical concepts aside, the humor of the game by itself has led to an endless supply of fanart and memes dedicated to the various characters and moments that will permeate your journey depending on your choices. If this game had been released in the 90’s, it’d likely be remembered as one of the greatest RPG’s of all time so as dark horse GOTY candidates go, Undertale is filled with determination.
It’s been three years since Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead aimed for gamers’ heads (and hearts) and laid the competition to rest to garner near-universal Game of the Year awards in 2013. Since then, the indie studio has been the toast of the interactive fiction sub-genre, delivering a constant stream of quality stories immersing us in the worlds of Game of Thrones, Fables, Minecraft, and Borderlands.
That last one I’ve got to admit I wasn’t expecting much from. Borderlands is a great RPG/FPS hybrid with a sick sense of humor, but madcap fun is kind of the whole point and it’s largely considered a co-op title to boot. What’re the odds that adapting it as essentially a sequence of playable cutscenes would be amazing?
Oh, me of little faith. Telltale once again proved their uncanny knack for capturing the tone and essence of any property perfectly and combined all of the best aspects of their previous games into an interactive fiction experience that I would describe as just about perfect. I have literally no complaints or practical ideas about how that story could have been better, and that is a rare, rare thing.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This is probably the biggest competitor right now and has remained effortlessly at the head of the pack for most of the year. CD Projekt RED’s dark fantasy action-RPG is one of the most massive and epic RPG’s ever created. If you don’t put a hundred hours into this one, you aren’t trying, and odds are, you’ll enjoy every minute.
While there is no one facet of The Witcher 3 that marks it as the best, it combines the greatest aspects from the best fantasy RPG’s of its time into one glorious experience. It’s got the action combat of Dark Souls, the open world exploration and customization of Elder Scrolls, and the great characters and moral quandary-infused choices of Dragon Age. The parade of free post-launch DLC doesn’t hurt its chances any either.
The conclusion of Geralt of Rivia’s trilogy seldom disappoints and if nothing else, it will give you a hell of a lot to do, a lot of ways to do it, and a great experience getting it done. As gamers what more could we ask for?
It took most of the year for Dontnod Entertainment to complete the journey they began in January when they released Episode One, but the consensus seems to be it was well worth the wait. Taking pages out of Telltale’s book, Life is Strange is another character-based interactive fiction designed to make you laugh, cry, and love.
The innovation here is a helpful one for the genre. In this game, you can rewind time to a certain extent and make different choices if you so choose. This is excellent because it not only saves the player the trouble of resetting the game if they pick a wrong choice or just to see a different outcome, which is a pretty common occurrence while playing through these kinds of games. The kicker is that your choices have a butterfly effect where the consequences are often not seen until some time later, meaning that what seemed right at the time may have unforeseen consequences down the line.
Life is Strange’s stylish hand-painted art capturing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, memorable characters, emotional twists and turns, slice of life approach to story, and metaphorical journey into the human psyche have earned it industry accolades and fan devotion alike. It’s crazy to think that publishers demanded the game’s pivotal duo of Max and Chloe be changed to male protagonists, but Dontnod deserves credit for fighting for their characters and delivering the story they wanted to tell.
A great addition to a growing genre that further shows why gaming’s interactive elements can and will see it surpass film and television as the visual story medium of choice. In fact, all of these games kind of do that. 2015 has been a banner year for quality gaming all around. Fallout 4 has got a lot to live up to if it’s going to come out on top of this heap.