I’m going to assume you quickly flicked through my list before reading this introduction. You would’ve noticed, then, a number of notable absences. Let me tell you why I haven’t included some of these games in my personal top five.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: I recognise that it has a massive, textured world. I know that The Bloody Baron is one of the best characters this year. However, everything about the game’s size and systems is downright intimidating. And this is a personal peccadillo, but 99% of fantasæ bores me senseless, and little about The Witcher threatens to put it in that 1%.
Life Is Strange: At the time of writing, I’m still at the tail-end of Episode 3. I would have played more, but there’s only so much stress I can take from the game’s moral choices. Maybe it speaks to the game’s effectiveness that I overthink every choice so hard.
Splatoon: I don’t have the luxury of being able to stick to a single game. Much of the Splatoon community does. This means that every time I casually hop into a game, I’m immediately dominated by people four or five times my level. I really adore the game’s style; I’ll just have to be content with watching it behind perspex glass.
Fallout 4: War never changes and neither has Fallout.
With that out of the way…
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Expand]
From the very first time I saw Expand on the PAX Australia show floor last year, I could tell it was something different. It was a quiet, minimalist oasis from the rest of the brash and ostentatious show floor. It well and truly had me entranced.
When the game was released this year, it continued to surprise me. It was still based on meditative navigation through circular mazes, but the experience was constantly evolving. The maze morphed into shapes I did not expect, the new obstacles notched up the difficulty so gradually that I barely noticed how tightly I was gripping my controller by game’s end. The intensity of Expand’s final sequence exceeded even the most traditionally action-centric titles this year.
Much like its mazes, Expand began as one type of experience and ended up as something else altogether. Throughout, it kept me entirely enraptured.
4. Her Story
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Her Story]
Full motion video is usually a sign that a game should not be taken seriously. This year only confirmed this theory many times over, from Guitar Hero Live’s cock-rockers to Need for Speed’s impotent cocksureness. Her Story was a robust rebuttal to this trend.
Ostensibly a murder mystery, Her Story quickly becomes so much more than that. Even after I had been floored by the game’s revelations, when I went to quit the game, it had one more for me. Full credit here goes to Sam Barlow’s script and Viva Siefert’s subtly effective performance.
Adding to this is the non-linear method of storytelling. Even though every player is poring over the same series of clips, each of them will come away with a unique experience. It is as close to emergent gameplay as narrative-driven gaming has reached.
Her Story is a powerfully effective experiment in video game storytelling, and the perfect example of why good writing fits in any medium — even full motion video.
3. Tales From The Borderlands
The Borderlands games always secretly had some interesting writing. Borderlands 2 in particular frequently slipped in some clever gags and quiet moments of character; shame they were buried in an audio log beneath a mouldy pile of dated memes. Tales from the Borderlands is the first time the writing has been allowed to stand on its own, and here it shines.
All of this has to do with the cast of original characters. The work done to flesh out Fiona, Rhys and their respective cohorts made the game’s moments land so much better. The jokes became laugh-out-loud funny, the quieter moments became so much more meaningful than the previous games ever were.
Unburdened by internet humour, this game made the Borderlands universe worth caring about. And just to tip it game over the edge, it has some of the best introductory title cards in the business.
2. Ori and the Blind Forest
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Ori and the Blind Forest]
On paper, Ori and the Blind Forest had all the potential to be insufferable. It ticked off all the latest indie trends: It’s a Metroidvania, it is staggeringly earnest, even the graphics are actually factually bespoke. It’s the kind of game that could’ve been served in mason jar by a bearded Brunswick bartender. It was all this, of course, but it was so much more.
Let’s not dismiss the breathtaking presentation. Just take a look at any screenshot and tell me you don’t want to use it as your phone wallpaper. And then set the soundtrack as your ringtone. And then wipe the tears off your screen as you’re reminded of the gut-wrenching introduction.
But Ori’s true beauty lies in the feel of the movement. The game has you triple-jumping, wall-jumping and bashing off enemy projectiles onto tiny far-off platforms — usually all in one sequence. And yet the controls feel so organic and satisfying. Even ignoring the Metroidvania hooks, I would just jaunt around the environment just for the heck of it.
Ori and the Blind Forest ended up being the antithesis of precious cliche. It took all the run-down tropes and crafted them into one of the most beautiful and mechanically-tight games in recent years.
1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain]
The Metal Gear Solid games are all about the spectacular moments: The infamous bait-and-switch in Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater’s protracted battle with The End (or not, depending on your actions), or the needlessly essential bare-fisted throwback in Guns of the Patriots.
Here’s the ugly truth: Every Metal Gear moment, each and every single one of them, was considered and scripted by Hideo Kojima. Even the expoits or supposedly emergent moments (yes, even this one) are but another case of Kojima, yet again, playing us like a damned fiddle.
Until now it felt like Kojima was constrained by the narrow hallways of the previous games. The Phantom Pain, with its wide open worlds, is the first time Kojima’s wild imagination has had room to breathe, and the possibilities he has conjured for us is near-limitless.
Whether you want to silently fulton every soldier on base, go in guns blazing or, I dunno, send in a wild grizzly bear to do your dirty work, It sincerely feels like the entire spectrum of infiltration and exfiltration has been accounted for.
The quiet savior for this heightened sense of agency is the Fox Engine. For the first time since Sons of Liberty, a Metal Gear game is running at a smooth 60fps, and in a franchise first, the controls are no longer Snake’s worst enemy. It’s the best the franchise has done to make you feel like a proper stealth soldier.
All of these combine to create the ultimate stealth sandbox, one where I had endless opportunities to engineer my own unique Metal Gear moments. And whether it be The Accidental Grenade That Saved The Day or The Hours Of Planning Only For A Single Dart To Fell A Bear or the countless other moments of barely-scripted genius, these moments were among my favourite of 2015.
I have no doubt that these were all envisioned by Kojima. However, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the first game big enough for Kojima’s madness.
Come back tomorrow for more of the New Game Plus crew’s favourite games of 2015, or catch up on Jamie’s and Trey’s games of the year. For our overall Game of the Year, watch our 2015 Game of the Year Special.