For all intents and purposes, 2015 was a fantastic year of sequels and sales, at least if the hype is to be believed. The first big year of titles since the last two platforms entered the console race, the “next gen” consoles seemed to finally hit their stride. That is, until you get into the minutiae of the games themselves, and then it hits you: You’re no longer the target audience of these franchises anymore.
To expand, perhaps the most telling sign of this for me is that in a year with new Metal Gear Solid and Fallout games, they didn’t even enter into my thought process for GOTY consideration. That’s not to say that they are inherently bad games, especially from a gameplay perspective: Fallout 4’s improved shooting engine and streamlined mechanics were a welcome addition, and The Phantom Pain is emergent sandbox sharpened to a fine point. The issue is that both games, with their rich universes, come across as completely sterile when compared to their predecessors.
The games that succeeded for me this year, like any year, are those that own their universe and their flaws. Therefore, Earth Defence Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair on Playstation 4 stands out for me as the best example of an imperfect game in many ways being better than itself. The muscle of the PS4 removes the game’s signature (and frankly endearing) visual lag when big things go boom, and it still allows for co-op strafe shooting bug killing antics. EDF remains perhaps my favourite series that very few people play.
That said, sometimes it’s not about the universe, but about nailing the basics. And when you set out to make a game about cars playing soccer, you better nail it. Rocket League does exactly that, with its relatively simple mechanics hiding a deceptive level of depth. It’s the Cinderella story of the year: Going from relatively unknown indie game to eSsport in short measure. It’s also just a top game.
With my misgivings about this year’s titles aside, there’s a studio worth mentioning that has absolutely shone this year, not that you’d know it from their sales. Avalanche Studios had the double duty of Mad Max and Just Cause 3, and both of them were just fantastic. Mad Max nailed the wasteland, the roar of V8s scrambling across the desert, and the pure terror of being caught in a super storm. Yeah, the Batman-lite fighting was clunky, and I will never forgive “Dinki-Dee” until I die, but Mad Max is a game I pumped far too many hours into.
Just Cause 3 is a different beast. Another sandbox game, but this time set on the verdant island chain of Medici. Rico’s new wingsuit makes the spectacular movement of the previous game even more entertaining. It’s the perfect blend of Mercenaries, Saints Row 2 and Spider-Man 2, and like Mad Max, is a perfect “too much stuff to do” game.
Finally, I think the most obvious thing I’m going to say in this piece is that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an absolutely deserving GOTY and you should play it. CD Projekt had a lot riding on this one, and they nailed a great mix of exploration, universe and combat. Not many games take you seamlessly from a moral quandary over the fate of a group of orphans to the sudden intensity of an attacking wyvern with as much style, and The Witcher 3 nails it.
I guess that covers the games I consider the best of the year. That doesn’t mean you should leave it there: Yo-Kai Watch, Life is Strange and others await you. But don’t be surprised in the new year if you see me playing a lot less AAA games. I’m really not the target audience anymore, especially if they keep putting in that fucking auto-aim that I can’t turn off god damn it.