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Kyle Hanley’s Top 5 Games of 2015

24 Jan

 

ps4

It’s that time of year, folks! It’s the start of a new year, which means it’s time to look forward! Let’s make New Year’s Resolutions to stop being so fat and disgusting, for the first few days of January, at least! Let’s all make plans to visit new places and take exciting trips only to realize we barely have enough energy to walk to the fridge let alone go out of town! Let’s all reflect on how we are all about to get another year older which means we are that much closer to death and, even worse, erectile dysfunction!

But while it’s good to look ahead on all the positives and great things a new year will bring, it’s also worth looking back and reminiscing about the year we all just had. Think about all the good times you had with your friends and about all the milestones you hit. For example, I managed to train myself to fart the chorus section of All You Need Is Love by The Beatles. Thanks, 2015!

Longtime fanatics of this blog, and I’m sure there are many of you, know that I also take this time to look back and rank my favorite games and movies of the year. This year is no different. I will start with this post about my favorite games and by late January/early February, I will have my top 5 movies article posted. Let’s see if at any point between these two articles I leave the house and talk to somebody who isn’t my mom!

Now, 2015 may have been the year that gave us Hotline Bling and Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, but it was a GREAT year to be a gamer. After a somewhat paltry 2014, we managed to get a ton of great games this year and I actually had a tough time drawing up this list. I am not exaggerating when I say a couple of these games are some of my new all time favorites and that I easily think 2015 will be remembered as one of the best years in gaming history.

Now that I’m done with what I’m sure you guys are assuming is hyperbole (but it isn’t! I swear!), let’s actually get to the rankings!

5. Until Dawn

until dawn cover

The list starts off with the surprise game of 2015, a PS4 exclusive made by Supermassive Games. If you’re asking, “What’s a Supermassive Games?”, congratulations! You are literally everyone, ever, when this game was first announced. They’re a pretty new studio and they actually started Until Dawn last generation, when it was supposed to be a first person, motion sensor based game. Years have passed and the game jumped from PS3 to PS4, metamorphosing into something quite different.

So what is Until Dawn? If you answered, “the amount of time you spend jerking off, Kyle,” you are wrong! Well, you are technically right, but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for here. Until Dawn is basically a choose your own adventure in the style of Telltale and Quantic Dream games where you control eight different characters in a horror movie setting. Imagine Heavy Rain if it were inspired by slasher flicks instead of murder mysteries, and if it also had much less awkward sex scenes.

Heavy-Rain love

Umm. Am I supposed to be getting a boner or…

Until Dawn tells the story of a group of teenagers who visit a cabin for the weekend even though two of their friends had died there the previous Winter. Why go back to the scene of such a traumatic and tragic incident? Because the story says so, stupid! Of course things don’t go well, as death cabin visits tend to, and the teens find themselves prey to a sadistic and psycho killer (Qu’est-ce que c’est, Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better).

Your job is to navigate the night and make sure all the character survive UNTIL DAWN. Like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls or any of the fucking eighty Telltale games there are, you control the characters in an adventure game type setting, making split second decisions that could forever change the course of the game. A lot of games of this type offer this promise and fail to deliver, especially the Telltale games. It’s like, “Okay, choose between two characters for the one you want to survive this scene, but it doesn’t really matter who you choose because the other will just die a half hour from now because we are too lazy to write two different scripts that far ahead.”

Is Until Dawn guilty of this? At times. Certain plot twists and developments rely on key characters being alive, so there are times where there is no real danger. But even with this caveat, Until Dawn is MUCH better than the other games in actually having your choices matter. Its much touted Butterfly Effect system actually has seemingly small incidences heavily affecting certain outcomes later in the game. A mistake early on could prove to be the death of that character later on in the game. The game even compiles all these cause and effect moments in a helpful menu screen, so you can look back and reflect on just how badly you fucked up.  If you’re bad enough at the game, it could easily turn into a Whiny Teenager Killing Simulator, which is a shame the game wasn’t marketed as such because it would have sold billions if it had.

Until Dawn’s intense choice system makes it a ton of fun to play and replay, and this is also easily one of the best looking games on the PS4. But the game has a few flaws. It incorporates too many quick time events (or QTEs to hardcore gamers like me *snorts, pushes up glasses*) and the game also relies a little too heavily on jump scares, especially in the beginning when it seems EVERY character plays a prank on another, trying to scare them. I prefer a horror game to create a consistent feeling of dread and suspense through toying with my psychology, rather than it constantly going, “BOO! HAHAHA, SCARED YOU, YA QUIVERING PUSSY! BOO AGAIN! HAHA TOTALLY NAILED IT!”

Outside of these qualms, Until Dawn manages to be a fun, engrossing experience that demands multiple playthroughs. Just don’t feel too bad when you inevitably end up killing the whole cast.

Random observation: Some people will say that this game only made the list because it includes a bath scene with Hayden Panettiere. That’s completely untrue, I didn’t even watch and rewatch that scene more than fourteen times.

4. Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman_Arkham_Knight-coverart

Pop quiz! Who is the best superhero?

A. Superman
B. Aquaman
C. General Dickspank Stormheart
D. Batman

If you said A, we are no longer on speaking terms. If you said B, you must be the creators of Aquaman, Mr. Mort Weisinger and Mr. Paul Norris, which is confusing because you are both dead. If you said C, I made that name up to see if you were paying attention and since you obviously aren’t, you can get on the hell out of my blog. *cocks shotgun and spits in spitoon*

If you said D, then DING DING DING! You are correct! Batman is and always will be the best god damned superhero ever created. And the Arkham games, based on Batman and his universe? The best god damned superhero games ever created and yes, Warner Brother Games, you can put that quote on the box.

Batman Arkham Knight is the 3rd game in the Arkham trilogy (hey Arkham Origins, you’re actually kind of fun but, uhh, no one is counting you as part of the series). In it, Batman finds himself in his most harrowing situation yet. Scarecrow has taken over Gotham City, holding the city hostage with his powerful fear toxin. As if that weren’t enough, a new bad guy calling himself the Arkham Knight has rolled into town with a seemingly infinite mercenary army, helping out the Scarecrow and generally being a dick to Batman. Also, this takes place over the course of just one night because Batman.

Let me clear the air on something: I fucking love the Arkham games (and yet again, WB Games, feel free to use that quote for marketing purposes). The games are a near perfect blend of stealth, action, story and atmosphere and Arkham City was easily one of my top ten favorite games of last generation. I am happy to announce that Arkham Knight manages to top all before it and is quite comfortably the best in the series, which is saying something.

Like the previous games, Arkham Knight brings equal doses of fluid combat with tense stealth sections. These different scenarios often force you to make use of Batman’s wide arsenal of gadgets (no shark repellent in this one, but there’s always hope for the next Arkham game!). When you’re not trying to save Gotham from Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, you can spend time on the side trying to save Gotham from other villains because apparently no one got the memo from the first two games that Batman is not someone you want to fuck with.

The game also includes a new mechanic, which is easily the most polarizing part of the entire series: the Batmobile. I remember when I first heard the Batmobile was going to be in Arkham Knight, I was very skeptical. I am always leery of driving sections in games that aren’t built specifically around driving, as it often feels tacked on an unpolished. When reviewers were complaining about the Batmobile in reviews, I was even more fearful.

Thankfully, reviewers from big media outlets are dumb. The Batmobile is not only just fine, but a ton of fun to use. Blasting through Gotham and crashing through walls never gets old and the tank style sections are fun and intense (for the most part). Sure, the Batmobile is not without its faults. A few tank sections, particularly near the end, can be more tedious than fun. And the idea of Batman destroying three quarters of the city he’s trying to save with a giant, missile spewing explosion machine makes about as much sense for his character as it does for Captain America to head over to Hitler’s house to watch the games and share a few beers.

gotham-city-burns

Gotham City, after a typical joy ride with the Batmobile.

If you enjoyed the other Arkham games, you’ll love this one. If you didn’t care for them, I can’t guarantee you’ll be won over by this one, but I do think it’s more likely than with the others since Arkham Knight is even more jam packed with things to o than the others. Arkham Knight easily ranks up there with the best games of the year.

Random observation: The storytelling in this game is incredible, not just the plot but the way its told and presented. But the eventual ‘reveal’ of the Arkham Knight’s identity is so predictable and lame, they may as well have put it at the start of the game. Like in a “and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver!” style opening credit. And now I can’t stop thinking of Jerry Mathers as the Arkham Knight.

3. Rocket League

Rocket_League_coverart

Let me plant the flag right here: Rocket League is the best multiplayer game ever made. Yes you can take your Call of Dutys (heh, dutys) and Mario Parties (heh, parties) and Halos (heh, halos) and shove them right up your pooper (heh, shove).

Rocket League is as simple as it is addictive. Its soccer, but instead of whiny Europeans, its played with rocket powered cars. There are also a lot less fake injuries.

fake injury

Maybe this will be in the DLC, though!

Aaaaand that’s your premise. That’s it. You are a car, there is a giant ball, and you have to get it in the net. End of story. No saving the word from Russians or aliens or Russian aliens, no fighting endless hordes of zombies (you mean video games DON’T have to include zombies!?), just pure old fashioned fun.

The beauty of Rocket League is its local multiplayer. For someone reading this a few years in the future when this doesn’t exist anymore, local multiplayer is this awesome thing games used to have where people called ‘friends’ would come over to your house and you would actually play the SAME game in the SAME room! I’m sure your jetpacks and Pizza Hut Delivery Drones that feed you at your doorstep are pretty cool, but man, it’s a shame you didn’t get to experience local multiplayer. Rocket League does local multiplayer better than literally anyone, providing a fun, frenetic experience that will have everyone chanting, “one more game, just one more game,” like you are part of the world’s geekiest cult.

The game is a little bare bones in terms of the amount content it offers. Outside of standard online multiplayer matches, you only get exhibitions and a shallow season mode. There are also only 3 legitimate difficulties, two of which are easier than raiding a blind person’s fridge, the last one of which is harder than raiding 2012 Val Kilmer’s fridge. The game, since launch, has been updated with some game modifiers to help freshen the experience, but even they only go so far. With all this said, it’s tough to be too harsh with all these criticisms when the stiff it does offer is just so much fucking fun.

Random observation: Hey, 2012 Val Kilmer, if you’re reading this, I didn’t mean anything by the fridge comment. Just kidding, yanno. Please don’t eat me.

2. Fallout 4

fallout 4 cover art

For seven years we have been waiting for a new true Fallout game. And no, don’t even try to pass that broken, glitch filled sack of turds New Vegas as a true Fallout game. Seven long years with seemingly dozens of false reports and ‘leaks’ and hoaxes about Fallout 4 and its eventual coming.

That wait ended this past year when Fallout 4 was not only announced, but released merely five months later. It was the most triumphant moment for virgins since Tim Tebow won a playoff football game that one year.

I am a HUGE fan of Bethesda open world RPGS. I have spent more combine time playing Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 than I have done doing things like “laundry” and “hanging out with friends” and “looking for a career”. So I was just as stoked as anyone for Fallout 4’s arrival. And now that it’s here and I’ve been able to get lost in it, I can say it’s just as good as we hoped/expected.

Fallout 4 takes us to its post apocalyptic universe, where the danger of being shot at with a gun is around every corner and where people are gigantic dicks to each other. It’s not much different from today, actually, just a lot more rubble and less selfie sticks. In this installment, we are taken to the Commonwealth which is the nuked remains of Boston. Unlike the dull gray that seemed to suffocate the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3, the Commonwealth has a much more vibrant color palate, making for a much more beautiful and eye pleasing game world to explore. It may be the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean it has to be offensive to the eyes.

Like all Bethesda RPGs, Fallout 4 affords the player with incredible amounts of freedom. You create your character at the beginning with an in depth creation system, allowing you to make your character as beautiful or ugly as your hear desires.

ugly fallout

OH GOD IT’S LOOKING AT ME SOMEBODY HELP

After creating a character, and a short prologue, you are dropped into the world to do whatever the hell you want. You can plow through the main quest to experience the story, like some kind of nerd, or you can take your time and explore the vast, dense game world, picking up side quests, crafting weapons and armor or, my favorite, being a complete asshole to people. Oh and you can do all this while wearing nothing but a chef’s hat. I feel like that is worth mentioning.

Fallout 4 also adds a few new things to keep players hooked. There is a settlement building activity where you can build and maintain settlements of survivors, using a wealth of objects to build almost anything your imagination can come up with. It’s a neat system, but it definitely isn’t for everyone, myself included. I respect what its trying to do, but I found it boring, especially when I realized how much work it was going to be to make a bunch of dick shaped buildings.

One thing I do love is the deeper companion system. While Fallout 3 had companions, they were not much more than bullet absorbing, mobile storage devices. Sure, they had personalities, but they weren’t nearly as fleshed out as Fallout 4 companions are. With these companions, you have regular conversations with them, picking up bits of backstory about them and you can even unlock a specific quest to complete with them, a la Mass Effect. They start to feel like real, living people and it helps form a much more tangible bond with them. These companions also act as your moral compass, replacing the famed Karma system from past Fallout games. When you do something your companion does or doesn’t like, you’ll get a notification of it in the top of the screen. So if you beat an old lady to death with a baseball bat because you wanted to steal the box of mac n’ cheese she had on her, prepare to hear a comment on it from your buddy. If they’re fun, they probably won’t mind it.

With all this said, though, Fallout 4 is, at its core, nothing more than souped up, more refined Fallout 3. Is that bad? Shit no! Fallout 3 is amazing and so is 4. Do I wish it brought a little more evolution to the Fallout series? Meh, maybe. Perhaps that’s why it’s only number 2 on the list. Yanno, like that’s a bad thing.

Random observation: Been burned by Bethesda glitches before? Afraid to pick up Fallout 4 because of it? Fear not! I only ran into a ridiculous glitch two hours into the game, rather than a mere hour as we expect to from Bethesda games! Good job, Bethesda, you’re getting better at this video game thing!

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Witcher_3_cover_art

And here we are. My game of the year. What is so incredible about The Witcher 3 is that even in this year of sensational gaming, where we had some true juggernauts clashing for the top spot of GOTY, it wasn’t even close for me. Witcher 3 is hands down the best game I’ve played all year, and by a large margin. A small part of me even thinks this game might be the best I’ve ever played, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Guys. This game is really good. And the thing is, I almost didn’t even play this game. As a lifelong Playstation gamer (not counting a brief Rollercoaster Tycoon on PC addiction in my early teens which I don’t like to talk about, it was dark time in my life), I’ve never played the Witcher games. So when I heard that The Witcher 3 was coming to PS4 I went “So?” and went back to Google imaging ‘Emma Watson making out with Emma Stone, preferably naked’. But then I saw previews for the game and I found myself enamored by it. It looked awesome and I figured I’d give it a shot.

Yet another brilliant decision in a life full of them. I was almost immediately hooked into its world, engrossed in its storyline. As a Witcher virgin, I was worried about being able to appreciate its storyline. Being dropped into a fantasy world mid-series can feel confusing, like being asked to translate “A Tale of Two Cities” from French to Russian when you don’t even know how to read. But The Witcher is a gentle, thoughtful lover and eases you into its world, even providing a lengthy, helpful glossary in times of need.

Just everything about the game is top notch. The graphics are sensational, the combat is simple but satisfying, the sound perfectly immerses you into the game world, the game’s score perfectly sets the mood, the scope and size of it is awe inspiring, it justs…it justs…oh god, yes! YES! YES!

Huh. Well. It appears I just came in my pants. Excuse me while I go change into new ones and I should probably take a shower too.

Okay, back! So while all that stuff I mentioned is great, the real star of The Witcher is the quests. Not just the main story quests, which are deep and full of tough plot and character decisions to make, but the side quests as well. Every quest is thoughtful and fleshed out in its own way. A major problem I have with RPGs are the fetch quests. As much as I praised Bethesda RPGs earlier, they especially are victim to this critical flaw. So many RPGs are happy to give you dozens of quests where you’re simply going into a cave or mine or dungeon or a giant monster’s asshole and retrieving an item, with little to no thought involved. Oh, you lost your priceless butter knife in the Cave of Blood and More Blood? GO GET IT YOURSELF, ASSHOLE. AND WHILE YOU’RE THERE, FIND ME SOMETHING INTERESTING TO DO.

The Witcher however, gets it. It realizes that if you’re going to pack over 200 hours of content into your game, it better damn well be more than just finding shit for people like you are god damned intern.

geralt

Hello, Mr. Flaherty! I brought your coffee, just the way you like it! 2 creams, one sugar! When does this start being fun?

Quests in The Witcher are plentiful and varied. Sure, there ARE fetch quests, but there are tons more quests that aren’t. Some focus on exploring and investigating environments, some are more combat based, others are literally nothing but dialogue.

Let me give you a non spoilery example. There is a quest in the game where you have the opportunity to drink with a couple of Witcher buddies you haven’t seen in a while. And that’s it. That’s the quest. You, drinking with two mates, talking about past jobs and love lives. You control the dialogue throughout, being able to take part in the male bonding that’s occurring. It’s such a simple quest, but it does wonders for character development. When you end up fighting alongside these characters in other quests, you better believe you have an extra affinity towards them thanks to this wonderful quest that came before it. Here’s how other RPGs would have done this quest:

“Geralt! We wanna drink and have fun, but the vodka is in the cellar, surrounded by baby dragons! Be a doll and grab it? Thanks.”

(gets the vodka, killing the monsters in the process)

“Cool, you got the vodka! Now let’s…oh. You didn’t bring glasses with you? I kinda thought that you had just assumed to bring some. Whatever, you can just go get them now. They’re up on the top floor. Careful, though! I’ve heard distinct shrills and monster sounds from up there!”

(gets glasses and kills more monsters)

“Nice! Vodka and glasses accounted for! Let’s get fucking Witcher wasted!”

Then you’d either get a cutscene or the screen would fade to black, glossing over the fun bits. Not so in The Witcher. You see, The Witcher relishes in little moments like this quest, providing a depth of heart and character that other RPGs couldn’t dream of doing.

And that’s just one example. The Witcher is full of quests like this, that focus more on story and character rather than menial tasks and unrelenting tedium for the sake of padding the game’s length.

Listen: The Witcher 3 is amazing and you need to play it. You can thank me later, along with all my other fans lining up to express their gratitude for all the amazing things I’ve done.

Random observation: Wanna know how good this game is? I gushed about it for 960 words and didn’t mention once how it’s got a ton of boobs. Now THAT’S the mark of a true Game of the Year.

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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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