This was an incredible year for video games, filled with a number of pleasurable experiences and more than one unexpected surprise.
The biggest difference with this year from the others is the way that I played and looked at playing games. Where in years past I’ve been a child, a teenager, in school, with all of the time in the world to devote to playing whatever, and however much, I wanted, this year has felt to me like the first year in which I am an adult–who is also playing games.
I have a puppy now, work on a webcomic, work part-time, and have been looking for full-time work, and the amount of time I have to devote to games has waned in a way I imagine is natural. That being said, this year was insane with the number of great games that graced our disc-trays and no amount of time would have been enough for me to have sufficiently sifted through them all.
Because of that, this list doesn’t include some of the most highly regarded games of the year. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Undertale are a few that I’m sure would have found a snug little notch on this list, but–hey, there’s only so much time.
Shovel Knight is barely making this list. Not because of its merits to be here, but because, for 1: it is technically a 2014 game that was released this year again on PS4 and XB1 and for 2: because I just got it for Christmas and have only been playing it a couple of days.
Shovel Knight is a game that feeds on nostalgia, that demands we set aside all of the complex mechanics, the cutscenes, the story beats, the open world madness, and bring ourselves back a good 20 or 30 years when games were a whole lot simpler. It takes the formula Mega-man made popular where every stage is hard, and unique, with a theme and a boss and platforming and combat, dusts it off, and brings it back in a whole “new” way. I say “new” because nothing in this game is necessarily new. Every element is an homage to some idea, some game that paved the way for this to come into being, but what Shovel Knight does that makes it so great is that it does it all so well.
The music, the world, the story–everything is so incredibly charming and the entire first level, listening to that chiptune score, watching that knight sprite scurry across the screen, I couldn’t stop smiling.
That’s this game. It’s charming–and while it’s good that it’s a throwback to the great games of old, it’s great because it’s a game that is actually good.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Going into Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, I wasn’t too excited. Usually I spend the weeks leading up to a Call of Duty counting down the days until its release. It was the game I played with friends, the multiplayer experience that dominated my playtime the majority of the year, but it was different this time. The friends I usually played with weren’t playing Call of Duty, or much of anything anymore, and the past several entries, while fun and enjoyable, weren’t quite up to the caliber of the ones before them. So going into this one, I didn’t really care. My video game backlog is a mile deep, my responsibilities have grown and shifted, and Call of Duty, as much as I once loved it, didn’t seem to have a place in my life anymore–it seemed destined to be left behind.
Or so I thought.
Black Ops 3 manages to do something that hasn’t been done since, well, Black Ops 2–that being making a Call of Duty that feels like Call of Duty, which you’d think would be easier than it’s been. While I spent a great deal of time with Ghosts, and Advanced Warfare after it, I rarely felt like I was playing Call of Duty when I sat down and played the two of them. I don’t know–there was something about the setup of both of those games that felt uncomfortable, that felt at odds with the comfortability of the series that I’d grown to love.
Call of Duty’s always been comfort food for me, something I could sit down and play a few matches of amidst a stressful or toiling day. I started playing it in high school and alongside the breakups, the school stress, the “I-don’t-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-with-my-life,” it was a constant–it felt good.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 returns to that for me.
It isn’t the most incredible game in the world and it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the feeling of playing a game that feels so familiar, so much like home, is hard to break away from.
And hard not to love.
Life is Strange
Over the past couple of years there’s been an almost overwhelming resurgence in the genre of adventure games. Some of them “point and click,” some of them not, but all of them attending to one central aspect that made the genre, once, so good: story.
When gameplay isn’t necessarily the focus, and there isn’t much to do aside from move here and there, then–what’s left?
Adventure games are able to play out like books or like movies because story is their core, because no matter what gimmick is added, or how long or short they are, or whether the story is an adaptation of something else or something brand new–the creators are able and allowed to hone in on that single aspect of the whole.
Life is Strange is no different.
I won’t go into it all too much (I did a review a little while back on my experience with the first two episodes), but what I will say is that this game is kind of remarkable. The dialogue is cheesy and some of the characters a little tropey, but the remarkable thing is that you care. Well…maybe you don’t care, but I care. And a lot of people do, because that cheese is endearing and the tropes only a small part of what we all know too well as the inherent trappings of being a teen, and the attention to everything–the mundane high school drama, the teen angst, the bits of supernatural–all bring this together into a resonant story that is, at its center–relatable.
Play this game. Go through it slowly. It’s something you should enjoy.
Again with a game that I’ve already reviewed, but there’s a reason for that.
Until Dawn was part of an experiment for me. During the entirety of October, I played horror games exclusively (with a few creepy games thrown in)–the reason for that being that I am the literal biggest wimp and I thought it would be…fun?
But during that month, about half of it I spent playing Until Dawn, and while the majority of the games I enjoyed, no game had me more invested than Until Dawn did.
What I expected was a B-movie horror cheese fest, and on that front, it didn’t disappoint, but what I never expected was the heart behind the story, the characters–all of it, and that’s where it really shines. When you are given a game that prides itself on its ability to have any of the characters die, it is a near requirement for you to actually care about the characters who are dying. And what Until Dawn manages to do is give you a reason to care. The characters, love them or hate them, are distinct. They have their own flaws, their own insights–they seem like an addition to this team–and when they die, if they die, they often times do because of something you did. You feel like you made a mistake, that you made a wrong choice and left this character behind and that carries weight.
Until Dawn may not have set out to achieve these goals, to make you care, just make you jump, but it succeeds on both of those aspects and I can’t wait to play it again.
And there it is: my game of the year (again, previously featured here.)
There isn’t a whole lot that I can say that I don’t think I either said in my review or have said again and again to friends, but Bloodborne is, by far, the game I found myself most invested in this year.
It’s difficult, it’s cryptically fascinating, it’s creepy, and manages to keep getting creepier, and with no other experience did I find myself feeling more and more accomplished than when I was slashing and dodging my way through this.
Regardless of what else may have found its way onto this list, I still think Bloodborne would have landed on top, for its world, its story, its creatures, its weapons–everything managed to culminate into the most engrossing game experience I’ve had in a while.
Fallout 4, Splatoon, Destiny: The Taken King, SOMA.
Games From This Year I’m Excited to Play But Haven’t or Just Haven’t Played Enough of:
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Tales of Zestiria, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Undertale, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ori and the Blind Forest, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dying Light, and a multitude of other games I am probably forgetting.