Video Games of the Year 2015

1. Bloodborne ; (FromSoftware, SCE) – A macabre masterpiece that serves as a marvelous spiritual successor to the Souls franchise as well as the quintessential marriage between the mythology of fabled horror authors Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft. I still remember seven years ago when I briefly contemplated importing Demon’s Souls (2009) before nabbing it at launch where I exchanged cash believing I’d never even make it through the first locale. I’m presently five titles deep into the sadistic aura of these worlds and the latest offering is a fundamental “killer application” from a role-playing powerhouse that delivers another masochistic, eldritch trepidation that permanently expands upon the visceral combat engagement with a sense of scale that will likely never be replicated in the world of cinema. Much of the premise has been left vague with an unnamed hunter traveling to Yharnam, a Gothic town embedded with depraved traditions and wicked beasts, in search of an something known solely as “Paleblood.” Although the completion time of the experience falls short of the previous endeavors of Miyazaki-san and it wasn’t the most evocative tale within these past twelve months, the punishing “trail-and-error” philosophy has been exquisitely polished with a damage reward system that encourages risk-taking at the cost of either coming out on top of an encounter or falling pray to your own impatience. Every pixel feels enriched with lore that amazingly conveys storytelling, even through the user interface, without players becoming aware of the fact unless they ponder upon it. I haven’t been able to witness The Old Hunters DLC at the moment, but I have been aching for a reason to dip back into this bleakness. A frightful dark that could only be cathartic within the interactive realm and it’s rather rapturous.

2. Steins;Gate ; (5pb., Nitroplus, PQube) – Undoubtedly a crying shame it took six years for a visual novel masterwork to reach Western shores. Endless praise should be showered upon all those involved with the English localization process along with the key figures that fought diligently to secure a physical release, too. I must confess that I probably wouldn’t have shoved out the extra dough for an interactive title notorious for its minimal game-play had I not previously experienced the superb anime adaptation several years ago. Even with an established awareness of all the twist-and-turns, I was jolted with an emotional science-fiction roller coaster that extended upon the lovable rumblings of a self-proclaimed mad scientist, his undying devotion toward his superior lab “assistant,” and a cast of his close friends that collectively stumble into an organizational conspiracy gunning to control society with time-travel. All of the characters have been well-rounded into some of the greatest, three-dimensional folks in gaming. A tale of comradery and romance in defiance of fate culminating into one of the best time-leaping feats since the Back to the Future trilogy. Hopefully it won’t take half a decade for the recent “interquel” to hit shelves beyond the Land of the Rising Sun. I’ll forewarn the playable source material doesn’t come with an English dub and the opening half strives for a slow burn, but I implore you to experience this story in some form. El. Psy. Kongroo.

4. Until Dawn ; (Supermassive Games, SCE) – It might’ve been released into the wild without much fanfare from its publisher, but Supermassive has crafted an unabashed homage to contemporary horror cinema that deserves sleeper hit status and then some. When I first heard about the project, I was honestly hesitant over whether it would serve as an appropriate addition to the Sony portfolio as they’ve already established their claim in the “interactive drama” format with Quantic Dream and Telltale Games has hastily churned out episodic, quick-time event content to the point of fatigue. However, all of my initial worries were immediately calmed after the E3 demonstration triggered “call and response” engagement from the press audience and viva voce has been downright positive from those that have invested time into the experience. Balancing between the key amount of entertainment and tension for the slasher sub-genre has been a difficult feat for even the most acclaimed of horror experts yet the development team manages to knock out the defined structure remarkably well. It doesn’t take long to recognize the archetypes that the eight playable characters adhere toward in the group dynamic, but there’s enough freedom offered in the player choice to where a presumed jerk could turn into a gun-totting hero later on. Handiwork of the animators should be commended as they blend the genuine performances of the cast perfectly into the nightmarish winter-scape that concerns a group of friends returning to the site of where two twins previously vanished one year prior as a consequence of a mean-spirited prank. Criticism has been tossed to one point in the second half of the tale as a “jarring tone shift” akin to From Dusk till Dawn (1996) or Cabin in the Woods (2012), but it frankly unfolds as a story revelation the whole encounter has been building toward from the very beginning culminating into an awesomely fitting finale. As someone who fought heavily to preserve even the miserable of the bunch, there are some notable oversights in the layout of the plot where the designers seemed to have banked completely on a few characters biting the bullet at specific events that become apparent when you’ve kept them alive. Plus, an upcoming spin-off for the PlayStation VR doesn’t feel like the right direction at the moment, but I’m glad there’s still some confidence in the property given how well it nails the enjoyment of slasher flicks by sticking to the right tropes and gleefully subverting elements into a polished entity that David Cage could only dream of delivering.

5. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 ; (Capcom) – Initial previews certainly highlighted the “bite-sized” scale of this latest tale in the oh-so familiar biochemical pandemonium that audiences have continued to appreciate. Deep down, I was partly unsure over whether this aspect would further limit the property after the halfhearted reception of Resident Evil 6. With slight reservations, I willingly took the plunge and I’m left bemused over how the same studio keeps churning out canonical spin-offs that successfully bottle part of the alluring horror roots of its universe more so than the mainstream installments. This particular incident packs a triumphant return for fan-favorites Claire Redfield and Barry Burton after having been absent from the limelight for well over a decade. Additionally, the eldest daughter of Mr. Burton, Moira, and an orphaned child, Natalia Korda, are introduced into the mixture as supporting roles with their own special defensive abilities, like blinding enemies momentarily with a flashlight or pin-pointing their location through supernatural sight respectively. These elements work in harmony with their trigger-ready leads allowing for a fluid co-op experience coupled with a notable amount of puzzle-solving to maximize the dependency between each pair. Now, the sprinkled storytelling efforts of the series haven’t ever truly been worth discussing when the game-play and zombified aesthetic have indisputably permeated our interactive pop culture. I’m shocked to comment that Revelations 2 actually attempts to transplant a “heart” behind the characters for the first time through small-talk and select segments that suggest depth behind their actions. While these bits don’t fully resonate on an impassioned level since they’re brought into the fray without the necessary build, it’s blatantly clear Naughty Dogs’ The Last of Us had an impact on how the two teams respond to their calamity between Claire/Moira being left for dead on a prisoner island and Barry/Natalia executing the rescue effort nearly half a year later. Hopefully Capcom will keep exploring the personas behind their established cast moving forward and I got to recommend achieving the “good” ending for those out there desiring a nice slice of fanfare to bookend one of the better titles in the world of survival horror.

6. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood ; (MachineGames, Bethesda Softworks) – I don’t quite have as many remarks for the latest prequel expansion to the barrel-blazing shooter that served as my favorite pick in the previous year. Obviously, it offers the same amount of gratifying feedback through your artillery with Nazis soaking up your lead whenever they waltz in your iron sights, but one of the biggest faults in this splinter piece from The New Order (2014) is that it doesn’t pack an ounce of the delightful character or world-building that was present in its predecessor. You’ll definitely stumble across some embers of pleasant murmurs from our leading American hero, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, who delves undercover to infiltrate a German compound in search of intelligence for their ill-fated air raid on another fortress in the previous release where an alternate history of post-WWII era ruled under the Swastika becomes a reality. Based purely on the aforementioned plot synopsis, Old Blood doesn’t carry the same intrigue or kinetic pacing of its meatier sibling, but you’d expect as much from an exercise clearly meant to explore heightened implementation of sneaking sections and vertical level design while exploring the monster romp found in earlier installments. Despite the shared timeline with previous parts, I ultimately found the emerge of the undead almost aesthetically jarring since New Order locks a tongue-in-cheek framework to convey a surreal portrait of humanity suppressed by Nazi scum through advancements in knowledge over otherworldly entities. I suppose Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty have begun to fatigue my interest in the reanimated, but I’m thrilled the development team has flushed this experiment out of their system in pursuit of bigger opportunities. I must acknowledge the nice endeavor to capture the B-movie feel with old-school shooting and few catchy tunes from composer Mick Gordon. There’s still some fun value in the weaponry to make the side-trip worth the budget pricing, plus I’m happy it received a physical release in the States after the original reveal for digital exclusivity. Although the pack comes at the cost of an engaging narrative, which hurts from a creative team that has demonstrated mastery of its application the FPS realm, I still wish they were in charge of the latest Doom game.

7. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ; (Kojima Productions, Konami) – I can’t escape the suspicion that critics and die-hard fans were already throwing a celebratory farewell with the same party accessories from 2008 for Kojima’s final hurrah with this beloved series well before it even landed in their hands for a fair analysis. With Metal Gear being my most favorite gaming brand of all time, I did have high expectations based on the remarks from the creative designer which seemed to indicate a desire to apply refined storytelling techniques and thematic ambition to make his last directorial input with his darling property as the high point of his artistic career. What landed into our possession was an effort doomed for failure well before Ground Zeroes (2014) got trimmed to siphon extra cash just to toss out their bigger follow-up in a less unfinished state. Yes, the overall infiltration mechanics have been immensely polished, smooth graphical display and registers the pinnacle of the stealth sub-genre, but it betrays every facet that established the signature charm of the world in the process. The open-world map feels so unfathomably devoid of activity compared to the real-time battles of MGS4: Guns of the Patriots (2008) with hardly no Easter eggs or environmental variety in the side-missions to boot. I don’t care what anyone argues, but the campy narrative has always been the primary draw based on the discussions I’ve seen through the past few decades and the solid game-play has been just the icing on the cake. I agree that Guns nailed irreparable damage to the legacy of the canon, but it becomes a tiresome task to explore the longest entry to date without any notable plot points to make it a worthwhile exploration in the “downfall” of Big Boss. I want to avoid writing an essay on its numerous shortcomings, but the controls and visual presentation are the peak of this piece which concludes on a whimper. It’s a shame Kojima took too much time focusing on the Fox Engine in sacrifice of the mission diversity and inconsequential story for something that could’ve been monumental. I’m sure a reader out there feels self-congratulatory believing they recognize the “ruse master” has churned out another misunderstood “masterpiece” that’ll become appreciated as time passes, but it retreads the same framework of MGS2: Sons of Liberty (2001) with such an amateur flair that I’m finally convinced he has been devolving as a storyteller. I greatly respect his work from a design standpoint yet I no longer anticipate anything evocative or methodical in the subject matter that I grew up appreciating back in the forefront of three-dimensional gaming. I realize it wasn’t Hideo Kojima needing to escape Metal Gear games. Metal Gear no longer needed Kojima and I look forward to seeing what becomes of the I.P. even if it results in mediocre or pachinko affairs. Both its creator and parent company already sold the soul with Phantom Pain.

8. Life Is Strange ; (Dontnod Entertainment, Square-Enix) –

9. Call of Duty: Black Ops III ; (Treyarch, Activision) –

10. The Order: 1886 ; (Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica, SCE) – If you’ve ever pondered what a console exclusive might look like when it prioritizes visual presentation over everything else, this production has undeniably arisen to answer your inquiry. This interactive drama explores a member of the fabled Knights of the Round Table, Sir Galahad, who struggles to fulfill his duties once a conspiracy unravels between rebel forces, Lycans, the East India Company and his own organization as part of an alternate spin on Victorian-era London. Publications notably mauled the title upon release with a number of understandable critiques, but it doesn’t take too much digging to see the near unanimous admiration toward its pristine technical achievement. It’s a cinematic experience that functions as a tantalizing demonstration of the graphical power of the Sony platform. However, the creative team sacrifices reciprocal influence over the chain of events that makes it deeply difficult to justify pursuing the story as a video game in contrast to a film with the absolute absence of consequential action. Coupling this critical fault that locks zero replay value outside of an easy platinum with a plot that trots the typical mystery cliches, wonky shooting encounters and unsatisfactory boss battles, why would anyone bother taking the trip? With this past holiday season, discount sales have offered a decent price point for this type of minimalist QTE venture and the atmospheric premise certainly has plenty of potential to explore in further sequels should they come to fruition. Additionally, I believe the shooting segments feel less jarring than the beat ’em up and rail-shooter portions from Asura’s Wrath (2012), another streamlined exploit that committed an even more atrocious sin of actually locking the real ending of the game between payable DLC. Characters are treated with serviceable or good portrayals by their voice cast, especially Steve West as the main protagonist, and the combat scenes are definitely playable once you come to terms with the linear, simplified design of Dawn’s first original property. On the chance you prefer something on the short-end with a mostly laid back demand on skill, The Order: 1886 could prove to be an entertaining time filler for a dreary afternoon that will hopefully have its loose-ends tied with a follow-up and, perhaps, it would be best if the developers side completely with either a third-person shooter or branching tale to redeem its present issues.

Honorable Mentions
x. Godzilla ; (Natsume, Bandai Namco Games) – I consciously ranked this project too high on my anticipation list for the year, but the localization announcement at TGA 2014 did leave behind a sliver of surprise for an obviously low-budget effort targeting Western shores for an indisputable film icon. Outside of the Earth Defense Force titles, the number of dai-kaiju simulators on the current market amount to zilch and the King of the Monsters has one of those licensed works notoriously plagued with humdrum adaptions. While Destroy All Monsters Melee (2002) and the subsequent brawlers were pleasant surprises, they didn’t quite lock down the sense of weight that comes with navigating these towering creatures or offering the chance to unleash solo rampages upon familiar stomping grounds. Sluggish controls can render the fights as tedious affairs with repetitive mission goals and unbalanced maneuvers can easily cap off your back-and-forth exchange with defeat from a single, overpowered combo. Restricting the main campaign progress to specific achievements in order to reach the actual ending can be a tiresome undertaking even though it takes an amusing variation of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). Regardless of the abysmal reception from critics and the ridiculous pricing at launch, Natsume has delivered a sensible attempt that’s sure to please die-hard fanatics with the wide variety of characters and moderate awareness of scale to the battles.

x. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD ; (Square Enix, HexaDrive) – Another round of applause for the teams responsible for transferring this late PSP port over to home consoles in the West. It might not have been a direct result of the #BuildingTheList activism, but fan requests were successful in bringing over a sorely missed piece from the Sony handheld library. Having just a few hours invested into the trip, I can tell we’ve been gifted with one of the better installments in this household franchise from the last decade with fast-paced combat and an entertaining feast for the eyes of “old-school” fans through a number of familiar calling cards from the bit days. It doesn’t break any new ground despite flaunting a superficial war-ravaged setting as a sign of “maturity” which, mixed with the number of underdeveloped, archetypal soldiers, makes it feel second-rate to the depth of stuff explored in Final Fantasy VI (1994) or Terranigma (1995). I remain optimistic that some day Japanese screenwriters will explore some darker themes beyond the surface level and it would be terrific to see an iconic staple of the gaming to start heading in that direction even though the convoluted nature of the lore tends to step in the way.

x. Xenoblade Chronicles X ; (Monolith Soft, Nintendo SPD, Nintendo) – With plenty of variety sprinkled throughout the enormous map that comprises Mira, I happily made a purchase for this title even though I don’t have any proper means to actually play the thing. Confessedly, the facial design of the characters are rather unappealing and the graphical pop-in were flaws in the initial previews that I had to look past, but I find the niche nature of this JRPG as a grandiose display of the Wii U hardware. In the mean time, it’ll have to keep my unwrapped copy of Bayonetta 2 (2014) occupied.

x. Yakuza 5 ; (Sega) – Congratulations to everyone involved with bringing this masterful saga intertwining the Japanese crime world and thrilling fisticuffs. I’ve been sitting on this series for about half a decade and, sadly, I haven’t made much progress out of reaching the third-quarter mark of the original title. I never would’ve thought another game would reach State-side after the financial bumps of the earlier localized efforts, but Sony really pulled through with the #BuildingTheList campaign and grand-slammed a nice little gift to the market subset that’ll appreciate the true send-off for the PS3 on the digital front. In terms of the content breadth, it does feel depressing that a physical copy won’t arrive to the West and fans should be thankful it arrived in some form rather than nothing.


Last edited by GodzillaDB; 01-23-2016 at 02:02 PM.

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