By Scott Southard, Kyle Holmer, and Jarrod Jones. This is LOAD FILE, where we take one final look at the year that was… and then blow that sucker out the airlock. This week, the LF team assess the finest in gaming for the year 2015.
We’ll all remember 2015 as being a terrific year for gaming: the current generation of consoles were finally given a select number of games deemed worthy of the “next generation” moniker, and both the personal computer and mobile platforms continued to push their respective capabilities to the next level. And while we discuss the best releases at length below, we understand that there were quite a number of other noteworthy games that didn’t quite crack the list, but are worthy of mention regardless. Didn’t find your favorite game in our Top Five? Odds are it got a shout down below.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I don’t know how else to quantify it; Metal Gear Solid made me feel the way video games did when I was a kid. The same endorphins flooded and the same late night sessions ensued. I honestly found myself sitting on the couch in the same cross-legged position I employed as a 5th grader in my attempts to get through Gunstar Heroes or Contra.
We all look back fondly on the games of our youth, whether they’re Asteroids, Mario Bros, Goldeneye, or even Call of Duty. Very rarely do games today meet the levels of excitement we revere, or even the compulsion we fondly reminisce about; and to some degree, today’s games generally inspire the repetitious nature of chasing a dragon. MGSV broke that mold and surprised me in ways I didn’t think possible.
The gameplay is tight and an intuitive progression of the (ever-envelope-pushing) Metal Gear series. It’s been a bit of an uphill battle since the first Playstation iteration of MGS, but this year’s offering was immediate and natural. I finally felt like the super-warrior/spy/mercenary that is Snake without a layer of buttons and sticks between us. Immersion is a term so broad that it’s become meaningless, but in a very literal way, I felt immersed in the world as Snake, not just someone playing a game.
Metal Gear Solid V is an archetype of the modern video game. It has the gameplay and graphical facets that current generations demand (just look at it), but it builds the elusive sense of escapism that we’re always searching for. It’s not perfect by any means, but the things that it gets right are exceedingly engaging and truly rare. It’s a highly refined, big budget art piece that took the time and effort to accomplish all the things it set out to do. If this is Kojima’s Metal Gear swan song, I don’t think he could have gone out in a bigger or better way. — SS
Yakuza 5. Well it took only Sega three years to finally bring the latest Yakuza game stateside, and while this entry doesn’t do a lot to push the franchise forward, it’s still unquestionably classic Yakuza. While that may not mean a lot to the majority of US gamers, it means a hell of a lot to the rest of us.
Released digitally on the PS3 just before the 2015 holiday season, right out of the gate this game already has so many things going against it; it’s graphically dated, it’s mechanics are almost identical to its predecessors, and the entire game is in Japanese with English subtitles. All of that aside, there’s some legitimate JRPG magic happening here that very few games (definitely none of the Western variety) are able to capture. For those who haven’t even heard of the series (as I assume is the case for most people), Yakuza 5 is a Japanese crime melodrama where the player controls five unique characters over as many distinct locales, all of whom will eventually collide with each other (for which the narrative provides a variety of excuses), over the course of 50-100 hours of game time. The actual game is half beat-em-up, half living city simulator that is entirely its own. Yakuza 5 is unbelievably long, occasionally obtuse, but almost always original and fun. To put it bluntly, there are just no other games on the market right now that play anything like this series.
If you’ve ever played a Yakuza game before, you should know exactly what to expect and more importantly, if you happen to be one of the few Americans in that camp, you probably already picked this game up on day one. If you aren’t one of the few who know what the hell im talking about, do yourself a favor and pull that dusty old PS3 out of the closet for one final hurrah. — KH
Fallout 4. I knew I was in for it the moment Kyle — Kyle — said, “no, thanks.” Not that he wasn’t eagerly anticipating Fallout 4 (we all were), he was just articulating the fact that it’s the latest from Bethesda, and “Bethesda” is code for “life-ending.” And so it was.
Full disclosure: prior to 2015 I’d never played through an entire Fallout game. Not once in my life. But the moment I stepped out of that Vault and into Bethesda’s nuclear wasteland, I knew I had arrived. What made things more complicated was what occurred just seconds later, when a plucky mongrel named Dogmeat popped out of nowhere to greet me with a bark — that’s when I knew any plans I had to be a regular human had evaporated for the foreseeable future.
Fallout 4 became my digitized touchstone, a place where I could mentally recalibrate after my menial day-to-day. A place where I was in complete control — at least, until I wasn’t. With each successively aggressive barrage of Raiders, Deathclaws, and Feral Ghouls, Fallout 4 taught me how to appreciate the quiet moments between the skirmish. (And more importantly, to always, always plan ahead.) Sounds gooey, I know. But so did that Raider after he blundered into the crosshairs of my Righteous Authority. Fallout 4 is proof of better living through mayhem. — JJ
Rocket League. Breakout Hit of the Year? Surprise of the Century? Best Free Game Ever? The potential accolades that could be given to Psyonix’s phenomenal PS4 debut are extravagant, excessive, inflated, and completely befitting. Who would have thought racecar soccer would have been anything but a horrible, elementary idea?
With addictive qualities akin to morphine because of its gunshot-quick gameplay cycle, Rocket League will have you sputtering “one more match” more than you’ll care to. You tend to sit down with plans to play one round and end up losing track of the rest of your day (and your night, and sometimes the next day).
It’s an easy game to philosophize over; The lack of variables and pared-down gameplay elements allow for umbrella ponderings of traditional game theory, loss/reward functionality, and an overall sense of what is fun to play. You pick a car, join a team full of cars, and try to drive a ball into a net while stopping the other team from doing the same. It’s a stupefyingly simple concept that reaps incredibly high rewards.
There are plenty of fun, twitchy video games out there, but the internal fireworks that heat your guts when you score a half court goal in the middle of your twelfth game of the day (well technically, since it’s now 2:00am and midnight reset the count) set a skyscraper of a benchmark for the measurable level of thrill felt in a videogame. I may have mentioned this in my review, but Rocket League (still) makes me inadvertently move my body along with the movement of the virtual car. There are qualities to it that are simply unmatched by any other game out there. — SS
Batman: Arkham Knight. Rocksteady went above and beyond with their latest and final installment of the much beloved Arkham series (unless of course you’re talking about the PC version, which in the interest of giving this game a fair shake, we have to pretend doesn’t exist). Arkham Knight meticulously builds on the series’ past entries while simultaneously introducing players to a complete new story and gameplay mechanics.
Playing similarly to its predecessors, you’ll glide around the city while beating the living hell out of tens of thousands of nameless henchman (using arguably the finest combat system ever introduced in gaming). Beyond the established systems, for the first time in series history, Rocksteady also allows players to utilize the Batmobile — and while it has been very divisive, I personally found to be a welcome addition to the core gameplay loop. Not only is the Batmobile fully realized, it is instantly and completely implemented into the larger mechanical network; the ways in which Batman’s vehicle have been so wholly integrated into the Arkham experience is legitimately incredible (even if you don’t personally find the car combat to be engaging).
The story, while enjoyable, is at times predictable (the game’s twist was incredibly obvious for anyone even vaguely familiar with the Batman canon) but it works and serves as a fitting conclusion to the series. More importantly, there are a handful of story sequences in Knight that rival anything the series has done before. It’s definitely not revolutionary. But I didn’t feel Rocksteady had any more story to tell after reaching the end of this game and that, combined with the flawless mechanics, was more than enough for me. Let’s be honest; considering the last two entries were both masterclass gaming experiences alone, it’s a safe bet that if you’re already a fan of the series. We just had to include this game on our end of the year list. — KH
As for the rest…
The only thing that brought my enjoyment of MGSV down was the games ceaseless attempts to appeal to my male gaze. Everytime Quiet got up to present herself to me on the chopper, I’d just flip on my iDroid. Come on, people. We’re all better than that. — JJ
Barely missing the top five, The Witcher 3 was a massive, stunning open world that capped off the series brilliantly. Every inch of the game was covered in juicy narrative goodness and the combat was consistently engaging over my entire 200 plus hours with the game. — KH
As indie games become more prevalent, they’ve become more accessible and far more diverse. One of the most heartening trends has been the movement of games as interactive art exhibits. A highly curated path of triggered sequences that tell a story and elicit emotional reactions (the most memorable being 2013’s Gone Home). These games bring a (arguably ungamelike) constraint and control to the table, but with these sacrifices also come some of the best storytelling in the history of videogames. — SS
Nintendo released a legitimate jaw dropped with Super Mario Maker, finally allowing fans and would be designers an opportunity to take a crack at their flagship mascot. The post release updates and community support have managed to keep this game alive months after its initial release. — KH
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed is a meta piece of postmodernist constraint, made with care by part of the team of The Stanley Parable. It’s a polished, thought out succession of gags that interweave in the most delightful manner. – SS
On mobile, we continued to see a handful of legitimately great free to play games, but it was The Room 3 that really swept the platform this year. Building on the previous entries, The Room continued to have some of the most mind bending and thought provoking puzzles of any game on any platform. — KH
the static speaks my name is the product of Jesse Barksdale, infusing a day in the life of a bachelor with the existentialist dread of Sartre and the cartoon violence of Brett Easton Ellis. It’s horrifyingly raw, cleverly subtle, and leaves you feeling empty by the end. – SS
The sleeper hit, Ori and the Blind Forest managed to combine the punishing difficulty of Super Meat Boy with stunning hand drawn artwork. The gameplay is incredibly polished, the world is stunning, and throwing all of that into an incredibly dense metroidvania game had me coming back to this game for two and three repeat playthroughs. — KK
Agree? Disagree? What games rocked YOUR world this year? Let us know in the comments section below.