Not every memorable experience made it into my top games of this year. That doesn’t mean they’re undeserving of mention, though. Below are a collection of miscellaneous awards for games that stuck out in my mind this year, for good or for bad.
I’ve made apparent my thoughts on MGS V in my review, but the short of it is that I was left pretty disappointed. All the talk of it being a GOTY shoe-in had me pumped, but aside from its admittedly satisfying stealth gameplay, so much of the game felt hollow and exploitative. From the objectification of Quiet to copious content padding to the F2P-style base-building, I felt like the game had no respect for me or my time. I know I’m in the minority, and my apathy is no doubt in part due to my lack of investment in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, but it was still a major letdown after so many people sung its praises.
A waste of both my money, and of Rocksteady’s time. The former because I got it on PC, foolishly. Technical performance was a mess, even after the first major patch, but it was playable enough that I trucked along. Sadly, to my latter point, even when the game is running okay, it suffers from a tired story and an overplayed formula, along with an exorbitant amount of extraneous content. 243 Riddler trophies! And you needed to collect them all to get the ‘true’ ending! For Rocksteady’s sake, I really hope it’s done with the superhero shtick and tries something new next time.
This year has seen quite a few games solicit feedback with both open and closed betas. In addition to (hopefully) making the final game better overall, betas can also serve dual purpose as demos, those wonderful artifacts of a bygone era. Especially since many betas are now just sneak peeks at practically release-ready games, the experience rarely differs from the final product - except, perhaps, when it comes to network stability. As demos, the recent Star Wars: Battlefront and Need for Speed betas provided me with exactly what I wanted from those games: a brief taste that, while fun, confirmed that I did not need to purchase either of them. I got my fill from the few hours I spent with each, saving me the regret that would have accompanied a mistaken purchase. I’m sure EA would have preferred parting me with my money, but I’m much happier this way. Demos are dead; long live the beta!
I’m a programmer by day. The last thing I should want to do when I get home is more programming. And yet, TIS-100’s versatile Assembly-like language and charming Silicon-Valley aesthetic had me bashing out MOV commands until the wee hours. It might well be the nichest of niche games, but being a member of that very small demographic, I had an irrationally fun time with TIS-100. LIFO for life!
This year marked my second playthrough of the black sheep of the Hitman series. Unlike a lot of Blood Money fans, I had just as much fun with Absolution, and revisiting it only reaffirmed my conviction. Ignoring its ugly narrative, the core stealth is top notch, and the variety of tactical options is immensely satisfying. I don’t play many games more than once, so Absolution deserves accolades just for that.
The sharper graphics and the portability might be the most obvious bullet points, but by far the biggest improvement is the Bomber’s Notebook. For a game built around time management, the ability to plan your schedule without resorting to a wiki or FAQ is a monumental feature that changed my entire experience with the game. I was put off by the time limit back in the N64 days, but thanks to the quality-of-life updates made to the 3DS version, I was able to enjoy the fantastic dungeons and memorable characters without getting overly frustrated. I still prefer the lackadaisical pace of other Zelda games, but I’m glad I got to experience the world of Termina with only minimal cussing.
Touch-based games tend not to click with me. Obscuring the screen with your fingers seems particularly immersion-breaking, and I’m yet to encounter a control scheme that doesn’t misinterpret my gestures often enough to raise my ire. The only games that I’ve truly enjoyed on a tablet - not a phone, mind you; the screen is way too small - have been turn-based games focused more on thinking and planning than straight-up interaction. Lara Croft GO fit the bill perfectly. A lush, noodle-scratching puzzle game, it captured perfectly the essence of the Tomb Raider series in miniature, encouraging exploration and experimentation to solve its cleverly-designed challenges. You can read my review here, but in short it’s a delightful example of how to translate a console experience to the portable format.
I was tepidly interested in Oceanhorn back when it was announced for iOS, but despite the positive reviews, I didn’t want to deal with the finicky touch controls. Thankfully, this year saw a PC port that let me experience the game as it was meant to be played: with a physical controller. Shifting the 2D Zelda formula to an isometric viewpoint, Oceanhorn doesn’t do a whole lot to differentiate it from its inspiration, but that doesn’t matter. It hits all the right notes: well-designed puzzles, a steady rollout of new tools to unlock previously inaccessible areas, a vibrant art style with plenty of cheerful characters. As a Zelda-like, it might well be the next best thing to the real deal. A charming adventure - just make sure to get the PC version.
With the trainwreck of THPS 5 still fresh in our minds, it’s comforting to know that there was at least one worthy skateboarding game released this year. Olli Olli 2 might not be the 3D jam we’re still waiting for, but it sure knows how to elicit the same sense of flow in its combos as that first time you nailed a half-pipe to revert to manual trick chain. It’s a damn tough game, one with as many bails as Super Meat Boy has deaths, but it’s never unfair. Every failure gets you one step closer to that perfect run, and victory is all the more sweet for every stack and every crash. Now, if we could just get developer Roll7 to make the jump to 3D…
I might not be the biggest comic-book/superhero fan, but I sure do love Diablo-style click-’em-ups. Marvel Heroes is not only an impressively solid ARPG, but, judging from more knowledgeable friends, it respects its source material and fulfils the long-held dreams of many Marvel fans. Better yet, it’s free, and not in the slimy, exploitative way most F2P games are. Only characters and costumes need to be earned through play or purchased for real money, and even then the 10-level trial for all heroes and the generosity of login bonuses mean the average player can get their fill without shelling out a cent. If only more F2P games followed the Marvel Heroes model, the term might not seem so dirty.
And so concludes part two of my 2015 wrap-up. It’s been a pretty great year for gaming, especially compared to last year, and that’s despite the likes of Uncharted 4, Zelda Wii U, The Division, and Hitman being pushed back into 2016. If next year is anywhere near as good as the one just passed, we gamers have reason to be excited.
Matt Sayer is 50% gamer, 50% writer, 50% programmer, and 100% terrible at maths. You can read more of his articles here, friend him on Steam here or tweet him cat photos at @sezonguitar (https://twitter.com/sezonguitar)