The Saltmine’s Top 5 Games of 2015

Oh yeah, 2015 is over, isn’t it? That means, if I want to pretend to be any sort of games journalist, now’s the time to pump out another Top 5 to go along with everyone else’s Top 5 list.

But then again, some of my biggest games for the year have been games from previous years that I’d finally given a chance, and loved to bits. Skyrim was the one to make the most recent impact on me, but before that last year was Mercenary Kings, Rogue Legacy, Braid, Monaco, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and dozens of others. But for games that released in calendar 2015 I’m sort of shocked at how slim the pickings were. Despite that, I can think of a top five, so here we go.

Game Of The Year 2015 - Splatoon

You’re a kid, you’re a squid, you’re a kid, you’re a squid, you’re a kid, you’re a squid, you’re a…

5: Splatoon

Cards on the table; I don’t own a Wii-U. I don’t own this game, and what I’ve played of it has been through friends, events and show floor demos. But damn it all, this game is infectious as all hell.

Nintendo is a company that makes its living banking on its established stable of franchises. Both stalwart series like Smash Bros. and experimental crosspromotional attempts like Hyrule Warriors can only be as successful as they are with the backing of Nintendo’s branding heavyweights. It was the sort of reliance on existing content that had evoked talk of whether Nintendo was even capable of a new, original franchise.

And then came the first look at Splatoon. Fresh, vibrant, and unmistakably Nintendo, it also represented a move into territory the company was only passingly familiar with; genuine competitive play. It also takes some interesting steps in community engagement, throwing up regular polling questions and asking its player community to pick a side for which to fight in the ensuing war. While I don’t always agree with the results (there is absolutely nothing wrong with pineapple pizza, damn it), it’s a very cool initiative.

It might sound like an empty platitude, but games like Splatoon are something I want to see a lot more of from Nintendo; new franchises that have the appeal to go the distance amongst other Big N names.

Game Of The Year 2015 - Mortal Kombat X

And on the other end of the wholesome family entertainment spectrum…

4: Mortal Kombat X

I won’t run from the fact that there’s a sentimental element for MKX being on this list. Ed Boon’s original 1992 masterpiece is the game that got me into games; if not for Mortal Kombat, I might be some boring accountant shoehorned into a cubicle somewhere. But damn it all if this wasn’t a triumphant return for Netherrealm Studios’ creative department.

The 2011 franchise reboot condensed the golden years of MK into a solid, digestible piece of bloody meat, and that was great, but it was still just that; a remix of the creative energy that went into what had already come. It wasn’t until MKX that we saw just what the new generation of Mortal Kombat creative minds were capable of; after decades of, it has to be said, unworthy additions to the universe, the new additions in MKX are largely a welcome breath of fresh Outworld air.

In addition to that, the gameplay has never been this solid, losing little of its identity in the process of conforming to more traditional Capcom-style fighting game conventions. As a result, the game’s thriving competitively on an international level, warranting continued support this year with another expansion due this March. Hopefully Warner Bros. continue to give it the attention it deserves, and we get to see more (god kill me) mortal kontent beyond the next DLC bundle.

Game Of The Year 2015 - Rocket League

Car soccer. What’s not to like?

3: Rocket League

Built from the ashes of the flop PSN title Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, Rocket League took to heart the criticism its predecessor received and came back with a slightly more confined, uniform play space, a sleeker, more polished presentation, and the benefit of cross-platform play with PC players through Steam. It’s since become a runaway competitive smash of a game, with a successful Rocket League… well, league… running to completion this year and hopefully another one next.

I’m stoked that this has taken off as hard as it has. It’s easy for the plebeian player to get into; you drive around, hit a ball, try to find the goal. But once you start experimenting with the boost and jump buttons, there’s a macrocosm of depth and finesse involved in reaching the high ball and becoming a true asset to your team. It’s the very reason I stick with fighting games, this ultimate reward of technical prowess while still offering depth and strategy to the new blood. This is another game I really hope has the staying power.

And Now I'm Stuck

And now I’m stuck. If you’ve done your homework you know the two games I’m going to rattle off next. You know that my game of the year is either going to be the massive unfinished magnum opus of a gaming legend and the end of a trailblazing era for a franchise, a developer and a company; or a plucky upstart that reached for my collar from out of nowhere, slapped me clean across the face and said ‘no, damn you, you won’t ignore me’. I genuinely don’t know what goes next.

There’s a massive part of me that wants to just hang the sense of it all and give both games the Number One spot. But I see the occasional other games journalist do that, and every time I see it I can’t help but think what a punk ass weakling move it is. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to choose one or the other.

Well, here goes.

Game Of The Year 2015 - Metal Gear Solid V

It’s breaking my heart to do this, you should know.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Edd Beezy might’ve got me playing games with MK, but it was Kojima that made me want to get involved. The Metal Gear franchise has been one I’ve followed to the death, and MGSV was always something I was gonna sink my teeth into. Even through the drama surrounding the project this year, there’s no way this game wasn’t going to blow people away. And it has to be said, I had a blast with it.

Sure, the narrative deals with certain things that I had trouble with, but the meat and potatoes of the game is exceptional, combining the core stealth elements of past MGS titles with the meticulous micromanagement aspects introduced with the PSP title Peace Walker. Now, I’m a sucker for any game in which I can create something of my own, so the various options on offer in MGSV were even more enticing.

But this sort of need for attention to detail carries over to the main game itself; you can’t simply rely on an overhead radar to get by any more. You need to do your own legwork; scouting out a location before entry, watching patrol routes, planning your ingress, and being gone before anyone even knows you were there. Or, alternatively, leaving the place a ghost town. Again, it feels like even with a standard rescue mission, you have to actually create something to succeed, and the end result is a much greater sense of being a real military operator. It’s Metal Gear with a healthy dash of Ocean’s Eleven; it’s the sort of game I dreamed about a decade ago.

Kojima deserved infinitely more recognition for the work put into this game, which he would’ve got if not for all the drama surrounding the project team after release. Who knows what Konami’s problem with the father of Metal Gear was, but it’s ended messily, and Kojima’s now cut off completely from his brainchild. Whoever takes up the reins of the Metal Gear name has awfully big shoes to fill, and MGSV will mark an unofficial close to the franchise for many diehard fans. It swept up accolade after accolade this year, and it was far and away my stand out game of 2015.

Was.

Game Of The Year - Life Is Strange

Yep, I’m going there.

Life Is Strange

I picked up this game just before Christmas, but didn’t get to unpack it until this past Monday. I knew next to nothing about the game, outside of it being the darling of the progressive ‘we need to expand the definition of a game’ crowd that’s currently flocking around Undertale. The most I knew about it was that it was an episodic point and click deal, and I don’t really play those any more. The last one I played was released by Sierra On-Line, that should tell you how far I go back. The point is, I went into Life Is Strange unspoiled and completely free of expectations.

Ten hours later I was sobbing.

Now I’m not the sorta guy that’s all ‘real men don’t do this or that, stop being a big wuss’, but it typically a lot for a game to legitimately pull at my heartstrings. Plenty of games can hit me in the heart on a visceral level, with powerful scenes that draw me in, but it isn’t often that they can hit me in an emotional sense too. No game has done it since Nier back in 2010, which has a well-earned reputation for destroying souls.

But above and beyond all else, be it the moody if a little setting-driven soundtrack, the surprisingly incredible art direction, and the complicated narrative, Life Is Strange is a fantastic example of character performances in games. Dontnod went into overdrive making the player care for these characters through their performances, with incredible sound direction, fantastic motion capture and (the kicker for me) voiceover performances that outright blew me away. I might not think as much of Ashly Burch’s turn as Cassie Cage for the story elements of Mortal Kombat X, but she absolutely tore the house down as troubled teen rocker Chloe.

It’s all these little things that figuratively pull you into the world of Arcadia Bay, and a bit of exploration quickly gets you attached to a good number of its inhabitants. It made me genuinely want to nurture Max through the world she was coming to grips with, it made me want to help Chloe, and console Kate, befriend Warren and so on. I can’t think of a game in which I feel like I’ve really been in someone else’s shoes as much as Max’s, and I bloody love games that do that. And then in later chapters, as things begin to unravel, the game pulls together a compelling sense of dread as the gravity of the situation starts to truly hit home, loose ends start getting tied up, and you’re left with the same compelling drive as Max herself; a pressing need to go back and do it all again.

I wanted to see MGSV here, I really did. But Life Is Strange has romped home from nowhere, and it’s my game of the year for 2015.

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Posted on January 7, 2016, in Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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