Chuck’s Top 10 Games of 2015

What a crazy and difficult and fantastic year 2015 turned out to be.
Right out of the gate I was dealt with early blows of trips to the hospital and fits of puking up blood and other nasty things to experiences of having my car broken into and my property stolen. But then as the year went on I made changes of work, of residence and of health. I reconnected with old friends and I started writing again. After all was said and done everything resulted in a more energetic and focused and happier me.

Sprinkle in tons of fantastic movies, shows, comics and games and even a complete redesign for CounterAttack Games and 2015 turned out to be a pretty alright and memorable year. Now hopefully 2016 has less of the doom and gloom and more of the bright and shiny and we’ll be all good.

“Chuck’s Top 10 Games of 2015”
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10.) Xenoblade Chronicles X

How do you do it Monolith Soft? How do you manage to make Nintendo hardware look as impressive as you do? The original Xenoblade Chronicles managed to push the archaic Wii to its absolute limits, offering a beautiful and grand scope on such an underpowered platform and lo and behold, the company has managed to do it again on the Wii U.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the best looking games of the year. Thats right, the year, not just of the Wii U. With breathtaking vistas and mammoth beasts, Chronicles X stands out in such a distinctive way that it will turn heads no matter where it is being played. Outside of the scope the games art design also manages to shine with badass armor and unique creature designs that truly embrace the extraterrestrial storyline.

Outside of its visuals the game offers depth and fast action, much in line with its predecessor. Xenoblade is a japanese role playing game that embraces western mmo philosophies. For both good and ill. If managing cooldowns and party status effects isn’t really your thing, than you may not find much enjoyment in how the battles play out. But for those that do stick around you are left with large skill trees to explore and various classes to mix and match.

On top of all of this is also the Skell, or more simply, the mechs of the Xenoblade world. Eventually players are able to obtain and fully customize their own large machines that allow them to both drive around the beautiful and massive world but also take to the skies and fly amongst the clouds, taking it all in. I loved the original Xenoblade Chronicles and I am loving almost everything about this sequel as well.

From its visuals to its art style, the ridiculously sick soundtrack and the gameplay systems in place, this game is great. The only reason this one isn’t higher up on the list is due to the fact I am not nearly far enough in to fairly place it so, as the game is simply massive and incredibly long. If you own a Wii U and are longing for something different then you owe it to yourself to give Xenoblade a try.

9.) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

What a crazy and ridiculous game Metal Gear Solid V turned out to be. Even crazier is the story behind the scenes at Kojima Productions and Konami during development of the project. And most bizarre is that even with these events, in the midst of a raging tornado, The Phantom Pain managed to release to critical acclaim and fan praise.

Metal Gear Solid V is easily the best playing and best controlling entry in the series. Never has stealth infiltration felt this good and natural, offering players the freedom of choice in their approach and their setup. With an intense upgrade path and features on top of features on top of features, MGSV manages to be both intimate and grand. Beautiful graphics and a steady framerate only help the rewarding gameplay experience and unforgettable squad mates ensure that you will always have a great time taking on side missions and experimenting.

The only downside to this otherwise stellar game unfortunately stems from the original place of praise for the series, the story. While I would never categorize myself as a hardcore Metal Gear fan I have always loved the bonkers story and its incessant use of over the top cinematics. That is all but gone in The Phantom Pain. Outside of its opening hour the story presented here is minimal and forgettable. Where previously you would have to shove a rag into Big Boss’s mouth to get him to shut up, here he barely opens his mouth to breathe. Add to this the fact that David Hayter isn’t even reprising the role and you have a Metal Gear story that barely comes to the surface and the times it does, such as with new character Quiet, you’re left wishing it hadn’t.

Problems with the writing and pacing aside, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is still easily one of the best action games of the last decade and players easily get more than their money’s worth with this one. The shooting feels precise, the movement is actually sensible for the first time in the series and the trademark quirkiness still shows up, only this time with dumb fun animals in tow.

8.) Dying Light

Who would have thought that the folks behind the incredibly disappointing, and oftentimes very dumb, Dead Island would manage to turn things around and deliver one of the biggest surprises of the year. Dying Light was promising many of the same things as its spiritual predecessor did, a large open world, frightening encounters and a deep role playing element; but not only did Dying Light live up to its potential, it surpassed it.

While things start out familiar enough with Dying Light, with the swing of a hatchet and the throw of a fist feeling eerily familiar to Dead Island fans, it isn’t long before you are parkouring your way through the gorgeously rendered country of Turkey, running along walls, scampering over fences and lunging through windows with ease. By far it is the movement system within Dying Light that sets it apart from all of the other tired and old zombie titles out there.

Controls never get in the way here, whether dodging hordes of the undead or doing battle with ruthless thugs in armor, Dying Light always feels precise and fluid and this is such an important area that many developers mistakenly overlook. The only downside to the way in which Dying Light plays is the truly odd decision to remove Dead Island’s one redeeming feature, its directional controlled melee combat. Being able to choose which angle to swing and slice added much needed depth to an otherwise simple fighting system and that extra control would have added even more fun to Dying Light’s systems.

But directional aiming aside, Dying Light is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor in every other area. Its world is large and beautiful  and the characters inhabiting it are written immensely better than the flat and oftentimes offensive caricatures of Dead Island. The skill trees at your disposal are empowering and exciting and the pace of it all is well done. On top of all of this freedom and scope is the genuinely terrifying and claustrophobic night sequences.

Few games manage to make the undead scary anymore. We’ve slaughtered thousands of these creatures so how can they possibly frighten us anymore and give us pause? Well Dying Light has the answer. At night the normal undead may become slightly stronger and more aggressive, as has been done in various games before, but this is when the Volatile also come out and play. Looking like a cross between Nemesis and the Reapers from Blade 2, the Volatile are ruthless and fast flesh eaters whose screams will chill your blood and whose appearance will leave you wetting your pants before you die, since if they are close enough to see then it is already too late.

The day and night element at play here is brilliant, as both rewards and XP are doubled while exploring after sundown but the danger and terror are multiplied tenfold. While players may feel like the hunter during the day they quickly become stalked and preyed upon when traversing the city streets at night. The perfect cherry on top of this cat and mouse sundae is the fact that, while sprinting, players can turn their heads and look behind them, with a short sequence of slow motion and motion blur, and briefly catch a glimpse of the disfigured monsters barreling down upon them, before they either narrowly escape or are devoured upon.

Seriously, if you ignored Dying Light when it released back in the beginning of 2015 make sure to pick up the upcoming “Enhanced Edition” which not only includes the expansive downloadable content but also features improvements to graphics, controls and brand new gameplay additions.

7.) Tales from the Borderlands

Ah, Telltale, how I love you.
Ah, Telltale, how I hate you.
“Telltale will remember that”

Telltales The Walking Dead released in 2012, showing gamers how stories in games could be mature and dark and depressing. Offering players choice and consequence in a refreshing way that enthralled millions and put Telltale Games, who had been around since 2004, on the map. The Walking Dead was my Game of the Year in 2012 and I was incredibly excited at what Telltale would be doing in the future.

Fast forward to today and I am both incredibly frustrated with Telltale and yet still playing their games and enjoying some, such as Borderlands, and hating others such as Game of Thrones. Tales from the Borderlands shows that Telltale still has the skill and talent to pull off impressive gaming experiences, in this case ones full of laughter and joy, but in this same year we saw the impressive failure that was Game of Thrones. I don’t like this dual persona Telltale are utilizing.

In the case of Borderlands the game features some of Telltales best characters and wittiest writing. This combination often results in genuine laugh out loud moments and spectacles of tremendously dumb but fun feats that will stick with you long after the five episodes are complete. The Borderlands universe fits perfectly with Telltales style and allows the developer to joyfully run headlong into the absurd. This carefree spirit allows the story to take many twists and turns and allows the writers to briskly move from comedy to tragedy at the snap of a finger. While the story isn’t nearly as heavy as that of The Walking Dead’s or The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands still offers up loss and allows the player choice.

It is that comedy however that truly allows Tales from the Borderlands to excel and rise above the crippling Telltale Games engine. Make no mistake, while this game has managed to land at number seven out of a potential dozens and dozens of games I played in 2015, Tales still suffers from the same stupid problems that every Telltale game falters over. A stuttering framerate, poor animations, often and long load times, graphical glitches and, on PC, the loss of save data. You know, the same problems each and every Telltale game has had since 2012’s The Walking Dead.

It is frankly absolute bullshit that Telltale Games continue to announce new projects practically every other month but yet refuse to take the proper time and money to provide their fans with a more reliable product and far improved and stable games engine. But while Borderlands suffers these issues luckily they are not crippling and the game does feature more polish than the other 2015 release from Telltale, Game of Thrones, who’s incredibly serious and dour story suffers far worse by the games chugging and stuttering and freezes than Borderlands more lighthearted and colorful tone.

6.) Splatoon

Nintendo, how do you so often surprise and exceed expectations? Yeah, sure you are oftentimes fairly crazy and you so often go right when you should have gone left, but it is this uncommon attitude and unwavering stubbornness that allows you to whip up something oh so special such as Splatoon. An utterly unique and unforgettable multiplayer shooter that is both family friendly and fun.

From its original announcement that left many confounded to its eventual release to stellar reviews, Splatoon offers up one of the most unique gaming experiences of the last several years and once again proves that Nintendo, when they are truly trying, are unparalleled in the gaming space. Its cute, its energetic, its simple and it is completely unflinchingly Nintendo.

I have played my share of online shooters. From Battlefield to Tribes to Unreal to Call of Duty and if you have played one you have, for the most part, played them all. Sure there are small adjustments and style differences but none of them change the game as drastically as Splatoon. For one, the goal isn’t to kill your opponent nor is it to make the entire opposing team wipe, no, Splatoon is all about inking your turf and claiming the most land at the end of the games short but sweet three minute rounds. Playing as Inklings allows the player to not only traverse by land, running and jumping on foot, but also change into a Squid and slip into your teams ink and quickly swim to other parts of the map or dive out of your color and lay waste to an opponent before quickly diving back into safety.

Turf War is the primary mode in Splatoon and it is fun both the first and fiftieth time you partake. The games other features include a far more robust than expected Single Player campaign and additional multiplayer offerings such as Tower Control, Rain Maker and Splatfest. Each mode offers up a fun challenge but honestly, it is the games bonkers and unique style that rises Splatoon above the rest of the shooter offerings of 2015. From it’s absolutely bizarre but fantastic soundtrack to its unique Inkling language and clothing to the ingame characters punny names, Splatoon, much like the Ink pouring out of the player character, just oozes style from every pixel on screen.

Dangit Nintendo, how do you do it? Share with other developers your magical powers!

5.) Until Dawn

Before Until Dawn the group at Supermassive Games had titles such as “Start the Party” and “Dr. Who: The Eternity Clock” under its belt. To say that I was a bit skeptical of this slasher style games potential would be an understatement. Sure I was hoping that it would be good but I never dared dream that it would actually be great. Luckily I was wrong.

Until Dawn takes the formula that David Cage and Quantic Dream have been hammering away at for years on games such as Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain and manages to upstage them in almost every way. Sure the story of Until Dawn may not be as big in scope or try to have a higher meaning as David Cage’s games claim but where the game truly excels is in how that story is presented and handled. Quantic Dream are notorious for allowing their stories to get away from them, with proceedings often veering into complete lunacy and plot threads simply being left in the wind. With Until Dawn the slasher motif is the perfect backdrop to allow gamers to experience a genre that is incredibly popular in film but one that hadn’t yet been done justice in games.

The presentation is top notch, the acting is both great and terrible and the story has enough twists and turns to keep anyone interested until the final credits roll. Controlling a group of teenage kids as they try to survive a night at a winter lodge is an enthralling experience made even better by the fact that you can end the game with either all of them making it out or none of them. The story changes naturally depending on your actions and the characters, while starting out frustrating and annoying, eventually begin to open up and become likable as you play them one by one.

With a unique premise and a level of polish often unseen in this style of game Supermassive Games have put themselves on the map and now I eagerly await their next big project.

4.) Bloodborne

Oh Bloodborne, you beautiful beast. With this stylish PS4 exclusive developer From Software and director Hidetaka Miyazaki took the general feel and soul of the Dark Souls games and brought them to an even wider audience. With faster movement and combat and a more linear form of progression Bloodborne made it easier for gamers to come to grips with its fundamentals and allowed more players to progress farther and get over that initial difficulty hump.

While the game was more forgiving, Bloodborne is still a heck of a challenge and like its Dark Souls lineage, patience is key here but one that is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and great rewards. Dark Souls became popular because of that sense of overcoming impossible odds and while many have tried to copy that series signature style and formula only the folks at From Software truly understand how to capture that magic.

From the games Cthulhu stylings to its cool as hell weapons and transformations (Threaded Cane ftw) Bloodborne feels both fresh and familiar. From its creepy priests to its massive bosses and the quick and sudden ends that you will surely meet, Bloodborne was one of the more memorable gaming experiences of the year and one I need to jump back into in order to get that swanky new Bow that the expansion added.

3.) Life is Strange

This is a game I was very interested in from the start but was obviously a little hesitant towards due to an unrecognized developer and the out of nowhere nature of the project. After reviews for Episode 1 started coming out and word of mouth began to spread, with mostly positive reactions, I knew for sure I would be grabbing this game before years end. And I’m glad I did. Life is Strange is one of those games that I will remember forever and one of the better story oriented videogames of the last decade. Dontnod has tackled what Telltale Games has done so well over the last several years and not only reached their level, but surpassed it in many ways.

Life is Strange tells the story of a young girl named Max, a quiet and shy art student who is attending a private school, and explores themes of relationships, depression, murder and some time travel, because why not? While the overall mystery revolves around a missing student and the question of Max’s new found abilities, where Life is Strange truly excels is the “smaller” real life struggles of a late teen and the difficulty of finding oneself in such a large and frightening world. The theme of discovering who you are and mending broken friendships is one that is rarely touched upon in videogames. Doing so as an eighteen year old girl? Even less so.

I always encourage developers to take risks and have said numerous times that I prefer story and fresh ideas over most other aspects of a game and in these two areas Dontnod have succeeded with Life is Strange. Sure the gameplay isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off and the mechanics of Max’s time manipulation could have been done better, but the tale that is weaved here is emotional and touching. I will take moments such as reconnecting with a friend while she dances excitedly on a bed over shooting down a helicopter in a Call of Duty any day. Same goes for the somber and difficult situation of helping a young girl deal with Internet shaming and bullying from her peers or deciding to allow Max some time for herself and letting her just sit alone in her dorm room and play guitar.

Life is Strange manages to pull its larger sci-fi elements together far better than I expected in the end, at least if you make the correct choice near the finale, but even ignoring the larger end of the world themes, where this game excels is in its intimate relatable scenarios. Many times I was wishing this game didn’t even have a mystery through line. Why does a game need an antagonist? Why does it need a doomsday scenario? Why can’t we as gamers just be thrilled with a game that allows us to walk in somebody else’s shoes and deal with everyday struggles? There are lots of kids, and adults, that oftentimes need help coping with both small and large problems, no matter how trivial some may deem them, and the more avenues they can find for help or guidance or to just get a different perspective should always be welcome.

The fact that that outlet also turns out to be a great game is just a “hella cool” bonus.

2.) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When I posted my “Top 10 Games of All Time” article on this site a couple of years ago The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings made my number eight spot and the series in general (as both games and books) sits alongside my favorites of all time as well. So it should be no surprise that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was not only one of my most anticipated games of the year but that it easily met my expectations, even if some nagging issues held parts back from exceeding them.

The folks at CDPROJEKT RED have serious talent and passion and the love that they show both their games and their fans is rare in the gaming space. The attention to detail, from the physical map found within the games case to the thundering clouds above virtual Geralts head is unreal. The world of the Witcher is both massive and stunning. From the tiniest of cottages to the largest of mountains, each location is put together with brilliant attention and care and truly sucks the gamer into Geralts shoes.

While many games may look nice oftentimes the immersion is cut short once the game begins to speak to the player, asking them to complete repetitive fetch quests or assigning tasks with off kilter dialogue and vanilla stories. Not so in The Wild Hunt. The Witcher 3 is one of the rare games where the writing can outshine the beautiful world it is presented in. The talented artists and writers at CDPROJEKT have not only managed to do justice (yet again) to the book series from which the game is based but have managed to actually add weight and finality to many of the series lingering threads the books left hanging. This is not only a fantastic game but a fantastic ending to the series as a whole, returning classic characters from both the books and games and allowing players to say their goodbyes.

While I still hope the developers can properly figure out systems such as skill trees and loot rewards in time for their next game, Cyberpunk, Wild Hunt doesn’t need those systems to be great to pull the player through its rich world as both the writing and mystery are enough. Few open world games have made me question fast travel like this one does. Why would I ever skip potential new threats, quests, rewards or just a sunset when they are presented so beautifully?

1.) Rocket League

Rocket LeaguePerfection is difficult. Impossible even. But the folks at Psyonix have come incredibly close with their surprise indie hit Rocket League. Simple game concepts are incredibly overlooked as being just that, simple, easy, but when it comes to platforming Mario is still king for a reason. Oftentimes the simplest of ideas are the hardest to get right. Creating a game that is easy to understand but difficult to master is incredibly challenging, doing so while also making one that controls like a dream is so far out of reach for most that it’s pretty unbelievable how easy Psyonix has made it look.

Anyone that follows me on Twitter saw this coming a hundred miles away.
Rocket League is damn near heavenly in just how well everything comes together. From the polished visuals to the subtle sound design flourishes to its insanely addictive and unbelievably fun gameplay bursts; Rocket League makes every other title released in 2015 blush with envy.

This game feels like a Nintendo joint, with the developers mastering one of that icons most impressive skills, the ability to hone in on and shine to damn near blinding perfection what makes their game so much fun. After over 750 rounds of Rocket League this game is still just as addictive as the first time I picked up the controller and still manages to put a smile on my face each and every time I play.

I don’t know what else to say about this game. The matches are the perfect length and the customization the game offers you in both car appearance and match settings is great. The community is vast and the range of skills diverse. Even the freaking soundtrack is pretty damn cool! Hell, i’m not even a huge fan of online multiplayer games!

To put it bluntly, Rocket League is fucking awesome.

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Chuck is the editor-in-chief and lead writer for Counter Attack and a co-host on the podcast CA! Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.

 

5 thoughts on “Chuck’s Top 10 Games of 2015

  1. Excellent list, Chuck. One day I’ll take Xenoblade Chronicles X out of the shrinkwrap… one day. 150+ hours is just way too intimidating right now.

    Still glad I took your advice and picked up Rocket League. So, so fucking good.

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