Top 5 Video Games of 2015

Well here we are, 2015 is about to come to a close and with it we wave goodbye to what has been a fantastic year for gamers. I’ve played many games on my trusty Playstation 4 over the course of the last 365 days and I have decided to whittle them down to the 5 best and bang them into a lovely little list. Here we go.

5 – COD Black Ops 3

Black Ops 3

The Call of Duty juggernaut is renowned for being the reliable King of online first-person shooters, but this year’s instalment from Treyarch takes things to a whole new level. It is honestly one of the most addictive games I’ve played in years.

Intense battles that flow gracefully through well mapped-out levels and the addition of new “specialist” characters ensure that the game has it’s own distinctive feel. Wall running and underwater sections can at first seem strange, but soon become more fluid and pivotal to your playing style.

The campaign is decent – it’s not going to last long in the memory – but it’s not the campaign thousands of fans buy this game for. It’s the sublime, aforementioned, multiplayer.

Top it off with the return of the excellent “Zombies” mode and you have the best Call of Duty in years.

4 – Limbo

Limbo

I used to cast envious scowls at Xbox users when they would harp on about Xbox “exclusives” such as Super Meat Boy and Limbo. However, this year my patience was rewarded with the release of both these titles on Playstation 4. Super Meat Boy is fantastic in its own right, but it’s Limbo that made me realise that I can still be stunned by such an original idea even after all these years.

Limbo is a visually arresting piece of work. The blacks and greys that blanket the screen give you a deep sense of dread and foreboding. The story is deliberately ambiguous, a point that annoyed some critics upon its release. For me however, there were just enough scraps of suggestion here and there for me to fill in the gaps and hypothesise as to what I believe was going on. It feels like a nightmare that you are trying to recall in fleeting moments.

The puzzles are some of the most ingenious I have ever played, with the physics system as perfect as you could possibly dream. Blocks slide and glide along levels as you push buttons and pull pulleys to get them to where you want. It’s wonderfully, head-smashing-against-the-TV frustratingly superb.

The game ends as abruptly as it started, 6 hours later. I felt a pang of sadness at it being over. Limbo is one of the finest, most hauntingly original games I’ve ever played and I’m sure it will stay with me for years to come.

3 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Geralt.jpg

Nothing much more needs to be said about CD Projekt RED’s release earlier this year that hasn’t already been said. It is, without doubt, a masterpiece.

It is an absorbing, detailed, beautifully stunning RPG that can consider itself as one of the best ever made. It is arguably one of the standout games of this generation of consoles.

The Polish studio have created such a detailed world that it beggars belief. The story intertwines with local myths and legends whilst characters involve you in normal, human problems as you go about your quest and there are laugh out loud moments interspersed with fast moving, brutal combat that flows beautifully with every sword stroke.

The release of Fallout 4 has only cemented what a great piece of work this is. Fallout 4 looks bland and it’s world empty compared to The Witcher.

The game is so vast that even after days upon days of cumulative play, I didn’t even fully finish it.

CD Projekt RED are now focussing on their next title – Cyberpunk 2077. A futuristic RPG set in the future. The Witcher crossed with Blade Runner anyone?

I’m so excited I could cry.

2 – Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight

I play a lot of retro games. My SNES is played as much now as it was over 22 years ago when I first unwrapped it one Christmas morning. The games of that era sparked a life long passion for the medium that is evident as I type!

I think that’s why I love Shovel Knight so much.

Yacht Club Games’ release took me back to my childhood in an instant as wave upon wave of nostalgia slapped me across the face like a 90’s dance track.

Platforming rules and patterns that had been burned into my subconscious through hours upon hours of gaming in the early 90’s suddenly burst back into my mind like they had never been away.

I wrote an entire article on Shovel Knight which you can go check out for a more in-depth look at the game. I don’t need to say much more, other than not only is Shovel Knight one of the best indie releases in recent years, it is also one of the best platform games ever made in the history of video games.

1 – Bloodborne

Bloodborne.jpg

Without doubt the best game I have played all year (and quite possibly working its way into my top games of all time) is Bloodborne.

The gothic, blood soaked action/survival horror/RPG nightmare from Hidetaka Miyazaki is an original masterpiece that has to be played to be believed.

Very little explanation is given to what is going on with regards story – I know about as much now as I did when I first started playing many months ago – but it’s deliberate and refreshing so that the gameplay can take centre stage and the story can be patched together as you go along.

The city of Yharnam that you wander around is a gothic nightmare; dark cobbled streets, towering cathedrals and looming gargoyles cast their menacing gaze from above. A varied army of enemies patrol the city and wait to be dispensed in a shower of blood by you and your arsenal of weaponry. Combat is satisfying and fluid, the action intense and controlled.

It is also a brutally difficult game, the casual gamer might not be able to hack the challenge. But for those who dare take it on, they will be rewarded with a gaming experience like no other. It is absolutely fantastic.

So there we go, my top 5 games of 2015. Do you agree or disagree? What did I miss? Let me know below. Cheers

 

 

 

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The State of Play – Bobbing Along

Donkey Kong

I sometimes sit and wonder about how amazing it would be to step into a time machine and head back to the early 90’s with my Playstation 4 and a copy of something like The Witcher 3 or The Last of Us. I’d love to see the wonder and amazement bestowed upon the gamers of that age – their minds would be blown to smithereens. They’d dribble in awe at the sight of Ellie and Joel exploring a deserted village after which they’d be mumbling incoherently at the lush vegetation passing them by as they ride Roach around Skellige, with Geralt’s white hair flapping in the wind.

Graphics and visuals beyond imagination; scale, voice acting and character movements unbelievable beyond words. Yet there would be one mechanic that would bring even them – the stone age of gamer – to despair. Underwater sections. Or more specifically, swimming.

Since the dawn of home gaming, in the adventure genre particularly, the “water stage” has been a staple of level design. Yet whilst every other factor of gaming has evolved for the better since then, swimming hasn’t.

Take The Witcher 3, for example. A game I have played a lot over the last 3 months and a game I consider to be one of the finest releases in years. Geralt can run around the lush lands with perfect agility but once he comes into contact with water he turns into what can only be described as a drunken vagrant that’s fallen into a canal. You watch in dismay as he randomly scrambles around underwater, with the player frantically smashing the X button to loot a chest and feeling like they are controlling an oil tanker. The problem is compounded when attacked by enemies. Poor Geralt is pinged around like he’s in a pinball machine.

Yet it has always been like this since games went 3D. Think back to Tomb Raider. Even now I can recall the wall pounding frustration at seeing Lara’s drowning animation for the tenth time whilst trying to pull a submerged lever. People cite Super Mario 64 as one of the greatest games ever made, but if you play it again (like I have recently) then you will realise that the swimming sections are utterly dire.

Even modern powerhouse developers like Rockstar can’t get it quite right. Swimming in GTA has that common feeling of sluggish clunkiness that other games of its generation have.

Naughty Dog seem to be the only developer who seem to be actively trying to improve the mechanic. The Last of Us underwater sections were fairly smooth and quite enjoyable. They were still far from perfect, but at least Naughty Dog are trying to improve this age old problem. Other developers seem to shoehorn in water levels with little thought or eye for improvement, as if it’s a necessary evil.

I believe that swimming underwater was at its best in 2D side scrollers. Think Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World or even Ecco the Dolphin. These games were much more basic of course, but the tap-tap of a single button to control the forward and vertical movement of a character was a revelation. So simple, yet so effective. Some underwater levels from that 2D era are amongst my favourites. The change to 3D overcomplicated things.

Swimming in games is here to stay, but developers need to actively focus on improving it and making it more fluid or else the whole mechanic is in danger of becoming stagnant.

The State of Play – A Knight to remember

Shovel Knight

I’m currently dismantling various pieces of rubbish, selling items from my ever growing inventory and carefully selecting which sword/armour/gloves I wish to craft. After 20 minutes I’m happy. My girlfriend thinks I should have used the time to clean out the shed.

This is The Witcher 3, one of the finest games of recent times and certainly one of the stand out releases on this generation of consoles so far. It’s a vast, beautiful and awe inspiring title that has generated much acclaim and rightly so. It’s the only game I’ve played in the last month, until this morning.

I was perusing the Playstation Store on the lookout for any new titles that I may have missed when I came across Shovel Knight. I remember hearing great things about this title when it was released in 2014 but somehow missed the announcement that it was available on Playstation 4 (this could be due to CD Projekt RED putting me into a Witcher inspired coma for the last few months). £11.99 would be the price to play Yacht Club Games’ debut offering. And after a few hours, I can honestly say it’s probably the best £11.99 I have ever spent.

For those who do not know who or what Shovel Knight is then I shall do me best to sum it up in a sentence: It’s a 2D side scrolling retro platformer done in an 8-bit style where you play as a knight with a shovel for a main weapon.

Since the emergence of the Indie Game market there have been a lot of retro-styled throwback titles in recent years. Some more successful than others. I think that a lot of the titles released come down to the player relating and connecting with what they are playing to what they were playing all those decades ago.

That is why I believe Shovel Knight is such a success. Its gorgeous level design, gameplay, story and soundtrack not only remind me of the obvious classic games it pays homage to, it also encapsulates a whole generation of gaming from my childhood. Shovel Knight himself is Arthur from Super Ghouls and Ghosts reincarnated, and the first stage where you can see a castle in the back ground reminded me of a similar sight towards the end of Streets of Rage 2. Everything feels comfortably familiar, from the perfect control system to the classic hit detection “flash” when you strike a boss. You have all the mod cons of recent gaming such as auto saving without it ever losing its authentic feel. This game could have been released 25 years ago and it would have been a triumph then as it is is now.

The difficulty is perfect and the boss battles are wonderfully challenging. I was cursing at the TV after timing a jump wrong over and over but all with a smile on my face, purely for the reason that the frustration was part of the fun! I welcomed it like a long lost friend.

It’s just the perfect game to play after endless hours grinding away with Geralt of Rivia or any other mammoth gaming project one has on the go. If I were to use a food analogy (my favourite) then The Witcher would be an exquisite 3 course meal consisting of foie gras, followed by venison with a red wine jus and finishing with a lemon syllabub. An experience to take your time over and savour. Shovel Knight on the other hand would be a delicious gastro pub-style burger with beer battered onion rings, accompanied by an early 90’s soundtrack playing through your brand new iPhone.

So I had best go clean the shed out now, if I value my life, but when I come back in there will be one game I’ll be itching to play. And it involves a little blue knight with a shovel.