Everything posted by HAIL 9000
2017 has been a huge year for games. I’ve never had so much trouble narrowing my list down to just ten, and even then it still feels like there were so many great games that I didn’t even get a chance to play. On top of that, this year I’ve felt fortunate to find several games that have probably become some of my all-time favorites. With all that said, let’s get started! 10. Destiny 2 Destiny 2 is a game that landed a spot on my list just because of how much fun I had with it. I never played the first Destiny because: a) I heard those voice clip compilations of Peter Dinklage as the Ghost; and I had kind of written it off as “not really my thing”. I gave Destiny 2 a chance mostly because my friends were playing it, and I’m really glad that I did. The game blends elements of an MMO and an FPS in a way that feels pretty unique and captures a lot of the good aspects of both. I played the entire campaign co-op as a Warlock and it was a lot of fun, both because I enjoyed playing with other people, and because I enjoyed the way my class affected the gameplay. Also, the world feels alive in a special way, like how you can run into and join groups of players doing public events while chasing after a quest. And, as a small perk that feeds into my personal interests, there’s great character customization and cool outfits. Another nice perk of Destiny 2 that I wasn’t really expecting is that the world and lore are quite interesting, although I’m somewhat frustrated that you have to do some digging both in and outside the game to understand them. Additionally, the game had a cast of likable characters that added to the experience. Plus the world itself was beautiful and fun to be in. All things considered, Destiny 2 was a pleasant surprise for me which I enjoyed more than I expected to. 9. Yakuza Kiwami Click here to read GP's Official Review In an unexpected turn of events, there are not one but TWO Yakuza games on my list this year (more about this later). As such, it’s kind of tough to write about Kiwami without comparing it to Yakuza 0 so if you want to skip ahead and read that one first I wouldn’t blame you. While a lot of my newfound love for this series comes from it being unabashedly sentimental and ridiculous, Kiwami has something extra special: Haruka, AKA the light of my life. The relationship between Kiryu and Haruka is what really makes this game. It’s just incredibly sweet to see Kiryu, a professional criminal hardened by ten years in jail, spending his first days of freedom looking after an orphaned little girl, helping her feed a puppy, and cheering for her at karaoke. Since Yakuza 0 is the only other Yakuza game I’ve played, I’m really looking forward to seeing Haruka grow up through the rest of the series. In addition to Kiryu being the world’s best dad, Kiwami has so much good melodrama and ridiculous plot twists. I also really appreciate some of the new additions in the remake, like the extra cutscenes explaining what happened to Nishiki and the Majima Anywhere System (which is delightful, if sometimes a little annoying). Kiwami is great, but the reason this one ranked so much lower than Yakuza 0 is because of its relative lack of content. The sidequests felt pretty lackluster and the combat less complex than in 0, which is to be expected. But all things considered they did a nice job with the remake, and it feels natural to jump to it after starting with 0, especially since 0 provides additional context to better inform your understanding of Kiwami’s characters and their relationships. 8. Rakuen Rakuen was a pleasant surprise that sort of snuck up on me this year. It’s unique, visually beautiful, and -- as one might expect from Laura Shigihara after her work on To the Moon -- it has a fantastic soundtrack. Taking all that into account, I think the place where Rakuen shines the brightest is with its story and characters, and the way that it presents them to you. In the game, you play as a boy in a hospital, who is accompanied by his mother for most of the game. Through top-down adventure gameplay, you get to know the other residents of the hospital both through your interactions with them in the real world and a beautiful fantasy world which stands in stark contrast to the drab interior of the hospital. Rakuen also features no combat and largely no sense of immediate peril, which allows the player to focus on what the game wants to share through its characters. Rakuen deals with some heavy themes and is quite sad at times, but it handles them in a way that is heartfelt and thoughtful. And despite that sadness, there’s a strong focus on the importance of being kind, gentle, and caring for others. All in all, Rakuen is an earnest and lovely experience, and I hope it doesn’t get buried in the wave of releases this year. 7. Tacoma As a big fan of Gone Home, Tacoma was a game I was really anticipating this year. Although its basis is more or less the same as Gone Home - walk around an abandoned space and piece together the fragments of someone else’s story - Tacoma manages to be an experience that feels unique and different. The scope of the story in Tacoma feels bigger, and it’s not so much about the personal journey of one person, but about how people interact with each other. This is reflected not just in the writing, but also in the AR mechanic the player uses to uncover the story of the Tacoma crew. Rather than just uncovering a recording to experience once, the player must move through parts of a scene, rewinding and fast forwarding to capture everyone’s role in the event. However, even with the focus on more people, the recordings feel intimate and personal. There’s something special about getting to see how someone deals with a situation through multiple lenses, such as what they write home about, what they say to their loved ones, and what they do when they’re alone. These sequences feel very intimate even though the player is only a passive observer of them, and it’s refreshing to discover a story through the little details of how it impacts the people it’s happening to. The scope feels bigger not only because it deals with a whole cast as opposed to just one person, but also because Tacoma tackles some interesting sociological issues, and does so in part by exploring their impact on the lives of individuals. While it maybe didn’t impact me in the same way that Gone Home did, I still really enjoyed my time with Tacoma and its cast. 6. Pyre Supergiant Games is a developer that has carved out a pretty big space in my heart over the last couple years, so naturally I was pretty excited for their latest game. Even though I was a little wary of what looked like “sports” gameplay, they definitely didn’t let me down. As I expected, I loved the art direction, music, characters, and worldbuilding of Pyre. I’m always impressed with the way that Supergiant crafts worlds that are interesting, fully fleshed out, and unique. Pyre is especially great in this respect in that it gives you the freedom to revisit the lore at any time, both by collecting it all in an easily accessible tome and allowing you to hover over names and terms in spoken dialogue to get a brief refresher on who or what they are. The world is only improved by the fact that it’s populated with a lovely cast of characters who you get to know in all sorts of ways over the course of the game, including through the enjoyable banter between characters. In a slightly unexpected turn of events, I loved the gameplay of Pyre as well. To progress the story, the player must complete Rites which are sports-match-like challenges where you assemble a team of characters with a diverse set of skills to face off against another team. I got so into the Rites I was even doing the extra challenges and turning on difficulty modifiers, which is a bit out of character for me. Ultimately, the sports-like gameplay in Pyre wound up being just as unique and delightful as everything else. 5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild When I found out Breath of the Wild was going to be an open world game, I was definitely a little worried. In recent years there’s been a trend of tacking open worlds onto games that don’t really benefit from them simply because “that’s what the kids want these days”. For me, open world games have all been feeling similar to each other, and the exploration they offer is starting to feel more and more like a chore. However, Breath of the Wild managed to buck this trend entirely. The way the world was done felt both unique and consistent with the Legend of Zelda series. It was carefully considered and meticulously designed, and just walking around the landscape was a joy and a goal in itself rather than a means to an end. It was beautiful and had such a strong sense of place that I often found myself avoiding key places and events just to keep wandering. It was really exciting to see the series that initially got me into video games take such a big step forward and succeed so well. And even though it was such a big change of pace for the series, it still felt familiar to me, and still had the elements of the series that I’ve come to know and love for the past twenty years. With all that said, I do still love the more guided, linear Zelda experience, and I hope that Nintendo continues to try new things with the series rather than stick exclusively to the open world approach they took with this one. 4. Yakuza 0 Click here to read GP's Official Review I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the Yakuza series, but after being introduced to the series with Yakuza 0 I’m a true believer. Who knew a game about beating up goons as a tough-as-nails Yakuza with a bunch of goofy mini-games would actually tell a sweet heartfelt story? The soft side of Yakuza 0 is the core reason why I loved it so much. I found Majima’s half of the game in particular so touching that I even shed real grown-up tears about it in the epilogue. It was really refreshing to see a game that on the surface appears to be a punch fest steeped in absurd masculinity turn out to tell a story that’s actually sweet and sentimental. Of course, the game still has plenty of absurdity, and that’s the other big reason I love it. Yakuza 0 is absolutely ridiculous. Between the melodrama, outrageous fights and action sequences, and hilarious side quests and mini-games, the game is totally unafraid to be campy. In an era where it feels like there’s a push for big-budget, story-focused games to be deadly serious to prove just how artistic they can be, this absurdity felt refreshing. I think there’s a place for artistic seriousness, but I think there’s also a place for recruiting a chicken to work at your real estate agency and breakdance fighting. And to be honest, if the karaoke sequences in Yakuza 0 don’t prove video games are art than I don’t know what does. My only complaint about the game is that the combat can be quite repetitive, especially towards the end of the game, which I’ve come to understand is an issue with the series in general. But all things considered, Yakuza 0 seems like a great jumping off point for those new to the series, as it’s polished and fun and actually provides some pretty meaningful background for the first game. 3. Persona 5 Persona 5 was a shoo-in for my favorite game of 2017 just by virtue of it being the next entry in one of my favorite series, and the fact that I’ve waited for it for almost a decade. In a lot of ways it exceeded my expectations, but in some ways, it didn’t. To start off with the good: the combat and dungeon crawling are hugely improved. The combat mechanics are streamlined and feel more fun and the randomly generated floors have been replaced with handcrafted dungeons, which eliminate the tedium that was still lingering in Persona 3 and 4. As far as aesthetic and style go it’s absolutely fantastic, maybe my favorite in the series, and it has the most gorgeous UI ever. Additionally, it features my favorite premise and themes of any game in the series. Despite being my first Persona game since leaving teendom behind, the “screw you corrupt adults” theme still resonated with me. A game about bringing down corrupt teachers, businessmen, and politicians felt pretty darn topical this year. And while I utterly enjoyed myself playing Persona 5, and while the characters do have a special place in my heart, in several ways I think Persona 5 fumbled a bit with its writing, which is disappointing since that’s a huge part of why I love the series so much. The story occasionally felt poorly paced and poorly crafted, some of the main characters got sidelined and didn’t get the development they deserved for the sake of developing one-off throwaway villains, and the game seems to unwittingly contradict some of the points it’s trying to make. Despite all my complaints, I still enjoyed the plot quite a bit, and I may hold the writing to an unfair standard given my opinion of the rest of the series. But for me, the Persona series really rides on its story and characters, and while they were great in Persona 5, they were not fantastic, which is ultimately what held it back from becoming my game of the year. 2. Night in the Woods When I played Night in the Woods, I quickly proclaimed it my game of the year, and although it was dethroned it’s still very dear to me. It’s a game I’ve been anticipating since it was Kickstarted and I was so grateful that it did not let me down. With Night in the Woods, in a way, I came for the aesthetic and stayed for the social commentary and its thoughts and questions about life. It’s the only game that I’ve ever immediately played again after beating it once. Pretty much every part of the game resonated with me on a personal level, which I guess is no surprise since it’s being called “Millennial Animals: the Game”. The game and its themes are grounded in reality, nihilistic and sometimes tragic, but still hopeful. It takes on a lot of heavy, topical subjects, but in a way that feels realistic and avoids being pretentious. Not to mention it does so with some absolutely lovely writing that deftly weaves humor and seriousness in a way that feels unique but also authentic. All of this is conveyed through a wonderful cast of characters, all of whom are lovable, but not without their own faults and struggles. In addition to the main cast, Possum Springs is also full of side characters who you can talk to every day to string together meaningful little vignettes about their lives and the history of the town. And while I said I came for the aesthetic and stayed for the writing, the aesthetic is pretty killer too. Visually, the game is gorgeous. It feels like every screenshot could be printed and framed as its own work of art, and the soundtrack is fantastic, which makes exploring Possum Springs and finding all its secrets that much more enjoyable. 1. Nier: Automata In a turn of events that will not surprise a single person who’s ever spoken to me, my game of the year is Nier: Automata. I’ve had tempered enthusiasm for Automata ever since it was announced. Nier Gestalt had some fantastic writing, world-building, and my favorite game soundtrack of all time, yet I found the gameplay a little lacking. When I found out Platinum was going to be working on Automata, I was pretty darn excited. When the game finally came out though, it exceeded all my expectations. Nier: Automata has some of the most fun action gameplay in recent memory. This, coupled with a beautiful open world that’s fleshed out with meaningful sidequests make for a consistently great gameplay experience all the way through. I’m often compelled to turn the game back on just for the sake of being in that world again. Automata also has a fantastic score, a worthy follow-up to Gestalt (which I think still remains my favorite soundtrack of all time). However, where Automata really shines is in its writing -- in the profound questions it asks as well as the way in which it asks those questions and the way that it uses the medium of video games to lend to the story it wants to tell. I’m being deliberately vague because I’d hate to spoil this experience for anyone, and everyone should play Nier: Automata. I’d also like to give a special thank you here to all my dear friends who still speak to me after I’ve forced this game on them repeatedly all year. Nier: Automata is a profoundly sad game, but it’s not without hope. I’ve never found myself so deeply moved by a game before and it is hard for me to remember the last time I loved a game this much. And so, naturally, it’s my game of the year, and has certainly earned its place as one of my favorite games of all time.
2016 was a busy year for me, what with moving to a new country and all. Unfortunately that meant that I didn“t get to play everything I wanted to this year, but despite that I still had quite a tough time narrowing this list down to only ten games. There are definitely a few games that I really enjoyed that didn“t make the cut. I won“t give shoutouts to all of them, but at the very least I have to mention Kentucky Route Zero Act IV, which after much deliberation I decided not to put on the list because it“s only a part of a game and can“t stand alone without the other acts. But all and all this was a pretty good year in video games, at least for me, so let“s dive in! 10. Hyper Light Drifter Hyper Light Drifter is a game I“ve been looking forward to since I first ran into it at PAX last year. The game“s art direction is what drew me in immediately, but after playing the demo I was even more excited to see the finished product. When the game finally came out earlier this year, I was excited to find that it had been worth the wait. While I definitely found it to be pretty darn challenging and sometimes frustrating, I overall had a great time with Hyper Light Drifter. The gameplay, although often difficult and tense, was a lot of fun and felt rewarding, featuring some very satisfying and fluid combat which was nicely complimented by great puzzles. That said, the game was certainly an exercise is resilience, and did sometimes feel quite punishing, but never so much that it pushed me away completely. But where Hyper Light Drifter really shines is in its worldbuilding. With the aid of its stellar visual design and soundtrack, the game manages to create a consistent mood that“s mysterious and often sad. It masterfully crafts a world world that succeeds in being beautiful as well as interesting, which drove me to play and explore as much as I could. All these elements helped make Hyper Light Drifter a memorable experience. 9. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse As someone who first came to the Shin Megami Tensei series through Persona, I often find myself wishing that some other games in the series were a bit more accessible with stronger and more prominent plot and characters. While obviously not a Persona game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse was kind of a happy medium, at least for me personally. Apocalypse brings back the world, locations, and gameplay of Shin Megami Tensei IV with a new, stronger, and more consistent plot that intersects in interesting ways with that of the original. Additionally, various gameplay and UI improvements address a lot of my frustrations with Shin Megami Tensei IV. The most welcome addition for me, however, was a cast of much more compelling and engaging characters, all of whom are unique and full of personality. All and all, it really felt like it managed to be a new experience that took advantage of its foundations while improving and building on them. It succeeded in not feeling like a rehash, despite revisiting many of the same locations as Shin Megami Tensei IV. And it does all of it with an awesome post-apocalyptic cyberpunk aesthetic and the Shin Megami Tensei art direction that I“ve come to know and love. 8. Dragon Quest Builders This is one game I never would have expected to end up on my list but holy heck did I have a lot of fun with it. I was barely even paying attention to this game until I happened to play the demo at PAX to kill some time. Dragon Quest Builders is kind of a perfect storm of several gameplay elements that I tend to have a lot of fun with. I dabbled with Minecraft a few times back in the day before it became an overwhelming cultural phenomenon, but I was never able to stick with it for more than a few days. Although I very much enjoyed the gathering and building, I struggled to give myself something to do. Ultimately, I just found the sandbox to be too big and directionless for me to really enjoy. Dragon Quest Builders does an excellent job of solving this problem by giving the game a plot (I use this term very loosely here) with quests and objectives. When I wasn“t feeling particularly creative or inspired, I had a stream of guests to give me direction. And when the mood struck, I had the opportunity to set aside the quests for a while and create a new building or improve my town here and there. Additionally, the separate chapters provide enough variety to keep things interesting. And the game has that cute whimsical Dragon Quest feeling which just makes it feel that much more fun and inviting. It ended up being my favorite game this year for all the times I just needed to wind down and relax. 7. Owlboy My list this year seems full of games with notably long development cycles, and Owlboy is no exception. It may be kind of unfairly baised, but Owlboy“s origins definitely color my feelings toward the game. It just warms my heart when developers get to see a personal project that they“re passionate about realized, even if it takes years. Owlboy is first and foremost a really fun platform-adventure game. The mechanics are solid, the levels are well designed, and the fights feel rewarding. Owlboy also builds on its well established genre template by adding fun mechanics of its own, like flight and the ability to carry Otus“ companions to utilize their various skills. It also definitely succeeds in invoking that nostalgia for some of my favorite Nintendo titles of the past. While my taste in videogames has certainly broadened over the years, I got my start with The Legend of Zelda series, and it still feels great to master the mechanics of a well-crafted boss fight and finally get it right after several tries. While great gameplay is at the core of what makes Owlboy great, it“s certainly not the only place that it shines. The art direction and character design are both lovely. The characters are endearing in appearance and personality, and to top it all off the game has a big heart. 6. Overwatch It almost feels silly to write about Overwatch or put it on a GOTY list considering the game“s hilarious popularity, but it definitely deserves a spot on mine. Overwatch is just so darn good and so much fun, and I“m not usually one for competitive multiplayer, especially in first person shooters. As I“ve come to expect from Blizzard, the game takes many of the best aspects of the genre and perfects and builds on them. It“s a class-based shooter with so much variety that it“s easy to find something that works for you. And although I had my favorites, I happily switched between a broad list of characters between matches, unlike other class based games where I tend to perfect my role as only one or two characters and avoid deviation. Overwatch also takes some deliberate steps to take the pressure off by focusing on player accomplishments at the end of matches rather than offering a ranked KDR. It makes the game accessible not just by offering lots of ways to play, but also by giving players lots of avenues to get the hang of things in a low stress way where they could focus on improvement rather than performing well enough to avoid being singled out. It was exciting to see a lot of my friends who don“t usually go for this genre try out and get into Overwatch. On top of all of that, the amazing and diverse cast of well designed characters, the colorful aesthetic, and (notably minimal) interesting lore and character relationships just makes the game a lot of fun. Although we don“t know a ton specifically about the heroes, the shorts, comics, and quips passed between characters gives us a window into who they are. And all in all the game is just a lot of fun. 5. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice The Ace Attorney games are some of of my all time favorites and their characters have a special place in my heart, so I“m always excited about a new entry in the series. While I enjoyed some of the spinoffs like Apollo Justice and Ace Attorney Investigations, I was so pleased with Dual Destinies because it felt kind of like a return to the first three games, which are far and away my favorites. It was nice to see Spirit of Justice continue in this vein while bringing some fresh ideas to the series with the cases in Khura“in and the new Divination Seances. While these cases still stick to the same structure we“ve come to expect, they change up the formula in a way that I thought was interesting and fun and require you to think about things a little differently than previous games. The game of course features the usual series staple of likable characters with horribly punny names and great character designs. Additionally, moving some of the cases to Khura“in also lets the game tackle some new and interesting issues. This leads to some excellent writing which even manages to push the boundaries of the series in a few ways, with one chapter in particular completely overturning my expectations of what was possible in an Ace Attorney case. All and all, Spirit of Justice brought something new while still maintaining the staples of the series that I love so much, making it a welcome entry. 4. Stardew Valley I have a lot of love for the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series (shoutout to Natsume for making this extremely confusing), so I was pretty darn excited about Stardew Valley. And for me, Stardew Valley is the perfect realization of everything good about Harvest Moon. Pretty much all aspects of the gameplay feel very well done, and make my day to day life as a farmer/adventurer/best friend to everyone in the town so satisfying. It“s addicting to the point of being dangerous, because you can lose hours to the game by falling into the â€œI“ll just play one more dayâ€ mentality. On top of that, it definitely adds a nice level of complexity to the writing and character development that I“ve never really felt was there in Harvest Moon games. The heart events feel more meaningful, and the characters have distinct personalities and backgrounds. It means that choosing a spouse goes beyond â€œdo I want to marry the mermaid or the archeologistâ€ (FYI I wanted to marry both in Harvest Moon DS). And on top of that, the game receives regular content updates based on player feedback, so it just keeps getting better. The other thing that really endears me to Stardew Valley is that it came about as the creator“s passion project which (as far as my understanding goes) he tackled almost completely on his own by learning to create his own art and music. The game is so lovingly crafted, and it“s clear that it could only be born out of a deep love and understanding of the Harvest Moon series. 3. The Last Guardian As an obnoxious Team Ico fan who“s always trying to force Shadow of the Colossus on everyone I meet, I was really looking forward to The Last Guardian. I definitely had tempered my expectations considering how long the game spent bouncing around in development hell, but in the end I really was not disappointed. The game is certainly not perfect, and as many have pointed out, it has its frustrating moments. I am absolutely guilty of having to turn it off and step away from it because Trico was just not cooperating. But I also find Trico to be one of the game“s greatest triumphs. He really does feel like a separate entity with his own personality and agenda, even when his agenda is doing everything but carrying me up to some dang ledge. The game excels at creating a bond between the player and Trico through shared experiences and hardships, and their symbiotic cooperative relationship feels like something unique I haven“t experienced before. I definitely applaud the developers who perfected Trico“s behavior. The game is also reminiscent of Team Ico“s previous games, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, in more ways that one. It“s definitely a contemplative game, with the moments of calm far outweighing the moments of tension. The level design is both well executed and interesting, and the art direction is beautiful. The game excels at teaching you about its world and characters through small thoughtful details in things like the way characters move and interact with the environment. And as we“ve come to expect, the game has a strong emotional core and a story that many players will find quite moving. Of course, it also has some of the studio“s less stellar staples like awkward movement and controls, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. 2. Final Fantasy XV If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was kind of taken by surprise by how endearing I found Final Fantasy XV. As a fairly invested fan of the series, I never would have requested an entry centered around trendy rich boys taking a roadtrip across a fantasy version of middle America, but here we are. Something that“s always endeared me to the Final Fantasy series is its willingness to try things out and do whatever the heck it wants, and Final Fantasy XV is certainly no exception. To start out with the bad, the main plot of the game definitely leaves something to be desired. It“s not incredibly interesting, it doesn“t flow very well, and I often found myself confused and wondering if I had missed some bit of context that would help me understand what was going on. I think some of this can be attributed to trying to fit it into the game“s open world structure, but the plot and its delivery feel like a bit of a mess even after taking that into account. My other complaint is that while the combat is definitely fun and satisfying on top of looking real cool, it“s lacking in strategic depth. However, this doesn“t stop the game from having some really awesome fun boss fights. The thing that really endears me to Final Fantasy XV is its characters and their journey together. Even though the main plot didn“t really do it for me, all the little character moments and interactions really did. I loved the little incidental conversations between the characters, camping at night and picking out meals for Ignis to cook, and going through all of Prompto“s pictures at the end of the day. Driving or walking around the beautiful world feels peaceful and reflective, and I think going through the day to day of this journey with the four characters let me get to know them in a different way than I“m used to. You get the sense that you“re really on a journey with four friends who care a lot about each other, and in that way the game shines. Plus the game has a heavy dose of the kind of dorky weirdness I“ve come to love in Final Fantasy games. So ultimately while imperfect and rough around the edges, Final Fantasy XV was just a lovely experience and certainly a lot of fun. 1. Firewatch Every year or so there“s a game which I am gifting to my friends out of the kindness of my heart so that they feel obligated to play it and talk to me about it. This year, that game was Firewatch. There were a lot of things that made Firewatch for me. First of all, it“s gorgeous. The art direction is incredible, and I appreciated all the time the game gave me just to wander through its beautiful recreation of the Shoshone national forest. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I spent a lot of time outdoors, and, even though it“s set in Wyoming, the â€œhikingâ€ in this game felt so nostalgic to me. The writing is where Firewatch really excels though. It deals with the pretty unglamorous lives of real people, focusing mostly on Henry, a middle aged man who“s reached a difficult crossroads in his life. It touches on a lot of subjects I find are rarely visited in games, which I thought was refreshing. Henry is definitely not your average protagonist, and his efforts to escape his life by taking a job as a park ranger out in the wilderness isn“t your average premise. In addition to Henry“s story, you get to piece together the stories of previous fire lookouts as you find traces of their lives left in the park. Every single story told in the game has a strong emotional core which makes them all feel very worthwhile. The way the story is told through walkie-talkie conversations between Henry and Delilah is kind of delightful, and the writing feels both genuine and natural. I got so wrapped up in Henry“s relationship with her and with the game“s central mystery that I beat it in just two sittings, which is quite unusual for me. I also appreciate that between important conversations, you usually spend some time hiking in silence to let you process what just happened. If you“re thinking of playing Firewatch, I“d recommend not reading this last paragraph since I“d hate to color your expectations. This is where I expect my opinion diverges from many others, but the ending was what really cemented Firewatch as one of my favorite games, because I felt incredibly let down. I found myself so invested in the mysteries and in my relationship with Delilah that when things didn“t play out as anticipated I was disappointed. But I thought about it a lot (I mean really a lot) and realized that the game had intentionally manipulated me into thinking the story was something that it wasn“t, and in doing so, had really succeeded in making my experience as the player mirror the experience of the protagonist. That helped make the game“s conclusion much more meaningful and poignant.
Editor's Note: Today's list is from our second guest writer, Hailee Kenney! Like Justin, she's also a friend of some of us on the staff and is also a video game enthusiast who works as a software developer. You can follow her on Twitter @HAIL_9000 ___________________________________________________________________ I have to admit, when I set out to write a list of my favorite games for this year, I was worried I wouldn“t be able to fill ten slots. I“ve found myself more and more frequently reaching back into older games that I haven“t played before, because I haven“t been all that dazzled with the AAA titles coming out in recent years (I know I“m ten years late, but if you want to talk to me about how Knights of the Old Republic 2 is a really interesting exploration of the Star Wars universe let me know). I was pretty pleasantly surprised, though, that when I sat down to make this list I had way more than ten games I wanted to include. I also realized that my list includes a pretty wide variety of games from publishers of all sizes, and even from crowdfunding. I“m excited how many avenues are now available to deliver unique and interesting games, and this year renewed my excitement a little for what the future has in store. Before we dive into the list, I just wanted to give an honorable mention to Tri Force Heroes and Until Dawn. Both games made it on my list at some point, but I ultimately decided to exclude them because I realized it was the people I played them with that really made those games enjoyable. But if you“re looking for a good time with some friends, Tri Force Heroes is incredibly fun, and Until Dawn is great with a room full of people shouting over each other to make decisions. But enough of that -- let“s send off 2015 in style. 10. Ori and the Blind Forest Of all the games I played this year, Ori and the Blind Forest was one of the most beautiful. A Metroidvania with mechanics polished to a perfect mirror sheen, Ori managed to remain fresh and challenging throughout its running time. There are some incredible acrobatic gameplay challenges, especially during some of the timed â€œraceâ€ segments. The game also had incredibly beautiful art, which made the world a joy to explore. Best of all, though, it married its mechanics and art with a simple yet powerful story. Ori doesn“t have dialogue, and none of its characters speak (aside from the narrator), yet the game affected me on a deep level. The fact that it achieved so much in terms of story with so little is a marvel, and that combined with its sharp mechanics and amazing art make Ori one of my favorite games this year. 9. Tales from the Borderlands I“ll be the first to admit that I (like many) have grown a little weary of the five episode Telltale formula ever since season two of The Walking Dead. I wasn“t even planning to play Tales from the Borderlands until I started to hear a lot of positive buzz about the first two episodes. I decided to give it a shot and I“m glad I did. The game is charming, and has a dorky sense of humor that really drew me in. I found that I really liked the characters, and I liked the lighter mood Tales from the Borderlands had compared to some of the other recent Telltale games. And to top it all off, the episodes were much closer to the length I would expect (2 to 3 hours), as opposed to the 40-60 minute episodes Telltale has been putting out. So even if the new Telltale adventure game formula isn“t my favorite, Tales from the Borderlands proved to be a fun game with great characters. 8. Technobabylon Speaking of adventure game formulas, here“s one that follows the old school formula that I do like. Technobabylon was a lot of fun, and was a return to the puzzle focused adventure games that I love. On top of having good puzzles, it pretty much had good everything else too: an interesting (cyberpunk!) setting, a compelling plot, and great characters. It was a really nice example of both cyberpunk and classic adventure games, two things I feel have faded away in recent years (although cyberpunk seems to be making a bit of a comeback in the gaming world). And while we got another cyberpunk adventure game this year, Read Only Memories (which I did enjoy), I found Technobabylon to be a bit more carefully written and interesting. 7. Splatoon Splatoon filled a really important role for me this year in that it was the game that I could sit down and play for as little or as long as I wanted. As someone who tends to seek out strong narrative experiences, I find myself drawn to long, involved games that I don“t always have time for. Sitting down for one or two (or sometimes twenty) short matches of Splatoon was awesome, and on top of that the game was just a lot of fun. I found the gameplay mechanics to be enjoyable and well tuned, the character customization was great, and I was pretty into the game“s “90s punk aesthetic. And of course the inklings were super cute. Plus the Miiverse integration, the Splatfests, the ability to easily play with friends, and the lack of voice chat made the community feel really vibrant and welcoming. It was also really nice to see some of my friends who had avoided competitive online multiplayer get really into Splatoon. 6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain I could definitely write a novel about all the things I didn“t like about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but since it“s on my top ten list obviously I loved a lot of things about it. It“s true that when I finished the game I said I never wanted to talk about the Metal Gear series again, but once I calmed down a little bit, I realized how much fun I had and how amazing the gameplay was. There were so many options when it came to stealth, and so many cool details like guards getting helmets if you relied on headshots and the player being able to take advantage of patrol schedules. It was also a pleasant surprise to see a game that took advantage of it“s open world to enhance the core gameplay, instead of just to be an Assasin“s Creed clone. And the game did have a lot of the Kojima silliness that I know and love (who doesn“t enjoy running in guns blazing on a pink D-Walker while blaring Friday I“m in Love?). And while I was ultimately disappointed with the game“s narrative, I was impressed that Kojima managed to reel himself in and present some much more subtle storytelling. Was it the way I wanted to say goodbye to the series I love? I“m not sure. But was it a pretty good game? Definitely. 5. Pillars of Eternity Back around the turn of the millennium, Bioware and Black Isle made some incredible RPGs filled with sharp writing and tactical, RTS-like combat. As Bioware moved towards a more modern cinematic style, the rest of the RPG genre followed. Pillars of Eternity was pitched as a return to this style, and it definitely followed through. The game truly felt like a modern successor to the cRPGs of old, and was absolutely packed to the brim with lore. Obsidian“s writers clearly spent a lot of time fleshing out the world of Eoras, and explored the world“s pantheon of gods in unique and interesting ways, picking up the torch from Baldur“s Gate and Planescape. It also had a great combat system that, while occasionally clunky, was challenging and strategic. Really, though, it was the characters that made Pillars. Obsidian crafted an interesting world, and added in some exceptionally written companions. I hope to see Obsidian return to explore more of Eoras in a sequel further down the line. 4. Fallout 4 I doubt there“s ever been a Bethesda RPG that didn“t make my top ten list the year it came out, and Fallout 4 is no exception. Even though I did have some issues with it (my two chief complaints being the stripped down roleplaying mechanics and a shortage of interesting quests), I really enjoyed the time I spent with it. As always with Bethesda games, exploring the world was incredibly fun and provided hours of entertainment, and I love the environmental storytelling of the Fallout series. Even if the main plot fell a little flatter than usual, Fallout 4 still had some great world building, and for the first time in a Bethesda game, I found the characters to be very memorable. It was a nice addition, and it made me want to bring my companions along to get to know them. So even if it wasn“t my dream Fallout game, all the important elements were there, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Also, my character looks badass in aviators and road leathers. 3. SOMA Before I talk about SOMA, for the sake of full disclosure I have to say that I really hate scary games. Jump scares, suspenseful chases, all the other usual elements make most horror games unplayable for me. However, I found those to be quite minimal in SOMA, to the point where even I was able to play it. The real horror in the game is much more existential. It asks some really important and interesting questions that you“ll be thinking about for hours after you stop playing, and explores some fascinating philosophical concepts in the way that only the best science fiction can. It“s carefully written, and the story really drew me in. In addition to that, it excels with its atmosphere, exploration, and setting. Even though I would normally have written SOMA off as â€œnot my thingâ€, I“m glad I gave it a shot. 2. Everybody“s Gone to the Rapture I can guarantee that Everybody“s Gone to the Rapture is not a game for everyone, but it“s definitely the game for me. It“s long, meandering, and absolutely beautiful. I loved exploring the carefully crafted English countryside, and the storytelling is done in such a unique way. I liked slowly discovering not only what had happened, but also getting to know the people who lived in the village through their memories, which are scattered about the game. I also found the plot incredibly intriguing, and was hooked by the mystery almost immediately. I love games that leave me thinking about them long after I turn them off, and Everybody“s Gone to the Rapture was very much that kind of game for me. It“s calm, beautiful storytelling leads to some very poignant moments, and I really appreciated that it had a much more concrete plot to discover than Dear Esther, a similar game by the same studio. So ultimately I“d say that if you“re patient, and you love being forced to think, it“s definitely worth checking out. 1. Undertale Even though I had a tough time narrowing my list down, there was never a question of what my game of the year would be. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about Undertale, most of which I haven“t shared because I“m not sure I could do the game justice. Undertale is so amazing and unique in many ways, from its save system to its gameplay mechanics to its writing and characters. But ultimately the thing I love about Undertale the most is its focus on kindness, and how it questions the fundamental mechanic of violence at the center of most games. Undertale has so much heart, and it gives the player so many chances to be compassionate. Even better, you“re rewarded for it. Befriending your enemies and showing them compassion leads to one of the best and most meaningful game endings I“ve ever experienced. I wish that more games would take a page out of Undertale“s book and explore kindness and friendship as a mechanic, and encourage the player to take that extra step and get to know an enemy instead of fighting it. And that“s why Undertale is my game of the year for 2015, and why it has probably earned a spot as one of my favorite games of all time.