Sunday, January 3, 2016

Best of 2015 - Video Games

Society keeps trying to tell me that gaming is a childish waste of time. Countless times this year, I asked myself if that was true, which was an internal debate of particular gravity for me personally because I'm devoting my extremely demanding college career to game development. Each time I questioned myself, I was reminded that my strongest passion is storytelling. It's the reason I want to be an author. It's the reason I look so closely at song lyrics. I was also reminded that this passion began with video games. Gaming is, in my opinion, the very best medium for stories because you don't just watch or read game narratives. You write them. You live them. It can be a deceptive waste of time when mishandled, yes, but I don't regret these games' strong presence in my 2015.

10. Mad Max
Even more beautiful and stylistically impressive than its film counterpart is Mad Max, the game, which breaks the traditional video game tie-in mold by being completely separate from the movie in terms of narrative and characters. This Max certainly isn't Tom Hardy's Max, and the world surrounding him is much more massive and diverse, feeling more at home in the game format. As the very last choice I allowed myself to purchase this year, this title turned out to be well worth my time.

9. Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Horror was a strong genre this year, and one of its highlights is Resident Evil: Revelations 2. I played the game through cooperatively with my sister in what were definitely the most memorable hours of gaming in the past twelve months. The Resident Evil series is notorious for making you feel weak, heightening suspense in intense moments and quiet ones alike. I enjoyed every bit of the tension.

8. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Game Awards named Witcher 3 the best game of the year. I'm almost certain I'd rank it higher if I'd had more time with it, but here it stands for now. The overriding story isn't one I'm particularly fascinated with, but the writing that backs it is impeccable. The interactions feel real. The fantasy language is a joy. The character building is superb. Even minor characters are given more essence than some of the shallow protagonists the film industry throws at us. I can't wait to dive deeper.

7. Dying Light
Mix zombies and parkour and you have Dying Light. I thought it somewhat mundane at first glance, but then found myself somewhat addicted to the thrills it provides with its occasional parkouring zombies and exhilarating night chases. 

6. Ori and the Blind Forest
If someone were to ask me to prove the worth of gaming as a storytelling medium, I'd first point them to Ori and the Blind Forest. Its first ten minutes are some of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching in the history of gaming. I don't usually spend much time with platformers, especially those as difficult as Ori, but I couldn't miss this talked-up adventure.

5. Batman: Arkham Knight
As a character, Batman isn't my favorite, but as far as superheroes go, he always seems to get the best movies and games. In fact, with so many, the word "overdone" threatens to put a damper on each new project, which is why I put this game aside until the last week of the year. Sure enough, it is a blast. The addition of the Batmobile gameplay is simply awesome. I was hooked from the first minute.

4. Life is Strange
A few years ago, Telltale Games got a good thing going with its widely acclaimed "interactive film" games starting with its rendition of The Walking Dead. Five games later, a few other developers have joined in on the episodic format. Some were disappointing, and then there's Life is Stange, which, for many, breathed new life into the concept. The dialogue is much too vulgar and hideously teenager-ish for me to give the title my full support (I swear Max, if you say "hella" one more time...). Still, the time manipulation and natural phenomena elements made this a refreshingly interesting experience.

3. White Night
White Night, our horror star of the year, is nothing like anything else I've played. The haunted mansion you explore is presented in a clean-cut black and white, and I mean only black and only white. The ghosts roaming around are distorted, blurry forms, which, although hard to describe here, come across as incredibly disturbing. All your character can do it is avoid them with the help of his severely limited stash of matches. Excellent, noir-style writing join with fantastic gameplay to make White Night one of a kind.

2. Tales from the Borderlands
Tales from the Borderlands, my new favorite series from Telltale Games, takes spot 2 on a merit few games even try for: humor. The Borderlands series itself has always been one of the funniest, but this version is funny like no other and each of the game's 7+ major characters are a joy to watch and even better when placed side by side. I love it for so many reasons: the over-the-top story, the awesome music sequences, the inclusion of Chris Hardwick and Patrick Warburton (Kronk from the Emperor's New Groove). A fun story, if there ever was one.

1. The Rise of the Tomb Raider
For the two years I spent on my mission, I patiently anticipated the new Tomb Raider more than any other game I missed. It's the first game I played when I got home and it turned out to be good. Just good. Turns out the game I should have been excited for was its sequel: The Rise of the Tomb Raider. This is, hands-down, the most beautiful game I have ever played. Breathtaking vistas wait at every turn. Lara's movement feels real with every step. The survival and puzzle elements are equally rewarding. And high praise goes to the genre's new developers for steering clear of the highly sexualized Lara Croft of years past. The new Lara is crafty, courageous, and endlessly persevering. I adore her and I adore this game.

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