There. Done. GG.
…..alright fine, I guess there’s more to the story than that. Viewed next to my brother Bonfire Keepers lists, mine is a little… diminutive, shall we say? So, I’m not going to sugar coat the pill, that’s not my way; Bloodborne’s the only game on my list because it’s the only game I found worthy of sitting under the title “Best”. My personal view on the topic is that a “Best” list should be populated with candidates that earned a place by merit rather than default. As such, I suppose I’ll need to put the stand out omissions to the sword; but first, a word to the victor.
It’s no mystery that I’m a fan of the works of Hidetaka Miyazaki, most notably from Demon’s Souls onward. In particular, the games he’s directed stand as some of my favourite of all time, and that’s a hyperbole free statement. Dark Souls and Bloodborne have had no end of influence on not just the way I perceive videogames but also narrative delivery. What Bloodborne represented to me, was a continuation in a series of games that manage the seemingly impossible task of blending rich, multifaceted and complex narratives, with equally layered and edifying gameplay. Bloodborne’s tale, in it’s transition from gothic Victoriana and classic horror to Lovecraftian cosmic terror, takes up the mantle of the Soul’s games in spinning a yarn of the dangers of chasing knowledge at the expense of natural, respectful fear.
It’s been rightly described as a beautiful nightmare; the visuals are deep, dark and decorative with an aesthetic both classical and then jarringly otherworldly, which proves all the more striking in how it subverts your expectations, expectations the game itself set for you. It’s not just about the visuals though, the game plays perfectly, the combat is immediate and dynamic, the way that enemies move and the weapons with which they attack are all significant and will need to be heeded if you are to come out on top. This is no health bar chipping, detached abstraction, you will need to be in the moment and in full grasp of ranges and timings to master the combat, which remains unsurpassed in how rewarding it can be. Also, the manner in which you explore the game world, travelling ever deeper into enlightened madness and how this is amplified by the lore you scrape together along the way, makes for the kind of fusing of narrative and gameplay that seems so lacking in the rest of the media, to the point that it makes it seem like no one else is even attempting this most natural and admirable of aspirations.
If you haven’t played the game, then I’ve already said too much, but suffice to say, if you’re one for an immersive world and can handle the challenge, the rewards are there for the taking. I’d compel any gamer to try it.
In light of this, you might see why my criteria for excellence in the years post Miyazaki have been significantly shifted. There are those who say I have high standards, and while I’d agree, I’d also highlight that they’re not impossible standards and are only set so high because I’ve seen evidence that they can be met, dare I say, even raised. So, lets look at some other popular choices for “Games of 2015” and expose why they didn’t make my cut.
Witcher III: The Wild Hunt
No way to avoid this one, it’s graced so many lists, even ones on this page! I however, was profoundly unimpressed. I should say first and foremost, that I’m not a series veteran, I haven’t played any of the previous games or read any of the books, but I was informed by a few reputable people that this wouldn’t be an issue. Having played the game, I’d agree, it wasn’t for a lack of lore or story connection that the game bored me but perhaps if I was more invested, I’d have had more patience….. and yes, you read that right, this game bored me. This seems like a shocking sentiment, so much so, that when I went to trade this in at GAME, the guy behind the counter shot me with a stony gaze and demanded to know “why are you trading in Witcher?” so I shot him a gaze back, filled with the astral void of someone who’s seen beyond and replied “It’s boring”. Even saying that to him I imagined he immediately pegged me for a FIFA playing, filthy casual, but I cared not, I am above him and his judgements!
To put it as briefly as possible, while the world is beautifully realised and I’m sure the story and characters are fantastic, I couldn’t get through, what I felt to be, the dated and clunky gameplay necessary to profit from the good points. As such I’d camp this game with Mass Effect, a game where it seems you they’ve settled for mediocre gameplay with a wide spread net to simply “do the job” while the onus is more fixed on narrative. I found the controls clunky and delayed, the combat to be just the kind of abstraction I described above, where I could “see the strings” of Geralt and his enemies going through the motions of their animations while the CPU chipped off our respective health bars. I tackled a few side quests, one of which saw me recovering an old ladies frying pan from her locked shack, and I just failed to engage with any of it.
I’m quite fierce on my focus in videogames when it comes to requiring them to fulfil mainly from the gameplay perspective. It’s a personal preference, but I can get great stories elsewhere, a videogame must be rewarding first and foremost as exactly that; a gameplay experience, put bluntly; Witcher failed.
Quite contrary to The Witcher, I am a series veteran when it comes to Fallout; going all the way back to the first game on PC. Fallout 4 to me, was a complete shedding of the games identity and feel through a botched narrative and implementations of systems and mechanics that altered the game for the worse. I won’t go into as much detail as with the Witcher, as I feel the choice needs less defending, so I’ll itemise:-
- A story about a lost infant is lazy as it is universal and does nothing to promote world characterisation or feel, it’s also the most vanilla of character motivations, so much so that it quickly disappears in the dissonance of the Fallout world, where I’m scrapping tyres to put a better stock on my hunting rifle; priorities?
- Levelling and as such a sense of progression is all but annihilated by the new perks system which lets me more or less build a focussed powerhouse out of the gate; I was killing Super Mutants and Deathclaws with ease by level 8, and so the natural order of the Fallout world was decimated, as too was any sense of challenge.
- Speaking of Deathclaws; I fought one in the very first mission….in power armour……with a minigun…….which I got to keep…..first mission……..pacing, this is not.
- Crafting and settlement management? This sounds like an offshoot rather than the main game, I sensed a lot of Skyrim bleed-over in this game, likewise a great desire to appeal to the youtube generation, at this alter identity was sacrificed. (see also randomised legendary foes and resultant loot)
All in all, it was poor.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
(obligatory, gratuitous Quiet deep cleavage shot, cos if I don’t do it, who will?)
To quote Starscream “Oh how it pains me to do this!” only I mean it, where he didn’t. On a better year, if it had some stablemates, this would have been in my top five, because, I did like this game, Quiet a lot actually (hurr hurr). No, but seriously, MGSV was a good game, a great game even, in the open world action genre. Sadly however, that’s not what I, and I dare say all other Metal Gear fans, wanted. We wanted Hide-san’s cinematic action game genre. Resultantly, while I was playing and enjoying this game I kept wondering when the real story was going to kick in, and it never did, strangely, I didn’t want decisions to be put in my hands, I wanted to go along for the ride, as is the Kingly Metal Gear tradition. I certainly didn’t want to be picking flowers and Fulton’ing anything that wasn’t nailed down. So, in summation, confusingly, I got a great game, but not the great game I wanted, so in a world of entitlement, that makes a bad game? I don’t even know any more, this itself is beginning to sound like a Metal Gear mental conundrum. Let’s spool off some quickfire bile for the final suspects.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Enough already, Joker’s dead and no one plays these games for driving.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider
Put it on Playstation and we’ll talk.
Star Wars: Battlefront
Incredible effort in license fidelity; put the same effort into making Battlefront not crap.
Get serious, it’s fun, but come on guy.
Super Mario Maker
Behind the curve, and I’m not giving plaudits to a game we have to make ourselves.
mentions to games I haven’t played that may have made the list….
Life is Strange & Undertale, I will play these games at some stage, but given that’s all the motivation they can inspire, I feel that’s enough said. Roll on 2016.