Justin Lacey finally opens up about video games from 2015. A good bad horror experience goes a long way, but would it be better with monsters or squids? Can Cole get Justin to actually listen to himself?
- Horrible Night on SoundCloud
- New RSS Feed
- New iTunes Feed
- TuneIn Feed (Coming Soon)
- New Stitcher Feed
- Games of 2015
- Until Dawn
- Witcher 3
- Other Shout-Outs
- Game(s) of the Year
- You Forgot About:
- Grimmy Nomination Battles
Now that you’ve heard a bit about how Justin got through 2015, let’s take a look at his official list:
JDevL’s Top 10 Games of the Year 2015
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Rocket League
- Until Dawn
- Ori and the Blind Forest
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Tales from the Borderlands
- Destiny: The Taken King
- Nuclear Throne
That Feels Good
#10 – Nuclear Throne
I wasn’t sure if Nuclear Throne’s early access would ever end, and I also wasn’t sure if I ever wanted it to. Checking in on the game periodically and noticing all the details that had changed made it the most engaging early access game I have seen to date. I was also happy that once its full release hit, Nuclear Throne felt like a complete experience and not just another iteration of a prototype. None of this is a surprise, but it just proves how good Vlambeer is at what they do.
When I don’t have much time, but want to blow things up, I turn to Nuclear Throne. When I want to test my abilities to quickly dodge bullets, to use my reflexes to thread the needle for a precise kill shot, or to challenge myself to see how spectacularly I can fail before reaching my true goal, I go after the Nuclear Throne. It’s the best modern arcade game of the year and deserves a place alongside the classic twin-stick shooters that stole all of my quarters a long time ago.
#9 – Destiny: The Taken King
I finally got what I wanted. Maybe if Year One had been labeled as a pre-order bonus or Early Access we’d be having a different conversation, but I don’t care anymore because Year Two of Destiny has already made up for the mistakes of 2014. The Taken King (and early in the year, House of Wolves) not only have my favorite content in the story mode, but the patches and balancing in that time have made Destiny fun to play. It always felt good to play – you can’t knock how it feels – but vanilla Destiny had no soul, and, for me, that made it kind of pointless to play. That is no longer the case and salesmanship is no longer required to find fireteams around here. Whether we are taking our mission seriously or just hanging out, Destiny is finally a rewarding place to spend dozens upon dozens of hours of my game time.
Memorable Gaming Moments in 2015
- Trying and failing over and over again to get the Black Spindle
- Creeping on NPC conversations in Velen
- Nice chaingun
- Patrick Klepek vs Dan Ryckert
- Surviving the fire of Ori and the Blind Forest
- Glitchy guns in Axiom Verge
- No thanks, botchling
- Will that pickaxe hold in that ice? Will that ice hold?
- Hell yeah I want to buy a zapper!
- Crushing my friends in Helldivers
- Space Truckin
- Making that guy forfeit in Rocket League. Team overtime victories.
The Pleasure is All Mine
#8 – Bloodborne
I forgot to play Bloodborne a lot. I mean, sure, I’ll always want to load it up one more time, but when I was actually in the game I kind of just found myself staring off into the distance a lot. The gothic aesthetic is thicker than any other game that I can remember getting lost in. Everything seemed to leap off the screen and scrape up against my skin. The world is also diseased which made it even more uncomfortable, but it’s undeniably captivating.
I started out staring off into the distance for a reason. Initially, I was either 1) planning my next move or 2) catching my breath from whatever I had just barely survived. The gameplay tweaks from its Souls family are what make Bloodborne my favorite entry in the series. I like the pacing of all the games, but Bloodborne has just a bit more fun factor and adrenaline built into its action. Compared to the others, it all adds up to me giving each play session a few more rounds before I give up for the night. Focusing a bit more on offense also makes killing the bosses more satisfying because you actually feel like you conquered them versus just surviving them. I’ve always preferred conquering games to completing them. Granted, I may never actually conquer Bloodborne, but unlike other games, I won’t ever quit it, either. I’ll just stand here planning my next move until I’ve finally caught my breath.
#7 – Splatoon
Charming is definitely an overused description when it comes to Nintendo games. I can’t help it though, all the Nintendo cliches apply to Splatoon. It’s charming. It’s polished. It’s unique. It’s fun for everyone. It makes me happy. What actually makes those phrases stand out is when it’s 1) applied to a NEW Nintendo franchise and it’s 2) applied to a multiplayer shooter from Nintendo. One rarely happens and the second hasn’t happened since the days of Rare.
I also love the fact that out of the gate, Splatoon gives all of us a new set of iconic Nintendo characters. The squid kids are perfect. They also get to engage in their ink battles in one of the most fun and balanced shooters I have ever had the pleasure of playing. Matchmaking works great and while playing with your friends initially was a problem, I actually appreciate that Splatoon filters out the negativity that traditionally comes with online shooters. Sure, I’d like to have the option of playing this game more seriously, but those tools exist outside of the game when/if needed. It was also easy to question the scope of the initial content of the game, but Nintendo has shown amazing support for Splatoon by adding free maps, weapons, clothes, and game modes on a regular basis. This had the amazing effect of allowing its player base to stay active throughout a much longer time period than I ever expected to the point that it’s still healthy today after nearly 7 months from release. It may not be a system seller, but it’s the most welcome surprise that the Nintendo has had in years.
I Don’t Know What to Think Anymore
#6 – Tales from the Borderlands
How did this happen? Why did this happen? This… this is a terrible idea. Truly. Wait. Oh shit. Telltale went and made their best game yet? Oh shit. Telltale went and made the most entertaining Borderlands game yet? Shit!
Ok, let’s just cast aside that there’s a goddamn coherent story in the Borderlands universe that’s worth experiencing by itself just for one moment. This is a Telltale game that’s fun to play. Usually they have their moments, but in between those broad simple strokes that would have just symbolized that everyone was just involved in this project as a cash cow, Tales from the Borderlands does the details right. My favorite moments vary wildly from the hilarious to the touching to the twists to the enthralling action sequences (in a Telltale game!). Every (new) robot in this adventure has just as much, if not more, depth than their human counterparts, not to mention that Fiona is probably my new favorite human character in this universe. Tales from the Borderlands even made me like a character that I previously hated based on my experiences with him in the core games.
Admittedly, the bar was low here, but don’t tell that to this development team. Every piece of Tales from the Borderlands goes above and beyond anything that was called for even if that goal was for it to be Telltale’s best game yet. From the episode title sequences to the cliffhangers connecting to a satisfying conclusion, I couldn’t get enough. I cannot wait for Telltale’s (hopefully) continuation of this series, their next new franchise, as well as the next entry to Borderlands proper. I like it out here.
Most Honorable of Mentions (in no particular order)
- Super Mario Maker
- Axiom Verge
- Titan Souls
- Invisible, Inc.
- Rebel Galaxy
- Castle in the Darkness
- Lara Croft GO
You and Me, Larry (Lara)
#5 – Rise of the Tomb Raider
I was worried about Lara Croft after her story started over. Where would she go from here? Who would she become? I figured she’d either continue to be punished and learn more about herself or she would suddenly emerge as a superhero. Both options sounded exhausting and unfulfilling to me and were based on the failures of other games. Rise of the Tomb Raider still tests Lara’s limits, but her new-found confidence will bring you along for a death defying ride while reminding you of her endearing humanity.
Lara’s poise under pressure and that natural connection players feel for her is no accident. Crystal Dynamics has evolved the franchise and the character through impossible circumstances over the past decade. Rise of the Tomb Raider is miles ahead of its predecessor and it’s with enthusiasm that I can claim that it ever so slightly raises the standard for character action games. Its return to prominence means great things for video games. I have a feeling, though, that Lara has only just regained her footing on top of the mountain, and is now coiled for a true leap toward a much higher peak.
Wherever It Takes Me
#4 – Ori and the Blind Forest
I’ve definitely turned a corner with adventure platformers (metroidvanias) in that I recognize how much time and effort they take to complete. I don’t want to play one unless I know I’m going to see it through as close I can naturally get to 100%. I hesitated before playing Ori and the Blind Forest and that turned out to be foolish. Playing Ori and the Blind Forest is an effortless experience. It’s beyond beautiful. The exploration and action blend together with such cohesion that you may as well be floating through the game. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a challenging game, because in its most intense moments Ori requires precision, patience, and execution in order to survive. Breaking through those moments, though, can only be described as exhilarating.
As you come down off of your high, you smoothly glide back into your adventure as it builds to the next world changing event. Back tracking is taken into account so that it fits naturally along the way to your next goal. The cycle of unlocking new abilities which unlock new areas which unlock new abilities feels like one constant progression. It feels as great as the game looks, which is to say it looks like a classic animated movie from your childhood.
Ori and the Blind Forest has a surprising amount of heart. Multiple characters tugged at my emotions and made me question who the real enemies were in the forest. Everything in the story of the forest is connected and everything in the game meaningfully fits together. Ori and the Blind Forest is as complete of a video game experience as you’ll find, and you may find yourself wanting to complete it over and over again.
I Wish We Could Have Spent (More) Time Together
- Dying Light
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
- Halo 5
- Steamworld Heist
- Her Story
#3 – Until Dawn
No game this year gives me as big of a shit-eating grin as Until Dawn. It’s a game that I had no way of knowing how badly I wanted it. Only horror fans need apply, and thankfully the story in Until Dawn is as good and as bad as it needs to be.
I’m always seeking the next best version of Choose Your Own Adventure books as a video game. Your choices are the gameplay in Until Dawn and the way it constantly displays the subtle (and major) effects your choices are having on the other characters forces me to salivate at the possibilities. I recognize that the various outcomes may not be drastically different from one another in that the game isn’t going to suddenly switch its setting to space or a pirate ship, but the outcomes give you a sense of authorship as a player. It always feels like you are responsible for what is happening, even if your choice or the reasons behind it yield an unexpected result.
Nothing about Until Dawn feels stitched together. I didn’t get the best ending or the worst ending, but I walked away feeling like I got the “right” ending for my choices. The amazing part is that I kind of hated all of the characters in the game, as very few of them are likable in any personal way for me, but I loved the story and I tried my damndest to save all those stupid kids.
Until Dawn as a game adds a lot of details to a horror experience that movies cannot do on there own. I suppose if Until Dawn was a TV miniseries it could tell a similar 10-12 hour story, but your direct control of character movement and choices in a video game make for a much more engaging and, therefore, memorable ordeal. Watching a character on a show choose between which friend lives or dies isn’t remotely comparable to the harrowing thoughts running through your own head when you are forced to make that choice for that character. I hated it. It was unsettling. Until Dawn pulled emotions out of me that no horror game/movie/show has even touched. I fucking love it.
Did you see that?
#2 – Rocket League
Sports games live and die by their nuance and balance. Driving games live and die by how the vehicle handles on and off the ground. If you’re good at balancing one, you deserve accolades. Balancing both would be an impossible achievement. Chances are, even if you pull it off and happen to get vehicles to 1) somehow play a sport, 2) everything works, and 3) it feels right, in the end it’s probably going to end up just not being any fun. The best you can hope for in that near impossible scenario is that the game is mechanically sound and your peers will laud you for the game’s playability. Rocket League changed my entire perception about what is possible in a competitive multiplayer video game in 2015. It would be completely revolutionary if its predecessor wasn’t already bad ass. No disrespect to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, but it was just the prototype of a true gaming phenomenon.
Personally, Rocket League meant more to me than any game this year. It brought me closer to my friends and revitalized my interest in multiplayer gaming. I always have time for another match of Rocket League whether it is with my friends or against a solo random stranger. I’m emotionally invested in every match I play and that feeling isn’t slowing down any time soon.
All of the game modes in Rocket League feel similar at the start. It’s a simple game to understand and the controls make it an easy experience to jump into. Anyone can play Rocket League and enjoy it. Hell, anyone can watch Rocket League and enjoy it. The action is fast, the matches are short, and the room for drama is exponential. While it’s definitely accessible for new players, witnessing an expert play Rocket League is mind blowing. The first time you see an effortless aerial goal change the momentum in a match will either make you want to watch more or go into training to figure out how in the hell that just happened so you can do it, too. And you can, with a lot of practice. It’s all possible. The impossible game has no limits.
Lost at Home
#1 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
For as miserable of a world that The Witcher inhabits, I keep going back to the thought in my head, “If I could be in any game world right now, where would I want to be? I want to get lost in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt until the real world forcefully rips me away.” It’s the attention to detail that gets me. Every random NPC conversation you hear, every character quirk you notice, and every monster you discover makes you wonder if there’s one more like it or one more even better to discover around the corner. I can just wander and let The Witcher happen instead of feeling like I’m marking of a to-do list to get to the next conversation before seeing the ending.
This open world has cohesion and purpose that rarely takes me out of the moment, even when game systems begin to collide. At one point in the middle of the woods I came across a terrifying new monster that could teleport. I ran away as fast I could and found shelter (and a new side quest) in a nearby cave. As I began working my way through the cave, I improvised through a tricky battle with way too many wraiths. I barely survived, my blood was pumping, and I thought I was home free to discover the loot that they were protecting. Suddenly, the monster from the woods was in front of me. It was not supposed to be here, but it had followed me closely enough to teleport into the cave. I was outmatched, and that treasure was staying put. I knew if I left and came back later that the monster would not be in the cave, but I secretly hoped it would be because I also knew that I would soon learn how to fight the monster and I wanted to take it down in that cave so that getting to the treasure would feel that much sweeter.
The Witcher is about discovery and knowing that at any point your bad ass hero can be taken down by the ferociousness contained in the world around you. Rarely have I simultaneously felt so powerful, but so insignificant. Awesome, but grounded. The true promise of a great but relatable adventure with all of the proof to back up its potential. This is only possible because the moment to moment action of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is just as engrossing as the narrative and carefully crafted world that allows these moments to exist. Witcher 3 is unforgettable and the very definition of why I keep playing video games.