As we await 2016’s big game releases, AWN game writer Spencer Fawcett looks back on his favorites of 2015.
As we impatiently await the arrival of the most hotly anticipated games set for 2016 release, let’s look back on 2015 for a moment. Last year saw many broken games and promises from established developers and franchises. We also witnessed the online-only game firmly planting its feet into the competitive landscape. There were major disappointments littered throughout the year. But with that disappointment came some gems – the following five games delivered on their lofty ambitions with quality design, narrative and gameplay.
#5) Rocket League – PS4 – Developer: Psyonix/Publisher: Psyonix
Released in July on the PlayStation 4 as a free game included with the PlayStation Network Subscription, Rocket League turned into one of the biggest surprise hits of the year as word of mouth traveled the land. Rocket League had been in development since 2014 and was actually called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars before it was re-dubbed as Rocket League. Essentially, Rocket League is about two opposing teams of six playable cars trying to hit a large ball into the other team’s goal. While it sounds deceptively simple, it is anything but as you bump and nudge the ball to the other side, trying to take into account the other team’s attempts to knock it away from you.
What follows are intense games of keep-away as you jump and flip towards the ball and speed by into the ensuing demolition derby. Play supports four vs. four or one on one for friendly or competitive games, with mechanics that are simple to understand but difficult to master. Truly commendable is the developer’s ability to deliver consistent content as well as regular updates to make sure the game is functioning properly. On October 21st, 2015, Pysonix released the Back to the Future DeLorean, modeled after the DeLorean from the film. It was modeled with such care and affection that every time the car boosted it would leave a fire trail and when it would lift off, the tires would shift 90 degrees. The same care was taken with cars inspired by Mad Max and for future vehicles for the upcoming Xbox One release from the Gears of War and Halo franchises.
Rocket League is independent game development done right. Its simplistic gameplay makes it easy for anyone to pick it up and play, but there is depth for the more committed crowd of players. The community support speaks volumes as to the game’s quality and the game continues to be preferred even over other AAA games released today.
#4) Fallout 4 – Xbox One, PS4, PC – Dev: Bethesda Game Studios/Pub: Bethesda Softworks
The studio behind The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 3 held a press conference at the Entertainment Electronic Expo to debut Fallout 4 as well as other games they plan to release in 2016. Such a press conference rarely happens, which should give you some idea of the magnitude of their Fallout 4 launch. Fallout 4 starred the player awakening in a post-apocalyptic Boston known as the Commonwealth. With the will to reclaim what was stolen from him/her and the will to survive, the player’s character meets a cavalcade of interesting characters – like Nick Valentine, a cyborg detective with memories that are not his own - as well as struggles to understand the world around them.
The world and environment of Fallout 4 are painted in a rich tapestry of destroyed beauty, with the most minute details available for you to explore or ignore completely. The gameplay has been vastly improved over Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. No longer are you completely reliant on the V.A.T.S. system that slows down time to a crawl and allows the player to target individual limbs. This time around, you can freely shoot and not be punished for doing so. However, Fallout 4 is very loose in terms of role-playing mechanics and never locks you out of playing a certain way. If you play long enough, you can overcome any obstacle the game throws at you. And while the story has improved since Fallout 3, it’s narrative still never fully engrossed me despite a few shock moments that I won’t spoil here.
#3) Rainbow Six: Siege – Xbox One, PC, PS4 – Dev: Ubisoft Montreal/ Pub: Ubisoft
After a very tumultuous 2014, Ubisoft returned to 2015 with a new kind of first-person shooter that rewarded patience and accuracy rather than Kill/Death Ratios. Rainbow Six: Siege is an online-only game that pits five vs. five in which one team is prepping to defend a room with an objective while the other is seeking to destroy/capture it. The gameplay in Rainbow Six: Siege lives up to the franchise’s legacy with players only able to take a few shots before they fall to the ground. The maps range from houses to parked airplanes as well as office buildings. It won’t take you long to get familiar with them, but not for lack of variety in the maps -- you are forced to learn every nook and cranny in preparation for potential threats. Playing cooperatively with friends or even with strangers has mixed results but usually results in game-play comradery.
What sets Rainbow Six: Siege apart from their online-only contemporaries are the specialists. Specialists are specific classes that have certain abilities to enter a room differently. Defenders, such as aptly named Castle, can put up stronger defenses on windows or electrify walls to prevent the attackers from entering, whereas attackers such as Thermite and Fuze have more powerful ways of entering and clearing a room. They balance each other out well enough that each new encounter and round is slightly different in ways that can punish the lone wolves. Teamwork is essential in Rainbow Six: Siege more so than any other game that I’ve seen make that claim. With more operators being released, micro-transaction or not, and free maps being released regularly, Rainbow Six: Siege is sure to be one of the more cult-classic shooters available.
While some may lament the omission of a single-player/cooperative mode that harkens back to Rainbow Six: Vegas and its sequel (myself included), there’s enough right that Rainbow Six: Siege accomplishes by leaving the player with a sandbox loaded with a wide variety of pails and shovels, that you’ll be creating your own stories in place of it.
#2) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Xbox One, PC, PS4 – Dev: CD Projekt RED/ Pub: CD Projekt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, released in May, was met with critical acclaim and 6 million units sold for good reason. The third game in The Witcher game series, Wild Hunt follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia as he travels through the city of Novigrad, the bogs of Velen and the Skellige Isles looking for his surrogate daughter and adoptive ward, Ciri, as she is being pursued by the legendary and very dangerous Wild Hunt. Geralt may act ambivalent but with great writing and voice-acting, does an incredible job emoting when he needs to. The voice-acting and the animations for how the characters emote and how the creatures move is also incredible. Geralt hunts monsters, a Witcher’s occupation, and ultimately will do battle with one of the game’s beautifully designed monsters.
One of the strengths of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is its narrative and how it allows the player to make decisions that impact the storyline. For example, depending on how you approach the grotesque witches of the bog, children or their caretakers may meet a violent end. Whatever decisions the player makes cascade into how other characters react -- they may meet their own end with the results of the player’s previous decisions. It feels like a world that will exist and has existed before the player enters and leaves the actual game. The combat, while engaging, never feel weighty or impactful -- the spectacularly visceral executions made up for the combat’s shortcomings. Geralt’s additional powers, like the various blades, bombs and spells allowed for variation in the combat, though most battles could be won by just slicing and dicing foes and relying on your tried and true fighting methods. The shield spells works on everything despite the game saying otherwise.
Much like the developers of Rocket League and Rainbow Six: Siege, CD Projekt RED has been very tuned-in to the community, releasing free downloadable content consistently after the game’s release. These ranged from additional quests to costumes for characters and armor sets. It’s reassuring to see that some developers in the industry have mostly abandoned the strategy of cutting content out of games and selling it back to players later. CD Projekt RED has already released the Hearts of Stone expansion with Blood and Wine scheduled for release later this year.
#1) Bloodborne PS4 – Dev: FromSoftware / Pub: Sony Computer Entertainment
From the mind behind of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki returns with gameplay focused on a particular facet of the rewarding yet challenging gameplay of the Souls series -- rather than focus on defending and attacking, Bloodborne asks the player to constantly be on the offensive, dodging incoming attacks from monsters and creatures that make The Witcher 3’s monsters look tame by comparison. The way bosses relentlessly attack, even move, is inhuman and bestial, but in the midst of battle, you can detect a glimpse of humanity and attempts at self-preservation.
Bloodborne begins with tiny creatures embracing the player as you wake up in an ethereal plane of existence that you can use to travel throughout the world. Then you start your quest to kill the beasts that roam the land and end the prolonged night that you’re trapped within. Much of Bloodborne’s story unfolds within item descriptions, character interactions and level design -- Miyazaki and his team knock it out of the park. Every minute detail within the beautiful architecture, whether it be the city of Yharnam or the Forbidden Woods, is oozing with the blood of your foes and personality. Bodies are strung up on crosses and lit ablaze while statues with outstretched hands and open palms are littered throughout the world.
Bloodborne has what are called transformative weapons. When the player hits the L1 button, their current weapon transforms into a completely new weapon. Swords can morph into large hammers and an axe conjoins with a gun to become a more powerful rifle-spear. The lack of varied weapons was a common criticism that was remedied with The Old Hunters DLC released a few months ago. The ways in which players conquered the earlier Souls games were also altered in Bloodborne. Guns were included in the counter system that rewarded precision timing. Also, because of the faster pace of combat, back-stabbing was made much more difficult, but rewarding.
That’s the best way I know to describe Bloodborne. The challenge and difficulty inherent within its world, along with the fragmented storytelling, is fully engrossing. It is an uncomfortable game to play, but when you conquer those fears and uneasy feelings, it becomes one of the most rewarding video game experiences around, another fine example of the steady stream of quality titles released by Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware.