Opinion – 2015 Year in Review

Because it’s an easy article to write.

We’ve gotten to the end of the year and, once again, I’m not overwhelmed by the amazing games we’ve seen this year.  Perhaps it’s because of a poor crop …though the fact that I haven’t played two of the most critically acclaimed games of this year.  Still, looking back over the year need not be just a celebration.  Consider this the official list of the good, the bad, and the confusing of the games I played this year.

Most Disappointing Game – Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville

Most sites put Fallout 4 in this category, and I can’t blame them.  The game feels like Bethesda Softworks failed to develop all the mechanics that made the game stand out from Bethesda’s other open world games.  Still, for me, the greatest disappointment was Rebuild 3.  This nontraditional take on the tired zombie genre showed that restoring human civilization after an apocalypse could be just as fun as running from the zombies themselves.  Rather than improve on that idea, developer Sarah Northway doubled down on the siege aspects of the game with little understanding of the importance of scarcity to her game.  What could have been an experience of clawing back from the brink of extinction became a micromanagement snore that ended well after the result was decided. That’s a shame as there’s a ton of potential in the concept.  Let’s hope Rebuild 4 works on that.

Best Surprise – Renowned Explorers: International Society

An indie game with a unique idea?  They’re a dime a dozen.  An indie game with incredible ambition and style that also retains a high level of accessibility?  That’s a surprise.  The ambition of RE:IS combined with the developer’s knowledge of their limits makes this an exciting and fresh entry into a field of games with a lot of high concept critical darlings and dumb-as-rocks triple A shooters.  Whereas many small developers collapse under the weight of their own ideas or go for safe approaches, this game hits the sweet spot of indie gaming.  The fact that people knew about it from its Kickstarter doesn’t make RE:IS’s strong execution and great ideas any less surprising.  Well done!

Most Innovative – The Beginner’s Guide

This would also win the “Strangest” category.  In terms of game mechanics, The Beginner’s Guide is no different than Gone Home, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, or even the developer’s own The Stanley Parable.  Focus on the storytelling techniques and the level design and The Beginner’s Guide is bursting with new ideas.  Levels in particular feel otherworldly yet they clearly serve the story as the narrator brings the entire setup together for the player.  Part of what makes The Beginner’s Guide innovation so compelling is its ability to bring the player along yet still leave them with questions.

Best Game of the Year – Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void

Having not played either Undertale or The Witcher 3, it’s hard for me to get excited over this year’s offerings.  Among the many disappointing games, Blizzard’s solid execution of the final Starcraft 2 entry stands out.  The story may suffer, but the tight missions, clever new units, and quality multiplayer upgrades make Legacy of the Void one of the most compelling experiences of the year.  Longtime fans will love the return of classic units while newcomers will appreciate the tutorials and fair enemy matching.  Blizzard may be the last major player in the RTS game, but with Legacy of the Void, they prove why the genre deserves to survive.

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