NOUSE Games of the Year 2015

Copyright: NOUSE

Copyright: NOUSE

Time has officially passed! It’s a New Year, with new opportunities. And while others get settled into their resolutions (personally, ours is 1920×1080, with a 60fps frame rate), the regular contributors here in NOUSE’s gaming section thought we’d look back at the best games of 2015. So, what were our favourites?

 

Niall Whitehead – Undertale

For better or worse, the average gamer has a virtual bodycount so high that we’d probably need to invent a new scale to measure it (something like kiloHitlers). Even Mario has a tendency to stamp on a few skulls during his morning commute, while it turns out Fallout 4 literally breaks if you try and complete it without committing even a smidge of murder. So it’s quite refreshing to have a game like Undertale show up, where if you’re smart enough and empathetic enough you don’t actually have to kill anyone.

The plot’s simple, on the surface. Like in a lot of indie games, you’re a small child trapped in an underground kingdom of monsters, where the king’s out to kill you and the first guy you meet tries to throw some bullets in your face. And if you want to, you can show no mercy, or even go out of your way to grind some enemies for EXP and get that LV up. But if you stay determined, and manage to figure out a non-lethal solution to the fight, you’ll break down the barriers these monsters have created for themselves and be on the road to a happy ending for everyone involved.

What follows is a postmodernist trip where the psychology of completionism and violence in gaming is deconstructed and the morality of pacifism and altruism is ultimately reaffirmed, and also you can date a skeleton and pat a dog until it goes to space. It doesn’t hurt that pretty much every character in the game turns out to be endearing, multifaceted and hilarious. It doesn’t hurt that it has one of the best game soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, and at least two of my favourite boss-fights in gaming. And it really doesn’t hurt that a game that recently beat Ocarina of Time on an opinion poll was made by one man working on his own.

So all that made Undertale my choice for Game of the Year. It’s on discount in the Steam Sale right now, so if I were you I’d buy it fast before it gets cool to hate it and it gets sent to internet oblivion. Otherwise known as the Five Nights At Freddy’s Corner.

Honourable Mentions – Batman: Arkham Knight; Tales From The Borderlands; Star Wars: Battlefront

 

James Lees – Life Is Strange

I’ve already said a lot about this particular game in my review of the title, but it’s time to get a bit gushy. Life Is Strange is by no means a perfect game: the dialogue can be a bit iffy, the gameplay itself is somewhat light, and the Butterfly Effect, whilst cool for the most part, is largely pretty meaningless.

What’s truly important about Life is Strange is that it’s probably the first game that I truly enjoyed that wasn’t fun. I was compelled to play it not because it filled me with joy, but rather because it gave me a new experience. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything in the game, but it places choices in front of you and gives you all the time you need. I am maybe not exaggerating too much by saying that this game is (in a small way at least) life-changing, as it forces you to make decisions you hope you’ll never need to in real life.

I won’t go on about the idea of games as art, but video games are, as a medium, an art form every bit as valid as films and literature. Life is Strange is to me an important title as it is a full AAA game released by Square Enix that shows actual maturity. I’m not talking about boobs, guns and violence type of mature, but the kind that looks at today’s issues; teen suicide, bullying, the evils of money. I hope that this signals the start of more of games like this in the AAA scene, rather than them being relegated to small indie teams who never manage to sell more than a handful of copies.

With an incredible soundtrack, great voice actors and a unique art style backing it up, it stands for me as one of those games which will go down as a classic. For forcing me to look at myself in a new light, and for showing that games don’t have to be fun to be great, Life is Strange gets my Game of the Year.

Honourable Mentions – Heroes of the Storm; Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

 

Adam Koper – Total War: Attila

The Total War series took a big knock after the release of Rome 2, another game that was plagued by bugs and glitches upon release. Creative Assembly had done their best to make up for this disappointment through incessant patching and expansion packs. With Attila, CA had the opportunity to put the whole debacle behind them, and demonstrate some much needed competency.

Luckily, they managed it, as Attila was released without too much wrong with it. Attila is far from the best game in the Total War series, but it is nevertheless a great game. The gameplay is pretty much the same as it is in every Total War game – it’s a turn-based strategy game in which you select a faction and attempt to defeat rival factions in battle. The ultimate aim is to conquer every region on the map. Each game is set during a different historical era, with factions and military units hailing from that period. As you’ve probably guessed, this particular title is set during the rise of Attila the Hun and the fall of the Roman Empire.

Playable factions include the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, along with a variety of barbarian factions, such as the Franks and Saxons, as well as some nomadic factions, such as the Huns and the brilliantly named Alans. Playing as a nomadic faction adds an interesting twist to the campaign, as city management is replaced with camp management. It also allows a whole faction to up sticks and meander across the map, quashing their enemies as they go. Battles are as thrilling as ever, with CA having put a great deal of effort into improving the atmosphere of each battle. Battles now have a grittier feel to them – lighting and shadow effects have been put to good use here.

With the fall of the Roman Empire as its backdrop, and a much darker look and feel to it, Attila has a certain end-of-days quality to it. You really get to feel at the heart of an epoch defining upheaval.

 

Naveen Morris – Her Story

Of all the games this year, Her Story is the most unique. For all the talk about ‘non-games’ that has occurred in the last several years, many of those games nonetheless resembled genres and forms that were familiar to the industry. It is rare that we get a game like Her Story, and thus all the more it must be commended and celebrated for its skilful ease in blending play and narrative.

The need-to-know of Her Story is that it’s a detective game. You play a policeman, watching short clips created from seven lengthy interview tapes with the titular woman in question, Hannah, whose husband has been murdered. The only way to access these clips, however, is through a search engine. Thus, the only interaction you have with the game is the search bar on a computer, allowing you to search for key words uttered during these interviews, the search results limited to five at a time. Searching words like ‘the’ and ‘murder’ will only get you so far. While this may sound rather simple, it is through this simplicity, and through the major limitations, that the narrative flourishes, thinking that this sounds rather simple, but it is through these limitations that the narrative flourishes.

Where Her Story shines is how the process of play – of observing Hannah speak and subsequently searching phrases of interest – so perfectly replicate the process of detective work. The observation may seem passive, but that interaction happens in your head, as you try and separate the information that matters from that which doesn’t. Phrases of interest act as leads: characters, dates, and locations, for example. With these tools, you can form the story in your head, your previous assumptions challenged and shocked. What is especially genius is that it is impossible for you to stumble onto what may have been designed to be a late-game revelation. That revealing information ends up being useless to you in isolation. It is only within its narrative context that it makes sense, as each clip never gives away too much on its own, and never gives away the whole story. Despite the player-driven order in which the plot unfolds, the game still maintains tension and pace.

It is worth mentioning that all this that I’ve described is presented not through a computer animated model, but by a real actress, Viva Seifert, who’s just-recorded, live-action face we are seeing. Her performance is subtle and powerful, and drives the whole piece. The level of detail is astounding, and it is through that detail that Her Story delivers a rich, engrossing story, where each clip gives you more questions, driving you onto discover more and more about the year’s most complicated and interesting character.

Honourable Mentions – Undertale; Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist; Bloodborne

 

Liam Dooley – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: why on Earth has a remastered version of a Nintendo 64 game been put forward for Game of the Year 2015? Well, because that original game is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, that’s why!

When it was first released in 2000, this game rocked my world (and not just because it made me dread the possibility that the moon could fall to Earth, killing us all in an instant). So, when Ocarina of Time received the 3D remastered treatment back in 2011, all I could do was hope that the same would happen with Majora’s Mask and this year, lo and behold, my dream came true!

Not only did the Nintendo 3DS platform allow me to bring one of my favourite games to university with me without lugging a Nintendo 64 all the way to York, but it also gave this classic game the refined graphics and visuals that it needed to compete with the games of today. It feels slightly jarring that a console so small can make a Nintendo 64 look a thousand times better, but I’m not complaining!

Majora’s Mask 3D is an impressive 3DS game in its own right, and when this is coupled with the immense nostalgia that it brings out in players of the original game, it is a sure-fire recipe for success. This type of nostalgia is more than just the kind that you get from revisiting the original game on its original format. With its fresh look, it feels like you’ve gone back home for the holidays and found that during your absence your parents have converted your box room into a premiere suite. All of the homely appeal is still there, but it is more slick and stylish than ever.

The fact alone that Majora’s Mask 3D gave me the opportunity to re-experience one of my all-time favourite games again whilst also making it feel new is reason enough for me to nominate it for game of the year. There’s no masking how fond of the original game I am, but for me this remastered version proves that the characters, the plot and the game mechanics that I love can still stand up against the titans of gaming that were released in 2015!

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