Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Favorite PC Games of 2015

As with last year's list, a game's absence should not be taken as an indication of its quality as I can only comment on games that I've played, and certainly didn't play everything released on PC in 2015.

Also, for the first time ever, I've created this list in video form for those who prefer that sort of thing.

For fans of reading, enjoy the list in its more traditional form.

#10 - Warhammer 40,000: Regicide

If you ask me, everyone should have a good chess game in their library and "Warhammer 40,000: Regicide" is that plus a bit more.

The game has several modes including traditional chess played with lovingly-animated Warhammer 40,000 pieces but the "Regicide" mode is where it really shines. Basically, "Regicide" adds an extra set of game mechanics to traditional chess. At the end of each move, players can take up to three actions such as buffing friendly pieces, weakening enemy pieces or performing ranged attacks on said enemies. This makes it possible to take pieces at a distance and completely changes the dynamic of the game.

There's also a tutorial and a single-player campaign with a series of structured missions that introduce players to the new mechanics in a gentle, sensical manner.

Beyond that, players can skirmish against the AI, which accommodates a wide range of skill levels, or face off against other human players via online or hot seat multiplayer.

#9 - Elite Dangerous

To me, there's something inherently appealing about the idea of being a starship captain. Cruising around the galaxy, exploring star systems, trading goods, mining asteroids and engaging in epic space battles. These things all appeal to me and they're all things "Elite Dangerous" does really well. Factor in its robust multiplayer systems and clever controller support options, and it's no wonder how this game made my list.

At it's heart, this is more of a sandbox playground than a structured, guided game experience, so it will be up to you to make your own fun out of it; however,  if you're looking to do a little space trucking with some friends (or enemies) and you're willing to spend some time mastering the complexities of a game that leans heavily toward the simulation genre, you really can't go wrong with "Elite Dangerous."

Elite Dangerous (via Steam)

#8 - Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide

The lazy, reductive way to describe "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide" (Vermintide) would be to call it "Left 4 Dead with rat men instead of zombies." I hate that comparison because it both negatively portrays the effort that was clearly put into Vermintide itself and the ability of the average gamer to perceive and appreciate its unique attributes.

Is it possible, even likely, that Vermintide was inspired by "Left 4 Dead?" Certainly, but there's more to it than that. From its loot and leveling systems, to the unique pros and cons of the weapon loadouts for each of the five classes, to the melee-heavy core gameplay, to the risk/reward tome and grimoire mechanics– Vermintide has its own unique identity and attributes that make it far more than a simple copy of another game.

Is it the most original or innovative game of the year? No. Do some technical issues with the bots and the overall performance of the game prevent it from being all it could have been? Yes, but Vermintide is ultimately still praiseworthy for the many things it does well despite its shortcomings.

#7 - Rogue State

Ever wanted to run a small, fictitious Middle-Eastern country's provisional government in the wake of a bloody revolution while surrounded by other fictitious Middle-Eastern countries who watch and react to your every move differently each time you play the game? If so, "Rogue State" is for you as it joins the thin yet storied ranks of classic "dictator simulators" such as "Balance of Power," "Nuclear War" and "Tropico."

As you might expect, a big part of this game's appeal are the random elements that can occur during each playthrough, which make it challenging and interesting to balance the needs of the country, the desires of its various factions and your own personal whims and morals.

I would love to see a more robust version of this concept– ideally with a multiplayer component in the future but don't let that stop you from enjoying what "Rogue State" has to offer in the here and now.

Rogue State (via Steam)

#6 - Dying Light

After the disappointment that was "Dead Island: Riptide," I was a little hesitant to pull the trigger on "Dying Light" when it first released way back in January. Fortunately, I did eventually get around to picking up the game (on sale) and found it to be quite good for the most part. Techland have clearly learned a few things about making a fun, well structured first-person co-op game set in a zombie apocalypse since creating the original "Dead Island."

Unfortunately, the lack of choice in the way the main story unfolds sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the game for me. The discontinuity between the open world and the rigid, often off-putting and downright lazy storytelling of the game's narrative made it much more of a slog and way less satisfying of an experience than it should have been for how good it is mechanically.

Ultimately, I recommend "Dying Light" for its outstanding implementation of four-player co-op throughout the core game. I just wish I had been able to make proper choices concerning what my character did in various situations instead of being stuck in cut scenes that forced me to do things I would never do or be okay with doing under any circumstances.

"Dying Light" is a good example of a great game tarnished by a ruthlessly-rigid and unsatisfactory narrative but as the saying goes, co-op makes everything better.

Dying Light (via Steam)

#5 - Helldivers

This hardcore, extremely tactical, top-down, twin-stick, co-op shooter was by far the biggest gaming-related surprise of 2015 for me. Rarely have I seen a game that pushes all the right buttons in terms of delivering just about everything one could reasonably expect from the best of the genres it represents while still bringing its own unique flair and style to the party.

Even if top-down shooters typically aren't your thing, this is a game that could easily make someone a fan of the genre with its sheer quality and depth of gameplay.

While it's possible to play and enjoy "Helldivers" as a single-player experience, I would highly recommend bringing at least one friend along for the ride.

My only real complaint with the game is that it's not possible to center the camera on your character during online multiplayer. I understand the necessity (for local co-op) and possible appeal of having all players on screen at all times in a game like this but many other titles of this sort provide discrete cameras without negatively impacting gameplay– so the absence of such an option in "Helldivers" seems odd given all the other things it does so well.

Helldivers (via Steam)

#4 - Rocket League

Playing soccer with rocket-powered cars isn't a new concept. In fact, "Rocket League" is a sequel to an unfortunately-named game called "Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars" that I played back on the PS3.

I bring this up because, while I love "Rocket League" and have had lots of fun playing it, it is a bit of a disappointment that the game isn't more technically robust or feature complete than it is. Don't get me wrong. "Rocket League" is a great, fun game but the more one plays, the more noticeable a variety of issues with it become. From sub-optimal matchmaking, to clipping, collision and physics issues, to a scoring system that fails to recognize some of the most important plays on the field, there are a variety of areas where the game can and should be improved, and will ultimately need to improve to justify another sequel.

Of course, the average player will need to spend many hours with "Rocket League" to fully reveal such subtelties and those hours will be filled with the sort of joy that only comes from experiencing something that is inherently fun. Just know that at some point the fun will fade a bit and be replaced with hope for improvement in the future.

Rocket League (via Steam)

#3 - Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege

In my opinion, the first-person shooter (FPS) genre has gotten a bit stale over the past few years with various AAA developers and publishers pushing out DOA IPs and annual sequels for franchises whose best iterations are an incrasingly-distant memory. As a consequence, "Rainbow Six: Siege" (Siege) stands out as the only pure FPS released in 2015 that felt at all relevant or noteworthy to me.

I'm not entirely sure if I like this game so much because it's genuinely great or am just so happy to have some new (or at least not seen in a big-budget title in a while) FPS mechanics to play with. I'm also not entirely convinced that the game's $60 price point is justified.

Still, I have had quite a bit of fun with Siege and it has managed to push some buttons and scratch some itches for me that haven't been properly stimulated since the FPS glory days of "Battlefield: Bad Company 2," and that should count for something.

#2 - Shadowrun Chronicles - Boston Lockdown

I love turn-based strategy games and I love co-op. So, when "Shadowrun Chronicles–" a game built around those two ideas was announced, I jumped on it with both feet, and eagerly awaited its release as I periodically checked in throughout the development process.

In the end, "Shadowrun Chronicles" is a good game that deserves more love than it gets. Could the gameplay be deeper? Yes. Would it be nice if the production values were higher? Sure, but show me another turn-based, SRPG with four-player co-op that came out for PC in 2015 and I'll give it a few breaks as well.

#1 - Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

For me, "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain" (MGSV) represents the pinnacle of traditional game design. I struggle– even months after completing the campaign, to think of a better game that I've played in the past few years. That's not to take away from the other games on this list, which are all noteworthy in their own right, but to illustrate just what a fantastic game MGSV really is. Every mechanic, every artistic flourish, every moment of the experience of playing MGSV feels like a love letter both to gamers in general and gaming as a passion and hobby.

The only possible legitimate criticism I could see being leveled against MGSV is that the narrative is a bit uneven and convoluted (even for those familiar with the series) but the bottom line for me is that it never gets in the way of the actual gameplay, and never forces the player to do anything that isn't appropriately contextualized.

Never played a Metal Gear Solid game before? Doesn't matter. If you love games, this is one you need to play.