26 December 2015

That was the year that was 2015

Welcome to the only the best games of 2015 list where Bloodborne, Witcher III, Batman: Arkham Knight or Fallout 4 won't get a single award. Why? Because quite frankly neither of them deserves it. It's straight to business then:

Life is Strange
Game of the Year
Best story
Best narrative
Best art direction
Best production design
Best voice actress (Hannah Telle as Max Caulfield)
Best audio/soundtrack

Hand-drawn textures and life-like production design give Life is Strange a dreamy but realistic look.

Ever since Life is Strange was announced there was this tingling feel it could be something different than other games of the same ilk. And indeed it was.

The first episode was more tentative, you couldn't really tell what direction the game would take. Initially we thought the game could perhaps have worked as a teenage drama without the sci-fi element of time-rewind powers our protagonist Max gains. The following episodes showed we were wrong. The drama couldn't exist without powers and vice versa. They were supplementary to each other in the relevancy of the story developer Dontnod wanted to tell.

It's all about friendship, not about the looming end of Arcadia Bay. Clever dramaturgy gives room for those silent moments when seemingly nothing happens but it's those lingering moments you hold most dear as do Max and Chloe.

Best friends forever, Chloe and Max in the trail of the mystery.

Digitally hand-painted textures and life-like production design have an exceptionally uncanny eye for everyday reality more than any photorealism could ever achieve. These people and their surroundings are alive. Licensed indie songs play on cue in just the right moments to further enhance the mood.

Fan favorite Chloe and her voice actress Ashly Burch has gained much fan attention and accolades but this is Max Caulfield's story and Hannah Telle delivers it with all the delicacy of a young and insecure girl.

Dontnod's first interactive story does so many things right the already announced second season with a new cast and story has an impossible task ahead if it tries to surpass the sublime first season.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Best graphics/visuals
Best sequel
Best action/adventure
Best Xbox One game

This time Lara Croft chooses her adventure instead of getting thrown into it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't reach the frenzy and intensity of Tomb Raider reboot and it doesn't even try to. Instead the game delivers a slick and grand adventure with great production and entertainment values. The game is so polished Lara could mirror herself from its surface if her always perfect hair ever needs adjustment. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best looking game this year in the traditional sense while Life is Strange takes the trophy for artistry.

Siberia is cold but beautiful.

To call Rise of the Tomb Raider a weekend long thrill ride akin to Uncharted series is the same if you called Apocalypse: Now a heartfelt family comedy. The game is more about exploring than running through the story. If you do only the latter though you miss more than half of the fun. While planeteer J did a 100% run of Rise of the Tomb Raider on his first playthrough it doesn't mean it's the end of the game. Watching Twitch streams and players who bypass most of the collectibles and challenges either on purpose or by accident makes him itch and urges for another 100% of it.

Best sports game
Best multiplayer versus

Mathildas celebrate an equalizer.

Sports game are at their best when played against another player, even better when played locally so. FIFA 16 takes a step towards more realistic approach to the beautiful game instead of just passing through and scoring spectacular goals. There's FUT for those hungry for online fame and glory but we are happy just to play against each other. FIFA 16 also scores highly for adding women's international teams to the roster and more often than not we find ourselves competing with them. Female players are also rendered better than males and you can only admire especially realistic hairlines and ears. Yeah, ears...!

Destiny The Taken King
Best MMO
Best FPS

Shadow shot is sexy!

The Taken King expansion gave Destiny a new lease of life and did many things the way they should have been in the year one of the game. Undeniably the new content doesn't last that long and the game becomes a grind fest again. It doesn't matter though. It's MMO after all where grinding always starts anew by every expansion and Destiny is a joy to play even only for its perfect playability. This is no PC port FPS where you jerk a crosshair in the hunt for pixels (cough, Star Wars: Battlefront, cough). Gameplay was tailormade for consoles and it shows. You all can debate whether Destiny is a dire cashcow, it's still the best FPS on consoles at the moment.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Best co-op multiplayer
Best new characters in an established franchise: Moira Burton & Natalia Korda

"I may have a foul mouth but perfect teeth!"

While Capcom doesn't seem to know what do with Resident Evil main series they churn out spin-offs and HD remasters. And why not? The older games are still great to play and small-budget Resident Evil: Revelations 2 by Capcom B-team is an enjoyable action horror romp. It resembles more survival horror than any other RE game since Resident Evil 0 (also getting a HD treatment soon), albeit more action-orientated.

Game's original publishing format of four episodes released in consecutive weeks was like following an exciting TV miniseries. One thing's sure. RE: Revelations 2 is a co-op game in spirit and blood. We don't even know how some parts of the game, especially in Barry's and Natalia's levels, can be navigated without help of another human player. You can opt for AI partner but really, if you don't have a friend to play either online or locally, don't bother with the game.

"A girl and a man", ca. early 19th century, artist unknown.

The cast is excellent and rare fan-service from Capcom. Claire Redfield is playable for the first time since Resident Evil: Code Veronica (not counting those light gun games) and fan-favorite Barry Burton finally gets a male lead. They are accompanied by new characters to the franchise. Barry's foul-mouthed daughter Moira is paired with Claire while Barry finds company from a little girl Natalia Korda. Both are great supporting characters and can take care of themselves too. Planeteer P liked to play Moira aggressively and smashed zombies with her crowbar more than Claire shot them. Also Barry would be completely blind in certain situations without the help of mysterious Natalia.

Rare Replay
Product of the Year
Best value for money

Don't just stand there! Save the poor girl!

Not just a nostalgic trip down the memory lane, Rare Replay collects games from 30 years history of British developers Rare Limited and shows that even some of the oldest games in the package are more playable than just curiosities. Rare Replay is a great product which is put together with tender, love and care. Pre-N64 games have all rewind and save state features so you can finally finish those devious games.

Most of N64 games are Xbox 360 ports of them, excluding hilarious Conker's Bad Fur Day which is seen in its original glory so few has actually seen, Jet Force Gemini which sadly is less playable due to its unnecessary complicated controls and ever-so frantic Blast Corps. Grabbed by Ghoulies, an original Xbox game mauled by the critics and ignored by the players, has got a full HD treatment and is surprise of the lot; the game is great fun!

Kameo's evil sister is quite foxy!

Of course some Nintendo-owned classics, like Donkey Kong games and GoldenEye aren't included due to licensing reasons but even without them Rare Replay has something to offer for everyone. It wasn't a full-priced to begin with and by now the cost has lowered further still in many stores so Xbox One owners will run out of excuses not to collect it.