Adam’s Top 5 Video Games of 2015

Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be sharing our top 5s of 2015, from everyone who writes here at The Lost Lighthouse. This time Adam will go through his favourite 5 video games of the year.

I’m taking a quick break from the depths of writing my PhD thesis to write about some of the things I actually cared about this year. This time it’s my favourite video games released in 2015. Of the various things my misguided attempt at a doctoral level qualification has taken from me, the spare time to actually play video games is probably the most felt. Also video games are expensive and I’m incredibly broke. As such, I’ve only actually played five games this yeah (at least that came out in 2015. I also played the incredible Transistor). So this was really just an exercise in picking which order they go in for me. All of these games were played on PS4.

5. Fallout 4 (Bethesda Softworks)

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The above is part of the reason why Bethesda’s latest installment of everybody’s favourite huge, sprawling post-apocalypse sandbox game is only number 5 on my list. After months of rumours and speculation, details of a new Fallout began to emerge and in November it was finally released. Now due to my heavy work load right now and general state of being very busy (and leaving my PS4 in London over Christmas), I haven’t finished the main story yet. I have however pumped a lot of time into the game, completing a lot of side missions and doing a large amount of world exploration.

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Let’s talk about that world, as a way of kicking off with the good about the game. The world is stunning, as long as you look at it from a distance. While the post-apocalypse trope of a colour palette heavy in browns and greys is definitely present, ‘The Commonwealth’ is densely packed with a lot of interesting scenery and locations to interact with. The storyline so far has been relatively engaging. I don’t really care about my missing son, but the shadowy Institute is intriguing and the return of certain organisations on unprecedented scales is an interesting inclusion. The world really lives through the side missions though, many of which are not only engaging but incredibly enjoyable too (my favourite so far is The Silver Shroud).  The combat mechanics are unchanged for the most part, so the V.A.T.S. system is back and still a lot of fun.

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Now for what I don’t like, and I’m just going to rattle through them. Feel free to discuss them in the comments! The UI is not great, and any changes have not improved things from Fallout 3 or New Vegas. The graphics, while not the be all and end all of a game, should really be better at this point especially for the character models. The dialogue system, previously a big part of Fallout, has been stripped back to make you feel like a passenger in what is largely otherwise a shooter, rather than a participant in an RPG. I have yet to see the point in settlements, and the user interface in building and interacting with a settlement is horrible, likely the reason why I have no desire to spend any more time doing it. While I do enjoy the crafting aspect for weapons and armour, having this and the base construction in the game means that almost every piece of junk in Fallout is worth keeping, and every location contains more crap than you and your companion can carry. As such, I’ve spent probably about 40% of my playtime hefting junk around and either selling or scraping it.

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But for me the biggest issue with Fallout 4 is the glitches and bugs. There has been a lot of comment online about this, which largely seems to boil down to this being something you expect and accept in a Bethesda game. I don’t really see it like that, and this is probably the first time I’ve really had a problem with it. With limited time and money to play games these days, having a full price game be released as a bit of a glitchy mess doesn’t hold water with me. Weapons disappearing, enemies floating, corpses janking around ruining the desolate quiet of a vault. This is why it bothers me. These games are about immersion, and every time I see my companion get stuck in a wall or I fall through the world it takes me completely out of it. Sure they’re working on fixes all the time, but I’m reaching the point where I want games to just be finished properly when they come out.

 

4. The Order 1886 (Ready at Dawn)

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Speaking of a game that was finished, The Order 1886 was the first game I played this year (I reviewed it over here). I liked it a lot. The gameplay was a bit heavy and reminiscent of a clunkier Gears of War, but it wasn’t bad. The story was interesting, succinct and well-paced and while it ultimately didn’t quite deliver on the promise of alternate steampunk Knights of the Round Table supernatural beast hunters, with the very few instances of actually fighting monsters either shockingly easy and repetitive or relegated to quick time events, while the rest of the game was spent shooting ‘rebels’ and other humans for reasons that were never made abundantly clear other than waving around the word ‘conspiracy’, it was a satisfying plot that I enjoyed.

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The game wasn’t particularly long, in fact many said it was far too short for a full price game. I clocked in around 7 hours for my playthrough, and I was fairly defensive about the length in my original review, while also decrying the debate as generally oversimplified. However, since I completed it I really haven’t felt any compulsion to revisit the game. I’m not really sure what that says about it or it’s value. Saying that, it remains the best looking game I’ve played so far on the latest console generation. Despite it being a largely drab and grey trudge through Victorian England, it was stunning to look at and I really enjoyed it.

 

3. Mad Max (Avalanche Studios)

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This one snuck up on me, as it would probably have totally passed me by if I hadn’t been swept up in the Fury Road fever this year. Instead, I actively made the decision to pick up this new Mad Max game over Metal Gear Solid V, due to it’s reasonably positive if not stellar reviews and the fact that I was fairly sure it would be an easier game to pick up and put back down for short gaming stints, making it better for taking breaks from working and avoiding getting so engrossed that I waste hours on it. Fortunately I turned out to be right about that, but more fortunate was how much I ended up loving this game for all of it’s simplicity.

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Set before Fury Road, with a somewhat tenuous link to characters in the film, you play as Max after having the Interceptor stolen and being left for dead. You ally yourself with a mechanic, and slowly modify a rusty frame to an armoured ‘Magnum Opus’ capable of driving across the Plains of Silence to freedom. The game is another big sandbox environment, as you drive around finding scrap for your car, fighting off raiding parties, taking down War Boy camps with your fists and limited shotgun ammo and helping your allies thrive, while trying to outrun sand storms and stop Lord Scrotus and his minions. In essence, you just drive around and blow stuff up. And it is incredibly fun. The game’s only real let down is that it is very repetitive. The map is studded with scavenging locations, and each of the 4 allies you meet along the game require the same things from you. A lot of it is extraneous, but useful for completing the game. That said, there are some very fun and unique missions, like driving through the Underdune – a network of tunnels that was once an airport, now home to the nocturnal Buzzards.

 

2. Bloodborne (FromSoftware)

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Second from top for me this year is the PS4 exclusive Bloodborne from ‘Souls’ creators FromSoftware. A grueling, Groundhog Day style trial-and-error endurance experience where you spend most of your time dying. A lot. But it’s the sort of game that makes you think tactically, commands your full attention, tests your ability and ultimately rewards you for it. As a hunter, you wade through scores of the crazed residents of the town of Yharnam, feral beasts and huge, hulking monsters. Each time you finally figure out how to beat a boss and ‘Prey Slaughtered’ pops up on your screen, you feel an immense satisfaction and a real feeling of earning it.

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The game itself is beautiful. Well, beautiful if you like heavily gothic surroundings and grotesque monsters. Halfway through the game you enter a sort of nightmare realm, while everything takes on a deeply Lovecraftian slant, including horrific beasts that cling to the huge buildings around you that you can’t attack… but get close enough and they can attack you. My flatmates described this as the game they’ve enjoyed watching me play the most, I expect in part because of the surroundings, but likely also due to my reaction to the difficulty level of the game – swearing my head off every time I felt like I was unjustly killed, even thought it was probably due to me not paying enough attention. It happened a lot.

 

1. Arkham Knight (Rocksteady Studios)

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My favourite game of the year is likely a little predictable for me. As a huge Batman fan, I’ve always been extremely impressed by the Arkham games (at least the Rocksteady ones) for not only capturing the ethos and feeling of a mixture of the best Batman comics and Batman: The Animated Series, but also managing to create gameplay that makes you really feel like you are being the Batman. Easy to control combat that looks brutal yet elegant, stealth that combines technology and fear to take down foes, and detective work to put together a case. This third installment from Rocksteady is their final Arkham game, though there isn’t a doubt in my mind that WB will be back with more.

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Scarecrow is working with the mysterious ‘Arkham Knight’ and his militia army, and using an overwhelming force and seemingly hundreds of drone tanks they bring Gotham to it’s knees. Batman must prevent them from poisoning the city with fear toxin, while figuring out the identity of the Knight and putting a stop to their plans. Along with a few new tricks, like the hugely satisfying fear takedown, Bats also finally has the Batmobile – less a car in this incarnation and more of the personal tank of the Christopher Nolan films, able to speed around at huge speeds before transforming into a combat mode complete with missiles, stun guns and a huge cannon – to be deployed against drone tanks only. While feeling hilariously overpowered, the Batmobile has been successfully deployed in much the same way as the hand-to-hand combat was for the first time in Arkham Asylum – it’s very easy to feel like a total badass with it. The one drawback? I get the feeling Rocksteady were very, very proud of their new toy. So much so that the Batmobile is shoehorned into missions and situations that feel totally unnatural, to the point that it is essentially overused.

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The main plot is an exercise in escalation, in an understandable trajectory from the first game until now. But it’s a very enjoyable superhero tale with some very well deployed twists, some less well deployed twists (I may have seen the identity of the Arkham Knight coming a mile off due to my familiarity with the comics, but it’s telegraphed very clumsily and out of nowhere a couple of hours before) and a huge climax. The side quests are even better than they were in Arkham City, once again drawing from the extensive rogues gallery (some of which were extensions of side plots set up in that game). For every one that fell a little flat, like the Hush sequence, there were excellent scenarios like ‘The Perfect Crime’.

The only issue I have with the extra content like this, which was the same as the previous games, is that while I can suspend my disbelief in general for superhero antics, it is physically and temporally impossible for all of this to occur in one night. Equally unbelievable is that with the city in such dire peril, you’d take some time out of saving it to capture Man-Bat or train Azrael. Maybe leave them to tomorrow Bruce? Or even just have the plot take place over a couple of days. Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight go to ground for a day or two, and while the Batcomputer checks up on some leads you start cleaning up some other problems in the city? Whatever. It’s really a tiny and slightly pointless complaint, really just brought about by overthinking things. Ultimately, this was a great game. Unless you tried to play it on PC.

 

London MCM Comic Con – Day 1: Arkham Knight, One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 & Godzilla

Adam headed off to the MCM Comic Con Expo in London this weekend. This is what he saw.

As part of my first day at London MCM Comic Con this year, aside from some general wandering around (first impressions here!) I checked out a few of the video games on offer, focussing on some upcoming games that I’ve been looking forward to (some of which I had forgotten about until I saw the demos). Here are some thoughts on three of my favourites.

Godzilla the Game

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As you can just about see there, Godzilla is a Namco Bandai game already out in Japan for PS3 and PS4, but over here it isn’t being released until July 2015. Playing as Godzilla, I destroyed some buildings while being attacked by the army, with the aim (I think) of blowing up some generators and gradually growing in size. In my way were two other kaiju – King Ghidorah and Space Godzilla (like Godzilla, but from space) that I had to scrap with in an arena. I took out King Ghidorah while he was trying to deal with some giant stalagmites created by Space Godzilla, then melted the latter’s face with some multiple nuclear breaths. Apparently I also successfully destroyed the area. It was 100% more fun than last year’s film.

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Also the 10 minutes I played for involved more Godzilla screen time than the film too

The short Godzilla demo I played was at it’s core a very fun, if simple and easy game. Not that there is anything wrong with that, not everything needs to be Bloodborne and gaming would be exhausting if it was. Tonally it was much more in line with the classic Japanese films, tongue in cheeky rather than oppressively dour, unsurprising as it was made by Namco Bandai rather than a Western studio. The controls were quite basic and to be honest, fairly clunky and sluggish. But admittedly, having the King of the Monsters moving in a quick, smooth way wouldn’t look or feel quite right. So despite that, I’d be interested in seeing what the whole game is like.

 

One Piece Pirate Warriors 3

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Pirate Warriors 3, developed by Omega Force and published by Namco Bandai and Tecmo Koei again, is the latest instalment in the One Piece musou games (Dynasty Warriors style 1 vs. loads of enemies). I really like the One Piece world, and the powers of Monkey D. Luffy, his crew and the variety of interesting allies and enemies are perfectly set up for this sort of game. The levels typically involve hundreds of weak pirates or navy infantry for you to smash or hack through, followed by some big boss. It is basically button bashing fun, and the demo for the third entry in the series was no different.

20150522_120852A few new elements here (aside from even more characters added to the already huge cast) involved some of the more recent story from the anime and manga, including Fishman Island and Dressrosa, and the new team attack (apparently called Kizuna Rush) that uses multiple finishing moves from your companions at the same time in a massively damaging combination attack. It looks insane and is a ton of fun. Pirate Warriors 3 is already out in Japan, but is everywhere else in August on PS3, PS4, Vita and apparently PC too.

 

Batman: Arkham Knight

ArkhamFinally, I queued for about 10 minutes to watch some Batman: Arkham Knight footage. We were filed in to a stiflingly hot room and a screen of about 10-15 minutes of gameplay was shown to us, with one of the attendants doing a pretty solid job of narrating. For some reason, despite the game coming out next month and so hopefully finished by now, they weren’t offering demos to actually give the game a try. I wasn’t too bothered about this though, as having played 3 full Arkham games already I know what to expect – more of the same, with some new extras, better controls and improved graphics.

I wasn’t totally enamoured by Arkham Origins. It was fine, but it ultimately felt like a bit of a cash grab to me. The story wasn’t bad, but elements of the game felt inherently ridiculous (executioner gloves), the sandbox you played it seemed largely unchanged and some parts were just re-skins of assets from Arkham City (glue grenades, really?). I felt like it was a fine game from WB Montreal, but I consider Asylum and City to be from Rocksteady to be great games. I feel like if we hadn’t had a new Batman game since Arkham City in 2011 then general excitement, at least speaking for myself, would be much higher. And maybe rushing out an average game damages the brand somewhat. That being said, I really loved Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The attention to detail with regards to Batman and his rogues shows a great love of the source material, and when they use ‘Be the Batman’ in promotional material it really is because the free flowing combat has been honed to the point where, aside from donning a cape and risking your life every night, it really does feel like the closest thing to being the caped crusader every time you slo-mo smash someone’s face into the wall at the end of a fight.

In the footage we were shown, some of which was for the first time, the mysterious Arkham Knight (supported by the Scarecrow) has occupied Ace Chemicals. Batman glides in and wrecks some thugs with the impressive new ‘fear takedown’ that allows you to chain takedowns after sneaking up on foes, before opening the gate and remote calling in the Batmobile (check out the full size Batmobile they had at the event at the top of the article!), seamlessly jumping in as it enters. Throughout the screening we were shown a few more fights that showed off improvements to the combat, and some battles between the Batmobile and unmanned drone tanks controlled by the Arkham Knight. We also saw an assisted takedown carried out by Batman throwing a thug up in the air and having the Batmobile take them out with a stun shot. It was pretty rad.

As far as storyline goes, little was given away other than the fact that the Arkham Knight has a serious hate on for Batman, and wants him dead before the end of the night. I’ve a few guesses for who it might be, and while I’m expecting a twist I really hope it isn’t something that involves the Joker. Please.

Arkham Knight is out on the 23rd of June, and I’ll be picking it up on release and reviewing it to avoid some work I’m pretty sure I should be doing that week.

 

I played a few more games, but Comic Con (as you can probably guess from the name) isn’t primarily a games convention so it wasn’t exactly a focus. I’ll be back with more articles tomorrow on what I checked out on Saturday. London MCM Comic Con is open until Sunday, so if you’ve been thinking about it come on down to the Excel centre for some geeky goodness either today or tomorrow! I’ll be the one wearing the nerdy t-shirt.

Adam