Time, once again, for some personal game picks from 2015. It’s our first year under the new PC Invasion name, but this is going to work the same way as it used to back at IncGamers.
We already ran our Readers’ Awards to let the public decide on categories like ‘Best PC Exclusive’ and ‘Best PC Port/Version’ (because we believe those benefit from a collective approach), and we’re following that up with our staff-centric favourites from the year. Our more offbeat ‘Alternative Awards’ will be along later this week too.
Looks like I’m first up, so here are four of my choicest of choice cuts from 2015. For some reason, skeletons feature prominently in three of them. Do enjoy that strange convergence of circumstance.
Grim Fandango Remastered
Can I choose a game from 1998 for inclusion in a ‘Best Games of 2015’ list? Sure I can. Nobody can stop me.
Some people have Final Fantasy VII, for others it’s Ocarina of Time. The title pushing all my formative gaming buttons is Grim Fandango. Objectively speaking, I know that some of the puzzles are … let’s say, a little on the obscure side. But I also know them all by heart. Tuesday is ‘Kitty Hat Day’; it says it right there over the tannoy. Come on.
It’s my favourite Lucasarts adventure, my favourite Tim Schafer game, and even one of my favourite ‘noir fiction’ releases. Sure, it doesn’t quite have the prose of Chandler or the cinematography of The Big Heat, but it does have outstanding voice acting, a magnificent Day of the Dead theme (cleverly threaded around the noir aspects), and skeletal carrier pigeons.
Getting to play through it all again this year (twice, actually, I did it with the PS4 version as well) was an absolute treat. The ‘remastered’ additions (director’s commentary, unseen concept art, new orchestral flourishes on the soundtrack) are all welcome, and, crucially, none of them overwhelm the original intent. This is a loving, restorative effort that respects the source material.
Nostalgia be damned: Grim Fandango is still one of the greatest adventure games ever released.
Right. I don’t even really like competitive online games all that much, so what’s this doing on here?
Because it’s properly amazing. Obviously.
Rocket League is the football game that tricked people into playing a football game by disguising it with cars and speed boosts and hilarious physics. But it’s a football game, nonetheless. It shines for exactly the same reasons football does as a physical game: simplicity (get ball in goal), individual skill and practice is valued over ‘levelling up’ (everybody can theoretically do the same things in the same cars from minute one), and teamwork even more important.
It was fascinating to watch Rocket League players evolve from the typical ‘small group of dogs running after a ball’ tactics of the football novice, through some basic ‘oh, I guess it helps if one of us stays back a bit’ formations, all the way to the types of absurd pinpoint-cross-meets-rocket-boost-volley videos/gifs you can now find all over the internet.
I went through the same kind of mini-progression myself, initially delighting in just being able to guide the ball in vaguely the correct direction, then gradually honing those abilities until I was a semi-useful member of a team. Nothing else this year has beaten the feeling of scoring a winning goal, in overtime, after a stirring comeback from three goals down.
Barring some amusingly passive-aggressive abuse of the “what a save!!” command bark, I’ve not even seen too much in the way of tedious internet ‘bantz’. The community actually seem largely alright. Unbelievable, Jeff.
Pillars of Eternity
The PC Invasion Readers’ choice for ‘Best PC Exclusive’ (and ‘Best Crowdfunded’) is, evidentially, one I wholeheartedly agree with. I’ve already written quite a bit about why on the award results page, but here are a few more reasons why I loved Obsidian’s return to the Black Isle/Infinity Engine age of RPGs.
It felt like a carefully considered, sensible update of that style of game. Clearly, a lot of the Kickstarter backing was powered by love and nostalgia for RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 2, Planescape: Torment, and so on. But to simply copy one of those in 2015 would’ve been a dreadful mistake.
Instead, Pillars of Eternity took some of that traditional essence (the viewpoint, gorgeous backgrounds, emphasis on a party-based approach, scale) and added Obsidian’s own creative mark, in the form of brand new stat/combat mechanics and a unique setting. That wasn’t all an unqualified success, and reasonable issues with the game’s combat encounters and over-reliance on expository dialogue (necessary to an extent, due to how new the world is) have been raised.
Those are reasonable critiques, but they didn’t seriously diminish my enjoyment of this vast, systems-driven game. Terrific characters, some strong quest design, interesting thematic focus (on colonialism and in-universe soul study), and a healthy dose of ‘it’s great to be back playing a game like this’ all made Pillars of Eternity a straightforward selection for this list.
Tim’s probably going to be writing 20,000 words about Undertale, so I’ll keep this relatively concise.
When a game reminds me of Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden, that is always a positive thing. Both titles have that singular, labour-of-love feel, are packed with great jokes, spectacular music, and are (in their own ways) a spoof/homage of a particular era of JRPGs. Barkley has more ironic detachment than Undertale’s more heartfelt narrative (unless you get weepy about b-ball, I guess), but they both operate in that amazing space of creative, cohesive weirdness.
Undertale knows it’s a game, and makes full use of the medium. It’ll interrupt combat, change the rules on the fly, confound your expectations with puzzles, and even dick around with the save/loading process. It does things only a videogame can.
It’s no surprise that so many of the characters have been tremendous hits with people, because they have straightforward problems to which you can relate. Games often go for the “Grraggh, my father was slain I must avenge him!” angle (and there’s a little of that here, but with more nuance), but it’s much more rare for them to discuss awkwardness or social anxieties. If this helps someone to deal with their own feelings of loneliness or alienation, so much the better.
That’s indicative of Undertale’s inherent kindness and humanity. Unusual qualities to find in games. Yes, we’ll probably see the incredible jokes ground down to internet reference powder over the next few years (the Portal fate), but it’s hard to begrudge fans their adoration. Especially for something so deserving, and equally sincere.
Honourable mentions: The Witcher 3 (still need to actually finish this), Life is Strange, Way of the Samurai 4.
You can read Paul’s picks here.