What a year. What a year! In my mind, 2015 was a banner year for playing games on my PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While most of the big, AAA titles to be released were sequels to existing properties, they were good sequels. And for all the bombastic sequels and explosive franchise finales, I found comfort in smaller and more quieter experiences. The best video games are those that let us escape from the the humdrum of everyday life. To take a breather from things in the world that leave us scared and uncertain. And boy, did I go places. In 2015, I learned to hack computers, took virtual girls on dates, fought side by side with Rebels to fight the Empire (and vice versa), master the art of time travel, and even kill a few zombies. Every game I played left me enriched with memories that I loved sharing with people, even if they made me cry all over again (thanks, Life Is Strange). You did good, 2015. You did good.
Favorite Game Released Before 2015, Played in 2015: Elite: Dangerous
Speaking of going places, Elite: Dangerous is a space sim like no other. The jury is still out on the still in development Star Citizen (I can't play it because my computer is too old for it) but Elite has been the next best thing, if not THE best thing. It affords an experience I am likely not to have in my lifetime. I'll never get to walk on Mars or see what lies beyond Alpha Centauri. Elite: Dangerous is my virtual tour guide to the universe and lets me see all the mysteries a 400 billion star system has to offer. The new Horizons expansion broadens the playing field by bringing players to the surface of airless planets, increasing its already immersive scope.
HuniePop is juvenile, prurient, and even a little skeezy. On the plus side, it offers a fun and strategic twist on Match 3 games. True its dating simulator roots, the ultimate goal is to “score” with a small army of women by playing to their interests and likes, whether it be showering them with presents are buying their favorite alcoholic beverage. Lurid as it all seems, the actual dating portion of the game is pretty addictive. For a date to be "successful", and get one step closer to sleeping with them, you'll have to reach an increasingly difficult score threshold. To maximize points, you'll need to match jewels that correspond to a girl's specific personality. It adds a whole new layer of strategy that's bolstered by jewel changing powerups that can really affect the course of the round. HuniePop was a game I kept going back to when I needed to scratch the puzzle itch. And totally not look at anime bewbs. Right. Totally not.
Delete your logs! Part of HackNet’s fun is the ability to roll like Martin Bishop, David Lightman, and Thomas Anderson without the fear of jail time, thermonuclear war, or sentient AI. Presented entirely from a computer desktop, you’ll take on contracts from people seeking restitution (and retribution) from individuals and corporations that wronged them. You’ll get into interesting situations and provocative contracts (one of them is especially frightening). There’s also a fantastically implemented twist that forces you to put everything you’ve learned from the early assignments and tutorials to the ultimate test. It’s neat. It’s cool and best of all, it’s legal!
3. Star Wars: Battlefront
I’m a big Star Wars nerd, so was no chance it would miss my list. In what is shaping up to be my de facto online shooter, Battlefront succeeds because it magnificently captures the look and feel of the Star Wars films like no other video game has done before. DICE recreated the frantic and bombastic skirmishes between the Rebellion and the Empire so well that the whole affair makes me feel like a kid again. I haven't been this involved with putting Rebels and Imperials together since the afternoons spent as a kid pitting plastic Stormtroopers against an outnumbered Luke Skywalker. It may not stack up against other console shooters yet Battlefront is the game I've had the most fun with. Shooting down TIE Fighters and attacking Imperial Walkers on foot just doesn't get old. And it's made all the more better to play with my like-minded brother. Seriously, we geek out after each match. "Did you see that?!" "Nice job shooting down those TIEs!" Sony's marketing for Battlefront, the famous commercial featuring the two brothers, is the most accurate ad for a video game ever produced.
2. Dying Light
Dying Light is what Dead Island should have been. As a parkour favoring Runner, sprinting tight avenues and hopping across the rooftops of a zombie infested city is a fun and exhilarating way to get from point A to B. And doing so from the first person perspective increases the overall feeling of urgency as you wade through hordes of zombies to secure supplies, complete objectives, and race home before dark. And the games is almost totally different at night! With its Skyrim-esque player progression system that respond to your every action, it wasn't long before Dying Light got its meaty hooks into me. This was one of those games that parked itself in the back of my mind and whenever I had a free moment, I could hear it saying "Hey, you could be playing me right now." A real shame about that end boss fight, though.
1. Life Is Strange
Five reviews, a spoilercast, and Game of the Year discussions. If you’ve been following Darkstation throughout the year, then it's been hard to avoid my constant stream of praise for DONTNOD’s episodic adventure game. And I’ll keep doing so, long after everyone has left the room and I’m blue in the face. It towers above the other games that came out this year because no other hand a story that was as compelling and memorable, though rote, characters. It's also so thematically different from everything else. You’re not a one man infiltrator. You don’t get a wing suit and a license to destroy and entire country. You won’t travel to distant, fantastical lands to search of destiny. You're an 18 year girl struggling to come to terms with a power she didn't ask for nor understands. There will be consequences and hard choices to be made. Life Is Strange left a major impression on me because its approach to character drama. There’s a larger story to unfold--a missing person, strange ecological happenstances, a cataclysmic tornado--however the game's joy is found in seeing how Max shapes the lives of people around her. Fully realized characters, wonderful performances (so good you’ll forgive the poor lip synching) and an evocative soundtrack make Life Is Strange this year’s most unforgettable, important, and mus play game of the year.
Honorable Mention: Rebel Galaxy, Metal Gear Solid V, Bloodborne, Rayman Adventure
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.