Doug’s Best of 2015

 2015 was a tremendous year in video games. Unfortunately, it was also one of the years that I played the least number of games in recent memory. For that reason, I’m unable to name a game of the year as I’m still enjoying completing games like Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain and I haven’t even started playing other contenders such as Just Cause 3, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Her Story.

Therefore, I’ve put together some thoughts on my year with gaming. Hopefully I can catch up with my backlog and I don’t derail my choices for game of the year in 2016!

Best Gameplay Experience – Rocket League (PS4)

The term “Tetris Effect” was coined when gamers reported of seeing the dropping four-block combination figures falling after they stopped playing the highly addictive game, Tetris. Although many games I’ve (obsessively) played over the years resulted in such an effect on my mind’s eye, Rocket League brought it to new levels.

When the game launched on the increasingly developer and gamer friendly PlayStation Network this summer, I was instantly hooked. Addictive and highly competitive, Rocket League has a unique premise of fantastical remote controlled cars in an arcade like soccer match. The result was dozens of hours of entertainment and a ritualized reaction to play every day after work.

I used to play a lot of sports video games and enjoyed them enormously. However, as they became more and more like simulators, they became a slower experience. Rocket League is a course correction on that wider trend. It is fast paced at every turn and is driven by a great competitive core. It gives one the sense of NBA Jam or NFL Blitz, but honestly becomes even more exciting because of the speed and maneuverability of the cars in flight.

Finally, the core brilliance of Rocket League is that it is easy to learn and very difficult to master. Unlike many other multiplayer games, the game was never frustrating but always challenging and competitive. Tension filled every match due to the fact that no match was ever open until the final buzzer.

For many years now I have always played a first person shooter when I had an itch to play video games for a break. Rocket League was a great surprise that plays that role and I fully expect it to stay in such a privileged position for the foreseeable future.

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Most Addictive – Boom Beach (iOS)

As my video game habits have shifted over the years, I have never really been addicted to any mobile games. I find most of the best sellers to have underwhelming, simple gameplay that doesn’t hold my attention for very long. Even developer Supercell’s other popular title Clash of Clans, failed to hold my attention longer than a couple of weeks. I was initially skeptical when my brother implored me to start playing Boom Beach with him. I had already lost interest in Clash of Clans and I failed to see how this game was going to be any different from other mobile titles.

Testing secure base layouts, attack strategies and unit combinations as well as coordinated operations with friends and family made Boom Beach a widely addicting addition to my iPhone. The build times are sometimes frustratingly slow and resources are usually slim pickings, but there was nothing more satisfying that beating a higher-level enemy or upgrading your base and seeing the aesthetic changes.

I typically pride myself on not checking social media or playing games all the time. Yet Boom Beach’s gameplay proved to be addictive and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with how much fun I’ve had. If they continue to update with new content, I don’t see anything interrupting my enjoyment of the experience.

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Most Engrossing World – Fallout 4 (PS4)

Fallout 4 was a game I immediately pre-ordered after I saw the Bethesda press event at E3 this past year. I was an enormous fan of Fallout 3 and ended up playing it to completion on both Xbox 360 and PC. Strangely, I never jumped into Fallout: New Vegas (part of me was exhausted from the Fallout 3 experience I think), but I was very eager to explore post-apocalyptic, alternative history Boston.

The game is (sometimes overwhelmingly) large and detailed, filled with an emotional main storyline, hundreds of side quests, varied characters and factions and the new, addictive base construction mechanic. I’ve played many hours of Fallout 4 but I have yet to complete any major facet of the game. In reality, I’ve spent much of my time building a secure base, upgrading weapons, gathering items and exploring the game’s lore. It’s a tremendous credit to Bethesda that the phenomenal gameplay is not the major draw of the game for me. They created such a realistically fantastical world, that I’m continually drawn further in and completely engrossed.

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Biggest Disappointment – Star Wars Battlefront (Xbox One)

Earlier this year at E3, my favorite experience at the show was playing a full 32-person game of Star Wars Battlefront in the EA booth. Part of my enjoyment was that I was able to play so well (don’t worry, this braggadocio was quickly corrected when playing the full game) but also because of the game’s deep sense of immersion in the Star Wars universe. At first it seemed like any other shooter. However, when I got control of a tie fighter, went into a dive, and heard the iconic ship’s scream, all the hair rose up on my arms and I got chills through my core. It felt as though I was really fighting in the Battle of Hoth. The brief sample gave me an extension of the experience of watching the films that I have been chasing since I was a child.

Battlefront was my most highly anticipated game of 2015. My enthusiasm lasted until a week into the game and around 20 hours of gameplay. Even before that initial enthusiasm abated, the limitations and imbalances of the game became evident. The gameplay that seemed so authentic at first glance was, in reality, quickly proved to be shallow and typically skewed toward one faction. Unlike most other modern shooters, Battlefront lacked any semblance of satisfying progression. There was little advantage or customization for advanced weapons and other aesthetic unlocks proved to be completely inconsequential.

Battlefront’s gameplay limitations became even more apparent due to the complete lack of map diversity, compelling multiplayer mode variants, and any sort of adequate single player component. Although players had the ability to control classic characters from the Star Wars original trilogy, those opportunities were few and far between and proved to be grossly imbalanced. These issues were so great that they rendered a significant portion of the multiplayer variants unplayable.

Compelled by the IP I jumped headfirst into the two better modes: Supremacy and Walker Assault. Both had the grand ambience of great Star Wars battles, but after playing them dozens of times, gameplay trends emerged and led to frustration. On certain maps it was close to impossible for a particular faction to win. Spawn points were irresponsibly placed and led to massacres. Weapons that seemed initially usable proved to be completely inadequate at longer ranges and with better players.

I thought extensively about the game and its blemishes. I’m still incredulous at how a great studio such as Dice made such a hollow experience and even more frustrated at EA’s attitude toward DLC. After analyzing the individual problems with the game, I began to realize how larger, macro forces resulted in such a disappointment.

With a Star Wars game comes an expansive, detailed world of characters, locations, weapons defined by widely accepted “realities”. The fact that this was a Star Wars video game created enormous excitement and anticipation, yet it also meant that there were extreme limitations on gameplay options and other potential variables. While I may continue to play a round of Walker Assault from time to time when I need to satisfy my inner Star Wars nerd, the game that initially seemed so compelling has lost its allure.

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