My Top Ten Games of Years That Aren’t 2015
Since it’s the end of the year I’ve seen a few ‘best of 2015’ lists and awards for games. Truth be told the only reason I’m really checking is to validate my own opinion that Bloodborne is bloody brilliant. The only other games I’ve really sunk any time into from 2015 are Rocket League (which is amazing I’m super happy that it’s actually getting mentions in these lists) and Broken Age (the first half of which came out in 2014 anyway).
If I’ve played any other games that came out last year they haven’t stuck in my consciousness. It’s just those three. There’s a lot of other years, though, full of games that I have played and do like. Here’s my top ten probably:
10. Micro Machines 2
For my money, Micro Machines 2 is the best multiplayer racing game of all time. I love me some Mario Kart, but let’s not pretend that the blue shell doesn’t exist, or that there are more than two characters worth racing as.
MM2's biggest strength is probably down to its simplicity of design. There are no weapons, and there’s only two dimensions to worry about. The tracks are inventive and varied, too. There’s also some ambiguity over the rules, tempting players to push the tracks to their limits, cutting every corner at risk of being punished for it.
Everyone deep down loves this game. We had a party when I was at university and we had set up a Mega Drive with Micro Machines set up, and it dominated the whole shindig. Also it allowed for up to 8 player on the Mega Drive. No-one cares about Micro Machines anymore. I never see any calls to bring it back and it seems to have been lost to history, which is a real shame.
I don’t play Minecraft anymore. I used to play it, but I had to stop. I had to. It’s probably the most addictive game I’ve ever played. Nowadays it’s really popular with kids and there’s spells and stuff and I just accept that it’s moved on and left me behind, but I have great memories of eagerly awaiting the next beta release, especially 1.8 which introduced hunger and endermen. I actually kind of hate the hunger mechanic, mind.
What gave it a second wind for me was its release on Xbox 360, introducing split screen. Living with a group of friends at the time it sort of took over our lives for a bit and we all agreed that we should stop. But we built great, great things, including a giant Sonic sprite, and a block of London flats.
8. RollerCoaster Tycoon
When I was a sprout, I used to love Theme Park on the Mega Drive, and pumped hours into it. I learned several years later that the Mega Drive version was, in fact, shit, when I played the PC version. Before that, though, I played RollerCoaster Tycoon. It was what I wanted Theme Park to be. I could design a theme park exactly how I wanted it, with roller coasters and log flumes that I had created myself. Sure, most of the roller coasters I designed were ‘too extreme’ for the wimps that would come to my park, but I learned that the trick was to not test them before opening them.
There’s a business game in there somewhere, but I don’t care about that. I just want to build roller coasters and drop patrons in the lake.
7. Sonic Adventure
Apparently this game is shit. It got 9/10 across the board when it came out but has been retroactively graded as ‘shit’. I love this game. It successfully brought one of my favourite characters to the third dimension, and set it in a world that my 13 year old self would get completely lost in. The levels were really fun, but really my main memory of it is of running around the forest listening to amazing music.
It also had this weird story where the characters would go back in time and talk to this Pocahontas echidna about some malevolent force that would wipe out her race (while listening to more amazing music). At the end you get to be Super Sonic and fight a big Godzilla monster made of water.
6. Civilization 2
Civilization 2 gets bonus points for being the only game on the list that makes me think about my parents’ divorce. When I was a kid I used to watch my dad play PC games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, but at some point my parents split and that stopped. I remember going round my dad’s flat and him showing me Civilization 2. I had seen some PC magazine rank it as the best game of all time. I sat there all day playing it. It was unlike anything I had ever played, kinda like Theme Park except this time you built a whole country!
I went out and bought a triple pack of this, Sim City 2000 and Settlers with my pocket money as soon as I could. I loved Sim City 2000 but I couldn’t work out Settlers at all. Civ 2 was the best, though. I always wanted other people to be as interested in the countries I’d built as I was, but alas, no-one ever was. It’s been superseded by each iteration of the series now, but Civ 2 is the one that has a real place in my heart.
5. Left 4 Dead 2
And the original Left 4 Dead, really, since L4D2 is essentially just a beefed up version of the original. When I first heard about the central premise behind Left 4 Dead, it occurred to me that this was a game I had wanted them to make for years. A game that is different every time you play it. It turns out that there were plenty of games that did that, but I didn’t realise that at the time.
These games are basically perfect. The b-movie atmosphere is spot on, and it forces you to work cooperatively. It’s simultaneously tense and goofy, and it came out when zombies were still cool. The 4 in the title makes me cringe, though.
4. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Games like Tony Hawk’s make me really grateful that I was a teenager at the exact moment I was. I can’t imagine another game being more therapeutic for me than this, and with the music it was just the coolest thing.
I used to spend hours just skating around (I didn’t skate in real life because I don’t have a death wish, although I did own a skateboard). I’d skate around while listening to ‘Self Esteem’ by The Offspring and thinking to myself ‘I really am just a sucker with no self esteem’ (the song isn’t on the soundtrack, I had it on CD). As I grew older I realised that the song was about someone who was in an abusive relationship but couldn’t leave, but I had a tendency to ignore aspects of songs that didn’t relate directly to my life.
I love this game so much that it broke my heart to see what the series became, but eventually Skate came and saved the day. I still want to get Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (the 10th game in the main series) even though everyone says it’s rubbish.
3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Every GTA game is great, but San Andreas knocked it out of the park. For the first time, you could leave the city. It had planes, and not just crappy little ones but actual passenger jets. Its story and characters tied the worlds of 3 and Vice City into one. It was single-handedly responsible for getting me into hip-hop.
I remember when it came out, I was working a part time job at Index. I played it all day, then went out with my friends. I came home at 4am, played it for an hour or so then went to bed. Woke up at 8am, then played it for another 2 hours before I had to go to work. It’s the only time I’ve ever cared about a story in a GTA game, and you really felt like you were building a little empire, with characters that you were invested in.
This game had turf wars. For some reason GTA IV and GTA V don’t have turf wars. They kept and expanded on all that stuff about hanging out with your friends, but they got rid of the turf wars. It’s madness!
2. Grim Fandango
To me Grim Fandango is Tim Schafer’s finest work. I say that as someone who never played Monkey Island (which I hear is a pretty big deal, but as a kid I played the games that I got, and just haven’t gotten round to it). I don’t think I have ever been as invested in a story as I was with Grim Fandango. The art direction is superb, and made all the better by it coming out of the fact that 3D modelling at the time looked rubbish.
Few characters are as endearing as Manny Calavera, a genuinely decent guy who was just down on his luck. The film noir/day of the dead setting of the game is perfect, and Rubacava is a place I would legitimately like to live. It also has some of the best music in any game I have ever heard. Some of the puzzles are kinda bullshit but that’s 90s adventure games for you.
1. Dark Souls
Sorry, I mean DARK SOULS. Going into it, I never expected Dark Souls to be my favourite game, but this game sunk its teeth into me and has never let go. I think about it almost every day. There’s a thematic beauty to the game that often gets overshadowed by its difficulty. Of course, the difficulty is very much a part of that theme, one of struggle and conquest, ecstatic highs and depressing lows.
I picked up Demon’s Souls when I first got a PS3, but attacked the NPC in the Nexus and couldn’t work out where to go so I traded it in. Dark Souls was a similar story, but with one key difference - the tutorial was the best I have ever played. It’s easy to go through a step by step list of everything the tutorial teaches you, but the most important thing is that you see a big monster, you run away from it, and then you kill it once you’ve learned how to fight. That felt so good, and is what the initial draw of the game is.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t work out where to go from Firelink Shrine, so I traded it in, but I never forgot about it. A year or so later a friend and I started to play through it together. We spent maybe 8 hours getting through the Undead Burg and Undead Parish, but for some reason the world was so engaging that neither of us could stop thinking about it. Other friends arrived and watched us play, and couldn’t get their head around why we continued to bang our heads against the wall. It’s the weight of the combat, it feels heavy. It’s fair, not frustrating. The world feels so authentic that all I could think about when I was at work was how much I wanted to get back into it.
We never finished our game - my PS3's disc drive broke and I moved to Brighton - but we’ve both since completed it a number of times. To this day the Souls games dominate our conversation. No-one else understands.
That’s the thing with games, no-one else understands. Not just people who don’t play games, but people who aren’t invested in the same games you are. Like reading a book, playing a game is a time-consuming and personal experience. I can’t convince someone to play Dark Souls in the same way that I can’t convince someone to read Crime and Punishment. Even if they do, they might not have the same profound effect as they had on me.
No-one wants to look at my house in Minecraft, no-one wants to look at my country in Civilization 2, and no-one wants to talk to me about who they think Lord Gwyn’s first born son is in Dark Souls. I can’t force someone to love an artistic work in the same way that I do. And that’s okay, because we only get one set of eyes to experience this world through, and no-one else shares them. Game of the year? No-one else’s matters. Our experiences are unique and custom built for us alone, and that’s amazing.