Kat’s 2015 Gaming Retrospective
I only had the opportunity to play three new games this year that actually came out in 2015 – but they were all solid games in their own way all the same. And at the same time, I also got the chance to try out a handful of older games I hadn’t yet played, like Infamous, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and Dark Souls II.
Of course, one of my top contenders for positive retrospective is Bloodborne – largely because I’m such a fan of the Souls series. Dark Souls is one of my all-time favorite games, and Bloodborne was my first title I picked up to play on the PlayStation 4 (which I bought over the summer). In turn, this has also solidified From Software as one of my favorite developers.
One of the best parts of Bloodborne is definitely the responsive gameplay. Getting past the loss of a shield and learning to dodge was definitely a learning curve for me, but I can appreciate the improvement here, especially over past games. It’s been refined into something that is lightning quick and responsive – and though my skills were somewhat mediocre, I can only imagine the fun this must’ve presented to more skilled gamers.
At the same time, I drastically prefer the environment of Dark Souls to that of Bloodborne – a primary reason why I’d pick the latter over the former. This stems in part from the fact that I have a love for medieval European environments. But at the same time, Dark Souls frequently left me in awe in the diversity and stunning creativity on display – especially in the latter sections of the game once you really start to realize how the many disparate areas co-exist alongside one another. It’s spectacular: and that sense of awe was generally lacking in Bloodborne.
That being said, the narrative in Bloodborne is very interesting, all the more so because it utilizes the series’ traditional mode of heavily implying almost everything and leaving it up for interpretation. Trying to understand – and seeing the aftermath of – the degree to which people of this world have been striving for godhood is fascinating and terrifying all at the same time. Miyazaki is a singular storyteller in this regard.
The second new 2015 game I played was Batman: Arkham Knight, which came bundled with my PS4. I note this because I hadn’t played Arkham Asylum or Arkham City when I set out to try Knight. Fortunately for me, I was able to justifiably anticipate that Rocksteady would still make it accessible for a newcomer like me and I wasn’t disappointed. When I do finally get around to Arkham City (I played through Asylum shortly after finishing Knight) I may be disappointed at having some of the story spoiled – but I found Knight already to be so superior to Asylum that I think it will prove to have been the best entry point into the series for me.
I really appreciated the enormity of Gotham as an environment (especially in Asylum which felt small and restrictive). It felt rather more appropriate for getting to truly experience what it’s like to be The Dark Knight – gliding and diving off rooftops, grappling from building to building, or even just zooming around in the Batmobile. It’s a great playground that never felt too big (as I find open-world gaming oftentimes overwhelming). It reminded me of Infamous and Assassin’s Creed in the city-based play, but much more focused in the discovery and execution of side elements, which was enormously welcomed. I’ve read complaints about the Batmobile, but I rather came to love it: not only the ease with which it made it possible to speed from one quest to the next, but also the side quests that involved vehicular combat.
The storytelling itself was also quite excellent – especially once the pseudo-Joker really comes into play. The degree to which the game examines the layers of psychology in the relationship between Batman and the Joker was just incredible. Never before have I seen quite the depth in really looking at this relationship, and how they’re essentially two sides of the same coin. I enjoyed pretty much every aspect of it, right up to the climax and the psychological showdown between the two that was just such a great way to end out the main story.
My biggest criticism is that I probably enjoyed the side material more than the main story material (which I also found to be the case in Asylum). The side material just perfectly emphasized the fun and satisfaction of accomplishment in all the best aspects of the gameplay. Where much of the main story content would all-too-frequently have me walking around in circles trying to puzzle out exactly how I’m even supposed to move forward, let alone figure out the mechanics of the next wall in front of me. More often than not, the story material would be a bit of a chore; whereas the optional side content was just a delight.
The third game I tried out was a considerably more low-key title in Her Story. I’d read reviews online gushing about what a memorable little experience it was, so I picked it up during a Steam sale and completed it over the course of two sittings.
I get why people really enjoy the singular aspects of it: that it’s so different from a traditional game, and really emphasizes a different kind of player interaction. Teasing out all the aspects of the story from the character (or rather, as you come to learn, characters) was an intriguing experience, and the game was smart in pointing me in different directions: any number of which I could take to come around to the truth.
What’s more, there were some thematic elements there were quite fascinating – like the nature of dual identities, fairy tales, and the like. And the writing and performance were good enough to express this in really effortless ways.
All the same, what constitutes as the game’s “ending” wasn’t really clear to me, so I didn’t really know at what point to stop playing. I would’ve appreciated something… I don’t want to say necessarily grand, but more explicitly final. The game reaches a point where it triggers that final moment to indicate the ending with the expectation that you’ve figured everything out at that point. But I looked up a description online and discovered that no, I actually hadn’t yet.
Also, a tiny nitpicky part of me can’t help but wonder why this woman’s daughter couldn’t just access the videos in their entirety. Since it’s not actually a murder investigation (as you come to realize) and since the confession of what really occurred pretty much exists within those videos, then why not just let her watch through each of the different interviews in their entirety without chopping them into bits? The logistics of it, the justification for consuming it in small pieces, just didn’t really work for me.
As for going forward into 2016, there’s a great deal that I’m looking forward to.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is probably going to be one of my first buys of the year – though I realize it was recently delayed again. I’m nervous about the changeover to new writers (I adore what Amy Hennig did for the series and wasn’t the biggest fan of The Last of Us) but I also love the series and characters so much that I’m thrilled to be getting another game. Even as I think it’s very wise of Naughty Dog to say this is pretty much going to be the end.
Also I absolutely can’t wait for Dark Souls III – I’ve played through all the other games in the series, and though I imagine much frustration will be an inevitable part of the experience, I can’t pass up the opportunity. At their best, Souls games offer a singular experience in terms of environmental exploration and narrative discovery like no one else, and even though this will probably be the last of the series, it’s definite going to be a launch-day buy for me.
I’m also looking forward to Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. I found the original Mirror’s Edge to be a surprising and charming game: flawed, but still enormously addictive. I hope they iron out a lot of the gameplay mechanics (especially involving combat) and I’m really looking forward to what the open-world offers the series. What’s more, I hope that claims from DICE that this is a “reboot” indicates that success could signal more in the series. Mirror’s Edge is the most unique platforming title I’ve encountered, that demands a lot of practice, timing, and skill: and when it starts to click, it is utterly amazing. If they really flesh this out, I’d love to see it become a longer series.
And as a big BioWare fan, I am of course looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda. We’ve gotten so few details (though the N7 teaser they released was lovely) but I completely love the Mass Effect trilogy and will happily pick up whatever comes next.
I’ve also been intrigued by the E3 footage of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Again, we don’t really know a lot of information, and since it’s a new IP, I probably won’t rush out and buy it at launch. All the same, I’m watching it closely with interest, and would love the chance to try it once it releases.
Finally, I am looking forward to Rise of the Tomb Raider. Yes, I know it already came out, but I can only afford a PS4 at the moment. And given the positive reviews it received, I’m eagerly anticipating its final release to the PS4 sometime late in the year.