“Hey, Dummy!”, I can hear you shout. “You’re supposed to do your favourite and least favourite games of 2015 and you’re supposed to do it before the end of the year. Don’t you know how year-end lists work?”
Yeah, yeah… Let’s do this instead.
Here’s my Top 10 Gaming Moments from 2015. The good and the bad, in no particular order.
It was an interesting year. Feel free to yell at me in the comments.
MOMENT NUMBER ONE – I LOGGED A LOT OF GAMING HOURS IN 2015.
Let’s get this out of the way first.
I play a lot of games. A LOT.
When I try to think about it, it’s hard to quantify without the aide of some counter figure. So, before I tallied up my total hours played in 2015, I knew I needed a benchmark. Thus, I sought the aid of Matthew Price of Let’s Scare Matthew Price To Death fame.
I know Matt watches a fair amount of films, but he’s also a fully functioning member of society. I figured I beat his hours watching movies verses my hours playing games, but hopefully it was close.
I was positive that I had spent more time gaming than he had invested in movies… I mean, a motion picture is finite. They have a set run-time of about 2 hours. Maybe 3 if you’re fancy or have a hankering for Michael Bay. That being said, if you watched one movie every day for an entire year, you’re looking at about 730 hours dedicated to the art of cinema. If you watched two a day, you’re looking at about 1,460 hours.
When I asked Matt for a rough estimate of how many hours he clocked watching movies, he chimed in an impressive 1,200 hours.
That seemed about right to me and, when he told me, I was immediately relieved. He spends a full 11 days at TIFF, and I figure he watches a movie a couple nights a week, maybe two on the weekend… In my mind, that was about equal to what I had invested in gaming. Completely respectable and normal. But, for verification, I set about the arduous task of adding up all the hours I whittled away in front of the controller.
Thankfully, before I got too into it, Microsoft sent me an email informing me of my XBOX LIVE statistics for 2015. I cracked open the email and there it was…
I immediately ran to get a mug of coffee so that I could execute the spit-take this figure deserved. 2544 hours??? That’s… That’s… like 106 straight days! That’s like 3 and half months! THAT’S MORE THAN A QUARTER OF A YEAR!?! Between that and binge-watching Daredevil how did I find time to eat or sleep? When did I poop? Wait… did I poop???
More importantly, are all gamers like this?
Thanks a lot, worldwide gaming community! But, wait… In my home we use the Xbox for more than just gaming. That’s the beauty of a console. It’s also our Netflix and Youtube and streaming music player. So a truer measurement of how much time I spent playing games would be to count how many Achievements I earned.
This is the part where I admit that I’m not just writing Dead Battery for gamers. I write this is for the benefit, basically, all of my non-gamer friends who have no idea what I’m talking about half the time. This is the part where I explain, lovingly, what Achievements are.
Achievements are arbitrary awards that are doled out to people who play games in an attempt to give the games “more value”. It’s the equivalent of a badge of honour if all badges of honour were awards for participation. Imagine being in the Girl Scouts and getting an acknowledgement that you know first aid. You can sew it to your sash and you’re proud of it and everyone can see, hey, they know first aid. Good for them.
Xbox Achievements are like that but more like getting an award for clapping your elbows together 500 times in a row and the only people that see it are other Xbox players and nobody really cares. You get Achievements for killing 1,000 zombies or doing a tricky flip on your rocket sled, or just finishing a level of a game.
I’ve heard of people who like to “farm” Achievements (on PlayStation they’re called “Trophies”). These are people who go out and play games specifically to check the Achievement boxes off their lists. However, most of the time they’re just THERE. You finish a level and your Xbox goes “BLOOP” and a message on screen says “Achievement Unlocked – 10G Turd Burglar”. Which is a real thing. Achievements award you Gamerscore points and you get 10 Gamerscore points if you’re playing Duke Nukem Forever and you ‘find and steal a piece of poo’. This is a thing you get an award for now. Girl Guides be damned, it’s an exciting time to be alive.
These Gamerscore points that come with unlocking Acheivements are usually awarded 10 or 25 points at a time, so a TRUE measure of mine or any gamers invested time would be how many of these random awards I collected in 2015.
There you have it… I played more video games than 99% of the game playing population. Son of a gun!!! I’ve got PROBLEMS!!! No wonder there hasn’t been a new DrinkAlong in months. And this doesn’t even include mobile or computer gaming.
On the flip-side, I believe this makes me a somewhat credible expert, so please take all my game reviews seriously.
MOMENT NUMBER TWO – REALIZING I’D NEVER WRITE A REVIEW FOR FALLOUT 4
Guys, I tried… I really did. But how do you write a review for something that has no end? Seriously, I’m asking.
I envy all the film guys and gals on Modern Superior. They sit down and watch a movie. The movie has a beginning, a middle and an end. Then they go to bed. Somewhere in between they say, “Gee, that was great” or “I’ve had it up to here with Seth Rogen” and then they’re able to communicate those feelings to others.
Me, on the other hand, I’m a full 115 hours or so into Fallout 4. I’m doing things in this game and I have NO IDEA why I’m doing them. For example… One aspect of the game has you building settlements. You can build little houses and furniture and farms and dig wells and hang art on the wall for all these settlers who show up.
What they didn’t actually tell you is WHY you’re doing it. It’s just… THERE. You’re compelled to do it! How do I review that? How can I possibly explain why you should or shouldn’t buy a game when I can’t even figure out what the heck I’m doing? I mean, I KNOW that I’m building a little town… but to what end? What is the goal? Why do I care if nameless settler number 12 has a sleeping bag or a bed? Am I just building these settlements because I’m… a nice guy?
It would be like if you went to review a restaurant but you ended up just talking to the bathroom attendant in between bites of your ravioli. Sure, he’s a charming guy and you’re having a LOT of fun. Hell, you’re learning a few new jokes and he appreciates the company. But your food is getting cold and WHAT are you DOING?
Aside from that, Fallout 4 is probably in my top 5 all-time favourite games. I love it. It’s a great balance of compelling narrative, non-linear structure, exploration and graphic post-nuclear apocalypse violence that we love to see every 5 years or so. Sure, if they pumped out a game like this every year, we’d get sick of it really fast, but this is a wonderful time in the wasteland.
How can you not love a game that was so addictive that a guy in Russia lost his wife and job because he couldn’t stop playing it. How could you not love that he sued the publisher for $7,000? Holy crap… that’s the best publicity money can by, and it costs about as much as a used 2008 Chevy Malibu.
If I had to be hard pressed to review Fallout 4, I could do it in one line.
“It beat wanking.”
Seriously, Pornhub reported a significant drop in traffic on the day that Fallout 4 released.
Also… yeah… Star Wars: The Force Awakens reached $1 billion in two weekends. Fallout 4 most likely did that faster. It had $750,000 in physical sales on release day. That doesn’t count digital sales, so draw your own conclusion.
MOMENT NUMBER THREE – THAT GODDAMN BATMAN FEELING
There’s a feeling I’ve gotten with the last few Batman: Arkham games that I always forget about until I’m about 10 minutes into playing a new one.
I lean back in my chair, close my eyes slightly and murmur…
Wait… here’s an artist’s rendering…
Arkham Knight made it on about as many “Best of” lists as it did “Worst of”, mostly because the PC version was a completely broken clusterfuck that got pulled off the market. And then we found out that the publisher, Warner Bros Interactive, KNEW it was a completely broken clusterfuck and sold it anyway.
There’s that aspect, but for me, it’s the same game that I’ve played three times before. You are Batman. You fight your rogues gallery of villains. You try and evade bad guys and knock them out with your stealth maneuvers and cool gadgets… until the janky game controls and iffy camera screw up and you have to white-knuckle punch and kick everyone by smashing the X button.
The first game was great. The second game was pretty okay. The third was a lot of busy work. The fourth? Well, where do you go from pointless? If you’re Warner Bros Interactive you go up in unit price AND double down on paid DLC content so you can get a little more blood from the stone. But, you also get Mark Hamill to play the Joker one last time, so it’s not a total loss.
This delicate balancing act the game plays between mediocre and marvelous is a shame… Gotham, and her heroes and villains, have never looked more fantastic and there are moments of real thrills. But it’s mired down with not only the above-noted user interface issues, but the inherent pacing issues you’ll get when you’re trying to tell fifteen different stories at the same time. Yes… One intricate, elaborate main story, fourteen simultaneous side missions. Fifteen different stories. At the same time. Over hours and hours of gameplay.
And then there’s the little problem of the Riddler.
For four Arkham games Riddler has been hiding little trophy’s to collect. You know… just the comics… At one point even the Joker calls these quests an OCD nightmare. And that, more than any other trope in all the games that came before and will come after Arkham Knight, is something that can die a hasty death.
Padding your game with little “puzzles” that are not puzzling at the best of times, and frustratingly impossible due to bad user interface at the worst of times, is not game creation. It’s busywork and, SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP, in this case it insidiously keeps you from seeing the real ending of the game. There are 243 Riddler trophies in Arkham Knight. Believe it or not, that’s down from 440 in Arkham City. It’s still a chore. You’re not going to find any fans thanking the developers for making their life only HALF as boring and tedious.
I want to love this game. I’ve certainly played enough of it. But I can’t recommend it anyone but die-hard fans who have stuck through the entire series.
We’re told this is the last Arkham, and it’s probably a good thing it ended where it did. I’d never buy another Arkham game for the same reason I’m never going to buy another Assassin’s Creed game… I don’t have to. I can predict the experience before it happens. That’s not entertainment, that’s just winding down the clock.
MOMENT NUMBER FOUR – EA SCREWS UP STAR WARS
I got a lot of flak for my Star Wars Battlefront article.
It was posted to Reddit and I’m told a select group of commentators had some sort of shit fit. Dan Gorman would forward me choice comments… I think one was “Blah Blah Blah” which we both found hilarious because someone felt threatened enough to comment and so succinct that they forgot to say why… Anyway, I don’t generally read comments but I was told they were of the negative variety.
And then, LO AND BEHOLD, it turns out I was at the vanguard of many folks saying “NOPE, we’re LITERALLY not buying this“. When is the last time people actively when out of their way to say that they were not going to spend money on a Triple A game because they felt it was a rip-off? I can’t remember that happening prior to game’s release. But that happened this time. Big time. And it’s about time!
2015 was also the year that brought us The Order: 1886, a hotly anticipated game that ended up clocking in a 6 hours but still cost you full price to play it. No doubt about it, like Star Wars Battlefront, The Order looked like a million bucks. You can not deny that it is gorgeous. You also can not deny that $70 for 6 hours of light shooting, in 2015, is ludicrous.
But, thankfully, people are getting more savvy. We gamers have been burned too many times in the past. This year seems like a good place to start righting those wrongs. This was the year that we finally got Star Wars back from the clutches of the dark side. We must remain vigilant!
And, whether they cop to it or not, EA is taking a big hit, too. How do I know? Well, you don’t mark your game down by 40% a month after it’s released unless you’re trying to make a quota. I’m guessing the benchmark they’re reporting to investors is the “install base”. That’s most likely because the more base units they ship, the higher the odds that they can turn around and sell the overpriced DLC content to people who already own the game. Remember, they’re not selling you the game at launch, they’re selling you a platform in which to purchase the game. It’s all a duplicitous ploy and I’m happy to not give EA any of my money.
Speaking of those guys…
MOMENT NUMBER FIVE – EA KILLED MAXIS
If you need more proof that Electronic Arts was run by a bunch of suits who value the almighty dollar more than anything else, look at what they did to Maxis, the studio that brought you SimCity, the Sims and SimAnt.
I loved all the Sim games. And then EA went and screwed up the release of SimCity in 2013. Now I have to play Cities: Skylines without a Gershwin-esque score and no talk of llamas.
That’s not really fair… Cities: Skylines is a great game. It fills the niche of city building games that SimCity would have filled. Maxis has come out and said that EA isn’t responsible for the catastrophic launch that made SimCity unplayable, however it was sunk by requiring mandatory online only play and poor server support. Seems like a publisher issue to me. It’s all pointless anyway… EA owned Maxis so EA was free to do with it what it did.
For you casual readers, it would be like if HBO bought, I don’t know… Sesame Street… and then it tried to push out a really rushed version of Sesame Street where only half of the puppets were sewn and they only had letters that went up to L and it came out a mess. Sure, you’d blame HBO for killing Sesame Street, but it’d probably be a combination of errors from them AND the Children’s Television Workshop. I know, it’s ridiculous. HBO would never buy Sesame Street. But you’d still be mad that something you once loved got dissolved in a hailstorm of crap.
All you need to know is that EA slowly killed the studio that Will Wright founded and then last March, after it was a hollow husk of it’s former self, they moved everyone who worked there to develop mobile games. Will freakin’ Wright. He’s a legend. One of the most original, interesting game designers in the world. And EA closed the company he built and moved everyone to work on mobile games. MOBILE GAMES?!?!
There are no good mobile games.
MOMENT NUMBER SIX – THAT TIME I GOT HOOKED ON A MOBILE GAME
Here’s a shout out to my buddy, Sean Browning. We were at a bar one night when I first started writing these Dead Battery posts and he mentioned this addictive game with cows that land in crates and you gotta match them up to evolve them to a bigger cow and how he’d spend whole nights just matching these cows so his son could evolve the cow to the next level… You just drag one cow over to another and it makes a bigger cow, and that bigger cow matches with another bigger cow to make another even bigger cow… It sounded crazy. It WAS crazy. So as a goof I decided to go all gonzo journalism and download Cow Evolution.
Cut to 24 hours later and every waking moment I have I’m matching cows and evolving them. Thank god I was able to effectively “beat” the game in about a week by evolving all my cows to the maximum. If memory serves me correct it was some sort of intergalactic divine bovine. It was the video game equivalent of an earworm. It was the Macarena of apps.
I’m not saying I regret it, but I’ve had my fill of cows for a while. I understand, though, they also have one with giraffes.
MOMENT NUMBER SEVEN – MY FAMOUS ACTIVISION TWEET
Every once in a while I write a tweet that I think is going to blow the roof off of Twitter.
When I woke up on the morning of November 3 and read that Activision Blizzard had bought King, the makers of Candy Crush, for a modest $5.9 billion-with-a-B dollars, I chuckled to myself and wrote this little gem and waited for the world to react.
‘Cuz… when you need an extra life in Candy Crush… it costs you a dollar…
Later in the month, lightning failed to strike twice.
MOMENT NUMBER EIGHT – LATE TO THE STANLEY PARTY
When someone asked me recently why I play games, I brought up The Stanley Parable. It was released in 2013, but I hadn’t played it. I took advantage of a new PC and a Steam sale to do some catching up.
I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that everyone needs to play this game. You do. All your friends do. Anyone who’s ever talked to you for more than 2 minutes about LOST or Donny Darko or, hell, Breaking Bad… They need to play this with you watching them play it and scolding them the entire time.
There are literally a handful of works of art that have dropped my jaw over the years. The first few notes when Neko Case sings Favorite live. The exploding VW bug in the Cirque du Soleil show about the Beatles. The opening shot of Touch of Evil. And pretty much every second of The Stanley Parable.
Play it. Play it now.
MOMENT NUMBER NINE – JUST ON TIME FOR THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE
We live in a world where a “writer” on the “HuffPo” can tell us he found SIXTY (60) plot holes in the new Star Wars film and then expect us to read all about it! Like that’s something that the world needs. Like that moves us forward as a society. Like that is something that even REMOTELY does any sort of service to the art of storytelling. Pointing out plot holes in a movie about a family of space wizards and their beep-boop talking robots… SIXTY of them… someone is proud enough of that to tell the world.
Honestly, that kind of affected, nervy pseudo-artistic/intellectual crap gets me BLASPHEMOUSLY riled up.
Thankfully, there is an antidote.
In the future, there will be museums dedicated to games like The Beginner’s Guide.
I mean that. From Davey Wreden, the creator of The Stanley Parable, you… you know what? I could explain it. I could talk about it for hours. All I’m going to say is that THIS is the future of interactive media.
This is podcasting and gaming and binge-watching and cinema and YouTube splayed out before a black obelisk under a dawning azure sky.
This is, a million times over, what VR is made for.
This is what your kids will explore when they smoke up.
This is going to be over-analysed by every lonely misanthrope at every friday night cocktail party you regretfully attend.
This is watercooler talk in a Ridley Scott movie that Wes Anderson wrote.
This is the center square in the hashtag for #MakingAMurderer.
This is MY Catcher in the Rye.
And this, you can buy now for about six bucks.
It will be the best six bucks you ever spent.
MOMENT NUMBER TEN – EVERYTHING ABOUT THE WITCHER 3
Going full circle on this list, let’s talk about what took up most of my time this year in the gaming world.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is on pretty much every Best-Of list I’ve read this year. I haven’t kept track, but I’d wager it’s probably number one on more than handful of those lists. It, and studio CD Projekt RED, deserve every accolade. It’s a gorgeous game with a great story, it’s not mired in all the corporate filth that almost every other Triple A title this year had associated with it, and it included a little game within a game that was so addictive, it’s assured itself another 200 hour play-through.
That game was Gwent… a collectible card game you play within the Witcher universe against solely computer opponents. I was hooked.
I’ve never got into Pokemon. I’ve never liked Magic the Gathering. I tried a Star Wars Collectible Card Game in 1995 but I don’t think any of us were playing it right. If we were, it sucked.
But I couldn’t get enough of Gwent. I went out of my way to travel to every corner of the map to visit every inn and blacksmith just to find anyone who I could play. If there was a possibly I could win another card for my ever increasing deck, I was there.
Keeping in mind this is a Role Playing Game, so you can play the character however you see fit. You’re forming your own narrative to the story.
In my story, Geralt of Rivia, the biggest and baddest monster hunter in all the lands, was also a massive CCG nerd who would stall his epic quest to save his protege from certain, icy death so he could attend a Gwent convention.
Just talking about it, I’m getting that itch to play some more.
Is this why the Witcher 3 is one of my favourite games of the year? It’s one of about fifty reasons. But this was the year, for me, about looking behind the curtain.
There is no denying, I love CD Projekt Red and their philosophy. And, most of all, I love that every copy of Witcher 3 shipped with a note on the inside that said:
First of all, we would like to thank you for your support. We really appreciate that you have decided to spend your hard-earned money on our game and hope that you will have fun playing it. Over 200 of us have spent the last three years working on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and it is with great pleasure and humility that we present our game to you.
At CD PROJEKT RED, we believe that when you buy our games, you’re entitled to continuous, free support – updates, patches, and bits of new and amazing content. We owe you that for believing in us and purchasing our game. To thank you, we have prepared something really special – 16 DLCs for you to download, totally free of charge, regardless of the platform or edition of the game you own.
We salute you for your support and wish you a fantastic next-generation of RPG gaming!”
I’ve been playing a long time. I’ve never seen a message like this, let alone the first thing you see when you open up a case. I was so taken aback when I first read it, I was 100% certain that the game sucked and we had all been duped. I mean… who would write that?
Except the game was wonderful. And continues to be so.
Respect for gamers… It was in such scant supply in 2015.
But when it was done…Man, it was done right.
What a game.
I would have included this if I hadn’t already spent one whole column review it, but I spent far too few hours with Jackbox Party Pack 2 and Quiplash. Both are worth your time and money. Still the perfect party games. You can’t go wrong.
Dead Battery is by Jeremy Schultz, who is one half of DrinkAlong, which WILL be putting out new episodes in 2016… He writes from a secret bunker underneath the Horseshoe Falls.