2015 was an amazing year, both for video games and I. Personally, I bought a house and got married, two wonderful but stressful events that left me turning to games for an escape in the brief periods I wasn’t building Ikea furniture or choosing patterns for chair covers.
That is reflected in the games I enjoyed the most this year. While Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid V, The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne are all incredible experiences, I found myself looking for games I could play in short, contained bursts that required less commitment but offered immediate returns. Two in particular stood out that I want to expand on here, but first a shout-out to the honourable mentions.
- Cities: Skylines: It lacked a real endgame, but solving the traffic nightmares my creations developed made me “that guy” who now thinks he knows exactly how to fix Sydney’s nightmare roads.
- Battlefield: Hardline (single player): Hardline never stood a chance, a CSI: Miami popcorn game in a post-Ferguson world. All it wanted to be was a cheesy buddy-cop action series and in that it succeeded, for a few mindless nights I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Hardline and its fun, if samey, stealth gameplay.
- Threes!: I still regularly play my Game of the Year 2014. I finally cracked the elusive 3072 tile, once, and now that Threes is available to play for free in a browser (and that counts as a re-release for 2015), I may never get any work done again.
- Fibbage and Quiplash: Jackbox Games has invented a genre of party games that does not get nearly enough credit, or play. Fibbage is the better “game”, made available in Australia this year, but Quiplash gives you more opportunity — and reward — for being funny while also not being prone to spoilers. Both are regulars at any gathering of more than four of my friends.
And now, my two favourite games of 2015.
2. Super Mega Baseball
Baseball is a strange, contradictory sport. A marathon regular season rewards the most consistent teams who are then placed in high pressure, one off games to decide a champion. No baseball game has captured that contradiction better than Super Mega Baseball.
In Super Mega Baseball these pressure moments matter. Big stats don’t mean anything if a player falters under the brightest lights and the ego system represents that better than any baseball game ever made. You will truly fear pitching to some players in critical moments and you will dread a jelly-legged hitter coming up to the plate on your last chance at the winning run.
The baseball itself is fantastic, an incredible balance between pitcher and hitter and difficulty settings that can be so finely tuned you will always get the experience you want. Super Mega Baseball is chock full of personality, a deep love of the game touches every blade of grass on the field and it comes through in presentation, character and gameplay.
Don’t let the cartoon looks and lack of licenses fool you; if you have any love of baseball you need to play Super Mega Baseball. Even if you don’t this is a brilliant sports game, one that strains and enhances all the wonderful elements of the sport into a game that transcends its origins, like NBA Jam did for basketball. Super Mega Baseball is the best baseball game I have ever played.
1. Rocket League
Every recess and lunch through high school we played touch football. In a single school year we would play enough games to fill a professional career. We had our superstars and we had our scrubs, but over the 300 something games we would play in a year everybody had their moment. Everybody threw that incredible flick pass, put in the kick that bounced perfectly for a try or had that one game where everything went right.
While today I have swapped lunch time schoolyard football for lunch time Stevivor news post writing, Rocket League takes me back to the yellow-brown grass of the high school back oval. To a playing field where every game is life or death until the next one starts, where you never remember the final score but you never forget that overtime, length of the field goal scored against some jerk who said “nice shot” when you accidentally knocked in an own goal trying to make a heroic save.
Rocket League is the closest video games have come to sports. Sure, League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike and even Call of Duty get more play in the Esports scene, but Rocket League delivers not just close to but the exact thrill of playing physical sports. If video games and Esports are going to penetrate the mainstream, it will be games like Rocket League that do it.
There is no barrier to entry with Rocket League; no impenetrable lingo, complex rule set or metagame that runs five levels deep. You drive (or fly) a car around, attempting to hit a giant ball into a goal. You don’t min/max or memorise build orders, you only execute the basic skills of the game as best you can. That is the beauty of Rocket League — it replicates as well as any game can how you learn the skills of a sport, right down to those crazy flukes you pull off that become those magic moments, now saved into replays rather than memories.
Sure, just like high school eventually the fastest and most skilled kids will score the most tries and win the most games, but that isn’t why most of us will play Rocket League. We will instead play it for those fleeting moments of glory, the highlight reel moments that you will save and watch over and over again, moments that, when they happen against you, you curse, brush off and forget the moment you click “next game”.
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