Fission Mailure Awards 2015:
Okay, so, video game time. Once again, this award will alternate between best and worst awards, and to be eligible, they must have been reviewed in 2015 - or very early 2016. Basically, before Monday of last week. Right. Yes.
Anyway, let's crack on.
The Bronze Medal for Third BEST Game: Until Dawn.
|A much more likable character than Grant Ward.|
Until Dawn is that most rare thing - a game that markets itself as an 'interactive story' and yet manages to be genuinely interactive. Boasting an excellent slasher-flick plotline that was clearly put together by people with a deep love of the genre, Until Dawn is atmospheric, compelling, and makes you feel like your choices - even the seemingly minor ones - have a real, deep meaning to the game as it unfolds.
A short game, coming in at just barely six hours, Until Dawn is reminiscent of Quantic Dreams' games if they were competently made, of Telltale Games' games if they actually followed through on the choices they give you, and of the many slasher-film video game tie-ins if they actually considered how a slasher film would work as a game. It was my first Playstation 4 purchase and remains one of my favourite games for the console.
Not to mention, it has a great cast of actors and some genuinely interesting genre-twisting later on. Until Dawn is well worth a look for any gamer, even if it's only as a rental.
The Strangely Salty Used Handkerchief for Third WORST Game: Sword Art Online: Lost Song.
|Wings for fun and profit.|
The terrible thing about Lost Song is that there actually is the kernel of a good game here. A competent hack-n-slash RPG with a unique flying mechanic and an interesting world, a little more effort could have produced something really special - and even as it is, in a year where I had played a wider selection of games, it maybe wouldn't have ended up on this list.
What damns it is the sheer repetitiveness of it. You spend the entire game going through basically identical dungeons, and flying around overworlds that look different but have essentially the same dozen or so enemies recoloured. Even your bosses are, by and large, recoloured and resized versions of regular enemies, with only the final area bosses (each of which you are forced to fight in the air, awkward flying mechanic and all) being remotely unique (and even they get re-used later on as part of the main story).
It feels like at some point in development, the devs stopped putting any real effort into Lost Song, resulting in an oddly lopsided, oddly repetitive title. In the end, I couldn't quite reach the end of the game, close as I was.
The Silver Medal for Second BEST Game: Persona Q.
|They have so many limbs.|
A 3DS spin-off of the Persona series in the form of an Etrian Odyssey-esque RPG, Persona Q sees the cast of Persona 3 and Persona 4, along with new characters Zen and Rei, trapped in a strange alternate version of the high school of Persona 4, in the middle of a school festival. To escape, the gang must forge their way through four labyrinths, vast themed mazes beneath the school, where they must evade fearsome FOEs and discover the secret of the alternate school, and how it relates to Zen and Rei's past.
A competently made RPG with a unique and eye-catching art style, great voice acting, and a massive cast of characters, Persona Q deftly balances the gameplay elements of the Etrian Odyssey series with the story and motifs of the Persona series. Sometimes unforgiving and often frustrating, Persona Q almost never feels unfair, and the puzzles it throws at you, while very often difficult, are never impossible or unreasonable.
While a very imperfect game with some glaring flaws, the game's positive points far outweigh its negative ones, and it's an excellent starting point for Atlus to build another sub-series for their ever-expanding Megami Tensei game collection.
The Painful Iron Mask for Second WORST Game: The Park.
|It has rides, and you can ride on them, and they're all really boring.|
Any game that tells you it's going to 'mess with your sanity' is invariably doomed to be mediocre, because any game that actually inspires fear is not going to feel the need to inform you in overwrought, melodramatic fashion beforehand.
As an addendum to that, there is nothing that kills horror more than a six minute long recitation of Hansel and Gretel.
Much like Lost Song, there's the kernel of a good game here. The Park had everything going for it: A creepy setting, game industry pedigree in the form of the distant, sagely backing of Ragnar Tornquist, the freedom that indie development allows, and so on and so forth - and then it brutally murdered all of its chances of being even a remotely good game.
In the end, what we got was not especially striking, and not especially memorable: Just an hour of mediocrity, broken up by the occasional obvious and hammy attempt at a scare.
The Gold Medal for the BEST Game of 2015: Bloodborne.
|They call it the cuddlefriend.|
I barely got my review for Bloodborne out before the deadline to be eligible for this award (under, you know, the arbitrary rules that I myself set and so can change at any time), but I'm glad I did. It is far and away the best game I've played this year.
While its gameplay, a slick and well-tuned hack-n-slash RPG that's unforgiving without ever being prohibitively difficult, certainly warrants praise, what really earns it a spot on this list is its work with setting, characters, and story. There is a creeping sense of dread that suffuses Bloodborne that only increases as you piece together pieces of plot from the passing remarks of those around you and the brief, cryptic notes left by those long gone.
Bloodborne makes historians of all of us, struggling to put together an image of what happened to Yharnam on limited information, and it does so with aplomb, placing foreshadowing and morsels of plot and setting information everywhere. Bloodborne almost never exposits, and never condescends to you: Instead, it trusts you as a player to find the story yourself, to interpret it yourself, and to understand the weight and impact of what you find.
I'm personally a sucker for anything that lets me form wild theories, so needless to say, that appealed to me in a big way.
The Prolonged, Anguished Wailing Which You Cannot Reliably Locate The Source Of for the WORST Game of 2015: Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.
Another game reviewed just before the deadline, Syndicate is a significant improvement over the last few installments in the series, but also fails utterly at capturing any of the joy and verve of the franchise's first few installments. It is, in its way, the perfect example of why Assassin's Creed needs to just stop, as you are dropped into a vast, sprawling, detailed world where you too can experience the joy of performing the same task in slightly different locales over and over and over again.
I used to really like this franchise, and I dream of the game that will make me like it again, but Syndicate is not that game. Things only go from bad to worse with the inclusion of the Jack the Ripper DLC, a bizarre story involving Jack the Ripper as some kind of arch crimelord, and clumsily shoehorned in fear mechanics that, I only realised after my review of it was done, were pretty hamfistedly ripped from the Arkham series - another series in decline, but not anywhere near as far gone as Assassin's Creed.
Syndicate was a joyless experience for me, the brief novelty of it wearing off before I'd even made a dent in the (quite short) main story, and for a triple-A game from a competent company, that's just not really acceptable.