It’s the end of December, and that means it’s time for what is personally my favorite post of the year to write. It’s a wrap-up of all the things I loved in video games this year.
Top 10-style lists are just too hard for me when it comes to picking my favorite games. Instead, I like to talk about what different games got right. Big and small things. Things that make some games extra memorable. It’s all good stuff.
Favorite Character: Maxine Caulfield (Life is Strange)
It’s rare to see a realistic shy character in a video game, but that’s exactly what you get in Dontnod’s episodic series Life is Strange. The main character Maxine is a teenager, attending a private high school to study photography. There, she learns she has the ability to rewind time. What’s so great about her character is that she rings true — neither awkward nor bitchy, she’s just a teenager faced with difficult decisions once she realizes she has the ability to play with fate.
One of my favorite moments is early in the first episode, when she leaves a classroom to enter a noisy hallway… looks around at all the other students laughing and bickering… and then puts in her earbuds and starts listening to a song. The sounds of the rest of the world fade out as the music takes over, like magic. It’s a nice way to characterize this girl who craves a little quiet as she makes her way through a chaotic world.
Most Memorable World: Bloodborne
When Bloodborne was released, I was a little too scared to play it. Not because of the dark world, but because it has a reputation for being incredibly difficult. Like, Dark Souls kind of difficult. But my boyfriend bought the game and proceeded to be totally obsessed with it for weeks, so I spent hours and hours watching him play.
What I love about the game is its atmosphere. The worldbuilding is inspired. You explore the Gothic city of Yharnam during the night of the Hunt. As the game progresses, time shifts from dusk to true night; the city grows darker. Enemies like possessed souls, wolf dogs, crows, giant spiders, witches, and all manner of beasts roam the streets. There are also strange sightings, such as a bride stained with blood. You wade through sewers, battle on cobblestone streets, fight through a forest, scale soaring cathedrals and even a castle. And everywhere you go, you have to be on your guard.
It’s not horror — just a beautiful, haunted city that sticks in your memory.
Best Sidekick: Batmobile (Batman Arkham Knight)
The Batmobile is Batman’s new gadget in Batman Arkham Knight. You can drive around the city in it, but it’s especially useful for ripping down walls, blowing up enemy vehicles, and shooting targets via remote control access when Batman isn’t even inside it. As a bulletproof sidekick, the Batmobile is around even more than Robin.
When you switch to combat mode, it gets extra maneuverable and makes cute little machine noises, like a bug getting in place for action. It almost feels like it has a personality, which makes the Batmobile the best sidekick of the year for me.
Favorite Fantasy Creature: Godlings (The Witcher 3)
One of my favorite moments from The Witcher 3 is when hero Geralt meets the Godling Johnny.
Godlings are child-like creatures that are, quite frankly, a little ugly. They look mutated; Johnny has bright gold eyes, gray skin, and scars. But despite their creepy appearances, they’re shy, joyful creatures who only want peace and quiet. They live in woodland burrows, by themselves, helping those around them without being seen too much.
Johnny’s personality is a little hyper, like a happy kid’s. The way he loves saying his favorite words (even though they don’t make much sense stringed together) is a good example of how whimsical Godlings can be. They’re a cheerful diversion from the rest of The Witcher world’s darkness, and a very original bit of characterization that I loved.
Most Interesting Storytelling Experience: Her Story
In Sam Barlow’s mystery game Her Story, your interface is a retro computer. Your interaction with the game is watching video recordings of police interviews about a murder case. The only way to find these videos is by searching for keywords and hoping something comes up. Because these are just snippets of the interviews, some are out of context but give you new clues to search for.
As you piece things together, you draw conclusions about the murder case — but when to stop is up to you. It’s the most unique storytelling experience I’ve encountered all year, and you can play it in just a couple of hours.
Best Real Moment: Waking up at Chloe’s (Life is Strange)
In “Chaos Theory,” episode three of Life is Strange, protagonist Max Caulfield and her friend Chloe Price spend a night breaking into Max’s school — first to look for clues to a case they’re trying to crack, and then for an impromptu pool party for two. Afterwards, Max crashes at Chloe’s and wakes up on the bed next to her, with the sunlight streaming in through the windows. The game plays a quiet song while you gaze around. You have the option to get up with a single press of a controller button, any time you want — but you can also just stay there and watch the camera pan around the room, focusing in on various items in Chloe’s room while the two friends chat.
I waited about a minute before getting up, enjoying that feeling of a new morning, doing nothing, being with a friend. It was so beautiful and simple and realistic, I didn’t want it to end. Life is Strange really excels at those kinds of “real” moments, and this was the one I remember most.