2015 is almost at its end and that means it’s once again time for me to do my yearly mental stress test and come up with what I thought were the 10 best games of the year. This was a tough one for me. 2015 has been a year with some huge ups and pretty big downs for me and for gaming as a whole. I had a great contract job that was supposed to transition into another great one and then didn’t, leaving me still looking for work even now and slowly going stir crazy. My content efforts continue to chug along but are still struggling with growth and it’s hard to keep motivated sometimes. GamerGate is still going strong and the gaming press is as arrogant and absurd as ever. At least it feels like the perpetually outraged are starting to lose steam in the public consciousness. Ultimately, I feel creative freedom will win out over fear of hurting the feelings of those who largely don’t play games to begin with but we definitely aren’t there yet.
One thing is for sure though, there was no shortage of amazing games this year. If you consider yourself a hardcore gamer and can’t find at least 10 amazing titles from 2015, you just aren’t looking hard enough. Oddly enough, I found much of what released in the last quarter where most of the heavy hitters drop to be lacking. I had high hopes for some of those games and was let down by several. The year as a whole was incredible but some of my most anticipated games didn’t make the cut.
You may also notice a surprising omission from the list this year: Undertale. I bring it up because I know it’s on a lot of other lists this year. I played through it once and while I thought it was well made and unique, I just didn’t find it all that special. Even outside of its insufferable Tumblr fandom, people talk about how incredible and moving it is and while I found it poignant in places, it just didn’t impact me that much and the first third felt like a chore. I know it can take multiple playthroughs to have the full experience but I found the game play pretty dull and not something I want to repeat. It’s not a bad game and certainly not going to go on my Disappointments list but it’s not top 10 material for me either. It’s a game I think you should play if you’re even remotely curious about it because I’m clearly in the minority with my opinion on it.
OK, let’s do this! As usual, we’ll start with Disappointments in no particular order, followed by games I didn’t get to but that I think could have been contenders, followed by Honourable Mentions in no particular order, then the main top 10 from last to first. Each title will have a little blurb about how I reached that decision and will have links to any written reviews or videos I did if you want more in-depth information. Of course, this list is only my opinion. If yours differs, I’d love to hear why.
The Order: 1886 – One of the best looking video games ever made and that’s basically all it has going for it. It feels like a modern attempt at one of those interactive movies from the dawn of the CD-ROM era. It’s as much cutscenes as game play and despite being set in a cool alternative universe, just plays like another super short modern military game. Combined with the arrogant responses the developers have given its criticisms and this is one I’m very glad I rented.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – I’m a big Assassin’s Creed fan and have played basically the entire series. This game has been getting heaps of praise because of it’s female lead but it’s one of the most disappointing entries in recent years for me. The writing and character portrayals are lazy, flat and sexist. The city is small and uninteresting compared to previous entries. The amount of repetitive missions is huge even by Assassin’s Creed standards. Worst of all, they’ve all but abandoned the hooks to the modern day story, which I thought was a great idea that Ubisoft’s supposedly dedicated storytelling studio has completely floundered. This franchise badly needs a year off to regroup. Apparently Syndicate didn’t sell very well so maybe that will finally happen.
Broken Age – I have a blog post coming later on how I’m basically done with crowdfunding and this is one of the big reasons why. This project completely destroyed its funding goal, then ended up years late and having to be split into two parts because Tim Schafer is one of the most inept, yet lucky CEOs in gaming. The first half was interesting and had a great ending but was disappointing and felt like it was stuck in old design methodologies modern adventure games long surpassed. The second half was bad. Recycled environments, terrible puzzles, lousy writing, phoned in voice acting from expensive celebrities and a terrible conclusion. It was a rushed mess, despite being so incredibly late and overbudget. When Daedelic Entertainment regularly puts out far better adventure games for far smaller budgets, Double Fine has no excuses. Tim Schafer is a terrible business man and Double Fine cannot be trusted. If you’re contributing to their new Psychonauts 2 campaign, you’re a fool.
Basically All Mobile Games – I have one mobile game in my Honourable Mentions and honestly, it’s one of the only 2015 mobile releases I cared about at all. Games that aren’t exploitative microtransactions farms with the depth of a spoon just can’t succeed any more. It’s a crime to see the potential of this platform being squandered with garbage like Candy Crush and Game of War. I hope this bubble bursts at some point but it’s definitely not going to any time soon.
Didn’t Get To
These are games that I either didn’t get the time to play at all or haven’t played enough to form a proper opinion yet but through my gut, feel could have warranted an Honourable Mention or even made the main list.
Pillars of Eternity – I backed this game and just like Wasteland 2, I still haven’t touched it yet, simply because it’s so long and requires such a commitment. I hope to play it soon but it didn’t happen this year.
Axiom Verge – I just got this on PC but won’t have time to play it in 2015. It looks like an awesome Metroid-style game with a great art style and soundtrack. It’s amazing that literally everything with this game was done by one guy. Thomas Happ has some mad talent.
Satellite Reign – Another game I backed and didn’t get to. This is supposed to be a modernised version of the revered Syndicate strategy series, one which I love to death and had people from those games involved. It had a bit of a rocky launch but it’s supposed to be in good shape now. I’m hoping to start this early in 2016 but it wasn’t possible this year.
Fallout 4 – I just started playing this and am only a couple of hours in. As usual, Bethesda makes incredible worlds but it looks dated, it’s buggy, Bethesda has learned nothing about making a competent UI and the writing seems weak. Their attempts to turn it into more of a shooter isn’t something I necessarily dig either. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it but there’s no way I’ll finish it this year.
These are games I really enjoyed but which just couldn’t fit in my list, which I purposefully keep to 10 entries to make it a challenge. These are in no particular order but they’re all great games you should play.
Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball – This came out of nowhere and it’s sadly had a very small player base but damn if it isn’t good fun. It’s literally dodge ball with wheeled robots while electronic music blasts and the lighting syncs to it. Dead simple and great fun. This is another game made entirely by one guy, who has been incredible about supporting it and adding tons of content and features, despite its small population. Great to play in short sessions or long ones, this is a game that deserves your support.
Rare Replay – 30 games, spanning 30 years for $30, when it’s not on sale. The amount of value in Rare Replay is staggering. Even if you only play the Xbox 360 era games, it’s still a steal at twice the price. I can also say as someone who reviews a lot of retro game packages, that this is one of the most lovingly crafted ones I’ve ever seen. Unless you really hate the kind of games Rare makes, this is one of 2015’s biggest values in gaming. I still play it regularly.
Bullet Heaven 2 – I received a review code for this and didn’t expect much from it but it blew my away. Originally a one-man Flash game on Kongregate, I’m not big on its art style but it has one of the deepest and most flexible scoring systems I’ve ever seen and can be replayed in a ton of different ways, all of which can be counted towards its online leaderboards. If you like shmups at all, you have to pick this up. It’s easily my biggest surprise this year.
Sublevel Zero – Descent was a great take on the shooter genre back in the day and since that series died, no one’s really done much with the idea. Sigtrap Games took it and made it into a rogue-lite and it works so well. The loot system isn’t as deep as I’d like but it still offers a lot of different ways to play and you’ll need them because this game will challenge you. I’m picky about rogue-like games but this one kept me coming back and it’s great to see the six degrees of freedom shooter archetype being put to such great use.
Tales from the Borderlands – I rolled my eyes when I heard Telltale was making a series in this universe. The Borderlands games are good co-op fun but but have some of the worst, laziest writing in video games, steeped in Family Guy style stereotypes and Internet memes. Telltale took the base, combined it with some of the best voice actors in the business and turned it into an exciting and funny heist story. Their engine is still a mess but it was one of the best Telltale series I’ve played and I say that as a big fan of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. This won’t sell you on the Telltale formula if you aren’t a fan but it actually made a good Borderlands story and that’s quite a feat. Anthony Burch should play this and learn how to write worth a damn.
Lara Croft GO – Hitman GO was an exquisitely crafted mobile game but got incredibly hard and I burned out on it. Square Enix Montreal took the framework of that and applied it to the Tomb Raider universe in a brilliant way. It’s still hard but not as much and it feels like there are more ways to approach a situation than in Hitman GO. There are only a tiny handful of mobile games that can get away with charging up front for a premium experience and this is one of them. It’s suited to a short session mobile experience but is also deep, very well presented and free of microtransaction scuminess. If you have an iOS or Android device, I can’t recommend it enough.
Warhammer: End Times: Vermintide – Essentially Left for Dead but with a heavy melee focus and based in the Warhammer fantasy universe. It’s gory, visceral, balls hard and an absolute blast with 3 friends. The classes vary much more than in Left 4 Dead and the loot system can be mean but gives you reasons to keep playing and advance each class. It had a rocky launch but has come a long way and has already had a bunch of free content released for it. This won’t sell you on the Left 4 Dead style of game but if you like that, I think it’s the best of its class.
Super Mario Maker – The quality of the craft behind this can’t be understated. It has a level of polish and intuitiveness that few but Nintendo can pull off. Designing levels is not an easy thing to do, yet they made it so anyone can pick it up and make something cool and those with real talent can create amazing things. Nintendo has also been supporting it very well, releasing a bunch of new content and features based on fan feedback. This didn’t make the list because there’s still too many junk levels in the online rotation and it’s still not as easy to separate the wheat from the chaff as it should be. I also don’t have the patience to sit down and make any good levels and if you aren’t willing to create, I don’t know how much real value is in this for most people.
SOMA – I played through this in one sitting for Extra Life and I kind of wish it wasn’t billed as a horror game because I likely wouldn’t have played it otherwise. That would have been a shame because while SOMA is more walking simulator than horror game, the story it tells is deep, intellectual and moving and the environment which you experience it in is very well made and deeply unnerving. I’ve never seen a game story like SOMA’s and it’s one I still think about regularly to this day. It didn’t make the list because it isn’t much of a game and the mechanics that are there are very similar to Frictional’s past efforts and don’t really fit that well.
Until Dawn – I had no interest in this at all because it was billed as another horror game but when I saw it compared to Cabin In the Woods and Quantic Dream games–which I like, despite the pages of issues they have–I had to give it a try. It’s not super scary but it’s definitely tense and plays its subject matter perfectly. It runs like ass but looks good and plays simply enough that anyone could pick it up. If you don’t like cheesy horror, you won’t like this but if you do, it’s a real good time. I do wish the story changed more with multiple playthroughs though.
My Top 10 Games of 2015
Here’s the big 10! Keeping this year’s list to 10 entries was tough enough but figuring out the order was brutal compared to other years. I’ll probably be internally debating my choices long after I click the publish button. I think these are all games everyone should play but if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to afford them all as I was, this is the order I’d say you should try to pick them up in. I wager a couple of entries on here might surprise people, as will the positions of others.
10. Transformers: Devastation – Crapped out by Activision with no fanfare, I didn’t expect to care about this until I heard PlatinumGames was making it. If you like or think you’d like Bayonetta and want to play that with big ass robots, here you go! The levels are a little thin but the combat is sublime, the weapon loot and research system is surprisingly deep and though short, there are multiple Transformers to redo the campaign with, all of which play different. After the incredible Bayonetta 2, I didn’t think we’d see anything like it for a while if ever. PlatinumGames delivered another experience like that out of nowhere.
9. Downwell – Another game I never heard of until it was out. Originally a mobile title, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t play it on PC. Apparently the Japanese developer who made this only learned how to use the tools he made it in like a year ago and it’s clear he has some real talent. The only way I can describe it is as a vertically falling shooter, rogue-lite…thing. It’s very hard and I haven’t beaten it yet but you can do a run in only a couple of minutes and it keeps making you want to do just one more. I’ve kept going back to this for 15-20 minutes at a time and even when I’m terrible at it, I always have a huge smile on my face. It just oozes raw fun.
8. Splatoon – If there are two things you don’t think of when you think Nintendo, it’s shooters and online play. Splatoon is both of these but done in Nintendo’s singular way and polished to the mirror shine they are known for. It’s a game about covering the world in ink and also shooting your opponents and though it’s a competitive online game, it has no voice chat and doesn’t need it. Rounds are fast, the concepts are simple, the game types are few and it’s just so much damn fun. Nintendo has been pumping out tons of free content they could have easily charged for and it still has a good player population. It’s one of those games where even when you lose, you still had a great time. There’s nothing like Splatoon. Who would have thought Nintendo would be the ones to innovate in online shooters?
7. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Given the nearly 80 hours I’ve put into this, you might be surprised it’s not higher on the list. This game is a masterpiece of mechanical and technical design. It has systems on top of systems on top of more systems, all working together incredibly well and is miles deep. It also runs at 1080p/60 on consoles with reasonable load times, things considered miracles in this generation. Unfortunately, it’s also a lousy Metal Gear Solid game. There’s not much story, it’s not well conveyed, Keifer Sutherland is a terrible Solid Snake and the last third of the game was clearly decapitated to meet a deadline. It’s basically just a bunch of missions you’ve already done with the difficulty turned up to an absurd level. I felt burned when I finally finished it. Combined with the server problems and the scumbags at Konami adding a pile of microtransactions well after release and it went from battling for second place to here. It’s a great game but a lousy conclusion to the insane Metal Gear saga I love.
6. Life Is Strange – Somehow, Dontnod Entertainment made a far better Telltale game that Telltale ever has and managed to make whiny teenage drama interesting and compelling. Your choices had major story impact, often not in the same episode and several ended with my jaw hanging open and desperately waiting for the next one to come, which unfortunately didn’t with consistency. This was originally fighting for a top 3 spot as well but the last episode drove it way down the list. I won’t spoil anything but if you’re familiar with why many gamers hated the original Mass Effect 3 ending, you might know what I mean. It’s still an incredible series and one I think Telltale should take many lessons from but it ultimately left me disappointed in a way that hurt its contention for a top spot.
5. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number – I loved the first Hotline Miami and many thought this wasn’t as good but they are wrong. It’s much longer than the first game but never lets off the gas with the over the top gory action, the insane story and layering on new characters and mechanics. They somehow also managed to top the stellar soundtrack with the first one. I’ve had both on my phone since finishing this and still listen to them regularly. It’s a tough, graphic, disturbing action game and if that’s not your thing, you won’t like Hotline Miami 2. If you do, this is top of its class and not to be missed. I loved every minute with it.
4. Rocket League – It’s Soccer with rocket cars. I hate Soccer so I thought I wouldn’t like this but it was free on PlayStation Plus so I figured why not? Over 40 hours later, I still love playing online with the massive player base and have bought all the cosmetic DLC. The reason Rocket League works is its simplicity. It’s just Soccer with rocket cars. There are no weapons, the cars differ in looks only and the matchmaking usually makes sure you won’t get stomped on. It’s easy to pick up but if you’re good enough to master it, you can pull off some incredible feats that reward practice and persistence. If they tried to complicate this formula further, I really don’t think it would be the success it has been. Rocket League is just fantastic fun that’s simple to learn and succeed at but which rewards those who want to go further. It’s been a huge success and deservedly so.
3. Dying Light – This looked like yet another zombie game, just with an open world this time. I didn’t really care about it until it launched as 2015’s first big release but the normally very hit and miss Techland landed something special here. Unlike most open worlds, you only traverse by running and parkouring your way around and most of the combat is in your face melee. There are no vehicles and not a lot of gun play. It’s not realistic though, with you being able to craft some crazy weapons and pull off acrobatics that would shatter the limbs of real people. Whereas a day/night cycle in most games is little more than pretty set dressing, here it comes with fundamental game play changes that make the night a much riskier time to be out and about but also much more rewarding if you can survive it. It’s a ton of fun either solo or with the drop-in/drop-out co-op which scales the difficulty up appropriately and if you want to turn player invasions on, things get even crazier. Techland games can be good or awful but they’re almost never great and Dying Light absolutely is. I can’t wait until they launch the big expansion early in 2016.
2. Bloodborne – I respected but wanted nothing to do with the Souls games for a long time, then ended up finding the fun in co-opping them with friends, even if that’s not really how they were meant to be played. Bloodborne had all that, plus some major game play changes that made it the Souls game I’ve always longed for. Things move much faster and defence is focused around quick dodging and counter attacks, not blocking and slowly shunting out of the way. Everything feels more responsive, fluid and more like an action RPG as opposed to an almost third-person strategy game. I still co-opped all of Bloodborne but I had so much fun doing it and discovering the world and all the unique, horrible enemies for the first time with someone else. My friend and I put well over 80 hours into it and now we’re putting in even more doing the DLC and we haven’t even finished the Chalice Dungeons yet. Rumour is that not only will Dark Souls III be based on this engine but a lot of the game play innovations will come over as well. If so, I can’t wait for it.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – I started The Witcher series from scratch last year. I played the very dated The Witcher and still enjoyed it, then I moved into The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings and enjoyed it a lot more. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt makes these great games look third class in comparison. It’s far from faultless and yes, it did suffer a major visual downgrade but it’s still one of the most gorgeous and expansive RPGs and indeed, open world games of any kind I’ve ever played. New things to see and experiences to have, hide around almost every corner. I played over 85 hours, not including the first major DLC release and still have huge sections of the map I haven’t touched yet. Choices you made in the first game can affect things in this one and there’s no shortage of world altering decisions here as well. Every character is deep, well developed and relatable. Every quest is meticulously crafted and written, even the random side ones you come across by chance. The number of individual craftable items you can discover and make is mind boggling. There is an almost entirely optional collectible strategy card game in it that you can sink hours and hours into. You can’t make your own character but because of that, Geralt is one of the most fleshed out RPG characters ever and has a miles deep backstory and fiction that you couldn’t get if he was someone you created from scratch. It’s an unapologetically dark and desperate world and while your quest is important and indeed world changing, nothing is saved when you finish. You start in a lousy world and it’s still lousy when you leave it. Oh yeah, despite it’s downgrade, it’s also still one of the best looking games ever, especially on PC. This is not only my favourite game of the year and has been uncontested since I first played it, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played and probably will play for many years to come. CD Projekt Red is one of the most talented developers in the industry today and it’s incredible how far they’ve come in less than 10 years. I can’t wait for the next DLC and I am frothing to get my hands on Cyberpunk 2077. Unless you absolutely hate RPGs, you have to play this game.
Well, there we are. 4,500 words later and you have what I think is a pretty varied list of great games. There are some things in my lists that probably vary a lot from the mainstream consciousness this year but hey, that’s what Geek Bravado is all about. I’d love to hear what you all think of my choices and what you think your own best games were. Who knows, maybe we can help each other discover some missed gems? Let me know what you think in the comments and let’s chat about what we loved!
I hope everyone had a great Christmas and has a fantastic 2016. I have some worries about the upcoming year but I’m also optimistic, something I haven’t been for a long time. It looks like it’s going to be another great year for games and with any luck, I’ll be struggling over what are next year’s best titles as well. I certainly hope so. Thank you all for reading and watching my stuff next year and here’s to great gaming in 2016!