Okay, okay, I admit it; the title is a lie. This isn’t the list of best games from 2015, rather it’s my personal favorite games from the last year, a very different list indeed that is made up of titles that I enjoyed the most for whatever reason without taking into account my own reviews where I attempt to step away and be as fair as possible. What you will find below are the games that amused and entertained me over the last 365 days, keeping in mind that I only game on Xbox and PC currently, which means I’ve missed quite a few brilliant titles on PS4 and WiiU, such as Splatoon and Until Dawn, a game that looked to be perfect for me. I’m also just one person so there’s going to be plenty of other titles out missed across the year, either because I didn’t have time, or because no review code was available or because I didn’t have the spare cash to pick it up.
Rather than attempt to rank ten games in order I’ve opted to instead pick a single Game of the Year, and then list the other nine in no particular order. The reason is rather simple; there was one game that clearly stood out to me as my favorite of the year. The other nine, though, were all pretty level, thus ranking them would feel like a pointless pursuit.
I can’t say 2015 has been a classic year. Maybe I’m becoming jaded and have been struggling more to keep my passion burning. Hell, maybe I need to take a little time away. Or maybe there just weren’t a lot of really great titles. For whatever reason this year I forgot about the majority of games almost as soon as I’d finished them, making choosing a top ten quite difficult. Still, there were some strong titles that impressed me. Therefore without further ado let’s get this show on the road, starting with the honorable mentions.
Because I haven’t played it and people are going to hate me for that. I’ve actually got the game sitting right here, but I’ve not yet had a chance to even open it. See, Bethesda, this is what happens when you don’t give me review code! You never know, there’s not a lot of major titles coming out in the next month, so maybe I’ll get a chance to play it and write something up, eh? Or more likely I’ll lose most of my life to it.
Mad Max may manage to tick every box on the Generic Sandbox checklist but it’s still pretty compelling, mostly thanks to a focus on car combat, which we don’t get to see very often these days. The storyline is forgettable, and yet I found myself merrily sinking many hours into blasting around the beautiful desert environment, slowly upgrading my car to take on bigger, badder convoys. I still wish having to hunt for water and fuel was emphasised more in order to make it feel like you’re really trying to survive in the desert. Regardless I’ve had a lot of fun with this one.
Turn-based espionage that keeps the tension high with perma-death and a limited time in which to do things. I was pretty impressed with this game and it’s incredibly powerful sense of tension that made every mission feel important. It’s almost as enthralling as XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Arguably the most controversial launch in a good few years, all thanks to the PC version of Arkham Knight being a pathetic mess. So pathetic, in fact, that Warner Bros. quickly took it off the market, promising to fix it. A few months later there was some small improvement, but it was still pretty bad. Over on the Xbox One, however, the experience was far better and thus I completed the final chapter in Rocksteady’s saga that began with one of my favorite games of all time; Arkham Asylum. There was far too much reliance on the Batmobile and the rest of the mechanics didn’t feel much different, but the story was highly enjoyable and the gameplay, as familiar as it is, still feels great.
Assassins Creed: Syndicate
There have been times when I’ve been positive that Assassin’s Creed wants me to hate it, to finally give up on my the love for it that I’ve held since I first controlled Altair and stabbed a whole lot of people, a love cemented over the many, many hours I spent with Ezio. Last years Unity was….disappointing, and yet somehow I let it pass with relative praise, clearly too caught up in my fondness for the series to admit to its myriad of problems. I’m ashamed of how I treated Unity. That’s why I’m glad Syndicate is actually a good game. The story doesn’t hold up as well as it should and the stealth gameplay is still far rougher than it should be, but Syndicate is a step in the right direction for a struggling franchise.
The Honorable Re-Releases: Total Annihilation & Homeworld Remastered
Okay, I’m cheating entirely here, but Total Annihilation just got released on Steam and it’s bloody awesome. Go play it. NOW! This is one of the greatest RTS titles ever, and one of my favorite games of all time. I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours I spent playing this when I was but a kid, and I still love to fire it up to this day because it still holds up astonishingly well, which is both a compliment to Total Annihilation and an insult to a genre that hasn’t exactly come very far in the intervening time. A wealth of mods, maps and units are also available.
As for Homeworld: Remastered it’s simply because I never played the games before, and having discovered them this year in the very nicely done Remastered edition I quickly became enthused with the sight of huge ships unleashing barrages of death while smaller fighters, bombers and corvettes engaged each other. Truly awesome.
Now that we’ve got those out of the way, let’s get to the main games.
GAME OF THE YEAR: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
For many people choosing between Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 will be a nearly impossible task, and indeed had I been able to play Fallout 4 this year there’s always the chance it would have been sitting here rather than languishing in the honorable mentions section. But I didn’t. The Witcher 3, to me, is simply breathtaking, capturing the sense of adventure that once lured me into Bethesda’ sprawling worlds and mixing it with powerful storytelling to create one of the most compelling singleplayer experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing in all my years of gaming. It can be clumsy in areas, occasionally slipping up with some shoddy writing or even just lacking smooth movement, but for the most part it’s a sprawling, epic adventure that sucks you into its narrative and doesn’t let go until it’s a 120-hours later and you’re wishing it would just go on for a few more. How many games can say that?
It helps that it has a masterful presentation. I can’t run the game at its very highest settings on my rig, but I can get close and by Odin’s luxurious beard does it look incredible, boasting stunning environments and a wealth of detail. The soundtrack is nothing short of superb, too, and the voice acting is almost as impressive. It just serves to make the world of the Witcher 3 feel like a real place with real people and very real, very violent problems.
Without a doubt what sticks in my mind the most is a quest that begins relatively early involving a local Baron and continues on for quite some time, moving from the primary narrative into a series of side-quests. What amazed me was how the story managed to make me feel so connected to what was going on. By the end I was emotionally involved with the Baron and his family, and my opinion of the man himself had shifted several times as I learned new things. It moved into some dark territory, genuinely leaving me feeling disturbed as I watched the Baron perform a certain rite. Over the course of the quest I learned about the Baron’s past, how he and his wife met and fell in love, and how they came to hate each other. I learned about their daughter and the strife the family had gone through. I grew to hate the Baron, and then understand him. He wasn’t a good man, but importantly he felt like a realm person, somebody who had made terrible mistakes and lost everything. The quest line can end in different ways with no obviously good or bad finale. It’s just….it’s the most emotionally invested I’ve been in a game in years. It’s amazing.
I can say with no hesitation that the Witcher 3 is my game of the year. A truly stunning RPG from CD Projekt Red that had me captivated for every moment I was playing it, whether I was advancing the enjoyable narrative or just picking up a new contract. Masterful.
Metal gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The storyline may have left a lot to be desired, becoming something of a muddled mess in the last third, yet the gameplay was always impressive, bringing the beloved Metal Gear Solid action to an open-world that while bereft of traditional sandbox activities nevertheless felt fun to inhabit. Every base or outpost tackled felt like a chance to experiment with new toys or ideas, the gameplay binding together wonderfully well. The result is a game that always feels incredibly fun, the AI continuing to make each assault a memorable experience. One of my fondest moments came when tackling a hefty outpost during the night. I spent time scouting the situation and eliminating a few roving guards, and then took out communications. A stupid mistake, though, alerted the foe to my presence, at which point things turned nasty as the enemy sent up flares to locate me and started bombarding my assumed position with mortar fire. It was the first time I’d witnessed the AI do something like that, and it was awesome. Patrols came storming out to find me, and a guard went to a nearby outpost for backup. Suddenly I felt like I was being properly hunted. On the flipside of the coin, later on when I was vastly more equipped I assaulted an airport head-on with an attack chopper for backup. Great fun.
I’ve seen this game already hit a few “most disappointing” lists of 2015, which surprised me until I remembered that I’ve never been overly attached to the franchise as a whole. I’ve played various games from the series across the years, but that’s about it. Perhaps it’s this lack of attachment that has helped me enjoy the game more than these people, who often seem to state that it’s an amazing game, but a disappointing Metal Gear Solid game. Before I had to stop and move on to another review I sunk about 50-hours into the Phantom Pain, which is highly unusual for me. These days I don’t have the time to spend with a game once I’ve finished it, and normally once I’ve done enough for the review and move straight onto the next thing. I’ve come back to it numerous times since, just to muck about and see what happens. Well done, MGSV.
As someone who does watch nor care about football I was genuinely surprised by how much I loved Rocket League, a simple game that demands you knock a giant ball into the opponent’s goal using your rocket powered car that is capable of performing elegant leaps and driving along walls. It’s frantic multiplayer, the kind that keeps you coming back for match after match despite it being 3am. There’s surprising depth beneath its cartoony exterior that rewards those willing to spend the hours becoming expert judges of momentum, angles, timing and positioning. Or you could simply charge in and start smacking the ball around like a chimp that’s high. Either way it’s an absolute blast.
Even if you do play casually you can’t help but become better at the game, slowly learning to not just simply chase the ball around but rather wait for the opportune moment. You’ll learn when to use the boost, when to ram opponents, when to go on the defensive and when to make a charge for the goal. It’s so simply to pick up and play Rocket League, but being good at the game takes actual skill mixed with a dose of luck and a lot of hilarity. The small nature of the matches just makes things feel more personal, and like you’re actually making a difference unlike in larger multiplayer games where your contributions can feel small.
In short, best multiplayer of the year. Seriously.
Mortal Kombat X
For as long as I can remember I’ve been punching Scorpion in the face in one form or another, from the pixellated 2D days to the many missteps leading to the excellent series reboot in 2011. Mortal Kombat X doesn’t do much to change the formula set by the reboot which took the series back to its roots, but it does refine it in a variety of ways. It’s incredibly smooth, packs in some extra mechanics that help strengthen the game’s depth and manages to fit in a good chunk of content. It’s a shame that the PC launch wasn’t exactly smooth, tarnishing what should have been a damn fine moment for Netherealm Studios.
Ah well, the thing is I had an absolutely blast playing Mortal Kombat X. Me and an old friend dug out the fightsticks and began an epic series of matches that spanned several weeks of swearing and insults. The multiplayer keeps you coming back, but the singleplayer is no slouch either with a surprisingly enjoyable storyline.
With its massive pool of resources EA managed to annoy a lot of people with its less than impressive SimCity. Meanwhile with a considerably smaller budget and a comparatively miniscule team of people Colossal Order managed to completely outdo EA, delivering Cities Skylines, a truly great city-builder that had me sinking countless hours into it, managing to come up with more and more elaborate methods of totally mucking up the flow of traffic. As it turns out planning a city is much harder than I ever thought possible, and its likely the citizens of my haphazard cities firmly believe me to be nothing short of an incompetent moron. They’d be right.
Regardless of my utter lack of skill when it comes to constructing thriving metropolises Cities Skylines remains one of my favorite games of the year. It’s an incredibly engaging and accomplished sim that manages to reinvigorate a genre in need of it, and I fully intend on finding the time to delve back in and really get to grips with the mechanics so that I can finally achieve the dream of creating a city that has decent traffic flow.
That tree seems to be coming toward me very, very quickly. Too quickly, really. Crap.
That jump is bigger than I thought. Maybe I should slow down. Nah. Crap.
That corner is pretty tight. I should slow down for that. Nope. Crap.
That puncture isn’t looking too good, maybe I should slow down and….crap.
Maybe I should just slow down in general. Crap.
Than god, a straight, now I can floor it………..crap.
These sentences successfully describe most of my time with DiRT Rally, Codemaster’s been racing game in forever. As someone who grew up playing the Colin McRae Rally titles it’s such a pleasure to see Codemasters return to true rallying and deliver such an incredible game. The handling model is simply sublime, constantly putting you on the very edge of control as you blast through narrow tracks and graze rocks. You always feel just one tiny mistake away from disaster, and disaster it will be because there’s not much of a safety net to be found. Its exhilarating stuff.
Star Wars: Battlefront
Oh God, I can hear people drawing their lightsabers in anger already, which naturally makes them Sith because true Jedi do not draw their weapons in anger. Look, the criticism that Battlefront lacks depth is entirely justified. It’s a very shallow shooter, catering to a massive audience. But frankly, that’s okay. Not every game needs to have incredible depth and I feel like too many people don’t understand that. There’s plenty of room on the market for simpler experiences, and sometimes all I want is to fire up a game and shoot people in the face. I’ve played a lot of complex and difficult shooters over the years, enjoying their deep systems that require many hours of careful dissection to understand and appreciate, but Battlefront is perfect for those days when I don’t want to think too much. It’s a lovingly crafted visual and audio recreation of the movies, to the point where I genuinely had a tear in my eye when I first jumped into the game and saw an AT-AT striding through Endor as Imperial and Rebel soldiers scurried through the bushes and trees, and while the gameplay is very straightforward it also happens to be a lot of fun.
I’ve seen this on a few “Worst Games of 2015” lists, and while I do understand its placement there I also can’t help but feel it doesn’t belong on that list. There’s a massive lack of content that’s all the more insulting given the lack of a singleplayer should have provided plenty of extra resources for map creation. At most its a disappointing game, though, rather than a bad one, which is a different thing completely. There is a lot that’s just sort of middle-of-the-road, hence my own review not containing a recommendation sticker at the end.. I fully admit to it not being great, but I do think its good, and for me it just clicks. Sure, I do wish we could have gotten a true sequel to the stunning Star Wars: Battlefront 2, with updated space battles and a campaign to enjoy. But taken on its own Star Wars: Battlefront still provided me with some of the most fun I’ve had all year, and that qualifies it for this list which, as I’ve already stated, isn’t based entirely on my own reviews, because sometimes I enjoyed or disliked a certain game more than my review indicates because when reviewing something I try to take a step backwards. Take of your nostalgia glasses for a moment and try to consider that there’s nothing inherently wrong with simple games, and I think you’ll have fun too. Maybe not for long periods of time, but for an hour or two at a time Battlefront is a joy, and that’s why I keep coming back for another match or three.
Had this simply been a list of what I believed to be the best games of the year Rebel Galaxy would not have made it. It’s far too repetitive and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with its mechanics. Happily this isn’t a list of the best games, and therefore Rebel Galaxy manages to maneuver itself here. You just take a ship and head into space, taking on jobs to buy new gear for your ship or maybe move onto something bigger and badder. It doesn’t have the same huge scope as something like Elite Horizon, but there’s an almost terrifyingly addictive quality to Rebel Galaxy that got me hooked, the constant hunt for new loot driving me forward into the dark void of space.
And that’s basically what Rebel Galaxy is. Most of the time you’re a glorified courier, flying from one end of the ‘verse to the other delivering nonsense or picking up nonsense, usually while blasting away at foes using the interesting take on space combat which draws heavily from naval warfare. I suppose its my obviously absurd love of Firefly that really ties me to Rebel Galaxy, Flying through space, hunting for new jobs and listening to that brilliant soundtrack just makes me think of the tragically cancelled show.
Anyway, Rebel Galaxy is one of those games that really shouldn’t be as good as it is. When you take everything apart and critique how everything works it’s a relatively unspectacular game, but put everything back together and it exhibits a magic quality that keeps you playing, the very same quality that so many other loot-driven games like Borderlands and Diablo ooze, albeit in a less powerful form.
Oh God, that story was such a let-down. 343 seem to be struggling to craft compelling storylines or even characters, as ably demonstrated by the boring mass of generic armored muscle seen in Halo 5. Even the Master Chief came out of it feeling much less awesome than normal. This left the campaign feeling a bit lackluster for those like myself who were looking for the next entry in Master Chief’s story. The gameplay, though, was brilliant. While I struggle to remember details of the plot I have clear memories of many spectacular moments that stemmed from the amazing set-pieces and refined mechanics. New gameplay elements have brought Halo’s shooting to another level, making it even smoother, even more enjoyable.
You come for the singleplayer but you stay for the multiplayer. As frequently as the dubious way in which Halo 5 handles its requisition system annoyed me the chaotic multiplayer action kept me coming back for more and more. Warzone is an interesting step forward for the series, mixing AI bosses and control points with escalating equipment that starts at basic pistols and assault rifles and ends in tanks. The refinements to the core gameplay, such as boosting and being able to clamber up ledges, bring a much smoother, faster playstyle to the series that gives it an almost Call of Duty feel, but the shield system ensures that death doesn’t come too quickly, giving skill a chance to counter the first shot advantage.
Me and Dying Light had a rocky start which led to me writing up a news post about how bad AMD performance was, and that I wasn’t going to review it in that state because no review code was forthcoming and other games were piling up. This was followed by another post when the 1.5 patch was released stating that performance was much better and that I was hoping to find the time to talk about iut, which I never did. Skip forward a whole lot of time and even more performance patches have improved the game immeasurably for poor AMD folk like myself, and while it’s still not perfect it’s solid enough to play the game. Eventually I got a little bit of time to myself and fired up the game. I quickly became hooked.
Of course I’ve had a hell of a debate about including games that were basically messes on launch, starting with Dying Light and continuing on with Batman: Arkham Knight and numerous other titles, which would actually include my Game of the Year The Witcher 3, since it had a lot of issues on launch. Hell, even the much beloved Fallout 4 is actually quite riddled with bugs and glitches that most people seem very intent on glossing over. I quickly realised that if I didn’t include games that had bad launches, which is certainly a valid point since the state of the modern gaming industry pisses me off so much, then this list would be sparsely populated. Maybe I need to have a separate article for shaming some of these games.
But back to Dying Light. It’s a first-person game about running around a city infested with zombies, doing missions and eeking out a survival. The first-person parkour and combat can feel a little clumsy and disorienting at first, but with time the systems begin to feel quiet natural and make the game feel surprisingly immersive. Unlike survival-based games things like food and water merely top up health rather than being required, but Dying Light still manages to make it feel like you’re eeking out a life, hunting for salvage and gear that can make those missions easier. Zombies can quickly overwhelm you, take quite a bit to put down and can do serious damage, so those early hours are tense. Sadly as you get more powerful the game loses some of that tension in favor of making the player feel like they’ve somehow progressed. It’s also bit of a shame it didn’t push itself, though. Dying Light was essentially a sequel to Techland’s own Dead Island franchise but with a more serious tone that could have potentially worked if it wasn’t for the less than amazing writing. While the graphics were massively improved, though, the actual gameplay was pretty familiar stuff.Even so, I consistently had fun playing Dying Light, leaping across the rooftops in search of loot, running for my life at night and soaking up the beautiful vistas full of shambling corpses.
So there we are, my favorite games from across 2015. And that brings me to you guys, you wonderful, wonderful people who have made everything on this site possible. Trying to make progress in the gaming industry is pretty hard, especially given how corrupt it seems to be, the hundreds of questionable reviews out there serving to bury the people who are trying to bring some honesty to their work. I thought I’d hit a bit of a cieling, that I wasn’t going to get any bigger, but then suddenly things started looking up again with an extra hundred to two hundred people a day stopping by to have a read. It doesn’t sound like much, but to me it’s huge. The fact that there’s even one or two people who enjoy reading my ramblings is simply astonishing, so thank you so very much for being awesome. Have a good 2016.
Categories: Opinion Piece