Best of 2015: Top 15 Games

12271372_10154545164654848_1304419480_o

I just couldn’t do it.

There was just no way that this year, with the incredible quality – and indeed quantity – of videogame releases throughout 2015, I could possibly restrict this annual list of mine to a mere top ten. So I cut one of my earlier lists down to a top five – particular as I am about these sorts of things – and expanded this baby.

Not only is this the 2015 list that took me the longest to write, it’s also the one that took me the longest to order. I’ve gone through dozens of rearrangements of this one – especially in the top four – and though I’m happy with how it reflects the past year, what is on this page to some extent only indicates how I feel about things right now – ask me again in a week and it may have shuffled around.

The platform on which I played each game on this list appears in parentheses. A game only qualifies for my list if I either a) finished its “main story”, or b) played at least five hours of it – whichever came first. I restrict myself this way to ensure I’ve given a game a fair go, though the rule does disqualify a number of games in which I dabbled, such as Kirby & The Rainbow Paintbrush, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Code Name S.T.E.A.M, Just Cause 3 and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, all of which probably would have made the list had they not come out at really awkward times for me personally. Additionally, remasters and remakes don’t count this year, because, well, you’ll have to see.

Without further ado, let’s reminisce about the embarrassment of riches to which gamers were treated this year:

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

15. Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)

The fact that I finished the main story of Batman: Arkham Knight is the greatest compliment I can pay the game. The weekend that I lost to the caped crusader initially involved other plans, and those plans promptly dissolved once I began to lose myself in Rocksteady’s incredibly good-looking open world vision of Gotham City, not to mention its intensely personal story of a mentally deteriorating Bruce Wayne. I even liked the Bat-tank stuff – for a few hours at least. After a while the game’s over-reliance on the tank sections did wear me down enough to keep Arkham Knight out of my top ten, but I couldn’t leave it off the list altogether, because despite its flaws the final chapter of Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy is a quality package.

.

14. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (PS4)

Yes, it’s technically a remaster of a PSP game, but given the fact that the original never saw the light of day in the west (and not for lack of fan complaints), I figured it counted for this list.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a JRPG that’s actually a lot easier to define than its weird origins and confusing title might suggest. It’s a dark, depressing story about militaristic atrocities that fleshes itself out more and more with successive playthroughs; a spin-off title that – despite its wildly inconsistent graphical quality – has a real-time, grind-heavy battle system that feels like it could hold up a main series Final Fantasy title if Square Enix had wanted it to. It lacks a traditional protagonist, instead presenting a principle cast of fourteen very different playable fighters and encouraging you to pick favourites, though it punishes you for having too much tunnel vision in that regard. It’s not the uber-polished experience that fans might expect from the increasingly rare beast that is the Final Fantasy home console game, but I enjoyed it more than any other FF I’ve played in the last half-decade.
.

13. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PSV)

2015-10-23-105419

Danganronpa fans have learned to expect the unexpected somewhat, but a third-person shooter prequel-sequel for the Playstation Vita was still a sucker punch way out of left field. Set between the first and second Danganronpa games, which are more straightforward mystery-solving visual novels, and thoroughly spoiling both games, Ultra Despair Girls is unfortunately a game that represents a big departure from the gameplay rhythm that fans enjoy about the series, while simultaneously being expressly aimed at only those fans. Luckily, while the shooter mechanics are slightly clunky, they do evolve enough throughout the game to keep players interested, taking on more of a puzzle-solving quality over time. And the story – which is just about as text-rich as the other two games – is required viewing, because it ties the past together, sets up future events, and is thoroughly messed-up, Danganronpa style.
.

12. Affordable Space Adventures (Wii U)

Among a strong suite of “Nindies” on the Wii U and 3DS eShop this year, Affordable Space Adventures stands out the most for me as a game that feels like it really needs the Wii U gamepad to function. Danish developer Knapnok Games have crafted a game that tests friendships like few others out there, tasking players to work in an asymmetrical co-operative team within highly stressful environments. One player controls the direction of a lonely ship on a hostile planet, a second uses the Wii U gamepad to control thrusters, change engine types and redistribute power and weight to the ship’s various systems, while a third directs and operates lighting, flares and the like. It’s the stuff of beautiful, memorable nightmares, and much angry shouting. Fans of the Wii U’s unique set-up who feel starved of appropriate software owe it to themselves to grab a friend or two and give this gem a go. It’s like nothing else out there.
.

11. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4)

So here’s a confession. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve actually enjoyed playing. Call it timing of release, call it the setting (I’m a sucker for 19th century London), call it the glorious addition of a grappling hook to the player’s arsenal, minimising excessive and repetitive climbing. Call it the wonderful performances of the two leads, twins Evie and Jacob, whose relationship is both believable and entertaining. Call it the tried-and-true Ubisoft open world formula working in concert with all of the above. Call it the fact that it isn’t Assassin’s Creed Unity and didn’t really have any bad press on account of glitches and such, if you really want to do that. The bottom line: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is good fun, y’all.
.

10. Until Dawn (PS4)

What a pleasant surprise Until Dawn was when it launched in the traditional dead zone of late August this year. Though I have tended to steer well clear of straight horror games for most of my gaming life, the unique appeal of playing a high profile PS4 exclusive – in a year where those were depressingly rare – was too strong to resist. That it took on the form of a choose-your-own-adventure game initially designed to be played with a group of people was also highly relevant to my interests. And so, over two sessions and with four of my friends, I made my way through the twisting B-movie storyline with just as many laughs and moments of disbelief as scares. From incredulous shouts at friends who made bafflingly ill-considered choices, to arguments over whose fault it was when someone failed to stay still enough in one of the super-tense “DON’T MOVE” segments, to evil cackles at my mid-air leaps after a jump scare that had been fully captured by my PlayStation camera, Until Dawn will go down as one of my favourite PS4-only games for years to come.

.

9. Her Story (PC)

The only compelling reason I had to pull away from my consoles and handhelds to boot up my Steam account for a new release game this year, Her Story is a game that suits the platform so much I couldn’t imagine it being released anywhere else – a rarity in today’s indie gaming climate. And boy, am I glad I did play Her Story. Put together by Briton Sam Barlow and his small team, the game puts you at the desk of an old police computer in the 1990s and encourages you to seek out videos of a lone woman – very well-portrayed by solitary actress Viva Seifert – answering interview questions about the disappearance of her husband. You find these videos by searching keywords that you must infer from preceding videos, so different people inevitably see the story play out in different ways. Yet by all accounts, the twisty tale where all is not what it seems is never jarring and never flows poorly. Great played alone or with others – as I did – Her Story is a unique experience well worth its meagre asking price.
.

8. Persona 4: Dancing All Night (PSV)

2015-11-23-224344

There’s no point commenting on the weirdness of a rhythm game sequel to the much-loved JRPG masterpiece Persona 4 Golden, because it was made by Atlus and Atlus does whatever it wants. There’s also little point recommending it to anyone who hasn’t played Persona 4 Golden, because there are times when the game relies on the connections the player has built with the returning cast to carry its story (Of course, I would never recommend against playing P4G if you haven’t yet, especially if you have a bit of free time – seriously, go play it). All that aside, however, if you’re a P4G veteran, get Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Effectively amounting to a visual novel with some relatively easy rhythm segments, P4D tells a good, comparatively brief story with typically great voice acting – even from the new voice of Rise Kujikawa – some rock-solid new characters and an awful lot of triumphantly heartwarming moments. The rhythm gameplay is good fun too, and after the story is done it offers a rewarding challenge (not to mention some nice PSN trophies). It’s my easy pick for the best Vita exclusive of 2015.
.

7. Tales from the Borderlands (PS4)

Tales from the Borderlands is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite Telltale game ever, usurping the fantastic The Wolf Among Us due to its unexpectedly hilarious writing – dialogue-wise and beyond – and its wonderful cast of characters voiced by voiceover royalty (Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Nolan North etc, with a side order of Patrick Warburton). The game’s choices may not seem as initially stressful as those in some of Telltale’s other games, but there are some big consequences that come late in the piece, and most minor choices reward players with entertaining dialogue. No Borderlands pre-knowledge is required, but there are Easter eggs galore for series fans, and the kind-of-cel-shaded art style made famous by the shooter/RPG franchise is a very good fit for Telltale’s notoriously janky engine. Each of the five episodes boasts a breathtakingly awesome title sequence paired with a great song, and the finale of the whole shebang is one of the best set pieces ever to come out of modern gaming’s most prolific studio. Play this game.
.

6. Rocket League (PS4)

It became a bona-fide phenomenon back in July when it took over the internet by convincing literally millions of gamers that two thing they may not have enjoyed – football and cars – when merged together could make pure, unadulterated fun. It was free on PS4 through PlayStation Plus and boasted cross-platform play with the PC version, a double masterstroke from toiling developer Psyonix. And it took over my entire life for a while. Unlike the FIFA games, Rocket League rewards patient, individual positional play, allowing willing players to pull off glamorous and meaningful moves from a position of utter defensive commitment, and that is just so, so rare in competitive games. I’m going to go out on a limb here and do something you may not have expected: Compare Rocket League to Frozen. Both were pieces of entertainment media I was ready to roll up my sleeves and defend for years, only for them to shoot way past my expectations in terms of popularity and do all my work for me. It’s a weird feeling. I love it, and I love Rocket League.
.

5. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)

I’ve tried to get into the Monster Hunter series – with its constantly rewarding fight-loot-upgrade-fight loop and high barrier of entry, a number of times, most recently with 2013’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on 3DS and Wii U. But when its much, much better sequel hit in February this year, the series finally clicked with me. Even though it came out the same day as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, practically forcing me to get into the grind later than most players, the refreshingly – and unbelievably – positive experience I had with the very welcoming Monster Hunter community made it easy to settle in. I was shocked to find an actual story in MH4U – rather than the skeletal gameplay framing that normally passes for narrative in the games – and a story with a witty localisation to boot. The complete removal of underwater fights from the series thanks to MH4U is amazing, as is the enriched depth of each of the 16 weapon types present, the addition of roguelike elements via the expedition mechanic, and the large supply of free Nintendo-themed DLC Capcom provided to players throughout the year. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate really is an exceptional game, and you can colour me ecstatic for the eventual arrival of Monster Hunter X in the west.

.

4. Halo 5: Guardians (XBO)

Fri_Dec_18_15-54-29_UTC%2B1100_2015

Speaking of games that have become my favourite entry in their respective series, here’s another one. No longer do the reserved mystery story and co-operative genius of Halo 3: ODST or the sheer Forge vastness and value proposition of Halo Reach stand out for me as the most enticing Halo offerings – nope, Halo 5: Guardians is my new favourite game in the legendary franchise. I know it might seem blasphemous to say this, but I’ve never really been into the main story thread of the Halo series, so arguments about how poorly executed Halo 5‘s campaign is or isn’t are quite peripheral to me. What I care about most in a Halo game is the multiplayer, and Halo 5‘s multiplayer is so good I would kiss it if it were possible to do so. Every single gun feels meaningful and capable, while the additions of a shield-limiting sprint, manual ledge clambering, strafing boosts, powerful shoulder barrages, difficult ground pounds and restricted ADS with mid-air stabilisers all somehow feel like natural evolutions of Halo gameplay in today’s highly mobile shooter climate. Then there are the game modes, with returning favourites like SWAT and Big Team Battle sitting alongside the highly communication-dependent Breakout and the truly game-changing Warzone to create a suite of modes that provides something for everyone – and is only growing with 343 Industries’ regular, and crucially FREE, content expansions. I wish I was playing Halo 5: Guardians right now.
.

3. Splatoon (Wii U)

If the past week has not telegraphed the appearance of this game high up on my favourite games list of 2015, I haven’t done a good enough job. Splatoon is a breath of fresh air in a shooter genre that has become a bit stale over the past several years, taking what it means to control territory in other competitive shooters and literally redefining the concept. This is a game where territory is both a direct victory condition and a resource, granting you stealth and speed where your colour is spread on the map. It also looks gorgeous, has a killer soundtrack and comes with a surprisingly robust – if short – single player campaign. Unlike other recent multiplayer shooters with fresh and exciting gameplay hooks, such as Titanfall and Evolve, Splatoon started expanding its launch content early and free, and it kept up with said content at a steady clip leading from late May all the way up to last week (at least). Thoroughly deserving of its surprise honours for Best Multiplayer/Best Shooter at the Game Awards earlier this month, Splatoon is the Wii U’s very best new IP title and a highly important achievement for Nintendo.
.

2. Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Real talk: If a game comes out in December, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to play it enough to qualify it for this list, because I spend most of the month working and writing these countdowns. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros, Just Cause 3, Rainbow Six Siege and Yo-Kai Watch know this all too well. Yet there was one game that I played so much this month that it cannibalised not only every other December game for me, but a few November ones as well. In the five days between the release of Xenoblade Chronicles X and the start of my end-of-year blogging, I played 20 hours of the sprawling Wii U JRPG. That kind of concentrated time investment just does not happen very often in my life anymore, especially at the tail end of the year. But for XCX it seemed both necessary and natural. The positively gigantic game is hardly what you might call user-friendly, but it gives you just enough to get by early on and encourages you to discover more and more as you begin to lose yourself in one of the most breathtakingly vast, varied landscapes ever put into a videogame. A deeply refined battle system, countless customisation options, seamless persistent online integration, layers upon layers of staggered mechanical revelations and above all a feeling of progression that is both gradual and meaningful all whisk together to form an open-world adventure that isn’t just more than the sum of its parts – It’s easily my favourite JRPG since that Persona game I keep harping on about.

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4)

Hideo Kojima, you magnificent bastard. How did you do it? how did you manage to make a Metal Gear game that, despite taking place right in the middle of one of the most complicated story timelines in all of videogames, ensnared so many new players? How did you craft a game that eschewed the traditional linear progression of your own legendary series in favour of a near-completely open experience that rewards your player’s actions and somehow makes them all feel like epic espionage movie moments? What gave you the idea to turn every enemy into a resource ripe for turning towards the greater good of your protagonist’s own ends? Who on your team came up with the adorable, badass D-Dog? What makes every encounter feel fresh and exciting despite minimal change of scenery throughout your game?  Why is Metal Gear Solid V so much fun to play, Hideo? Why?

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

Honorable Mentions
.

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes (3DS)
As a single-player game the opinions on Triforce Heroes seem to vary from clever but limited at best, to dull and monotonous at worst. But as a three-player experience, as intended, the game brings the best elements of the two Four Swords Zelda games and infuses them with a new, different kind of co-operative stress, throwing satisfying puzzles at players alongside boss battles that test friendships in all the best ways. The clincher is the game’s loot system, which is adorned with loopy Nintendo charm.

#IDARB (XBO)
Marking the triumphant arrival of the Xbox One at the table of frantic local competitive titles – a table at which Nintendo and Sony had already been eating for a while – #IDARB‘s ingenious combination of frantic 2D soccer/basketball mechanics, customisable 8-player team aesthetics, countless bonus minigame activities and unprecedented live Twitter integration make it a must-have for Xbox One owners with roommates.

Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)
Sure, it’s very simplistic, almost as content-light as Evolve at the time of writing and its future content is inherently gated, but I still had an awful lot of fun with Star Wars Battlefront this year. DICE’s take on the feeling of battling inside the Star Wars universe is incredibly spot-on, the game looks and sounds astonishingly good, the Fighter Squadron mode harkens back to the glory days of Star Wars dogfighting games, and Walker Assault is great fun. Here’s to a meatier sequel.

Runbow (Wii U)
Another of the Wii U’s attention-grabbing indie offerings spread throughout 2015, Runbow‘s simple 8 player, colour-based platforming is immediately accessible and easy to set up, yet punishingly difficult to master. At its best when focusing on backstabbing, skill-dependent competitive play with a hint of Mario Party randomness, Runbow offers plenty of modes and unlockable characters to keep the zaniness going for long sessions.

Life is Strange (PS4)
The only game in my honorable mentions section that isn’t dominated by a multiplayer focus, Life is Strange‘s unique storytelling style and twisty narrative makes for a Telltale competitor of sorts that does quite a few things better than the Californian narrative specialists, not least of all running decently. The game is only kept off my main top ten by some uneven dialogue and an ultimately disappointing final episode.

.
Surprise!

.
-◊--BONUS LIST-◊--BONUS LIST--◊-

TOP 5 REMAKES/REMASTERS/RERELEASES

(Because they’re everywhere nowadays)
.

5. Grim Fandango Remastered (PSV)

Finally getting to play one of the adventure genre’s most beloved games, which for years did not run on any modern PC, was a real treat in early 2015. Though the “remastering” of Grim Fandango barely added more than a new lighting filter and, you know, the ability to actually play the game, that was just about all it needed. The art style of the original has proven itself to be near-timeless, just like its sense of humour. The story of Manny Calavera and his four-year quest to seek justice for a lost soul is still well worth visiting, and it’s even better on the go thanks to the PlayStation Vita. Just seriously consider using a guide – some of those old puzzles are super obtuse by modern standards.

4. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (PS4)

Having somehow avoided the action-packed Uncharted series during its highly praised initial PS3 run, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice when their PS4 versions were announced as a coherent package – especially after developer Naughty Dog had thoroughly bowled me over with 2013’s masterpiece The Last of Us. With a visual upgrade that adds a spot of PS4 grunt to three already beautiful titles, as well as some shared improvements to gunplay that unify the feel of the games a little more and add a few extra trophies here and there, The Nathan Drake Collection is a well-timed value proposition of note.

3. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (PS4)

Few game re-releases have ever filled me with so much excitement as the early 2015 announcement of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. There are perhaps very few franchises that can hold up to such a short turnaround between initial release and next-gen port, but because of the ludicrous gun/class/skill variety that Borderlands can boast, replaying Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel a mere five months after I had played it on PS3 was far from a bother – in fact the drastically improved frame rate and prospective new co-op partners were more like incentives. And the bonus inclusion of Borderlands 2 – with all of its stellar DLC attached, no less – made for an irresistible package at a time when the disappointment of Evolve had left me craving a deep, co-operative shooter to play with friends.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D (3DS)

A painstakingly polished revisitation of one of the most beloved Zelda games of all time, Majora’s Mask‘s portable version is ultimately the best way to experience Link’s still-unique Termina adventure. I can say that with the utmost confidence despite holding the original on a very lofty nostalgic pedestal. Not merely touched up, MM was comprehensively re-examined and tweaked for this remake. I went over it with a fine-toothed comb and found 60 changes from the original version, and only one or two of those could be described as anything but improvements if you ask me. Well worth a visit from newcomers and returning players alike.

1. Rare Replay (XBO)

It’s still hard to believe just how much of a value proposition Rare Replay is. Even if you only ever play a third of the 30 games on offer in the package, you’ll still get more than your money’s worth – and what’s not to like about a collection that gives you Battletoads, Killer Instinct Gold, Banjo Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Viva Pinata? Rare Replay succeeds as much for its presentation as its content, using a universally linked in-house achievement system to encourage players to try out as much as possible in order to unlock entertaining game development videos, offering bite-sized remix challenges and filter options for the earlier games in the collection to spice them up and wrapping everything in a theatrical aesthetic that comes complete with its own catchy theme tune. A new gold standard for videogame compilations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: