Looking back on 2015, it’s hard not to say that it was one of the best years for games in quite some time. Yes, last year brought us some of the most immersive open-world games ever created, but it also brought us dozens of exciting and innovative gameplay experiences across multiple platforms. Along with some truly impressive AAA releases, it was also the year that celebrated the work of numerous independent developers. After spending a considerable amount of time playing 2015’s video game offerings, I have compiled a list of 15 games that I believe are well worth your time, and while there are certainly more than 15 games worth playing from 2015, this list reflects the titles that I managed to play during the year.
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Prepare to die, again. Yes, 2015 saw another installment in the Souls series with Bloodborne, a PS4 exclusive spinoff of the beloved Demon Souls/Dark Souls franchise. An action role-playing game developed by Hidetaka Miyazaki’s From Software, Bloodborne takes place in the Gothic city of Yharnam, an ancient sprawling metropolis whose inhabitants have been afflicted by a highly contagious blood-borne disease known as “The Plague.” The game follows the “Hunter,” who mysteriously awakens in Yarnham on the night of “The Hunt,” an annual cleansing of the beasts and monsters that have infested the city. Hoping to find a cure and possibly the source of the The Plague, the Hunter traverses through the winding alleyways, wards and districts of Yharnam, all the while battling horrific creatures and the city’s deranged citizens.
Like in past Souls games, Bloodborne’s various creature encounters, boss battles and nightmarish terrain may initially appear intimidating for first time players, but after selecting a preferred combat style and exploring the game’s various locations, it’s easy to discover just how rewarding the gameplay experience in Bloodborne can actually be. At its heart, Bloodborne is a game about patience, exploration and achievement. There’s nothing more satisfying than defeating a particularly difficult boss and then moving onto a new, unexplored area. Sure, you’ll die many times over the course of the game, but you’ll also be completely immersed in an exceptionally well-made Lovecraftian world filled with savage werewolves and tentacled monstrosities. What’s not to like about that?
An open-world survival horror game created by Polish developer Techland (Dead Island), Dying Light places players in the role of Kyle Crane, an undercover special-forces agent sent to infiltrate the quarantine zone in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Harran. Quickly learning that the city has fallen to the zombie hordes, Crane must learn to rely on the city’s last few friendly inhabitants, all the while keeping his mission and true intentions a secret.
Though Dying Light’s premise and characters are familiar to the point of being clichéd, the game makes up for it with its gameplay and open world environment. Like in Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, combat is mostly melee focused, and requires players to upgrade and repair weapons after extensive use. While guns are also featured, ammo is scarce, forcing players to often rely on melee combat. When not fighting the infected masses, players will often find themselves traversing the open-world from one point to another. It’s here that the game’s parkour mechanics are put to fantastic use, allowing players to fluidly jump off ledges and race across the roofs of Harran with relative ease. As players continue to progress through the game, the parkour mechanics are upgraded, providing a wider range of traversal and combat options.
Though as much fun as it is jumping from one rooftop to another or drop kicking a zombie in the face, it’s best to do these things during the day. Dying Light features a day-and-night cycle, and while the days in Harran can prove to be quite harrowing, the nights are down-right terrifying. Not only are zombies far more aggressive at night, but players will often be relentlessly stalked by the game’s mutated-zombie creatures. Retreat is almost always the wisest course of action when faced with these zombies, as attempting to fight these night-time stalkers often proves to be fatal in the game’s earliest sections.
The zombie pop-culture craze isn’t going away anytime soon, and while it’s understandable that many have grown sick of playing games that feature the undead, Dying Light provides enough of a quality gameplay experience that’s deserving of your time.
There are few developers that manage to create non-linear open-world games with as much player freedom as Bethesda Game Studios (Skyrim). The studio behind Fallout 3 and the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda made waves when they announced Fallout 4, the latest installment in post-apocalyptic role-playing game series, this past summer. Since its release in November, the game has gone on to be one of the most critically and financially successful titles of the year, earning praise for its world-building and breadth of content.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Boston in the year 2287, over 200 years after the world was engulfed in nuclear fire and warfare, player’s take control of the cryogenically frozen sole survivor of Vault 111. Though witnessing the start of the nuclear war alongside their family only moments before, the player character awakens from their frozen slumber and ventures out into the apocalyptic-wasteland, learning that Boston and much of New England, since renamed the “Commonwealth,” now plays host to savage raiders, man-eating super-mutants, radioactive ghouls and various other strange and dangerous creatures. Though they also encounter friendly settlements and various groups with their own agendas, the sole survivor of Vault 111 also learns of the Institute, an organization with seemingly nefarious plans for every citizen of the Commonwealth.
Like in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, players are given absolute freedom to explore the open-world of Fallout 4 at their leisure. Whether it be progressing through the main story, completing side-quests or scavenging and looting the hundreds of accessible locations in the game, players can play Fallout 4 in just about any way that they want to. Fallout 4 also introduces several new gameplay features to the series, including a dynamic Mass Effect-styled dialogue system, weapons and armor crafting, and base/settlement building. Along with the game’s new mechanics, some familiar gameplay features also make their return, including the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S.), which allows players to slow down combat and enter a cinematic “bullet-time” effect to slaughter enemies.
While certainly not the revolutionary, game-changing title that some were hyping it up to be, Fallout 4 is the perfect kind of game for those looking for an easy to understand RPG with a substantial amount of content. Be sure to set aside at least a hundred hours to thoroughly explore and immerse yourself in Fallout 4’s apocalyptic wasteland through. The Commonwealth is a big place, vault dweller.
Those seeking to play a thoroughly creative and original video game from 2015 need not look any further than Her Story. Created by independent developer Sam Barlow (Silent Hill: Shattered Memories), this interactive movie game tasks players with analyzing fictional police interviews from 1994. The interviewee is a British woman named Hannah Smith (Viva Seifert), who is being questioned by police over the disappearance and murder of her husband, Simon. By studying instructional text files and hundreds of video clips presented on a 90s desktop, players must determine the truthfulness of Hannah’s answers regarding her life and late husband.
Along with its immersive early-90s aesthetic, the game does a fantastic job of placing you in the role of a detective. Everything depends on your curiosity and actions, and while virtually all the answers are in Hannah’s interviews, it takes a great degree of observance and tenaciousness to solve the mystery of Simon’s death. Saying anything more about the plot, characters or game mechanics might risk cheapening the overall experience of Barlow’s wonderfully realized creation. Rest assured that you won’t find anything in gaming from 2015 as unique or as challenging than Her Story.
Life is Strange
Though as baffling as it is to think that one of the most heartfelt video games of 2015 makes frequent use of use of the word “hella,” Life is Strange happens to be exactly that game. Published by Square Enix and developed by Dontnod Entertainment (Remember Me), Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game that follows Maxine Caulfield (Hannah Telle), a high school photography student. As the game begins, Max has a disturbing vision of a powerful storm that ravages her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Trying to make sense of her vision, she soon discovers that she has inexplicably gained the ability to rewind time. After using her powers to prevent murder of her childhood friend, Chloe Marsh (Ashly Burch), Max soon finds herself embroiled in a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a fellow student.
Anyone familiar with adventure games will quickly understand the basic mechanics of Dontnod Entertainment’s episodic series. Like most titles within the genre, progression through Life is Strange is predicated on cause and effect based choices throughout the narrative. Depending on how a player chooses to handle a specific situation or treats a certain character, it will adjust the story accordingly.
Though it certainly wouldn’t be hard to count the number of storytelling tropes and eye-rolling bits of dialogue that are littered throughout Life is Strange, Dontnod have still managed to create a moving story about friendship and loss, and even places players in situations and settings unseen in most video games. To put it simply, it’s hella good.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
No game has been more widely discussed in gaming publications in 2015 than Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Published by Konami and developed by Kojima Productions, The Phantom Pain is the eleventh installment in Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series.
Set after the events of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, The Phantom Pain follows Big Boss/Naked Snake (Kiefer Sutherland) who learns that he has spent the last decade in a coma. Seeking revenge against the group that destroyed his paramilitary company, Militaires Sans Frontieres (MSF), he adopts the codename “Venom Snake,” and helps lead a new mercenary group, Diamond Dogs. Traveling to Soviet-controlled Afghanistan and war-torn Zaire to track down the individuals responsible for MSF’s destruction, Big Boss uncovers a plot by a secret covert intelligence agency to create a new type of Metal Gear called “Sahelanthropus”.
As expected, Metal Gear Solid V makes no attempt at explaining the complexities of the story, characters or setting to players unfamiliar with Metal Gear Solid, and while that is certainly frustrating for new players, the game manages to make up for it with its addictive gameplay. Along with introducing open-world environments, a first for the Metal Gear series, and reintroducing the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, which allows players to transport various items, vehicles, and enemy soldiers back to the player’s hom base, The Phantom Pain provides countless stealth and combat options for players to choose from. Base-building and resource management is also introduced, allowing players to build weapons and equipment, and even train soldiers that they can then use in the field.
Despite receiving near universal acclaim from critics and fans alike, Metal Gear Solid V has also played host to number of behind-the-scenes controversies, including the widely publicized fallout between Konami and Kojima Productions. It has been speculated that Konami’s corporate restructuring, supposed ill-treatment of employees, and pressure to release The Phantom Pain earlier than originally planned, prompted Kojima’s departure from the Japanese publisher in 2015. While the exact circumstances that brought an end to Konami and Kojima’s 25+ year working relationship is still unknown, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain stands as one of the best games of 2015 and one of the strongest entries in Metal Gear Solid series yet.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Developed by Moon Studios and published by Microsoft Studios, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the most beautiful and challenging games of the year. With an art style and score inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro), Ori and the Blind Forest harkens back to classic non-linear side scrollers such as Super Metroid and Castlevania.
Set in the magical forest of Nibel, the wise and powerful Spirit Tree narrates the story of Ori, a newborn white guardian spirit that was adopted by a friendly forest creature named Naru. Though Ori and Naru grow to love each other, a cataclysmic event ravages the forest and its inhabitants. Eventually left alone to fend for himself, Ori sets out on a quest to restore the forest of Nibel by seeking the three elements of Balance: Waters, Winds and Warmth. Throughout his journey, Ori encounters many other friendly and nefarious creatures, including the fearsome owl known as Kuro.
If you’re looking for a game that pulls at the heartstrings and features some of the most adorable and creative character designs of 2015, look no further than Ori. Moon Studios have created a metroidvania masterpiece with Ori and the Blind Forest. Not only does the game offer a complex and stunning world filled with endearing magical creatures and gorgeous animation, but it features expertly designed levels that require quick thinking and a fast response time to progress through. Oh, and be sure to bring a box of tissues if you’re the sensitive type. The heartache is very real with Ori and the Blind Forest.
Pillars of Eternity
Initially crowdfunded via Kickstarter all the way back in 2012, Obsidian (South Park: The Stick of Truth) has received unabashed praise for its isometric role-playing game, Pillars of Eternity. A spiritual successor to games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, Pillars of Eternity places players in the fantasy world of Eora, a land plagued by a mysterious supernatural phenomenon.
The game starts with an in-depth character creation system, allowing players to customize the physical appearance, gender, race and religious background of their character. Players can also choose to play as one of eleven available classes: Barbarian, Fighter, Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Wizard, Monk, Priest, Rogue, Chanter and Cipher. Other than the game’s robust character creation system, players are treated with the game’s excellent real-time strategy combat. Like most real-time strategy games, combat can be paused at any time, allowing players to plan their next moves accordingly. Over the course of their adventure across Eora’s southern realm, players will be able to upgrade their character and make key moral decisions that influences the game’s story.
Die hard role-playing game fans will adore Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity. Along with its robust character creation system and well-balanced combat, the game features a world so wonderfully immersive that you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of its 2D isometric landscape.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
If there’s a single game this year that deserves more attention than it initially received, then that game would undoubtedly be Rise of the Tomb Raider. The victim of a crowded release schedule, Rise of the Tomb Raider has suffered from soft sales since it was released on Xbox One back in late October. Despite low sales, Rise has managed to become a critical darling and a master-class example of modern third-person action-adventure games.
Developed by Crystal Dynamics, Rise of the Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft one year after the events of 2013’s Tomb Raider. Though she is haunted by the horrific and supernatural events that took place on the Japanese island of Yamatai, Lara has become obsessed with unraveling the mysteries left behind by her late father, Lord Richard Croft. As she studies her father’s research, Lara learns of the existence of the lost city of Kitezh, an ancient Syrian metropolis believed to contain the secret of immortality. Managing to arrange an expedition to Syria, the budding archaeologist soon encounters Trinity, a cult/paramilitary organization dedicated to the retrieval of ancient artifacts. After a particularly nasty encounter with the organization, Lara quickly realizes the danger that Trinity poses, and races against time to prevent them from learning the secret of immortality.
Rise of the Tomb Raider offers one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences of 2015, and presents even more combat and traversal options than its 2013 predecessor. Along with its redesigned stealth-mechanics that allow unique sneak attacks, Lara can use the environment to confuse enemies and avoid particularly nasty encounters with large groups of combatants. Crafting has also been significantly improved allowing for the creation of unique weapons and ammunition types. Fans of Tomb Raider’s bow combat will be pleased to see many more arrow types this time around. Not only do players have the ability to impale an enemy’s head with a well-placed shot from afar, but they also have the option to use fire, poison gas or grenade arrows to battle enemies.
Anyone who’s a fan of action-adventure games would do well to pick up Rise of the Tomb Raider. This is arguably one of Lara Croft’s best adventures, and while the story isn’t anything to gush over, it’s the perfect title for those seeking a really enjoyable gameplay experience in a beautifully realized world.
Psyonix’s Rocket League, the follow up to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (yes, that’s the game’s actual title), places players in control of rocket-powered vehicles in demolition-derby styled soccer matches. Though the description for the game may sound ridiculous, Psyonix has managed to create one of the most addictive and satisfying physics-based vehicle racers in years.
The rules of Rocket League are simple: two teams are placed in an enclosed neon-colored arena and attempt to score on one another with a giant soccer ball. Despite sounding relatively straight-forward, the game offers unparalleled movement unseen in most racing sims and sports games. Not only are players able to race across the pitch with their customizable cars, but Rocket League also allows players to drive up ceilings and walls, and even make mid-air jumps and direction changes to gain quick advantages over opposing players during a match. It’s this wonderfully care-free attitude towards the laws of gravity that makes each match wildly unpredictable and enormously fun.
Those seeking an online multiplayer experience that’s easy to pick up and understand should definitely give Rocket League a try. Plus, who doesn’t want to drive up walls with a rocket-powered car? It’s so cool!
It’s not much of a surprise that a game developed by Frictional Games, the same developer that is known for producing such horror titles as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Penumbra, has crafted a science-fiction survival horror game that is as atmospheric as it frightening with SOMA. The game follows Simon Jarrett, a recent survivor of a horrific car crash that left him with severe brain damage and cranial bleeding. Agreeing to undergo an experimental brain scan procedure with the hope of alleviating his crippling symptoms, he soon finds himself alone in an abandoned underwater research facility. Though completely unaware of how he even got there, Jarret explores the facility, learning all the disturbing secrets and mysteries it holds.
While some have been quick to compare SOMA’s underwater terrors to Bioshock, the two horror titles have little in common other than their respective settings. Though a horror game, SOMA is not a game about killing monsters with various superpowers and steampunk-inspired weapons. There is no combat in SOMA, requiring players to progress through the game using stealth or puzzle solving. Even the environments of SOMA, which places players in labyrinthian corridors populated by eerie, robotic creatures, are radically different than Bioshock’s failed underwater 1950s utopia.
SOMA is definitely worth checking out for its scares alone, and for those hoping to play a game that features some really fantastic plot twists will be more than satisfied with Frictional Games’ watery horror tale.
Super Mario Maker
Though the Wii U has proven to be a commercial failure for Nintendo, no can argue that the system hasn’t had some stellar exclusives. One of the console’s best titles of 2015 was Super Mario Maker, a side-scrolling platformer that allows players to create their own custom levels based on the gameplay and visual style of past Mario titles, including Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U.
As players progress through the game’s pre-built courses, new editing and design tools become unlocked, allowing for the customization of specific gameplay mechanics, enemy behavior and platforming physics. Once a custom-made level has been created and tested by a designer, it can be uploaded to the online “Course Wold,” where players can browse and download player-created content. By using the Course World, players can find and sort through levels by creator, popularity or difficulty, thus crafting the type of Mario platforming experience that they desire.
There’s really nothing like Super Mario Maker on the console market right now. The sheer amount of content that’s included in the game is astounding, and even if level designing isn’t your thing, the online community for the game has continued to provide enough custom-made levels to satiate your platforming desires for months if not years. Anyone with a love or appreciation for classic Nintendo sidescrollers should make this a priority gaming purchase. Who knows? You might unlock your inner Shigeru Miyamoto!
Tales From the Borderlands
An episodic point-and-click adventure game developed by TellTale Games, Tales From the Borderlands takes place on the savage planet of Pandora in the Borderlands universe. Players take control of, Rhys (Troy Baker), a corporate middle-manager, and Fiona (Fiona Bailey), a fast talking con-artist. Though they both differ wildly in personality and often argue (humorously) about how events actually transpired, the two hope to make it rich by finding a Vault, a cache containing ancient alien technology and unfathomable riches. While Rhys, Fiona and their friends bumble their way through a world filled with scheming bandits, skin-pizza wearing psychopaths and finger-gun waving accountants, nothing proves to be more dangerous than the digital reincarnation of longtime Borderlands villain Handsome Jack (Dameon Clarke), who tags a long with the unlikely heroes on their ridiculous journey. The game also features the vocal talents of Chris Hardwick, Patrick Warburton, Erin Yvette and Nolan North.
Along with its exceptionally well-written story and diverse cast of characters, Tales From the Borderlands is arguably one of the funniest games to be released in years, which may come as a surprise to fans of TellTale’s more recent titles such as The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. While there’s certainly a number of heartfelt and poignant moments in the game, TellTale has managed to imbue almost every scene in Tales with humor, using everything from slapstick to sight gags. The dialogue is especially funny and is only improved by the pitch-perfect delivery of the game’s all-star cast. Additionally, those who are concerned of jumping into Tales without having any previous knowledge of Borderlands need not worry. Tales’ greatest success is how you can play it without having any previous knowledge of the Borderlands series whatsoever. While fans of Borderlands will feel right at home and enjoy seeing the franchise’s familiar faces, TellTale does a great job of introducing the need to know concepts and characters of the Borderlands universe organically throughout the narrative.
Honestly, there’s little reason why people shouldn’t play Tales From Borderlands. In some respects it’s TellTale’s strongest title yet, and even harkens back to the studio’s early days with the Sam and Max series. Do yourself a favor and play the first episode. You won’t regret it, kiddo.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
There’s a reason why gamers and critics have declared 2015 to be the “year of the open world game,” and for those that have managed to get their hands on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, few would disagree with such a declarative statement. Based on Polish author Andrzaj Sapkowski’s series of fantasy novels, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the third and final installment in CD Projekt RED’s role-playing game series, places players yet again in the role of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter known as a witcher. Picking up after the events of The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, Wild Hunt follows Geralt as he travels across an unnamed continent plunged in a bloody civil war in search of his adopted daughter, Ciri. Finding himself entangled in countless conflicts, Geralt becomes the arbiter of many decisions that affect the state of the world.
Featuring an absorbing story, well-written characters, fantastic voice-acting and lore so rich it could easily rival the fantasy worlds of George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is arguably one of the greatest RPGs ever made. As players progress through CD Projekt RED’s medieval-Polish fantasy-epic, their greeted not only with many vivid environments and locations to explore, such as heavily populated cities, coastal villages, swamps, caves and haunted forests, but they’re also given the opportunity to tackle the game’s content on their terms. Though Wild Hunt’s main story is just shy of 50 hours, the amount of side quests that are also offered most likely doubles, if not triples the game’s length. It’s during these additional hours that players can get a real sense of just how dense and nuanced Wild Hunt actually is.
Whether you’re hunting territorial monsters, wooing a beautiful, red-haired sorceress or trying to save the world from total annihilation, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt provides a role-playing game experience like no other.
Though initially released by Sony with little fanfare or marketing, Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn has proven to be one of PlayStation 4’s most enjoyable titles of 2015. A survival-horror adventure game, Until Dawn was originally supposed to be released on the PlayStation 3 and feature dreaded PlayStation Move support. After suffering a lengthy delay and smartly dropping the gimmicky move controls, the game was reintroduced as a PS4 exclusive.
Harkening back to 90s slasher film franchises like Scream, Until Dawn follows eight stereotypical 20-somethings during their annual winter-trip to Blackwood Mountain in Alberta, Canada. Though they’ve gathered together to “party like porn stars,” a dark cloud hangs over their heads as their trip marks the one year anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of two of their closest friends. As they explore the secluded snowy retreat, they discover that something is amiss and that someone or something is hunting them.
Over the course of Until Dawn’s 10-12-hour campaign, players take control of the eight characters and guide them through the narrative by making key decisions throughout the game. Whether these decisions are dialogue-based or a specific environmental interaction, each decision creates a butterfly effect, thus affecting certain outcomes and creating unforeseen consequences later on in the story. It’s this specific in-game mechanic along with the beautifully atmospheric environments and the surprisingly strong performances of the central cast that make the game so much fun to play. There are literally dozens upon dozens of choices that players can make that influence not only how certain characters will interact with each other and how they react during certain scenes, but also if they’ll live or die. It’s possible to keep all eight characters alive throughought the entire campaign, and it’s equally possible that all eight of them will be dead before the credits roll.
Those seeking a suitably entertaining horror-adventure game with predictable, but fun slasher clichés can’t go wrong with Until Dawn. It’s a satisfying narrative-gaming experience that’s easy to pick-up and is a joy to play whether you’re alone or with friends. In case nothing you’ve read so far has piqued your interest, the game also stars scene-chewing legends Larry Fessenden and Peter Stormare. If that doesn’t warrant an automatic purchase, I don’t know what does!
While these are just 15 games worth playing from 2015, there are many other titles that were released last year that are deserving of attention. Were you a fan of Just Cause 3? What about indie darlings Axiom Verge or Undertale? Maybe Nintendo’s Xenoblade Chronicles X? What game was your personal favorite from 2015? Let us know in the comments below!
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