The best games of 2015 (according to us)!
(This article originally ran on December 23, 2015)
Last week we ran an article on the best TV shows of 2015, according to us. It proved to be tough, but not nearly as tough as picking the best games of 2015. Not even close.
With the TV shows, there was an embarrassment of riches. You can look at our list and argue that there were shows that should have been on there, but it wasn’t like you can look at it and legitimately complain that the picks didn’t belong. That’s not a challenge, that’s more a comment on how good TV shows were this year. You can analytically judge them and pick shows that were well made. Sure, some may be better than others, and that’s where opinion comes in, but our picks were all good shows, at least.
Games are different though. There is a much higher amount of preference at work when it comes to games, and there are different tiers based on platform. It’s tough, bordering on impossible to judge, say, a mobile game compared to a AAA release without just going with your gut. The same is true for a modern console or PC versus a handheld system like the 3DS (and yes, PC games compared to console are different as well, but we kept out of that debate – read on for details).
It’s also a factor that 2015 was a good year for gaming, but in some ways it was also a regression of sorts. There were less chances taken, but more really high quality major releases. We saw less disasters, but in some ways, less “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” There are plenty of games like that on the way though, and many, many titles that were incredible in 2015 – just maybe not groundbreaking.
There was a whole, whole lot of debate behind this list. A whole lot. We went over critical elements, including things like graphics, sound, connectivity, and more. In the end though, it felt kind of pointless. As with every “best of” list, we went with our gut.
People can tell you they have a system to pick the bests, but they are full of it. Best lists inevitably come down to personal choice. Ours is no different. We lay out why we liked each game, but in the end, it really comes down to preference. So while we obviously hope you like our picks, and we tried to cast a wide net, if you disagree, so be it.
But we stick by them
And now, our picks for the best games of 2015!
Although PC fans had a notably worse experience than console players, Batman: Arkham Knight is a sprawling, vast game with so much Batman lore built in that it is enough to make even the most hardcore fan stop and look up a few enemies or stories online. Part of what makes this game so great though, is that you don’t need to know anything about Batman to enjoy it – being a fan is just a massive bonus.
Sure, it had some flaws. The Batmobile combat was a little tedious, the big twists in the story were fairly obvious, and the DLC is uninspired, but it was still a huge game with a whole, whole lot to see and do. It also rewarded you for your obsessiveness by hiding the true ending behind a wall of collectible madness. Not everyone appreciated that, but regardless of your ending, the story was mostly satisfying, regardless.
Plus, it was just fun to play. Moving around the beautifully designed and properly moody looking Gotham City was a joy, and the combo-based combat is a game in itself. Having multiple ways to approach a situation is also a great way to keep things fresh.
Rocksteady set the bar for superhero games very, very high. Others will likely try to imitate its success, but they will need to bring their A game to compete.
When it comes to the console wars, specifically Microsoft versus Sony, you can generally ignore most of the hype. Sure, the PlayStation 4 is outselling the Xbox One, but Microsoft is doing just fine. It isn’t like the system is going to go away. As long as you are happy with your choice, so be it. One exception to this though it console exclusives, which make the choice of systems much tougher.
Microsoft had a few major exclusive releases (including one on this list), but Sony landed one of the best exclusives, and one of the best games of the year in Bloodborne. Is that alone enough to give Sony a major leg up? Probably not, but it does help justify your decision to go choose Team Sony.
Bloodborne is spiritual cousin to the Demon Souls games, offering a combat-based game that requires your full attention. You can’t just button mash your way through, you need to learn the way the game moves and acts, and the experience is better off for it. Mix in the Gothic look and feel, and you have an experience that stands alone in 2015.
You can make a legitimate argument that Fallout 4 isn’t a huge step forward for open world RPGs. It doesn’t really alter the way we see the genre, nor does it radically build on its predecessors, Skyrim and the last two Fallout games.
And yet, there is a good chance you are still playing it months after its release. We may also never find all the Easter eggs either, but that won’t stop people from looking. And looking, and looking.
Fallout 4 isn’t a new meal, it’s a steak cooked to near perfection. It takes a game style that people love, and just offers a whole lot more of it. It’s more than just a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach though, it is “if people love it, give them more to love.”
If you need more proof that Fallout 4 is one of the best games of the year, just go to your friends list on PS4, Xbox One, and/or Steam, and see how many of them are still playing it. There’s your answer.
Given how little love Forza 6 has been getting this awards season, this may be a surprisingly controversial pick – not for us, but for others.
A good racing game is an almost transcendental experience when done correctly. Getting into a groove can be a meditative, with the world fading away in favor of the track in front of you. It doesn’t even need to be a difficult or demanding track, it just needs to hold your attention. Few other games offer that level of temporary immersion, and few others even come close within that genre as Forza 6.
There were other racing games out this year – Project C.A.R.S. is a solid simulator and Rocket League could easily have its own spot on this list – but the Forza series just continues to release games with polish and care.
This was actually a tough choice – not because this game didn’t deserve it, but because we didn’t want to pick two similar Telltale games and you can make a great argument that Tales of the Borderlands was as good, maybe even better – but only if you live in a vacuum.
Game of Thrones was not only a good game, it was a game that expanded one of the most popular properties in the world. You need to know the show (the game is based more on the show than the book), which means it doesn’t stand on its own as much as other games in this list, but it is a brilliantly written story with a gut punch or six coming. And it’s made so much worse by the fact that the results are a direct result of your choices.
Technically part one released in 2014, but let’s not get bogged down by that. To step into one of the most popular – and heavily scrutinized – properties in the world and build off of it takes some powerful confidence. And Telltale pulls it off.
Of all the games on this list, Life is Strange is unquestionably the most original of the bunch. Sadly, that also makes it the least well known. The fact that it exists though is reason enough for optimism.
The game is broken into episodes, each of which tells part of the story of a young girl with a unique ability to reverse time. With the exception of that mechanic though, the game is very much grounded in reality. The game isn’t really about the powers beyond their use as a gameplay mechanic. Instead, it’s about people and consequences.
Life is Strange is an exercise in story-telling, using an interactive platform to breath life into a digital character. It’s a bold and original game that is able to elicit a rare emotional response from a game, and a must play for anyone looking for something original to try.
There is a good chance that MGSV will be remembered more for things that happened around and behind the game than the game itself. The real-life drama behind the making of this game has dominated just as many headlines as the game itself, and that’s a shame.
If you can overlook all of that noise though (and forgive that the third act is sort of a slapped on mess), you can and should embrace the freedom given to you in MGSV.
What sets this game apart is that you can do so, so much. You are given a huge amount of tools, and then allowed to just go at it. There are combinations of gameplay even the developers probably didn’t think about as they were making the game, but the canvas is there to get creative.
You can play stealth, you can bring the pain, you can lay traps, you can do whatever you want. You can combine tools and never tackle the same scenario the same way twice. It just keeps on going and going and going.
There are storytelling flaws, and the treatment of Kojima is tough to ignore, but from a technological point of view it is an impressive game.
When it comes to traditional year end best of lists, there is a bias against sports games. For the most part, that’s understandable. The majority of sports games are annual releases, and they offer very little new content from the previous iteration. Advancements come in increments, so while Madden 16 may be a huge step above, say, Madden 10, adding a new move or two from last year’s model is barely worth noting.
The NBA 2K series doesn’t exactly break the mold each year, but its annual changes are much bigger and bolder than most ongoing sports series. For the last few years, Visual Concepts have been expanding on the single player create-a-player feature, and the NBA 2K16 mode is the biggest yet. It tracks the life of a single player, and make his story engaging. You want to play one more game to see what happens next. You want to finish a year to see what the next step is.
It helps that the series is already one of the best sports simulators on the market, with multiple modes, ways to play, and gameplay that is as complex as you want to make it. There is always the danger of this series growing stale, but it hasn’t yet, and this year’s offering is the best to date.
Of all the games on this list, this one may be on the least number of other best of lists. We don’t care though, because it skillfully addresses a significant complaint many gamers have – it offers an original online multiplayer experience.
How much enjoyment you get out of Rainbow Six: Siege is directly proportionate to how much you are willing to open yourself up to it. Most multiplayer games are dominated by people that don’t even plug in their mics – and that’s actually kind of fair, given the onslaught of horrific verbal assaults potentially waiting for them – but Siege is different. If you aren’t talking to your teammates, you are playing the wrong game.
That is simultaneously the best and the worst part of Siege. When things come together though, when teams on both sides are coordinating, it is a unique, tense, and original experience – one of the best of the year at that.
(CD Projekt Red)
Not only is The Witcher 3 one of the best games of the year, it could lead to a new glut of amazing fantasy novels being adapted into games. As fans of sci-fi and fantasy properties (see pretty much everything we’ve ever written for proof), that alone would earn it a spot on this list. The books almost certainly saw a healthy boost in sales, despite being written in Polish and not yet adapted for multiple languages yet (not all of them, at least), so there is a good chance. It goes much deeper than that though, of course.
The Witcher 3 is an incredible feat of entertainment technology. It just keeps going on and on. It’s so massive that you don’t just play it, you become immersed in it. It was released over the summer, but people are still playing the primary game, and the DLC is just a cherry on top of that.
Even if it weren’t a massive, sprawling game, it still features a huge amount of gameplay that just keeps expanding and showing more and more depth. Two people can play the same game and have completely different experiences – both of them equally good.
If you only play one game this year, you can make it The Witcher 3 – not just because it’s good, but because you could spend a year playing it and never see everything.
Agree with our best games of 2015? Disagree?
Let us know in the comments below!