2015 was a good year for gaming. I still don’t own a PS4 or Xbox One, so most of my gaming was done on PC. Fortunately, PC ports now come out alongside their console releases, and are often the definitive version. Other than missing out on a few exclusives (e.g. Bloodborne, Until Dawn), I was able to play most of the games I wanted to… eventually.
There are still many games that have gotten critical acclaim that I haven’t gotten around to (e.g. Tales of Borderlands) or don’t have the time/interest to invest (e.g. Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate). That said, let’s get on with my top games for 2015!
Downwell is a vertically scrolling roguelike platformer/shooter by Japan-based indie developer Moppin. Like many roguelikes, the gameplay is very arcade-like (i.e. short sessions, intuitive mechanics, punishing difficulty). I only started playing this in the last week, but I can already tell it’s a deep game. 😉
It’s primarily a mobile game, but plays best on the PC. For $2.99, it’s a great game for those on a budget and offers near infinite replay value.
9. Her Story
Her Story is an interactive movie video game directed and written by Sam Barlow. Sam Barlow’s claim for fame is his involvement with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. While it’s not my favorite Silent Hill, it impressed me with its depth of storytelling and characterization.
In Her Story, Barlow explores a non-linear narrative. You use an old computer database to watch short clips of police interviews with a woman involved in a missing person case. The game does a good job of leading you along a narrative path early-on, but you can find any clip at any time by putting in a relevant search term. Like a jigsaw puzzle, you’ll slowly put the pieces together to flesh out the full story. It’s one of the few games that I’ve seen nail a non-linear narrative and I hope it inspires other designers as well.
8. Super Mario Maker
In an overall weak year for Nintendo, Super Mario Maker ended up being the best game to come out on the Wii U. I haven’t invested much time into level creation yet, but the measly amount I have done has been a lot of fun! Most of my enjoyment from this game has been watching other players, particularly Game Grumps, suffer through nightmarish levels made by their “friends”. I definitely plan on coming back to this game in the future.
SOMA is a sci-fi horror game from Frictional Games (Amnesia). The game takes place on PATHOS-II, an underwater remote research facility with machinery that begins to take human characteristics.
SOMA has one of the best narratives I’ve seen in gaming. The horror aspect of the game is actually not that bad for those who are interested but shy away at jump scares. There are only a few “monsters” in the game and you stealth around them. Most of them are not that scary, although the environment you’re in will keep you in a state of unease.
SOMA deals with very interesting subject matter not often seen in games, like identity and what makes us human. At first, it appears like the game has multiple moral choices that will affect the ending, but they don’t actually make a difference, which is a bit disappointing. Still, it’s a game that I’ve reflected on long after completing it.
6. Ori and the Blind Forest
Easily the most beautiful game of 2015, Ori and the Blind Forest is a platform adventure game designed by Moon Studios. The game has a seamless world, like Metroid, as well as some RPG mechanics, but it mostly focuses on platforming. The platforming sections of this game are more akin to something like Super Meat Boy and will test your coordination and reflexes.
The visuals and audio in this game are gorgeous and I still listen to the soundtrack frequently. Every environment in this game is hand painted and just looks stunning. I’ve never played a 2D game that looked this good.
Ori has one of the best new mechanics I’ve seen in recent time: the ability to save anywhere. As long as you have enough energy, you can create a save point. This is crucial, because there are many difficult platforming sections that would be frustrating otherwise. Still, it can be annoying when you forget to make a save point and have to go 15+ minutes back.
The game doesn’t have a lot of backtracking for this type of game, but you will return to older areas once you learn new abilities. The story is nothing to write home about, but is still poignant at times.
Overall, I can’t recommend picking this game up enough!
5. Axiom Verge
Axiom Verge is an indie Metroid-style game designed and written by Tom Happ. This game really scratched my Metroid itch in a way that Ori did not.
Axiom Verge looks and feels like a Metroid game, but adds innovative mechanics to still keep it fresh. Tom gives us a labyrinthine, alien world to explore and it’s quite a joy to do so. There are tons of secrets in this game, and I didn’t manage to 100% it. The locations of some of the secret areas are also randomly generated, so they’ll be different for anyone playing.
The story is mostly in the background, as it should be in these games, but it still manages to be compelling. This game is pretty cheap on Steam right now, so I’d recommend anyone that enjoys these types of games swoop it up!
4. Fallout 4
Fallout 4 is an open world action role-playing video game developed by Bethesda. This was one of my most anticipated games of 2015, and it largely didn’t disappoint. Many fans criticized it for being too similar to FO3, and I also would have preferred if Bethesda had innovated a bit more (even the lockpicking/hacking minigames are the exact same!). But it’s been years since FO3 and New Vegas, and the Commonwealth is an amazing place to explore. I’ve already sunk 60+ hours into this game, and I’m on my 2nd character. I plan on coming back to this one.
3. Life is Strange
Life Is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure video game developed by Dontnod Entertainment (Remember Me) and published by Square Enix.
Life is Strange holds a special place for me. The first episode released in Jan and the last episode only released last month, so it’s followed me throughout 2015. I also streamed each episode so that my friend could experience it with me.
Thanks to Telltale Games, there has been an adventure game renaissance in recent time. Developers are taking the best parts of old PC adventure game (i.e. deep narratives, dialogue choice, problem solving) and removing the annoying parts (i.e. confusing puzzles, clunky inventories, pixel hunting, lack of direction).
Life is Strange’s main mechanic is a time rewind ability that Max gains near the beginning. Between the time travel and school setting (and foreboding tornado in the beginning) the game reminded me a lot of Donnie Darko initially. But the game quickly developed its own identity, and became a very important experience to me. Now that all the episodes are out, I’d highly recommend you check out this nostalgic adventure game.
2. Metal Gear Solid V
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an open world action-adventure stealth video game developed by Kojima Productions. Before this game came out, I had loss most interest in the MGS series. I loved MGS 1-3, but was greatly disappointed with 4. That said, I felt 4 was a good ending point for the series, so another MGS game seemed unnecessary.
MGS V ended up being one of my favorite game experiences of all time. It took the stealth action gameplay of past Metal Gear games and put it in sandbox environments. While there still were missions, the open nature of each area allowed for several points of entry, and almost limitless ways to tackle each situation. Also, for the first time in the series, the controls are great!
Another large factor is the amount of customization. You can customize your Mother Base, and also your loadout for every mission. There’s a ton of gear in this game, and despite putting at least 60 hours in, I still have tons to unlock.
The story surprisingly is one of the game’s weaker points. The narrative is as convoluted as ever, but doesn’t have the same emotional highs or political intrigue of previous titles. That said, it does have some very memorable moments. The story is also dealt out piecemeal between missions, sometimes in clever ways, but at other times what felt randomly. You also have to listen to audio cassettes to get most of the story. You won’t be “watching” much in this MGS.
Soundtrack is awesome too! There are tons of licensed music from that period, and you can play it during missions, or have it cue when your helicopter comes to extract you. For me, every mission ended with “The Final Countdown”. “Sins of the Father” is also my favorite MGS theme.
Get this game for the great emergent gameplay. You’ll never have more fun playing a MGS game.
Mark’s 2015 GAME OF THE YEAR: Undertale
This will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me. I’ve talked about this game ceaselessly over the last few months. It takes a lot for a game to get me so vocal. Undertale is a very special game that not only was wonderfully entertaining, but altered the way I think about games and RPGs. If I develop another RPG, the influences of Undertale will certainly be present.
Undertale is an Earthbound-inspired RPG developed by Toby Fox. Someone described this game as a “grower, not a shower”, which is fairly accurate. If you’re not nostalgic for the 16-bit era RPGs, it might not grab you right away. The first area is a bit tedious, and the charm doesn’t really come through till later in the game. But stick with it! As the inner machinations of the game become more apparent, the game gets infinitely more interesting. You’ll be eager to play through it again to experience the different playthrough types (Neutral, Pacifist, No Mercy and Genocide).
I don’t want to talk too much about the game now, because it’s best experienced firsthand. Expect to hear about it again in a future post where I’ll analyze how this game not only deconstructs RPGs but also how we play games.
Resident Evil Revelations 2, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth
Best Game of Yesteryear:
Phoenix Wright series
That’s it for my 2015 TOP TEN! I’m sure I missed a lot of excellent games from 2015, but I’m more than satisfied with what I did play. Now that you’ve read through my list, I’d like to hear what YOUR top games of 2015 were. Please leave a comment.