The best games of 2015 so far…
No big games are released at this time of the year. The burning ball up in the sky encourages us out of our natural habitat to get some “fresh air”. But there are two ways you can look at the long summer games drought: we can brood about the lack of new games, or we can look back on everything released so far, revisit and finally complete a favourite – or pick something new entirely and get stuck in.
Because 2015 has been a great year for games so far. From the traditional RPG and spectacular blockbuster to the curiously experimental, the revived genre staple and even a handful of downright original games. Here’s our pick of the best, in no particular order.
Get stuck in, because going outside is overrated.
Dying Light took everyone by surprise. Before release it was fair to say interest was lukewarm as the idea of yet another zombie game with the novelty of parkour met with rolling eyes. But in practice it turned out to be a real surprise, a first-person shooter with brutal combat, slick movement and a great playground in which to explore and impale the undead.
Developer Techland has to be applauded for supporting the game post release with neat DLC and weekend events, which in turn has fostered a dedicated community the likes of which can support a game for years to come. Dying Light is one of 2015’s real success stories.
A recent release, it only took a couple of weeks before it seemed that every other person on your friends list was playing this wacky arcade game. The concept is simple to grasp and the reason why so many people are buzzing about it; it’s football with demolition derby cars.
Control floats between two states – the precision and responsiveness of pelting across the pitch, to the gamble of jumping and wall-riding, where matches can be won or lost with brave and foolhardy moves. Rocket League thrives in multiplayer when competitive play is fun even when you lose, and matches swing from glorious victory to crushing defeat in the space of seconds. We haven’t had this much fun with an arcade game and friends since the original Trials HD release on Xbox Live.
Batman: Arkham Knight
“Be the Batman” said the marketing and it kind of pulls that off. It just so happens that part of being the Batman involves driving a tank around Gotham, which wasn’t exactly central to the storyline of The Killing Joke. Still, there’s enough fan service and lore in Arkham Knight to keep the World’s Greatest Detective snooping around for weeks. It’s a great single-player adventure with a cool story and bags of action, and once again Rocksteady proves it knows how to make the best superhero games in the business.
The big caveat here is if you bought the PC version it’s probably the worst game released this year. Removing Arkham Knight from sale immediately after release has been an annoyance for players, an embarrassment to the developers and highlights Warner Bros contempt for the PC platform as a whole.
From the school of If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It comes OlliOill 2, the sequel to the much loved surprise hit of 2014. While the days of big budget extreme sports games are long gone and Tony Hawk’s latest looks like nothing to get excited about, the boys and girls at Roll 7 continue to refine what can be done with skateboarding and minimal controls.
OlliOlli 2 is a game refined and shows what a talented developer can do when it iterates to the nth degree and loves its subject matter. It’s going to be fun watching Roll 7 grow, play its games and see where the team is in 10 years time.
Who can take the first-person shooter and turn it completely on its head? Nintendo can! As if we had any doubt, Splatoon is a gloriously colourful arcade shooter in the loosest sense of the word. It has hidden depth beneath the surface paint, where you win by covering maps in sloppy ink and giddy excitement. Non-lethal weapons and special abilities are creative, showing a flourish in design that we don’t often see, even from studios that have being making FPS’ since forever.
This is the game Nintendo fans shout about to prove the Wii U isn’t dead yet and it’s a valid argument. Even if this is the console’s last year, it’s going out with its head held high.
GTA Online: Heists
Still alive and pumping with a Bullshark Testosterone heart, the long awaited Heists DLC has reinvigorated GTA Online. Heists are flooding the game with cash, jobs, new friendships and a stack of vehicles, weapons and clothes – everything the regular player demands.
They seemed to have taken forever to arrive but the wait was well worth it. No one is doing free DLC like Rockstar Games is right now, pushing out massive chunks of gameplay like Heists and still updating the game before and after with extra DLC on a regular basis. GTA Online has its ongoing technical problems, but no one can deny that when it comes to content, it’s the game that keeps on giving.
Cities: Skyline has been called the SimCity EA couldn’t make. It turns out there’s still a very hungry market for a good quality city simulator, and its been supported by a legion of mods to help fix the problems a sprawling game like this has.
So it starts as a city simulator with a massive amount of choice and possibilities, and it grows to a barely manageable metropolis where crime, waste and traffic run out of control. It’s not perfect, but the achievement of a small studio like Colossal Order has to be acknowledged. The team continues to patch and there’s an expansion promised with more details at Gamescom next week.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The biggest game of the year so far will quite possibly still hold that position by December 31. The Witcher 3 is a highly polished, sprawling, political, action-packed RPG where bawdy characters live out their lives with gusto. One of the most confident games of the generation so far, it delivers a dirty fantasy promise, incrementally rewarding RPG mechanics and a world of violent and lurid adventure.
And developer CD Projekt RED continues to support the game post release with bundles of free DLC, a patch full of upgrades and the promise of more content to come. The Witcher 3 is a blockbuster in every sense.
Not A Hero
Another hit from the Roll 7 and Devolver Digital team, Not A Hero is hilarious and hardcore. A 2D shooter with a slick snap-to-cover mechanic, you’ll be rolling, diving and shooting within minutes but still playing it hours later. Nine different killers keep the game fresh even after you’ve cleared up the city streets, and keep an eye out for SWAT teams, old-biddies with machine guns and that frigging panda.
If you haven’t played Not A Hero you should because it’s cheap and funny. Vote Bunnylord.
Mortal Kombat X
Fighting games don’t come along very often, and good fighting games are even rarer. But Mortal Kombat, despite ten official iterations and a handful of spin-offs, has still got it. On the surface Mortal Kombat X is bloody and ridiculous with finishing moves that would make Ed Gein wince. If you play it just to unlock the stomach churning brutality and the “oh no they didn’t” shock value you’ll get your money’s worth.
But it’s also pleasingly deep, with three different fighting styles for each character, and all moves as fast and responsive as they’ve ever been. It’s never Street Fighter complex, but that’s a good thing in this case. After a couple of hours you’ll have favourite fighters and be capable for busting a range of lethal moves with confidence.
Ori and the Blind Forest
One of the prettiest games of 2015, Ori and Blind Forest is a lovely surprise to those who didn’t realise they missed playing 2D platformers. It’s beautiful, imaginative and distinctive, a Mertroidvania-style game where new paths open up as you progress and earn new abilities. Can’t reach that spot just yet? You’ll be able to get there soon, with a movement set that starts off understated and grows to delicious acrobatics with precision control.
Don’t be fooled by the beauty and the charm: Ori and the Blind Forest is a tough game that isn’t afraid to punish, and putting the checkpoint system in your hands is another challenge that takes some getting used to. So it’s familiar and hard and a bit weird and lovely to look out. You should play it.
Is Project CARS the best racing game released so far on the new gen consoles? It probably is. Aside from the terrible name, everything else about the game feels finished. It’s strength is it’s managed to include so many different driving disciplines in one package and boasts an engine strong enough to let them all shine.
It’s a shame the Wii U version has been cancelled (although understandable) and the announcement of Project CARS 2 only a short time after the release of the first was a little disingenuous, but developer Slightly Mad Studios has made a very good impression on the racing community.
Her Story came from nowhere and caught a lot of attention because of its unique and experimental narrative techniques. You search, watch and take notes on police interviews, in the hope of solving a case.
What starts out as curiosity soon crosses into obsession, where hours of time are spent pursuing an avenue that eventually leads to a dead end. You might not be on the path to solving the case, but it never feels like wasted time. And when the clues do add up and the conclusion begins to form in front of you, there’s no mystery quite so rewarding as one you feel you’ve helped solve
Heroes of the Storm
It’s taken some serious beta testing and a fair bit of unsentimental development work from Blizzard to get Heroes of the Storm up to speed. But the fact that it never gave up on its MOBA vision says a lot of the finished product.
If you’ve been put off the genre or didn’t know where to start, Heroes of the Storm is a great jumping in point. Once you get over the trepidation of the unknown it’s all very accessible and you’ll spend more time playing and having fun that worry about rules and techniques. That stuff comes later, at which point you’ll know whether this free-to-play game and the genre itself is something you’re willing to dedicate more time to.
Who expected a top-down shooter to be one of the best games of 2015? Helldivers is another game that benefits from PSN promotion, with old school gameplay feeling perfectly up to date on Sony’s three systems.
Play this in co-op as intended and you’re in for a treat. This isn’t co-op where everyone runs around blasting with abandon, but one that requires coordination lest you fry your team mates. You also need to look out for each other and heal, resupply and guide your buddies through planets, battling endless waves of enemies (for no reward) until you can call in that dropship to escape. It’s exhausting and amazing.
One shot, one kill gameplay can be as gruelling as it sounds. Titan Souls is a tricky beast, where you only carry one arrow, which must be retrieved and charged when you want to fire it again. And it’s just tiny old you against 19 massive bosses.
It starts out as punishment and pain, but the emphasis is on observing and working out how to kill these bosses with timing, skill and patience. The top-down styling is lovely, and the difficulty has been tweaked to just convince you to give it one last try, even when you’re on the verge of quitting (again). Titan Souls is something you can start playing and still come back to months later, chipping away at one boss every time until you eventually master them all.
Destiny: House of Wolves
Destiny’s third outing (after launch and The Dark Below) has changed the game significantly. It’s now more generous with the rewards and the spectacle of combat is more immediate. The campaign missions may be over after a couple of hours, but they’re a damn fine firefight littered with that Bungie magic.
The Strike, the Vestian Dynasty, chasing down Taniks, the easier march to level 34, the Reef social space – all feel like they beef up Destiny once again. And then the Prison of Elders, a slick new horde mode with plenty of rewards, and the hardcore battles of Trials of Osiris, make this a strong package for the millions of daily Destiny players.
Battlefield Hardline split the BF community in two and it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are playing it now. Our affair was short and sweet too, but definitely something we don’t regret. It’s got great gunplay, a fun single player campaign, and a nice twist on multiplayer with a progression system full of achievable goals.
Hardline is a good first-person shooter that benefits greatly from its cops and robbers setting. Without that dressing it would be a lot weaker, but the flashing lights, the money grabs, the ridiculous muscle cars and the pistol packin’ make Hardline memorable while it lasts.
Life Is Strange
Life is Strange has been a phenomena during 2015. Starting off modestly, it was enough to pique curiosity and establish a cult following. A following that is now rapidly growing and warming to this unique episodic adventure game.
We can’t talk about the narrative themes without spoiling, even though it’s the main reason to play, aside from the neat rewind mechanic that has you second-guessing your own choices. It’s not without its flaws, but if you want a challenge, an adventure and a story set a million miles from most blockbuster games, Life Is Strange is a fun experiment to get involved with.
Kerbal Space Program
When NASA take an interest in a space exploration simulator you know it’s worth checking out. The concept is simple enough; you build rocketships and space planes and send them off into the galaxy. But the reality of physics is really hard; it’s rocket science, after all.
There’s plenty to achieve and explore should you be able to make orbit – moons and planets – but with a swelling mod community and the ability to recreate historical landings this is a game that will keep on giving long after you’ve bought it.
The E3 reveal of this Vault management sim was genius, giving those anticipating Fallout 4 (i.e. everyone) something to keep them busy until November. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s a pretty simple game but as squeaky Todd Howard said himself, it’s a novelty.
Still, it’s a good novelty and 70 million plays a day at peak isn’t to be sniffed at. You can bet your ass they’ll be a follow up from Bethesda, but will you care when you finally get your hands on Fallout 4?
A rogue-like where you explore beyond a sunken London, Sunless Sea offers deliciously overwhelming choices – choices that feel like they have a real impact on the story. Everything in the sea is out to get you, everything on land is out to get you and you often end up eating your own crew. But don’t let that put you off, as the atmosphere, art and crafting make for a dark and compelling adventure.
You won’t “win” but you can spend hours in Sunless Sea, sailing to bizarre islands, trying to achieve your own goals while keeping your crew alive and avoiding madness. It’s a weird, tough, funny world to explore. Don’t give up the ship.
Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin
They say that even a weak Souls game is better than 90 percent of regular games. This next-gen version of last year’s sequel may have caused some disappointment among the hardcore, but you can never go back to what made the original and Demons Souls before it so right for you.
The new content, visual upgrades and extra seasoning should tempt players back to Scholar of the First Sin, or if it’s your first time don’t let the “2” put you off. It’s still a tough, unique, baffling and mysterious world to explore, where simple mistakes costs you hours of work but the feeling of triumph after taking down a boss is rarely matched.
The best PS4 exclusive to date drips with Gothic atmosphere, challenge and disturbing visuals: this is the game you can use to convince your friends to buy Sony’s latest home console.
Bloodborne takes the familiar Dark/Demons Souls mechanics but makes it more aggressive, adding a gun and encouraging the player to attack rather than hang back. It still relies on expert timing and spotting openings to take down enemies, but you must push if you want to solve the mysteries or Yharnam. When every step forward is this rewarding, Bloodborne is a game that will give back for months, even after you’ve completed it.