52 of the best games of 2015

By Staff, Monday, 21 December 2015 08:00 GMT

ps4_vs_xbox_one

52 of the best games of 2015

Blockbusters. Instant classics. Rising trends. Hidden gems. We run down the games you should have experienced in 2015.

If you’re looking for something to do over the holiday break, or just need conversation starters for social night at the vidya club, were here to help: Team VG247 has assembled a list of games that could keep you busy through to the end of 2016, if you pack them in at a rate of one per week.

Let’s crack on, shall we? Rather than try to rank these games against each other or line them up in chronological order, we’ve elected to present them in alphabetical order. No pushing!

assassins_creed_syndicate_fi_2

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

First released: October 23
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Another year, another Assassin’s Creed – right? But for all it continues the recent trend of presenting a stand-alone story disconnected from the modern-day fiction, Syndicate does enough differently to make it well worth a look. For its first go-round with Ubisoft’s flagship title, the Quebec team tried several new things: twin protagonists; a city bustling with shipping via ground, water and railway; a mobile train base (choo choo!); and an emphasis on claiming territory that plays up to the strengths of the open-world genre, if that’s your thing. Add to that great characters, some of the best assassination arenas the series has seen in a long time and improvements to combat, stealth and free-running controls and you have a great excuse to come back to the Creed.

batman_arkham_knight

Batman: Arkham Knight

First released: June 23
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
It sounds like Rocksteady is done with the Dark Knight for a while, but what a way to send him off. Arkham Knight delivers the same successful formula as City, but packed with even more fanservice and cute nods to the greater Bat-canon; fans are still finding Easter Eggs. For those who love the simple but flexible combat systems, Rocksteady has provided a huge array of battle and stealth challenges in optional arenas, so there’s plenty of Bats to keep you going until the superhero mill throws up something new. Arkham Knight does lack the tightly-driven narrative of Arkham Asylum, and your mileage may vary on the frequency of Batmobile-based sections and challenges, but no complaints otherwise. Avoid the PC version; it is pants.

bloodborne_the_old_hunters_tgs_2015_1

Bloodborne

First released: March 24
Available on: PS4

Enter the Lovecraft-inspired world of Bloodborne – if you dare. This tough-as-nails RPG builds on the unforgiving combat of the Souls series, but emphasises speed and aggression over solid defence. At its best, every encounter is a lightning fast duel where a single frame makes the difference between life and death and the hitbox borders are tight enough to constrict your breathing. The city grows darker as the player progresses; the world changes as they gather the currency of madness and unlock secret after terrible secret. Real masters will want to challenge the endless random Chalice Dungeons in search the latest meta’s most powerful gems; without these, entering PvP is an act of self-immolation.

borderlands_the_pre-sequel

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

First released: March 24
Available on: PS4, Xbox One

The ultimate fan package, The Handsome Collection brings beloved classic Borderlands 2 into shiny HD and gives the much-overlooked Pre-Sequel another chance at winning your affection. Everything that you love about Borderlands is here, in the slickest console package to date. Shoot and loot your way through a lighthearted adventure with some very dark, very human undertones; this is a universe that is only expanding, and you should get on board before there’s too much to absorb. Grab a pal and co-op through for bombastic shooting fun, or go slow and explore the deeply customisable RPG side for ultimate profit.

black_ops_3

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

First released: November 6
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

The perennial Call of Duty produced a promising bud on the Treyarch stem this year, which has blossomed into a worthy successor to the hallowed Black Ops titles. The three studios behind Activision’s juggernaut seem to be growing in confidence as their schedules open up, allowing them to try new things. A risky prospect, perhaps, but the multiplayer event of the yearâ„¢ does not seem to be suffering for it this time, with Black Ops 3 bouncing Call of Duty right back to the top of the charts. A catalogue of interesting Specialists, a huge investment in Zombies mode and a non-linear, co-op friendly campaign; get on it before the Chrimbo kiddies get too good to challenge.

cities_skylines_2

Cities Skylines

First released: March 10
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC

Here’s a funny story about Cities Skylines: developer Colossal Order nearly gave up on the project when the 2013 SimCity was announced, but the Maxis effort’s extended pratfall was what inspired Paradox to sign it: gamers who’d been waiting years for a proper SimCity game were even more enthusiastic about the idea when they saw how it could all go so terribly, terribly wrong. There’s much to be said in praise of Colossal Order’s ongoing support and commitment to longterm appeal, but really, you know all you need to know – this is a proper SimCity game. Put a bit of duct tape over the box and write the real title on.

crypt_of_the_necrodancer

Crypt of the NecroDancer

First released: April 23
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC, PS4, Vita

Crypt of the Necrodancer isn’t the first rhythm action RPG but it’s definitely the best. Retro-style, pixelated rogue-likes are a dime a dozen at the moment (what a time to be alive!) but how many of them have you tapping your keys in time with Danny Baranowsky’s excellent score – or to your own imported music? You’ve never lived until you’ve gone toe-to-toe with a jelly while singing along to the Flubber version of Get Down Tonight. Additional consideration must be given to the excellent title; monocles must have popped when that little brainwave shimmied into being.

dark_souls_2_ps4_xbox_one_scholar_of_the_first_sin

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin

First released: April 1
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Darker and more soulful, Scholar of the First Sin is the definitive version of Dark Souls 2, lovingly upgraded for next-gen consoles and bundled with three painfully difficult DLC expansions. Building on the complex and obscured lore of the series to date, the stern challenges of Dark Souls 2 continue to unpack the complex themes of power and corruption that overshadow the series, and it’s only with the additional ending option of the re-release that one feels a bow has been tied around events so far. You’ll have plenty of time to contemplate this as you face down some absolute bastard bosses.

destiny_the_taken_king

Destiny: The Taken King

First released: September 15
Available on: PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Whether you buy into The Taken King or stick with Vanilla Destiny, it’s been a huge year for Bungie’s brave new world. The update signalling the beginning of Year Two turned the game upside down, and in the few months since Bungie has been more forthcoming than ever before in smacking down bugs and making balance adjustments. But if you haven’t picked up the expansion you really are missing out; not only are the new missions, raid and destination well worth a look, the ongoing events have made Destiny a far busier place than it was throughout most of Year One, and all signs point to continued activity through 2016.

dying_light

Dying Light

First released: January 27
Available on: Linux, PC, PS4, Xbox One

We’re exceptionally glad Dying Light dropped at a quiet time of year. TechLand’s open world zombie adventure deservedly took of; once it made its way into a few pairs of hands word of mouth was enough to send it careening into mainstream gaming consciousness, proving to be one of the biggest hits of the first half of the year. Originally conceived of as a sequel to Dead Island, Dying Light began to veer off in its own direction, embracing a parkour system and a more terrifying day-night cycle. TechLand wisely chose to forge a unique identity for the potentially far more interesting project, and the rest is history – absorbing, emergent and frequently terrifying history.

everybodys_gone_to_the_rapture_2

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

First released: August 11
Available on: PS4

Although its glacial pace is not to everyone’s taste, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a work of art and craft deserving of your attention. Those with nostalgic memories of country Britain will be most struck by the lovingly faithful village scenes, and it’s a testament to the skilled characterisation and wonderful voice work that the large cast is easily recognisable despite never appearing in the flesh, as it were; the player has only vague outlines and suggestions of movement to go with the audio. The overall sci-fi story is a bit hit and miss, but the individual arcs will please anyone with an interest in human nature and relationships.

fallout_4_explosion

Fallout 4

First released: November 11
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Fallout 4 makes several important advances in the field of Bethesda RPGs, notably an impressive crafting and settlement system, an overall improvement in performance and stability (yes, really) and some subtle but impressive graphical upgrades. In general, though, you can’t really deny it – it’s very much the same thing in a slightly fancier package, and not on par technically or visually with rival titles. But absolutely nobody cares. Warts and all, Bethesda’s formula is a deeply compelling one, and with Fallout 4 the writing and environmental design teams have really cut loose – to great effect. A+, would lose 200 hours to again.

fallout_shelter

Fallout Shelter

First released: June 14
Available on: Android, iOS

Wisely announced and released on the same day to avoid accusations of time wasting when it “should” have been making Fallout 4, Bethesda’s first modern smartphone effort has been a runaway success. It’s not really that different from competing free-to-play titles, offering the same sort of busy-work resource management and reliance on push notifications, but the Fallout wrapper was enough to get it through the door. Now that the beast is in the door, its compulsive nature has wrung a fortune from whales – despite the fact that you can get all the way to end-game and collect everything without fronting a single cent. The power of Pip-Boy.

five_nights_at_freddys_4

Five Nights at Freddy’s 4

First released: July 23
Available on: Android, iOS, PC

Two Five Nights at Freddy’s games dropped this year, thanks to prolific indie Scott Cawthon, along with some interesting updates. The series is possibly at an end now – although you never know, with Cawthon – which makes piecing together its twisted story a distinct possibility at last. You won’t be able to say you were there during the seemingly endless months of sleuthing, teases and puzzle-solving that helped players arrive at a timeline of the bizarre events surrounding the Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza chain, but you will be on board ahead of the upcoming feature film. Also, you’ll be terrified, so there’s that.

gta_5_pc

GTA 5 (PC)

First released: April 14
Available on: PC, innit

By far the most beautiful of all versions of Rockstar’s latest epic, the PC build of GTA 5 has so much going for it that it’s probably a front-runner for many game of the year lists. The modding scene is a little subdued thanks to Rockstar’s twitchy ban-hammer, but the video community rose in force thanks to the excellent, powerful bundled video editor. Of course, there’s also the fact that the basic package is GTA 5, one of the best games of the decade, and GTA Online, ditto. How many times are we going to have to say it?

halo_5_guardians

Halo 5: Guardians

First released: October 27
Available on: Xbox One

343 Industries isn’t afraid to make changes to the Halo system and the first new Halo game for Xbox One introduces a bunch of modern ideas – springing, aim-down-sights, AI buddies, and multiple protagonists. The story didn’t quite live up to the excellent pre-release Hunt the Truth campaign, but journeying through the huge, beautiful environments is a hell of a trip; Microsoft’s hardware shines at a rock-solid 60FPS even when all hell breaks loose. As for the multiplayer, the huge battles in the Warzone mode are certainly the business – although it must be said the REQ system means you’ll spend a lot of time bring blown to bits by people with credit cards and little financial sense.

her_story

Her Story

First released: June 24
Available on: iOS, Mac, PC

Calling Her Story an “interactive movie” is a grievous undersell; the player may not be pulling off six-button combinations and blowing up terrorists, but they’re invited to do far more than passively receive the content. Her Story is a mystery adventure where the puzzle solving takes place in your brain rather than in mini-game grids; your job is to piece together the story fragments and arrive at the truth. You’ll need a keen eye for detail, a good memory and a talent for inferring context to succeed. Do not allow yourself to consume spoilers before going in.

heroes_of_the_storm

Heroes of the Storm

First released: June 2
Available on: Mac, PC

You’d think with League of Legends and Dota 2 in the mix that there’d be little room for another MOBA; it’s not like this is a casual genre. Nevertheless Blizzard has somehow convinced a huge population to devote their leisure hours to the growing eSport, perhaps on the strength of its IP (the original DOTA was a Warcraft 3 mod) and the gentle good humour with which it approaches the necessarily silly premise bringing its key characters together in one title. There’s a great deal less complicated meta to deal with thanks to the abdonment of item systems, which also means the only gap between newbies and veterans is skill. (“Only”.)

hotline_miami_2

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

First released: March 10
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Vita

If you liked the original Hotline Miami, Wrong Number is a treat; developer Dennaton Games has remained faithful to the core appeal while adding in several worthwhile additions that make the sequel arguably more essential than its precursor. Hard Mode will challenge even the most skilled assassins. 13 characters offer more perspective on the murderous world while enabling different approaches to play with their unique abilities. The story is complex and tied in with original’s plot, providing satisfying fodder to untangle on repeat playthroughs. A level editor is in beta for the Steam versions, too, so there should soon be an endless supply of missions to tackle.

just_cause_3

Just Cause 3

First released: December 1
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Deliberately ridiculous, the Just Cause series is everything you love about B-movie action. Never one to front a modest sandbox, Avalanche Software leveraged the power of new consoles to produce another whopping game world packed full of things to blow up, link together until they blow up, or crash into other things – blowing them up. There’s a plot in there somewhere and it’s said to be a little less cheesy than last time (why would anyone thing that’s a good thing?) but nobody has found it because they’re too busy tethering cows to fighter jets and highjacking aircraft mid-flight. And then blowing it all up.

life_is_strange_1

Life is Strange

First released: January 30
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Prepare for feelings! Life is Strange unrepentantly leverages your nostalgia and a gloriously warm art style to play your emotions like Beethoven plays the piano; the little scalpel strokes don’t prepare you for the sledgehammers. Copious sobbing aside, Life is Strange is a front-runner for adventure of the year, providing a better Telltale game than Telltale thanks to better underlying tech and active engagement with its own core design: the branching storylines are foregrounded by your ability to rewind time. The mysteries and tragedies will stay with you long after you’ve forgotten the awkward dialogue. Hella cool.

mad_max

Mad Max

First released: September 1
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

In the wake of Mad Max: Fury Road’s phenomenal success, it’s sort of weird that Avalanche Software’s first 2015 release went under the radar a bit – although perhaps gamers were saving their energies for another post-apocalyptic open-world adventure? In any case, Mad Max is a pretty amazing package with a lot to offer in the “oodles of content” and “huge world” columns, helped along by some memorable characters (your mileage may vary). What really shines is the jousting-like car combat, and the way you can use your vehicle to storm bases; the car is more of a star here than the quiet Max, although to be fair he’s always taken a backseat to other elements of George Miller’s desert-hot world vision.

the_magic_circle

The Magic Circle

First released: July 9
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC

Beloved of industry insiders, The Magic Circle tells the story of a video game caught in development hell. Unfinished, constantly evolving, raddled with bugs, The Magic Circle is unshippable, and nobody seems able to reconcile the wishes of its auteur with the practicalities of the project. As the protagonist of this painful project, your job is to save it from the limbo of vapourware, via a clever freeform puzzle system. Through it all you’ll come to learn more about the people who made you, in a darkly funny send-up of the game development scene. Clever, cool and cunning, all in one package.

metal_gear_solid_5_the_phantom_pain

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

First released: September 1
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

There are many reasons why you might declare Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain your game of the year, although multiplayer suite Metal Gear Online and the microtransaction-raddled Forward Operating Base system are probably not among them. The single-player game is a triumph, building on a formula debuted with Peace Walker of non-linear open-world gameplay and compulsive base-building, wrapped around the sandbox-y combat and effortless charm Hideo Kojima’s seminal stealth action series is known for. Snake’s transition to modern action gameplay comes off to perfection, and the rest of the experience is so essentially Metal Gear that even purists find it hard to argue. Plus, D-Dog is great and your horse will crap on command, allowing you to send enemy vehicles sliding off the road in a shower of shit. Game of the century??

telltale_games_minecraft_story_mode

Minecraft Story Mode

First released: October 13
Available on: Android, iOS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One

When Mojang and Telltale revealed Minecraft Story Mode, the idea didn’t meat with instantaneous applause. First there was the inevitable confusion and disappointment that no, a more overt plot would not suddenly manifest in the crafting sandbox, and then came the questions. What kind of story could you tell about Minecraft without making a mockery of its lore and players? This kind, obviously; Telltale’s loving tribute both to Minecraft and the people who play it leverages the same creative culture that fuels the game’s domination of YouTube. Give it a go as either a Minecraft or a Telltale fan and you won’t be disappointed.

mortal_kombat_x

Mortal Kombat X

First released: April 14
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Following on the 2011 series reboot, Mortal Kombat X does enough differently to justify the upgrade. In addition to the return of the energy and sprint metres, one of the more interesting additions is a set of three variaitons for each fighter, meaning players can alter their fighting style to meet their opponent’s tactics even after character choices are locked in; this provides and interesting meta for serious players as well as allowing more casual fans more opportunity to come to grips with every character. Multiple game modes are on offer; there’s even a factions thing for those who like to see their activity acknowledged in some way, and the online scene is helped by harsh punishments for sore losers. The jump to current-gen hardware is nice, too; last-gen ports were eventually cancelled altogether.

neko_atsume

Neko Atsume

First released: October 30 (English version)
Available on: Android, iOS

Enough of us sought Neko Atsume (“Cat Collection”) out before it was localised that it technically belongs on a 2014 year, but the English-language version’s October 30 launch has opened this low-effort mobile game to brand new audiences. One of the most accurate cat-ownership sims ever, Neko Atsume has players buying expensive toys and food in the hopes that cats will favour them with their attention – usually fruitlessly. Unusually for time-based mobile games, it doesn’t send push notifications or coerce you into sitting there staring at the screen; cats may or may not turn up, but only while the app is idling. Your job is to peek in occasionally in the hopes of spotting a new specimen, taking a good photo of it for your collection. It’s like bird watching or butterfly collecting, only you can stay indoors and there’s free stuff to win every day if you don’t want to fork over real money.

olliolli_2_welcome_to_olliwood_pc

Olli Olli 2: Welcome to Olliwood

First released: March 3
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC, PS4, Vita

Releasing in the same year as the long awaited Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5, Olli Olli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is the definitive skateboarding game of this generation. A 2D affair, it still somehow manages to capture the complexity and challenge we loved in those old games, without – and this is important – being utter pants that makes us regret ever growing up. This is good on any system but the pixel graphics feel right at home on your Vita, and there’s nothing like running a few courses to make your commute speed by. Don’t set your sights on mastering every challenge on offer or we’ll lose you forever and the industry will collapse.

ori_and_the_blind_forest

Ori and the Blind Forest

First released: March 11
Available on: PC, Xbox One

One of the finest products of Microsoft’s indie push, Ori and the Blind Forest is a stunningly beautiful platformer with a diverse array of influences from the greats of classic sidescrolling games and cinematic animation. Although the navigation and puzzle solving are not in themselves especially noteworthy (except in that they are excellent), the unique checkpoint mechanic is; players can set their own restart points using energy collected in-game. You need to make hard choices, but can tailor them to your own abilities; very cool, and supplemented by an ability upgrade system that encourages players to make them game play their way.

pillars_of_eternity

Pillars of Eternity

First released: March 26
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: if you don’t get on with game’s like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, Pillars of Eternity is not for you. It is uncompromisingly old school, with demanding RPG mechanics and stacks of text and menus to wade through. It’s kind of like someone went back to 1999 and handed Unity and modern hardware over to one of those classic CRPG studios, probably because a good proportion of the development team are those veterans. If you did love those old games, or can learn to, there’s a great deal of excellent story-telling and satisfyingly tactical combat on offer.

prison_architect

Prison Architect

First released: October 6
Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PC

Prison Architect is an Early Access success story, and not just because it made it to full release this year without developer Introversion Software collapsing or releasing a broken product, something other titles can’t always claim. No, Prison Architect is a model for Doing It Right; early backers were treated to release after release and constant communication from the team, so there was never any doubt as to the project’s direction or performance. Would this complicated simulation have done as well if it had pursued a traditional development and marketing model? You have to wonder – and to celebrate a quality product that found its niche.

project_cars

Project CARS

First released: May 7
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

When a veteran team of developers went indie and approached the racing community with the bold ambition to crowdfund and even partially crowdsource the ultimate sim, players answered with enthusiasm. Countless backers poured money into the project, and many of them volunteered significant chunks of their free time to test and provide feedback on the simply titled Project CARS (that’s “ommunity Assisted Racing Simulator”). The result? For the astoundingly low budget of $5 million, Slightly Mad produced one of the must realistic and fully-featured racing games ever to come to market. It’s not as shiny as some rivals, and may not boast as many vehicle licenses, but in almost every other way it’s a clear frontrunner.

rainbow_six_siege_1

Rainbow Six Siege

First released: December 1
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Realising awkwardly close to the sobering events in Paris this November, Rainbow Six Siege is slipping under a lot of radars as everyone stands around trying not to make eye contact with the anti-terrorism training sim. It’s a shame, because Siege is a hell of a game. Much more an exercise in problem solving, tactics and co-ordinated team play than a run and gun twitch shooter, it provides a real alternative the largely homogeneous competition in the first-person sphere. There’s a bunch of unnecessary microtransaction guff, but it can be safely ignored; unfortunately, the matchmaking and connectivity situation leaves something to be desired. We’re hoping for an update soon.

rise_of_the_tomb_raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider

First released: November 10
Available on: Xbox One

The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was pretty good, but there was definitely room to criticise its lack of tombs. Rise of the Tomb Raider corrects this with a stack of more traditional Lara Croft adventure moments, while continuing the first game’s ambition of providing a fine open-world action game. The new setting is even more impressive with the last, chock a block with those moments of discovery that just cry out for a bit of chanting monk score – and there’s so much to collect and upgrade that you’ll find yourself poking into every possible corner rather than dashing through on your way to the next action set piece. If you have an Xbox One, there’s no excuse not to give this a whirl.

rock_band_4_7

Rock Band 4

First released: October 6
Available on: PS4, Xbox One

Rock Band 4 is the first proper series entry since Harmonix went indie, and that shows in the stripped-back character customisation – but in all other ways it’s an excellent evolution and true successor. The new story mode is great; voting on songs is a fun addition; the overhauled solo system is hugely rewarding; the expanding catalogue combines Harmonix’s excellent, educated taste with crowd-pleasers. Points must also be awarded for legacy controller and DLC support, although the lack of platform APIs has meant everyone has to download their collections individually, and European gamers have had to be extra patient. Still: the best rhythm action band experience around, and only getting better with ongoing free updates adding new content, features and modes.

rocket_league

Rocket League

First released: July 7
Available on: PC, PS4 (Xbox One due February 2016)

Who would have thought one of the hottest hits of summer 2015 would be a soccer driving hybrid, spiritual successor to a game with a too-long title? Thanks in part to its inclusion in PlayStation Plus Instant Collection, Rocket league attracted millions of downloads across the PSN and Steam – a huge achievement for an indie – and became one of the multiplayer events of the year. Psyonix continues to tweak and refine its unusual game, adding new maps and modes for free, and even failing to charge for most of its cosmetic items, but all of that is secondary to the fact that it built the best football sim anyone has ever made – even if the players are cars.

soma

SOMA

First released: September 22
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC, PS4

It’s not a horror game in the way Amnesia: The Dark Descent was, and that has been a problem for Frictional Games in its attempts to market the long-awaited follow up to its hugely influential title. SOMA is still pretty frightening, but the emphasis is on narrative rather than fear. Exploring the underwater facilities, piecing together what has happened both to the player and to the people who came before them, is sure to pique the interest of science fiction fans. We won’t spoil it by saying any more.

saints_row_gat_out_of_hell

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

First released: January 20
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

A standalone spin-off to Saints Row 4, Gat Out Of Hell should have sent a number of IP holders scurrying to meet with Deep Silver and Volition. Set in Hell, it features Johnny Gat and Kinzie attempting to save their beloved boss (imported from Saints Row 4 saves, if you have them) from marriage to Satan’s daughter – a fate the maid herself is quite keen to avoid. For reasons the game itself admits are spurious at best, this involves the usual open world romp – this time differentiated by one of the best flight mechanics ever to grave video games, and a series of musical numbers. Deeply under-appreciated, and regularly available for almost nothing in Steam sales.

splatoon

Splatoon

First released: May 29
Available on: Wii U

Nintendo’s first multiplayer shooter puts paid to the myth that the big N doesn’t know how to do new things. In an interesting twist on traditional shooters, it fronts a unique territory capture mechanic opening up traversal options and opening an important role for those who aren’t so quick on the trigger finger than their twitchy mates; the weapon collection is necessarily fresh and different to accomodate this. Nintendo also began experimenting with a slow release content model, unlocking on-disc maps and equipment piece by piece to keep players coming back over the course of a season. Regular events were the cherry on top of a delicious year.

star_wars_battlefront

Star Wars Battlefront

First released: November 17
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Look, yes, it takes a lot of grinding to unlock decent gear, matchmaking is a trial and the content runs out pretty quick, but Star Wars Battlefront must be experienced. The most faithful recreation of George Lucas’s universe yet seen (and a more loving tribute than the prequel trilogy managed), Star Wars oozes from its pores so copiously you can almost smell it. The typical Battlefront curve goes something like: this sucks > HOLY SHIT DARTH VADER I PEED A LITTLE > I’m getting the hang of this > I AM PLAYING A HERO, I AM A GOD INCARNATE. That’s a compelling enough journey that it almost makes up for the lack of story content.

starcraft_2_legacy_of_the_void

StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void

First released: November 10
Available on: Mac, PC

The long-awaited conclusion to a story that kicked off in 1998, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void may well be the mainstream RTS’s final go-round; once the king of eSports, the genre has taken a backseat to MOBA – a field Blizzard has also entered. That said, the scene is still very much alive even if it’s not getting the limelight it commanded as recently as Heart of the Swarm’s 2013 launch. The meta has been given a fresh injection with this latest release, with the most significant shake-up to the basic economy ever pushing a more aggressive and expansionist game. Many longterm fans are just here for the conclusion of the Protoss storyline, though; their lives for Aiur.

sunless_sea

Sunless Sea

First released: February 6
Available on: Mac, PC

Developer Failbetter Games made its mark with a couple of free, web-based narrative adventures in the style of game books, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the team expand into a new genre. The unusual rogue-like exploration of Sunless Sea shares a setting with Fallen London (nee Echo Bazaar) but has a unique atmosphere all of its own, in which you can practically taste the brine on your lips, and the minimal sound only adds to the experience. The risk-and-reward nature of the gameplay matches perfectly with the tense, gloomy unterzee setting; this is a place where resorting to eating your crew is among the better ways an adventure can go wrong.

super_mario_maker_e3_2015_5

Super Mario Maker

First released: September 11
Available on: Wii U

Not everyone is capable of making games. We forget this, from the comfort of our armchairs; we forget that game designs is a learned skill as well as in instinctive talent; we forget that it is hard. Then along comes something like Super Mario Maker and we learn, to our enduring humility, that we have no ideas or that our fresh, exciting ideas are actually the same ones everyone has, and don’t actually work – which is why professionals haven’t done them. The only comfort is finding out that most of you peers are equally talentless; luckily, enough strangers (and actual developers) are on board that there are hundreds of great courses to download. The only imperfection marring this experience is the timed unlocks; you can’t just pick the game up today and dive right in with the fanciest assets.

the_swindle (5)

The Swindle

First released: July 28
Available on: Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One

A 2D stealth-’em-up, The Swindle oozes charm and humour but underwrites its droll facade with the cold steel of a rogue-like. Procedurally-generated levels offer countless variations of obstacles, ensuring that you’ll never be equipped to cope with everything that can be thrown at you. Picking your way along the upgrade path, adapting to the exponentially escalating difficulty of new locations, screaming at the top of your lungs when fortune robs you of a haul and a hefty multiplier: this is The Swindle. Remember, losing is fun.

tales_from_the_borderlands

Tales from the Borderlands

First released: October 20 (Episode 5)
Available on: Android, iOS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Two unlikely heroes lead a very unlikely project – a Telltale adventure drawing on Gearbox’s shoot-and-loot RPG FPS. Detractors of the latter scoffed at the idea that the consciously zany universe could muster enough character to support a narrative, which is precisely why this project needed to be made; even Gearbox admits it hasn’t done a great job of making players aware of the depth of its worldbuilding and storytelling, and that a fast-paced co-op shooter is not necessarily the best place to do so. Telltale took that lore and ran it through its own filter, resulting in one of the most entertaining adventure series yet. The whole season is out now; do yourself a favour.

tearaway_unfolded_5

Tearaway Unfolded

First released: September 8
Available on: PS4

Media Molecule did beautiful things with the Vita in the original version of Tearaway, but the PS4 version is even better – and not just because it’s even more glorious to look at. The developer has the knack of putting the DualShock 4’s less traditional functions to work in ways that rapidly feel natural and then essential, and has married them to a 3D platformer that will push you to the limits of your abilities. And cute? This game is cute as fuck, a word you’ll be shouting a lot.

titan_souls

Titan Souls

First released: April 14
Available on: Android, Mac, PC, PS4, Vita

The “Souls” in the title here is no accident; if you enjoy bashing yourself against challenging action gameplay over and over again, Titan Souls is for you. It also has a bit of a Shadow of the Colossus vibe – lone archer hero, enormous boss enemies scattered around a (not randomised!) open world. What makes the top-down battles so challenging is that there’s no opportunity for bullet-hell fire; you have one shot, which must be charged before use – and retrieved afterwards. You only need one hit to take down a foe, but scoring that single bullseye takes patience and skill – providing you can even figure out where to put it.

undertale

Undertale

First released: September 15
Available on: Mac, PC

When a human child falls into the world of monsters, there can be only one outcome, right? A 2D RPG inspired by the likes of Earthbound, with an optional pacifist battle-system reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensei, Undertale is simply a delight. Wonderfully understated writing and characterisation bring life to an unusual cast of loveable characters. Turn-based combat is enlivened by a bullet-hell system allowing you to totally avoid damage – if you’re very good – and multiple endings are available depending on your actions. Actually, there are tons of cool secrets to uncover, and every corner of the game seems to hold something of interest. Make sure you call your friends regularly on your mobile phone, y’hear?

until_dawn_review_1

Until Dawn

First released: August 25
Available on: PS4

Another rival for the Telltale crown, Until Dawn spent so long in the oven, transforming from a downloadable PS Move showcase to a full PS4 retail affair, that you can’t blame us for getting a bit worried about it. Turns out developer Supermassive Games was using that time to nail down a bunch of very fine motion capture performances and minutely fine tune its scares. The result is a teen slasher flick perfectly at home among its cinematic peers, right down to obligatory silly third act twist. Occasionally quite terrifying (if you have a nervous disposition, be sure to tell lies when interviewed about your fears), satisfyingly consequential and stuffed with clever ideas.

volume

Volume

First released: August 18
Available on: Mac, PC, PS4 (Vita inbound)

There’s so much going on in Volume that it’s hard to know where to start. The gorgeous sci-fi aesthetic? The charming voice acting? The futuristic Robin Hood story that escalates in classic Mike Bithell style? Or shall we take the obvious route and laud the tight, sandbox stealth action combat across a plethora of cunningly hand-crafted levels? The Volume community has put the level editor to great use, providing constant challenges for those who’ve managed to top their best scores – but the real treat is the slow unpacking of a chilling future vision, delivered to the player in the most considerate fashion possible; no need to pause and wait for voiceovers to end, and no interruptions to your zen trance progress – besides the head-scratching puzzles.

the_witcher_3_guide_walkthrough

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

First released: May 19
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

A rip-roaring adventure in the single-player RPG school. Don’t be fooled by Geralt’s transition to an open world; this is very much a traditional story-driven game, for all the hours you can optionally spend in the countryside collecting umpteen thingemabobs. Andrzej Sapkowski’s world is brought to life beautifully, complete with the politics, betrayal and looming supernatural threats we’ve come to expect. A distinct sheen of Eastern European humour and perspective helps The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stand out from the pack, but it’s the unforgiving RPG systems, excellent writing and quest design, and loveable characters that’ll keep you pushing on to the finish line.

xenoblade_chronicles_x_e3_2015_artwork_10

Xenoblade Chronicles X

First released: December 4
Available on: Wii U

Any JRPG fan worth their salt will tell you the Xeno family line is worth checking out. MonolithSoft is the latest team to keep the torch lit, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is a worthy successor. Don’t get this one confused with its immediate precursor; Xenoblade Chronicles X is not an HD upgrade of Xenoblade Chronicles but a total re-imagining, marking MonolithSoft’s open world debut. While it’s a true RPG at heart, action fans may enjoy the wide variety of weapons, real-time combat and mechs. Never bring a sword to a mech fight, kids.

we_want_you

But what about…?

Yeah, yeah – your favourite didn’t make the cut. Where are the big sports games that sell gangbusters every single year? Where’s an indie or mobile cult hit that has escaped our memory? Where’s that expansion or port you spent half the year with? Where, you ask, is I Am Bread, Grow Home, Axiom Verge, Nuclear Throne, Killing Floor 2, Westerado: Double Barrelled, The Beginner’s Guide, Titan Souls, Kerbal Space Program, Technobabylon, Grey Goo, Total War: Attila and Hard West?

The answer is: on our piles of shame, mostly. Luckily we have a pool of resources infinitely larger than our limited time and energy: you. We want to hear from you about unmissable 2015 releases we ourselves have missed. What, and why? Share your wisdom with your fellows.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Comments

Headlines

Best Of