Culture

The Seven Greatest Video Games Of 2015

It was a damn good year for games.

This year has been a big one for games. Game releases seem to cluster into funky clumps, leading to a sort of ice age followed by thaw situation. Last year, we were drowning in Gamergate douchebaggery, Ubisoft’s claim that it was too hard to put women in an Assassins Creed game despite having done just that already, and a general lack of the big titles people had been waiting for.

But this year’s been different, with a veritable avalanche of high-quality releases ensuring that for millions of people, the sun is a sad and distant memory. Maybe time management and a generally healthy lifestyle have ensured that you, dear reader, have been too busy to look into what the finest cuts of gaming steak have been in 2015. So here, without further needless ado, are the top seven games of 2015. This was a brutal list to make.

7. Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

You’re trapped behind the walls of a video game — a heist game, to be exact — and you’re being talked to, incessantly, by acerbic British comedian Simon Amstell. There is a tiger.

William Pugh, co-creator of the sublime The Stanley Parable, has launched this fifteen-minute long game for free on Steam under the banner of his new studio, Crows Crows Crows. I had to jettison several superb games from this spot, and had something sitting here comfortably until one night very recently, when I booted the game up, put on headphones, cranked the volume and burned through it. It’s… it’s really great, guys. Certainly not for everyone, but it truly floated my boat. It also features some voice work from Justin Roiland (Rick AND Morty from Rick and Morty). And it’s free.

In fact, the vagueness I’m slapping you with should go some way to convincing you NOT to watch the trailer, because going in cold just makes the whole thing so much more endearing. That said, here’s the trailer.

Pros: Repeated playthroughs offering weird results.

Cons: Really, really weird.

6. Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is incredibly fun, and very addictive. Why isn’t it up the top of the list? Well, it has flaws — it’s less a role-playing game than it should be, eschewing the smart dialogue and ‘approach a situation how you want’ vibe of the series in favor of a ‘Mad Max: Downtown Boston Edition’ playstyle. On the other hand, it’s a sprawling, deadly, hugely polished (and simultaneously buggy) open world experience set in BAHSTAHN. WICKED HAAAD. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s ostensibly what you’d get if you fused the nineties romcom Brendan Fraser vehicle Blast from the Past with George Miller’s Mad Max saga. This time around, we have a dash of Blade Runner thrown in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong: Fallout 4 is fantastic. It’s just not perfect, and it doesn’t seem to resonate as much as New Vegas did with me, or, hell, even Skyrim (the fantasy game from the same developers which ate 400 hours of my goddamned life).

Pros: Classical music on the in-game radio, paired with Iron Man armor that you build yourself.

Cons: Lynda Carter (i.e., the original Wonder Woman) performing some of the worst in-game faux crooning lounge music tunes I’ve ever heard.

5. Bloodborne

Bloodborne is the gaming equivalent of being kicked in the dick by a man in a funny hat, before eventually growing to like said kicking. It’s from the diabolical bastard who created Dark Souls, and dumps you in a Van Helsing-esque city which is drenched in almost impenetrable lore. The genius of Souls games is that you only really get better by dying over and over again; you’re effectively tested and forged in the fires of rage-quitting. I once saw my housemate fleetingly attempt the game, before throwing his controller at a wall so hard you could read the word “Sony” in the plaster.

So no, Bloodborne isn’t for everyone, but it is dark, and beautiful, and special. As you progress further, you unlock shortcuts, opening the labyrinthine game-world up like a kind of torturous puzzle-box. The combat is lightning-fast and unforgiving, the atmosphere is deeply disturbing, and the endings are all utterly baffling. If David Lynch gnawed on an adrenal gland for an hour and designed a game, he’d design Bloodborne.

Pros: The Kirkhammer, a huge Thor-style hammer, which you slam onto your back, before pulling out the handle. Which is a sword. It’s a swordhammer. Come on, people.

Cons: My wall is ruined.

4. Splatoon 

Splatoon is Nintendo’s foray into shooters, and it’s about as Nintendo (read: colourful, esoteric and utterly overstimulating) as you’d expect. You play as a squid — boy or girl — and charge around levels built like Willy Wonka-esque skateparks, spraying brightly-coloured ink from big, garish guns or paint rollers.

The objective is usually to coat as much of the terrain as possible with your team colour. Enemy combatants pop like water balloons when doused with enough ink, immediately reappearing back at the starting point. There is no toxic bro-culture infecting the voice chat when you play, because there is no voice chat. There’s no camping, no bullying (at least none I’ve encountered). It feels more like play and less like war, which might make it the most purely enjoyable shooter I’ve played in a long time.

Also, it has a game hub that feels like the Harajuku district in Japan, an in-game fashion hierarchy, a surprisingly terrific single-player section, and a jangly, idiotic, wonderful soundtrack. Get on it.

Pros: You can instantly turn into a squid and swim speedily through your color of ink, including up walls.

Cons: The matchmaking in the game makes it a wee bit hard to play with friends.

3. Arkham Knight

Another open world game! This time, one that divided critics and fans. By now there’s been so many overlapping incarnations of Batman that everyone has their own goddamned favourite flavour, and everyone gets really territorial if a depiction of the Dark Knight isn’t 100 percent what they deem perfect. Which is why as the Arkham series ploughed on towards its ambitious conclusion, the people who loved it fell deeper in love, and the people who didn’t got very vocal.

Arkham Knight takes place on the last night of the series, and there’s a really operatic sense of momentum here. I was hugely hesitant about the inclusion of the Batmobile, and its contentious ‘tank mode’ was perhaps the most cried-about sticking point of the title.

But trying to detail the plot without blowing open some majorly gratifying reveals is tricky as hell, so I’ll just say this: almost everyone involved, including Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) as Commissioner Gordon, brought their A-game. The acting here, paired with stunning setpieces and beautiful scripting, ensure that when you’re not blowing shit up, you’re taking part in one of the finest Batman stories from any medium. Comics, movies, TV, any of it. This is top notch stuff.

Pros: This whole game is brilliant, unless you hate driving as a tank, or are a misanthrope.

Cons: Kevin Conroy, famous for voicing Batman in the animated series and the preceding games (barring Origins) truly phoned his performance in.

2. Life Is Strange

Donnie Darko meets Degrassi Junior High might be the best way to pitch Life is Strange to someone on the fence. But it’s also far, far more complex than that. Split into five episodes, it puts you into the body of a teenage girl at art school. Its pace is languid, and its weirdly geographically specific lingo (the game is set squarely in Oregon, in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay) is baffling, but charming.

Putting it in second place might imply I think Life is Strange is perfect. It is not. But it is atmospheric in ways few games I’ve ever played were, and if you dive in, and aren’t put off by the lack of action, you’ll likely get dangerously attached to Max, the heroine of the game.

I love Max. I love the soundtrack, I love the fact that a game about teenagers has earnest and clumsy references to books, films and music. I love that it somehow makes you feel just like a teenager again, which is to say angry, sad, exultant and helpless all at once. And I love that a big studio had the gumption to throw down and back such a weird project.

Pros: Wandering around your room in the game and just sort of digitally running your hand across paraphernalia.

Cons: It made me cry like a baby.

1. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

This was a tricky one. In order to take the pressure off players who hadn’t read the preceding novels about the exploits of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher and a true morally grey character in a muddy universe, the guys over at CD Projekt Red did something bold. They created a point in the narrative where Geralt lost his memory, and had the first game open with him effectively as a medieval Jason Bourne, waking up and having to figure out his past. Now, the third game (which is objectively and by a metric mile the best in the series) is putting us in a similar situation: there’s so much content already covered that you’re quite a ways out from shore, so to speak.

But yes, you can quite easily and happily wade in with a bit of a primer, which is easy enough to pick up thanks to a gorgeous opening act. And if you’re a player of the prior titles, you can import your savegames, which will shape the game world in fascinating ways. Full disclosure – and I’m going to get my arse kicked for saying this – but I think Game of Thrones long ago succumbed to its excesses, and has ceased to be enjoyable. The Witcher 3, on the other hand, does was GoT tries to do, only better; it paints a nuanced, gore-spattered shithole of a world with people — good, bad, and in between — all smashing up against one another. 

The small stories told or observed in The Witcher 3 are as vital and stirring as the big ones. Barely a whisper of the content crammed into this voluminous godsend of a game is filler, and the fluidity with which the game jostles you from beat to beat is so organic it makes other open world games look like sandboxes jammed with pointless busywork.

Upon reaching the conclusion (of which there are several, all affected by the thousands of undulating story threads you pull on or strum as you meander or race to the climax), I wept. Openly. Partially because of exhaustion, but mostly because I’d treated The Witcher 3 like a series of fat, dusty fantasy novels, the kind you read for over a decade. When the credits rolled, I felt like I’d lost an old friend.

But then the expansion, Hearts of Stone, came out, continuing the game with content often finer than that in the base campaign. And there’s more to come. The Witcher 3 is a gift, if you’re patient enough to breathe it in.

Pros: Shirtless Geralt, Gwent (the in-game card game that will eat days of your life), the way Geralt kneels down and speaks to children.

Cons: It might actually be TOO big.

I wanted to cram in mentions to The Beginners Guide, Hotline Miami 2, Rocket League and Metal Gear Solid V, but hey, it’s a list of the top seven games. There are rules, people.

Paul Verhoeven is a Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop creation. He hosts Save Point, writes for TheVine, and is a presenter on Triple J.