It’s always been this way. A couple of years after the launch of new video game consoles, they begin to hit their stride as developers come to grips with the hardware and they begin to bear the fruits of their labour. This year saw the release of some eagerly anticipated games – The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid 5 etc. – and happily, the wait was worth it. These are games that are enourmous in scope, look incredible and offer close to a hundred hours of gameplay each.
Better still, the previous generation of consoles is still on the market with a massive library of amazing, dirt cheap games. As a result, it’s a pretty great time to be a gamer. There should be something for everybody out there whether you’re a gamer on a budget or if you want to jump in and enjoy the latest and greatest.
2015 felt like a breakout year for games pushing the boundaries of story telling. Life Is Strange, Her Story, Until Dawn and Everybody’s Gone To Rapture all earned major plaudits for their narrative qualities. For too long the craft of storytelling in video games has been the red headed step cousin of other entertainment mediums and its great to finally see some positive change. Interestingly, almost all of these games getting the limelight have been made by previously little known developers. It’s great to see some fresh blood shake up the industry.
Pleasingly, all of the aforementioned games have prominent and meaningful roles for female characters, something which has been all too rare in the industry. Perhaps Anita Sarkeesian banging the drum for diversity in an industry that resembles a sausage factory is finally starting to pay dividends.
2015 also feels like a calm before the storm. There are some seriously exciting new hardware launches on the horizon. Virtual reality headsets are coming back in a huge way with Oculus Rift, Playstation VR and HTC Vive all arriving in the first half of 2016. It’s also potentially a make or break year for Nintendo. After disasterous sales for the Wii U and disappointing sales for the 3DS, they are heading into 2016 with a new platform on the horizon (codenamed NX) as well as their debut in the mobile games market.
Lastly, it was a bitter sweet year for gamers as we lost an industry giant in Satoru Iwata who passed away after a recurring illness. Iwata was one of the most beloved figures in the games industry thanks to his significant contributions he made at Nintendo both as a software developer and then later as their president. His enthusiastic, personable nature and his aspiration to broaden the appeal of video games (most notably with the Wii) will be his legacy.
On that note, here it is, my ten favourite games of 2015.
Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear swan song – his final involvement in a series he was worked on for over a quarter of a century – is as entertaining and innovative as one could hope for. It’s the first open-world title in the series and the results are outstanding.
Infiltrating military outposts as Big Boss is an exercise in careful strategy and adaptation for the player. Each mission genuinely has dozens of different permutations that can be factored into the players approach including weaponry, vehicles, weather conditions and time of day. Each soldier you encounter in the game can be tackled in a myriad of ways. You can sneak past them. You can shoot them. You can tranquillize them. You can interrogate them. You can divert their attention. You can knock them out and hide them. I can think of few other games that grants so many different types of interaction.
New gameplay mechanics include the addition of a buddy that can aid you on your mission (ranging from sniper, sniffer dog, horse to mech walker) and an addictive collection mini-game which involves ‘fultoning’ – removing enemies, vehicles, containers and artillery out of the hot zone via a parachute. I’m convinced that fultoning stuff is the most satisfying and endlessly entertaining mechanic to be introduced to video games in the last ten years.
With over a hundred hours of gameplay, its a fitting final chapter for Kojima and his time at Konami. It’s a pity that the game doesn’t come close to matching the spectacle of the cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 but then what game does?
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Monolith’s Xenoblade Chronicles X feels like a throwback to the Playstation 1&2 era when JRPGs ruled the sales charts and Japanese developers were at their creative and ambitious best. For fans of that era (of which I am one), Xenoblade is like mana from heaven with its assortment of crazy monsters, giant mechs and beautiful, alien landscape.
Xenoblade has a terrific setting thats looks similar in vein to James Cameron’s Avatar. Exploring the world takes tens of hours as its size and scale tops the likes of Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 for sheer land mass. Happily, its also a world worth exploring – full of bizarre looking creatures and hidden loot.
It’s not a game that is particularly revolutionary in design or play mechanics but what it does do is combine out some of the most enjoyable aspects of JRPGs (monster hunting, imaginative world design etc) and package it in a way that is better than any high profile developer has done in the last five years.
I fully hope and expect that Splatoon will become a franchise mainstay for Nintendo that will be around for years to come. The game arrived with a bang in the middle of 2015 with its dazzling colour palette, catchy soundtrack and charming Nineties-inspired cartoon aesthetic. Oh, and of course it was absolutely addictive to play.
Splatoon is quick to learn, accessible and friendly to newbies and has enough depth and variety of game modes and maps to keep people coming back for ‘just one more game.’ Nintendo have been unexpectedly great and providing ongoing support for Splatoon. Since its launch its had half a dozen free updates adding new maps, new modes and tweaks to the gameplay.
Hands down the most colourful and freshest game of 2015.
There are games on this list that offer a hundred hours of gameplay. Then there are others like Her Story, which can be completed in a single sitting. And yet, it’s a game that stays long in the memory, such is the cleverness of the game’s design and the quality of the screenplay and performance by Viva Seifert.
Her Story is unlike any game I can recall before it. The game is experienced entirely through a search engine interface that has the look and feel of a computer running on Windows 3.1. But as the player starts with a search for the keyword ‘murder’ which turns up several short video clips, the player is ingeniously drip fed information that prompts them to go hunting for other keywords. And eventually, a story unfolds before the players eyes, complete with plot twists, revelations and – if you search hard enough – even a couple of songs on guitar.
Her Story is one of the most satisfying detective games ever made. Best experienced with a pen and notepad, a quiet afternoon ahead of you and an open mind.
Super Mario Maker
Super Mario Maker is a dream video game concept come to true. It’s something I’ve wanted for the better part of twenty five years, ever since I first finished Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo. An official Nintendo toolkit to make your own Mario levels. I can’t believe they finally did it.
In many ways, the game is even better than I had ever hoped or imagined it could be. Firstly, Nintendo have been very generous with the content. You can make games that have the graphics, physics and objects of Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. That’s four games! Every major 2D Mario platformer in its 30 year history is represented here. The game is also extremely flexible and has an easy to use interface. Most people should be comfortable putting together their own stages in a matter of minutes. Practically every Mario gameplay mechanic and power up is available too – thwomps, P switches, doors, pipes and every permutation of ‘?’ block is available for you to use.
As you’d expect, the game has an incredibly active community that has produce millions of levels. The trick of course is cutting through the crap and getting to the good stuff. Like Splatoon, Nintendo have heavily iterated on Super Mario Maker post launch and focused on improving the search functionality of the community levels.
Its a game that has resulted in endless Mario levels. There are hundreds and hundreds of great levels to try. Making your own stages is a piece of cake. What more could you want?
Super Massive Games
Another hidden gem from 2015 was Super Massive Games’ teen horror game Until Dawn. Eight unsuspecting kids spend a weekend at a remote holiday retreat up in the mountains and find themselves under attack from a deadly masked killer with a vendetta. Until Dawn is a cut above most ‘interactive movie’ style games thanks to its canny script, tight play mechanics and flexible storytelling which can potentially see the story play out with no survivors, everyone surviving or somewhere in between.
I had a lot of fun with Until Dawn. The teenagers each represent some fun and recognizable genre staples and subsequently I found myself really rooting for certain individuals to survive and almost willfully endangering others so they’d get their come uppance. Genuinely scary in parts and also unexpectedly funny at times.
Ori and the Blind Forest
One of the most gorgeous games of the year was Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest. This Metroid-vania style game starts off as a simple platformer before gradually unlocking new powers and abilities, throwing the player headlong into a challenging, gauntlet of levels whose difficulty belies the game’s genial art style.
Ori was one of the best indy games on the Xbox One in a year where gamers were spoiled for choice when it came to digital download content.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider
Two years ago, Eidos and Crystal Dynamics breathed new life into the Tomb Raider franchise with a fun but flawed adventure game that owed more than a little of its inspiration to the cinematic antics of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. In 2015, they returned with a successor that was more refined and noticeably more sure-footed. The result is one of the finest action adventure games in years.
The developers clearly took on board the feedback from the original game, adding a significantly greater number of puzzled oriented tombs for Lara to navigate. They also built on the RPG-lite mechanics from Tomb Raider  and threw players into an modestly sized open world environment that encourages exploration, hunting and crafting.
Taking out enemy goons with Lara’s bow and arrow remains one of the most entertaining ways to dispatch enemies in gaming today.
Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange is an interactive and episodic mystery show in which two teenage girls, Max and Chloe, navigate their way through a turbulent week at the sleepy seaside town of Arcadia Bay.
Life Is Strange is one of the first episodic video games that I can recall that genuinely had fans generating ‘water cooler conversation’ about the experiences they had and where they guessed the story would lead. There were some absolutely sensational storyline twists and the ending of Episode 2 & 3 in particular really helped to ensure Life Is Strange drove strong word of mouth from its devotees.
Developers Dontnod really take the ‘time warping’ concept that Max has and take it in interesting directions. The game riffs a lot on the ‘butterfly effect’ theory and so choices that the player makes throughout the game both big and small constantly affect what happens in future chapters of the story.
Quirky, heartfelt and with a bookish charm not unlike its protagonist Max, Life Is Strange deservedly turned heads with its creative concept and solid execution. Mystery, murder, unexplained phenomena and new friendships – that week in Arcadia Bay had it all.
Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Game of the Year
No game was bigger, badder or better than CD Projekt’s sprawling fantasy epic The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The final chapter in the story of Geralt of Rivia sees the silver haired witcher at his very best, navigating his way around the enourmous and densely packed city of Novigrad as well as the surround farmlands and islands.
The game is ridiculously generous with the sheer volume of content it contains. There are hundreds of missions, side quests and bounties for the player to explore and experience. Better still, the game’s storyline and dialogue is consistently of a high standard and a cut above the usual fantasy RPG fare. Even the most inconsequential sidequest or bounty taken off the beaten path still has interesting characters, an uncommon eye for detail and often a clever plot twist to keep players on their toes. No game has been as ambitious or successful in its world building than The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3 is one of the most impressive open world games in recent memory, rivalling the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V with its enourmous depth and quality. CD Projekt have been amassing a following of admirers ever since their first Witcher title but there’s no doubt that Witcher 3 is their coming out party marking them as one of the premiere game developers in the world today. It is the highest selling game in the series to date and the best work that they’ve ever done. One of the first real classics of this console generation.
Captain Toad: Treasure Hunter [Wii U] This was a great way to ring in 2015. Nintendo EAD’s puzzle game was gorgeous to look at and a delight to play. An overlooked and underrated gem.
Yoshi’s Woolly World [Wii U]
Another visually striking game, Yoshi’s Woolly World is a cheery and colourful platform game that can be a breeze to play through but surprisingly challenging for the completionist who wants to track down every last collectable item.
Puzzle and Dragons Z + Super Mario Edition [3DS] Starting out as a freemium mobile game, Puzzle and Dragons made a surprisingly successful adaptation to the Nintendo 3DS. Easy to learn and offering a surprising amount of depth, this remains one of my go-to games when I’m travelling and want something to pick and play on a long distance flight.
Rare Replay [Xbox One] There was no better value proposition in 2015 than Rare’s games anthology which offered an incredible thirty games for thirty bucks including both Viva Pinata games. Based on the inclusion of those two games alone, maybe this should have been my Game of the Year. I would love to see more developers explore their history and offer packages like this to their fan base.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer [3DS]
Although its a ‘spin-off’ and not a full blown successor to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Happy Home Designer still has charm and relaxing (yet addictive) gameplay in abundance.
Hotline Miami 2 [Playstation Vita]
It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original game but it still has a kickass soundtrack and some razor sharp, super hard levels to blast through. I admire the developers for having the ambition to go in a completely different direction with the storytelling.
Transformers: Devastation [Playstation 4] Platinum’s cheap and cheerful adaptation of Transformers: Devastation was a great surprise in 2015. It felt like the game announcement came out of nowhere and then a couple of weeks later, there it was. Transformers Devastation offers players gorgeous cell-shaded Gen 1 Transformer characters duking it out in a combat engine thats basically a lite version of Bayonetta in a budget priced game. What’s not to like?
The Taken King [Playstation 4]
The expansion pack thats adds all the character, flair and content to effectively ‘complete’ Destiny and make it the game that we thought it would be at launch. I still resent Destiny but cant help myself, playing it for hours at a time. It’s weird. I know I’m not alone in this.
Lego: Dimensions [Xbox One]
It’s an expensive game but its also a once in a lifetime mega-mix of just about every pop culture license under the sun coming together in a single game. Ghostbusters, The Simpsons, Doctor Who, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Batman, Scooby Doo and Wizard of Oz characters all interacting together in the same universe.
Halo 5 [Xbox One]
Under 343 Industries, the Halo franchise feels like it has begun a slow decline towards irrelevance. Its hard to imagine Microsoft’s flagship franchise ever completely falling away and it still remains a recognizable brand and a game that sells in the millions of units. But a couple of months after launch I don’t feel as though anyone in the gaming community at large is talking Halo. It is no longer a pioneer for first person shooters on consoles and it is no longer part of the gaming zeitgeist. It is becoming a regular, run of the mill shooter.
Batman: Arkham Knight [Playstation 4]
There are plenty of moments in Arkham Knight that are still fun to play. It’s a gorgeous looking game and gliding around Gotham City is still a thrill. But the extra layers of content add very little. Having a quest tracker that gives you dozens of missions to do is all well and good but not if most of them aren’t fun to play. The game’s appeal is a mile wide and an inch deep. At this point, I’d happily see Rocksteady move on from the Arkham series and try their hand at something else.
Rock Band 4 [Xbox One]
No one was happier than I to see the return of rhythm music games Guitar Hero and Rock Band in 2015. Rock Band 3 remains one of my favourite games of last gen. I knew they would never reach the heights of their popularity five or six years ago but I welcomed the opportunity to revisit the 400+ songs I had invested in the Rock Band series and to enjoy the addition of some new content.
Unfortunately, when the game came out in Australia, it was a bit of a shambles. I couldn’t find the adaptor to let me play my old instruments in any store. Apparently I had to order it online but no one could tell me where. A lot stores either had no copy of the game or a copy with no instrument. Then I hesitated to pick up the game when I noticed all the old messageboard communities that I visited remained idle and I found it hard to find information on how to make my old library of songs available on the new console and what new songs were coming out. The new songs that did come out didn’t seem to release on a consistent basis (it used to be weekly) and the content was pretty unremarkable to say the least.
All in all, a confusing and disappointing mess.
Best Platform of the Year
Last generation, the venerable Xbox 360 was my default, go-to console that I used far more than the Wii or the Playstation 3. It had the best media centre, it had virtually every major third party game and it also had the most active online community.
This generation, it seems apparent after 12 months that the Playstation 4 will be that system this time around.
Firstly, it has all of the major media functionality that I want in a console – BluRay, Netflix, WWE Network, ABC iView etc. Although Sony had a relatively quiet year for first party games, there are plenty of major third party titles that either have exclusive content or simply run better on Playstation 4. To their credit, even their indy games library (an area which Microsoft dominated last gen) is looking much rosier on the PS4 with the likes of This War of Mine, The Witness, Rocket League, Axiom Verge and Grim Fandango as noteworthy console exclusives.
On the downside, Sony are currently the weakest of the current platforms in terms of backwards compatability – a shame considering how good the PS3 was in this regard. It’s also the first system to give me any sort of hardware failure – my launch controller’s trigger buttons have stopped working.
Overall though, as the Wii U begins to wind down and the number of games releasing on Xbox One and PS4 ramps up, it is Sony’s system that I find myself being drawn to the most. If anything, I expect they’ll go even better in 2016 with an absolutely stacked line up of games not to mention the imminent arrival of PlaystationVR.
Top Ten Video Games of 2014
Game of the Year – Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Platform of the Year – Wii U
Top Ten Video Games of 2013
Game of the Year – The Last Of Us (Playstation 3)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 3
Top Ten Video Games of 2012
Game of the Year – The Walking Dead (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2011
Game of the Year – Clash of Heroes: Might and Magic (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2010
Game of the Year – Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2009
Game of the Year – Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves (Playstation 3)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 3