This was a strange year, both for games and myself. I moved twice, changed jobs, and went freelance. I dealt with some huge highs and some deep lows, and learned a lot about myself in the process.
It’s no surprise, then, that my list seems to reflect that: change. This was the year where indies weren’t the kids in the corner, where worlds got more open and vast, yet focused in their attempt to bring a single concept to life. It was a good year, and I have high hopes for 2016. But until then, here’s the ten games that stood out to me the most in 2015.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
It’s interesting how a franchise that was traditionally linear and straightforward managed to completely reinvent expectations of open-world games to come. While the story fell short of the mark, carrying out operations in MGSV’s vast expanses felt emergent and real, where anything could happen at a moment’s notice. Fultoning turned stealth infiltrations into a catch-em-all game, and watching Mother Base grow as you carried through the campaign was amazing. A grandiose end to one of the best franchises around.
- Her Story
While some argue about the concept of “walking simulators” and “movie games,” Her Story manages to prove that you can tell a story within game conventions without needlessly adhering to them. The act of searching through the vaults and records for the truth about Hannah is something that only a game could provide, yet it’s unlike anything else around. This, compounded with a stellar performance from Viva Seifert, created an experience that shows the need for indie developers to push boundaries and expectations. A truly unique experience that shows the power of interactivity in storytelling.
- Rocket League
Simply put, there is no other multiplayer game I spent more time in this year than Rocket League (well, not counting my continuing addiction to Dota 2). It’s just rocket-powered cars playing soccer, but in practice Rocket League is unlike anything else. It captures the feeling of a pickup game of soccer better than any other soccer game I’ve played, with players instinctively going for set-ups and crosses without any indication to. This is a must-play for anyone who owns a PlayStation 4, no questions asked.
- Axiom Verge
I was a late child of the Metroidvania genre, only really delving deep during my Nintendo DS days, but Axiom Verge feels like the modern 2D Metroid fans have always been clamoring for. There’s a vast array of powerups and weapons, exciting boss battles, an intoxicating atmosphere and a surprisingly compelling story. It’s a game you want to beat twice, maybe three times, just to see everything and beat your previous time. It’s a unique experience that captures Metroid as you remember it, rose-tinted glasses and all.
- Until Dawn
There’s nothing like a good campy horror film, and Until Dawn knows this. Knowingly touching on every trope and genre convention it can, the B-movie cheese is palatable as the cast of actors practically gnaws on the scenery through each scene to make an amazing interactive experience. The best part is that it’s one of the best adventure experiences around too, with choices that truly matter and a story that runs the gamut in ways that, even if they’re predictable, they’re still a blast to watch. Supermassive Games launched themselves onto many people’s radar with this surprise gem, and I have high hopes for them in the future.
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 2 was one of my favorite games of the last generation, so I had high expectations for the conclusion of the Witcher series. What CD Projekt Red created was simply amazing: a vast world, filled with some of the best quests and stories of the year. It’s massive but actually brimming with meaningful content rather than filler, and even had a fun card-based minigame that kept us at the site addicted for a long while. Add in one of the best new characters of the year in Ciri, and Geralt’s final adventure is an incredible one that no one should pass on.
- Life is Strange
I remember the day I booted up Episode One and walked through the school, Syd Matters playing in the background as Max tried to blend in and tune out the noise of high school life around her. There’s an air of nostalgia to Life is Strange, but a genuine one that doesn’t gloss over the tough bits. Throughout the series, Life is Strange kept me feeling warm for days long past, of friends and good times that I could only view in memories and photos. It’s one of the few games that captures that feeling perfectly, while still telling a fantastic story about time travel and the bond between two friends.
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
Since the reboot of Tomb Raider, I was fascinated to see where Crystal Dynamics went with the story and character of Lara Croft. In Rise, Lara isn’t a scared survivor anymore, but a powerful and intelligent person, with agency in her own situation and a resolve to follow her beliefs. Rise tells a story that isn’t about survival, but about faith and idols — what happens when you realize that the things you hold up in your mind don’t match the real-life thing? Her inner conflict drove the story for me, as themes of religion and questioning faith (a topic near and dear to me) pervaded every bit of her adventure. Replete with excellent gameplay, beautiful vistas, and intricate tombs, Rise of the Tomb Raider doubled-down on everything good about the first and made what is easily one of my most memorable adventures of the year.
- Tales from the Borderlands
Since The Walking Dead, I was afraid Telltale couldn’t hit the same highs twice. After Tales, I’m certain they have it in them. Taking a series of loot-based first-person shooters and turning it into one of the best stories of the year, filled with daring heists and an endearing cast, showed me that Telltale Games can do a lot when given full agency with a franchise. Rhys and Fiona are an excellent pair of protagonists, letting the story be unreliable at times and still funny and riveting. The entire cast is stellar, from Patrick Warburton’s stint as a ruthless Hyperion suit to the Official Greatest Character in Games Ever, Loaderbot.
I picked up Undertale on a whim, on one of my random strolls through the Steam New Releases tab. It hadn’t reached the meteoric heights it’s at now; it was just a random game that piqued my interest. For the next six hours, Undertale had me enraptured from start to finish.
Undertale is incredibly focused, yet covers so much ground. The gameplay mechanics are established, toyed with, and broken all in a manner of hours, in a way that feels natural. The music establishes motifs and themes, then carries them through the game, reprising them at perfect times to create a meld of emotions. It’s a game about relationships, not only the romantic kind, but in the ways that people and their actions affect each other and the human experience. The choice to be hostile or caring, to give or take, to be selfish or selfless. Undertale recognizes the player, not as the actual character in the game but the actual player themselves and their impact on the world, and remembers it through subsequent playthroughs and notes them. The story is one that continues to unravel and expand, yet never loses the genuine humor and heart that makes this tale feel so warm and human.
It’s not just an amazing game, but one that impacted me greatly. I played Undertale at a time when I was away from home, far from what I knew, and scared of what the future might or might not hold. Undertale helped me see that the journey is as important as the destination. It taught me that friendship is a two-way road, and that speaking my mind and opening up is better than closing myself off to people. Undertale wasn’t just one of my favorite games of the year, but one of my favorite of all time, proof that games can entertain and impact in ways that nothing else can, and that fills me with determination for the future.