Welcome to the second half of NAG’s BEST GAMES OF ALL TIME of 2015. It’s all in the name really: we’re having a big ol’ word-’em-up about the games of 2015 that brought us the most joy.
In case you missed it, here’s part 1.
OKAY LET’S GO!
I spawned naked on a beach when I started this Early Access game and then almost immediately died from the cold. I’ve been shredded by a velociraptor, flattened by a mammoth and eaten by a T. rex. I’ve drowned and I’ve starved. Oh, and I’ve fallen to my death. Now I ride a T. rex, which I tamed, and live in a fancy stone house with running water and about 20 tame dinosaurs in my backyard. Just play it, it’s bloody amazing.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (seasons)
Even though Diablo III arrived in 2012, I’m still playing it. There’s just something about the monster-killing and occasional equipment upgrades that keep me hooked. Blizzard has been looking after their players pretty well with plenty of extra (free) content like seasons, pets, patches, outfits, new game mechanics and so on. Despite what some people say there is loads of support for this game and each new patch brings more to the dungeon.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
I know I’m a ridiculous cliché when it comes to this game, but after the last two years of not having a decent Call of Duty game to play Black Ops III has really ticked all the boxes for me. Besides the fun and frustration of killing people online, the single-player campaign is pretty decent and the zombie mode is as epic as ever. All the little extras Treyarch added to this awesome game haven’t gone unnoticed and it’s a damn good sign for the future of COD.
Fat-free bonus round:
As of this week I’ve dropped 10 kilograms of fat by eating properly and exercising. I gave up smoking a few years ago and that was my last big personal challenge, so I figured if I can stop smoking I can stop shoveling hamburgers into my mouth too, right? Let me break it down a little: eating less means not having two pizzas and two Wimpy breakfasts alongside Steers and McDonald’s and sweets and rubbish every single week – to be honest, I was a mess before all this. [Weighing less doesn’t mean you’re not still a mess. 😛 – Ed.] As for the exercising, this means going to the gym three times a week with a little running in-between. So that’s the deal – it’s really easy and three months later I’ve dropped a whole bag of dog food off my body.
Fallen London is a small island of sanctuary in the foreboding menace of the subterranean Unterzee, but as captain of one of its many vessels, you’ll leave its safe embrace in search of your heart’s desires. You’ll upgrade your ship, take on crew and trade with distant isles all while battling sea beasts and starvation and sinister susurrations at the edge of sleep. With any luck, you’ll merely die. The next generation will carry your legacy with them, doomed to seek out the riddles in the dark that undid you. With stories that spin out in a seemingly infinite web and a literary lustre few games can boast, Sunless Sea shines brightly.
You can be bitter about its DLC, state with glee that only like 600 people are playing it on PC right now, or bemoan that you need a group of friends to get the most out of a COMPETITIVE TEAM-BASED MULTIPLAYER SHOOTER. I say bollocks to all of it; Evolve’s (almost) perfectly-balanced asymmetry, slower pace, tactical nature and tense hunts served as my FPS cocaine for a long, long time. Evolve gave no quarter in its presentation or murderous intent, and I’m grateful for it. I said in my review that it’s likely to ultimately retain a small but devoted fan base, and I happily count myself in that fold.
Its ascendance in this category wasn’t completely unrivaled, though. Splatoon — with its innovative mechanics, territorial gameplay that caters to a variety of play-styles, hip amorphous cephalopods and blessed lack of voice chat — continues to steal an hour or so every other weekend.
Undertale wants the best for you. It believes you’re a good person and that – despite being adrift in a world of monsters – you’ll do the right thing. Because you have heart. Because you are filled with determination. Because you have power, and that means having the choice to stay thy hand. “Heartfelt” isn’t a word used often with video games, but it’s apt for Undertale. That it manages to be funny and sincere while simultaneously integrating and critiquing the meta-like nature of players’ relationships with games is remarkable. My ending was incredible. I know there’s another ending, but I cannot bring myself to find it, and Undertale knows. It knows.
Honourable mentions bonus round:
Crypt of the Necrodancer; noticeably better representation of women and people of colour across a broad spectrum of games; Xenoblade Chronicles X; a ton of critically-acclaimed triple-A titles I’ve not got around to playing yet; more and more Japanese games on the Steam marketplace; Neo Scavenger; 2015, a close second to 1998.
Just Cause 3
I can’t think of any other game in 2015 that encouraged me to have even half as much silly, clumsy, glorious fun as Just Cause 3 did. Very few games manage to nail the relatively simple sense of satisfaction that comes with finding inventive ways to blow stuff up and break expensive things, but Just Cause 3 makes it all feel perfectly natural. I love experimenting with its many different systems and mechanics, its physics engine is hilariously pliable, and as an added bonus the whole thing looks and sounds absolutely beautiful.
To be clear, it’s not a perfect game, but Rico’s trip to Medici is such a chaotically playful outing that even now I can’t stop smiling as I write this and the memories come flooding back.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 is one of the finest, most intensely charismatic games I’ve ever played. I’m still in awe of the fact that CD Projekt have fought their way to the top of the gaming world the way they have, starting with the broken-but-lovable original Witcher and gradually clawing their way towards the RPG masterpiece that is Wild Hunt. It’s truly astonishing.
There’s so much to love about The Witcher 3. It’s packed with genuinely interesting characters who inhabit its rich, ever-dangerous open world. I find its combat smoothly entertaining (although it’s a bit clunky at times), and its various RPG mechanics are pleasantly nuanced – but I think the main reason I love the game is because it’s a wondrous place that’s rife with incidental stories. Some will make you laugh. Others will disgust you. All of them are magical.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide (and an extra dash of appreciation for Dying Light)
I had to make a tough choice between this, Rocket League, Star Wars Battlefront, Dying Light and Mad Max. To tell you the truth, I’ve rewritten this about five or six times, because it’s been first-world hell trying to choose my favourite. In the end, I think Vermintide stands out the most to me. It’s such a blast to play with friends, the four of you hobbling along, wildly swinging swords and axes and daggers in every direction as the game’s AI overlord throws wave after wave of deadly, toothy rat people at your tired, broken band of heroes until either someone screws up and suddenly you’re not much more than a pool of squidgy bits on a medieval sidewalk, or you somehow overcome the odds and make your way to the level’s exit mostly in one piece. If you have even a passing interest in the Left 4 Dead series and/or the Warhammer Fantasy universe, Vermintide is an excellent rendition of both.
That Dying Light though. It deserves a very special mention, because gosh I had a fantastic time with it.
SPAAACE bonus round:
It came out early in a year full of big-name releases, so it’s easy to forget that the Homeworld Remastered Collection was released last year. And what a wonderful thing it is. It’s an almost-perfect overhaul of one of the greatest RTS franchises (and games in general) on this planet or any other, and I was infatuated with it for months on end, often returning to it even when I knew there were games that more urgently required my attention. I’m so glad it exists, and I’m grateful that Gearbox were so careful with it. If you listen closely, you can hear Teenage Dane high-fiving everyone at Gearbox right now.
Also, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. HOLY PANTS DID YOU GUYS SEE THAT THING?
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
I know, I know, I know, I’m supposed to hate it’s-the-same-but-a-bit-better-but-okay-it’s-basically-the-same-remasters because CASH GRABS AND ETHICS IN GRAPHICS FIDELITY AND I’VE PLAYED IT ALREADY ANYWAY, but whatever. Gears of War is one of those games I can play a million times and still love it forever and ever. Besides, I met my husband playing Gears of War, and we totally had a Gears of War cake at our wedding, and Gears of War is the most raddest. Also, shotgun gibs.
It’s technically an expansion, but it counts because The Taken King made Destiny the game it was – wait for it, waaaaaaait for it – destined to be. I’m here all week, guys, but in the meantime, how about that new raid, the new story content, new post-story content, new sub-class for every class, new Strike missions, new daily Bounties, new Patrol types, new PVP maps and modes, new weapons and armour, new baddies, new everything?
Plus it has 100% more added Nathan Fillion, and when has that ever been a bad thing? Never, that’s when.
Somehow, I didn’t even know very much about this game besides the name until the review disc was delivered, but as it turns out, Until Dawn’s choose-your-own-(mis)adventure was exactly my sort of thing. I love campy cabin-in-the-woods horror movies. I love clever exploitation of otherwise predictable tropes. I HATE EMILY. But I managed to kill her, and that’s what matters.
The Witcher 3 bonus round:
I didn’t even play it because I don’t like fantasy RPGs (except the fantasy RPGs I do like, because I’m zany like that). Come at me, haters.
I think it’s time to admit it – I don’t play as many games as I used to. But I did play a few in 2015 that impressed me, and I tried to pick out the ones that stood out the most in my head.
Much of my time with Fallout 4 has been spent watching other people play it in the house (we only have one PS4). I haven’t gotten very far because of the recurring GTA Online itch and work, but it’s a very well-crafted experience and a great title to lose yourself in. That said, I don’t think it’s going to be remembered as the best Fallout title of all time, because the changes to how the story is told and how you interact with others in the wasteland is less of a role-playing game and more of an RPG-like experience.
I have a review of Dirt Rally in the works and I’ve been playing the game on-and-off between its various builds. Rally was probably the smoothest transition from Early Access to release that I’ve ever experienced – at the outset, the game was playable and functional, but lacked a lot of content and polish. Over the past year, we’ve seen the game evolve gradually, gigabyte by painful gigabyte, until it became possibly the best game that Codemasters has made since Dirt 2 (which is still the finest arcade rally experience, in my opinion). It was just one smooth movement from initial release to version 1.0, and it gives me hope that this method of game development could actually work for AAA studios who want to make the switch to self-publishing.
Grand Theft Auto Online (PS4)
I know that this is a 2014 re-release of a game released in 2013, but hear me out. With the many changes and alterations made to the world and the way the gameplay is structured, GTA Online has become a different animal every year. By the end of 2013 it was chaotic fun everywhere and everyone was playing every mission available. By the end of 2014, it had matured into an ecosystem of several crews that rule the roost, with some of them structured like crime syndicates of their own.
2015 saw the inclusion of heists and random server events, and it’s become my favourite pastime to just hang about in a busy server and compete against other players in the random events, or design race courses in the world (I have one rally course done, two more in mind, and several drag spots lined up). Griefing and hackers are still an issue, and manners are non-existent as a result of the lack of players using their mics for communication, but GTA Online is otherwise a great experience and will continue to be something that I return to again and again.
Virtual hot dogs bonus round:
I experienced virtual reality for the first time at rAge 2015 and although it was with the Oculus Rift Development Kit 1, it was still quite the experience. Long-time readers of NAG will know that I’m deaf in my right ear and have no inner-ear balance on that side, so I had to ask my brother Matthew to hold my shoulder while I went on the virtual roller coaster ride. The experience was just so surreal that I couldn’t grasp that I was somehow in this simulation while also having my feet planted on solid ground.
VR will shape everything moving forward, and I don’t think we’re yet cognisant of just how much it’s going to change computing as a whole as well. Quite soon, maybe, we’ll swim through data in a virtual world, in a similar manner to the VR environment that Norman Jayden uses in Heavy Rain.
Compiling this list was depressingly difficult. It’s not that 2015 was a terrible year for games (although by my measure it wasn’t a great one), but it was also a year in which I didn’t have all that much time for games. It was the year I told myself I was going to get invested in big-name franchises that I’d not given a proper go (like Fallout), but I never quite found the time.
Instead, I fell into the comfort zone of the familiar, like slipping on a well-worn thong – sorry, I mean shoe. If I’m writing this list honestly, I think it reflects that.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
This is probably the most depressing entry on the list because I was actually a little disappointed in this one. Wolfenstein: The New Order might rank in my top five favourite single-player games I’ve ever played, if we conflate all the Half-Life stuff into one. The story was great, the combat was awesome and the characters felt genuine while still being somewhat overblown and hilarious.
The Old Blood delivered more of the same, but just not quite as well. The story was less compelling, the characters less developed and some of the newly-included stealth missions were frustrating rather than fun. Still, it gave me some of what I loved so much in New Order, and that’s enough to earn it a spot here.
Yup, we’re talking the original Doom here, folks. 2015 was the year that, thanks mostly to Delano, I became mildly obsessed with Doom mods. I’ve mentioned this on the site before, but there’s a pretty damn large community actively producing amazingly good Doom content. You may have seen the news recently that even John Romero himself released a new map.
The game simply refuses to die, and thanks to the often brutally difficult and exceptionally well-crafted maps from the community it stays relevant. There are even total conversion mods, which is essentially like playing a completely different game. This particular obsession lasted a good couple of months, and I thoroughly enjoyed tumbling down the rabbit hole.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
I know Graham beat me to it, but it would be disingenuous to leave what is easily my most-played game of 2015 off the list.
I tend to become utterly obsessed with competitive multiplayer games, and CS: GO got its hooks in me good (and still has them in me). This is the kind of thing I love because even though I don’t get as much time as I’d like to play it, I can spend free moments reading strategy, watching tournaments, devouring podcasts and trawling forums and subreddits.
Things only look to get worse in 2016, as the game continues to blow up in the eSports scene. Hell, someone just told me we’re getting a South African league that will be shown on DSTV.
THE FREEMAN bonus round:
Black Mesa. Yeah, yeah, I know the mod dropped in 2013, but it got its official Steam release in 2015, so that counts, right?
Either way, it was enough to get me to play through Half-Life again, and I’m still in love with it. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should – especially if you’re of the age where you never really played the original Half-Life.
The Talos Principle:
Without a doubt my top game of 2015. A superb first-person puzzler with an emotional and philosophical narrative. It’s all the more surprising because it’s a product of Croteam, who are most famous for the utterly brainless frag-fest that is the Serious Sam series. The Talos Principle wraps some truly devious puzzles in an elaborate package of beautiful locations, heavy biblical analogies and various musings on the nature of life and death. In my opinion, it has dethroned Portal‘s lofty position as king of first-person puzzle games and I still play it today, trying to unravel all its secrets and brain teasers.
Sonic Lost World (PC)
Yeah I know, it’s not a particularly great game and it originally came out in 2013 as a Wii U and 3DS title. The PC port, released in November of 2015, received a warmer reception and did away with many of the Nintendo version’s most notable complaints. It’s also the version I played and found myself enjoying a lot, despite the silly characters and awkward attack moves. It’s a fun, vibrant and colourful entry in the 3D platformer genre, which is sadly a category that’s sorely lacking. My reputation as a Sonic fanboy is not unfounded as I consider this one to be one of my guiltiest little pleasures.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
A sweet little expansion to 2014’s The New Order, this one seems to have flown under a lot of peoples’ radars despite being given lots of praise. It’s a self-contained prequel that’s a far shorter and more linear experience to be sure, but it still masterfully blends stealth with all-out action. The guns are fantastic to use, the gunplay is tight and satisfying, and it’s all wrapped up in a wonderfully campy alternate history romp with loads of B-movie sensibilities. Much like with zombies, shooting up Nazis as a 1940s Rambo never seems to get old.
The only games I play are the ones I make. Also, bonus round:
Despite some setbacks, 2015 was the year I truly got into game development. On and off, between work and bouts of being unproductive, I snagged a copy of Construct 2 and began collecting resources and immersing myself in assorted tutorials. I started an obsessive trend of examining games with an analyst’s eye, dissecting them to see what constitutes good design and what ideas I may implement in my own creations. Various ideas have been discarded and agendas have changed, but you’ll see something from me in the future. Eventually.