Tuesday 29 December 2015

The Top 10 Games of 2015

These sorts of lists always ruffle a few feathers, so beware if you're a chicken scared of other people's opinions. 2015 was a pretty good year for games – but it was probably also a record year for old games dusted off and resold at a higher price. Be aware that I have decided to exclude any game that was re-released, remastered, or regurgitated from this list. If it was available to buy in any form before 2015, it ain't allowed here. That left me in a moral dilemma regarding Rare Replay, which I reluctantly decided should also be disqualified. If you have an Xbox One, though, you really ought to buy it. Anyway, here we go; the ten best games of 2015 in ascending order. Let the outrage commence!

10: Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4, Xbox One, PC)


Scraping itself into tenth position by the skin of its teeth is Arkham Knight. Despite being significantly inferior to Asylum and City, Knight is a fantastic Batman experience when it gets things right (so basically, when you're not forced to drive that fucking stupid tank around). The combat has wisely been left largely unfiddled with, but the addition of Fear Takedowns – knocking out multiple enemies in a row under the right conditions – is most welcome; as is the blissful opportunity to disable stun sticks. Driving the Batmobile around can be pretty cool but, oh dear god, why piss all over the experience with the tank transformation? Just give us a Batman game where we can fly the Batwing already!

FUN FACT: You made the identity of the Arkham Knight way too obvious way too early, Rocksteady. You really screwed that up.

Batman: Arkham Knight  at CeX

9: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Some of you will cry in agony at this not being number one but, as with Arkham Knight, it wouldn't even be here if I'd allowed old games in. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good game; absolutely crammed full of missions, info, Easter eggs and detail, it's one of the prettiest and most generous games of the year. Kudos also for the way that some missions can take anything from ten minutes to two hours to complete in a clean run, depending on how difficult you choose to make things for yourself. The story's silly and poorly told, but that doesn't really matter when player choice dictates the experience so heavily. Besides, tying a balloon to a sheep and hearing its distressed bleat as it rockets skyward never gets old.

FUN FACT: Before starting his career in the games industry, Hideo Kojima enjoyed writing short stories – but was never able to get anything published, as his stories were four times as long as the magazines he submitted to wanted. Another fun fact: Despite what you might think, I'm not making that up.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain at CeX

8: Fallout 4 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Well it had to be in there somewhere, didn't it? It's not as well written or user friendly as Fallout 3 (which is why it isn't further up the list), but Fallout 4 is a perfect example of why the series is so loved. Playing it makes you feel like you're wandering through a living, breathing, and extremely dangerous world. Being able to take a companion along for the ride is a nice touch. Although you are, as law dictates, offered a dog as a companion, another option is a robot. Your own personal robot! With a flamethrower!!! For that reason alone, Fallout 4 was always going to be considered one of the best games of the year.

FUN FACT: War. War never changes.

Fallout 4 at CeX

7: Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)

Yes, I am seriously saying that this game is better than the previous three. If you're screaming and swearing at the screen and you haven't actually played it, please do both of us a favour and shut up. Sorry, but your opinion does not change the fact that I had more fun playing Yoshi's Wooly World than I did playing the new Batman, Metal Gear, or Fallout. With Miyamoto taking more of a back seat nowadays, it's comforting to see games like this prove that the “Nintendo magic” is still alive and well. As well as looking absolutely gorgeous, it brought to mind for me some of the very best SNES platformers. As those old and cranky like me can attest, that is high praise indeed.

FUN FACT: Yoshi has a designated voice actor – Kazumi Totaka, a videogame musician who has worked on many Nintendo games.

Yoshi's Woolly World at CeX


6: Super Mario Maker (Wii U)

Some might argue that Mario Maker “isn't a game” and in a way, they'd be right. It's something better than a game. It's almost an entertainment platform in itself. There's a small collection of basic levels to play on the disc, but that's not what the experience is about at all. A massive part is of course creating your own levels. Technically speaking it's extremely simple to use, the epitome of user friendly. You'll quickly realise however that actually designing a level – i.e. making one that functions properly and (most importantly of all) is fun to play – is quite a challenge. Even if that's not your thing, there are literally millions of levels made by other people accessible through the magic of the interwebs, with the most ingenious (generally) pushed to maximum visibility. Then you have the seemingly endless updates, additions, and tweaks – all free of charge. Why wouldn't you want this?

FUN FACT: My levels are better than your levels.

Super Mario Maker at CeX

5: Splatoon (Wii U)

Yet another Wii U game. Why? Because like it or not, the Wii U has this year absolutely crushed the competition in terms of quality exclusives. Splatoon is hard to categorise, which is one of the reasons it's so good. It's an online shooter in theory; but it has offline-only content, boys and girls that can transform into squids at will, and weapons that shoot (or explode with) ink rather than bullets, explosives, or shrapnel. You can 'splat' (kill) other players but the objective, generally speaking, is to cover as much of the map in your colour as possible. If your team concentrates on kills then your team will lose, simple as that. Nintendo frustrate in some areas, such as lack of map voting; but as with Mario Maker, there's a constant stream of free content that still shows no sign of stopping. If you have a Wii U and an internet connection, you need Splatoon.

FUN FACT: Most of the dev team are much younger than those that usually work on Nintendo games, and the game's producer is on record as saying that there are people on the team “super into” FPS games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield.

Splatoon at CeX

4: Disgaea 5 (PS4)

You probably won't find this on many (if any) other top 10 lists, which I think is kinda sad. With no huge marketing budget, sites don't feel obliged to remember its existence, which is unfair – because it's absolutely brilliant, and guaranteed to last anybody who gets into it a looooooong time. You'll know this already if you read the enthusiastic review I wrote for it. The anime-style design (complete with exaggerated voices) will be off-putting for some. If you like that, however (or can at least look past it) you'll be rewarded with a deep, lengthy, and ferociously addictive experience. Also there are exploding penguins.

FUN FACT: One cameo aside, Disgaea 5 is the first entry to avoid including characters from other games in the series.

Disgaea 5 at CeX

3: Forza Motorsport 6 (Xbox One)

I know, I know, this now brings the proportion of sequels in the top ten up to 50%. I'm not entirely comfortable with it myself – but many of the best games in 2015 were sequels, and there's no point denying the facts. Forza 6, like Forza Horizon 2 before it, first grabs you by the private parts with its incredible visual quality. Combined with a silky smooth frame rate even at speed, it's almost enough to convince you that you wouldn't die a violent and messy death if you attempted such driving in the real world. Then there's the superb handling, which varies so much from car to car. The exquisitely recreated racetracks. The now ubiquitous rewind feature which allows even losers like me to pretend they know how to drive in a straight line. The legion of options and mods which allow you to make the experience as close to – or as far away from – real driving as you wish. The... look, just buy it.

FUN FACT: The Top Gear twats are just as annoying here as they are on TV, even though you can't see them.

Forza Motorsport 6 at CeX

2: Life Is Strange (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Life Is Strange is a masterpiece in the true sense of the word (or something close to it, anyway). It's the game which proves that Dontnod Entertainment – developers of the great-but-not-awesome Remember Me – are masters of their craft. The episodic walk-and-click is a far cry from their first game in technical terms, but is remarkably close to it thematically. Memory, pain, loss, and the butterfly effect are again explored here; but, with no combat or traditional game mechanics to worry about, for far longer and in much more depth. The writing and acting are (a few blips aside) almost flawless. The atmosphere is incredible, in no small part thanks to the team's realisation that small, quiet, calm moments are just as important as plot-defining set pieces. There are in theory multiple endings, but really there are only two. Of those, I think one is easy to see as the 'true' ending – and that one made me cry. The only other game to ever achieve that is one of my all-time favourites, To The Moon. Although digital only in 2015, Life Is Strange sees a physical limited edition released in January 2016 (though not for last gen consoles) which includes commentary, an art book, and a selection from the sublime soundtrack. That will then leave you literally no reason to not buy the game.

FUN FACT: Ashly Burch, who puts in a stunning performance as your character's best friend Chloe, is also the voice behind Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2 and various minor voices in Adventure Time (for which she also does some writing work since season seven).

Life Is Strange at CeX

1: Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Have I chosen this game just to be controversial? I feel confident that virtually anybody who's actually played the game will be happy to scream “NO, YOU MORON” in your face on my behalf. In fact, I'm gonna stick my neck out onto the internet's chopping block here, and declare Xenoblade Chronicles X the greatest open-world game made thus far (and yes, I am well aware that the GTA games exist). The world itself is huge, and lush, and detailed. Whereas other games boast of the size of their map and then fluff it out with dull and empty fields, deserts and forests, Xenoblade Chronicles X ensures that every turn has something to show you. Something to gawp at, or discover, or fight, or explore, or collect, or investigate. The story is interesting but the script, to be honest, isn't the greatest. There are some surprises nonetheless, and it's all more than enough to keep you engaged for the many, many, many, many hours you'll need to see even half of what the game has to offer. If you have even the slightest interest in open world games or RPGs – or, ideally, both - this is totally worth buying a Wii U for.

FUN FACT: On release in the UK, Xenoblade Chronicles X charted at 28th, because life is not fair.

Xenoblade Chronicles X at CeX

Luke Kemp

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