This list wasn’t supposed to be 10, but it turns out I only played 10 games I would qualify as “good” this year.
10) Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (PlayStation 4, Xbox One.)
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: March 17, 2015
The Final Fantasy series has had an interesting few years. The last game to employ the turn-based system that made the series famous came out in 2001. Since then, the series has struggled in finding the right tone, with its still somewhat-ponderous cutscenes bookended by sometimes too-fast gameplay. It’s not the best mix, and while Type-0 isn’t the best FF game since FFX, it certainly achieves the best mix of those styles. The story is simple, but not to the point that it hurts anything, and while the gameplay seems simpler than most, there’s a complexity to it that keeps things moving along. I didn’t beat it (not even close), but I enjoyed myself more with it than I did Final Fantasy XIII.
9) Massive Chalice (Xbox One, Windows, Mac)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: June 1, 2015
Massive Chalice is, in the simplest way I can put it, a mix of The Sims and XCOM. The immortal player character is in control of a series of royal houses fighting for their lives against an implacable foe in a desperate, generations-long war. As confusing as that sounds, it works quite well. While it’s certainly not the funniest game Double Fine has ever made, it has its moments, and despite a weird difficulty curve and a final act that really loses steam, it’s a greatly enjoyable game.
Throw in the randomly generated nature of the characters and enemies with it being a game I played for $5 (the approximate cost of a yearly Xbox Live Gold subscription), it ranks as probably the year’s biggest surprise.
8) NBA 2K16 (PS4, XBO, PS3, 360, Windows, iOS, Android)
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: September 29, 2015
It’s a 2K game — you know what you’re getting into. It will be deep, flexible and greatly entertaining. It will also be just good enough to frustrate you endlessly with its AI that every once in a while completely misunderstands what basketball is. The servers that collapse at a moment’s notice. The greatest basketball simulation of all time, and a hilariously frustrating experience.
Yet, there’s enough new here to really inspire confidence. The 2K series has always been best defined by just how much the developers try to change year-in and year-out. This year, half of the control scheme has been simplified, and to great effect. The Spike Lee-authored section of the MyCareer mode is almost hilariously terrible, but what happens after that is great. The new uniform creator and team relocation systems are similarly excellent, and will likely be a major feature down the road. Warts and all, this is probably the best basketball game I’ve ever played.
7) Evolve (PS4, XBO, Windows)
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Evolve is an interesting game. On its base level, it’s one of the most viscerally exciting and interesting IPs in recent years. A souped-up version of some of the boss character fights from Turtle Rock’s previous effort, Left 4 Dead, Evolve pits four human players of four different classes against one human monster of three different classes. The hunters have to stop the monster from evolving and growing more powerful (or completing the objective in one of the siller, less essential game modes), while the monster has to kill everyone.
What makes this game more than the sum of its parts is how large in scope the level design is and how…dangerous the whole thing feels. I generally played as a hunter, and from the moment you drop in (in a really cool sequence where you leap out of a dropship), everything wants to kill you. If the monster doesn’t get you (which can happen immediately), the local fauna will. Everything is alien and scary and huge in a way that few shooters ever have been. It’s lighter on content than I’d like, but that’s not always the death knell that most people consider it to be.
6) Star Wars Battlefront (PS4, XBO, Windows)
Developer: EA DICE
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Speaking of light on content, I present to you what is, for some reason, the most polarizing game of 2015. Is Battlefront smaller than it should be? Yes, but it does have 13 maps at launch (15 now). Is the DLC plan almost hilariously cynical? Yes, but it promises several new hero characters, which are probably the best thing about the game. Is it designed to be egalitarian and shallow tactically to the point of frustration? Of course, but that’s what Battlefront always has been. You are just cannon fodder. You can die for any reason, at any time. It’s supposed to be chaotic, and if there’s one thing this iteration accomplishes, it’s that.
Plus, it’s one of the very best-looking and best-sounding games ever made, and captures the feel of the original Star Wars films effortlessly.
5) Bloodborne (PlayStation 4)
Developer: From Software
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Here’s the thing: I’ve played maybe 90 minutes of Bloodborne. At the same time, I’ve watched and read more about it than 90% of the games I’ve ever played in my life. It just fascinates me. Even my long-time apprehension about ever being skilled enough to do much of anything in the Souls franchise can’t stop how utterly enthralling, cohesive and just damned interesting this game is. It’s the most Lovecraftian game of all time by a margin so huge that to even mention it feels silly.
It’s just a gorgeous, terrifying immensity of a game, full of meaning and importance and giant monsters you can kill with a giant axe in a gothic hellscape. It’s got everything you’d want in a game.
4) Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One)
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Halo 5 is an interesting game (stop me if I’ve said that already on this site).
While a fair amount of “Halo purists” hate the lack of splitscreen, the jump pack controls and the…unconventional storyline, the truth is that this game is a much closer approximation of what Halo’s core has always been than 2012’s Halo 4, 343 Industries’ first run at the franchise. The new gameplay mechanics have made the series faster-paced than before, but the lack of loadouts or kill bonuses in multiplayer ensure that everyone starts on an even playing field. The campaign, which leans heavily towards the new character, Spartan Locke, is long, entwining and still somewhat boring, but the standout moments it does provide are on par with anything the previous games have done. The music is at a near-series high, and the sheer scope and complexities of some of the maps rival anything even the first game ever did.
It’s a remarkably good game that doesn’t have to reinvent the series, even though it kind of does, which is an interesting dichotomy.
3) Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4, XBO, Windows)
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: June 23, 2015
The first couple hours of Arkham Knight are streamlined enough that they can trick you into thinking it’s not as big of a game as it is. Not in map size or excessive multiplayer levels or even just length, but in scope. Each of the islands are huge, and immensely detailed. Each of the major locations is unique. The sidequests are involved and perfectly suited to the Batman villains they represent. The combat system is overwhelming at times, but the new mechanics fit so magnificently with the old (in a way only Rocksteady seems to be able to do) that they feel as though they’ve been there all along. The game’s only major flaw is the prevalence of the Batmobile combat sections, but even on their own, they’re not awful or anything. Just too transparently gamey.
I understand that a lot of people have a major problem with this, and I might be glossing over it a bit, but this game is just too slick, too beautiful and too perfect a distillation of “Batman” as a concept to be anything less than one of the very best games of the year.
2) Fallout 4 (PS4, XBO, Windows)
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Speaking of polarizing games, we come to the bewildering and mesmerizing Fallout 4. Announced in June and released in November, it had one of the quickest marketing campaigns for a major, Triple A title in recent memory, which may have contributed to why so many people seemed to misunderstand it. Of course, F4 being a different game from any other Fallout on a fundamental, structural level could also have something to do with it. Gone are the importance of side-quests, the perk system, the ending slides, and in their place are the best story Bethesda’s ever written, a more action-oriented gameplay style and the biggest single, complete city in the company’s repertoire. I haven’t seen nearly enough critical discussion about what an achievement Post-Nuclear Boston is. There are no loading times, no invisible walls, no giant piles of refuse demarcating different areas, and no inscrutable subway system. It’s all one thing. If you enter a high-rise building and jump off (wearing power armor), you’ll survive the landing. It exists as one whole thing, not a discreet series of parts.
There are so many small details like this, so many signs of true craftsmanship, that make Fallout 4 such a fascinating game, despite being the least Fallout game in the series to this point.
1) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4, XBO, PS3, 360, Windows)
(My piece on MGSV and Metal Gear as a whole here)
Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: September 1, 2015
At first blush, I wavered for a minute before deciding between this and Fallout 4, but in the end, there was no decision to be made — once I thought about just how emergent and thrilling MGSV was on a moment to moment basis. For an incomplete game (the alleged Part Three had to be scrapped during the messy and complicated divorce between auteur Hideo Kojima and Konami), there’s an immensity, a breadth of content here that is remarkable. The base management system dulls after a few dozen hours, but that’s still a few dozen hours of fun to be had with a series of menus (that have a discernible impact upon the game world). The stealth is as punishing and intricate as any game has ever managed, while the game world as a whole is dizzyingly, hilariously malleable (extremely NSFW).
Plot wise, I don’t have much else to say that I haven’t already said in the post I linked to above, but perhaps this game, more than any other, isn’t about its plot. It’s about a full and final realization of the sandbox concept. It’s about throwing in your walking robot action figure and your stealth dog action figure and your Big Boss action figure with several removable prosthetic arms and shooting a rocket punch at a Metal Gear while an airstrike destroys a small village while “She Blinded Me With Science” plays on a small jukebox in the driving rain. It’s an amazing video game, and the best video game of 2015.
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