Whether you were getting your arse handed to you on the streets of Yarnham or slaughtering Covenant grunts on the Sangheili home world, 2015 was quite the year for gamers. We had retro classics re-imagined, famous franchises making a triumphant return and astonishingly accomplished indie hits trouncing AAA blockbusters. So, with your Christmas lists at the ready, read on for our picks of the very best games this year had to offer.
15. Her Story
PC, Mac, iOS
A taut, interactive movie where players used an archive of police video interviews to solve a murder mystery, Her Story was a true gaming original, one shaped by a memorable and poignant story that lived with you long after you cracked the case.
Starring Bikini Atoll keyboard player, Viva Seifert, in her first acting role, Her Story was atmospheric and captivating. And while using keywords to sift through hours of interview tapes may sound dull on paper, the way the story slowly revealed itself was nothing short of revelatory, the sense of reward when you linked scraps of information immeasurably satisfying.
14. Halo 5: Guardians
It’s the game most Xbox One owners were waiting for – and when Halo 5 finally exploded onto consoles in November, Master Chief’s latest blockbuster brought frantic Halo gameplay back to the fore.
While the campaign mode is not the series high point, what most fans fell for was the maniacal multiplayer, most notably the 24-player Warzone where two human teams and computer-controlled opponents go head-to-head in maps that are up to four times larger than any previous Halo battlefield. It set the stage for chaotic, anarchic skirmishes where only those with lightning reflexes and natural born savagery survived. In short: it's Halo. What more is there to say.
13. Rise Of The Tomb Raider
Xbox 360, Xbox One
Marking the return of one of video gaming’s most iconic characters, Rise Of The Tomb Raider was a timely reminder of what made Lara Croft so exciting in the first place. Hurling players into dusty tombs, perilous mountain ranges and dense jungles, Rise Of The Tomb Raider deftly captured the feeling of being an explorer, and provoked the emotions history’s real-life Indiana Joneses must have felt when uncovering the secrets of the ancient world. And while you’d expect exploration and discovery to remain the cornerstones of the Tomb Raider experience, improved combat and gripping gunplay also made this latest entry in the series the most compelling yet.
12. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
The enigmatic tale of a sleepy English village from which the entire population has disappeared, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture challenged players to explore a curious ghost town, piece together clues, and work out what the hell happened.
Interacting with mysterious floating lights that reveal key details about events preceding the mass exodus, the joy of playing Rapture came from collating disparate pieces of information and gradually revealing a bigger picture. While derided by some as a 'walking simulator', the game's sedentary pace belied a subtle, nuanced experience that was more rewarding by far than being assaulted by the sledgehammer narratives that drive so many gaming blockbusters.
11. Super Mario Maker
For anyone who’s ever fantasised about creating their own exuberant Mario platformer (read: every Nintendo fanboy on the freaking planet...), Super Mario Maker was the stuff platforming dreams were made of.
Giving would-be plumbers robust and intuitive tools to create their own candy-coloured pipe worlds – each of which could be brought to life with beloved heroes, classic villains and familiar landmarks – Super Mario Maker was reason enough to invest in a Wii U.
Moreover, as this prolific package unleashed a treasure trove of user-created content that's every bit as good as anything Nintendo published, Super Mario Maker will keep on giving for years to come.
10. Fallout 4
PS4, Xbox One, PC
While Xenoblade Chronicles X marooned players on a beautiful alien planet, and Witcher III was staged in a luscious fantasy world, 2015’s other momentous free-roamer was set in the scorched aftermath of a nuclear war, and was one of the year’s most all-consumning adventures.
Although little had changed for this fifth installment in the Fallout series, Fallout 4 polished the experience to perfection by offering a sprawling, post-apocalyptic sandbox world where gamers could lose themselves and create their own story. A huge variety of characters who felt unnervingly real; an opportunity to tinker using the crafting system to modify weapons, armour and even your surroundings; and combat that was more thrilling and ferocious than ever before. If the apocalypse is this much fun then sign us up now.
9. Homeworld Remastered Collection
If you're even a casual fan of the RTS genre tehn you shouldn't need us to tell you how innovative and accomplished the Homeworld games are; but with the Remastered Collection, series stalwarts have an opportunity to fall in love with the epic strategy title all over again.
Featuring both the original and updated versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, the Remastered Collection makes both games look better than ever, each one pimped to perfection with high-resolution graphics, flashy new effects, bombastic audio, and vastly improved cut scenes.
If you’ve never played Homeworld, the Remastered Collection is the perfect place to start, and is sure to enthrall a new generation with the series’ fanciful visuals, gigantic battles and revolutionary 3-D interface. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live Battlestar Galactica, this is the closest you'll come.
8. Xenoblade Chronicles X
While PlayStation and Xbox fanboys go apeshit for Witcher III and Fallout 4, Nintendo loyalists are smugly savouring an intrepid, open-world exclusive of their own, one that’s arguably the finest freewheeling adventure of them all.
A sci-fi quest staged on a verdant alien planet – and populated by cyclopean beasts that loom over your puny human colonists – Xenoblade Chronicles X boldly evolved the conventions of Japanese RPGs, and skillfully made turn-based battles and meticulous character development palatable for a demanding modern audience weaned on fast-paced action.
7. Rocket League
A delirious blend of football and demolition derby, Rocket League saw players controlling torpedo-powered cars and using them to smash an enormous ball into their opponent’s goal. And while the action is just as ridiculous as it sounds, Rocket League was one of 2015’s funniest and most entertaining multiplayer romps.
The core action was gloriously simple and easy to get to grips with, but mastering this demented soccer derby requires patience and practice. As a result, humiliating a similarly skilled opponent in Rocket League has become of the most satisfying multiplayer experiences this side of Mario Kart.
6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC
Building on the triumphs of previous Metal Gears – but giving players more freedom than ever in how they tackle challenges – The Phantom Pain was the perfect swan song for director Hideo Kojima to part ways with the definitive stealth series he created.
Aside from the game’s remarkable flexibility and way it rewarded players' imagination and creativity, MGSV elegantly retooled the Metal Gear story structure and clandestine gameplay for an open-world environment, even providing gamers with the opportunity to build a base and deck it out with all manner of junk, rather than simply wading through the main game.
The gameplay hit a franchise high, refined to perfection, while action was shaped by a story that explored the nature of war and futility of combat, making MGS feel more relevant than ever before. In the pantheon of stealth action games, The Phantom Pain sits high atop the throne.
5. Pillars Of Eternity
As the spiritual successor to the revered Baldur’s Gate, there was a lot riding on Obsidian’s latest fantasy role-player. But despite sticking with an old-school isometric perspective and using party combat dynamics that hark back to the late 1990s, Pillars Of Eternity charmed Baldur fans and newbies alike.
Deep strategic battles, lovable characters and emotive music all combined to help Pillars rise above its nostalgic visuals and show modern gamers – usually seduced by flashy graphics and ultraviolence – how a gripping, well-built PC RPG can be built on atmosphere, good writing, and slick use of artwork.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight
PS4, Xbox One, Mac, PC
Building on the success of previous Batman games, Arkham Knight evolved the traditional gameplay by giving players more freedom to explore the game world and choose their own path, while also expanding the hero’s arsenal of gadgets and tweaking the delightfully brutal melee combat.
But while it’s tremendous fun to explore the game’s beautifully-realised Gotham City – and the top-notch voice acting from series regulars Mark Hamill and Tara Strong bring the adventure roaring to life – what’s most exciting is jumping behind the wheel of the burly Batmobile, and making adrenaline-fuelled runs through the shadowy, twisting streets of DC Comic’s notorious city.
3. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
PS4, Xbox One, PC~
With over six million copies sold in as many weeks, near-perfect review scores across the board and a clutch of renowned industry prizes under its belt, The Witcher III was, it's safe to say, one of 2015’s success stories.
Although the goals in this free-roaming adventure were familiar – use swords and magic to duel with enemies, gossip with NPCs, accept treacherous quests to drive the story – Witcher III trounced lesser role-players with a virtual world that felt authentic; deep, complex characters who were a delight to interact with; and an epic story where your actions had profound consequences on the narrative (If you didn't end up naked and tied to a bed in the game's penultimate act then you were clearly doing something wrong), and shaped how this tale of sorcery, ancient bloodlines and warring kingdoms reached its grisly conclusion.
2. Life Is Strange
Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC
An innovative graphic adventure that gifted gamers with five striking episodes, Life Is Strange followed protagonist Maxine Caulfield as she came to terms with her supernatural ability to rewind time, and used her uncanny powers to stop the impending destruction of her town.
While not as flashy or accomplished as other games on this hit list, Life Is Strange richly deserved the critical plaudits heaped on each installment, delivering an engaging story with believable characters, feeling more like a great work of fiction than a traditional video game. And in having the balls to tackle timely and taboo subjects such as suicide, family disintegration and online bullying, Life Is Strange, not to mention convincingly conveying the trials and tribulations of adolescence, this will be remembered as 2015's most important and affecting release.
A dark, bleak and often disturbing adventure that riffs on the blackest gothic literature and eldritch horrors of HP Lovecraft, Bloodborne was not only 2015’s most savage and bloodcurdling romp but the undisputed title of the year.
An action role-player that followed in the wake of director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s satanic smashes Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Bloodborne saw players facing an endless horde of nightmarish beasts in fierce, lightning-paced battles.
Harsh and unforgiving, this is a game that brazenly spurned casual players, only rewarding those who weren’t demoralised by being repeatedly crushed by the game’s degenerate hell beasts. With expansion pack The Old Hunters only hastening players’ descent into madness, this is by far the best PS4 exclusive to date.