Game of the Year 2015: 20-11
2015 is over. Looking back on the gaming landscape of last year, there were plenty of excellent titles, from AAA to indie. As is our yearly tradition, the Thunderbolt staff locked themselves in a small room and scrapped, mud-wrestled, bro-fisted and knocked out a list of 20 of our favorite games of 2015.
Below you’ll find numbers 20 through 11 listed in descending order, with numbers ten through four following tomorrow.
20th. Star Wars Battlefront
With their Battlefront reboot, DICE have created a wonderfully authentic Star Wars experience that hearkens back to first-person shooter classics like Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament. Eschewing hardcore military simulation elements for fun, shoot-from-the-hip hi-jinks, Battlefront is able to capture the feel of famous Star Wars battles without alienating genre newcomers. Not only that, but it’s arguably the best looking game all year and certainly the best looking Star Wars game ever released.
Dex came out of the blue in 2015. Apparently it was a modest Kickstarter success story, but to me it was a game straight out of left field that struck all of the right cords. It’s as fascinating as it is awkward; a brilliant, though undeniably flawed deconstruction of Deus Ex as a 2D sidescroller. Stealth, hacking, conspiracy theories, mediocre gunplay: it’s all here, everything that made Deus Ex what it was, warts and all. But what’s so fascinating about Dreadlocks’ game is seeing how these systems and mechanics work in one less dimension. The result is Harbor Prime, an interconnected city that acts as a hub forDex‘s cyberpunk adventure. Part-Metroidvania, part-Mark of the Ninja, Dex is a thoroughly engaging hybrid of tested sidescrolling mechanics, but the result is something completely new, and classic.
Who would have thought that Nintendo would be the ones to put out a revolutionary online shooter game? Splatoon is a refreshing splash in a genre that has been dominated mostly by mature games. With its bright colors, ink-based shooting and completely new game modes it pushes the boundaries of what an online shooter can be. Most shooters focus on modes like Deathmatch and opposing teams fighting over important points on the map, while Splatoondecides to determine the winner by which team covered the stage in the most ink. The result is a game familiar enough to be easy to pick up and learn, but fresh enough that you can spend weeks mastering new concepts and having fun.
17th. SteamWorld: Heist
SteamWorld: Heist continues the renaissance of great turn-based strategy games. As a follow up to the also excellent SteamWorld: Dig!, Heist is a dramatic departure from the exploration/platforming mechanics of its predecessor. Heist is sort of a like a singleplayer Worms game, meaning it’s turn-based, it’s 2D and it prominently relies on skill-based aiming, rather than dice rolls, to deliver hits. It’s an interesting mix that blends together seamlessly in practice. Staples of the genre like action points and cooldowns are present, but everything has been streamlined to keep Heist‘s missions as direct and quickly digested as possible. It’s a great game to play on the 3DS, perfect for quick bursts; a mission here, a mission there. You always feel like you’re making headway and have new toys to play with thanks to character progression that actually leads to useful new skills and weapons, or humorous story beats. SteamWorld: Heist is just an excellent portable game, and easily my favorite strategy game of 2015.
16th. Sunless Sea
Nothing has captured my imagination in years quite like Sunless Sea. Within the first playthrough, Failbetter’s work commanded my attention with its literary and profound sense of discovery. Every voyage becomes its own story, with a tragic end being the only inevitability. They become our own and every journey is distinct. Here is everything that I’ve ever wanted from a rougelike, context and story as unique as the experience of playing.
15th. Destiny: House of Wolves/The Taken King
It’s been a long, strange journey for Destiny. At release, the game was an odd mix of fantastic gunplay, gorgeous environments and a paper-thin plot that made Halo’s campaign arcs look like War and Peace. In 2015, Bungie managed to add a series of expansions that have shored up many of the game’s deficiencies and transformed the overall experience into something we expect from the storied developer. With Destiny, it’s clear that the experience will be ever-changing, but for now, the game is evolving in a way that shows how seriously Bungie takes player feedback. The result? Destiny (plus expansions!) is one of the top first-person shooter experiences of the year.
14th. Super Mario Maker
Super Mario Maker is the first honest success at putting creation tools into the hands of players as the primary purpose. What differentiates it from other efforts is that the creation itself is inherently fun and what is being created is connected to the player’s primary memories of what good videogame design looks like. The thing is that whatever you create, it is produced within the familiar outline of already brilliant platformers. There is no misdirection or chance of creating something that is without nostalgia. Everything produced within Mario Maker adheres to the principles of strong and coherent design based on its sources and it is the most vital and empowering creation tool ever made for an audience.
13th. Tales From the Borderlands
While not a breakthrough title like 2012’s The Walking Dead: Season One, or as meticulously paced as The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s Tales From the Borderlands is absolutely hilarious and the product of a confident, skilled developer in fine form. Humor in videogames is a tricky thing, but Telltale have masterfully balanced drama and whimsy to create the funniest game since South Park’s The Stick of Truth. With standout performances from Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Chris Hardwick and Patrick Warburton, the dialogue and delivery is sharp enough to propel a ludicrous plot across the planet of Pandora and beyond – a ride any Telltale or Borderlands fan will most certainly want to take.
12th. Grow Home
Grow Home was nearly my own Game of the Year, personally. Its unique fusion of childhood and exploration is at times heart warming, others frustrating, but above all else, fearless. Grow Home is a strange release, the kind you can’t seem to reason how it came to be. It’s an open-ended 3D platformer with deeply frustrating (though purposeful) physics-based controls developed by the studio behind Driver and published by a certain Assassin’s Creed behemoth. It’s a marvel B.U.D. was allowed to flail its way into existence, but I’m glad it did. Grow Home offers a truly organic (sorry!) experience. A game that encourages player exploration through the use of a small repertoire of awkward-yet-satisfying platforming mechanics. It’s a struggle, literally and figurateively for B.U.D. But there’s a unique feeling to flailing through this geometric dreamscape. You see this world just as B.U.D. does, and the only voice you know is M.O.M.’s. All you’re really given is a destination: find your way home. Just do it together, learning pains and all.
11th. Until Dawn
Conceptually speaking, Until Dawn is easily the most unique first-party console title of the year. It’s not perfect, not even close. The execution, the writing, both have some pretty drastic peaks and valleys. But the times when Until Dawn works it works phenomenally, and it easily accounts for many of my favorite gaming memories in 2015. Filling my apartment with friends to pilot a group of lustful youngsters into the embrace of would be lovers, or into the arms of a deranged murderer, there just wasn’t another experience like it. Until Dawn is entertaining in a way video games so rarely are. It’s an excellent choice for pass-the-controller get togethers, allowing a group to take turns playing and yelling as agency, and skill, is relinquished as the controller makes its way around the room. Until Dawn finally gave us the chance to save the countless ill-fated adolescents of our cinematic childhoods, and the sad yet hilarious truth is, we’re no better at keeping our entrails properly stored than they are.
Check back tomorrow for our continued Game of the Year 2015 coverage!