Games of the Year - 2015

We're not the biggest of sites, though our team is continually growing. That being said, we have had an opportunity to play a large number of games over the span of 2015, often on multiple platforms. Now we wanted to take a few minutes and share our personal favorites, much as we did last year.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
I wanted to limit myself to one title per platform, and as good as the Rare Replay and Halo 5 were, for me Rise of the Tomb Raider was the best Xbox One title this year. Certainly the story could have been better, but the voice acting, the visuals and the gameplay were arguably the best we have seen on the console to date. There was so much to do, and I lost countless hours exploring different locations. I really did not want my adventure to end, and while the relatively poor sales have to be disappointing to the developers, I am hopeful that we will see more of Lara's adventures going forward.
There were equally impressive exclusives for the PS4 as well. With titles like Until Dawn, Disagae 5and Nobunaga's Ambition (it came out on PS3 and PC, true - but console-wise, we didn't see it on Wii U or Xbox One). Still, for all of the great things these games might have brought to the table, Bloodborne and I had a great love/hate relationship. I loved the setting, the smooth visuals, the offensive-oriented combat (as opposed to the slower, more defensive Souls games). I also apparently loved dying, because I did it over and over again. I learned, I got better, and I hated Bloodborne for abusing me hour after hour, but I kept coming back to it, hellbent on beating the game. And then, when the opportunity to play New Game Plus came along? I made use of it and started the cycle all over again.
Super Mario Maker
It was actually a very good year for the Wii U. It is hard to keep titles like Splatoon out of the mix, taking a genre like FPS that is notoriously cut throat competitive, and still offering a solid combative experience that reminds you that gaming should be a joy. Yoshi's Woolly World was a flawed but enchanting experience. Xenoblade Chronicles X was the biggest competitor I suspect. But at the end of the day, Super Mario Maker hit all of the right notes - literally and figuratively. The first time I used my stylus to lay down a bunch of bricks, prompting the game to pipe up with instantly familiar Mario music? I was hooked. The small touches like the sound effects, the different options - Super Mario Maker was a creative boon that I absolutely could not get enough of. I came back day after day, as did my wife and kids. We all took turns handing the tablet controller around, playing one another's levels and that is why it is my Wii U game of the year.

Honorable Mention

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Boy this was a tough one for me. Largely because I had so much fun with Tales From the Borderlands that I wanted to put it in here. I had as much fun with that title as almost any other this year, due to great voice acting and hilarious writing. Cases could be made for Fallout 4 as well, and I wouldn't argue. Some already great games getting updates this year like Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition also deserve consideration. But at the end of the day, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt delivered a visual spectacle with characters I cared about and a world I was immersed in - much like I was with Dragon Age: Inquisition last year. The Witcher 3 never quite found that sweet spot that the above three games did for me, but it was really close, which is why it lands here.
Tales of Zestiria
Tales of Zestiria proved two things in one go. The first of these is that Namco's still got it when designing a Tales of entry and the second is that they are not afraid to continue moving forward and trying new elements.

Zestiria is definitely more than the sum of its parts which are all stellar to start off with. New combat system that allows for fighting right inside of the environment while not quite being anything new per say in the land of the JRPG as Infinite Undiscovery had already done this years prior, but it was something new to this series especially that the core mechanics are as they've always been. The Linear fighting system that has been around since the beginning still rocks as it has only ever gotten better. Add in that combos and artes have gotten a bit of a new work around and things were simply solid.

Characters themselves were great. What truly made things interesting and honestly awkward at times was the fact that most of them do not exist within the human realm, and thus, are invisible. This was amazing touch as in a lot of cases other than a simple nod to this fact, the fact that our characters are talking to someone else is ignored and or just simply passed over. Actually using this element to the narratives advantage was great and done much more than once.
Victor Vran
Victor Vran has changed my everything when it comes to a Hack and Slash experience. Honestly, it has set the new bar for me in regards to what can be done / should be done in regards to certain elements. Jumping. Wall Jumping. No longer being stuck behind an object because it happens to be a two inch barrier between you and the path right to the other side. Jumping down a ledge instead of having to run to it. This simple act in a lot of other styles honestly becomes revolutionary in the Hack and Slash genre as it can honestly change everything.

Other than the ability to finally jump within this style, Victor Vran plays host to a lot of solid features that while could have been great on their own, are made better with jumping. Each zone around the map is an instance that comes with challenges of their own that each have their own rewards for completing. Unique in a manner to this style is that Victor himself does not have skills to draw upon but instead his skills come from the weapons that he is currently wielding. Swords, Hammers, Tesla Guns, Shotguns, Mortars, Scythes, and so on. Each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages per situation which is why two separate weapons can be equipped at a time and changed on the fly in order to wreak maximum havoc upon your foes. All of these features combined makes for amazing gameplay that is easy to get lost in for hours at a time either solo or with a friend.
Shovel Knight
I absofreakinglutely love the platforming and retro nostalgia.
The controls were perfect.
And it had the Battletoads.

If you haven’t already played? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? It’s now on all the systems and there are no longer any excuses!

Honorable Mention

Hyperdimension Neptunia Rebirth:3
I would have loved this in my Top 3 however the only reason it doesn't make it is because A) there are only three, and B) unlike the rest it is a remake. An incredible and stellar remake, but the rest are newer entries into the world of Video Games and have not been seen before.

The Re:Birth brand of the Neptunia series shows exactly what a remake or a re-release should be. Improved mechanics, added storylines and characters to the point of wholly new content at times, and improved system resource allocations. The third entry into the series broke away into a parallel world for its own set of shenanigans as NEptune in one way or another ends up needing to not only save this world, but the world that she came from. Originally having been one of my favorite games, Re:Birth 3 only made it more so with all of its additions and modifications making an already great game stellar.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Yes, this series releases every year. No, it is not the same thing each and every time. Are there similarities? Sure. You could say the same thing about most games from a common genre (or even titles that span multiple genres). I would be lying if I said there were not several parallels between this title and last year's Advanced Warfare. I'd also be lying if I didn't say that Black Ops III was by far the superior title. Whether it is the use of the different classes/powers, the entertainingly fast parkour or just the always-tight gunplay, there are a lot of things Black Ops III got right this year. The campaign has some meat on its bones, and I actually spent more time on the running challenges than I care to admit - but let's be real here. The multiplayer is where the bulk of one's time is spent with this game, and it is time well spent. Running along a sign, shooting down an enemy who peels around the corner just before landing and using a ripper on the next guy? That's an adrenaline rush.
Fallout 4
Sure, Fallout 4 feels really similar to Fallout 3. Certainly it could have used more conversational options. Is it buggy? Absolutely. Here's the thing though - I cannot stop playing it. Hours went from dozens to over a hundred and I tried it on a couple of different systems (PS4 and PC) and spent an incredible amount of time combing the landscape. Fallout 4 knows what kind of game it wants to be, with excellent humor, solid progression systems and a story that I actually cared about far more than I ever did with the third game.
Mortal Kombat X
It is easy to forget about games that came along earlier in the year, but at the time of its release Mortal Kombat X was a big deal. It was a really big deal. And it had every reason to be. The graphics were excellent, the combat was sharp, I adored the breakneck (literally) action and the multiple modes kept me coming back for more and more. If I had a complaint about it, it is that the DLC has been trickled out at such a ridiculously slow pace that it no longer feels relevant now. Still, as far as fighting games go, Mortal Kombat X was a riot.

Honorable Mention

Not the flashiest game, not even close to the most notable title out there. All it does is deliver some quality scares and narrative, giving me a reason to curl up with my Vita and night (and curl my toes up at the same time) for hours on end. Even though we're a couple of months removed from Halloween, this is still getting played and with good reason.
Whether or not video games can be considered as art is a moot point - a debate that has sparked controversy and seen opinions from staunch non-gamers such as movie critic Roger Ebert. Though *only* 40 years old, the video game industry is still an infant medium, but already examples of inspired art are beginning to prop up. Though they may be few in number, these so-called "art games" are considered as clear indications that the industry is growing up. The exact definition and structure of what makes a video game "art" is unclear - as are most things - and Duet may not fit the description, but I can tell you this: it is pure and crystal magic.

Initially released in 2013 for iOS and Android, it is the recent PC port that I'm the most familiar with; hence the inclusion on this list. Developed by Kumobius, Duet is a minimal puzzle-action game in which you guide two orbs - red and blue - through a series of white glowing shapes. The objective is to avoid them and make it through the end of the stage successfully. Failure results in an immediate restart of the stage... and that's one of the many magic elements of this game. You see, anytime you screw up the game instantly rewinds to the start of the stage in a seamless, fluid, uninterrupted manner. Out of context, this mechanic may not sound much but when you see it in action, you too will experience the magic.

Duet's OST, composed by Tim Shiel, may very well be among the perfect video game albums in existence. Words cannot describe the heavenly nature of the album, with each title akin to that freshly brewed cup of herbal tea. Do yourself a favor and play this game!
Axiom Verge
Axiom Verge is not even a year old and already it has joined the ranks of legendary indie games the likes of Super Meat Boy, Braid and Fez. Developed by one-man powerhouse, Tom Happs, this game takes heavy inspiration from Metroidvania and classic NES action-platformers. While Axiom Verge isn't without its flaws - namely a weak story and less-than-average writing - the gorgeous pixel-art and scale of the in-game world more than makes up for that.
Grand Theft Auto V
In more ways than one, Grand Theft Auto V (the PC version) is more of a deja vu than jamais vu, because it takes all the classic hallmarks and standards established by previous GTA titles and refines each layer with a new coat of shiny polish. I remember when we used to benchmark our computers with GTA Vice City: if it could run the game, it was worth buying! A decade later and virtually nothing has changed: it is still Grand Theft Auto with which a good number of hardcore PC gamers test the strength of their computer with.

Honorable Mention

Tembo: The Badass Elephant
What an awesome game. What an awful name. The following will sound cliche and over-saturated, but bear with me: Tembo is an addictive platformer that kept me hooked well past my normal gaming time. I play my games in short bursts because I like to stretch out the experience as much as I can - but with Tembo I made an exception. In one sitting I'd finished 75% of the game, before I forcibly yanked myself away from the computer... only to return to it a few hours later and finish it 100%. For a game with such a lame title, it sure is fun and entertaining as hell!

As we look forward to 2016 and for the promise of Doom 4 set in industrial hell, 2015 will forever remind me as the year in which I played hell-lotta addictive games than any of the years prior, with titles such as Duet, Tennis in the Face, Rocket League and of course, Tembo, taking up way too much of my free time than I normally allow.

Honorable mentions go Fallout 4, Pac-Man 256 and a big shoutout to the classics from yesteryears which I played for the first time in 2015: Fallout: New Vegas, Team Fortress 2, Sega Rally REVO and the eternal perennial classic, Interstate '76!
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the pinnacle of modern day cyberpunk roleplaying games. An incredible story is partnered with an atmosphere that is so thick you can almost feel it and is all wrapped up in some of the grungiest graphics found outside of anime. Shadowrun HK is the best of the rebooted franchise and one that you will sit down to play and lose yourself in for hours at a time. Hairbrained Studios put all of their experience and expertise into their third Shadowrun release and we are better for it.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
After I literally destroyed the PlayStation 4 release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt due to technical issues and a game-breaking bug, I was contacted by CD Projekt Red as they were quite concerned with the experiences I had. I was blown away by their drive and dedication to ensure that the latest release of the venerable Witcher Series delivered for its fans; for me I was less than thrilled with the experience so their lead developer, PR manager, and an executive officer reached out to me and took my concerns to heart as I traded recordings and emails with them for a few weeks. Their desire to ensure I saw the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in the light that they intended to paint lead me to reviewing it on the Xbox One and all I can say is this … Thank you CD Projekt Red, for the love story that you brought to your fans. Geralt's adventures in Wild Hunt are the very best of story-telling while providing an absolutely massive world that never gets old. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is near perfect and has raised the WRPG bar so high that other franchises will only hope to reach the great soaring heights that The Witcher has set.
NHL 16
This one is a bit of a shock as I worried for days over whether or not to include a sports game in my Game of the Year group. Fact of the matter is though, that four months after its release I am still frothing at the mouth for more; I have not experienced that with a sports title since Tiger Woods was released back in 2004. Incredibly easy to pick up and play yet deep enough that even the most seasoned NHL veteran will lose themselves in it, NHL 16 is the best of the best in a long-running yearly franchise. Well done, EA, well done indeed.

Honorable Mention

Elite: Dangerous
For all of the games I played this year, the one that I spent the most time getting lost in was Elite: Dangerous fox Xbox One. The fact that the PC version was released in 2014 is the only reason that Elite: Dangerous is not listed in my top three (taking the place of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) as it is simply a stunning game. Boasting a 1:1 of the Milky Way galaxy, Elite: Dangerous is absolutely massive and as a space combat sim, can be complex. Though I went in with some trepidation due to not having my HOTAS and VoiceAttack voice-activated macros, I was blown away at how well the controller actually worked. Aside from a perfect port, any excuse to hop back into my Imperial Clipper and cruise the stars is a welcome one. Elite: Dangerous like its predecessor is a timeless classic that will be around for years and decades to come.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
This year, I played fewer games than I have in probably 20 years. I don't think I played any fewer hours, though. I made it through the entire summer and right up to the beginning of the fall gaming overload with just The Witcher 3, which is absolutely my favorite game of the year. I suspect that it will win numerous Game of the Year awards across the industry and they will be well deserved.

The world itself is fleshed out with tons of great locations and characters. Shades of grey abound; there are few one-note characters in this story. The side quests are significantly better than most RPG fare with fleshed out backgrounds and characters.

The main quest is fascinating to me because it also turns the typical RPG "save the world" cliche on its head a little bit. It has a similar backdrop to Game of Thrones: human kingdoms are warring with each other while a supernatural threat lingers that could wipe out the entire world. But Geralt's story isn't about saving the world, at least not directly. It is about saving his adopted daughter. Saving the world is really her story; you just need to make sure she can. It is a personal story, well-written, and ties very well into the existing Witcher canon.

From a gameplay perspective, it greatly improves on the systems from The Witcher 2. I could nitpick the way it handles group fighting, atrocious swimming mechanics, or your horse's pathfinding, but that is all it would be, nitpicking. It absolutely nails the most important criteria for RPGs: great characters, great stories, great side-quests, and a world that you enjoy being in for the 100+ hours you'll be playing. Throw in a great visual style and one of the absolute best minigames around (seriously, why is Gwent so good?), and this was an easy pick for my favorite game in 2015.
Fallout 4
Assassin's Creed is one of my favorite video game franchises, despite all of its warts. I absolutely loved the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. Both franchises had highly-regarded sequels released this fall. Unfortunately, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider are still sitting sadly on my shelf waiting for their turn because every minute I've had available for gaming since early November has been dedicated to Fallout 4.

Fallout 4 has warts, no doubt. The character models are looking rough. The conversation system doesn't allow for true "role-playing" (most responses are the same no matter which option you choose). The game is more combat-focused than previous Fallout games. The lack of level cap means that given enough time playing, everyone's characters will have all the same stats. Ditto for crafting: as great as the crafting system is, once you've gotten a few perks, most people will have the same weapons. Keeping settlements safe and happy is a chore. It has plenty of bugs.

But I still find myself drawn to it. Why? The world that Bethesda has built is overflowing with little stories and experiences that most people will never even see. And I'm not just talking about all the terminal entries that people skim over (although some of those are really good). There some whole areas that have nothing to do with any quests (main or side) like the robot racing track or deep underground quarries. There are little environmental details that the level designers put in every nook-and-cranny. My wife and I started to point out the little things we'd seen. Two stuffed teddy bears set up to play chess, holding beer bottles. Two skeletons pushing a stroller with a plunger where the baby should be. An "intervention" note on a dead raider's body from his buddies saying he needed to lay off the chems.

Those little nuances bring the world to life and encourage you to keep exploring. I've spent a lot of time in Fallout 4's Commonwealth, and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface.

Any game that consumes that much of my time and forces me to ignore quality AAA titles on my shelf has to make my GOTY list.
Zombie Army Trilogy
Here is my dark horse pick, the one that won't be on many (or any) other GOTY lists out there. It is really just a remastered version of some DLC for Sniper Elite v2 (2013) that was quietly released on the Xbox One in the deadest part of the year (March). But when I think of the games that I've played this year, this one is the one that probably surprised me the most. I knew that I was going to like my #1 and #2 picks pretty much the day they were announced. I was skeptical about this one; I wouldn't have even played it if my brother hadn't asked me to jump online for some co-op. I'm glad he did.

I will confess: I'm a sucker for zombies, whether they are in movies, TV, video games, board games, whatever. Obviously, I'm not alone, because the last 5-10 years have been crowded with new zombie media, well into the "over saturation" zone. Nowadays, you have to do something different to make zombies interesting again. ZAT's hook is twofold. First the setting is WW2 era, which immediately sets it apart from the glut of modern games. The only thing better than shooting than zombies is shooting Nazi zombies! Second, by basing it on the Sniper series, it gives the gameplay a different feel than the usual shotgun/pistol-heavy zombie games.

Where it really shines for me is the co-op gameplay. The game is challenging without being frustrating. It has a real sense of tension and you really come to depend on your teammates.

I'm a big fan of co-operative campaigns and unfortunately, those really feel like they are on the decline right now. Does the story in ZAT stand up against Halo 5? No...but unburdened by expectations or an unnecessary desire to be "epic", the game itself feels funner. I may be the only one that feels this way, but if I want to jump online for some co-op with friends or family, I'd rather play ZAT than Halo 5.

Is it one of the three best games to come out this year? No. But the experiences I had playing it are some of the best and that makes it one of my favorites.

Honorable Mentions

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
My top two games of the year were no-brainers. Of all the time I've spent playing video games this year, those two probably accounted for 80% of the play time. My third pick was unconventional, but I'm confident in saying that I enjoyed playing it more than many other games. That being said, there is a huuuuuge caveat in my list this year. I've only just started playing two of the year's biggest releases, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider. From what I've seen so far, either one has the potential to slide into the top 3, but I just haven't spent enough time with them yet. Unfortunately that is the nature of the beast for Game of the Year lists when the vast majority of big games release in the last 2 months.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate is definitely one of the better games in the AC series (my personal fave is ACIV: Black Flag). The dual protagonists are an interesting twist and Victorian England is a great setting. As much as I'd like to see Ubisoft finally make some major improvements to the overall engine, as long as they keep producing games like this one, I'll keep buying them.

Rise of the Tomb Raider picks right up from where the excellent 2013 Tomb Raider left off. The world is more open, Lara herself is more mature, the puzzles are improved, the environment looks great, her new tools are a blast to use. I continue to be amazed at how Crystal Dynamics took a franchise that had become a joke and turned it into a compelling adventure story with a character that actually has real personality now and not just a ridiculous bra size.

I'll also toss a shout out to Disney Infinity 3.0, as I have enjoyed it quite a bit this year. It was only a matter of time before Disney added Star Wars to their little cash cow and they did an admirable job blending it into the universe. The figures themselves are awesome, but I didn't find myself enjoying the game itself as much as Infinity 2.0. I imagine it is because there feels is more variety in powers for the Avengers than there are for Star Wars. There are only so many things you can do with a lightsaber. But at the end of the day, lightsabers are cool, and this series is still one of my favorites to play with my kids.