Steve Boxer's Top 15 Games of 2015

Whether 2015 was a vintage year for video games is debatable, but one fact is beyond dispute: at the very least, it was an extremely good year for games. The good news is that now the furious Christmas rush is over and retailers have turned their attention to 2016 (which, incidentally, does have the look of a potentially classic year for games), it should be possible to get your hands on pretty much any game from 2015 for much less money than it cost at launch.

And with winter closing in, there’s no better time to draw the curtains, crank up the volume and immerse yourself in something epic and interactive. So a guide to 2015’s top games might prove useful. Indeed, restricting the list of 2015’s best games to just 10 led to all manner of anguish, so we’ve gone beyond the internet’s de facto decimal convention: you can’t go wrong with any of these 15 games. Please bear in mind this is a highly subjective list: we make no apologies for selecting the games that gave us the most pleasure in 2015. But we have, at least, tried to rank them in some semblance of order.

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

The Witcher 3 has already won a hatful of Game of the Year awards, and it isn’t difficult to see why: it’s just the perfect open-world fantasy RPG. And as such, it really throws down the gauntlet to the likes of the next Elder Scrolls game (whenever that might surface) and Final Fantasy XV. Set across the vast and startlingly convincing game-world of the Northern Kingdoms, it puts you at the controls of Geralt of Rivia, whose gritty, no-nonsense demeanour marks him down as a true virtual icon. The gloriously arcane (not to mention genuinely adult – there’s a superb thwarted threesome scene – and often hilarious) storyline has a touch of Game of Thrones to it, elements such as character development and crafting are spot-on, and in general, it provides an incredibly enjoyable place in which to immerse yourself when you don’t fancy leaving the house. Which is what games are all about, lest we forget.

2. Bloodborne (PS4)

First, a caveat: Bloodborne is hard. Very hard. You will die in it, and often. But then if that wasn’t the case, it would be an absolute travesty, since it was made by the legendary Japanese developer From Software, of Dark Souls fame, whose vocabulary most definitely does not include the word “compromise”. It is, admittedly, slightly less hard than the Dark Souls games, and is much more of a hack-n-slash than an RPG. But it features some of the filthiest boss-battles ever inflicted on unsuspecting gamers, and takes place in a gloriously near-monochrome, Lovecraft-Gothic environment. And the recent downloadable content entitled The Old Hunters adds a whole new dimension to it, and generally demonstrates exactly how DLC should be done. Perhaps the most compelling reason yet to buy a PS4.

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

Like stealth games? In that case, you’re in luck, since Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is, quite simply, the best stealth game ever made. It seems that it was a Phantom Pain to make, too, since during its development process, its creator Hideo Kojima fell out with publisher Konami (fear not: he has already been snapped up by Sony). But it’s Kojima’s magnum opus, and sets several new standards for stealth games. The most obvious being that it has triumphantly made the transition from single-path to open-world, but it also includes a surprisingly compelling base-building element. Plus it looks fabulous, and the storyline is beyond bonkers.

4. Fallout 4 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Fallout 4, like its predecessors, is flawed, and indeed downright disappointing in one respect – its graphics are distinctly underwhelming. However, that, and a smattering of bugs, can’t mask its underlying brilliance. The post-apocalyptic Boston that you trudge wearily through is vibrant and utterly believable, and the storyline sucks you in to the point of obsession. Plus the new ability to build settlements has to be the best resource-management element ever seen in a game. Simply glorious.

5. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)

One feature of 2015 was the emergence of small downloadable games as a force to be reckoned with, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is at the forefront of that trend. Its premise is simple: you wake up in a small, beautifully observed Shropshire village, which is completely empty of people, and it’s up to you to find out what happened. A task in which you’re aided by mysterious balls of light that seem to play back events that took place previously. The perfect riposte to anyone who ever tries to tell you that games are mindless.

6. Just Cause 3 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Sure, Just Cause 3 very much falls into the “guilty pleasure” category – it more or less revels in its mindlessness. Plus it is technologically dubious: on the Xbox One, at least, it often displays frame-rate issues. Admittedly, those issues only arise when you’ve initiated roughly ten massive explosions at once, which gives an inkling of what Just Cause 3 is all about – if you like blowing shit up, it’s simply the best game ever. You play Rico Rodriguez, returning to his home island of Medici, in order to overthrow the tinpot dictator General di Ravello. What makes Just Cause 3’s gameplay insanely exuberant and moreish is the fact that Rico is essentially a one-man army: he starts the game with a rocket-launcher and has an arsenal of toys which at the very least stretch the laws of physics, including a grapple which can be used to launch him into massive parachute jumps or to yoke enemies to barrels, thereby blowing them up, and a wingsuit. Also, he can stand on top of planes or hang from the bottom of helicopters. Not exactly intellectual, but utterly irresistible.

7. Destiny: The Taken King (PS4, Xbox One)

How, you may ask, can an item of downloadable content be hailed as one of the games of the year? Well, The Taken King is no ordinary chunk of DLC: because of Destiny’s online, persistent nature, The Taken King essentially makes Destiny the game we were all expecting it to be at launch. That is, something over and above a mere first-person shooter, with a gloriously sociable element and vast amounts of different activities to indulge in. You can dip into it for a brief blast in the Crucible or spend hours negotiating Strikes with your mates, all in glorious-looking surroundings, in which one-off events now take place frequently. If you played Destiny at launch before drifting away from it, now is the time to reacquaint yourself with it.

8. Splatoon (Wii U)

Also known as “my first first-person shooter”. Except, since Splatoon is a Nintendo game, you’re armed with a sort of water-pistol that shoots coloured ink, through which you can travel once you’ve transformed into a squid. A surprisingly decent single-player element has a puzzle-game feel to it, but Splatoon really comes into its own online, where it does feel vaguely like a first-person shooter, but manages to retain a recognisably Nintendoesque vibe. Quite unlike anything you will ever have played, and perhaps the year’s most underrated game – simply because it came out on the Wii U.

9. Rainbow Six Siege (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Definitely the year’s most successful reboot, Rainbow Six Siege made the brave move of dispensing with the franchise’s planning phase, in favour of brief periods in which you drive wheeled drones around houses in order to find where hostages or bombs are hidden. Then, once the action starts, the rigour for which Rainbow Six games are renowned reveals itself as still present and correct: there’s no respawning or health regeneration. Couple that with multiplayer modes which are small in number but gloriously well-balanced, and a more or less totally destructible environment, plus the need to operate as one of a five-man fireteam, with which you will inevitably bond, and you have a simple but stunningly effective online shooter.

10. Rocket League (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac)

Something of a viral hit, Rocket League couldn’t be simpler: it’s basically football played with radio-controlled cars. Who would have thought that such a banal premise could turn out to be so infernally addictive? Clever physics helps, but Rocket League is another one of those games which demonstrates that small can, after all, be beautiful.

11. Star Wars Battlefront

Feel free to accuse us of sacrilege for failing to place one of the year’s most-hyped games (with a tie-in to the revered Star Wars franchise, for God’s sake) in 2015’s Top 10. And in one respect, Battlefront is the game of the year: it might just be the finest-looking game ever on a console. Those gorgeous graphics really immerse you in its Star Wars universe – SW-fanatics will find it orgasmic for that reason. However, it also demonstrates perhaps the most egregious example of the cynicism of which publisher Electronic Arts is often accused. As a game, it’s impossibly disjointed and very insubstantial – the polar opposite of the very coherent Rainbow Six Siege, which basically has the same gameplay as Battlefront. And EA is charging £40 for a season-pass, without telling us what we’ll get for that. In other words, it’s half a game that EA wants us to pay twice for. It does look nice, though.

=12: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Each year’s new Assassin’s Creed game is becoming as inevitable as death or taxes, and Syndicate accordingly took some stick for not really messing with the franchise blueprint. However, it’s the best Assassin’s Creed game for years, thanks mainly to its brilliantly realised late-19th century London setting. The storyline may lapse into ludicrousness at times, but is at least memorable, and the gang-warfare engine which lets you take over the city a borough at a time, gives Syndicate some real meat. The new grapple (something of a trend in games in 2015) is great, too, allowing you to flow across the rooftops like never before. Syndicate is by no means free of bugs, but it’s still a great game in which to immerse yourself.

=12. Life Is Strange (PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Life Is Strange was perhaps unfairly discounted when it first came out, mainly because its episodic format meant that reviewers had to reserve judgment for a while. However, it managed to break the mould impressively, and confound general notions of what games are. It’s basically a lightly interactive mumblecore movie, following a bunch of characters who are believable due to their sheer ordinariness, and in which small decisions you make have massive consequences as the episodes progress. A hidden gem.

13. Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Grabbing this as an Xbox One exclusive was a massive coup for Microsoft. It built nicely on 2013’s origins-style reboot, without really offering any big surprises. Nevertheless, for those who love Lara Croft, it’s the slickest and most grown-up game in which she has yet starred. The Lara faithful will love it.

14. Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One)

The latest instalment of Microsoft’s blockbusting first-person shooter looks magnificent and has a more imaginative storyline than usual. But that storyline is rather short, and Halo 5: Guardians only really comes into its own online. Are we the only ones who feel that it didn’t really live up to its hype, though?

15. Project CARS (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Without a doubt the finest crowdfunded game ever made, Slightly Mad Studio’s labour of love set new standards for driving games when it came out (and you could even see its influence in Forza 6, which was a tad unlucky not to make it into this round-up). It looks great, and offers properly gritty racing around some of the world’s finest tracks, in some of the world’s finest cars. Frankly, we’ve found its myriad DLC drops a tad baffling, and if you’re after polish, then Forza 6 eclipses it, but it has a pioneering spirit which, we reckon, deserves recognition.

Steve Boxer is Screenjabber's Games Editor. He is a veteran freelance journalist specialising primarily in video games, and he contributes regularly to The Guardian, Trusted Reviews, Empire, Pocket Lint and Digital Spy. Steve has also written for the likes of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Mirror, The Face, Edge and sleazenation. After acquiring an Atari VCS with its launch line-up of games in 1979, his youth was mostly mis-spent in the arcades. A lifelong Tottenham Hotspur fan, he likes to DJ and build DIY analogue synths.

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