After a slow start, 2015 was the year current generation consoles really started to come into their own. 2015 finally saw the arrival of numerous hotly anticipated sequels like The Witcher III, Fallout 4 and Batman: Arkham Knight and all-new series like Bloodborne and Nintendo’s Splatoon rose to stand alongside them. Meanwhile, the indie scene continued to produce a steady stream of polished hits like Volume, Hotline Miami 2 and Life is Strange. Perhaps most heartening, 2015’s lineup of games was one of the most diverse in some time. Massive RPGs, platformers, stealth, survival horror, old-school adventure games, multiplayer shooters — this year’s top 20 encompasses a great variety of genres and styles.
So, without further ado, here are the 20 best titles from one of the best years for gamers in recent memory.
20) Hitman: Sniper (iOS & Android)
We don’t cover a lot of mobile games around here, but frankly Hitman: Sniper is a much more fully realized, compelling experience than most mobile games. Tapping your phone or iPad to snipe bad guys may sound simple, but Hitman: Sniper turns it into a surprisingly complicated puzzle – you have to snipe your enemies in the right order and in the right ways if you’re to succeed. If you’re looking for something to play on the bus that’s not Flappy Bird or exploitative freemium nonsense, set your sights on Hitman: Sniper.
19) Star Wars Battlefront (PC, Xbox One & PS4)
Star Wars Battlefront (click the title for the full review) may have been a bit thin on content, but that’s somewhat forgivable because the content that it did have was polished to a high sheen. Battlefront may be the most visually impressive game on the market, and its pick-up-and-play action truly immerses you in a galaxy far, far away. If you’re into multiplayer shooters or have been dreaming of being a soldier on the ground during the Battle of Hoth since childhood, Star Wars Battlefront is more than worth a look.
18) Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (Wii U)
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is as old-school as survival horror comes. It’s slow, it’s clunky, and it forces constant backtracking on you. That said, it’s also steeped in creepy atmosphere and tells a surprisingly mature, bleak story for a Nintendo-published game. On top of that, it’s one of the very few Wii U games to actually make smart use of the GamePad. Gamers who first fell in love with survival horror during the PSOne and PS2 golden era will want to track this one down.
17) Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PC, Xbox One & PS4)
The controls are still a little janky and the plot’s no great shakes, but there’s so much fun stuff to do in this note-perfect rendition of Victorian London that you won’t even notice. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is simply lighter and more entertaining than a lot of recent games in the series. – Dan Seitz
16) Until Dawn (PS4)
Not every horror game needs a deep, psychologically complex story. Until Dawn is basically an interactive ’80s teen horror flick, and the lack of pretension is frankly refreshing. Also, being that everybody in the game is basically disposable, it feels like your choices can actually have some impact – anybody could die and it’s up to you to decide who. Add some surprisingly excellent graphics to the “Choose Your Own Slasher Movie” gameplay, and you have one of the sleeper hits of 2015.
15) The Order: 1886 (PS4)
The Order: 1886 got the shaft when it came out: It was accused of being too short, of being mostly cutscenes, of having Quicktime events. Most of this is true, but while there isn’t a lot of it, what’s there is a glorious shooter with carefully planned encounters, a design that constantly shakes up the gameplay, and firefights that you’ll barely escape even with regenerating health. It’s a game you’ll beat in a weekend, but it’ll be one hell of a fun weekend. – DS
14) Splatoon (Wii U)
Nintendo tried something a little different this year with Splatoon, a bright, cheerful multiplayer shooter in which the goal is to cover stages with eye-popping paint, rather than blast your opponents. The concept is very Nintendo and very fun, but unfortunately, the game was lacking in content at launch. Thankfully, Nintendo has since greatly expanded Splatoon through free DLC, and at this point, I can easily recommend it as one of the best games of the year.
13) The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (PC, Xbox One & PS4)
Geralt finally fully plunges into an open world in a game that demonstrates to other developers how it’s done. Well-written with witty sidequests and a morality system that forces you to navigate grays rather than just pick a side, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt has a rich organic feel that few other open-world titles can match. – DS
12) Hotline Miami 2 (PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4 & PS Vita)
The original hardcore top-down twitch action game becomes a brutal opera that jumps between time periods, different points of view, and play styles. Each “character” in the game has a distinct story and play style, but it’s Hotline Miami 2‘s overarching plot and the way we linger on the moral and emotional failures that lead us to violence that truly pulls you in. – DS
11) Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 & PS Vita)
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 kind of came and went without much fanfare, which is unfortunate, because it was one of the best Resident Evil titles in years. The game isn’t a visual masterpiece, and it can feel a bit slapdash at times, but it’s nearly as long and varied as Resident Evil 4, and honestly, the series hasn’t been this genuinely atmospheric and scary since its PS1 heyday. As a bonus, the game also ships with the satisfyingly meaty co-op focused Raid Mode. Horror fans should be searching the bargain bin for this one.
10) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 & PS4)
The latest (and possibly last) Metal Gear Solid game from Hideo Kojima truly embraced open-world gameplay for the first time. While Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain wasn’t quite as tightly constructed or iconoclastic as past Metal Gear games, it was a well-honed, quirky and, most importantly, damn fun take on stealth and open world gaming. If this ends up being the last true Metal Gear Solid game, the series went out on a respectable note.
9) Grow Home (PC, Mac & PS4)
On the surface, Grow Home sounds too twee to boot up. In the game, a robot named BUD and his overlord, AI MOM, try to encourage a plant to grow. But Ubisoft’s experiment in procedural generation and animation techniques makes for a serene, entertaining exploration game that will linger in your mind long after you’re done playing. – DS
8) Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
2015 was the year of the open-world RPG, and the biggest one of all, in terms of sheer size, was Nintendo’s Xenoblade Chronicles X. This game’s seemingly endless, twisted alien world is truly mesmerizing and packed with some of the most massive, memorable beasts in RPG history. Add to that a nicely streamlined battle system, a boggling array of sidequests and the ability to pilot giant badass mechs, and you have an impressive package. If you’re a fan of Japanese RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles X is, simply put, one of the biggest, most ambitious games the genre has ever seen.
7) King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 & PS4)
King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember may be the first chapter of a five-part episodic series, but at five to 10 hours of gameplay, it’s easily meaty enough to stand on its own. An absolutely gorgeous game, A Knight to Remember does a fantastic job of updating the King’s Quest formula while remaining true to Sierra’s classic games. The game also wisely steals its tone and story structure from The Princess Bride, with an elderly King Graham telling the story you’re playing through to his bright-eyed (and sometimes mortified) granddaughter. The end result is one of the most charming, sincere video game tales of the year.
6) Life Is Strange (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 & PS4)
Dontnod reinvents the adventure game with a smart time-delay mechanic that lets you experiment with decisions and change the outcome of the game. It’s the story about two teenage girls struggling with growing up, and the weird twists and brutal endings it takes that make this game a winner, however. – DS
5) Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
It’s a game that lets your design your own Super Mario stages. How can you go wrong with that? Nintendo doesn’t do anything wildly ambitious with Super Mario Maker, but they don’t have to. The level-editing tools are easy-to-use and make fantastic use of the Wii U GamePad, sharing levels is simple enough, and the fan community has come up with some truly devilish challenges. Whether you’re a closet game designer, or simply want an always-available source of new Mario levels, Super Mario Maker is a must-have.
4) Volume (PC & PS4)
Mike Bithell, of Thomas Was Alone fame, takes the stealth gameplay indie developers love so much and strips it to its essence. The result is a compulsively playable game that’s simple to understand and a joy to play, with levels that go down like potato chips. The witty reinvention of Robin Hood lore offers a nice seasoning to the proceedings. – DS
3) Batman: Arkham Knight (Xbox One & PS4)
After many delays, the next true entry in the Arkham series arrived this year and lived up to almost every expectation. Sure, the story wasn’t quite what we thought it would be, and he Batmobile took some getting used to, but Batman: Arkham Knight was still a huge, gorgeous, endlessly inventive and impeccably polished experience. Simply put, the Arkham games are still the most thrillingly empowering experiences out there. If Batman: Arkham Knight is indeed the end of the series, it went out in rock-solid fashion. Or, at least, it did on consoles – the PC version was a mess, so this ranking is based solely on the Xbox One and PS4 versions.
2) Fallout 4 (PC, Xbox One & PS4)
Fallout 4 is not a flawless game, but “good” and “flawless” aren’t always synonymous. Yes, Fallout 4 is glitchy, sometimes frustrating and, honestly, kind of ugly, but it’s also the most consistently gripping, immersive open-world title of the year. The world of Fallout 4 isn’t just huge, it’s incredibly deep with every seemingly abandoned building and dark corner holding new secrets, threats, and surprises. While not quite as open-ended as past games in the series, Fallout 4 still lets you play your way, for the most part, and takes some real risks with its narrative. Grubby, messy, but ultimately unforgettable, Fallout 4 is a game we’ll be talking about for years to come.
1) Bloodborne (PS4)
If Fallout 4 is a sloppy, but inviting mess, Bloodborne is the exact opposite. From the makers of Dark Souls, Bloodborne is obtuse and hard-as-nails, but you find yourself putting up with it, because it is, without question, the most solidly constructed game of the year. The world of Bloodborne is a perfectly twisted little knot, every enemy encounter feels like a unique, dangerous challenge, and the game is always firmly in control of its atmosphere and player expectations. Bloodborne somehow manages to make the classic Dark Souls formula more accessible without making the game feel dumbed down. An impressive achievement from developers working at the top of their game.
And that, folks, is our list for this year. What do you think? Any major omissions? Anything you’d boot off? Hit the comments and let’s chat.