Top 25 Games of 2015
The Best This Year Had to Offer
After spending hours in heated critical debates, our global team of GameSpot editors have created a ranked list of the 25 best video games of 2015. What you'll find here are choices informed by a diverse array of opinions, experiences, and preferences from our entire editorial staff. From picks spanning the biggest AAA releases to the smaller, more independent games, there was a lot of great games this year we chose to highlight. Join us as we count down to number one!
25. Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Syndicate marks a return to form for the Assassin's Creed franchise, and is in many ways its reminiscent of fan-favorite Assassin's Creed II. Protagonists Evie and Jacob Frye are a delight to follow around a city rife with corruption and opportunity. Syndicate follows in the long-running Assassin's Creed formula, presenting the same schema of a sprawling city packed with quests. But it also abandons some longstanding mechanics, upgrading the series' climbing and traversal mechanics with a new rope launcher tool. You hunt down Templars, collect bounties, and gather up collectibles when you're not building your own street gang, the Rooks. With two protagonists boasting different skillsets, a gang to manage, and the familiar host of Assassin's Creed goodies, it's easy to lose yourself in this version of 1868 London.
Few AAA games took as many risks as Evolve this year, and even fewer managed to succeed. In a genre awash with me-too experiences, Evolve turns the multiplayer shooter on its head through its distinctive 4v1 structure. Playing as one member of a team of four hunters evokes the deep cooperation required in games like Left 4 Dead (little wonder given developer Turtle Rock was responsible for that Valve classic), while playing solo as one of Evolve's towering monsters scratches a very different itch. Whether you're a dedicated team player or a lone wolf, Evolve has something for you.
Make no mistake: if you aren't ready to embrace the game's complexities, then Evolve could easily turn out to be much less than the sum of its parts. But when you have a great team around you--as well as an equally proficient monster player--Evolve truly shines. Other games can either give you the thrill of being an all-conquering solo player or the satisfaction of working as part of a well-oiled team. Evolve, on its best days, provides both.
23. Halo 5: Guardians
Halo 5: Guardians is undoubtedly one of the best shooters of 2015. You might have been miffed at its lack of split-screen co-op, but the strides forward this game makes cement it as the best core Halo in years. The frenetic but strategic 24-player Warzone mode is the most interesting and distinctive thing to happen to Halo since Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight. It's a brand new take on the classic Halo formula, and it proves itself to be a worthwhile and meaningful addition to the combination of single- and multiplayer modes that Halo 5 offers.
Meanwhile, the campaign goes in a new, exciting direction with its Chief vs. Locke theme. Even though it doesn’t totally provide a satisfactory conclusion (Halo 6 is coming, and will presumably continue the story), it crafts a compelling narrative with many great hooks to keep you interested throughout.
22. Heroes of the Storm
It was only a matter of time before Blizzard presented us with its own take on the MOBA genre. Populated with characters from various Blizzard universes, Heroes of the Storm is a streamlined and light-hearted approach to MOBAs. Gameplay elements traditionally found in the genre have been refined in Heroes to create a more accessible, entry-level experience. Each map contains unique objectives to encourage teams to clash more often, ensuring that the action keeps on rolling. The game also places an emphasis on teamwork over individual performance, which helps to reduce the rampant toxicity that often plagues the genre. Even if you've had your fill of MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm offers countless hours of fun.
21. Project CARS
This may not be the racing game you expected to find here. After all, Forza Motorsport 6 delivered yet another stellar franchise entry, continuing the series' tradition of immaculate polish and precise handling. But, at the risk of sounding reductive, Forza 6 was (and is) predictably excellent. Project CARS, on the other hand, is different. Project CARS is special. Its unflinching, painstaking commitment to realism sets CARS apart from nearly every racing franchise outside of Gran Turismo. Instead of simply gifting players outrageous parts or flashy vehicles, CARS demands time, care, and thought--and substantial amounts, at that. To succeed, you must understand motorsports from the garage to the track and back. Naturally, this makes the experience daunting and demanding, but we nonetheless have tremendous respect for the boldness and clarity of CARS' vision, not to mention the exquisite final product that vision produced.
With the terrific Amnesia series, developer Frictional Games established itself as a master of the horror genre, and its 2015 offering, SOMA, lives up to the studio's reputation. Eschewing traditional jump scares for an oppressive sense of psychological dread, SOMA explores themes of solitude, humanity, and death. But that doesn't mean it's just a high-concept think piece. While there's no combat, SOMA builds on the stealth, survival, and puzzle elements from Amnesia to immerse you as an actor in the experience.
The underwater setting and run-down corridors invites comparisons to the classic BioShock, and the compelling story feels ripped straight from a Philip K. Dick novel. But Frictional takes those elements and crafts them into a unique experience that demonstrates what video games can do better than any other medium: scare the crap out of you. SOMA is a horror ride that pulls you into its world, but also sticks with you well after the credits roll.
Few games are as unrelentingly inventive as Undertale, a daring and distinct RPG adventure married to shmup mechanics. Each turn-based battle determines the rules of a spin-off mini-game where your heart becomes a spaceship weaving through projectiles that are associated (in some way) with your foe. You can also use your powers of conversation/influence/begging to avoid battles altogether.
Undertale thinks differently at nearly every step, and somehow does so with incredible finesse each time. Even so, the writing still manages to stand out as its greatest achievement; your encounters with the ne'er-do-wells of this fantastical underworld are frequently hilarious (genuinely funny, not just funny for a video game), with razor-sharp writing and impeccably timed witticisms. You won't forget the ending, and you won't forget the people you met on your journey.
18. Her Story
It's hard to imagine a game like Her Story would have a big impact, but it presents a complex narrative in a clever way. While simple in execution, it requires great attention to detail. With a broken but searchable database of interviews taken during the investigation of a murder case, you have to piece together a confusing web of tales by searching for clues and keywords. When a video matches your search term, you can access it, but with a hard limit of five results per search, you're forced to examine videos with greater scrutiny to identify subtle details, and thus more granular search terms.
Uncovering every video in Her Story is challenging, but not as challenging as understanding the truth. For most of the game, your relationship to the characters is shaped by what you choose to believe, and the game's somewhat open-ended conclusion keeps the mystery alive long after you walk away. Her Story is an amazing narrative-driven experience that's immediately arresting, and the deeper down the rabbit-hole you go, the more intrigued you ultimately become.
17. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege
In an age dominated by run-and-gun twitch shooters with near-instant respawns, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege feels like a refreshing breath of ice cold air. Ubisoft's latest take on the genre has incredible tactical depth, with two teams made up of five uniquely equipped Operators, allowing for endless combinations of carnage. Its potent cocktail of permadeath, friendly fire, and health that doesn't regenerate means every confrontation is tense and every bullet fired matters.
Siege offers up plenty to do outside of shooting, from laying down barbed wire and reinforcing walls to setting up traps and planting explosive mines. The game's destructible environments make situational awareness even more important, and individual skill takes a backseat to teamwork. Even though Siege lacks a single-player campaign, the variety and depth of its mechanics allow for some brilliant moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat and coming back for more.
16. Just Cause 3
Just Cause 3 makes few attempts to take itself seriously. Instead, it sets you loose in a massive world with destructible environments and tools with which to wreak havoc. It's more of a superhero game than anything else, as you glide over the landscape in your wingsuit, grapple through military bases, and parachute behind enemy lines in an effort to remove a dictatorship through sheer force.
The spectacle of domino explosions alone is enough to satisfy during Just Cause 3's initial stages, but the many unlocks and challenges, as well as the finely-tuned controls, extend the enjoyment past the first several hours. Just Cause 3 is a game of experimentation, and each tool changes how you play. The results might not always work in your favor, but they're almost always entertaining.
15. Xenoblade Chronicles X
2015 was dominated by games with large, open worlds, but none could match the scale of Xenoblade Chronicles X's Mira--an alien planet with five massive continents. Mira's size would mean nothing if it wasn't filled with surprises, but sure enough, its landmasses are dense with otherworldly creatures and structures that defy explanation. The diversity of things to see is impressive, but so too is the number of game systems that you interact with while exploring, fighting, and managing your team. In this way, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a dream come true for people who like to tinker with options and manage long-term goals.
Beating Xenoblade Chronicles X is a long-term goal in itself. The massive world plays host to dozens of optional quests on top of the main story, and eager players can easily play for 100 hours and still have plenty left on their plate. While this may seem daunting, Xenoblade Chronicles X sets a good pace by saving its best rewards for the second half of the game. At the halfway mark in the story--around 30-40 hours into the game--you unlock Skells, which completely alter your relationship with Mira. These giant, bipedal robots--which can also transform into vehicles--allow you to look dinosaurs straight in the eye and cover large swaths of land in no time. Skells feel like a privilege, and once you get your first one, you feel like you're playing the game's sequel. Xenoblade Chronicles X is an achievement in large-scale game design and a boon to Wii U owners craving a new RPG.
14. Dying Light
There are so many things to love about Dying Light: its massive open world filled with tantalizing loot, breathtaking views, and untold dangers; its exhilarating traversal system, which at first borrows the frenetic, first-person parkour of Mirror’s Edge but eventually embraces the gleeful grappling hook insanity of Just Cause; its distinctive day-night cycle and the inescapable tension that seeps into every moment as another deadly night draws near; its monster-in-the-closet multiplayer, which lets us stalk our friends as a variety of grotesque creatures.
Perhaps most impressively, though, Dying Light manages to be more than the sum of these parts. The experience somehow feels cohesive and fresh despite combining two overexposed concepts: zombies and open worlds. Ultimately it’s a better Mirror’s Edge than Mirror’s Edge, while also being a better Dead Island than Dead Island, and that’s precisely why we couldn’t put it down.
13. Cities: Skylines
Cities: Skylines is the city-building simulator we wanted. It takes some of the best ideas from recent titles in the genre, but refines and expands those concepts, adding satisfying depth. Its large maps, intuitive infrastructure tools, and flexible policy customization give us a captivating civic strategy game, while the wonderful traffic and public transit systems create realistic planning problems that are rewarding to resolve.
Cities: Skylines also gives us citizens who have life stories: they live in specific houses and work specific jobs. They grow old, have families, move house, pass away, and we care about how well our cities are able to provide for them. And of course, Cities: Skylines’ user-friendly mod support and strong community provide a near-infinite supply of new maps and building assets, elevating the game above anything else in its class. It’s the city-building simulation at its peak, and it reminds us why we loved role-playing mayors and urban planners to begin with.
Splatoon is the best original franchise from Nintendo in years, and it fundamentally changed how people view competitive shooting games. The spirit of competition is king, negating the need for violent undertones or overt references to war and conflict. Rather than firing bullets at your enemies, you fire ink. While you can use ink to deplete an enemy's health and force them to respawn, your primary goal is to cover as much of a map with your team's ink as possible. Moment-to-moment accuracy is still highly valued, but because you can shoot almost anywhere and earn points for your team, it's easy for anyone to feel successful. Given that you're part squid, you can swim through ink or take cover in it with the press of a button. This allows you to swim up and over walls, and paint your own path with your gun, rather than stick to pre-ordained channels.
At first blush, Splatoon may appear to be a shooting game that trades mature themes for a kid-friendly experience. While that's partially true, it's not the whole story; Splatoon is also the most inventive shooter in recent memory, and the elements that make it so approachable are the basis for its most innovative elements. Splatoon is easy to underestimate, but don't let its saccharine veneer fool you: there's hardcore depth waiting for anyone who's willing to take the plunge.
11. Until Dawn
Until Dawn is often described as the sleeper hit of 2015; released in late summer with little fanfare, the game stole the spotlight as players began untangling its complex narrative. Driven by player choice, Until Dawn's story features a deeply developed "butterfly effect" mechanic that rests the fates of eight teenagers on your every decision. The game turns familiar horror movie tropes on their head and weaves them into an experience that's less about the horror and more about letting you craft your own version of its Cabin in the Woods-like story. A smartly written script, excellent acting, and a beautiful, eerie aesthetic round out Until Dawn, making it one of the best narrative-focused games this ye
10. Kerbal Space Program
When we think about space flight in video games, we think about dogfighting in starfighters, micromanaging our ship’s crew, and sending probes out to mine for minerals. What we don’t think about is the creation of those spacefaring vehicles, and the never-ending list of complex considerations needed not only to build them but to actually get them into outer space.
Kerbal Space Program challenges us to overcome these problems. Using a highly accurate simulation of real-world physics and orbital mechanics, you have to think about ship design, structural integrity, rocket propulsion, fuel storage, orbital maneuvering, re-entering the atmosphere, landing on celestial bodies, and everything in between. Kerbal successfully motivates you to learn the fundamentals of real-world science in order to achieve self-made goals. It charges you with determination when you fail, and fills you with an unfathomable joy when you succeed. Kerbal is an empowering game that pulls no punches.
9. Tales from the Borderlands: A Telltale Games Series
Whether or not you care about the Borderlands universe, Tales from the Borderlands is an utter delight. Tales' story is a narrative triumph that takes you through a game world rich with unusual characters. Instead of the powerful Vault Hunters featured in the Borderlands shooter series, you step into the shoes of little guys with big secrets, ordinary joes who do their damndest just to survive. The series is reverential but not beholden to its source material, allowing it to explore somewhat off-brand themes like friendship, family, and what we do when our heroes disappoint us. Filled with epic, cataclysmic moments, truly hilarious dialogue, and dirty humor, Tales from the Borderlands is this year's must-play episodic series.
8. Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft's latest adventure accomplishes everything it needs to: it molds the iconic character into a nuanced personality. It expands its world to encourage exploration and immersion. It features fluid, compelling combat. And it hones its pacing to an almost seamless state, trimming the fat and pushing us through its remote environments at a breakneck pace.
Rise of the Tomb Raider also tells a compelling story of moral grays, building a growing sense of unease as we approach the climax. There are no cutscenes too long and no characters too contrived, and as you make your way through well-designed combat scenarios and platforming puzzles, it all swells to one of the most gripping climaxes of the year. Rise of the Tomb Raider is exceptional for how it builds on the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, though it's spectacular in its own right as well.
7. Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest is an exquisitely calibrated platform game, demonstrating masterful timing and tempo in its mechanics. Players zigzag up vertical corridors, vault across wooden beams, and spring over beds of thorns with Mario-grade control. The rules of its world strike an immaculate balance between simplicity and freedom, with players given enough incentive to make daring leaps of faith, but also enough limitation to breeze through its world without unnecessary complication. It presents a superbly arced challenge, complete with tense, epic scenarios that demand near-perfect awareness and timing. But at the same time, it never overcomplicates to the point of becoming a hassle.
While Ori and the Blind Forest mimics ideas from its ancestors with accuracy, it also elevates itself beyond mere tribute band status, introducing a series of advanced jump mechanics that are so satisfying and fluid that you can only hope Nintendo is paying attention. Oh, and you may have noticed, it looks alright, too. Its world is set in an enchanting, fantastical forest where every stretch of woodland and fauna has been painstakingly hand-drawn.
6. Fallout 4
Many games attempt to explore what life might be like in a post-apocalyptic world, but few dive as deep as the Fallout games. Set 200 years after a nuclear war, Fallout 4 examines life in an irradiated version of Boston, where Fenway Park has become a shanty town, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has long-since deviated from being a respected source of education. Some may look at Fallout 4 and say it's just Fallout 3 with a fresh coat of paint, but that surface-level evaluation ignores the nuanced storytelling that sets Fallout 4 apart from other wasteland-based games.
As you explore Boston in search of your son, you grow not only as a warrior and survivalist, but also as a prominent figure in a society that's hanging by a thread. You navigate different social circles, search for meaning in a world gone mad, and meet fascinating people along the way. Some are objectively good, but it's not always easy to tell who will inevitably betray you and who you should trust. Everyone has their motivations, including you, and the manner in which Fallout 4 forces you to confront your position on various thorny issues after easing you into its topsy-turvy world makes it one of the most engrossing experiences of 2015.
5. Super Mario Maker
When we think of Nintendo, we automatically think of Mario. He's graced Nintendo's consoles for decades, and his adventures continue to be memorable. But for many of us, it's the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World that stand out. With top-notch visual design and best-in-class physics, these games set the bar for other 2D platformers in the 1990s to hit. With Super Mario Maker, Nintendo made it possible for us to not just revisit these worlds, but to shape them to our liking.
Though Super Mario Maker is built on the past, it perfectly utilizes hardware and online connectivity, making it one of the most "modern" games on Wii U. It leverages the GamePad's touchscreen to make level creation a simple, drag-and-drop affair, and an online database stores everything the game's community has produced, from cute and charming romps to punishing torture chambers. This has proved to be a hit, with communities rallying around individual levels or creators, leading to meaningful exchanges between people who may or may not own a Wii U. Super Mario Maker is infectious in the best way possible.
Bloodborne is an unforgettable experience that sucked us into its gothic fantasy world. With its fast-paced combat, haunting narrative, and devastating boss fights, the game compelled us to play it, even those of us who hadn't played any of From Software's "Souls" games in the past. When it crushed our confidence, we yearned to get farther. When it gave us victory, we felt enraptured over the challenge we'd overcome. Make no mistake, the city of Yharnam is filled with countless horrors and monstrosities, but Bloodborne gives you the tools and systems you need to stand a chance.
And it's those tools and systems that’ll keep you coming back for more. As an action-RPG, Bloodborne lets you choose your own progression paths, adjusting your statistics and weapon loadouts to make the game's brutal combat work for you. At the same time, its systems infuse the game with the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired themes that take shape in its world, lending a sense of meaning and significance rarely felt before. Everything about Bloodborne screams for your attention, and it's well worth giving, even if that scream happens to be a terrifying shrill that sends shivers down your spine for years to come.
3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain redefines stealth games. It breaks the mold of the genre by going open world. In doing so, it gives us the freedom to tackle missions using our own strategies, allowing for hundreds of memorable moments thanks to its emergent gameplay. Whether we choose to remain a ghost on the battlefield or take it on guns blazing, the game lets us create our own vision of Big Boss's legacy.
Though we lost ourselves to Phantom Pain's layered gameplay systems, it also features a gut-wrenching story that, in typical Kojima fashion, subverts our preconceived notions of the series, whether we are fans of it or not. It exceeded our expectations, using melodrama to tell a story of loss that shows us what living out the legacy of an iconic character can mean to us as players. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a masterful piece of artistic storytelling and refined stealth that you won't find anywhere else.
2. Rocket League
Rocket League is ostensibly a soccer game, but without referees and an overabundance of rules. Instead of traditional players, teams are comprised of RC cars, and they battle for goals by driving and flipping into a massive soccer ball, praying they hit it at just the right angle to send it into an ever-so-small net. It is as ridiculous as it sounds, but therein lies the charm. Rocket League matches can be orderly or chaotic depending on who's playing, but no matter the state of a match, everyone has a blast.
It's a difficult game to master, but it's also incredibly easy to pick up. Anyone can learn how to accelerate and steer a car and, with a little practice, perform powerful flips that make for authoritative shots and passes. Rocket League makes the simple act of movement fun by removing boundaries and obstacles; instead of running into a wall, you drive up them with your momentum intact. In other sports games, your first engagements can feel like a chore as you test the limits of the mechanics and learn how to control different positions. Rocket League has zero barriers, allowing you to have fun from the start. It's one of the most accessible and unique sports games ever made, and the best competitive game of 2015
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the expansive setting was a character in itself, and its inhabitants felt nuanced and real. From the swamps of Crookback Bog, to the grimy alleys of Novigrad, to the frozen islands of Skellige, our journey through the Northern Kingdoms set the stage for one of video games' most engrossing epics. We explored political turmoil, civil war, supernatural elements, and a vibrant wilderness with creatures both beautiful and grotesque. This was a world that seemed to breathe on its own, and carry on without us, indifferent to our motivations as the witcher Geralt. We may have been powerful, but we were still only one person.
But in midst of this, CD Projekt Red also created vibrant characters that responded to our actions that helped to add emotional weight to every choice we made. This rang true in The Witcher 3's myriad side quests as well. Many RPGs encourage quest completion with new gear or experience gains. The Witcher 3’s quests, on the other hand, were compelling through the sheer force of their writing alone. The content in the game's periphery told some of the most immersive stories not just in 2015, but in any RPG to date. Because in The Witcher 3, every detail in its landscape builds toward an immersive, convincing world full of exciting quests, where your actions can have real consequences. Ultimately, it was The Witcher 3's world that truly felt alive.