There are some things I expect from video games these days. I expect that they will tell intriguing new stories. I expect that they will create bigger, better, and more beautiful worlds for me to explore. I expect that they will deliver new spins on familiar thrills. My top ten games of 2015 fulfilled my expectations gloriously and were full of delightful discoveries and cunning innovations. But my favorite game this year was unexpected, coming out of a genre that I rarely play and achieving something I think very few games can claim. Here's hoping your favorites delivered this year, too!
So few games in the shooter genre have style, but it wasn't until I played Splatoon that I realized how hungry I've been for a change from the self-serious aesthetics of most shooters. Not only does this game exude an energy and panache that is incredibly alluring, its novel adaptations of shooter mechanics create a competitive landscape that feels vibrant, challenging, and, it must be said, fresh!
9. Fallout 4
When I chose to play a charisma build in order to complement the choices of my coworkers, I needed a role model. So I chose one of the most charismatic people to ever walk the earth: Grace Jones. She takes no shit. She wears what she wants. And she can sell a crate of RadAway to a Feral Ghoul. Playing a role this great needs a great role-playing game to match, and that game is Fallout 4.
8. Sunless Sea
Can you imagine the excitement of striking out into an unknown sea to seek your fortune? What cultures and lands and treasures could await! But the flip side of that excitement is the sheer terror of the dangers the mysterious fathoms might hold. Sunless Sea is both exhilarating and frightening, a game in which your own ambition and greed can be your undoing as quickly as a pirate fleet or a hungry leviathan.
7. Rainbow Six Siege
As much as I appreciate shooters in which the mechanics and the rules are rigid, clearly defined, and consistent, there's something too neat about them. Rainbow Six Siege isn't afraid to get messy, and though I might occasionally roll my eyes at a death I perceive to be unjust, I'm more often captivated by all of the possible ways I can thwart my enemies. Whether well-planned and executed or desperately improvised, victory in Siege is sweeter than most.
I'm not a big fan of scary games. They get in my head and invade my dreams and generally make me sleep poorly. But when they are as good as Bloodborne, I'll make an exception. Though I had to watch or read a palate cleanser after every evening session, I kept going back to that combat. That creature design. That world. The imaginative genius and technical prowess of the Souls series lives in this game, as it hopefully will in many more to come.
5. Ori and the Blind Forest
I have enjoyed some Metroidvanias in the past, but I've never been compelled to 100% completion until I met Ori. The art design is lovely and the music is a treat, but the thing that goaded me onward was that it was just such a pleasure to move. Leaping, dashing, launching, and rolling my way through the world felt so good that I was happy to backtrack hither and yon, searching out every last secret and lingering as long as I could.
In the asymmetrical competition of Evolve, there is magic. It doesn't come on strong in every match, but it's there. It's the magic of knowing your role and knowing that there are three people depending on you as dearly as you depend on them. It's the magic of feeling like prey and then slowly turning into a predator. This magic makes the thrilling moments of Evolve so intense that I would leap from my seat and roar at the heavens in triumph, and even remembering those moments now, I can feel the adrenaline, and the hunger for more.
3. Her Story
For all the times I've played at being a detective in video games, Her Story is the first time I actually felt like one. Watching interviews, following threads, reaching dead ends, looping back around to established facts... from simple search commands grows a complex mental web of leads and hunches that never quite resolves into certainty. It's a fascinating sensation, and though it sometimes made me feel smart and intuitive, in the end I was left wondering if we can ever know the full truth about anyone.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
What a tremendous game! Geralt and his world already had my interested, but in Wild Hunt, they captured my imagination. Such a marvelously rich land brought to life is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, but to fill it with so many creatures and characters and intrigues is just incredible. This is a game I was often hesitant to start because I knew I would become engrossed to the detriment of other important things in my life. But I still played it, I still play it, and I still love it.
1. Rocket League
So what game could tear me away from The Witcher 3? What game could regularly keep me at work long past quitting time? What game do I want to tell everyone about and get everyone to play? Rocket League. It's a tremendous feat to replicate a sport in a video game, but Rocket League does the EA Sports oeuvre one better. It deftly captures the sensation of actually playing a sport. It's just a bunch of cars in an arena with a ball, but in its simplicity is a purity that is shared by the best, most enduring sports in our world. Rocket League is a game that is so perfectly dialed in to what it does and so immensely, endlessly replayable that it feels like a paragon. An icon. An apotheosis of video games that doesn't just make me excited to play it, but makes me excited for play.