This article appears in the November issue of VICE UK magazine.
I'm writing this at the end of October (magazine deadlines, you see), which means a few things. One, I haven't been kept awake all fucking night by pricks with fireworks just yet, but I know those bastards are coming, popping off rockets mere days from now, practically right outside my window, the gigantic twats. Two, my kids still think they're getting everything they've asked for this Christmas, as reality hasn't quite kicked down the doors of their fantasy existence with a fresh cable bill and final demand for the latest missed payment to keep us in hot water. And three, it's too flipping soon to really know what the very best games of 2015 have been.
I mean, I know a few. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been amazing, made better, as unlikely as that would seem given the main game's entire-weeks-swallowing immersive qualities, with its recent Hearts of Stone expansion, which flits from wedding revelry to vault robbery without breaking a narrative step. FromSoftware's gothic masterpiece Bloodborne killed me and killed me, but I loved every deathblow. Super Mario Maker and LEGO Dimensions have been outstanding in the category marked family friendly (as in: I've been playing them after the kids are snoozing); the comeback of Guitar Hero Live was better than all expectations; Splatoon made multiplayer shooters palatable for those averse to sharing game time with trash-talking dickheads; and there's a stack of titles from major publishers that I've only scraped the surfaces of. A handful of hours in the company of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain isn't a tenth of what it's going to take to make the most of director Hideo Kojima's Konami swan song (and do read our "final word" on said game, please), while Halo 5: Guardians hasn't even finished downloading yet.
There's a substantial clutch of commercial heavyweights yet to make their moves: Fallout 4, Star Wars: Battlefront, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Rise of the Tomb Raider remain in the future of right here, right now (click each title for the corresponding review). But games from the independent sector, games made outside of the machine-like production line of the biggest publishers, the teams with hundreds of people all working on a single release, have as good as wrapped for the year. It's not that there aren't any more indie games out between now and your eighth helping of dried-to-tasteless-perfection Christmas turkey; more that I know that the best in show have already emerged, bloomed, and been celebrated as special titles existing on the periphery of so much homogenous testosterone-spilling action-adventure mulch that goes on in the mainstream.
So let's look at some of them.
The Beginner's Guide is Californian developer Davey Wreden's follow-up to his somewhat autobiographical debut-cum-breakthrough, The Stanley Parable, which addressed issues of free will with some wickedly sharp snark. This game is also connected to its creator, with Wreden himself providing the voice over as the player navigates a series of game worlds within the cluttered catalogue of a character called Coda, a host of half-finished projects that mesh together into a digital portrait of a person we only learn about through their games. And it turns out that person is damaged, disillusioned, perhaps even dangerous to themselves. Powerful stuff, but not big on gameplay, which is a criticism that can also be leveled (if we must) at Everybody's Gone to the Rapture by Brighton-based studio The Chinese Room. This gorgeous-looking, sumptuously soundtracked walk 'em up was too ponderous for some critics, but I loved its slow, methodical pace and open-world design, allowing you to freely explore an English village after its inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared. To where, only its endgame can reveal.
Rapture sold well enough on its August release to place as that week's top-selling game across all formats—impressive given it's a digital-only PlayStation 4 exclusive. Another high-enough-profile indie release of the summer was the Metal Gear Solid-inspired Volume, a stealth puzzler with a Robin Hood-borrowed backstory from Mike Bithell, a British designer whose first solo game Thomas Was Alone won a BAFTA in 2013. It lacks the idiosyncratic invention of its predecessor, but Volume is one of a few indie productions in 2015 that play and look as good as something you'd expect to find on a bigger developer's books. Another is Ori and the Blind Forest, made for Microsoft by a multinational team at Moon Studios. A mouth-wateringly beautiful platformer that mixes fantastical magic with Metroidvania exploration, it's a surprisingly moving affair that has the player guiding a cute furry creature around darkness-ravaged environments full of deadly surprises.
Rather more bloody of mind, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number saw Swedish developers Dennaton repeat the pixel-art hyper-violence of their acclaimed first game in great style, even if the sequel's maps weren't so compellingly exacting—frustration can set in if you let it. The same can be said of Titan Souls, from Manchester's Acid Nerve, a boss-battles-only top-down adventure of retro visuals and obvious Zelda inspiration. With its single-hit deaths, it's entirely possible to lose several hours attempting to defeat just one colossal enemy. Yet both games are worth your time, providing you're able to calm temper flare ups by switching to something more meditative.
Something like Toby Fox's Undertale, perhaps, a game looking like a Japanese role-player from the 1980s but charged with narrative innovation unlike any preceding release. Your diminutive hero will encounter all manner of monsters on their quest to defeat the king of said beasts, but battles need not be decided by sword swings and blunt blows—you are able to talk your opponents around, to work out their grievances, and ultimately spare them. Then again, there's always the option of murdering everyone, but don't come crying to me when you get the "bad" ending.
There have been so many more unique indie experiences in 2015: Sam Barlow's murder mystery Her Story, Failbetter's steampunk-ish Sunless Sea, and how can anyone not become addicted to the phenomenal Rocket League from American studio Psyonix? But I'm out of words, and Halo 5's ready now (it took nine hours), so, if you don't mind.
VICE Gaming's ultimate run down of the best games of 2015, based on contributor votes, will run at the start of December.
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