Personally, I think 2015's been a pretty great year for video games. I've laughed, many times. I've not quite cried, but I've certainly been moved. I've watched cities fall and heroes born, societies form and villains crushed. I've reconnected with characters I've known since my childhood, and fallen for others I never thought I'd want to spend an hour with, let alone well over 100. I've also played games entirely without precedent, that seem to have appeared from nowhere, their makers immediately impressing their singular approach to games making on an industry that forever craves originality. Which isn't to say that some of this year's best aren't sticking to tried-and-tested formulas – they do, but they're absolutely excellent at executing them.
I don't feel there's any point in writing acres of text about each entry in this top 20, but I should explain how it was arrived at. A total of 47 VICE Gaming contributors submitted their personal top fives of 2015 – with the game at one earning five points, the second four, down to the fifth-placed title being awarded one. These scores were added up, and the game with the most points is our game of the year. Simple.
When games were tied on points, the number of votes for that game was considered – the more votes, the higher the game placed. This is actually what separates the games at four and five. And when the vote count was equal, the number of individual top-spots was counted – which is what separates numbers 15 and 16. The cut-off point for votes was December 2nd; any games released around or after this date that ultimately impress in the coming months will be considered for inclusion in next year's list.
Clear? I hope so. I ranked The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as my number one, but it didn't quite take the top spot overall. That went to a game that not only arrived carried by great expectations and just a little controversy, but might also represent a series swansong for one of gaming's most individual directors.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Should the likely-Konami-leaving Hideo Kojima never lead another Metal Gear team, he can at least retire from the franchise knowing that The Phantom Pain is perhaps the greatest entry in this long-running stealth-action saga. A super-massive time-sink of multifarious player approaches, rewarding ingenuity while also allowing for brute force bluntness, The Phantom Pain is almost overwhelming in its flexibility. It invites you to truly go your own way – be that under cover of darkness and silence, or calling in air support while blasting "Kids In America" through enemy ranks as the bullets fly.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(CD Projekt RED; multi-platform)
It's Game of Thrones drama crossed with Red Dead Redemption gameplay, it goes on forever and it's absolutely brilliant. The Witcher 3 is one of those wake-up call games that gets its invested player seeking out the deeper fiction behind its story, investigating not only the two games preceding it but also the source fiction, the novels of Andrzej Sapkowski. While it's got all manner of monsters to track and kill, for money or to further the game's central quest, there's a grim reality to The Witcher 3 that even those usually turned off by fantasy can connect to – the role of the wandering warrior, the horrors of war as it ravages its way across a landscape, and the people disrupted by evils greater than any that breathe fire or haunt the crypts of this incredibly vibrant game world.
(FromSoftware; PlayStation 4)
FromSoftware's break from its (Dark) Souls series might have been different in several regards – combat flowed faster, its setting was more gothic nightmare than high-fantasy otherworldliness, and its enemies more grotesque than anything the studio had previously realised. But at its heart, Bloodborne remains true to its sister productions. Testing in the extreme, with gargantuan boss encounters and merciless death rained down on the naïve player, this is the sort of challenge that can turn some so white they fade to nothingness and never return to the viscera-slicked cobbles of Yharnam. Those who persist, though, know it to be an experience of dark wonders and exquisite treasures.
Life Is Strange
(Dontnod Entertainment; multi-platform)
For its second game, Parisian studio Dontnod took a step back from brawling to present an intimate and affecting adventure game where whispered words were usually stronger than thrown fists. Released in five episodes across 2015, Life Is Strange took the very relatable scenario of a teenager returning to her home town after several years away, reconnecting with the locals and an old best friend, and stirs in a healthy dollop of sci-fi – protagonist Max discovers she can rewind certain spells of time, to alter the outcomes of encounters both fraught and trivial. By episode five, things have gotten incredibly sinister, with the inviting golden-hour aesthetic of the game's beginning pushed aside by catastrophe on a massive scale. Life Is Strange is a riveting twist on the adventure genre that just about beats the contemporary masters of the style, Telltale, at their own game.
The best online multiplayer game of 2015, with the most wonderfully simple premise of anything listed here. Rocket League is essentially football, but the ball's the size of a shed and the players are all jet-powered vehicles, usually in silly hats (mine's decorated with a pirate tricorne and Jamaican flag, because why not). Sounds ridiculous on paper, and it can be in play; but Rocket League's also capable of producing the most jaw-on-the-floor incredible moments, plays that take the breath away and bury it under the patio, and its simple controls make it a game that's immediately accessible but a real challenge to truly master.
On VICE Gaming:
You Really Should Be Playing 'Rocket League'
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Possibly a victim of over hyping, the immersive wastelands of Fallout 4 have nevertheless enraptured hundreds of thousands of obsessive players, scouring the post-apocalyptic shell of what was once Boston and its surrounding area for all manner of secrets – treasures to loot, materials to process, and mutants to slay. The game's core narrative is too easily derailed by an abundance of secondary quests, which leads to an imbalanced overall story, and there's too great an emphasis on killing, but there's no denying that Bethesda are world-builders of rare distinction – and it's the sheer scale of Fallout 4 that makes it such a spectacular achievement, forgiving any rough edges.
(Nintendo; Wii U)
Four versus four online multiplayer shooter action is easy to come by in modern gaming – but nobody has seen it like this before. Nintendo being Nintendo, its take on the quick-turnover battle for territorial supremacy turned generic bro-dudes into girl and guy squids, all "deaths" are temporary, and the goal of the game isn't even to claim the most "kills" – Splatoon is all about splashing ink across a crackingly creative selection of cartoon environments, and ensuring you cover more square feet than the other team manages. Much like 2014's Mario Kart 8, Splatoon absolutely nails the just-one-more-round sensation that keeps players glued until the early hours of any given school night. There's a single-player mode, too, but much like Call of Duty games in recent years, that's really not what you want to pick this up for.
(Toby Fox; Windows, OS X)
The indie darling of 2015, Undertale is old-school role-playing as you don't quite remember it. While the game looks simplistic, built using Gamemaker: Studio, how it plays really is something else. You encounter an array of monsters on a quest to escape the dangerous Underground, but rather than slice and dice every creature that steps across your path, you can attempt to, basically, befriend them. Do you spare, or do you slay? The choice is yours, and the way you tackle each potentially blood-spilling situation has a direct affect on how the game ends. Threadbare on the surface but possessing incredible depth, Undertale announces the arrival of a new voice in games creativity, Toby Fox. Whatever he does next just earned itself a whole lot more attention.
On VICE Gaming:
'Undertale' Is One of the Most Remarkable Video Games Ever Made
Super Mario Maker
(Nintendo; Wii U)
Design and share your own side-scrolling Mario stages – that's what Super Mario Maker promises, and absolutely what it delivers. Millions of playable levels are online as of right now, all unique, all shaped using the game's intuitive building tool. There's really not much else to Maker, but there doesn't need to be – this is the perfect game for anyone who grew up with 8- and 16bit Mario games, and always dreamed about bringing their own fantasy courses to life.
(Frictional Games; PlayStation 4, Windows, OS X)
The newest release from the makers of the spine-bendingly creepy Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the most unsettling horror game of 2015. SOMA puts the player in the shoes of Simon Jarrett, who finds himself in the decrepit confines of the underwater research facility PATHOS-II, deep beneath the Atlantic. How he got there, he doesn't know; and what plays out in the following hours is unrelenting in its keep-you-awake weirdness. Simon, it turns out, might not be Simon at all, but that's not even half of his worries – there's the small matter of a bunch of hostile robots, and just who is this that's talking to us, anyway? SOMA keeps its player guessing just as much as it does its protagonist, and the reward is a climax you definitely weren't expecting at the start.
An article examining SOMA will run on VICE Gaming soon
New on Motherboard: Nintendo Promises the NX Console Won't Be Another Wii U
(Sam Barlow; Windows, OS X, iOS)
Work out whether a young woman is responsible for a murder using a throwback interface that mimics a 1990s PC. Sounds unremarkable, but Her Story is sensational, as its rising number of awards and accolades make abundantly clear.
On VICE Gaming: Watching as Detectives: The Truth Behind 'Her Story'
(Supermassive Games; PlayStation 4)
One of the year's sleeper hits, Until Dawn lines up a gaggle of (older-looking) teenage stereotypes in order for the player to attempt to keep them alive in the face of isolated mountainside terror. Except, once you realise you're directing proceedings, it's just as much fun to bump a few off. After all, what good horror film lets everyone live?
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
It's Monster Hunter, in 3D, on the move, and it's just the most absorbing distraction for commutes when you don't really care that your stop actually passed you by half an hour ago.
On VICE Gaming: How to Avoid Sucking at 'Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate'
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
(The Chinese Room; PlayStation 4)
It's the end of the world like you've never known it. Rapture presents the player with an abandoned British village to explore and a mystery to uncover, and as beautiful as it looks throughout, the longer it goes on, the more disquieting it becomes.
On VICE Gaming: Gaming's Gentle Apocalypse
Batman: Arkham Knight
(Rocksteady; PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
While it has its problems – well, problem, namely a Batmobile that moves like a broken shopping trolley – there's no doubting that Arkham Knight is a fine finale to Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy, pitting the Caped Crusader against a brand-new enemy, as well as familiar villains and a certain back-from-the-dead (not so) funny man.
On VICE Gaming: After 24 Hours with 'Arkham Knight', I Can't Feel the Real Me
On Noisey: These are the Best 50 Albums of 2015
Tales from the Borderlands
(Telltale Games; multi-platform)
Might it be Telltale's best game yet? Probably. Tales… doesn't require any prior knowledge of the Borderlands series to enjoy, and very quickly has the quips flowing as freely as it does the blood of its bandit scum. Even its robots are funny. But it's really touching, too, something few will have seen coming from a franchise based on headshots and loot-grabbing.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
(Crystal Dynamics; Xbox One)
Lara Croft's latest is a development on 2013's franchise reboot in every way: she's stronger and more determined, the odds stacked against her have never been higher, and the body count gets absolutely astronomical. But it's so flipping gorgeous that you can just about forgive the excessive force, and some of the puzzle tombs are the work of wicked geniuses.
Guitar Hero Live
How the hell did this ever work? Whatever magic's going on at FreeStyle, it's pretty potent stuff, because GHL is the standout rhythm action title of 2015 by a clear margin. Full-motion video, so many years after the death of the Mega-CD: who'd have ever called it? Its online streaming service, Guitar Hero TV, is a 24/7 feed of songs to play along to, and can keep you glued to your TV for hours on end.
(Klei Entertainment; Windows, OS X, Linux)
Turn-based gaming that never leaves the player cold with repetition, Invisible, Inc succeeds where so many other strategy games of its ilk go stale by making every single decision feel significant. It demands that you completely qualify your actions, or punishment will be served – and that's rarely good for your already thinning team of secret agents.
An article examining Invisible, Inc will run on VICE Gaming soon
Destiny: The Taken King
(Bungie; PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One and 360)
Destiny came good, and how. Granted, the entry fee went up somewhat, and it's still more polished mechanics than memorable story, but so far as shooters in 2015 go, this is right up there.
Thanks to everyone who voted in this top 20, who are, in no particular order:
Matt Porter, Jake Tucker, Chris Schilling, Andi Hamilton, Paul Rose, Andy Kelly, Ewan Wilson, Stephen Maurice Graham, Jason Nawara, Danny Wadeson, Paul Weedon, Jem Alexander, Matt Lees, Joe Donnelly, Ewen Hosie, Emma Quinlan, Oliver Lee Bateman, Sean Cleaver, Adam Cook, David Whelan, Giaco Furino, Richard Cobbett, Suriel Vazquez, Javy Gwaltney, Chris Scullion, Ian Dransfield, Kirk McKeand, Dave Cook, Sean Thomas, Sayem Ahmed, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, Dan Maher, Jonathan Beach, Andy McDonald, Ed Smith, Max Wallis, Jagger Gravning, Ria Jenkins, Mike Stubbsy, Carolyn Petit, Brad Barrett, Gav Murphy, Sam White, Julia Hardy, Leigh Alexander, Steve Haske, and me.