2015 is the year that open-world games broke me. Remember a few years ago, when everyone was complaining about "shooter fatigue" because it seemed like every game we played was the same thing where you shot at things and the only thing that changed were the things that you shot at? That's how I'm feeling about open-world games right now. They're great if you want to spend days and days in the world of a game, but that just sounds like work to me. Personally, I'd prefer a short, authored experience. Anyway, this explains why there are some high-profile games that aren't on this list1 - they were probably open-world games that just didn't get their teeth into me.
e.g. Metal Gear Solid V, which I have played enough of to appreciate was a really well-made game, just not one of my favourites
This is an unranked list, but if I was going to rank it, Rocket League would be the clear winner. It's a football game, you hit the ball into the opponent's net. But instead of controlling a player, you're driving a car. A car with a rocket on the back of it. It sounds like a joke, right? Well, Rocket League was the most fun I've had in any video game all year. The local multiplayer is great fun, screaming laughing with your pals as one of you pulls off some ridiculous goal. Which is great by itself, but it's also got a real depth to it. Watch some high-level videos and it's like a whole different game. What I love most is that it's genuinely the best football game I've played. All the other games, like FIFA, are trying to recreate the experience of watching football. Rocket League is recreating the experience of playing football. Favourite game of 2015.
This is only the second ever video game (after Silent Hill 2) that my wife has ever played to completion. FMV is back!
The Witcher 3
Okay, so I realise it was only just a minute ago that I was complaining about open-world games. And here's an open-world game on my list. What the hell, John? Listen, my main complaint with open-world games is that it's a way for the developers to artificially stretch out a game, to make it seem bigger than it actually is. And they can use it to hide a lot of the cruft in their actual narrative writing, going "ooh, but isn't the environmental storytelling so good?" The Witcher 3 had actually great writing underpinning it. It's dense, but accessible. There are quests here that I'm still thinking about, months after I put the game down. The open-world nature of it was incidental to the actual game. I haven't enjoyed being in a game's world this much since Red Dead Redemption.
It seems like every year I make these lists, there's at one entry that could be accused of not really being a game. This year it's Panoramical. And sure, it's not very game-like. It's more like a peaceful, meditative toy. There's no win-state to the game. You're just presented with a series of landscapes with different visual and audio tracks, and you control the levels of these tracks. That's it. That's the whole game. Play away. You finish when you've had enough. There's some real beauty here, if you're into that kind of thing. I really am.
The Beginner's Guide
For the first hour or so of The Beginner's Guide, I was in awe at the inventiveness of the game. It seemed like creator Davey Wreden was just showing off. At the very end of the game, there's a revelation. And this completely upended everything I'd just experienced. I immediately played through it again and, even though it was the exact same content, I had a totally different experience. That someone can do something ambitious like this and just fucking nail it so hard is pretty impressive. When you know the back-story and realise this game is actually about something so deeply personal? Yeah, maybe he is showing off.
Even though the two are nothing alike, playing Sunless Sea triggers the same part of my brain that is triggered when I play board games like HeroQuest. There's this wonderful, tactile feeling to the game, like you're playing with lovely hand-crafted miniature pieces in a world where anything can happen and there are million stories to tell. I've played a few different games of Sunless Sea now and they've always gone in different directions. I have a feeling I'll still be coming back to this in 2016.
Super Mario Maker
Okay, let's say you're not interested in making any levels yourself. And let's say you're not completely won over by the most charming presentation in any game ever. Then there's these three words: infinite Mario levels. You can just download other peoples' creations and have an almost limitless supply of Mario levels for you to play and enjoy. If this still isn't enough for you, then I just don't know what to say to you.
Star Wars Battlefront
For a game that got fairly mediocre reviews, I had a fucking blast with Star Wars Battlefront. It's not trying to be the deepest game ever made. It's just trying to be a fast, casual, fun, and really, really ridiculously good-looking Star Wars game. And that's exactly what it is.