Game Of The Year 2019

Top Games of 2015

Happy New Year! Now that 2015 has drawn to a close DarkZero’s contributors have voted for their best games released in the past 12 months. Competition was intense and many of our personal favourites were unable to break into the top 20. Let the countdown begin…

Invisible Inc
20 Invisible Inc PC, Mac, Linux

Thomas: My adoration for the cyberpunk thrills of Invisible Inc is a bit strange. Over the years I’ve never really fell in love with the likes of X-Com or Fire Emblem to any great extent. I do enjoy the genre, and I’ve lost a bunch of hours to both those games, but come the end of the year when asked to put them on a list such as this I would likely end up referencing other games I enjoyed more. Invisible Inc is different. I liked it…I really liked it! You may notice no review of the game was published on this site, but that was not due to lack of effort. I tried many times to write one, but struggled to pinpoint why I enjoyed the game so much. Maybe it’s simply the fact Invisible Inc is just an extremely well made game?

Many of the other games I adored this year were highly narrative based – Tales from the Borderlands, Until Dawn, and Life is Strange to name a few. Whilst Invisible Inc does have underlying narrative it offers much deeper gameplay than the above named trio, with layers of intricacies presented to players. In clever Klei fashion, which is now becoming a trademark of the developer, the game does not overload players with information right from the get go. It slowly introduces its ideals, teaching players as they go, slyly making them better without them even realising. It is not simply a game where you toss points at characters to advance their skills, the simple act of playing the game makes the player themselves better. The end result is that the game can constantly advance its ideals, and regularly ask players to do more with their newfound skill set. Invisible Inc never seems to rest on its laurels, and is a highly rewarding game to play.

You really should play it, you’ll probably end up liking it, and then you can explain to me why it is so good … as I fail at that task.

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes
 Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes PC, Mac

Ian: I never thought it would be possible to have so much fun reading through a PDF file. Whilst one person is controlling the actions of the ‘bomb defuser’ by checking it for information such as a serial number and number of batteries attached they must also relay information about the modules that it contains to 1 or more ‘bomb experts’ (the PDF readers). If the bomb defuser and team of experts can communicate quickly and accurately enough the actions to be taken to power down each module the bomb is successfully defused; otherwise – BOOM! I am a huge fan of co-operative multiplayer but Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes takes that to the next level. It requires a constant stream of stressful data transference between all persons involved and has a fantastic curve in difficulty, requiring each person to master their sections until the flow of communication becomes so perfect and in-sync you don’t even remember you are playing a game. It has simply never been more exciting to watch a countdown tick towards 0 as the bomb experts scramble to find a solution for that last, intense module.

Halo 5
 Halo 5: Guardians Xbox One

Simon: I wrote at length about Halo’s narrative missteps (or ARE THEY?) before, and those remain my only reservation about Halo 5. Setting aside the story beats and set-pieces of the campaign, which may or may not come up lacking depending on how you look at them, the underlying game is simply superb. The confident mechanical and structural changes brought to Halo 5 are the first to actually gel and immediately fit into the gameplay loop, and threaten to make going back to earlier games a tougher endeavour. When you replay a level for the third time in co-op and moving through it in yet another new way changes its very characteristics *as a level*, you’re not just in typical wonderfully dynamic Halo gameplay territory any more. It’s pretty nuts. The game is very light on the spectacle and cinematic moments that modern games typically use to woo audiences, but if you remember why you loved Halo: Combat Evolved in the first place, you may find Halo 5 faithfully unassuming.

Ori And The Blind Forest
 Ori and the Blind Forest Xbox One, PC

Ben: The gameplay mechanics are perfect. Ori traverses the game-world in such a natural way – it requires skill but feels effortless when the physics are mastered. There’s a genuine sense of exploration and surviving the mutant-like creatures.

The game presents quite a challenge but the self—empowered save system and frequent ability progression (e.g. learning double jump, then later triple jump) helps keep the game fun throughout.

Ori and the Blind Forest really excels visually. The vibrant environments have a realistic yet painted quality to them. The atmospheric world feels alive, mixing beauty, darkness, with a fantastic use of colour. The water always looks so tempting to dive into and explore. It’s unmissable, and at a very reasonable price.

Dying Light
 Dying Light Xbox One, PS4, PC

Chris: How do you supersede the scope and possibilities of Dead Island? Simple, you add a day/night cycle, expand to a city and throw in lashings of parkour. Recipe for success, right? Well actually it was, this was the first full price digital download PS4 title I bought and my was it worth it. Not only was I able to play the game for a full four weeks before its physical release, I was able to finish the game.

Taking on the role of undercover agent Kyle Crane, your mission is to infiltrate a rebel group in the fictional city of Harran. During the day the undead swarmed in packs, each of varying abilities, physical impairments and difficulties. When evening hit it was just teeming with vicious Night Bastards who were more than willing to tear you a new one. Pro tip: find a place to hide, one that is well-lit and locked-down.

Weighing in at around 38 hours with the possibility of far more should you wish to delve further into the reaches of collectives and weaponry unlockables. Dying Light is a broad expansive game ripe with exploratory opportunities and sublime traversal.

An amazing city recreation, fantastic graphics, excellent combat, wonderful grapple gun and weapon customisation. Post-release the game has continued to be supported with expansive DLC. It’s testament to the strength of a game and it’s memorable sequences that has me talking about it 11 months after release.

Sunless Sea
 Sunless Sea PC, Mac

Kieffer: Over the past decade I lost the ability to create imagery in my head relating to what is happening in the games I play. I don’t have to worry about depicting what it would be like to slay a dragon at the top of a castle. If a game visualizes it for me why would my brain ever need to? Fallen London isn’t visualized the same as all of these other games though, there are over-head images of the towns you pass by, some creatures swim through the waters, and there are illustrations in the captain’s journal that notes what has happened. Originally I found these aspects of the game to be kind of frustrating because I wanted to see a fully-realized graphical version of this world for me to explore. The writing is excellent and even now I just want to learn and see more that Fallen London has to show me. As I went on though, each drop in the cave felt more meaningful, and my crew’s fear crept in the darkness of the deep water below our ship’s bilge. Exploring the world only makes it more addicting to see where the mass oblivion on the map is going to lead to. Sunless Sea is a game where the player must balance their resources, make meaningful decisions and upgrade their stats, but most importantly it is a game about exploration and imaginative inquiry.

 Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition Xbox One, PS4, PC

Conor: This game is astounding. Divinity is packed with enough content to keep you going beyond the seventy hour mark, and there’s enough choices and outcomes in every situation to make you want to start a new game the minute the credits begin rolling. There’s even so much I haven’t mentioned like its drag and drop crafting system, four main areas, side splitting sense of humour, and way more. There are some flaws in the graphics and inventory departments but they shouldn’t be enough to put you off trying Divinity: Original Sin. Due to its lack of hand-holding, and the fact that it can be quite difficult if you try to rush means it certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but it’s worth at least checking out. I really can’t wait to see what the developers do with the sequel, it just might be a day one purchase for me.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
 Rise of the Tomb Raider Xbox One

Simon: Tomb Raider (2013) was a better game than it got credit for, and Rise of The Tomb Raider is a better game than it will get credit for. Two games in, the series has already been assigned an awkward role in video gaming; one that people tend to dismiss or overlook. It doesn’t help that Rise was backroom-dealed into being exclusive to a platform everyone has systematically negged for years, birthing an animosity that will surely perpetuate the series’ existence in the shadow of other, louder franchises. Nevertheless, Rise of The Tomb Raider is an excellent, sprawling “linear open world”/metroidvania mashup that expands on everything that worked wonderfully in its predecessor. A sense of exploration is returning to the genre, courtesy of the series I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised is bringing it. Lara Croft deserves to be relevant again, but the harshest climate she is to brave seems to be video games themselves.

 Her Story PC, Mac, iOS

Gabrielle: I finished Her Story in one sitting. Partially this was because the central mechanic was so interesting: it involves searching through a police database of videos of interviews by words in the transcripts; so after watching through one recorded video you may get an idea of which words to subsequently search to lead to more videos and so on. This led to some frantic scribbling on my part of words mentioned in each exchange but it was so interesting to piece together the story and jump forward and back in time with the interviews. The ultimate discoveries are intriguing and far from expected. It is an admirable one woman performance by Viva Seifert throughout the FMV game and the conclusions drawn from the videos are the subject of continuing intense debate. Detect on, investigators…

 Until Dawn PS4

Thomas: Until Dawn was nothing like I expected it to be. Sony chose to not give the game much marketing budget, so much so that even those paid to cover games had little idea what to expect. Going in I expected a tense and foreboding game – which would be the norm for horror-centric gaming these days. Instead the game was more than happy to revel in the campy nature of the slasher genre, and that made it unique. I think it is safe to say I got my moneysworth out of Until Dawn over the course of 2015. I finished it twice myself – and shared my thoughts in review form. After that I consumed three playthroughs – Alex, Vinny and Austin on Giant Bomb, Mary on Gamespot, and Mari and Stacey on Geek Remix. It was both entertaining in its own right, and fun to watch others react to. Whilst it is not necessarily that scary (I think I may have flinched one time due to a jump scare), nor was it a game that filled me with a sense of dread either (the likes of Soma was where those trills came from), Until Dawn appealed to my sensibilities in many other ways. It was a thoroughly gripping ride beginning to end – with a story focusing on continually entertaining players. Would the tricks of Until Dawn work for a second outing, or would Supermassive have to change things up if they go down this path again? If the first effort was a slasher, would tackling Asian Horror tropes for an Until Dawn 2? Then there is Emily, who somehow traverses her way from a bitchy, arrogant, jealous archetype into becoming one of the more enjoyable characters of 2015. We should invent an award so we can give it to Emily. Actually, just give Emily all the awards.

Chris: Up until fairly recently, I was fairly skeptical about whether this game should go so far up the list. But then I went back to the game, taking a slightly different route through each of the game’s intertwining stories. I am so glad I did. Visually Until Dawn is amazing, utilising the fantastic technology behind the Killzone: Shadow Fall engine, Until Dawn showed off the sheer grunt and power of the PS4. Oh my did it sheerly grunt in sections of the game, showcasing digitally perfect recreations of the actors playing the game’s main characters.

Supermassive Games have done something wonderful here, combining elements of two of my all-time favourite games Heavy Rain, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead; to such a great effect with even better visuals. Mixing the tropes of pretty much every teen slasher horror, with a self-aware and knowing nod to what came before, encouraging you to fully engage with the game and even be scared witless on the odd occasion.

A truly wonderful surprise of a game, and finally we seem to be getting on track with regards to decent horror games. I recommend this to every horror game fan.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
 Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate 3DS

Dominic: With each release of Monster Hunter, Capcom seems to be able to make it the best one. I remember saying that back in 2013 about the Wii U version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and now with the release of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on 3DS, Capcom has once again made the series better.

For starters, Capcom finally added online to the handheld version, which was limited to console titles in previous games. It’s almost like Capcom tried to get this latest Monster Hunter to be successful in the west, where the series has been more of a title for the niche hardcore audience who has grown to love hunting the game’s bestiary. It worked, as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has the most western sales of any entry in the series, but it’s more than just online that makes this better than previous entries. A big change was the addition of verticality, being able to climb on more surfaces and jump off cliff sides to land on monsters and hack them while they furiously try to shake you off. Creative weapon designs, such as the imaginative Insect Glaive, a staff that launched out pet bugs to drain essence from monsters and turn it into stat buffs, meant I was no longer wanting to be a dual sword specialist.

All these new things made got me back into the addictive and rewarding gameplay that consists of hunting monsters around lush habitats aiming to improve my gear and take on the bigger monsters of its world. This is the pinnacle of cooperative action and is one of the few games to make its story your own, sharing tales of hunting down these amazing monsters, the trials and tribulations of four hunters working together to finally accomplish the big task of beating all the monsters in the game. It’s huge, long and can sometimes be draining, but by god does its gameplay end up so rewarding, and it was nice to see new people jump on board and understand what makes Monster Hunter tick.

Super Mario Maker
 Super Mario Maker Wii U

Kieffer: Super Mario Maker does not do anything new, games with creation tools have been around since the beginning of last generation, but the accessibility and public knowledge of Mario created a feverish event that hasn’t been seen in games with similar concepts. Take any aspect of Mario and now it is turned on his red hat – also it is double the size, spitting fireballs and jumping in a giant shoe. People around the world are creating conceptual levels that Nintendo never even touched in their past titles and wouldn’t be possible without community imagination. With these levels we also get to see a creator/player phenomenon that has not been very accessible in the past, I wrote about this earlier in the year. It’s also even easier to appreciate this title knowing that Nintendo is continuing to support it and help the community create the levels that they want to make. Now we have checkpoints, new costumes are added frequently, and we get new building materials. All of these things get me excited about Super Mario Maker, even now my creative itch is swelling. And combining Nintendo’s support for the title along with the limitless innovation of the creator’s mind may mean that itch never goes away. Luckily, the Super Mario Maker itch is the best itch, a smiling, fungal itch of infinite possibilities.

Samuel: You get to make Mario levels! That’s enough of a selling point to justify itself. There’s also plenty of user-created levels out there that show incredible creativity. From incredibly challenging stages that make use of all Mario mechanics in brilliantly novel ways, to levels that play themselves that demonstrate great feats of engineering making use of the tool set provided.

And what about the tool set provided? It’s great! It’s incredibly easy to use, and full of the kind of personality you would come to expect from anything made by Nintendo these days. Super Mario Maker is a wonderful vehicle for creativity that demonstrates brilliantly how robust Mario games can be.

 Undertale PC

Samuel: At roughly 4 to 5 hours long Undertale offers an RPG experience even more satisfying than most hundred hour epics. Looking at it just as a play experience, it offers a really good combat system which mixes in conversation and bullet-hell style dodging mechanics in consistently cool and surprising ways. Just when you get used to it, they throw in something else unexpected. It’s even possible to not kill a single enemy through combat, unless you want to kill everyone.

As a story it’s incredibly sincere and heartfelt, and also has some of the funniest moments and most memorable characters I’ve seen in a game all year. This is all meshed incredibly well with the game’s action components as well. This is a game that “gets” RPGs, and how to subvert them in brilliant ways that I just can’t stop thinking about.

Ian: Undertale has become its own entity. It is no longer just a game – it is a living, breathing organism powered by the incredible fanbase and community behind it. It even recently won GameFaqs’ Best. Game. Ever competition, taking out the likes of Final Fantasy VIIThe Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Pokemon Red/Blue in its path. That is not something that just happens by itself – it takes the determination of tens of thousands of people that Undertale has clearly reached in some special way and I can say without a doubt that it is an experience that will stay with me forever.

The brilliant world and characters create a branching game that you can’t just play once and actually requires multiple playthroughs to gather pieces of the dark truth that is masked by the vibrant, colourful world that so many people have fallen in love with. In fact the search continues as the community seems to still be discovering the secrets of Undertale and will likely continue to do so over the next year. It’s difficult to praise a game so highly whilst trying to say as little about is as possible and all I can really say is that this is a must for anyone who can feel a game can be more than just pixels on a screen, that its world and characters can exist beyond the borders of your TV, that they will continue to live even after the power goes out.

Tales from the Borderlands
 Tales from the Borderlands Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS

Gabrielle: Let 2015 be known as the year that entirely tore down my expectations and preconceptions. Tales from the Borderlands is a smashing game: funny and articulate with heart too. I was so skeptical that a point-and-click adventure game just would not work for such an iconic shooter IP but gosh darn it, it worked and then some. Such brilliant fun from beginning to end with characters that I rooted for all the way through and some gleefully splendid ‘bad guys’: this trip to Pandora was my favourite of the lot.

Ian: I think it’s safe to say I’m a big Borderlands fan and whilst they may not be the best games ever, they are fantastic to pick up with a few friends and just go at. A lot of people don’t like the shoot-and-loot fetch quest mechanics but what Borderlands is really about is exactly that – The Borderlands – the world, the people, the creatures, and environments. It is the king of dark comedy and that translated to a Telltale point-and-click adventure game more than I could have possibly known. Full of ridiculous, hilarious scenes and exciting action packed moments that had me literally going from laughing so hard I lost my voice to tearing up within the same 2-hour episode. An incredible experience that is only made better by the fact that the whole thing is stitched into the story of the other Borderlands games so well that it’s actually necessary to play in order to understand a lot of the world and events leading up to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and very likely Borderlands 3. Here’s hoping for several more seasons – I can’t wait to see those characters again!

 Splatoon Wii U

Jake: This was the pinnacle of gaming for me this year. I spent hundreds of hours playing Splatoon, and despite a few flaws, I loved nearly every second of it.

Dominic: On release I wasn’t so sure about Splatoon. I did not like how most of its multiplayer content was coming later on in free downloadable updates, I still don’t like how Nintendo force us to only have two maps in rotation in Player or Ranked mode that change every four hours, especially when they are now 14 maps available – it just feels like an artificial stoppage that no longer needs to be there. But spending time with the game I found something special there. It’s a game where there is tons to love about it that overcome those negatives. Even though it was advertised as a multiplayer title, the single player featured some great level design and some fantastic boss fights, but at the same time it taught you how to play the game, growing the player ready for its main attraction, the online multiplayer.

It’s weird to think of Nintendo creating an online title. This is a company that has stuck with the old ways, yet with Splatoon they accomplish three things that I would never thought would be happening any time soon with Nintendo. 1. They made a fantastic new IP without the red plumber in sight. 2. They created a third-person shooter and 3. It was an online multiplayer game, and while Nintendo are still being stubborn with their online communications in games, Splatoon was a breath of fresh air in the genre, bringing refreshing squid mechanics that allowed players to swim in their own coloured ink, making for some superb gameplay and verticality movement in cleverly designed maps that were made for abusing the power of a squid. I might not be a kid, but I sure felt like a squid, who was a kid – squid now, kid now… I think you know where this is going, so before I get caught up in the game’s awesome soundtrack, I’ll leave with this final statement that Splatoon is one of the most energising and enjoyable third-person shooters and new IPs to come from not just Nintendo, but from everyone in the industry since this generation started.

 Life is Strange Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Thomas: Life is Strange is introduced to players as a game about time travel, but after a few hours with it it’s clear to see it puts characters above all else. It confidently uses that science fiction absurdity to blend a unique mix of people together. The end result is nothing short of fantastic. It is much more grounded than a list of PR bullet points would have you believe. You don’t play as a superhero with a foretold destiny to save the world. Each and every character in the game has layers to their personality. They are real people dealing with real-life issues, capable of making bad decisions or already living with the consequences of their wrongdoings. No one in the game is infallible and as a result all are highly relatable. They are people worth getting invested in. It’s difficult to talk about Life is Strange on a list such as this without referencing the places it chooses to go. Depression, bullying, suicide, and grief are just a few of the issues tackled over the course of the five episodes. The choice to deal with these difficult themes headfirst made Life is Strange a uniquely compelling game for me. Whilst most games these days deal with the bombastic, and choose to present their fiction in absurdly unbelievable ways, Life is Strange dares to be different. It too may regularly deliver shocking moments, but it also crucially, and effectively deals with thier hard to digest aftermath. For that alone, it deserved all the plaudits it can get.

Gabrielle: An episodic game, Life is Strange toyed with my emotions from January to October, and what an emotional rollercoaster it was. From crying to emotionally melting, feeling creeped out and angry to serene – Life is Strange was truly an evocative journey. The narrative was brilliant and the characters were some of the best in any video game I have ever played. It had a great rewind central mechanic which led to interesting consequences and the game also highlighted important messages of suicide, same-sex relationships, trust, hope and forgiveness. Life is Strange wasn’t just a great game but it was an important game for the medium as a whole: for an industry wracked with divisions in its audience, Life is Strange spun a tale of acceptance and diversity that was widely applauded.

Rocket League
 Rocket League Xbox One, PS4, PC

Dominic: I never played Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, the predecessor to Rocket League, but if watching Top Gear has shown me anything, it’s that playing football with cars could be a lot of fun to watch, but actually participating in it would most likely suck after the initial spark has worn off. This is simply because cars are too big, easily damageable and their agility is compromised as speed increases. Rocket League gets rid of all those issues by changing the sport of football to be based around remote control cars, a huge, floaty ball, loose rules, and somehow with its simple, but perfectly elegant controls, these remote control cars can easily drift, turbo boost, drive up walls and rocket boost magnificently into the air that Knight Rider’s KITT would be jealously (that vehicle should totally be DLC for this game).

Rocket League is a refreshing entry for sports games, hell, even for multiplayer titles. It’s a simple game to play, one that anyone can get into and have fun, yet masterful players can perform some amazing feats of aerobatic tricky – seeing those in a match is outstanding, causing the chat to fill up with people spamming with the shortcut emote “Nice Goal!” Thankfully, what makes Rocket League brilliant is that those skills aren’t required for people to have fun with the game. Breaking it down, this is just a fancy version of pong with super agile vehicles, sure, but with its easy to get into nature, Rocket League became one of my most played multiplayer games of the year – it is masterfully crafted, highly addictive and full of hectic moments that no matter if you win or lose, you will always be back for more. With developers that care behind the game and new content coming frequently – over the Christmas period there is the Snow Day mutator going on, which changes the game into a chaotic version of ice hockey – and big DLC plans for the game in 2016, it looks like Rocket League will have the legs to keep going for another season.

Ian: Rocket League came out of nowhere this Summer and it just went BOOM! I’m certain that releasing it as a free title on PlayStation Plus helped it reach the masses but it shows something about the game’s merit when it caused such a fuss in the gaming world. Everybody who touched the game instantly fell in love and it’s easy to see why with its classic ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ controls. Nothing feels better than jumping online with a few friends, screaming out tactics, and working together to set up that perfect shot. It became an e-sport faster than anything I’ve ever seen and the community continues to expand with the full force of developers Psyonix behind them, who are releasing constant free updates and DLC. Flipping, flying, and boosting your car around the field never stops being exciting and the 5 minute matches make the title so perfect to just pick up and play a few rounds of whenever you have the time. It’s a game I will be coming back to constantly in 2016 and hope to see it continue to grow.

 Bloodborne PS4

Simon: For my money, Bloodborne is the only game in recent years to challenge Hotline Miami in terms of a completely cohesive vision across all aspects of its presentation. There’s something exceptionally beguiling about Bloodborne, and you can almost sense it smirking knowingly as you sit, mouth agape in awe at every new beautifully sinister environment. It’s daunting and compelling in equal measure, and while its Lovecraft inspirations are palpable, there’s something reductive about describing its world and lore as only that. It feels unmistakably organic and alive, and not at all like a stagnant imitation or reflection of its litterary inspirations. Mechanically you can say this and that about how it compares to its more technical and layered Souls siblings, but as a complete package it’s remarkably confident, uniquely charismatic and utterly irresistible.

Dominic: From its initial leak, where a Gothic setting, ravaging beasts and guns were revealed, uttering the worlds about Bloodborne being ‘Dark Souls in Victorian times’ got everyone excited. Spending time with the game, it’s clear that Bloodborne, while taking ideas from Miyazaki’s previous Souls games, is more than just a re-skinned Dark Souls. It begins with combat, where the defensive approach of Dark Souls has been tuned to offer more offensive and rapid combat. Shields are no longer available to use, instead, replaced with guns to bring range damage and a new stun mechanic that with perfect timing can leave enemies open to a visceral attack. Having no block button means players have to keep on their toes and use the dodge as the saving grace in the tough battles that live in the world of Bloodborne.

There is more to Bloodborne that just the excellent and weighty crafted combat – the feeling of accomplishment is second to none. It’s so rewarding when overcoming an obstacle, be it a challenging zone or an imaginative boss design, that I just wanted to continue on and see what other situations awaited me. The city of Yharnam feels coherent. It’s a world filled with horror and grotesque inhabitants, but beautiful and deceiving landmarks that makes exploration mystical and exciting, and just like Miyazaki’s titles before it, Bloodborne channels people to work together both inside the game with help hints and death recaps, but also outside of the game by combining people’s thoughts on the story, its history and the mechanics of the game in a joint effort to find out what Bloodborne is hiding. Some people might be disgusted at that concept, but I personally love having to figure out a video game, with Bloodborne being one such experience I won’t forget.

MGSV The Phantom Pain
 Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Kieffer: I really did not think that The Phantom Pain was going to be on my game of the year list by the time winter rolled around. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it a lot and I put a lot of time into it but I did not notice what I really enjoyed until I left the game. This year many games with stealth aspects were released: Fallout 4, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Arkham Knight, etc. and when I played these and other titles from the past I just kept becoming frustrated in their limitations on what I could do. The Phantom Pain just kept creeping into my head as many of my ideas would be possible if it was in that game, that is where it excels above other titles. It fosters the player’s imagination and is always wiling to see you pull off something completely insane. There are a couple of problems that I have with the title, a lot of it stemming from the story and how one specific character is treated by male gaze but it doesn’t take away the immense satisfaction the game treated my ideas. Adding the fact that the game feels better than any of the past titles, it has a ton of content, and the online is a blast just makes it a must on my list.

Samuel: I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that does stealth better than The Phantom Pain. It’s a game that allows you to take a wide variety of approaches that all feel legitimate, and the amount of detail required for that to even be possible is outstanding. It’s also incredibly reactive, meaning that you can’t keep relying on the same strategies over and over, which keeps things consistently fresh. And it needs to do that, as this game is an epic, lasting potentially well over 50 hours. To maintain that brilliant level of playability over such a long period is astounding. Not once did I get tired of it.

Dominic: The latest entry in Hideo Kojima’s epic franchise is different than what we normally get. Kojima has previous gone with a focus on complex stories with stealth gameplay to back it up, and while the series had interesting gameplay concepts, I always felt Splinter Cell was the better stealth game. That is no longer the case with The Phantom Pain, as Kojima Productions has crafted a truly outstanding sandbox game that somehow manages to be the best stealth game I have ever played.

We can complain about the story or Kojima not having enough time to put in a third chapter, but when it comes down to it, The Phantom Pain is about the gameplay, the open-world that is laid before you to tackle in a multitude of ways that the game enables you to do with all the gear and mechanics built in. It’s funny how we talk about how big a world is or how dense it is, but with this game, both open-world environments aren’t humongous, nor are they stuffed up like a Christmas turkey. What is there are bases, soldiers, wild life, dynamic weather and other beautifully looking tiny details that bring character to the environment.

The Phantom Pain contained some of my favourite gaming moments of 2015. There aren’t many games that left it to me to sort my own mistakes out if a mission went wrong. The many options and freedom this game offers is a sign of trust from the developers, leaving it to players to recover and adapt, rather than the game overriding the player’s control. A confident game from a confident team led by Kojima, leaving us his swansong for the franchise before Konami turn it into the king of Pachinko machines.

Chris: Hideo Kojima’s magnum opus and his final mission at Konami brings the curtain down on nearly 30 years at the company. A vast undertaking from the off, it features a huge open-world playground full of intelligent possibilities, fantastic AI, unintentional comedy, serious undertones, ridiculous cut scenes and lashings of morally dubious representations of women. So pretty much all the ingredients for any decent Metal Gear game. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, there are so many elements that simply shouldn’t work, but they do and each portion of this game remains unquestionably Kojima, however much Konami removed his name from all promotional/packaging materials. The Phantom Pain is a delight to play, a wonder to behold and quite frankly a piece of gaming history for all the right and wrong reasons.

Witcher 3
 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Xbox One, PS4, PC

Kieffer: As many RPGs that I have played over the years none of them have grabbed ahold of me the way that The Witcher 3 did. Stories are handled with such care no matter the detail and the characters are so strong that it makes my knees weak. The writing is not the only aspect that feels carefully crafted either, the way that monsters must be researched before battles and how in-depth the items throughout the game are just makes the world feel more alive. I also must mention that I spent around 20-30 hours playing the in-game card game Gwent which was an aspect that I had no intention of enjoying, thank the alghouls I do though. I fell in love with The Witcher 3 the moment I started playing it and even now as I keep swimming deeper into its depths I find more to enjoy.

Gabrielle: Historically, I prefer RPGs where I can craft my very own character and for this reason, I was fairly certain that The Witcher 3 would not feature in my top 5 games of 2015. Well, let me stand corrected. I absolutely fell in love with the whole world of the Witcher; the characters were believable and interesting; the voice acting was fantastic; the maps were beautifully detailed and gorgeously lit and unusually for an RPG, none of the side quests felt superfluous. There are a few gripes I have with it (do all the female characters really have to do battle in heels?), but ultimately I couldn’t put it down for weeks and had to be forcibly removed from my PC. Yup, believe the hype, it’s pretty great.

Dominic: The Witcher 3 is an incredible game that left such an impact on me after I had completed Geralt’s adventure. I missed its world, characters and incredibly story telling that playing similar games just made me enjoy them less. I couldn’t help but match them with CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece. It is superbly written, characters are crafted with more than just a single layer, which makes for some of the best narrative and quest design in RPGs and the most compelling side-quest and interactions I’ve experienced in video games.

Geralt’s closure sets a new bar for moral adventure storytelling, with outcomes that bring a range of emotions and unpredictability, an epic journey filled with lush, beautiful graphics and environments, quality voice acting and memorable quests knitted masterfully together with the game’s tactical combat, traps and sign systems. In a year where it felt like the open-world genre was flooded with games, The Witcher 3 stands out as not just a fantastic open-world title, but is up there in the echelons of best role-playing games and my personal pick for Game of the Year 2015… oh, and it also has Gwent.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully there’s a few surprises in the list and something new for you to check out.

Everyone at DarkZero wishes you well for the year ahead – may it bring as many gaming highlights as 2015 did.