While the whole editorial staff contributed to our 2015 awards, we wanted to allow everybody the opportunity to publicly name their personal top 10 games of the year. While many did play the majority of releases in 2015, please remember that unlike our main awards, the editors are not naming the best games, but their personal favorites out of the selection they played.
10. There Came an Echo
(PC, Iridium Studios)
The first entry on this list is easily the most controversial. After all, no other reviewer felt as though There Came an Echo, the voice-controlled real-time strategy title from Iridium Studios was as enthralling and unique as this particular critic. There was a fair bit of backlash against the voice commands that players used to guide their four party members, namely that it only worked some of the time, but I appeared to be one of the lucky ones that suffered literally no problems throughout this four-to-six hour campaign. There Came an Echo tells the story of a handful of lovable caper-embracing vagabonds that uncover a mystery about the world so grandiose that it winds up blowing your mind by the very end. Having the player take the role of a nameless, faceless commander created a wonderful mix of gameplay and narrative that meshed perfectly, and it’s clear that this concept was some sort of awesome light bulb moment during pre-production. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it has perhaps the best original soundtrack of 2015, as the combination of Ronald Jenkees and Big Giant Circles managed to increase the emotional height of the story through their ethereal composition.
(PS4 / PC, 17-BIT)
Ever since I first laid hands on Galak-Z during PAX East 2014, I knew that there was something special about this brutally difficult shooter and its precise, yet bizarre control. There’s something oddly calming about floating around the galaxy collecting scrap, but the dichotomy between these quiet moments and the tense chaos that comes with literally every battle is something special. No cancellation this year hit quite as hard as Galak-Z not coming to Vita, but then again this would have caused every waking moment of my life to be dominated by the chance to play one of the year’s most engrossing arcade experiences literally anywhere. If you’re still debating on whether or not to play this Gundham-inspired roguelike, just remember that you can be a spaceship sized robot with a laser sword and a laser-based grapple ability. What other game gives you the chance to engage that strangely specific fantasy?
8. Titan Souls
(PC / PS4 / Vita, Devolver Digital, Acid Nerve)
How could a list of my favorite games of this year not include the title that I beat three times over the course of a week? Sure, Titan Souls is short and once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to blast through a standard campaign in a couple of hours, but the idea of tense single-HP battles will always suck me in and refuse to let me go. Imagine a game whose design is so rock solid that it’s gripping despite using limited mechanics (a joystick and two buttons are all you need), whose entire campaign is designed entirely around some of the most unique bosses the gaming world has seen this year. It’s a simple concept: stay alive, find the boss’s weak-point, shoot an arrow into it and move on, but because of the Titan Souls‘ maddening difficulty, you’ll find yourself both pumping your fists in elation and slamming your controller in defeat. It’s tense, it’s comical and it has some downright gorgeous pixel-art. Titan Souls is one of the coolest games of the year, and it’s a shame that the world has already forgotten about this endearing title.
(PS4, Sony Computer Entertainment / FromSoftware)
I’ve tried and tried, but no matter how much effort I put in, I just can’t seem to enjoy the Dark Souls franchise. It should be right up my alley, but there’s just something about FromSoftware’s massive hit series that doesn’t click in my brain. However, when Bloodborne was released earlier this year, it burrowed into my brain and turned me into an absolute fiend. I finally understood why gamers love titles of this ilk; from the mesmerizing repetition to the stunning art direction to the frame-perfect combat, Bloodborne is one of the most impressive gameplay experiences to be released on the PlayStation 4. While I’m unclear on how excited I truly am for Dark Souls III, it’s going to be tough to forget how FromSoftware turned me into an insane person for a few weeks. Seriously though, being able to run through all of the bosses in that game requires you to be sick in the head in some fashion, so perhaps this heralded Japanese studio did us all a favor by illuminating some of our character flaws through Bloodborne.
6. Axiom Verge
(PS4 / PC, Tom Happ)
To understand my love and utter obsession with Axiom Verge, it’ll help to have a bit of backstory on my thought process during my marathon playthrough. On the day that Tom Happ first released what is, for my money, the most impressive single-man development effort in industry history, I sat down and played for four hours. The next day, I jumped into this mysterious metroidvania title and rolled credits before looking at the clock; turns out, I had played for 16 hours straight. True metroidvanias encourage exploration, they want you to feel lost and they expect players to be intelligent enough to figure out their secrets. Unlike titles such as Ori and the Blind Forest, which feels like a solid platformer that didn’t need to be a metroidvania title to succeed, Axiom Verge shows us exactly why this genre can be so special. Think about it: one dude essentially made Super Metroid 2, and if that doesn’t blow you away when you’re playing this rock-solid action-platformer, then something might not be right upstairs.
5. Her Story
(PC, Sam Barlow)
If you tuned into Twitter during The Game Awards 2015, then you likely saw a ton of hate for the game that won Best Narrative and Best Performance. The Internet was having a dandy time crapping all over this one-man, one-actress FMV-based detective title that came out of nowhere during the middle of this year, and who could blame them? If you were to take one look at Her Story, you’d probably have trouble understanding it was a video game at all. After all, who pictures video games to turn your PC into an early era Macintosh and force you to watch police interviews while typing in words you hear? The thing is, Her Story is much much more than what its initial impression gives away. No other game in recent memory has made you feel more like a detective, as dissecting Viva Seifert’s outstanding performance is so mentally taxing that it won’t just end when the credits roll. This is a game that I’ve shown to people who don’t necessarily play anything other than AAA titles and they immediately fell in love. Do yourself a favor and jump into this two-hour experience, it’s far more worth it than you think.
4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
(PC / PS4 / XBO, Konami, Kojima Productions)
If there’s one thing that I’d love for you to know in regards to this particular choice, it’s that I adore when games are stupid for the sake of being stupid. There’s a reason why I play through a character action game every few months, why I love the next game on this list more than I ever thought I could and why The Phantom Pain is so special: these experiences don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously. Sure, playing through The Last of Us and Journey give gamers serious cases of the feels, but sometimes it’s even more powerful to laugh at some of the dumb things that you can do in games. Yes, it’s gross that Konami has treated its most famous personality like a sex offender for the last few months and it’s awful that The Phantom Pain sells you virtual insurance (because of course). Still, the fact that I can run around with a dog wearing an eyepatch and play poop noises out of my cassette player before flying away in a helicopter that plays the Six Flags theme song makes this an experience that is going to be damn hard to forget. Say what you will about all of the controversies that this bizarre open-world title has generated (one day Konami will be embarrassed), you can’t deny that it’s an absolute blast to play.
3. Tales from the Borderlands
(PC / PS4 / XBO / PS3 / 360 / iOS / Android, Telltale Games / Gearbox Software)
I love this game. I love this game. I. Love. This. Game. Tales from the Borderlands came from a developer that, quite frankly, needs to slow down, fix its engine and ensure that everything that it releases is of perfect quality. Still, even though Telltale is rapidly becoming the clearest example of a developer that might be doing too much (one only has to look at the disappointing Game of Thrones to see this), Tales from the Borderlands is the best game this studio has ever produced. Yes, this hysterical heist story is better than The Walking Dead: Season One, as it contains all of the drama that we’ve come to expect from Telltale titles while being the funniest game in the last few years not written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Combine this with the introduction of my favorite character in years, the adorable Gortys, and the result is a game that emerged as clearly the biggest surprise of the year. You’ll laugh, you could wind up crying and you’ll secretly wish you could experience the entire story for the first time all over again. Tales from the Borderlands is an elite narrative experience and a must-play 2015 game, period.
2. Fallout 4
(PC / PS4 / XBO, Bethesda Softworks / Bethesda Game Studios)
Confession: I don’t like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. That’s right, Fallout 4 was actually the first open world Bethesda title that has actually inspired feelings outside of anger or boredom in me. Perhaps this was a result of the fact that you can actually play Fallout 4 like a proper video game, thanks to its refined combat experience, or maybe it’s because Bethesda Game Studios created arguably the best open world in video game history in the area I call home. Whatever the reason for my utter obsession with Fallout 4 is, one thing is absolutely certain: November of 2015 will forever be a blur because we all spent far too much time in a world that exists within our televisions and monitors. As someone who loves janky moments in video games, so long as they do not completely break the experience, all of the vibrating skeletons and bizarre Bethesda-ness in Fallout 4 made my experience equal parts hilarious and engrossing. No other open world title this generation has inspired me to accomplish absolutely nothing quite like Fallout 4, and the best part is that it’s going to be this way for another year thanks to the awesome DLC that awaits us in 2016.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(PC / PlayStation 4 / Xbox One, Warner Bros. Interactive / CD Projekt RED)
If you paid attention to anything I’ve said over the past month at Hardcore Gamer, you’d think that Fallout 4 was my clear pick for not only the Game of the Year award, but one of my favorite games of all time. The truth is, even though mental debates were had, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is blatantly my favorite game of this generation. The title I consider to be the best Western role-playing game of all time not only illustrated how to weave an engrossing narrative into an awesome open-world experience, but it allowed CD Projekt RED to demonstrate the way that AAA developers should be treating their customers. From all of the awesome free add-on content to the affordable, yet robust and excellent Hearts of Stone expansion, The Witcher 3 feels more worth its price tag than any other title this year. As a major fan of The Witcher and The Witcher 2, it’s incredible to see that this franchise continues to one-up itself. If you’re looking for a clear example of why video games can be an incredible way to tell stories, look no further than this masterpiece, as all of the character moments, cutscenes and side-quests combine to make a world that genuinely feels like an alternate realm that exists without you. Do yourself a favor and play The Witcher 3 if you haven’t yet; it’s one of the most important games of the generation and you’re doing yourself a disservice passing it by.