2015 has been a year that kept many gamers busy – very busy. Independent developers continue to broaden their horizons in terms of both design and content. Whereas bigger teams such as Ubisoft, Square Enix and Konami – who create some of the industry’s most heralded triple-A titles – have made the open world aspect a standard ingredient for any adventure game.
Due the immense amount of choice on offer in 2015, it’s no surprise that I haven’t got around to playing certain games expected to be on a list of this calibre.
But I digress. I was still spoilt for choice, and found many hours of gaming lost to indie and big-budget games alike. So, here are my top picks for 2015.
5. The Swindle
I wasn’t expecting this little game to be as much fun as it is. You’re given 100 days to achieve the main goal, which is to escape a high-level security hideout with a one-of-a-kind piece of tech. Cash is important to get to the last area, and there’s plenty for the taking in The Swindle. After minimal hand-holding, this title from Size Five Games dropped me into the deep-end with expertly constructed level generation and a great difficulty curve.
The randomly-generated levels worked to great effect, offering healthy amounts of replayability. The tiered locations increase in size, enemies and traps with fantastic variation – making the resulting gameplay extremely addictive. The graphics were very effective in showing off eye-catching backdrops and the high amount of activity both inside and out of buildings.
My repertoire of abilities grew with every purchase, and it was thrilling when each one paid dividends. While the Steam Purge granted me temporary invincibility from detection, and the EMP Blast disarmed enemy drones and cameras, I loved the versatility of the Bombs.
The Swindle was definitely my ‘surprise packet’ for this year and, while sometimes rage-inducing, never failed when it came to hooking me back into its clutches.
4. Jackbox Party Pack 2
Oh, God. This game. Rarely do multiplayer-only games make it on my Game of the Year lists, but this second serving from Jackbox Games was a no-brainer. I absolutely love the think-on-your-feet style of Fibbage 2 and Quiplash XL which, for the less mature amongst us, lends itself to answers like the Throbbing Tower of Pisa (new name for the Leaning Tower of Pisa?) and Whore’s Teeth (new name for hockey pucks?).
If you ever decide to leave the incomparable side-splitting humour of these two titles, headlining the second Jackbox Party Pack, Earwax isn’t bad either. This little game gets contestants to match a word or phrases with two sound bytes. There are some hilarious combinations, however, it’s ultimately luck that grants the most laughs, and your selection of sounds is nothing short of fortuitous.
I have my own reservations about Bidiots, an all right replacement for my previous favourite party game, Drawful, but Bomb Corp. can get stressful very quickly. It’s all about you and a friend disarming a bomb and shouting instructions to one another before time runs out. It’s good fun.
But, Fibbage 2 and Quiplash XL are worth the price of admission alone. Me and other members at Power Up Gaming, including Big Boss Chris Mawson, have played both games together, and I think I speak for everyone involved, when I say it’s tons of fun.
3. Rise of the Tomb Raider
Much like the successful reboot from a few years ago, Rise of the Tomb Raider kept the action flowing from start to finish. After her time on the island of Yamatai, Lara Croft has indeed flourished as both a woman and a seasoned adventurer. This has translated into a stronger, more confident character, who often leaves groups of male counterparts straggling behind her.
Aside from the stunning graphical output of the game, Crystal Dynamics really captured just how harsh every environment in Rise of the Tomb Raider is. The blinding Syrian sun beats down as you hear the ominous squawk of vultures overhead. In contrast, the Siberian winter will see Lara in moments of utter distress, trudging through thigh-deep snow and shivering profusely in search of warmth.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is made all the more enjoyable by new game mechanics. Interacting, collecting, and crafting with certain objects on-the-go was highly effective, and gave me so much variety when it came to using smoke bombs to provide cover, and several new elemental arrow types to dispatch groups of goons.
Despite its unfortunate release window in having to compete with Halo 5: Guardians and Fallout 4, not to mention it being a timed-exclusive on Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very, very good game. I recommend you give it a go when it comes to your platform of choice.
Read my review for Rise of the Tomb Raider here.
2. Tales from the Borderlands
In my opinion, this is Telltale’s best episodic series they’ve delivered to gamers thus far. It stuck to what the original Borderlands franchise has done so well over the years – action plus humour – and managed to stand head and shoulders above 2K Games in terms of creating a cohesive and entertaining story. Furthermore, players weren’t simply given a cheap ending to Season One – a ‘nothing’ conclusion, where the only sure thing was that Season Two was happening.
Borderlands’ healthy passion for guns definitely played a back seat here, but Telltale sent us something unexpected in its place – great characters. Telltale Games nailed the zany nature of Pandora’s universe and made every choice carry as much intensity ad uncertainty as the last. As a result, it allowed me to choose options that were out of my comfort zone because a vast majority of my actions came from opportunistic and enticing prompts.
From early on in Zer0 Sum, Rhys and Fiona were likeable in their own ways, and when interacting with one another, had the right personalities to result in some memorable moments of gameplay – such as the way each character told their own version of events to their kidnapper. Later on, along with the supporting cast, they gel together extremely well, and it’s obvious that they find enjoyment in each other’s company – particularly evident in the latter half of Vault of the Traveller.
Lastly, those introductory segments to each episode were amazingly good. The songs of choice, along with the supporting visuals and actions, continued the trend of well-crafted Borderlands prologues. It’s hard to choose which one is better out of all five parts – that’s how good they are.
I hope a second season is on the cards with the same main characters in mind. If not, fingers crossed they return in a future entry in the Borderlands series.
1. Ori and the Blind Forest
It may not match the scope of your Metal Gear Solids, and it may pale in comparison to the role-playing depth of Fallout, but Ori and the Blind Forest stirred so much curiosity in me that I couldn’t put it down. Its story was highly emotive and engrossing, the Bash and Charge abilities were so versatile and satisfying to use, and the phenomenal graphics capped off a wonderful gaming experience.
The metroidvania-style genre works extremely well here. The world of The Blind Forest is huge and each section is as immersive and picturesque as the one that proceeded it. Despite the absence of a waypoint marker to assist with navigation, the map can be traversed surprisingly quickly. All of the various environmental elements intersect fabulously, especially a large vertical area dominated by gale-force winds funnelling down into a gloomy forest and underground ice cave.
I don’t think I’ve ever referred to a game’s colour scheme ‘divine’, but that’s the word that comes to mind when I think of this game. There are deep blues that clash with sunset oranges and dark greens dance with streaks of bright yellow on the forest floor. Visual beauty like this comes along only a handful of times in a generation, and Ori and the Blind Forest typifies this to a tee.
But out of all this, it was the satisfying ending, after an early emotional roller coaster, that sealed Ori and the Blind Forest’s fate as my Game of the Year. I cannot speak highly enough of this game, and it is one every gamer simply has to try.
Read my review for Ori and the Blind Forest now!