2015 was a fantastic year for video games, but you might not know it if you didn’t play these gems. These are the best games that came out all year, from January to December, and if you spend your holiday break catching up on the gaming world these are the ones you should play.
18. ‘PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2016’
I’m not really a sports game guy (or a sports guy for that matter), but when I sent out a casual email poll to find out what games my friends around the Playboy office enjoyed this year Pro Evo Soccer 2016 came up.
The latest iteration of the futbol franchise received pretty much universal critical acclaim. Since I can’t really tell you why it’s good, I’ll just quote IGN’s review: “PES 2016 might well be the best football game ever made.”
I run the gaming section here on Playboy.com, and I received a ton of pitches toward the end of the year about a game called Undertale. It’s a primitive-looking old school game with a lot going on under the hood.
For example, you can spend the whole game refusing to fight anyone or anything—or you can go on a “genocide run” and literally cleanse the world of all its inhabitants, unlocking a special ending just for psychopaths. Up to you.
16. 'FALLOUT 4’
If you have any interest in video games at all then you probably already played Fallout 4, or you know someone who did, and they’ve been hounding you to play it yourself.
This is one I didn’t particularly care for. It made me feel more like a garbage collector harvesting scraps than a badass warrior or lone survivor. But I’d be remiss not to mention that basically everyone but me (well, not everyone) adored its open world, tactical gunplay and deft storytelling.
15. 'DYING LIGHT’
I almost forgot that Dying Light came out this year at all. That’s what happens when a game launches in January.
But when I did remember, I recalled the game’s dense open world, the fun I had zipping around over zombies’ heads with its grappling hook, and the terror I felt when the sun went down over its ravaged city. That’s when the super zombies (not their actual name, too lazy to Google it) come out.
14. 'LIFE IS STRANGE’
Life is Strange stars a high school senior who discovers she can rewind time after another student goes missing. It’s told across five episodes, the last of which was released in October.
Thankfully it’s getting more and more common for video games to concern themselves with more than just shooting and looting, and Life is Strange is worth checking out.
13. 'CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 3’
Even if you’re one of the many, many people who are sick of a new Call of Duty game coming out every single fucking year, this one might surprise you.
For one thing, you might not know it but series publisher Activision has moved to a three-year cycle on these—meaning there are three developers working on a CoD game at any given point, so each studio has three years to make their version and one can still come out every year. Given that, it’s easy to see why Black Ops 3 has the best story missions, zombie mode and multiplayer of any CoD in recent memory. And it’s great to see one of the biggest franchises in video games—unlike Halo—just keep getting better.
Cibele might be the most personal game I’ve ever played. Made by independent developer Nina Freeman, it tells the story of Nina’s first love—a relationship that begins in an online game and culminates in real life.
As Freeman told me, Cibele is based on a true story, one that happened to her when she was in college. And it’s Freeman herself who stars in the game’s intimate live action cut scenes. I’ve never played anything like Cibele.
11. 'METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN’
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Metal Gear series. Metal Gear Solid IV had like 12 hours of cutscenes, all of which seemed superfluous to me. I can’t really get down with that.
But even I can get into MGS V. It drops you into huge open areas with a wide array of tools and a series of objectives that you can accomplish in a million different ways. Then there’s the drama surrounding the series’ creator’s departure from publisher Konami, the game’s unique take on sexuality, and the fact that it basically doesn’t have an ending. Pretty fascinating if you ask me.
10. 'TALES FROM THE BORDERLANDS’
I did not play Tales From The Borderlands. After The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and The Wolf Among Us, I didn’t think I could enjoy another game from Telltale, the studio that’s become the go-to for story-driven spins on popular existing franchises.
But throughout the year I’ve seen Tales From The Borderlands—based on the popular shooter series Borderlands—pop up time and time again, and friends of mine swear it’s the funniest game they’ve every played. It’s given me major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and this is one I’ll be checking out over break.
9. 'RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER’
Lara Croft was nothing more than a sex symbol for most of her existence, but that changed with the 2013 reboot simply titled Tomb Raider. Croft was suddenly an actual character, and gamers, myself included, loved it.
With Rise of the Tomb Raider we see some of the fallout from what happened in the 2013 game—the traumatic experience messed her up a bit. But, more importantly, we get more of the same new Tomb Raider action, and it’s glorious.
8. 'HER STORY’
Structurally Her Story is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. It bends the definition of what a video game is, and it does so while harking back to an under-appreciated '90s game genre—the full-motion video game, which starred live actors (usually not very good ones) in interactive experiences.
But Her Story is also notable because its story is told in no particular order. You view video clips, footage from a police interrogation, by typing in keywords—and you don’t know what the keywords are when you’re typing them. It’s a little bit trial and error, a little bit sleuthing, and a whole lot interesting.
7. 'GUITAR HERO LIVE’
Let me start by saying I’m really good at Guitar Hero—not that anyone cares. And I love Guitar Hero Live.
Unfortunately I think Activision did a terrible job marketing this game. The part I love isn’t the “Live” part—where you play as a guitarist in first person, seeing through the eyes of someone onstage at fake concerts attended by bad actors and filmed in live action. That shit’s goofy and uncomfortable, like that dream where you forgot to study for a test. But the game’s other new mode, Guitar Hero TV, keeps me coming back. It’s like MTV for Guitar Heroes like me—you just turn it on and play along with an endless playlist of music videos. Perfect.
6. 'UNTIL DAWN’
Until Dawn surprised me more than any other game this year. I might not have played it at all if it hadn’t come out during the summer lull in August. Normally that’s somewhere games are sent to die, but it may have worked in Until Dawn’s favor, as the timing left a space for the interactive horror movie to fill with screams.
Starring real actors like Brett Dalton and Hayden Panettiere (with a heavy coating of computer graphics makeup), Until Dawn uses every horror trope in existence to make an experience that’s unlike any other. Go play it, then play it again to see if you can actually save any of these people from being gruesomely beheaded, devoured or cut completely in half.
5. 'THE WITCHER 3’
Releasing halfway between last year’s Dragon Age: Inquisition and the fall’s Fallout 4, you might think The Witcher 3 would have become lost among all the great (well, OK, depending who you ask) massive open world role-playing games available this year. But even after everything else that came out, The Witcher 3 is the one everyone seemed to keep going back to.
Maybe it’s the detailed and living open world environment, or all the ways the game’s protagonist, Geralt, is cooler than you, or the game’s surprising relationships, or even the fictional card game Gwent, which took on a life of its own. No matter what it is, The Witcher 3 will be remembered as the best RPG of 2015.
And then there was Bloodborne. That latest in the loosely connected series begun with Demon’s Souls and continued in the Dark Souls franchise, Bloodborne took a decimated simulacrum of Victorian London, added werewolfs and zombies, and jammed the whole thing inside a cosmic horror story that H.P. Lovecraft himself would have gobbled up whole.
Of course there’s also the whole “best combat system of any action game ever” thing. If I had a few quibbles with Bloodborne—and I did, especially where its multiplayer is concerned—they’re nothing to the triumphant joy of finally beating the fucking Blood-Starved Beast for the first time.
3. 'SUPER MARIO MAKER’
Anyone who ever enjoyed a Mario game—so, everyone—thought to themselves at one point, “What if there was a level where…” Super Mario Maker is the realization of all of those dreams.
Nintendo’s Wii U, its struggling newest console, has a decent amount of great games at this point, but Mario Maker alone is enough to justify buying the thing. It lets you design your own levels in the style of the old or new Mario games, then share them online and download others’. That’s really the only pitch you should need.
2. 'ROCKET LEAGUE’
Rocket League is beautiful because it is the purest video game I have ever played. There is nothing superfluous or extraneous about it; it’s a good video game, nothing less or more.
In it, you play soccer with cars. That is all. There’s online multiplayer and, with the additional content that’s been released digitally since the game’s launch, some other modes and doodads. Really, though, Rocket League is simply an incredibly fun and simple video game with fantastic controls, physics and multiplayer. These days that makes it stand out as something exceptional.
1. 'DESTINY: THE TAKEN KING’
I was a big fan of Destiny long before “The Taken King”, the game’s big 2015 expansion, came out in September. But, like all other Destiny fans, I complained about the game a lot, because even if it was super fun, it was also super busted and frustrating to play.
“The Taken King” didn’t turn Destiny into a perfect game, but it addressed so many of my complaints with the original game that the difference was negligible. Over 1,000 hours later, I’m still not sick of Destiny, and that pretty much makes it my game of the year by default. Luckily I’m happy for it to be there.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games but mostly concerned with getting sweet Destiny loot. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
The Gamers Next Door and Jobless Garrett Play 'Rocket League’ at the Playboy Mansion