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Dec 23, 2015

Evan Rowe’s Top 10+1 Games of 2015


Videogames have had a good year in 2015. And when Evan got married earlier this year, this made for a good year for him as well. So when he’s not admiring the works of Dr Steve Brule, running, or working on his house (what a hunk), Evan is playing videogames. So here’s more than ten games that Evan found to be the best of 2015. Check It Out!

Lara Croft Go

Honors: Favorite Mobile Game of 2015

As the only mobile game on this list, Lara Croft Go stands among good company. Every year, without fail, one mobile game comes out that I find impossible to put down until I’ve played it through to completion (much to the chagrin of those vying for my time). In previous years, that title has gone to venerable classics like Ridiculous Fishing, Monument Valley, The Room, or Year Walk. Lara Croft Go executes on the perfect combination of well-defined and easy to learn mechanics, clever (but contained) puzzle design, fantastic art direction, and a very rewarding gameplay loop.

This game is gorgeously designed, it animates fluidly and beautifully, the puzzles are challenging without being obtuse or unintuitive, and mechanics are cleverly introduced one at a time, each getting its own series of puzzles to expand on the potential implementations. Most importantly, it has a definitive ending, which is a rarity in the world of mobile games, and something that is paramount to a satisfying experience on the platform.

Axiom Verge

Honors: Favorite Modern Action Exploration Game, Favorite Original Score of 2015

Axiom Verge is a game that strikes a very rich, resounding chord with me. It nails the essentials of the classic Action-Exploration formula while utilizing the knowledge of contemporary game design to modernize the mechanics for today’s audience. It also leans hard into your nostalgia with its markedly 16-bit-ish art style and crunchy synth tunes, while cranking up the fidelity of the audiovisual experience by layering additional effects and flourish not possible in the time of its forebears. The result is a game that represents your memories of classics like Super Metroid and Castlevania rather than the actual products, and frankly Axiom Verge is that much better for it.

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood

Honors: Favorite Non-Skating Skating Game of 2015

There is a part of me that deeply wants to like skateboarding games. I see so much potential for skateboarding games to be great, and I have tried many of them, but few have ever really scratched the itch for me. I’ve more often found my bliss in “snowboarding” games like SSX, which act more as caricatures of the sport they represent. I’ve never really found my SSX-equivalent for skateboarding, but OlliOlli hits on some very similar concepts that light up my brain’s pleasure centers. Skateboarding is a hard thing to capture well in a fully 3D environment, so dropping down to 2D allows the player to focus strictly on the tasks of building momentum and pulling off tricks. The positional nuances are far less, and thus the opportunity for success (and enjoyment) is much higher.

Most importantly, the game still allows you to get very complex with stringing tricks together, so that if you want to really let loose with a crazy string of tricks, you can. It does a great job of scaling from novice to advanced levels of play, and the barriers to entry are far lower than with traditional skating games.


Honors: Favorite Cape Twirling Simulator

I liked Arrowhead’s Magicka in principle, but I always found the spell combinations difficult to keep straight in my head, due simply to the sheer number of possibilities. This is probably the same reason I was never much good at fighting games. Helldivers, on the other hand, switches the formula up a bit so that you’re still fighting alongside your buddies, but your primary means of attack lies in your firearms, and button combos are relegated to special abilities which are very conveniently displayed for you on-screen.

The shooting and movement both feel very good, the mission scenarios are fun and somewhat varied, the environments and enemies are well designed, the game’s sense of humor is cheeky but charming, and the variety in your arsenal is great fun to play with. Let’s also not overlook all of the excellent options for customizing your character with a wide variety of armor and gloriously fluid capes. CAPES! I never knew I wanted a game that would let me twirl my cape at will until I had it in my hands! This game even incentivizes you to twirl your cape by dropping a trophy on you for it! WHAT ELSE COULD YOU POSSIBLY NEED!?

Dying Light

Honors: Favorite Zombie Game of 2015, Favorite Parkour/Traversal Mechanics Ever, Favorite Co-Op Experience of 2015

Dying Light, to my eyes, is the game that Techland probably wanted to make the first time around. With stunning visuals, fluid parkour controls, a solid combat system, and smartly designed skill trees, this game is a flat out gem. It features an extremely well-realized world that’s a blast to traverse with the parkour system, and it only becomes more fun to move through as your abilities become more varied through skill tree unlocks. I daresay I found myself enjoying moving through the world more than I have in any Assassin’s Creed game.

Similarly, the combat becomes more and more rewarding as you get deeper into the game, with creative skills that allow you to punish the undead hordes in incredibly satisfying ways. By two thirds of my way through the game, I had unlocked a sequence of abilities that allowed me to jump over one zombie, vault off of said zombie’s head, launch myself through the air and deliver a brutal drop kick to take another zombie’s head clean off. This is one of the most satisfying and raucously hilarious things I have ever done in a video game.

The cooperative play is also brilliant, and in my opinion is the best way to experience the game. It’s impossible for me to reflect on my time with Dying Light without a gigantic smile on my face, and that’s saying something special. Techland knocked this game right out of the park, and I’m excited to see what the team’s next project is.


Honors: Favorite Brutally Difficult Game of 2015, Second Favorite Game Featuring Witches of 2015

Bloodborne excels in many ways; the art direction overall executes wonderfully on the Gothic Horror setting, the sound design is rich, with aural feedback that is every bit as squishy and gory as the effects on screen. Enemies are wide in variety and both terrifying and fascinating to behold. Every weapon is interesting (even if not all of them are useful), and there are some very cool concepts to be found throughout.

Where it stumbles, interestingly, is with its difficulty curve. I know, soulslikes are hard games. I’m saying this as a veteran of the series: Bloodborne is by far the most player-hostile game of its type yet. Previous games of its ilk did a good job of ramping difficulty up in kind with your progress as a player, so that they remained challenging but never became insurmountable. Bloodborne on the other hand (in my experience) does a good job of this in its first half, but scales rapidly upward even as you become more powerful so that the journey feels more grueling as you get closer to your goal.

Perhaps this is by design, but that sort of thing wears on the player in a way that eventually sucks the fun right out. Let’s be clear, though; I still very much enjoyed my time with Bloodborne. The co-op is better than it’s ever been in a souls game, I spent much more time having fun than being frustrated, and it was very much the breath of fresh air I wanted from the series at the time.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Honors: Favorite Re-release of 2015, Favorite Soulslike of 2015

I tried to play Dark Souls II when it was first released. It should have been everything I wanted, but having just finished a marathon play through of Dark Souls, I had Souls fatigue. I needed a break.

Scholar of the First Sin is outright gorgeous, and after spending a lot of time with Bloodborne, this game helped me remember exactly what it is I love about the series. Dark Souls II is (almost) everything I loved about the original, but in a tighter, more polished package. The combat feels great, the mysterious references to lore elements of the first game give you extra drive to push forward, and overall it is a joy to play, especially with friends. The visual updates in this version take the game to new heights, and while it doesn’t quite reach the same levels as the first Dark Souls, it gets pretty damn close.

Rocket League

Honors: Favorite Multiplayer Game of 2015, Favorite (e)Sports Game of 2015, Favorite DLC of 2015

Rocket League wasn’t even on my radar until right before it came out. I suspect this was the case for a large percentage of the game’s player base at release. It was clear from the first official trailer though that this game would be an instant classic, and one that stays on my short list of go-to titles for a long time to come.

There isn’t much to say about Rocket League that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll simply say that playing Rocket League is almost the most fun I’ve had all year, and it is far and away my favorite multiplayer experience in many years. It’s had incredible post-release support (read: free DLC), and amazing paid DLC that is worth every penny. The game only continues to get better over time. Do yourself a favor: stop reading this and go queue up for a match right now.

Editor’s Note: Please keep reading, there’s more to this list. Queue up for a Rocket League match when you’re done here.

Super Mario Maker

Honors: Favorite Mario Game of 2015, Favorite Creation Game Ever, Favorite Trolling Mechanism

If you played Mario games growing up, it is an inevitability that at some point, you fantasized about creating your own levels, whether via conversation with friends on the schoolyard, or actually drafting ideas with pen and paper. As a kid (or an adult), I never would have believed that Nintendo would one day actually give us the tools to make good on this dream, much less that the tools they gave us would be so damned good.

Mario Maker is incredible. It is a literal dream factory, and the possibilities presented through the level editor go well beyond anything I could have come up with when I was younger. The tools are simple and intuitive, nearly everything you could want is available to you, and having the ability to play test your levels as you make them is amazing. It has given me such a better appreciation for the level design process, and I honestly have more fun creating levels than I do playing them, which is generally the opposite experience I’ve had with all other games of this type (I’m looking at you, Little Big Planet.)

One final note: this game was a system-seller for me. I bought a Wii U to play this game, and I could not be happier with that decision.

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Honors: Favorite RPG Of All Time, Favorite Game Featuring Witches of 2015

It was evident when playing The Witcher 2 that CD Projekt Red was onto something big, as they were making something fairly unique in the RPG space with that title. When The Witcher 3 was announced as an open world title, my gut reaction was to worry about the game’s quality as a result. Luckily, these concerns were largely unfounded.

Let me state clearly: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt has become my favorite RPG of all time, beating out the likes of SkyrimFallout 3, Knights of the Old Republic, and even Mass Effect. This is not a decision I make lightly.

The Witcher 3 has many strengths, and I suspect most of us know what they are, but for me the one major point that sets it head and shoulders above the competition is the attention paid to the side quests and ancillary characters. Literally every single thing you do in this game is painstakingly fleshed out. Every side quest has weight, every small character has a real story, and the result is that all of the extra tasks are incredibly rewarding experiences, rather than simple chores to be carried out. The entire game feels richer for this, and while I enjoyed finishing the story, I can’t wait to get back to the rest of the quests I haven’t finished, as well as the DLC.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Honors: FaVorite Game of 2015, FaVorite Snake of 2015, FaVorite Soundtrack of 2015, FaVorite Single Mechanic of 2015

If a Metal Gear Solid title isn’t totally divisive among its fans, then I would argue it isn’t doing its job. I could very quickly (and easily) write a ten-page analysis of this game and still not express everything that I feel about it. That alone sets it apart for me in a big way.

Yes, there are some things wrong with it, but there are problems with every great game, and frankly MGSV’s problems pale in comparison to its achievements.

From both stealth and combat standpoints, it is the best playing Metal Gear title, hands down. It is visually stunning and features a near-rock solid 60fps, even on consoles. Fulton extractions are my single most favorite video game mechanic this year; even after over 1,000 extractions, they’re still fun as hell. The game’s soundtrack is phenomenal, and the score is pretty great too. Each of the game’s subsystems feed into one another incredibly well.

Disjointed as the story may be in parts, the actual game itself is near perfect, and it gave me almost exactly what I wanted out of Kojima’s final Metal Gear.