I don’t actually know what games you played in 2015, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you didn’t play more than two or three of these 12 games. Five, tops. I’ve only played 11 of them, and some of those for only an hour or so. So far, I’ve actually reviewed just one of them. And I’m the guy writing the list!
Now I’m sure you have your reasons: The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid 5, Fallout 4. But as those reasons wind down, as your backlog threatens to shrink, as you wait for the release of highly anticipated games like XCOM 2, No Man’s Sky, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, consider pulling some of these gems out from under the avalanche of 2015 releases.
After the jump, S&R
What if all the character classes in an action RPG were vampires? Vampires, I tell you! Yeah, sure, this is one of those janky Unreal engine doodz-I-totally-made-this games with its creators’ enthusiasm burbling up from every misaligned seam. Take it for what it is and you’ll find style, raw energy, and the open-ended allure any action RPG needs.
Bedlam’s Skyshine Skyshine’s Bedlam
The simplest tactical combat this year is also among the best. For its snappy and elegant design, influenced more by chess pieces than X-com characters, this belongs alongside Massive Chalice, Invisible Inc, and Renowned Explorers. It’s also one of the worst actual game names of the year. When I can even remember its name, I’m not sure whether it’s Bedlam’s Skyshine, or Skyshine’s Bedlam, or even the significance of either of those words.
Procedurally generated 2D steampunk worlds built for gadget-based rogue-like heisting launched from a zeppelin lair. Re-read every one of those words. Weigh them carefully. They’re each equally important to what The Swindle accomplishes. I might be over 2D platformers, but for The Swindle, I’ll gladly make an exception.
Warhammer 40,000: Regicide
Of the approximately 358 Warhammer titles recently released, this unlikely turn-based tactical game is one worth highlighting. You can play it like boring ol’ chess with Warhammer pieces. Space Marine Librarian takes Ork Warboy on a5, check. But Battle Chess this ain’t. You get so much more than gory Warhammer animations. You can also play Regicide as a nifty space marines vs. space orks turn-based game with unique unit abilities, global spell powers, and RPG upgrades, all of which just happen to play on a chessboard grid.
Remember Tempest, that game where you spin around the lip of a well, shooting down into it? Imagine Tempest as the basis for a hacking game in which you infiltrate increasingly difficult networks to make off with loot and secrets. Assuming you’ve got the spare memory to carry them in your rig (memory goes fast once you install helpful hacking subroutines and whatnot). Networm is a pared down 80s cyberspace simulator that would make William Gibson proud. Warning: you have to listen to throbbing Euro trance music without a volume control as you hack. Hope you like raves!
Conquest of Elysium 4
Is it ironic that some of the best worldbuilding in videogaming is in one of the most graphically modest packages? Only if you think videogames are necessarily a visual medium. The two guys at Illwinter know how to use a strategy game to channel their imaginations into your own imagination, where even the graphics of Fallout 4 don’t stand a chance.
Beyond Sol didn’t get the memo that action RPGs aren’t strategy games and strategy games aren’t action RPGs. What looks like just another top-down space fly/fight/trade game is actually a 4X with a unique interface. Instead of just clicking things and moving them around with your mouse, fly your spaceship(s) around inside the 4X, doing missions based on whatever you need to get done. And instead of climbing yet another tech tree, piece together a sprawling city.
Human Resource Machine
My idea of hell is being locked in a room with nothing to play but The Talos Principle. Because I hate puzzle games. Hate hate hate them. And there are no puzzles worse than programming puzzles. I hate hate hate them most of all. I don’t hate Human Resource Machine, a programming puzzle game that ramps up gently for dummies and haters like me. From the creators of the hauntingly spare Little Inferno.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
The usual batshit nonsense campaign, along with yet another never-ending action RPG mode. This stuff may be played out to a lot of folks, but it’s as effective as ever for some of us. Unfortunately, Capcom dribbling the release out over several months didn’t do it any favors.
Assassin’s Creed: Victory
Franchise fatigue started suffocating good Assassin’s Creeds a couple of years ago. If the birth of America, sailing ships, and teeming Parisian crowds can’t revive our interest, what chance does the Industrial Revolution stand? By the way, it’s worth noting that even I am guilty of not playing Assassin’s Creed: Victory, so I can’t confirm whether that screenshot is from a cutscene or actual gameplay. Game reviewer, review thyself!
In a year with Age of Decadence, Fran Bow, Arkham Knight, and a PC release of 80 Days, it’s quite an accomplishment — but no surprise — that the best and most memorable wordsmithing is lurking in the dark caverns of Sunless Sea. Interestingly enough, also the best music.
The most disappointing games of 2015
The most surprising games of 2015
The most overrated games of 2015
The top ten games of 2015
The top ten games of 2015
The Quarterly Awards for Various Other Stuff