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2015, what a year. It’s been a year where I spent many an hour retreating old games with shiny new visuals, but also one where I experienced gameplay and graphical fidelity unlike anything I’d seen in the thirty-five years that I’ve been playing video games. Here are some of the highlights of my gaming year.

PlayStation 4 exclusive The Order: 1886 broke new ground in interactive storytelling. A visual feast depicting characters and Victorian London with almost photo-real clarity, sadly it didn’t get the acclaim I thought it deserved.

Press coverage for The Order, instead of lauding the interesting story and beautiful visuals, decided to slaughter the game, deriding it for is brevity, excessive quick time events and lengthy cut-scenes. I think they missed the point, myself, but it meant that the game was practically stillborn. Such a shame.

The Order 1886

Despite my misgivings based on playing a preview build, Techland’s Dying Light managed to reinvent the open-world zombie game that the developer practically invented with their Dead Island series. Intelligent, interesting and above all pretty frightening, Dying Light immediately took my top spot when it comes to surviving a virtual zombie apocalypse.

EA’s Battlefield Hardline didn’t quite do it for me. Whilst I salute Visceral Studios for trying something different with DICE’s Battlefield series, Hardline was perhaps too much of a departure. In swapping huge battlegrounds for urban cops and robbers, the game lacked the scale and excitement of it’s military-themed predecessors. By all accounts, still a good game, but not a good Battlefield game.

Battlefield Hardline

Cities: Skylines on PC was a pleasant surprise. The city building game manages to take everything that was wrong with SimCity (a game that I personally still enjoyed) and create a nigh-on perfect example of the sometimes embittered genre.

Easy to get to grips with, beautiful to look at and relatively bug-free, Cities: Skylines has become my go-to city building game. With the introduction of a day/night cycle later in the year, the game became even more beautiful to look at.

Ori and the Blind Forest provided a charming break from the AAA action-fests that dominated 2015. Taking more than a little inspiration from the visual style of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli animated movies, Ori and the Blind Forest follows the trials of the orphaned guardian spirit, Ori.

It sends players on a magical journey and is full of emotion. At its heart, though, Ori and the Blind Forest is no more than an old-school platformer which with repeated plays felt more and more derivative. A great game if you are looking for something short and sweet.

Ori and the Blind Forest

As a gamer that likes a bit of story with my action, 2K’s multiplayer squad shooter, Evolve didn’t really do it for me. It’s nice idea, being a member of a group of mercenaries charged with hunting and killing a gigantic player-controlled monster, but it lacked that Left 4 Dead feeling of comradery.

I’ve returned to the game many times over the year and enjoyed my time with it, but there are plenty of other games that I’d sooner be playing. To all intents and purposes, Evolve is still a great game, but not necessarily my sort of game.

The classic fighting franchise, Mortal Kombat made it’s new-gen debut in 2015 with Mortal Kombat X. With new-gen visuals, the series gruesome finishing mores were too much for Australian censors which slapped it with an R rating.

With a great story featuring character both old and new, beautiful graphics and some fantastic gameplay, Mortal Kombat X is the best fighting game I’ve played in a long time.

Mortal Kombat X

In real life I’d say that two wheels are better than four when it comes to having fun on the road. I’ve never really found a game that has managed to capture the excitement of motorcycling. Milestone S.r.l.’s Ride comes close.

Building on their successful Moto GP franchise, the Italian developers have, with Ride, created a game that celebrates the motorcyclist, their machine and racing on the open road.

Whilst it was released in 2014, Dragon Age: Inquisition dominated my playing schedule throughout 2015 due to the great DLC release during the year that bought the amazing story to its conclusion. The game received seven expansions during 2015, from the beautiful and varied terrain in the Jaws of Hakken to the conclusion of Trespasser. The Black Emporium gave players opportunity to change their character’s face (something that my unfortunate-looking Inquisitor was in dire need of).

Project CARS

The crowd funded / developed Project CARS really upped the ante when it comes to racing games. It the tradition of Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport and GRID AutoSport, Project CARS is a driving simulator rather than an arcade racer.

Project CARS copped a lot of flak for being virtually unplayable on a gamepad. With a decent steering wheel and shifter, however, the game is in a league of its own. Add a couple more monitors for a panoramic view of the track and it’s just like being there, sitting in a race car.

May 2015 finally saw the release of one of the year’s most anticipated games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This is the game that I still return to when I game in my own time. CD Projekt RED polished up the gameplay that they had been developing over the last two games and dropped players in a gorgeous open-world.

The vast world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt offers player hours and hours of adventure, which the developers augmented with 12 free DLC packs and an expansion called Hearts of Stone.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Warner’s Batman: Arkham Knight managed to polarise the fans. Not a game that I had to review, but one that I purchased myself, on PC. Whilst the console version was, for the most part, celebrated, the PC version was not. PC gamers reported performance issues and missing effects indicated a badly-ported console to PC game.

Running Batman: Arkham Knight on a PC-rig bordering on the un-natural, my 32 gigs and 2xSLI GTX980 machine never really had any problems running the game, much to the ire of my peers. Still the PC version was a massive fail for both Warner Interactive and nVIDIA, whose Gameworks code seems to be a root cause of many of the problems. To this day, Batman: Arkham Knight still doesn’t run as intended on PC.

Batman Arkham Knight

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour kicked of EA Sports’ annual barrage of sports sims. The franchises two-year break allowed the developers to rebuild the game using Battlefield’s Frostbite engine and even including the Battlefield 4-themed Paracel Islands course.

I found the fantasy courses in Rory McIlroy PGA Tour more interesting than the real-life course which is probably because I don’t follow the game on TV. Still, PGA Tour is a good game and a was a great start to the 2015 EA Sports season.

I feel that I’d played every game that’ll ever be made. Most games wear their inspiration on their sleeve to such an extent that they seem like no more than derivative rehashes. Original gaming experiences are few and far between. Sony’s Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture is one of the most original games that I’ve played in a long time.

Everybodys Gone to Rapture

Derided as being no more than a walking simulator by those that fail to be engaged by the game’s subtle storytelling, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture is an apocalyptic game with a difference. Set in a deserted English village, the game reveals the tragic events that befall on the people at the end of the world. It’s a very British horror story in the vein of Nigel Kneale’sQuatermass and one that keeps you thinking about it long after you’ve switched it off.

The PlayStation 4 exclusive Until Dawn was a bit of a surprise. Perfectly capturing the teen slasher movie look and feel, the game put the lives of a group of friends trapped in a mountain lodge in the hands of the player. Everyone that I spoke to about the game had a different experience with it. Not the longest game out there, but certainly nigh-on perfectly formed.

Until Dawn

2015 saw the release of a game that seemed to have taken forever to arrive. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain arrived in a storm of controversy that, for a change, had nothing to do with the game’s female lead wearing next to nothing. The launch was overshadowed by the seemingly very public, and rather unprofessional, spat between the game’s publishers, Konami, and the Metal Gear series’ creator, Hideo Kojima.

Regardless of the politics surrounding the game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a superb effort, with the open-world gameplay taking the series’ tried and tested mechanics to a new level.

As accomplished as it is, I thought that Microsoft’s Forza Motosport 6 failed to live up to the excitement of 2014’s Forza Horizons 2.

Still a beautiful game, possibly the best-looking racing game ever, Forza 6 felt held back by the real-life locations that we’ve seen countless times before. The end result is a very accomplished game, but one that still feels a bit sterile.

Forza 6

Destiny: The Taken King proved to be more than just an expansion for Activision’s acclaimed shooter. Destiny’s second year of adventure kicked off by wiping Game of Thrones actor, Peter Dinklage’s much-maligned voice-over work from the game and replacing it with that of Uncharted’s Nolan North.

The inclusion of a revised leveling system, more akin to traditional role-playing games in Destiny: The Taken King as well as new missions, locations and a sinister new foe makes the game feel fresh again.

In a seemingly desperate move to shake their alleged misogynistic reputation, EA’s FIFA 16 includes, for the very first time, a selection of Women’s international teams. I found it to be a rather welcome move, making the 2016 entry more than just a roster update with a few token gameplay changes.

FIFA 16

EA Sports’FIFA 16 is also the best looking entry in the series, the developers really starting to embrace the new-gen console’s graphics abilities.

Rock Band 4 re-introduced a new-generation of gamers to the rhythm music game. As I said in my review, Rock Band 4 was likely borne out of necessity over anything else as the die-hard Rock Band fans replaced their PS3s and Xbox 360s with new-gen consoles.

Rock Band 4 really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, apart from freestyle solos, which allow you to basically go mad with your instrument and still make a sound that seems like real music. Despite the lack of innovation for this fourth outing, Rock Band 4 is still an excellent game. The fact that you can still use your old instruments and previously purchased music make the game an essential purchase for fans.

Rockband 4

I wasn’t particularly happy when I found out that Rise of the Tomb Raider was being release, initially anyway, as an Xbox exclusive. I’d been playing the Tomb Raider reboot on PC, with all its exquisite graphics cranked up to the max. I just could help but think that the Xbox One version’s visuals could be anything other than a disappointment.

Of course, I was wrong. The Rise of the Tomb Raider development team had been working closely with the guys at Microsoft to ensure that the latest adventure of Lara Croft looked nothing short of fabulous on the Xbox One. Whilst lacking a bit in the story department, the inclusion of more tombs to raider was welcome, even if the puzzles are still a lot easier that they were back in the day.

Likely in response to Harmonix and their rebooting of the Rock Band franchise, Activision countered with their Guitar Hero Live. Whereas Rock Band was essentially the same as before, it was all change for Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero Live

With an almost retro feel, Guitar Hero Live uses real-life video from the point of view of the guitar player to put you right into the performance. The Guitar Hero TV experience allows players to stream official music videos and play them on the redesigned Guitar Hero guitar.

Fans of post-apocalyptic role-playing games got everything they could wish for with the release of Fallout 4. Not only does the game offer players a vast world to explore and a superb story, but you can also spend literally hours building things.

In previous games I’ve often wondered why the developers littler the world with useless objects. In Fallout 4 I could break items down to material and create all sorts of things from essential water purification systems to rather extravagant outdoor lighting.

Fallout 4

In the build-up for the release of the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, the release of EA Games’ Star Wars Battlefront was perfectly timed. The free DLC, The Battle of Jakku, offered players their first peek at a key new location from the film.

With visuals plucked straight from the movies, Star Wars Battlefront, pressed all the right buttons for me and many of us that had been waiting nearly forty years to step into the movies. Many, however, were a bit upset with the lack of content included in the retail package and the price tag that EA put on the game’s season pass.

When it comes to over-the-top action, the Just Cause series turns it up to eleven. With Just Cause 3 Avalanche Studios took what was best about the other games- blowing shit up, and basically made the game all about that. The result is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but offers players a crazy amount of fun.

Just Cause 3

You can spend hours in Just Cause 3 just designing mayhem. Be it tying stuff together and watching what happens or putting rocket mines on cows’ butts and having them fly about before exploding in a red mist. Naughty, but nice.

I’m still putting the finishing touches together for my Call of Duty: Black Ops III review. A far cry from last year’s Advance Warfare, Black Ops III has, in my mind, finally pushed the series too far away from its original premise and turned Call of Duty into a sci-fi shooter.

With an enjoyable if incomprehensible single-player campaign and a multiplayer experience that feels borrowed from Titanfall (but without the big robots), Call of Duty: Black Ops III really jumps the shark, giving us a fun, if totally brain-dead entry in to the series.

Black Ops III

After last year’s critically panned game, I was surprised to find that the Victorian London-based Assassin’s Creed Syndicate shared most of its gameplay with the very similarly styled Assassin’s Creed Unity. It was interesting to find that whilst one game was derided regarding awkward controls, this new, much-lauded entry seemed to share most of the same mechanics.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate did, however, work right out of the box on both console and PC. Personally I found the brother / sister team of Jacob and Evie Frye not as interesting as previous protagonists (notably Edward Kenway, who they will forever have trouble following) and the setting, Victorian London a bit too familiar and not as exotic as, say, the pirate-ridden Caribbean.

Assassins Creed Syndicate

Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege, for me, suffers in a similar way that many found with Star Wars Battlefront. In leaving out the traditional single-player experience, the game just did sit well with me. Here was a full-priced game to all intents and purposes missing half of its content.

Don’t get me wrong, the multiplayer experience in Rainbow Six: Siege is very well honed, but with only a handful of maps, I’d hardly have called it complete. Add the real need for online co-operation into the mix and you’ve got a game that can really only be played within your circle of friends.

It was the year of the remaster and resurrecting games that were originally released in previous years I’ve deliberately left them out of the list above. I took a look at Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, DMC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition, Borderlands: The Handsome Jack Collection, Journey, God of War III Remastered, Rare Replay and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. With the exception of Journey and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, none of the others really did it for me. Rare Replay was an interesting trip down memory lane, but there was no way I was playing a thirty-five-year-old game for hours. Borderlands: The Handsome Jack Collection was good, but these where game that were still fresh in my mind and, quite frankly, looked just as good on the last-gen consoles.

Uncharted Collection

2015 has been an epic gaming year, with the release of many games that we had been waiting quite some time for. There was very little to be disappointed with, either, with most games living up to the hype, the notable exceptions being Star Wars Battlefront (which could never have lived up to that sort of hype) and the disappointing PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight.

I’m going to close this feature with a list of my top games for 2015:

Best StoryEveryone’s Gone to the Rapture

Best Graphics – Star Wars Battlefront

Best Shooter/Combat GameMetal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Best RPGThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Best Sports GameFIFA 16

Best Music GameGuitar Hero Live

Best Racing GameProject CARS

Best Action GameJust Cause 3

Best Sci-Fi GameFallout 4

Best DLC – Dragon Age Inquisition: The Jaws of Hakkon

Best RemasterUncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection

Game of the Year – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Here’s to a great 2016!

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Darren Price

Darren Price

Senior Editor | Feature Writer & Contributor - NZ & AUS at STG
Darren has been playing video games for over thirty-five years and writing about them for the last nine. He has written for New Zealand’s Game Console, both the short-lived print magazine and in the pages of NetGuide. These days he writes for anyone that asks nicely, as well as his own blog www.vicbstard.com.
Darren Price

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