Nintendo is a century-old company, but you wouldn't know it from the vibrant and self-consciously youthful experiment called Splatoon. A frustrating array of rough edges, like intentionally limited match selection and locked-in loadouts, kept Splatoon from cracking the single digits on GR+'s Game of the Year list. But its brilliant new take on staid shooter traditions and utter refusal to pander to Nintendo nostalgia will keep it in our thoughts for a long time to come.
Splatoon circumvents the nasty, headshot-hunting skirmishes of online shooters by making kill counts largely irrelevant. Your goal is almost always related to keeping the arena covered with your team's colorful ink - taking out enemies is only useful insofar as it briefly prevents them from undoing your progress. Splatoon is still staying fresh more than half a year out with community events like Splat Fests, new maps, and extra weapons. And all of that is built on top of a surprisingly substantial campaign mode, helping to make Splatoon one of the most promising new projects from Nintendo in years even if you don't play online.
9. Until Dawn
Weve all seen this movie: a bunch of "teenagers" (give or take ten years) head to a remote location for some partying and end up getting bumped off one by one. Weve all yelled at the screen, chiding the about-to-be victims for their stupid choices, smug in the certainty that wed never make such idiotic decisions. Until Dawn sets the scene with a group of friends in an isolated cabin being hunted by an unknown killer, and then gives us the chance to put up or shut up as we make all their important choices for them. Turns out its way, way harder to survive than it looks and you probably shouldnt go wandering off into the scary mine by yourself. Yeah, that last part seems obvious in retrospect.
Perfectly mimicking the cheesy dialog, contrived relationships, and far-too-old-for-the-part cast of classic slasher movies, Until Dawn is both a loving homage to those films and a well-crafted game experience. It expects you to try and outsmart its machinations and cleverly twists the script to remind you that youre not in control of this tale. Youre just another would-be victim, and youll have to make some sacrifices if you want to make it out alive. Marvelously manipulative, Until Dawn is just as fun when you make a wrong choice and get one of the kids killed as when you make the right one and save them from a grisly fate. The entire adventure is a hoot, with plenty of secrets and choose-your-own-adventure style choices that will have you rushing to replay to see how things could have gone. Still not sure what the right thing to do with the machete was.
8. Batman: Arkham Knight
For all their bone-crunching combat, empowering exploration, gratifying detective work, and copious Riddler trophy tracking, the Arkham games have always revolved around the complex relationship between Batman and the Joker. And by putting so much emphasis on the interplay between Kevin Conroy's Batman and Mark Hamill's Joker - stoic versus sadistic, unyielding versus unhinged - Batman: Arkham Knight serves as a fitting finale to Rocksteady's legendary superhero series. Those divisive Batmobile bits and a few questionable side plots can't detract from the brilliant resolution between the Dark Knight and his most dangerous, charismatic nemesis.
Arkham Knight (the game, not the mysterious new villain) is also the pinnacle of the franchise when it comes to polish: the graphics are stunningly gorgeous, Gotham's three humongous districts exemplify smart open-world architecture, and the Rogues Gallery is more diverse than ever. Whether you play Batman as a masterful, combo-building bruiser or an adept stealth predator, the flow of every fight feels immaculate. And, given enough practice with the controls, even the Batmobile segments can become a joy. Remember, kids: those are unmanned drones that Batman's obliterating with bat-missiles, and all those thugs he's slamming into at high speeds are merely unconscious.
7. Rocket League
Rocket League is not a difficult game to describe. Its just difficult to describe in support of what you usually say next: that its a brilliantly designed video game, too. Listen - its cartoonish cars playing soccer, and they can drive on the walls and smash into each other and blast off like rockets and when the big-huge ball rolls into the goal it explodes into an ecstatic puff of happy-paint. So stupid. So good. So smart. So much flipping fun.
Frankly, it feels inappropriate to rest your chin on your fist and then analyze the design heart of Rocket League, like a statue of The Thinker left at a kids rainbow-splattered paintball party. In the moments that make Rocket League - like when the ball is prodded into the goal by a skillfully aimed, squealing tire in the final second of the match - you forget all about the clever design. You dont spare a thought to the immediacy of the controls, the speed of back-and-forth jostling between teams or the subtle techniques that can turn a clumsy rocket-somersault into the perfect game-winning punt. If a game is so good you forget to think about how good it is, thats... well, pretty good, for a stupid car-soccer game.
6. Super Mario Maker
Super Mario Maker is the ultimate 2D Mario game, but you don't even have to master a classic-style 2D platforming adventure to enjoy it. It's a level construction game, giving players the ability to create Mario levels of their own, post them online, and challenge others to overcome some of the most intricate and intriguing Mario experiences they've ever seen.
But it isn't just that you can torture your fellow gamers with near impossible jumps, towering stacks of Goombas, or treacherous spike pits; as you build your own levels, you begin to appreciate the work that has gone into the series' 2D games. Super Mario Maker brings out the game developer in everyone who plays it, and thanks to the simple ways Nintendo introduces Super Mario Maker's level-building tools, just about anyone can learn to create their own Mario masterpiece.
5. Rise of the Tomb Raider
'New' Lara Croft returns after her baptism of blood and fire in the Tomb Raider reboot in 2012, and she's at the top of her game. Shooting, exploration, puzzles, stealth each facet of the game is polished to a sheen, just like the visuals. The beauty of this new-gen world is breathtaking but, appropriately for something so naturalistic, also fraught with danger. The sense of isolation that's been missing from the series for so long is finally back, especially if you tackle the game on its hardest difficulty, Survivor, which seriously lives up to its name.
The tomb interiors are some of the best-realised environments in any medium, and they're filled with canny puzzles and enjoyable treasure hunts. The story and sequencing are both expertly-paced, so you're never forced to linger on any one gameplay type for too long for its duration. Few games manage this level of quality for a 20-minute segment. Rise of the Tomb Raider does it for around 50 straight hours.
4. Fallout 4
Obviously Fallout 4 was going to make an impact 2015. Games with that much hype behind them do not go quietly into that unplayed pile. And the fact that its not number one probably reflects just how dauntingly huge it is. Theres so much to process, with many a gamer clocking up tens of hours and still feeling like theyve only just got started. Its a rich and dense world that will be still be offering up plenty of adventures in the new year and likely be the GOTY for many then as well.
Its an experience that takes the Bethesda RPG template of large, open narratives and exploration, and fills it with more content, colour and detail than any previous installments. Its a dangerous time sink. Had enough of adventuring? Build a settlement or a perfect house. Craft some guns, tinker with your armour, or head out to a location someone mentioned and see what you can find. Its that flexibility and freedom that means its absorbed some peoples lives completely and rightly so.
While hundreds of other games do the 'creepy graveyard' and 'gothic architecture' thing, Bloodborne makes them all feel childish. Its world of cold stone and blood on dark fabric is the stuff of nightmares but never purely for effect. For the deeper you peer into the depths of its lore, the more you unearth. Everything has meaning. Everything has a reason.
That this world of detail hidden in plain sight can effectively be ignored and just enjoyed as window dressing for one of the most beautifully-weighted challenges gaming has ever offered is proof yet again of FromSoftware and Miyazaki's genius. There are entire areas you may never discover without a guide. Ways to summon a boss to fight alongside you before he 'transforms'... and a way to distract him with a child's music box when he does. The more you play, the more it gives, and you realise it's in a class of its own. Bloodborne is the real deal.
2. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3's success and popularity is a feat made all the more impressive by the series' relative obscurity up to this sequel. This is a series that went from a PC-only game utilizing BioWare's Aurora engine (and frankly, didn't look or play very well even in its prime) to a multi-platform powerhouse that plays as good as it looks - and it looks really damn good.
The level of passion and care developer CD Projekt RED put into making the game is self-evident; combat is smooth and satisfying, Geralt is more fleshed-out (and flesh-baring) than ever before, the plot eschews video game morality and presents something wholly more ambiguous, and the devs' commitment to fans (whether it's free DLC, patches that make managing inventory easier, or humorous additions like an in-game taxman sent to collect money from exploit users) is commendable. From start to finish, you feel like The Witcher 3 is something made by people who made truly cared about it, and who wanted you to have fun with it. That's the spirit of gaming right there, and CD Projekt RED encapsulated it perfectly.
1. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain represents the culmination of everything series creator Hideo Kojima has worked on in his almost 30-year-long career, but it's so much more than just a bigger or better stealth game than its predecessors. It's the evolution of the free-form chaos promised by games like Far Cry 2, where its open world isn't simply a means to provide an empty checklist of things to do, but rather an invitation to use its surroundings to solve a never-ending set of constantly evolving situational challenges. Do you take the high road or the gulch below as you slink into the enemy's desert fortress? Do you use the approaching sandstorm to retreat or as an opportunity to continue your assault? Do you head straight for your objective, or do you break left because you spotted a soldier with an S-Rank in R&D and you just have to have him on your team, damn the consequences? These moments feel like they've been placed by a guiding, directorial hand yet feel completely emergent and organic, a paradox that can only happen in a series like Metal Gear.
There are also the weird, distinctly Metal Gear moments that make it so much more than a collection of clever, intertwining systems. There's the part where you can infiltrate a heavily-fortified base while blasting Hall & Oates from your Sony Walkman. Or the part where you can tranquilize sheep, goats, or zebras, attach balloons to them, and send them back to your burgeoning zoo back on Mother Base. Or the series of cassette tapes that let you listen to a man essentially invent the McDonald's hamburger. Then there's the story; an infuriating, brilliant, and completely Metal Gear send-off that simultaneously embraces three decades of built-up lore and lovingly gives it the middle finger. While other games come and go, The Phantom Pain's Lynchian narrative will stick with you like a waking dream long after its final credit sequence plays out - a fitting end to the most enigmatic series in video game history.