The Best Video Games of 2015 … and Some We Hated (so far)

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With blockbusters ruling the box office and the kids away at camp – not to mention the all-encompassing chaos of E3 – the video game industry slows down over the summer. Thank goodness. 2015 has already seen a number of high-profile releases, and it’s nice to have some time to catch up before the fall rush begins.

That’s especially true this year. A number of excellent titles have come out over the past six months, and while fans may not have tried Fallout 4, Halo 5: Guardians, or Star Wars Battlefront yet, there’s already a number of Game of the Year contenders out there. At this rate, 2015’s competition is going to be brutal. Just be careful: games aren’t created equal, and even in a strong year like this one, a few duds are bound to sneak through.

The Best:

 Batman: Arkham Knight

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Open-World
Release Date: June 23, 2015

Rocksteady’s latest and last Arkham game isn’t the triumphant finale that gamers were promised; quite simply, the game is too big, the tone is relentlessly grim – even for Batman – and the much ballyhooed Batmobile kind of sucks.

But when it works, it’s marvelous. Arkham Knight pushes the aging Unreal 3 engine to its limits to great effect. Gotham City is meticulously rendered down to the smallest detail; you can even see the seams on the Dark Knight’s iconic cowl. The voice work is stellar, particularly Michael Banks’ gruff, heartfelt Commissioner Gordon, who gives Arkham Knight a heart that the other Arkham titles lack. The free-form brawling feels better than ever, and the stealth-based Predator levels never get old. The pieces don’t always fit together, but when everything clicks, Arkham Knight delivers the single-best superhero experience in video game history.

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Bloodborne

Platforms: PS4
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: RPG
Release Date: March 24, 2015

Bloodborne’s gothic metropolis, Yharnam, isn’t just a great setting; it’s also a perfect metaphor for the game itself. Yharnam’s clever interconnected design speaks to the elegance of Bloodborne’s overall mechanics, which combine disparate systems into one cohesive hole. Like Yharnam, Bloodborne is a brutal, unforgiving experience, punctuated by moments of grotesque beauty. And like Yharnam, Bloodborne is chock full of death.

Yes, Bloodborne is hard. While playing, you will die often. Sometimes, it feels unfair, although it never really is. Yet, much like Yharnam’s wide open city squares and airy overlooks, Bloodborne is never oppressive. There’s nothing masochistic here; difficulty is a means to an end, not the ultimate point. At its core, Bloodborne isn’t about failure, it’s about triumph – and director Hidetaka Miyazaki knows that winning is more satisfying when there are real challenges to overcome.
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Mortal Kombat X

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: April 14, 2015

Mortal Kombat X combines fluid one-on-one combat with cinematic martial arts, faux-Asian mysticism, and lots and lots of blood. This is not a game for the faint of heart: thanks to the power of the PS4 and Xbox One’s graphics processors – not to mention some impressively gross foley work – the series’ fatalities have never been more graphic, or more disgusting.

However, unlike early entries in the franchise, Mortal Kombat X never takes itself too seriously. The first Mortal Kombat games used live-action footage to make characters look as real as possible, making the gore much more shocking. Mortal Kombat X, on the other hand, embraces its excesses. The game feels like a 1970s grindhouse flick brought to life: the plot makes no sense, the special moves are ridiculous, and the voice acting is campy in the best way. While the PC port is terrible and online combat is a mixed bag, Mortal Kombat X gives the franchise something it’s needed for a long, long time: a palpable sense of fun.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Genre: RPG
Release Date: May 19, 2015

When The Witcher 3 first came out, some players complained that the graphics didn’t look as good as the game’s initial E3 trailers. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Even with a lower resolution and reduced frame rates, The Witcher 3’s Northern Kingdoms are absolutely stunning. CD Projekt has created one of the few open worlds that’s worth exploring for the views alone.

Even better, that world is filled with things to do. While last year’s Dragon Age: Inquisition struggled to fill its sprawling fantasy kingdom with interesting content, almost every quest in The Witcher 3 tells a compelling story. The Bloody Baron quest line, a dark and moving tale about domestic abuse, alcoholism, and a failed marriage, is worth the price of admission on its own.

The Witcher 3 is chock full of stories like that; Geralt, the titular Witcher, lives in a world where there are no easy answers, and every choice that players make has deep – and often troubling – moral implications. Come for the breathtaking views, but stick around for the exciting, mature storytelling. The Witcher 3 will make it worth your while.

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Worth Your Time:

 Battlefield Hardline

Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: FPS
Release Date: March 17, 2015

At launch, Battlefield 4 wasn’t just buggy, it was broken – the game was so bad that two separate groups of players sued Electronic Arts for false advertising. As such, Electronic Arts needed Battlefield Hardline to succeed. The future of the Battlefield franchise depended on it.

Did it work? Kind of. Critics liked Hardline, and the game sold well. Transforming Battlefield’s military conflicts into a high-tech game of cops n’ robbers, with an aesthetic that evokes slick Hollywood crime dramas like Training Day and Heat, certainly breathes some new life into the aging series. Still, for some reason, Hardline hasn’t really caught on. As far as team-based multiplayer shooters go, Star Wars Battlefront is the topic of the day, and as time passes, Battlefield Hardline feels like more and more of an afterthought.

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Dying Light

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Survival-Horror
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Dying Light certainly doesn’t look good. For starters, it’s another zombie game – that’s the last thing that gamers need. There’s something primitive about its graphics, and character models repeat a little too often. The electronic soundtrack is hit or miss. Non-player characters are kind of a mess, with poor artificial intelligence, limited facial animations, and broken lip-syncing. Prerelease demos failed to impress, and the game suffered from a few delays.

Surprise! As it turns out, Dying Light is pretty fun. The parkour system takes some getting used to, but once that’s settled, Dying Light offers players a fast, loose sense of freedom that’s just not found in other open world games. Even better, Techland recently released a full set of modding tools, which should result in enough content to keep PC gamers busy for months – if not years – to come.

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Evolve

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Publisher: 2K
Genre: FPS
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Evolve rocked game conventions in 2014, dazzling critics and fans with its innovative, asynchronous multiplayer. Instead of putting everyone on equal footing, Evolve casts one player as a monster, and four others as monster hunters. The monster needs to evade capture as long as possible, leveling up until he or she is an unstoppable beast. Meanwhile, the hunters try to track and kill the monster as quickly as possible; what ensues is a game of deadly hide-and-seek that’s tense, exciting, and fun.

There’s just one problem: nobody’s playing it. In February, Evolve‘s PC edition had over 27,000 players online simultaneously. Partners were easy to find. That hasn’t lasted, and these days, fans are lucky if more than 600 people are logged into Evolve at any given time. As a multiplayer game, Evolve needs a dedicated community to keep going. It doesn’t have one. Sadly, at this rate, Evolve is going to be extinct by the end of the year.

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Just No:

 Code Name S.T.E.A.M.

Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: March 13, 2015

On paper, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. looks great: a turn-based strategy title from Advance Wars and Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems, with comic book–inspired graphics, a zany premise – Abraham Lincoln leads a secret organization dedicated to fighting aliens with steampunk weapons – and a cast headlined by nerdlebrities like Wil Wheaton, Adam Baldwin, and James Urbaniak. It sounds like a slam dunk.

It’s not. The voice acting is terrible, and even worse, the game itself is spectacularly boring. It all comes down to Code Name S.T.E.A.M.‘s broken camera, which makes it hard to plan moves and often hides the action. As a strategy game, enemies’ turns unfold in real time; as a result, players will spend roughly half their playtime staring at blank walls as enemies move around off-screen. If you like watching loading screens, give S.T.E.A.M. a try. Everyone else should give this one a wide berth.

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The Order: 1886

Platforms: PS4
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Third-person shooter
Release Date: February 20, 2015

Ready at Dawn promised PlayStation owners a cinematic experience, and they certainly delivered. The Order: 1886 is one of the prettiest video games ever made. Characters look and (thanks to extensive motion capture work) move exactly like real people. Environments are full of details. The cutscenes are dynamic and exciting, with action scenes that rival most Hollywood blockbusters.

However, as good looking as the game is, you’ll barely get to play it. Ready at Dawn promised players fully interactive cutscenes, but that just means a never-ending stream of quick-time events. The gameplay sections are few and far between, and the entire game doesn’t last much longer than a Lord of the Rings movie. Honestly, the only thing that isn’t cinematic about The Order: 1886 is the price. A movie ticket costs about $10; a brand new PS4 game retails for $60. With only a few hours of content and no multiplayer, The Order: 1886 just isn’t worth it.

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What’s your take? Did we forget any? Let us know in the comment section.

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