The 20 Best Videogames of 2015 (So Far)

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Somehow we are already halfway through a year again. We grow more introspective than usual every July, so let’s look back on the recent past and toast the best games of the last six months. I’ve sorted through all the game reviews we published between January and June, and narrowed the field down to the 20 games below. If you disagree, or feel we overlooked a legitimate contender, feel free to leave a note below.

20. MLB 15: The Show

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It’s not just the almost overwhelming commitment to recreating the sport that makes MLB The Show the best on-going sports series. It’s also the endless expanse that opens up before you when you start yet another season, the trance-like rhythm you fall into game after game after game that can’t be matched by the shorter season of football or faster action of basketball. It’s the role-playing progression of the Road to the Show mode, where you level your handmade player up to the Majors. And yes, it is Sony’s fastidiousness in turning this game into a videogame, with all the details in both play and presentation necessary to make it feel as real as a videogame currently can. MLB 15 is one more year of greatness in a hall of fame career.—Garrett Martin

19. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

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The Old Blood, which sacrifices Wolfenstein: The New Order’s ambitious, emotionally-charged story for pure pulp, serves as a testament to just how strong the gunplay of The New Order is when divorced from great writing. That’s not to say that The Old Blood is poorly written so much as it has a purposely schlocky grindhouse mentality to it, returning to the series’ roots. It’s a fun, kooky adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously (unlike its older sibling), and knows how to make the first-person shooter feel refreshing and fun again.—Javy Gwaltney

18. Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

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Gat Out of Hell is just plain, hammy entertainment. It doesn’t aspire to teach you a great moral lesson—outside of “don’t fuck with Ouija boards,” which is pretty sage advice—and it’s not trying to wow you with 60 FPS photorealism. Gat out of Hell, like its predecessors, is that essential reminder we need from time to time that, yes, sometimes it’s okay for videogames to be dumb fun and little else.—JG

17. Heroes of the Storm

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Heroes of the Storm charms the player into collecting tons of heroes through relatively short, accessible matches; this allows the game to showcase a lot of different types of characters in rapid succession, with just enough of that get-a-new-thing dopamine rush to keep you hooked in. The characters themselves, much like in Smash Brothers, are not vastly different from one another; the game is easy to learn but hard to master, and the characters are just dissimilar enough to motivate a player into continually climbing the collection ladder. In other words, the game manages to satisfy the spirit of an action figure (or Barbie) collector, all under the guise of being a Very Serious Competitive Game.—Maddy Myers

16. Titan Souls

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Titan Souls is an example of a game that successfully uses nostalgia as a jumping off point and not as a central reason to exist. The name and art style might make it seem too familiar, but if you can play through that you’ll see it quickly establishes its own identity. It’s still a bit of a novelty, but at least it fully commits to that novelty, much like you’ll probably commit yourself to defeating every titan once this game sinks its hooks into you.—GM

15. Gravity Ghost

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Gravity Ghost pulls apart the typical challenge-reward cycle for a physics-based puzzle game, flinging itself mightily toward finding that space between science and love. The quest to bind together stories of science and love isn’t always an easy one to take on, but ultimately Gravity Ghost gets the job done.—Bryant Francis

14. The Escapists

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The Escapists manages to replicate almost perfectly the pleasure of watching films like Escape From Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption. Much like those films, The Escapists is a slow burn that builds to a fantastic finale in which the protagonist finally gets one over on the brutal security guards and wardens that have harassed them throughout. And this game really tries to draw that picture for you, with guards frequently demanding that you call them your king, brutally breaking up any fight with violence, and generally fulfilling the image of the dark-hearted prison guard from media history.—Cameron Kunzelman

13. Axiom Verge

Nostalgia is addictive, but Axiom Verge’s confidence sees it through the challenge of invoking Metroid better than just about anyone who’s tried before it. It copies more than aesthetic and ambiguous notions about variety, and the specificity is what matters.—Suriel Vazquez

12. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

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Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is meant to be played with style. To trudge through each level, your movement dictated by an impatient ever-forward swiping of your magic paintbrush, is to completely miss the point (and hundreds of shiny baubles hidden off the main path). On the very first stage, you can draw a line and send Kirby toward the goal. Or: Draw a curving line upward, sending Kirby up off the screen. You’ll find a sky filled with stars, the game’s currency and arbiter of special attacks, granted after collecting one hundred. Go high enough and the world goes black-and-white, the story conceit providing player a challenge along with simple animus.—Jon Irwin

11. Massive Chalice

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Massive Chalice, at is finest, feels like an indrawn breath, a nervous stillness punctured by the monstrous sounds of the Cadence lingering at the edge of the battlefield. As you scout ahead with your cloaked Hunters, you reach that point where your breath starts to hold, and as you lunge in with a phalanx of Caberjacks and Alchemists, giant logs and explosive flasks become the deafening shout punctuating your successful short-term strategy. It’s boisterously thrilling—even if sometimes, it’s a thrill to be felt over and over again.—BF

10. Apotheon

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Apotheon is a game of delight and wonder, an expression of unabashed love for myth. That it’s possible to turn such love into an engrossing adventure that coalesces in a way so few games do reminds me of my own love for games and of their potential as a medium of beautiful expression. Apotheon, then, is the kind of videogame we need more of.—JG

9. Sunset

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Sunset, a first-person game from Tale of Tales, exists somewhere between the grand love story of Casablanca and the softly spoken pain of Raymond Carver’s characters. It is a game of startling beauty housing quiet but immense ambition. [It’s] an all too rare kind of game that focuses on people loving and hurting in mundane but almost unbearable ways.—JG

8. Life is Strange

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Invisible walls, authority figures who have pre-determined mistrust towards you no matter what you do, no sense of personal privacy, and a never-ending to-do list… I guess I never realized all the inherent similarities between high school and videogames until I played the first three-hour episode of Life Is Strange. It reminds me of the parts of Beyond: Two Souls that I didn’t hate: a teenage girl with super-powers but also realistic life problems and serious consequences. Everybody else at school thinks Max is stuck-up and a pretentious jerk; I can tell why they’d think that, and it’s why Max seems human and flawed. She’s just a teenager, trying on different types of “coolness” for size.—MM

7. Pillars of Eternity

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A lot of videogames try to sell you on the illusion that every step you take is having some sort of effect on the world. Sleeping at this inn instead of that inn will create a ripple effect that results in imminent world destruction or something else similarly ridiculous. Instead of flat out lying to you, Pillars of Eternity takes the approach of just making an incredibly diverse, deep and rewarding world for you to explore and letting you navigate the consequences on your own.—David Jagneaux

6. Mortal Kombat X

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Mortal Kombat X is fascinating in how parts of it seemingly want to get away from the nasty elements that made the series a household name and yet the gravitational pull of legacy and expectation is too strong. Mortal Kombat X is, in the end, no matter how much it wants to persuade you otherwise, just another Kombat game. It also happens to be one of the best ones.—MM

5. The Witcher 3

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When I think of my time in Witcher 3, which is still going, I think mainly of the quest for Ciri, your adoptive daughter. I think of mages with freckles and villagers working fields after your drive away their tormenters. I think of it as a game which says that all we have is each other, as family and friends. As people, whose lives are short but brilliant. As a game that says that what makes life worth living and struggling for isn’t trying for perfection but our common imperfections. It’s aspiration by way of mundanity and I don’t know that I’ve played anything quite like it.—Ian Williams

4. Her Story

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Her Story is more character study than good old-fashioned crime yarn. The immediately familiar clichés from Law and Order and CSI are quickly overtaken by the clever writing and the personality of the game’s central performer, the mysterious woman played by Viva Seifert. As easy as it might be to dismiss Her Story as a flimsy gamification of search engines and wiki-diving, the loop the game creates, rewarding you for searching for clues in the woman’s speech with more videos, is genuinely gripping in a sad horror novella kind of way.—JG

3. Ori and the Blind Forest

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Ori and the Blind Forest is a gorgeous adventure with an aesthetic that seems vaguely indebted to a variety of world cultures and mythologies. With its focus on forest spirits and a sylvan setting it resembles a Miyazaki film, but there’s no explicit connection to Japanese mythology. It borrows the fundamental feeling of mythic storytelling to depict a basic hero’s journey, with all the loss and personal growth that entails.—GM

2. Splatoon

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Splatoon is not trying to corral unearned cool points with obscenity. Splatoon does not push us to accept its weirdness. Splatoon merely opens its suction-cupped palms to the sky and says, “Here,” and we graciously accept, parched by the years of dusty, war-torn, bone-dry purveyors of damage masquerading as games. Each waterfall was in fact an oasis. Instead, Splatoon showers us with a heavy goop that feels amniotic. We emerge, new and refreshed. We are all squids now.—JI

1. Bloodborne

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Bloodborne is a distillation of everything that worked in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. The combat is fast, less clunky and more risky. Yharnam is a stunning world worthy of hours of exploration, and, perhaps most pleasant of all, Bloodborne is a game that knows when to end. It’s a deeply challenging game set in a fantastically realized gothic nightmare, an adventure of the highest quality for those willing to undergo the game’s trial by fire.—JG

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