How is 2015 already winding down? Not only has it not been enough time since I last put together one of these lists, but it feels like we’re still waiting for a definitive, prohibitive favorite game to come out, something like Bastion in 2011 or Gone Home in 2013 that stakes a clear claim for the most memorable game of the year. There were no no-brainers in 2015, but that doesn’t mean it was an artistically weak year for videogames. This might be the most varied “best of” list published during my time here at Paste, with a solid distribution of time-devouring, big-budget epics and smaller, quieter, less commercially driven endeavors, all of them exciting in their own right, and fully deserving of your free time and money. There are also music games again? 2015 was weird. Let’s relive it.
On a personal note, this has been a year of change here at Paste. The inimitable Jenn Frank came on board as our assistant games editor in July, capably filling the shoes of long-time assistant editor Maddy Myers, who moved on to a daily gig at The Mary Sue. Some of my favorite writers to work with have found full-time homes with some of the biggest outlets in this industry, from Austin Walker at Giant Bomb to Javy Gwaltney at Game Informer. Our success here at Paste Games is almost entirely dependent on the contributions of our dedicated crew of freelancers. I don’t want to name names because I’m sure I’d forget somebody, but I want to thank every writer who wrote anything for Paste’s games section this year, from the workhorses who posted regularly, to the writers who only wrote a single piece. This section wouldn’t exist without you.
Of course, it also wouldn’t exist without our readers. Thanks for supporting us, as always, whether you check the games page every day or visit occasionally when social media sends you our way. Hopefully you like what you see here, but I wouldn’t be too upset if you really hated it, as long as you still gave us a chance.
All schmaltz aside, let’s get into it. Here are our favorite games of 2015.
25. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room has created a world and a community that, in its depth and subtlety, feels real. It shares the verisimilitude of a Ken Loach film but without the politics, the characters sounding like real people having real conversations. Before the scope of the mysterious illness dawns on everybody and overtakes all conversations, we hear them talk about the sort of personal issues that videogames rarely discuss, like the slow pain of a disintegrating marriage, the anxiety of young parents, or the absence felt when a lifelong partner passes away. These moments of empathy and humanity are when Rapture excels, uncovering poignancy in areas this medium has generally considered too mundane to explore.—Garrett Martin
24. Life is Strange
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.—Maddy Myers
23. Mortal Kombat X
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
22. Disney Infinity 3.0
The latest Disney Infinity finally adds Star Wars to the mix. That’s another powerful draw in a game that heavily relies on our familiarity with its characters and settings. Nostalgia only takes you so far, though, and Disney’s great blender of a game crams as many different game types as possible into its various play sets and toy box expansions. It’s a third-person platformer, an open-world game, a side-scroller, a dungeon crawler, a kart racer, and whatever else you want it to be, thanks to the deeper-than-ever toy-box mode. It’s basically our childhood imprinted on a disc and dispersed across a line of beautifully designed toys, and then sold back to backwards glancing adults and excited children alike.—GM
21. Rock Band 4
Rock Band 4 intentionally feels as much like classic Rock Band as it can, and that will be comforting for the game’s dedicated cult following. Letting you use instruments and play songs from older consoles is more than you should probably expect from a videogame, but it’s also something Harmonix had to do to make sure the most diehard Rock Band fans made the jump. I am one of those diehards, as is my wife, and we seamlessly slid into Rock Band 4 like we were still jamming on the Xbox 360. It is the same game, more or less, and that’ll be good news for people who love Rock Band.—GM