If there’s one word I would use to describe 2015, it would be busy. Every year, we see the usual big publishers release the latest installments in hit series, but 2015 was a little different, and more packed because of it: several beloved series made their big returns over the course of the year, and there were many surprise hits that took the gaming world by storm. However, not all oldies are necessarily goodies, and not all once-unknown games can keep one’s attention for long. With my list of 2015’s top five video games, I’ve only selected games that were not only great the first time I played them, but have also left some sort of lasting impression on me.
Honorable Mention – Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
If you’ve read my top five list for 2014, you know that one of the worst disappointments for me that year was the unacceptable launch of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the first current-gen entry in the historical sci-fi action-stealth series. When the game launched, it was plagued by numerous technical and performance issues, and while many of them were fixed over the course of several months, the fact that the game launched in such a bad state left a lasting impression of Ubisoft on me. Because of this, I was extremely skeptical of Syndicate, with little to no interest in it until I actually gave the game a try… and I’m very glad I did try it. While I don’t feel that it was great enough to be in my top five list – not because it’s a bad game, but because I enjoyed other games more – it was a very large step up from Unity in many large ways: the world traversal was improved even further with the implementation of the Batman-esque rope launcher, the overarching storyline finally progressed to some extent, and possibly the biggest thing… the game actually worked almost perfectly* at launch! Between Syndicate and the (admittedly unconfirmed) rumors of Assassin’s Creed skipping 2016, Ubisoft is on its way to potentially making the series important to me again.
* Game may still include typical Assassin’s Creed jank, including (but not limited to) bad AI, randomly appearing/disappearing NPCs, and pointless chests and collectibles… Okay, yeah, the last one isn’t a bug, but still. Add some meaningful side content for a change, Ubisoft!
5. Rock Band 4
One of 2015’s more surprising comebacks for me was Rock Band 4, the latest game in Harmonix’s eight-year-old rhythm series. The series’ five-year break seems to have been exactly what the game needed: despite not trying to reinvent the wheel compared to its competition, the game’s classic five-button approach for guitar and the layout for drums are just as easy to pick up and enjoy as they were years ago, and improvements made to this release’s corresponding instrument controllers only help the experience. Also on the subject of of instruments, Harmonix made a tremendous effort in ensuring compatibility with nearly all PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 Rock Band and Guitar Hero peripherals on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and that effort extends to the downloadable songs released for previous Rock Band titles: over 1,700 previously released songs are playable in the game, with more becoming playable over time. All of this, combined with the included and impressive 65-song tracklist, makes Rock Band 4 impressive and a blast to play, whether you’re trying to 100% FC Judas Priest’s Halls of Valhalla on Expert with your guitar, or just have fun with friends to the beat of Brad Paisley and Keith Urban’s Start a Band.
4. Halo 5: Guardians
343 Industries had a lot at stake with Halo 5: Guardians: following Halo 4, many fans were left feeling that the team could not provide the evolution the series desperately needed, and after the mess that was The Master Chief Collection, the gaming community in general was concerned the team could no longer release a fully functioning product. Thankfully, 343 managed to restore faith in Microsoft’s flagship franchise for many: the game not only performed very well at launch, but also boasted numerous positive changes to the classic Halo formula, including a solid 60 frames-per-second framerate, aerial boosts, the ability to clamber over obstacles, and the oft-dreaded (but well-implemented) sprinting bring the series’ gameplay in line with modern expectations. On top of general control alterations are a story mode that improves on the storytelling and co-op play of Halo 4, a classic multiplayer offering that includes several new and fan-favorite game modes, and the new large-scale Warzone multiplayer mode that pits two teams together with various AI types thrown in the mix. Because of the quality of its individual parts, Halo 5 is a title that any fan of the series – Bungie-era or otherwise – should pick up and play.
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