The Iris Games & Tech Top 15 Games of 2015, plus our Runners Up and Biggest Letdowns of the Year

What a year it’s been for gaming. The surge of fantastic indie titles shows no signs of slowing and, after a horror year in 2014, the AAA side of the industry has made a clear effort to pick itself up by the bootstraps and deliver titles of quality. There was a lot to like out there this year, but 2015 wasn’t without its calamities and misfires and we’ll cover those too. So what were our favourite games this year? And which will take home our coveted Game of the Year award?

Our first list pulls from those games we had the best time with, that continued to haunt our thoughts even when we’d put the controller down hours ago. They stand apart from the crowd and there were so many of them we couldn’t whittle it down to our original list of five or we would have actually spent six weeks fighting tooth and nail over it. That’s why they’re our Top 15 for 2015. Click each linked title for our full reviews.

  1. Splatoon (Wii U, Nintendo)

I don’t think anyone was expecting Nintendo to release what is essentially a third-person multiplayer shooter (though the Big N themselves are wrath to call it that). This is 4v4 paintball taken to physics-defying extremes and even now, over six months after release, I still can’t get enough of it. The combat is fierce, the customisation options are varied and stylish and Nintendo have maintained a flow of free, high quality content since launch. Splatoon is proof that, when it comes to game design, Nintendo still can excel at literally anything they put their minds to. – David

  1. Mortal Kombat X (PS4, Xbox One, PC, NetherRealm Studios)

This iconic series’ introduction to the new-gen needed to be a big deal, coming off Mortal Kombat 9 which has to date been one of the most well-received games of the franchise. In a smart move, X doesn’t do much to change the progress made on 9, rather just augmenting it with more styles, more modes, more options, more characters, and a story mode that completely changes the way we look at solo-play narratives for similar fighters. I’ll just come out and say it; Mortal Kombat now stands as the greatest video game fighting franchise of all time, and while there’s still room for improvement (the story mode, while great, forces you into some characters that just aren’t that fun to play with, for example). – Chris

Also, it let me play as Jason Vorhees which is all I really want from any game to be perfectly honest. 10/10, can play as my favourite slasher movie villain, would machete noobs again – David.

  1. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Ubisoft Quebec)

As a die-hard fan of the series, Assassin’s Creed Unity broke my heart pretty neatly in two. Further, a growing number of people had already thrown in the towel with the Assassin’s Creed series by that point, citing not enough innovation game-to-game to warrant going back again. That’s where Assassin’s Creed Syndicate comes in. This is easily the most fun and exciting game in the series since Black Flag, partly because it is able to execute on Unity’s vision for the series. Syndicate’s London is grimy, polluted, filled with horse-drawn carriages that can be used for vehicle combat, there’s a Batman-esque grappling hook and (finally) the choice between a male and female assassin in Jacob and Evie Frye, both of whom play rather differently from one another. While I still think the series could stand to take a year off and come up with some fresh ideas, this is a big step in the right direction and next to Unity, it looks like a masterpiece. – David

  1. Darkest Dungeon (PS4, PC, Mac, Linux, Red Hook Studios)

The last two years have seen a surge in games that challenge players with near-insurmountable difficulty curves, and Darkest Dungeon sits among the very best of these titles. Developed by a small indie team, it’s a game all about adventuring deeply into hostile area with a small party of handpicked characters who you must help survive. It deftly combines the roguelike and dungeon crawler genres in a way that makes my brain itch and whenever I’m not playing it, I’m thinking about playing it. It’s so atmospheric, beautifully presented, delicately balanced and is masterful in its execution. Brilliant. If you think you can stomach its significant challenge, because it is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, you should absolutely grab it in the upcoming Steam sale. – David

  1. Until Dawn (PS4, Supermassive Games)

You may need some patience for the first few hours, but Until Dawn is very well layered, unraveling like a GOOD vintage slasher flick, one where the writers have actually studied what works and what doesn’t when it comes to balancing tropes with inventive storytelling. Making decisions – especially with a group of friends – is really fun here, each character distinctive enough for you to both love and hate them at the same time, hence actually caring what happens to them and trying your best to do right by them. – Chris

I’ve gotta add this to my list too. I’m not a big fan of this “interactive movie” genre of game, but Until Dawn handles itself so well. It has a pretty excruciating first hour but when the wheels start turning, it becomes a unique and intense experience that I’ve played through four or five times now just so I can see how things change. The graphics, too, are so pretty that at times the uncanny valley drops away and you could swear what you’re seeing is live action. – David

  1. Rocket League (PS4, PC, Psyonix)

If you told me back in January that one of my favourite games of the year would be about cars that play soccer, I’d have laughed in your face. I stand corrected. Getting your hands on Rocket League is one of the best investments you can possible make. This is one of the most enjoyable games of the year. Working in teams to put the game’s gigantic technoball into the goals at either end of the field with your unwieldy little car is a total blast AND it features cross-play multiplayer which means you can play with friends on PS4 and PC at the same time. It’s also coming to Xbox One in the new year which means the player pool is about to widen yet again. The surprise hit of the year for sure. – David

  1. Bloodborne (PS4, From Software)

The PS4 exclusive Action RPG game by From Software features challenging gameplay and brooding atmosphere in the city of Yharnam. Inspired by Lovecraftian literature, Bloodborne features excellent character (particularly enemies and bosses) and world design. Similar to the Dark Souls games in terms of gameplay, Bloodborne is a much more fast-paced and aggressive game which in turn makes every boss battle an intense and fulfilling accomplishment. – Elain

  1. Tales from the Borderlands (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, Mobile, Telltale Games)

Telltale Games have had a pretty great year with three rather big-name IP’s under their roof. Game of Thrones perfectly replicates the diplomatic highwire act that is a mainstay of show it is based on. Minecraft: Story Mode proved Telltale could dial things back and make a family friendly story that appealed to adults as much as kids. However, it was their partnership with Gearbox on Tales from the Borderlands that produced not only my favourite Telltale game of the year, but also my favourite game Telltale have made so far (knocking the fantastic The Wolf Among Us into 2nd place). Tales takes the insane world of the Borderlands franchise and does something really remarkable with it – it tells a story that is both funny and irreverent but also incredibly personal and emotional. The game is helped along by a stellar voice cast including Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Chris Hardwick and Patrick Warburton, the best action sequences Telltale have ever produced and some exceptional musical choices that perfectly set the tone for each episode. – David

  1. Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Rocksteady Studios)

Arkham Knight saw the hype and exceeded it. It took advantage of its debut on current gen and it looks beautiful. The combat is ridiculously fun and expertly put together. The batmobile was an amazing addition. Great story and terrific side missions involving Bats’ rogue gallery. The map is expansive and the ability to play as other characters was fantastic. It is the ultimate Batman experience. – Ryan

Seconded on all counts. Batman: Arkham Knight fed my lifelong obsession with the Dark Knight just the right amount. Gorgeous to look at, a dream to play around in Gotham’s abandoned streets and (finally) the ability to drive the Batmobile around. Brilliant. The moment I jumped in I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop until I’d 100%’d it. Just fantastic. Some many object to its inclusion on this list due to the complete mess that was the PC version, but we’ll come back to that later on. – David

  1. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Kojima Productions)

Hoo, boy. What a game this one turned out to be. Despite having what might have been one of the worst opening hour’s I’ve seen in a game this year, Metal Gear Solid 5 comes into its own the moment it drops you into Afghanistan’s gigantic open world map. It’s a stunning reversal of the game most of us had come to know as Metal Gear Solid, previously a tightly scripted stealth game that lead you through interesting-but-linear sections strung together with overly long cutscenes. Here, you are free to go where you want and tackle any mission or area in whatever manner you prefer. If you like the 100% stealth approach, then do that. If you’d prefer to go in guns blazing, that is also a viable option. This total tactical freedom made Metal Gear Solid 5 one of the most lengthy and rewarding gaming experiences of the year for me. Everything it threw at me was a such a pleasant surprise. I loved that game loop of scouting an enemy base, choosing my targets, moving in, completing my objectives and scuttling back out again to the safety of my helicopter, before revelling in the staggering growth of Mother Base as the fruits of my labour rolled in. As swan songs for a series go, this one was note perfect. – David

  1. Undertale (PC, Mac, tobyfox)

I’m torn what I’m going to write about this game because on the one hand I want everyone to get and play this game but I also don’t want to spoil any of it. Undertale is a game made almost entirely by one person and is a true emotional journey from start to finish. It’s a singular role-playing experience and one that will weigh on your for days after you complete it. It’s ten dollars on Steam right now, go and grab it. – David

  1. Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, Moon Studios)

There were a few titles this year that harkened back to the era of the Metroidvania title with games like Axiom Verge building huge favour with audiences. The most accomplished of these in 2015 was Ori and the Blind Forest, part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox initiative. A beautiful, delicate game that hides a decent difficulty curve and a number of brutal punches to the old emotional centres of your brain. Saying any more about it if you haven’t played it will be giving it away. Go now. Buy it. Play it. You won’t regret it. – David

  1. Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One, Crystal Dynamics)

Lara Croft’s second adventure was rather bizarrely released the same day as Fallout 4, ensuring its financial evisceration at the hands of one of the most anticipated games of the year. This is infuriating to me because I loved it so much and I want everyone to play it. There isn’t a whole lot that Rise of the Tomb Raider does differently from its predecessor but that’s okay because what it does is already awesome. Lara my adventure game fave, hilariously dramatic about everything but utterly stoic in her desire to get shit done. This is the perfect salve for fans of the Uncharted series waiting for Nathan Drake’s next big outing. A must play. – David

  1. Fallout 4 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Bethesda Game Studios)

Inevitable that this game would appear towards the top of the list, yes? Fallout 4 set hearts and minds ablaze when it was announced earlier this year ahead of an astounding show from Bethesda at E3 where we got our first real details on it. The quests are varied, the blasted Bostonian landscape is truly remarkable, its new systems are interesting and certainly divisive among the hardcore (I swear to god if I hear one more conversation in my house about how much my roommates hate the dialogue, I’m going to snap). I had a full two weeks to review the game prior to launch and it wasn’t even close to enough time. It’s an amazing achievement and with the release of the SDK to PC users next month, the modders are going to make it even better. – David

  1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4, Xbox One, PC, CD Projekt Red)

I went back on forth on my number one for this list for quite some time but in the end I had to give it to CD Projekt Red. No other game this year was more of a clear labour of love than Geralt of Rivia’s latest journey. I felt that when I was allowed to play it for a few hours back in January and got to chat to the developers and I felt that the moment I booted it up on my PS4. It takes many of the complaints levelled at The Witcher 2 and fixes them right away. It houses a vast and diverse world map filled with people and cities and creatures and beautiful weather effects. Everywhere you go feels so old and lived in and drenched in history that that there were times during my review when I had to remind myself that what I was seeing was not a real place. The Witcher 3 is more than the action RPG it appears to be on the surface. It’s true work of art, an example of just how great AAA games can still be when given the time and space to grow. For all of these reasons and more, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is our Game of the Year for 2015– David

Honourable mentions:

There were, of course, a few games that we wanted to include on our list but just couldn’t find room for them in amongst all the other incredible titles. Thus, we thought we’d take a moment to give them a quick shout out and they are as follows:

Halo 5: Guardians You found a way to make Halo single player feel interesting again and your multiplayer modes are extremely solid to boot. I hope you’re able to retain your player count a bit better than Halo 4 did and let’s just put that messy Halo: The Master Chief Collection business behind us. You got rid of split-screen multiplayer, but I still had a good time doing it online anyway. – David

Guitar Hero LiveI had a few misgivings about the new Guitar Hero but I found myself really enjoying the latest entry. FreeStyle Games have been given a surprising amount of room to move by Activision, creating something that looks, feels and plays completely differently to the Guitar Hero many of us remember. Its approach to DLC was certainly divisive, but the new guitar design was cool and it felt fun being thrown in the deep end with it. – David

Just Cause 3 When I reviewed Just Cause 3 a few weeks ago, I had some harsh words for it. In the intervening period, I’ve come to realise that a number of the complaints I levelled at the game weren’t really warranted. After spending another ten hours with the game, I’ve found a title that while occasionally clunky, Just Cause 3 really does just want you to have a good time and has generated some of the funniest and most unique gaming experiences I’ve had all year. – David

Mad Max – I thought Mad Max was super underrated. It looked and played brilliantly and there is a tonne to do. Excellent upgrade system. Vehicle combat was too notch. Thunder sticking an oncoming vehicle and watching it flip over you as its parts flew off never gets old. And the messy, unchoreographed urgency of its it’s brawling system was awesome and is hard to come by nowadays. – Ryan

Letdowns:

It wasn’t all surprises and quality content this year, however. 2015 saw the release of a number of significant titles that didn’t deliver the experience we all hoped they would. While we don’t wish to be mean – a lot of people worked very hard on every one of these games – we do feel that these titles deserve a special mention.

Rock Band 4 – Here’s the thing: I love the Rock Band series. It breaks my heart that I have to put RB4 on my Letdowns list. My friends and I have continued to deploy Rock Band 3 as a party game since release, even when it looked like the series was dead and buried. With the release of Harmonix’s Rock Band 4 on next gen consoles, a number of core features from previous games were simply not made available. The thing that let me down, however, was that in spite of a USB device that allowed me to connect my old wireless instruments, there was no facility for connecting our Roland electric drum kit to the game, something my Xbox 360 had no problem with. As drums are the core focus of our multiplayer group, this meant Rock Band 4 had little to offer us. At time of writing, Harmonix have acknowledged the issue following months of drum fans raging online to silence from the developer. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long before this functionality is provided. – David

Batman: Arkham Knight (PC) – While the console version of Arkham Knight found its way into our Top 15 without breaking a sweat, the PC version was sadly a different story. A disaster on the scale of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Arkham Knight’s PC port was a broken, buggy, unoptimised mess. No amount of hardware could be thrown at the game to make it run smoothly. Player backlash was so extreme and its Steam user review score was diving so rapidly that Warner Bros. pulled the game from sale both digitally and at retail so that Rocksteady could keep working on it. It was four months before the game was returned to stores and even then its myriad issues persisted. Winner of the 2015 PR Fiasco of the Year Award. – David

Evolve – Evolve had so much promise, and executed on its ambitious concept of 4v1 human-vs-monster multiplayer combat quite well. Despite this, uneven performance and some of its more unbalanced elements (anyone else remember how staggeringly OP the Kraken was?) saw substantial player drop off as quickly as weeks after launch. It was tough pulling in new players as well due to a sky-high asking price for a game with no campaign and an abundance of overpriced DLC. I would have loved to see Evolve become a greater success, and if it ever gets a sequel maybe it will, because it had so many great ideas. It just couldn’t quite stick the landing. – David

The Order: 1886 – What can be said about The Order that wasn’t covered in every review published on the game? It was a prime example of the AAA industry’s ongoing fascination with style over substance. Profoundly gorgeous to look at, giving players a real look at the kind of graphics the PlayStation 4 is capable of outputting, it was a rather hollow experience in terms of gameplay. This is a shame because The Order was another game with a great concept and setting – steampunk Arthurian legend? Yes, please. Hopefully Ready at Dawn will get another crack at this series. With a renewed focus on the gameplay, they could have something really special on their hands. – David

Metal Gear Solid V – Hideo Kojima’s final send off to the Metal Gear series is an excellent and ambitious game (it’s in our top 15!). As an avid fan of the Metal Gear franchise I loved everything about this game from the start to the finish, however as I look back at it I can’t help but feel a little bit let down by the story, arguably the weakest throughout the series. The Metal Gear series is known for its complex and intriguing stories, and infamously long cut-scenes; however the game just seemed to lack the familiar Metal Gear story charm to it. – Elain

So that’s it. Another year down. As we look to the new year, there are so many titles to look forward to. We’re going to take a couple of weeks off to recharge our controller batteries and then we’ll be back and ready to tackle them all head on. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for our Most Anticipated Games of 2016 and we’ll see you next year.