Well, it’s almost Christmas, that wonderful time when all entertainment writers turn their thoughts, not to family and friends, but to end-of-year list features. Here then, is our traditional rundown of the year’s 25 best video games, collated by our team of experienced games writers – just before they all disappear into a fug of eggnog and carol singing.
As ever, these are the titles we personally enjoyed this year, not the ones we felt were the most groundbreaking or that attracted the widest critical acclaim. It’s not objective or scientific – or fair or reasonable.
Anyway, here we go, from 25-21. Come back every day this week for more.
25. Soma (PC, PS4)
Three main ingredients make up the horror in Soma: a deep-sea setting, mutated monsters, and existential dread. To its credit, even though the first of these is underused and the second overused, the third is enough to carry the game. Frictional has inserted regular jump scares and the sounds of a frantic heartbeat to remind you to experience that kind of stressful immediate fear, but more interesting by far is the philosophical, psychological horror played out in a narrative that raises questions about personal identity. Everyone knows that self-reflection is what real nightmares are made of.
24. Until Dawn (PS4)
One of the most intriguing and innovative horror titles for a number of years, Until Dawn sees players trying to keep eight friends alive as they find themselves trapped in a remote lodge where monsters lurk in the darkness. Cleverly combining elements of Silent Hill and The Walking Dead, this interactive drama provides dozens of conclusions based on player actions – it’s a “butterfly effect” mechanic that points to interesting possibilities for the future of the action adventure.
23. Lego Dimensions (multiple formats)
Activision must have known from the very first days of Skylanders that Lego would eventually make its own game in the toys-to-life genre, and that it would be much better. After all, these aren’t just toys, they’re toys that fit into an existing longstanding category of toys, and they’re toys the players get to build themselves. Add to that the inclusion of multiple franchises, with a silly story that weaves through several of them, and this is the best Lego game yet, especially (as always) when played with a friend.
22. Mushroom 11 (PC/Mac)
Born in a game jam, it’s perhaps no surprise that Mushroom 11 is more inventive than your standard puzzle platformer. Not only is the protagonist an amorphous organism, in a post-apocalyptic (if beautiful) world seemingly devoid of human life, but you move it across each 2D level through destruction and regrowth. At times seeming to flow like a liquid, but actually acting like a solid, the ever-changeable shape provides the hook for plenty of new and challenging kinds of puzzles.
21. Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One)
Despite its hippyish premise (you must help the spirit tree restore life to a mystical forest), this beautiful platform adventure from indie collective Moon Studios is an almost cruelly challenging game in places, pitting you against a folk tale environment filled with deadly spike traps and frightening creatures. But the luscious scenery and deft plotting see you through. Like the Rayman series, Ori shows there is plenty of life, depth and soul left in the 2D scrolling genre.
- The Guardian Games ‘Review of the Year’ is taking place at the Guardian’s Scott Room on Thursday evening, 7-8.30pm. Featuring Keith Stuart, writers Simon Parkin and Cara Ellison and game developer Mike Bithell, we’ll look back at 2015, with mince pies and a giant Xmas tombola! Tickets available here.
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