It’s been another great year for gaming. The Xbox One and Playstation 4 hit their stride in earnest, the Wii U proved to be the little console that could, and the PC continued to be the premier platform for innovative indie titles. Here’s how to spend this year’s money updating your circulating games collection and in-house gaming stations. Honors are given based on critical and community reception, as well as my own game play experience.—M. Brandon Robbins
Game of the Year
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt RED. PC, XB1, PS4. Rated: M.
The Witcher 3 delivered a sprawling open world, an epic story, and some of the most amazing graphics. Challenging combat and some unique role-playing opportunities suck players in and refuse to let go; even the game’s side quests are fully realized stories in themselves. The Witcher 3 is truly a masterpiece, not to be missed. An instant classic that should be in every gaming collection.
Invisible Inc. Klei Entertainment. PC. Not Rated.
This turn-based strategy game with a cyberpunk setting has the gamer controlling a squad of covert operatives on daring missions deep in hostile territory. With time running out, gamers must make life-or-death decisions and execute plans with unerring swiftness. A retro, cartoony art style disguises the gritty and challenging game play, and expertly designed levels create harrowing puzzles.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Kojima. PC, XB1, PS4. Rated: M.
In the final chapter of a sprawling military epic, high-value targets can be assassinated or imprisoned using either all-out violence or subtle trickery and stealth. Set against sweeping, beautiful desert environments and fleshed out with a resource management mechanic, this game delivers both action thrills and narrative heft as an aging soldier reflects on his life in combat and the legacy he’ll leave behind.
Splatoon. Nintendo. Wii U. Rated: E.
In this charming and addictive game, instead of competing for kills and objectives, players claim territory on the map by slathering the floor with their team’s color using paint-spitting weapons reminiscent of water guns and other wacky inventions. Easy to pick up and learn, Splatoon invites players of all skill levels to face off in multiplayer matches that stay friendly and fun while still being highly competitive.
Super Mario Maker. Nintendo. Wii U. Rated: E.
Bringing the charm of its signature characters to one of the most approachable and intuitive level editors out there, Super Mario Maker gives players tools to create their own courses using a variety of themes and characters. With a wealth of stages available, players can either use someone else’s creation or make their own to share. A great title that blurs the line between art and game play.
Batman: Arkham Knight. Rocksteady Studios. XB1, PS4. Rated: M.
Batman is pushed to his physical and psychological limits as the evil Scarecrow holds the city in thrall and secrets from the Caped Crusader’s past come back to haunt him. With refined combat, the introduction of the Batmobile, and countless memorable moments, this game will appeal to comic book fans and action junkies. Please note: the PC release of this game is plagued with bugs and other performance issues, and thus is not recommended.
Bloodborne. Sony. PS4. Rated: M.
A gothic-horror action game for gamers with nerves of steel, Bloodborne has the gamer taking on the role of a hunter out to rid the world of a race of werewolf-like creatures. Unapologetic in its intensity, this game has a cooperative mode and a mysterious narrative that the player must piece together from limited scraps of information.
Elite: Dangerous. Frontier Developments. PC. Rated: T.
Many adult gamers who cut their teeth on the classic Wing Commander or this game’s ancestor, Elite, will enjoy this open-ended epic of exploration and combat. Making their way in a nearly limitless environment, players take on the role of a pilot who must make a living and maneuver the politics of the stars. It may be meant for a very specific audience, but it delivers to that audience like nothing else in recent years.
Fallout 4. Bethesda Game Studios. PC, XB1, PS4. Rated: M.
This open-ended role-playing game casts the player as either a father or mother (gamer’s choice) on a quest to find his or her kidnapped son in postapocalyptic Boston. Rich environments, thrilling combat, and an in-depth system for customizing weapons and other gear while also setting up a fully functioning home base enthrall players.
Halo 5. 343 Industries. XB1. Rated: T.
The beloved first-person shooter franchise returns with new multiplayer modes and a dramatic single-player campaign that sees the legendary Master Chief on the run amid charges of betrayal. Longtime fans will find the most joy here, but the game is a great introduction to the series. Even the youngest gamers will thrill to the intensity that is Halo multiplayer.
Hard West. CreativeForge Games. PC. Rated: M.
A turn-based strategy game with a Weird West setting, Hard West stands out not only for its theme and story but also for its unforgiving game mechanics. Only the most patient folks with a knack for thinking ahead and executing flawlessly planned tactics will be able to tackle this game on its highest difficulties. Great for older gamers wanting a more in-depth, cerebral experience with a taste of gun-slinging horror.
Mortal Kombat X. NetherRealm Studios. PC, XB1, PS4. Rated: M.
Brutally violent to the point of absurdity, this game’s real draw is the precise, fast-paced combat that often leaves even the most seasoned gamers physically exhausted. Iconic characters and multiple game modes make this a key selection for a no-holds-barred game night.
Star Wars: Battlefront. Pandemic Studios. PC, XB1, PS4. Rated: T.
Playing as either Rebels or Imperials, gamers compete in a variety of modes in fast-paced, full-scale battles in familiar environments. Lucky players will even get a chance to march into battle as the fearsome Darth Vader, the heroic Luke Skywalker, or one of four other iconic characters from the beloved multimedia franchise.
Transformers Devastation. PlatinumGames. PC, XB1, PS4, 360, PS3. Rated: T.
This game delivers 1980s nostalgia in spades, with a fast-paced and challenging game play experience wrapping it all together. Smooth, animated graphics and intense combat that tasks the player with switching from robot to vehicle mode for maximum efficiency recall both the best elements from recent action games and the edgy (for its time) tone of the original animated series.