2015 has been an excellent year for the PC. It’s seen some great multiplatform AAAs (and released at the same time as on consoles – a sign publishers are starting to see it as a platform equal to the machines sat under living room tellies) as well as many, many, many great indie games that have not made their way over to consoles yet. We've played more of them than we care to mention, to bring you our picks for the best PC games of 2015.
Video game roundups are always a matter of subjective opinion. What I think are the best PC games of the year are very likely not going to be exactly what you had in mind. That’s just the nature of the beast. However, what I’ve done–as we have with the other ‘Best Of’ games lists this year–is to expand on my opinion of each game with a quote from a game reviewer outside of Gizmodo. I’ve also included the game’s Metacritic score so you can see what the general, amalgamated consensus of a game has been. The list itself is in no particular order.
The Best PC Games of 2015
Kerbal Space Program
When it first started life back in 2011 Kerbal Space Program was a simple demo in which you could slot together rocket parts and try to launch your ship into the atmosphere of a planet called Kerbin. With each subsequent release, developer Squad filled out its sandbox: a whole galaxy, potted with moons, planets, and asteroids was built around the little planet of Kerbin; the control over your rocket was expanded, letting you fit it with solar panels, science stations, and little moon buggies; on the ground, you were given research facilities, mission control, and tech trees to master. KSP became a fully featured NASA simulator. Yet what could have been a dull and complex physics simulator never stopped being utterly compelling to play.
Here’s what PC Gamer’s Phil Savage had to say:
It's easy to see Kerbal Space Program as being about engineering and design. Often it is that: a game of tweaking a ship's centre of mass, of increasing stability, or of using the orbital map to perform a controlled burn to a distant destination. It is not, it has to be said, an especially good looking game. Planetary textures are basic and low-res. It looks utilitarian, which feels apt.
Occasionally, though, you'll be floating in space and the sun will emerge from behind Kerbin, or you'll catch the distant glint of another planet. At distance, the engine's lighting excels. In motion, KSP is fully able to sell the majesty and awe of space exploration.
Metacritic score: 88
Invisible, Inc is a cyberpunk heist game in the vein of XCOM. You control a squad of highly-trained operatives on missions of corporate espionage. You’re forever sneaking into a building, robbing its safes of credits and hacking into its servers to steal data that can lead you to your next job.
From the moment you start a mission in Invisible, Inc the pressure begins to ratchet up. Every five turns the level’s security will increase–more CCTV cameras will boot up, more guards will come on patrol, each locked safe will become more difficult to crack. So the longer your mission takes the more difficult it becomes. Rush things, though, and your team will get caught out by a level’s security – one shot will see an operative permanently killed.
Invisible, Inc is an excellent turn-based strategy game. It dares you to be greedy in a mission where caution would serve you better. Whenever you stay too long on a level and the security becomes too much it’s because you were looking for extra safes, or trying to hack one more server. I thoroughly recommend it.
Here’s what Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett had to say:
Let’s get straight to it: for some of you, Invisible, Inc. will be close to the perfect video game.
There’s an easy way to determine if you’re one of those people. Ask yourself this question: “Would I enjoy a game that takes (most of) the best parts of XCOM, Splinter Cell and roguelikes and combines them?”
Say “no” and you might still find this to be a very good video game. Say “yes”, though, and holy shit, you’re in for a good time.
Metacritic score: 82
There are a lot of games where you play a detective but Her Story is the first that made me feel I was doing the job of an investigator. The entire game takes place in front of a ‘90s style computer terminal. You’ve access to a database of witness interview videos that you can search through by typing words into a search engine. All the videos have transcriptions so typing in ‘Murder’ will bring up all the videos where the interviewee says the word. With that simple set up you have to solve the case before you.
What’s incredible about Her Story’s design is how typing in search queries begins to feel like asking the interviewee questions. She mentions the name of a pub so you type that in, see if it brings up more clips. No results? Well you can strike off that lead and search for the name of that friend she mentioned.
You can play through the whole thing in an evening (and I recommend doing it in one session) and it’s an unforgettable experience.
Here’s what PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly had to say:
Her Story has all the drama and intrigue of the best TV crime shows, but plays to the interactive strengths of the medium in a daring, imaginative way, trusting you to make sense of the scattered jigsaw pieces at your own pace. It’s her story, but it’s also your story. The murder mystery is as old as popular fiction itself, and territory video games have covered before, but I’ve never experienced one quite like this.
Metacritic score: 86
Grand Theft Auto 5
It took Rockstar more than a year to port Grand Theft Auto 5 over to the PC but it was worth the wait. The crime sandbox was good when it came out on consoles but on PC it looked and ran better than ever before. Rockstar brought over the new first-person perspective for the game first introduced on PS4 and Xbox One, but also went one better – for the first time, the PC version of the game lets you tweak the already-excellent experience with community built mods. They're uniformly crazy.
There’s what Andy Kelly had to say in The Guardian:
It’s been a long time coming, but Grand Theft Auto V’s PC debut is a triumph. It maintains a slick 60fps on even mid-range PCs, with only a few visual compromises. It offers a large number of adjustable options to tailor the game to the strengths, or weaknesses, of your setup. The Rockstar Editor is endlessly entertaining. The online heists are, with friends, some of the most fun you can have in a multiplayer game. The single-player story is an exhilarating series of increasingly absurd missions. And it all takes place in one of the richest, densest, most atmospheric game worlds ever built.
Metacritic score: 96
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 feels like the game CD Projekt RED always wanted to make. The two previous games in The Witcher series were both ambitious RPGs that at times felt hamstrung by budget or development time. This third game finally feels like the culmination of work from an experienced, confident studio, with the time and money it needs to make the game it wants.
Quite simply, The Witcher 3 is the best RPG of the year. Its story draws you in and its world holds you, filling your time for hours and hours and hours.
Here’s what Nick Diamon from Quarter to Three has to say:
It raises the bar on story and personality so much higher than it's been for RPGs. After spending some time as Geralt, it’s tough to shake the sense that being Commander Shepard, The Dragonborn, or even a Jedi Knight is so much less exciting than simply being a monster-hunter in fantasy Poland. Saving the universe is nothing compared to the look you’ll get when you confirm someone’s worst fears.
Metacritic scores: 93
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain appears to be a gritty open world game like so many others but throughout its story of international conspiracy and mercenary armies is a vein of silliness that raises the whole game above its competition. Any game that lets you strap a sleeping bear to a helium balloon which will float it into the sky for a helicopter to pick up and take back to your base to be put in a petting zoo has to make it onto the game of the year list.
There is a significant problem with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: the game has no proper end, instead it tails off leaving a great many story threads unresolved. However, despite this deeply frustrating aspect, it’s one of the best things I’ve played this year–sucking me into weeks of late nights as I experimented with the game’s sandbox.
Here’s what Dan Dawkins had to say for Gamesradar+:
MGS5 is a masterpiece. It's hard to imagine another AAA game that will be allowed a five-year development cycle, yet feel so completely the work of one man. A game where you can visit a prisoner's cell and hear Joy Division, just because it's the director's favourite band. MGS5 is a worthy legacy, and its imprint will be felt in open-world games for years to come. Just try re-visiting GTA 5 and experience the frustration of not being able to Fulton Extract a storage container, let alone use its contents as part of a complex micro-management resource simulation. Kojima has set a new bar for open-world control and depth of interaction.
Metacritic score: 91
StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void
It feels like the real-time genre’s heyday is behind it. Developers who were making RTS games are now off making MOBAs or tower defense games, so to dive into a distinctly ‘90s RTS is deeply satisfying. Starcraft 2 is a game where you can build up a massive army at your base and then just stomp it through the enemy’s front line, leaving a trail of tank carcasses and laser burns in your wake.
Legacy of the Void doesn’t just hark back to the past. It’s feels like Bioshock Infinite in that it takes that style of game to the most tightly designed and polished extreme that it can go.
Here’s what PC Gamer’s Chris Thursten had to say:
Legacy of the Void feels like a Blizzard game from another era—one where the box you buy (or download, I guess) contains a wide variety of experiences and promises to sustain investment for a long time to come. This is a game from the universe where the RTS never went away, where they kept getting made and improved over the course of decades. I’d say “they don’t make them like this any more”—but they clearly do.
Metacritic score: 87
The latest SimCity looked excellent (and had one of the best soundtracks to work to in the office) but it didn’t stand up to interrogation. Its underlying systems fudged numbers, ran into problems after running for too long, and didn’t reflect how a city worked. If Maxis, with the backing of a mega publisher like EA couldn’t make it work, what hope did an indie have?
Well, Colossal Order showed EA up because Cities: Skylines is the best city builder in years. It does all the fundamental parts of city building better than SimCity–its simulation is more robust, its systems clearer to understand, and its interface is more accessible. On top of that, Colossal also allowed for players to build mods for Skylines and built the game to be played offline.
Skylines is a must for anyone who enjoys watching a city grow.
Here’s what PCGamesN’s Fraser Brown had to say:
Cities: Skylines is absolutely the best city-builder I’ve played since SimCity 4. From macro to micro, from the sprawling transport networks and city-wide policies to the fine-tuned districts and street-level detail, it impresses. Its size and flexibility creates a fertile space for experimentation, making each new map, or even each new plot, a place to try out new plans for a hyper-efficient green utopia, filthy industrial powerhouse or anything in between.
Metacritic score: 86
Anything we've missed? Sign off with your games of the year and why you've chosen them below.