Looking over my top 5 games of 2015, I noticed a trend; all five of my choices have some outstanding soundtracks. There was the dreamy indie rock of Life is Strange, the licensed eighties music in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the hypnotic electronica in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, the angelic choral music of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and the orchestral/rock music of Destiny: The Taken King. Each soundtrack stood out in its own way and made my gaming sessions that much more enjoyable. 2015 was a fantastic year for games but it also brought the realization that it's almost 2016 and I'm still... playing Destiny.
Favorite game released before 2015, played in 2015: Valiant Hearts: The Great War
For whatever reason, this gem slid under the proverbial radar for me when it was initially released, but I finally got around to playing it this year and I was instantly endeared to it. The bright, vivid, cartoonish art style was superbly contrasted with the grim setting of World War I. Valiant Hearts also did a wonderful job portraying its characters as everyday folks caught up in the horrors of war. And that ending... I don't want to dip into spoiler territory, but suffice to say that it's difficult not to get a little choked up when the credits roll. Valiant Hearts is a fabulous little puzzle/adventure game that I would recommend to just about anyone who values a well told story.
5. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was my first experience with the "walking simulator" genre. And now, thanks to this game, I've put three or four similar games on my wish list. Everybody's Gone to theRapture is one of those rare games that encapsulates a strong emotional response. I knew this game was something special when I was walking down a darkened path in the woods, lit by fireflies, and accompanied by some of the most haunting, ethereal music I've heard in awhile (I still listen to the soundtrack on occasion). Everybody's Gone to the Rapture's story was also expertly crafted, but tasked the player with sleuthing around, looking for bits and pieces of gathered memories that provided context as to what happened in the quaint little town of Shropshire. It was a sizeable gamble seeing as how there was nothing stopping people from sprinting straight to the finish line and bypassing the majority of the narrative. Playing this game was relaxing and felt almost meditative; it was a nice break from the Bloodborne's and Devil May Cry's of the world.
4. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Ok, forget everything I said about "meditation" and being "relaxed", Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number does not care about you or your petty problems; it revels in the fact that you're going to die well over a thousand times within the first few hours and every minute of it... is glorious. The pulse pounding soundtrack, the arterial sprays of blood, the surreal, David Lynch-Esque storyline all culminate into a thumb eviscerating masterpiece. I was always surprised by how brutal the Hotline Miami games seemed to be despite the pixel art style, but Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is even more bloody and twisted than the first game. Also, being able to play as multiple characters with distinct playstyles was something I didn't know I wanted, but when I got my hands on it, I was instantly hooked.
3. Destiny: The Taken King
I know, I know, The Taken King is technically an expansion to the Destiny universe, but I would be remiss if I didn't include this entry seeing as how I'm still hopelessly addicted to this game. The Taken King took a lot of steps in the right direction. We were introduced to a leveling system that made even garbage blue gear relevant via the infusion process, we were given a fantastic endgame raid, and I may or may not have spent seven dollars on a "Thriller" emote. I get it, Destiny is repetitive. I've spent well over 1,000 hours grinding strikes, helping people through raids, and trying to go flawless in the Trials of Osiris. But the gameplay still feels as solid as it did on launch day, and while I know the Skinner Box manipulation is strong with this game, I still can't help but feel a little pang of excitement every time I decrypt an exotic engram. Vanilla Destiny was certainly lacking in the content department, but with the addition of Crota's End, House of Wolves, and now The Taken King, I have no problems recommending this game to even the most cynical of gamers.
2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
MGSV was a sea change for the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Instead of long, anime inspired cutscenes, we were treated to a more mature script with less emphasis on the convoluted Metal Gear mythos and more emphasis on gameplay. The melodramatics of past games were replaced with more subdued, believable performances; and the gameplay in MGSV quickly became my favorite in the series. Don't get me wrong, I love the previous Metal Gear Solid games (nanomachines included), but I was ready for a change. And while there was still enough "Kojima being Kojima" in the story, MGSV was a master class in emergent gameplay mechanics. When I found myself sticking C4 to the backs of oblivious guards, watching them get into a helicopter, blowing up said C4 and watching the wreckage plummet to the ground whilst listening to "Take on Me" by A-ha, I knew I was playing something special.
1. Life is Strange
Life is... weird. If you were to tell me that one of my favorite games in the past few years would end up being a bizarre mash-up of teen drama, time travel, and quirky indie rock, I would have questioned your sanity and also wondered if you somehow possessed the same time altering powers as Max Caulfield, the star of Life is Strange. Well, "star" isn't necessarily the right noun. The people of Arcadia Bay all have stories to tell and secrets to share; Max just happens to find herself hopelessly entangled in a web of deception, heartbreak, and intrigue. I don't want to say too much about the story, as it's best experienced by yourself. The plot in Life is Strange is its main selling point and wow, does it deliver.
Honorable Mentions: Broken Age, Until Dawn, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, White Night