We ran our list of the best games of 2015 earlier this month, but we’ll break it down by console for you. We’re not just looking at console exclusives, but at the full range of releases for the year, excluding collections, reissues and remasters. So a game like The Witcher 3 could pop up on both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 list, whereas compilations like Rare Replay and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection won’t. (We’re doing a separate list for collections and reissues.) And now that we’ve gone over the methodology, let’s hit our first stop: the Xbox One.
Microsoft released what should’ve been the biggest exclusive on any system this year: Halo 5: Guardians. It sold a lot of copies and presumably entertained its fans and was definitely a success for the company. It’s not on our list because we didn’t particular care for it. Instead we have 10 games that we greatly enjoyed to different degrees, including a handful of exclusives and a number of games that’ll pop up on our other console lists. If you like videogames and own an Xbox One, there were certainly enough games to keep you entertained this year, no matter your tastes. Here are our favorites.
The Escapists manages to replicate almost perfectly the pleasure of watching films like Escape From Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption. Much like those films, The Escapists is a slow burn that builds to a fantastic finale in which the protagonist finally gets one over on the brutal security guards and wardens that have harassed them throughout. And this game really tries to draw that picture for you, with guards frequently demanding that you call them your king, brutally breaking up any fight with violence, and generally fulfilling the image of the dark-hearted prison guard from media history.—Cameron Kunzelman
Massive Chalice, at is finest, feels like an in-drawn breath, a nervous stillness punctured by the monstrous sounds of the Cadence lingering at the edge of the battlefield. As you scout ahead with your cloaked Hunters, you reach that point where your breath starts to hold, and as you lunge in with a phalanx of Caberjacks and Alchemists, giant logs and explosive flasks become the deafening shout punctuating your successful short-term strategy. It’s boisterously thrilling—even if sometimes, it’s a thrill to be felt over and over again.—Bryant Francis
Rock Band 4 intentionally feels as much like classic Rock Band as it can, and that will be comforting for the game’s dedicated cult following. Letting you use instruments and play songs from older consoles is more than you should probably expect from a videogame, but it’s also something Harmonix had to do to make sure the most diehard Rock Band fans made the jump. I am one of those diehards, as is my wife, and we seamlessly slid into Rock Band 4 like we were still jamming on the Xbox 360. It is the same game, more or less, and that’ll be good news for people who love Rock Band.—Garrett Martin
Invisible walls, authority figures who have pre-determined mistrust towards you no matter what you do, no sense of personal privacy, and a never-ending to-do list… I guess I never realized all the inherent similarities between high school and videogames until I played the first three-hour episode of Life Is Strange. It reminds me of the parts of Beyond: Two Souls that I didn’t hate: a teenage girl with super-powers but also realistic life problems and serious consequences. Everybody else at school thinks Max is stuck-up and a pretentious jerk; I can tell why they’d think that, and it’s why Max seems human and flawed. She’s just a teenager, trying on different types of “coolness” for size.—Maddy Myers
Available only on the Xbox One and computers, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a co-op game that forces legitimate cooperation without ever feeling overly strict or punitive. You and your partner have to work together to guide your ship through unexplored galaxies while searching for supplies and power-ups, and if you’re good you’ll quickly be able to control your ship and fight off enemies without even talking to each other. It’s an almost physical link that can verge on the telepathic. The game also looks and sounds amazing, too, with its hypercolor, cartoon rave aesthetic.—GM
Guitar Hero Live, with its streaming music video channels, is now as much of a music delivery service as it is a game, and that ensures its livelihood, at least in my household. As long as they’re running and updating Guitar Hero TV, I’ll carve out time for this game. It offers something that no other game, and really, no other TV station, currently does: a powerful combo of play, nostalgia and discovery. I mean, I’d never buy a Darwin Deez record, but I’m glad I’ve seen that video, you know?—GM
The Phantom Pain might be the only open-world game I’ve ever played where I can say I feel like I wasn’t wasting my time on some activity that was dull or poorly designed. Even my favorite games in the genre all have at least one or two clunky activities that they force you to do over and over again for the sake of progression, tainting the experience. However, nothing feels like a chore in The Phantom Pain. It’s a game made by people who know the pieces of its construction intimately and how those pieces should connect to one another, who understand that making the small moments matter is just as important as the big picture.—Javy Gwaltney
When I think of my time in Witcher 3, which is still going, I think mainly of the quest for Ciri, your adoptive daughter. I think of mages with freckles and villagers working fields after you drive away their tormenters. I think of it as a game which says that all we have is each other, as family and friends. As people, whose lives are short but brilliant. As a game that says that what makes life worth living and struggling for isn’t trying for perfection but our common imperfections. It’s aspiration by way of mundanity and I don’t know that I’ve played anything quite like it.—Ian Williams
Ori and the Blind Forest is a gorgeous adventure with an aesthetic that seems vaguely indebted to a variety of world cultures and mythologies. With its focus on forest spirits and a sylvan setting it resembles a Miyazaki film, but there’s no explicit connection to Japanese mythology. It borrows the fundamental feeling of mythic storytelling to depict a basic hero’s journey, with all the loss and personal growth that entails.—GM
It’s amazing that something with Fallout 4’s scope and magnitude remains as bewitching as this game does. Bethesda’s formula is overly familiar by this point, but from a story perspective these games exploit the freedom afforded by the medium more than almost any other notable examples. Fallout 4 is built on mystery and discovery. We can charge through the main storyline as quickly as we’d like, but the true power of this game comes from exploring at our own pace, uncovering its secrets in no certain order and at no set time.—GM