2015

A character in Until Dawn. Video game characters are looking amazingly realistic.

Above: Can you save everyone in Until Dawn?

Image Credit: Sony

Until Dawn (Supermassive Games) — Your job is to save eight (sometimes annoying) teenagers as they stay overnight in a horror-perfect resort on a snowy mountain. The “butterfly effect” is in full force, as the smallest decisions can result in life or death for a character. It has some excellent acting, astoundingly good human face animations, and some truly creepy horror.

Above: The world goes up in flames.

Image Credit: Sega

Total War: Attila (The Creative Assembly) — I spent hundreds of hours playing this real-time strategy game. You defend the doomed Roman Empire against hordes of barbarians on every front. It’s a losing proposition, but it fulfils the vision of being able to zoom in on soldiers fighting and zoom out to see the full strategic scope of the real-time 3D battle. I didn’t play many games that year, because this one took all of my time.

2016

Above: Sam and Nathan are part of what makes the Uncharted series so enjoyable.

Image Credit: Sony

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog) — The ending of this series is so bittersweet, as it both brings closure to Nathan Drake’s career as an adventurer and a satisfying outcome for characters we loved along the way like Sully, Elena, and Nathan’s mischievous and irresponsible brother, Sam. It’s an amazing combination of action gameplay, exploration, beautiful landscapes, real characters, and story about pirates.

Above: Adam Jensen is the hero of Deus EX: Mankind Divided.

Image Credit: Square Enix

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (Eidos Montreal) — Augs, or augmented humans, are the second-class citizens of this nightmare world, and shadowy conspirators have pitted them against natural humans, causing a civil war. That puts a lot of pressure on the super-aug Adam Jensen to figure out what is really happening behind the scenes.

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Above: Clash Royale showed Supercell could make a hit after Clash of Clans.

Image Credit: Supercell

Clash Royale (Supercell) — I was addicted to this very simple version of a multiplayer online battle arena. You must destroy the other guy’s castle, sending your forces up two different paths in real time. It set the high bar in addictive mobile gameplay.

Above: Ryan Green comforts his son, Joel.

Image Credit: Numinous Games

That Dragon, Cancer (Numinous Games) — This game is unique and so sad. It’s the creative effort of two parents who lost a 5-year-old child to cancer and their attempt to convey what that experience was like. It’s depressing, but I think it’s conveys a part of the human experience that you should not miss.

Above: Don’t mess with the Mancubus.

Image Credit: Giancarlo Valdes/GamesBeat

Doom (id Software) — This modern re-imagining of the fast-action shooter paid off because the developers found a way to force you out of cover and into the fray full of the demons of hell. No game was more frenetic.

Above: Pokemon Go is leading the conversation about VR/AR.

Image Credit: Niantic Inc.

Pokémon Go (Niantic) — No other game got me off the couch and walking around in my environment as Pokémon Go. It’s a very social game, even though the multiplayer and social features arrived late in its history. And it’s one of the only games that my entire family played together.

2017

Senua from Hellblade, one of the most lauded digital human animations and performaces of recent years.

Above: Senua from Hellblade, one of the most lauded digital human animations and performaces of recent years.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory) — The developers were faithful to the vision of depicting a mentally ill character with compassion and empathy. Senua’s story has inspired so many people who are coping with illnesses such as psychosis. And it’s a great action game, with equal elements of wonder and horror.

Above: Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Aloy is one of 2017’s standout characters.

Image Credit: Sony

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games) — This was a remarkable blending of prehistoric dinosaurs and science fiction in a vision of the future that might very well come to pass some day. Let’s hope the human race will steer off this path.

Above: The coronation level in What Remains of Edith Finch.

Image Credit: Sony/Giant Sparrow

What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow) — This collection of short stories was tied together by a story of a cursed family. It did a remarkably good job of weaving gameplay and story together, as demonstrated in the fish-cutting story in particular.

2018

Arthur Morgan is the main character of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Above: Arthur Morgan is one of Red Dead Redemption 2’s memorable characters.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar) — The single-player campaign goes on for a staggering 105 missions. It could have been shorter, but Rockstar set a new bar with its convincing open world, and it created a memorable story of the Wild West in this prequel to the 2010 game. I’ll always remember characters like Arthur Morgan and Dutch Van der Linde. And I’m sorry to say it, but you can’t really give your opinion on this game until you finish it.

God of War

Above: God of War nails the reboot.

Image Credit: Sony

God of War (Sony Santa Monica) — I didn’t care for the franchise before this game. I didn’t give a damn about Kratos, until he had a kid. But this father-son story is so well done that it drew me in and made me appreciate what could be done with a franchise reboot.

Doing what a spider can.

Above: Doing what a spider can.

Image Credit: Insomniac Games

Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac) — The developers mastered the balance of storytelling, gameplay, and a open world with our favorite webslinger. It hit all the high points of why we like Marvel so much. Just swinging around the city was so fun. But the story with Mary Jane and Doc Ock is so good, it could have been a movie.

2019

Apex Legends.

Above: Apex Legends.

Image Credit: Respawn

Apex Legends (Respawn Entertainment) — This version of battle royale hooked me from the very first matches I played. It’s accessible, funny, and fast. And it also has great guns, an interesting map, and a good balance of characters with special powers.

I have my money on the guy with the lightsaber.

Above: I have my money on the guy with the lightsaber.

Image Credit: EA

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) Respawn Entertainment — I waited a long time to play a Star Wars game that has a combination of outstanding gameplay, good characters, and a good story. The action takes inspiration from Dark Souls and Metroid, and it kept me coming back to try to beat an unsurmountable obstacle, again and again. I felt that each scene and each battle had been crafted so I could just barely win or barely lose.

Farah Ahmed Karim is the leader of rebel forces in Urzikstan in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Above: Farah Ahmed Karim is the leader of rebel forces in Urzikstan in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward) — The previews showed this game was going to be seriously gritty or horrific, depending on your tolerance for violence against non-combatants. But the gameplay turned out to be carefully orchestrated to show you the horrors of war, without allowing the player to engage in the most horrific episodes. And it has a good lead character in Farah Ahmed Karim. It is tough to play, with scenes of child combat, chemical warfare, and torture. But it makes its point with a well-told story and good characters. The multiplayer turned out to be one of the more enjoyable modes, with better graphics realism, crossplay, and free DLC than in previous games. It’s disturbing and thoughtful.

Above: Remedy’s Control

Image Credit: Remedy Entertainment

Control (Remedy Entertainment) — Control shows that Remedy has a real knack for imaginative stories. It also weaves in themes and references to early games, like Alan Wake, to show that storytellers like Sam Like have been thinking about the same ideas for decades. The setting is surreal and imaginative.

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