The top 10 video games of 2015, ranked below, include both the extremely personal and the return of a household name, Lara Croft.
The bulk of my favorite games of the year allowed me to explore the world from unexpected points of view — a teenager with unexplainable powers, a dying tree struggling to come to life or a woman losing her virginity.
Today, there's more diversity than ever in interactive entertainment, not just in characters but in experiences, as the games that made a lasting impression range from big-budget console endeavors to experimental mobile titles.
1. "Cibele": An examination of an online-to-real-life relationship, told largely through the mostly autobiographical eyes of designer Nina Freeman, "Cibele" struggles with issues of intimacy, commitment and trust in an era when meeting face to face often comes after the initial crush. The game unfolds largely as a short story, with a player uncovering a game character's innermost thoughts. Thus, "Cibele" is about how we relate — to one another and our own digital selves.
2. "Her Story": A thoroughly modern detective story, one reflective of our voyeuristic, YouTube-obsessed age. The only option available to the player is to search, as different words will unwrap a mystery told in sound bites.
3. "Life Is Strange": Bullies, guns, drugs, a missing student — the life of teenage woman Max Caulfield is a mess, and the ability to rewind time doesn't make high school any easier. From suicide to natural disasters, "Life Is Strange" has big ideas, but its strength is in illuminating life's daily dramas.
4. "Rise of the Tomb Raider": Expect to gun down a few enemies, but this is Lara Croft in her smartest, most relatable role yet. The underlying tale may owe a debt to "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," but the puzzles — as well's as Croft's own self-examination — make this journey to forgotten lands and lost crypts feel like an unfamiliar adventure.
5. "Ori and the Blind Forest": A lush forest universe that appears lighted by glow sticks and boasts a melancholic score, "Ori and the Blind Forest" is a run-and-jump trek with a thoughtful, Disney-like ambience. There's even a dead parent in this luminescent journey, which is about a young creature growing up as much as it is completing challenges.
6. "Sunset": This is the rare war story that touches on those on the sidelines rather than the front lines. Told from the perspective of a housekeeper, the game deals more with class warfare rather than, well, warfare.
7. "Splatoon": Nintendo's "Splatoon" does for the shooter what the company's "Mario Kart" did for the racing game. That is, it makes the genre palatable for gamers and non-gamers alike, and it does so with the corporation's trademark goofiness. Human-squid hybrids that swim in paint? Why not.
8. "Prune": With swipes of the hand, players in "Prune" trim or guide a tree around barren, light-starved atmospheres. It's in the hands of the player to restore life to these seemingly infertile worlds, and also to know when to let go.
9. "Volume": One of the more subversive video games released this year, "Volume" re-imagines the Robin Hood myth as hacker fantasy. It's a game of stealth that raises big questions — namely, how much our middle class can be squeezed before it can't be squeezed anymore — as it sends the player on mini, thieving quests.
10. "Super Mario Maker": To celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Super Mario Bros.," Nintendo handed the keys over to the player, allowing users to craft their own worlds for Mario and friends to jump around. It's a love letter to one of the greatest games ever made, as well as an ode to the still-underappreciated craft of game design.
"Battlefield Hardline": The cops-versus-robbers shooter imagines a U.S. in which the police are militarized and reckless with bullets. It was a game that felt uncomfortably ripped from the headlines.