It’s becoming harder to tell exactly what people mean when they talk about “digital games” in 2015. Practically every game is available to download on some digital store nowadays. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on games that are only available in a digital format, because the distinction is still meaningful.
Digital-only games tend to have a tighter focus than big $60 retail games. They generally move quicker and use only one or two game mechanics. They’re almost always the products of smaller teams with smaller budgets, which frees them up to take more risks and offer niche gameplay that AAA titles simply can’t afford to do.
Below, we take a look at the 10 highest-rated digital games of 2015 on PlayStation 4. The rankings are based on the games’ Metacritic scores, which should give us the clearest picture of how highly the games are regarded overall.
Metacritic Score: 81
Helldivers is an intergalactic shooter in which you command a squad of four futuristic fighters as they blast through waves of aliens. The graphics look great, offering a top-down view of the action that lets you strategize exactly which insectoid baddies you want to riddle with bullets first. The game supports Cross-Buy and Cross-Play, so you can buy it once and play it on any PlayStation system you own, picking up right where you left off.
Metacritic Score: 83
If you’re looking for a unique game, Jamestown+ ought to satisfy that particular craving. The game is set in the 1600s, but it doesn’t take place on Earth. Instead, the game imagines an alternate history in which humans cracked space travel several hundred years early, and the British have established a colony on Mars.
To bring that kind of a setting to a top-down shooter is a bold choice, but it works out great for Jamestown+. The game is fun to play alone, but if you can gather three friends to join you in the co-op mode, you’ll have a blast killing historical aliens together.
8. Resident Evil HD Remaster
Metacritic Score: 83
Resident Evil is the PS One game often credited with kicking off the entire survival horror genre. Naturally, Capcom thought it was worthy of being remastered in HD for modern systems. Like the original, this spiffy version has you explore a mansion full of undead dogs and resilient zombies, eating herbs to regain health and using a typewriter to save your game.
As a nod to the way times have changed over the past couple of decades, the game even includes a simplified control scheme for anyone who doesn’t want to use the original “tank controls.” The result is a game that’s every bit as good as you remember.
7. Broken Age
Metacritic Score: 83
Fifteen months is a long time to wait for the second half of a game. That’s the slog endured by customers of Broken Age, a point-and-click adventure from Double Fine that was successfully Kickstarted a couple of years ago. Thankfully, the finished game was worth the wait.
Broken Age follows the lives of two teenage protagonists whose worlds don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. Vella lives in a land where a giant beast terrorizes the villagers unless they offer up a young maiden each year. The other half of the game centers on Shay, a lonely young man in a space ship. How the stories connect is only one of the game’s many mysteries.
6. Axiom Verge
Metacritic Score: 84
Nintendo has ignored the Metroid series for several years now, so Tom Happ, the maker of Axiom Verge, has stepped up to deliver what fans want. You play as a scientist who wakes up in a strange world full of sprawling environments, strange enemies, and useful items scattered around.
After you play it and realize how fantastic it is, it might surprise you that Happ is the sole creator of this game. He did the art, programming, and music all by himself. For a game this good, that’s quite an accomplishment.
5. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster
Metacritic Score: 85
Way back in 2001, when the Final Fantasy series leapt to the PlayStation 2 era, it blew our collective minds. The graphics, the voice acting, the Blitzball. It was — and remains — a fantastic game.
Now Square Enix has given it a new coat of paint, bundled in the sequel, and released it across all current PlayStation systems. The result is a killer collection of top-notch RPG action. Whether you played the games when they were first released or not, this is a solid buy.
4. OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood
Metacritic Score: 85
This skateboarding game offers more of what fans loved about the original OlliOlli: tough side-scrolling levels in which precision and style are key factors. Your job is to reach the end of each level while stringing together wicked tricks into high-scoring combos. It’s all about quick thinking and fast fingers.
If you can complete all of the goals in this game, you’re operating on a whole other level than the rest of us. It’s that tough, but also highly rewarding.
3. Zen Pinball 2: Star Wars Rebels
Metacritic Score: 88
You don’t hear much about pinball in these post-arcade days, but that doesn’t mean the genre is dead. The makers of the excellent game Zen Pinball 2 are keeping pinball alive and well by consistently releasing new DLC packs of tables that are loads of fun to play.
This year we’ve gotten ones based on Star Wars Rebels, CastleStorm, and the Old West. If you like pinball even a little, they’re definitely worth a look.
Metacritic Score: 89
In Bastion, you play as a kid who has to make his way through a monster-infested world after an event referred to as the Cataclysm. It’s an action role-playing game, so you can expect to try out lots of weapons, customize your character, and hack your way through swarms of enemies.
And if that’s not enough, one of the biggest selling points of Bastion is its soundtrack. This game is set against a backdrop of one great song after another, and they just keep coming. Throw in a gravelly voiced narrator and a vivid, colorful world, and you’ve got a killer package.
1. Shovel Knight
Metacritic Score: 91
This retro-inspired action platformer is like a mash-up of the glory days of the NES. With obvious inspiration from games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Duck Tales, Shovel Knight has you hack, slash, and shovel-jump your way through a series of gorgeously pixelated levels, fighting innovative enemies and massive bosses along the way.
But don’t mistake this game for a thoughtless rehash of the classic games of yore. It throws in enough new ideas and gameplay mechanics (like checkpoints and a risk-reward system for collecting coins) to keep any modern gamer happy.