At one point, I thought that 2015 wasn’t going to be a great year for games, but boy was I wrong. Regardless of whatever system you owned, there was something for everyone to enjoy (even the Vita, provided you liked your Japanese imports). It certainly made choosing winners for some of these categories more challenging, that for sure. Anyway, enough banter - here are my picks for this year and the next. Enjoy!
Best New IP – Life Is Strange
I appreciate this won’t be for everyone, but Life Is Strange resonated with me in a rather surprising way. There were some utterly cringe-worthy moments, both in terms of the over-exaggerated Americana vibe and some of the utterly ridiculous dialogue (it was hella bad, y’all) but I got really invested in Max’s adventure. There were honestly times when I forgot there was a paranormal sub-plot to it all, as I was getting really invested in the characters.
More importantly, it was something that I played with my other half, as both of us agonised over the choices to be made (and, for the record, she chose poorly. Many times.) Admittedly, I did have some issues with way it ended, but the overall journey was something I would very much like DONTNOD to return to again. In short, if you liked adventure games and fancy something new, you should absolutely give this one a look.
Best Value – Cities: Skylines
Honorable Mention: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns
So, it turns out that to make a successful city-building simulator, all you need to do is not restrict the player in any way. Or talk out of your arse about how the world will end without cloud servers.
Cities: Skylines was a little rough around the edges, but it managed to give the player the freedom to whatever they liked in their quest to build their metropolis. Or collection of tiny towns across an ever-expanding map. Or place sewage works upstream of water pumps and watch the populace suffer (seriously though, there were a lot of corpses around my virtual town when I did that.) The fact that former Maxis developers who had worked on SimCity ended up making mods for it only further highlights just how right Colossal Order got it with Cities: Skylines. It gets my nod for Best Value simply because of how many fantastic deals there have been for it, and the quality of the game you get.
Most Surprising – Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
This one genuinely came out of nowhere and became a favourite title for me and my friends to play online… and all I was doing was reading a manual to decipher clues. You might think that sounds like the more boring thing in the world, but when the player with the virtual bomb in front of them is becoming increasingly panicked and yells out that there’s only 10 seconds left and only one try, giving the right answer becomes one of the most satisfying things in the world.
I’ll admit that I was utterly lost for my first few tries, but KTaNE grew on me very quickly, to the point where there was one week where my friends and I only played every evening. The more difficult bombs are ludicrous in what they throw at you, but I honestly think it is one of the best group / party titles to emerge this year.
Game of the Year - Rocket League
Come on, did you honestly expect me to say something else?
The PS Plus freebie took the world by storm when it released earlier this year, and I became so addicted that I ended up buying it on PC as well. Easy to learn and difficult to master, it brought me back into the world of competitive multiplayer and eSports that I’ve stayed away from in recent years. It got to the point where our former editorial overlord Matt & I would have weekly sessions taking on the online masses, and it’s something we’re actually still doing. I couldn’t say that for any other multiplayer game since… well, Halo 4.
The fact Psyonix has given away new arenas for free, ensuring the community hasn’t been fragmented (and made money by selling new car skins instead) only shows how confident they are in RL’s evergreen gameplay. And they should be confident, because it’s bloody awesome. I expect it will continue to be multiplayer favourite for some time, and I’ll definitely continue to play it next year. If that isn’t worthy reason for a GOTY nod, I don’t know what is.
Favourite Game of 2015 – Tales From The Borderlands
I’ve added this category in because there was no way I wasn’t mentioning Tales From The Borderlands in this article. Say what you will about Telltale’s style of gameplay, but they not only made it work with Gearbox’s franchise, but ended up creating their finest series to date. The story of Rhys and Fiona’s search for the Vault of the Traveller was fun, entertaining, and downright emotionally exhausting.
As a Borderlands fan I appreciated the way Telltale had utilised the story points from Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, but they also managed something that could act as a stand-alone game for newcomers. I have no idea if they plan on making a second season, or if things will be resolved in the next Borderlands title from Gearbox, but as my favourite game of 2015 I would certainly jump all over more of the same.
It also made playing through Borderlands 2 again almost impossible, as I can no longer bring myself to kill any kind of Loaderbot. So, yeah. Thanks for that, Telltale.
Most Disappointing – Everquest Next / Landmark becoming vapourware
What a different twelve months makes. My shout for most anticipated for this year ended up delivering nothing of worth, and is now considering vapourware by many that supported it in 2014. The alarm bells rang out at the start of the year when, just a week after Sony Online Entertainment became Daybreak Games, a number of layoffs happened. This included David Georgeson, the man who led the Everquest franchise for a number of years. While it wasn’t the death knell, it was certainly troubling.
Then a month later, Storybricks, the company responsible for the impressive-sounding AI that would control the NPCs and in-game world events, was shut down. While their work for Everquest Next was reportedly passed over to Daybreak, their closure was certainly seen as a yet another sign that things weren’t right. What really made it look like EQN and Lankmark were heading into obscurity was the lack of communication from the studio. Weekly streams became monthly updates, and then monthly updates became… well, hardly anything.
Landmark continues to be used, and there’s certainly still a community there that play it, but with no significant update since they began the open beta, my enthusiasm has all be disappeared for what was once my hope for my dream MMORPG. Part of me hopes it rises like a phoenix from the flames, but I honestly can’t see it happening.
The Konami Award for Biggest Facepalm – Konami
Brendan covered this in his post yesterday, but I’m going to bring it up again anyway. Regardless of his potential diva-ness or inability to budget, or the company’s desire to leave the AAA games market, the way Kojima was handled by Konami was a masterclass in bad choices. The fact Geoff Keighley was able to score points with the internet for his unscripted speech at the VGAs highlights just how far Konami have fallen from grace.
With The Phantom Pain not even having a proper ending to its story – which was the whole damn point to the game in the first place – it ultimately meant that the finely tuned gameplay did nothing to remove the sour taste in my mouth. Of course, come 2016 it won’t matter, as Kojima has gone solo (with Sony’s money) and Konami care more about Pachinko machines. But yeah, I’m a firm supporter of Jim Sterling’s very specific hashtag for Konami.
The Dealspwny Award for Most Mind-blowing Presentation – Bethesda at E3
While the surprise of Dishonored 2 was ruined thanks to a technical glitch, the rest of the Bethesda showcase was nothing short of a masterclass in hype generation. Doom’s re-reveal reminded us of what the series was originally about – much violence and many demons – and the Snapmap suite will finally allow console gamers to create levels that the PC community have been delivering for years.
Of course, that wasn’t the showstopper – all things Fallout brought the house down.
Fallout 4’s gameplay reveal, the unveiling of the PipBoy Collector’s Edition, the immediate release of Fallout Shelter (followed by me playing it for many, many months), the montage of the ridiculous customisation options, and then the news that we were just months away from playing it? It was suckerpunch after suckerpunch, and it won E3. Don’t get me wrong, I was as excited to see the Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Last Guardian as a thing as much as the next person, but Bethesda delivered an almost perfect presentation.
Most Anticipated for 2016 – Crowfall
Honourable Mentions: Fire Emblems Fates, Uncharted 4, Divinity: Original Sin 2
Revealed at the start of the year, the upcoming MMORPG / War Throne Simulator from ArtCraft Entertainment has come on in leaps and bounds since its crowd funding campaign came to the end of March. I go into much greater detail in a Crowfall preview video I published earlier this year, but the short of it is that Crowfall is an MMO where characters are persistent, but the worlds (or campaigns) are not. This means that no player will reign supreme forever, or if they do it’s because they really are the best of the best. It’s a concept I find incredibly exciting.
The developers have opted for transparency in regards to their work, with no NDA affecting backers who have tried out the Alpha builds of the game. This is on top of several candid videos that have no only demonstrated the progress on Crowfall, but have delivered an often untold look at how redevelopers operate during production. The Combat Milestone video is the perfect example of this, and I honestly recommend watching it even if you have no interest in Crowfall.
And then there’s yesterday’s news of the Crows & Vessels system which (to put it in a horrifically simple term) turns a player’s body into something akin to how ships work in EVE Online, with their soul (or ‘Crow’) and being immortal and housing player progression. There’s still plenty of work to be done, something the ACE team have stated themselves recently, but so long as they remain as open with their progress and deliver on their Kickstarter goals, I feel it could deliver a much needed shake-up to the MMOG landscape.
Announcement Hope for 2016 – Mass Effect: Andromeda release date
This one is almost certainly going to happen at E3 2016. Well, let me rephrase – it damn well better happen at E3 2016. The Mass Effect Trilogy is one of my favourite gaming experiences ever, and a return to the universe of bionics, omni-tools, and singing Salarians is well overdue. As someone who was very impressed with BioWare’s work on Dragon Age: Inquisition, I have high hopes for what they will deliver with the next Mass Effect game.
2015 game I’m looking forward to playing next year – Batman: Arkham Knight
Honourable Mention: All of Dragon Age: Inquisition’s DLC
Considering how impressed I was with the hands-on session I had at Gamescom 2014, it’s a shame that the final instalment in the Arkham series passed me by, but that’s the nature of this business. From what I’ve read, I appear to be in for a treat when I do start playing it, even if the Batmobile sections aren’t up to scratch. It’ll keep me entertained until the big titles arrive in February, at any rate.
Genre Picks for 2015
- Action: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
- FPS: Destiny: The Taken King (nearly pipped by Wolfenstein: The Old Blood)
- Multiplayer: Rocket League
- Racer: Forza Motorsport 6
- RPG: Fallout 4
- Platformer: Super Mario Maker
- Fighter: Mortal Kombat X
- Horror: Until Dawn
- Best indie:This War of Mine
- Best remaster: Journey (PS4)
Don't forget to let us know your picks for the best and worst games of the year too in the comments section below!