2014 was a year of big expectations but ultimately ended with a lot of delays and plenty of mediocre delivery. It wasn’t the worst year in gaming; in fact, it was actually a pretty impressive launch year for a new console generation. However, it was 2015 that was set to shine, and while we have again seen another share of delays, this was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable years for gaming in a long time. Not only did we receive our first batch of games that are set to be immortalised in the gaming hall of fame, but it was also the year Xbox found its feet again; where the PC ecosystem grew stronger than ever, and where PlayStation blew up E3 with The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue 3. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the best for all – Nintendo had a rough year coupled with the heart-breaking loss of their president, Satoru Iwata, but even then, rumours of the upcoming Nintendo NX fills us with hope.
Overall, 2015 was a solid year for gaming despite a handful of disappointments; and, unlike last year where we had to scrape the barrel for other ways to recognise achievements within the industry, we have a solid list of best games to share with you. We hope you get to experience them all, and we look forward to all the exciting games ahead in 2016!
Personally, I look for two qualities in a game of the year: I want to be engaged by great storytelling and I want to have my skills challenged as a player – ideally both. Perhaps, even more important, however, is finding a game that never makes me feel like I’m wasting time. Too many games today make me feel like I’m simply going through the motions, and that leaves me feeling frustrated and hollow. Arkham Knight, Mad Max, Battlefront, AC Syndicate, Black Ops III, and even Fallout 4; all decent enough AAA games, but I struggled to derive anything deep or meaningful from them.
If you’re a fan of the Souls’ series, you’ll already understand why I’ve chosen Bloodborne. If you’re not, however, let me take a moment to explain why. For me, there were only two real contenders in 2015: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Bloodborne. It was a hard choice too because I thoroughly believe The Witcher III is a revolution for both writing in RPGs and open-world game design. However, not all of its components are equal, and this is why I can’t overlook Bloodborne as it is without a doubt the most harmonious game to be released this year. What exactly do I mean by ‘harmonious’? Basically, it’s that every component of the game comes together holistically to create an experience that’s perfectly balanced. While Dark Souls was once a revolution, Bloodborne is the game to truly refine the concept.
With a deep Lovecraftian-inspired universe that’s expertly crafted down to the last cobblestone, Bloodborne is not only the most elegant Souls experience to date, it’s the most definitive game of 2015. It’s an experience that is arduous but rewarding, challenging but fair, and even better when experienced with other people. By cutting away the fat which slowed down its predecessors, it’s much more accessible to newcomers but still pushes veterans to their limits and encourages all to master its mechanics. Most importantly, though, it’s a game that respects you enough to give you the tools you need and allows you to discover its nuances on your own. Like a controversial piece of art, I totally understand why some might not enjoy it, but I do think the industry as a whole should be able to appreciate it.
I really, really wanted this to be Fallout 4; I wanted to have emerged from the Wasteland just for this list to announce that it was the greatest thing ever to grace this Earth. Shane’s still got you covered if you looked into the abyss, felt it look back, and are now in each others damning, glowing embrace. A game of the year, however, has to be well executed as well as pretty and vaguely entertaining; it doesn’t need to be expansive or hi-octane, it just needs to know what it’s about and roll with it to perfection. That describes Armello, a digital boardgame in the greatest sense, blending classic board game design with video game mechanics in a beautifully realised world.
A surprising amount of narrative is packed into the game, either through the art, flavor text, or just watching the game’s events unfold, and replaying is rewarded with further small details. Inspired in part by Brian Jacques’ Redwall, among some of my other childhood cherishes, Armello is the world for which the title gets its namesake. It’s a land of danger, magic, anthropomorphic woodland creatures, loyalty, betrayal, unfortunate (though ultimately forgivable) camera controls, and revenge. So much revenge – I will seriously cut you if you come near me, I’m not even kidding.
What I found most impressive about Armello was how it translated potentially clunky board game mechanics into smooth and well-executed video game mechanics. I love the idea of a board game that was designed to be a video game, which incorporates mechanics into its design that would be amazing for a board game but could only work in a virtual space. Armello takes this idea and runs with it, creating a massive amount of replayability in a charming, beautifully illustrated world where cute animals brutally murder the shit out of each other. That sentence alone makes it GOTY, am I right?
If ever there was an example of perfect timing, it would be Cities: Skylines. After the disappointment of EA’s SimCity back in 2013, the city-building genre was looking a touch stagnant. So, what did the community do? They looked elsewhere, and what they found was something that could actually deliver what it promised. Colossal Order, the guys who had specialised in making games about public transport, were working on a city building game. Whether it was a coincidence or a brilliantly timed move from the marketing team didn’t matter, because this game was happening, and people were excited.
Thankfully, it didn’t suck balls when it came out. The UI was inviting to newcomers, so it didn’t take a Mensa qualified genius to plan cities out, but there was enough to it to keep veterans of the genre happy. The simulation was based on Colossal Order’s previous games, so it didn’t involve people seeking random homes like SimCity, not to mention that the size of the maps was genuinely city sized. Most importantly, it gave modders free reign to add whatever they wanted into the game, and by The Nine, they ADDED stuff.
To this day, there is still a strong community for Cities: Skylines, and it’s not hard to see why. With the consistent dev support, the fervent modders doing their thing and an expansion pack just released, it’s definitely an achievement for Colossal Order. Regardless of the impeccable timing, it’s just a hell of a good game, and because of that, it gets my pick. It was the little game that could… And then it did it better than EA.
There are several things I absolutely need to enjoy a game enough to finish it these days, and it’s rare to find a game that ticks every box. This year my game of the year was without a doubt Rise of the Tomb Raider with an almost perfect score. It had a strong female lead that didn’t need to be sexy or dainty to progress, and Lara was suitably dressed for adventuring the whole time. The story was well written with no gaping holes to annoy me, and I am already counting the days until I can play the expansion and the next release.
The various, large locations were partly what I was missing in the previous game, and it lifted TR from an action/adventure stuck in a linear tale, to something far more fulfilling. I had every weapon, tool and upgrade I wanted without losing the challenge of the game and was properly rewarded for seeking out the special item parts. Rise of the Tomb Raider was gorgeous and detailed to the point of distraction, making even the tensest sequences beautiful from every angle. It was fun, satisfying, and had a continuation after the credits, so I didn’t have to stop playing yet; I actually feel sorry for those without an Xbox One who have to wait a little longer to enjoy it.
In contrast to what the banner may suggest, my pick for game of the year is Just Cause 3. However, instead of rehashing my JC3 first impressions article or criticising Nick for his dislike of quality B-grade action film plots, I’ve chosen to move from one explosive game to another and grace you with a paragraph about Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes- my pick for indie game of the year.
Released on PC in October by developer Steel Crate Games, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a co-operative multiplayer puzzle game in which a team of players attempts to diffuse a randomly generated animated bomb before the timer runs out. If that wasn’t challenging enough, only one player is allowed to see the bomb, while the others use instructions in their bomb manual to assist the player (whether through irl F2F, virtual F2F or audio communication).
With only a single inexpensive copy of the game required for infinite people to play (only the player who sees the bomb requires a copy, while the unseeing but all-knowing team of experts access the free bomb manual through a Google search for ‘bomb manual’… yeah, good luck ASIO), and gameplay founded in logical puzzle solving and communication as opposed to dexterity or an understanding of video game mechanics, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a highly accessible game that appeals to… well, anyone who has ever wanted to cut the red wire. Further, the bomb is randomly generated, there are a variety of modules to solve, and every team of experts you recruit will operate differently, which makes each playthrough a unique experience.
This is the perfect party game, and one that I have really enjoyed playing and watching friends play -attempts to convey information often make for much spectator amusement- over the past couple of months. Pro tip: If you don’t know how to interpret morse code, you will pick it up pretty quickly in-game or risk the wrath of all your friends.
Without question, I’ll be playing Fallout 4 for many months to come. Having never experienced any prior games in the franchise, I’m stunned by how immersed and engrossed I’ve become with this post-apocalyptic wasteland. The freedom that awaits you in the Commonwealth after emerging from Vault 111 is colossal; even after 60+ hours, you’ll find that you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. The amount of choice is incredible, and I even found myself avoiding the main story to pursue the side missions with groups such as the Minutemen, or simply taking my time to go out and explore the vast land for new locations and items.
The gameplay is adjustable to the player’s liking with a great array of weapons and perks to select from, and, I kid you not, my go-to weapon is the Grognak’s axe! I essentially played it like a hack ‘n’ slash by axing my way through ghouls and raiders all the while adding points towards better melee damage. The crafting element surprisingly hooked me in, and now I’ve probably played the role of town planner for about 5 hours of the game. The ability to build settlements and to watch it grow to a haven for settlers feels rewarding and like you’re making a difference. Fallout 4 overall has so many great qualities and exciting things to find that it was difficult to put the controller down at times. I’ve had many late nights and lack of sleep, but by dammit; it was all worth it! Having the sense of endless possibility and freedom engaged my curiosity at every turn. It’s a rare quality to find in a modern game and something that Fallout 4 excels at.
It’s difficult to talk about the game without spoiling it, and getting spoiled does ruin the entire experience for you, so I would highly recommend not reading any further and just giving the demo a shot right now. No, seriously. This is your last chance to go in with no expectations!
Created by Toby Fox (of Homestuck fame), Undertale caused quite a stir when it came out in September. But it all started back in 2013 when Undertale had a wildly successful Kickstarter. It was funded for 200% of its original goal within 10 hours. Undertale’s success is as much a good example of indie game marketing as it is actual game development. Within months of its release, Undertale discussion and fan art had exploded across Tumblr and Twitter, and it’s still going strong. The reason I picked it up in the first place was because so many people I follow online were raving about it. And, in my opinion, Undertale is all it’s cracked up to be.
Undertale is a retro-looking RPG in which you have the option to befriend and spare your enemies. That is, you don’t have to hurt anyone even though you’re a very strong fighter for a small child of indeterminate gender.
The game has a great sense of humour and an even better soundtrack. The writing is really fantastic, and though the game is relatively short, it is also very dense. Replay value exists intrinsically, and the game has about 17 different endings, depending on which bosses you kill or spare. It is also extremely aware of itself, how gamers play RPGs, and gaming culture in general; including live streaming and let’s plays.
This is an amazing project that has clearly been made by a gamer, for gamers.
Oh Geralt, you silver-hair-and-bearded wolf, you did it again. Well, ok, CD Projekt RED did it again.
The Witcher series has grown from an obscure and clunky (yet still incredible) RPG to a genre-leading behemoth that has improved every step of the way. While The Witcher 2 was defined by its gorgeous visuals and complex decision-based narrative, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an expansive open-world adventure teeming with detail, deep narrative and again – gorgeous visuals.
It’s clear from the beginning that The Wild Hunt is a game crafted with passion and respect for players, whether they’re new or existing fans of the series. The story revolves around Geralt of Rivia’s search for his apprentice Ciri, who he believes is being hunted by an otherworldly force called The Wild Hunt. His search puts him right in-between two warring Kingdoms, and the subsequent turmoil that’s spread across the lands. What I’ve always enjoyed about the series is how the monsters Geralt slays are by-products of human nature – and often it’s humans themselves who are the real monsters (it’s less cliché sounding in the game).
Quests, no matter how small, are given contex and meaning, and it’s great to see Geralt’s exasperated reactions to the sillier requests made of him. The Bloody Baron quest line is perhaps one of the greatest narratives to grace the interactive medium, delving into heavy subject matters and deep exposition for seemingly small-part characters. There feels like a never ending list of things to do, craft, explore, kill, and loot, but unlike many other open-world games it never feels hollow. The world itself has a story to tell, and wherever Geralt goes there seems to be more to find.
After hearing about this new game called Rocket League being on sale on the Playstation Store and for free for PS Plus members, I was then told by a friend to get it immediately. At first, I was sceptical as I thought it would be like any other sports game. I then soon discovered the craziness of the game, which slightly resembled a game that Top Gear had invented called car soccer (or, football, as they called it), only with a much smaller car powered by coloured nitrous and the ability to drive up walls and hit a ball into a large soccer goal; all the while trying to blow up the opposition team by running into them at high speeds, much like a demolition derby.
Since its release back in July, it has quickly come to forefront of fame and even won the best indie title at this year’s Game Awards. With its catchy techno music and fast-paced, explosive action, it is a game that is most enjoyed with a company of friends, online or four player split screen, something that isn’t that common these days. I know I have yelled and screamed many times watching the ball fly its way across the field towards the opposition’s goals only to see it intercepted by a goalie and go directly into my own goals.
But what makes the game so fun? Is it the way the game brings out everyone’s competitive and sometimes not so friendly attitude towards the game? Or is it the hectic flying about in these little, colourful, indestructible cars? Or is it a combination of both? I say it’s that and more. And with mods now just introduced, it has certainly made the game a lot more interesting and hilarious, if I do say so myself.
It’s no secret that The Phantom Pain is sloppily incomplete, but that shouldn’t overshadow just how brilliant the game is. I love Metal Gear for the nebulous lore, astounding characters and uniquely interesting marriage of western and eastern culture and direction. MGSV adds an addictive, satisfying, and thoroughly entertaining gameplay-loop. The sheer fun of playing TPP can’t be understated, and I found certain moments in the narrative to be as impactful and entertaining as the best of its predecessors. What truly blows me away, though, are the intricate, elaborate systems holding it all together.
I’d always go for head-shots with my tranq pistol. This was all well and good until they figured out what I was up to and started wearing helmets. They’ll wear gas masks if you rely on poisons, night vision goggles if you tend to strike at night, or heavy armour if you’re going in guns-blazing. The adaptive AI encourages and rewards an adaptive player.
Everything is tangible in Metal Gear Solid V. Everything has purpose, context, value. Everything is connected. As you build Mother Base and establish your own private army, you start to see enemies, vehicles and wildlife as potential recruits and assets. You can take any men, sea containers, trucks or sheep you like for your base, but not without spending some GMP. Similarly, the more gear you take into a mission, the more GMP the deployment will cost you. All actions have effects and repercussions, whether it be the economy of Mother Base or the strategy of your foes.
Here’s the crazy part though; there are no smoke or mirrors here. When you best an auspicious soldier and send him back to your base, he’ll be there. That same guy – same face, same voice – it’s him, not just a +1. When an enemy calls for reinforcements, there aren’t guys spawning around the corner and running in – they’re real enemies from across the huge map reacting accordingly. The world exists, lives, and reacts to all of your actions.
My choice for best game of 2015 came very far out of left field, and wasn’t even of my own discovery! Earlier this year, my partner introduced me to a YouTube channel she had been watching known as Cool Ghosts; hosted and run by two British lads who are involved with the popular board game review site “Shut Up & Sit Down”.
Over the course of a seven video series “Hellduffers,” I was introduced to a top down shooter by the name of Helldivers. Developed by Arrowhead Game Studios, their past work has most notably been the first Magicka and the latest installment in the Gauntlet series. Borrowing from the pro-military propaganda vibe from the Starship Troopers films, Helldivers puts you behind the wheel of a solider fighting for Super Earth – defending your home planet and liberating the galaxy from all foreign races; from cyborgs to aliens, for glory and justice.
With a maximum of 4 players, Helldivers also has a great integrated community system. At the completion of each planet, your points will be tallied and contributed towards the global war effort – as continuous war campaigns are started and finished as events naturally progress in real time.
Despite my enjoyment of the tongue in cheek narrative, I was immediately attracted to the similarities it shared with Magicka. A game which employs both the ability to either play with extremely hard fought teamwork, or utterly destructive chaos – Helldivers has been the best multiplayer engagement I’ve had in video games this year. From yelling between me and my friends, to purposely killing one another there is such a unique and differed experience to be had each and every time you pick up the game.
Available on PS3/4, Vita and having just released on PC – now is the perfect time to pick up a controller, and fight for Super Earth!
2015 has been a colossal year for gaming; with many great offerings from big developers and indies alike, plus the next gen juggernauts Xbox One and PS4 finding their feet in the modern world of gaming. It’s indeed difficult to pick a single best game, and while not an easy choice, Tripwire’s 2015 offering, Killing Floor 2 takes my top spot. The fast-paced, frantic trigger-happy sequel to 2009’s breakout hit has proved to be not only the most hotly anticipated co-op shooter of some time, but also one with perhaps the most actively involved community of recent years.
Aside from the obvious point of the intense gore factor, Killing Floor 2 exhibits exceptionally well-balanced and well-paced team play that coerces players into effective teamwork- new players unfamiliar with the style of gameplay may find their selves quickly overwhelmed if they take the lone-wolf approach. Safety in numbers quickly becomes apparent, as well as sharing of resources where possible.
The real appeal I found within Killing Floor 2, aside from the finely tuned gameplay mechanics came from the community’s open-armed adoption of the game and its assets- No sooner had Killing Floor 2 been released than the modding community worked their magic and bequeathed the booming fanbase with a raging torrent of original content, mostly taking the form of new and creative maps (upon its initial release, Killing Floor 2 only had three official maps to boot). With the somewhat agonizingly slow early access start of Killing Floor 2 underway, a ravenous player base found their appetites satiated by the creativity and innovation of the modding community.
I would argue that the ease of creativity with Killing Floor 2 is what helped sustain the community’s interest, and ongoing popularity and success of it while waiting for new official content (which, fortunately Tripwire did deliver on in the form of new perks, maps and weapons)- if Tripwire had not made their project so accessible, it is entirely likely that soon, the community would have lost interest and moved on to something else, so hats off to Tripwire for involving the community in their product.
Never have I found it so easy to sink over 100 hours into a game. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has a simple premise but so much depth and such an awarding sense of progression that dedicating weekends just to this game was a frequent occurrence throughout the year.
As the name suggests, the aim of the game if for the player to hunt monsters. At its core, Monster Hunter pits the player in a series of “boss battles” against monsters from Dragons to Giant Crabs to Land Sharks. Killing these monsters allows the player to collect materials to make weapons and armor. No EXP or levels are awarded to the player, the only way to get stronger is by getting better items, which leaves the player’s skill in combat as the sole factor in bringing a monster down.
Combat in this game is spot on. Each hit has to be strategic and well timed. A plethora of strategies can be executed with the 14+ types of weapons available, such as daggers, swords, and, my favorite, the charge blade – a sword/shield combo that the player can transform into a giant axe during combat. Verticality is also introduced into the combat system in MH4U allowing the player to climb cliffs and jump off ledges to perform aerial strikes on giant creatures. This can sometimes lead to the player mounting the creature to do extensive damage, adding a dynamic element to the monsters.
A lengthy single-player campaign ensures new players can ease themselves into the sometimes intimidating complexities of the game. However, once familiar, using the flawless online system to gather a crew together to take down your next hunt has quickly become my favorite gaming experience of 2015.