Game of the Year 2015 Wrap Up

Posted by GameEngineStart Staff 03 February 2016

It’s that time of year again, where we decide what really got us excited in 2015, and what left us cold. We came to a few realisations that surprised even us…

Calum– 2015 was an incredibly interesting year for the video game industry. Yes, there were some landmark achievements and experiences. Games that showed us the power of the genre as a story telling and character building medium. Games that showed you can survive on just raw mechanics if those mechanics are strong enough. The year was not without it`s flaws, however. Problems with buggy, near unplayable games on some platforms. The debacle that was the “paid mods” scandal on steam with Skyrim, and how that lead to a conversation that really needs to happen being all but silenced in the community at large for another year. I would also be silly to not mention Konami, and it`s slow and saddening exit from the video game landscape, in a rather shameful fashion.

As I look forward I`m excited by what I see. Both potentially and the physical release schedule. It looks like a great year ahead, and it seems to all start with the atom bomb that is February for the release schedule. Excuse me while I stare at my bank account through tear filled eyes.

Euan– Every year that we do this, there is a moment at the end of the process where I look at our winners list and say, “man, games are weird, and that makes me so happy”. This is a year where a 20 minute interactive comedy piece sits considered for Best Narrative next to a high budget triple A title, and there is genuine competition. I was moved to almost tears by a game and laughed harder than I have for a long time at another. Genre mash-ups are getting stranger and stranger, and reinforcing the belief that having a generic “Best Action Adventure” award in this process would be an exercise in futility. I am so enamoured by the continuing blossoming of the more unconventional and experimental titles that are starting to be released in places where more of the world can see that we created a new category for it this year.

For me, 2016 is the payoff for the multiple year long teasing of VR. I know that by the time we do this again I will own one of the 3 big platforms, and we will have some kind of consensus as to if it was worth it, and if it really is the future of this medium. There will no doubt be other surprises that there always are every year, games that appear from nowhere and capture the internet, and usually are some of my favourite moments in games.

Make sure you listen to both parts of our deliberations podcasts to get more insight into our the debating process we went through to come to these conclusions, and keep an eye out for our individual top fives coming in the next month.

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2015’s 20xx Game of the Year – Beyond: Two Souls

Runner’s Up

  • Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
  • XCOM: Enemy Within

Euan – HD re-releases have been rife at the start of this generation, filling in the early holes in both platform’s line-ups. The only one that I had any interest in is the re-release of the last two Quantic Dream games, which I am immensely fond of. The timing of Beyond was unfortunate, coming out a month before the new consoles were due to hit shelves, and because of this was missed by a great number of people, including myself. Considering how that game is put together as well as it’s missed opportunity it is one of the few HD releases that makes a lot of sense. One of the big negatives against that game was that graphically it was really hitting the edges of what that system can do, and so bringing the extra horsepower of the PS4 to it makes it an even better experience. There are points where it comes close to the mechanically similar Until Dawn, which is high praise. As well as that, I think this is the best written and most cohesive piece Quantic Dream has put together, with really great character performances and emotional scope, where you can really play Jodie in a number of different ways. At a reduced price, and a further discount on the Heavy Rain re-release in March, Beyond is well worth picking up on a system that can actually handle what it’s trying to.

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Best Looking Game – Until Dawn

Runner’s Up

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Calum – A surprise for a lot of people this year, Until Dawn shows how believable looking environments and characters can be the most important thing to conveying a story.  Using very clever lighting and well designed areas, featuring horror staples like cabins in the woods, mental asylums and more, and playing on those shadows cast for tension is incredible. Pairing that with some of the most realistic facial animations since L.A Noire`s special face tech, you can really feel the terror in these characters eyes. Or their dumb teenage monkey shines as they fool around in the cabin. Or see the life literally drain from their eyes as they are the next unlucky victim of this fantastic games many MANY death traps.

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Best Studio – CD Projekt Red

Runner’s Up

  • Simogo
  • Nintendo

Calum – In a year where companies were found doing some awful things to either employees or their properties, it`s great to see companies like CD Projekt Red exist in this industry. Even ignoring the fact that they put out an incredible game this year, it`s how they are conducting business that`s so impressive. By deciding to fight the rampant piracy in PC gaming by accepting it as an issue and offering a better service to entice pirates to spend money on the product, rather than penalising or limiting the paying customer,  it`s what more companies should be doing. That and offering a slew of free content for the game and above all else, listening to their customers. When The Witcher 3 released and minor gripes with the movement and inventory management came forward, CD Projekt did not sit ideally and accept them. They released patch after patch, offering new movement options, better sorting tools for the inventory and many more improvements. Good job CD Projekt Red. Keep showing the competition how it`s done.

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Most Disappointing Game – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Runner’s Up

  • Just Cause 3
  • Broken Age: Act 2

Euan – Here’s a tip for making some easy money. Go back to a year ago from today in a magic time machine, and bet however much you can get together that I would be writing about Metal Gear Solid V under this category, and you have a winner on your hands. The disappointment in the game does not come from the actual gameplay itself, which is exceptionally well realised and made me realise that I’m not as done with this kind of open world “approach it how you want” style of game that I thought I was after passing on Far Cry 4 after only a few hours. We have talked on the site at length about the immense love we have for the Metal Gear Solid games, and the rich yet completely insane and at times difficult to keep track of fiction is the core of this. We are very much in the camp of 2 and 4 being the best in the series, namely for how over the top and bombastic the tale they tell is. So it is with great sadness we had to come to terms with the fact that the final title (at least the last Kojima led title) in the series has completely missed the mark for us. Not only is the narrative that is supposed to tie together the two halves of the Metal Gear timeline resolve itself in the most trivial way possible, the parts that would actually be major reveals to the people like ourselves are resigned to audio logs and optional conversations. It’s ironic that the high point in the story they tell is the arc of Quiet, considering the number of misguided and flat out terrible decisions made about the design of that character, and the fact that she is an entirely new character that has no ties to previous iterations of the series. Despite the terrible parts of the internet saying otherwise, gameplay is just not enough for a game like this any more, especially one with such a huge library of fiction to draw from as the Metal Gear Solid series does. If you want a guns blazing explosion sandbox, go play GTAV, but that’s not why I come to Metal Gear.

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Best Soundtrack- Crypt of the Necrodancer

Runner’s Up

  • Life is Strange
  • Hotline Miami 2

Calum – Before I start I just want to say, this was a damn good year for video game OSTs. Go and listen to our deliberation podcast and give every soundtrack we talked about a listen. That having been said, Crypt of the Necrodancer is something special. It`s hard to separate the music from the game in Crypt. The gameplay is music and music is the key mechanic in the game. It`s therefore incredibly rare, especially in the rouge-like genre where repetition is the core gameplay loop, finding a soundtrack that holds up to consistent listening. And man does this selection of songs hold up. Tracks have been on both mine and Euan’s personal lists for months now, and I don`t see them leaving any time soon. Special mention goes to the shopkeeper and his dulcet tones adding a whole extra element to each tune, and the extra soundtrack variants also being amazingly written.

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Best Original Song- Theme of D4 (D4)

Runner’s Up

  • Mausoleum Mash (Crypt of the Necrodancer)
  • Sins of the Father (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

Calum – God dammit this song is incredible. Tying the intention of the game to just one hell of a jam is a great feat by Access Games.  Looking at the 2 episodes released, SWERY clearly is trying to evoke 70s and 80s cop and detective shows. The theme clearly shows he hit that intention bang on the money. Big trumpets and saxophones, paired with jazz guitar and bass riffs, dreamy synth lines and a god damn piano breakdown half way through put you right in the shoes of Bostonian psychic detective David Young. Grab yourself a shot of the finest Agave tequila and some deep dish pizza and crank this song on repeat. Then join the club of people who want more episodes of this game.

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Best Narrative – The Witcher 3

Runner’s Up

  • Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
  • Tales from the Borderlands

Calum – The Witcher 3 is a game of scope and extremes. Being able to flip between some of the darkest and heart wrenching fantasy writing I’ve ever seen, to some of the silliest situations the serious characters of that universe have ever been in, to really tender quiet moments, The Witcher hits all of these with a deft and skill of writing that has been unmatched this year. Every character has purpose and drive down to the smallest wheat farmer, every faction has believable motivations for the actions they are taking and your choices can have believable (and sometimes horrific) consequences on their lives. This is portrayed in the quests and interactions of the game. Side quests, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem, will have a story and reason for its existence. That is how you should do open world games. Flood the world map with icons by all means, but make each of those icons mean something to player. Make the people you talk to and the contracts you take from them important, even if only for the 10 minutes you’ll interact with them.

The Witcher 3 probably made me feel every emotion possible to feel from a video game and that’s an incredible achievement. It is the epitome of how to do a story driven RPG. Make the players care, and they’ll stay in your world forever.

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Best Moment – The Business Gun Fight (Tales from the Borderlands Episode 4)

Runner’s Up

  • The Bloody Baron (Witcher 3)
  • The End of Episode 3 (Life is Strange)

Euan – It feels like we say this every year, but comedy is a very difficult thing to do well in games. It’s why we gave Game of the Year to Jazzpunk in 2014, and has a habit of coming up every year when we talk about best moments. Nothing this year had us both laughing harder than a swarm of middle manager accounting types having a bombastically over the top gun fight with Rhys, using nothing more than their fingers and their self made sound effects.

It works on so many levels, and the fact that it’s completely insane is just the most obvious. This had been subtly telegraphed as “a thing” on the Hyperion station all the way back to the start of the episode just made the impact even bigger when the sudden dawning of what was about to occur falls over you at the same time as the main character. Combined with the ever increasing size of the non-existent guns people are drawing and the cliché action movie scenes played out, it’s a moment that had us laughing from the first shot. To top it all, the nature of the game gave an added bonus that makes it different from other attempts at comedy. There are a number of videos out there showing what happens if you choose to simply put the controller down and let a Telltale game scene play out, and this one in particular handles that exceptionally well.

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Smaller Game of the Year – The Beginners Guide

Runner’s Up

  • Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
  • Cible

Euan – This category is new this year, and was added with some trepidation considering the media coverage starting to move away from labelling £15 games as different from £50 games, and instead considering them for all categories. While this is certainly true for us, and a number of games considered for this category have appeared in others, we felt like there is a brand new grouping starting to appear in the games landscape. This category was started by games like Gone Home, and this year has a number of new additions that we felt like it should be it’s own discussion if for no other reason than to give them recognition where they may be lost under the larger scale titles of the year.

The winner and both runners up are games that focus on the experience of moving through them, rather than gameplay mechanics for systems. They have been called interactive fiction or “walking simulators” very much in sneer quotes. For me, these are very much as important to the form as the metric crap-ton of Destiny that I play and my frothing anticipation for XCOM 2 as my most anticipated game of next year.

The Beginner’s Guide is one of the best examples of this I have seen in a long time. As an experience with a single story to tell it is probably the most successful at delivering of any game this year. On top of that the story that it tells is one of the most unique that you will find and, as I wrote about this year, had a real impact on me. Exploring the act of creation from a creative media itself provided a fantastic opportunity to provide unexpected turns, of which Beginners Guide delivers in a big way. It certainly provided one of the biggest emotional punches this year, and doubly so for someone who is involved in any creative medium.

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Best Hotline Miami 2 Track – A diplomatic tie…

Joint Winners

  • Divide – MAGNA
  • Sexualiser – Perturbator

Euan – Despite Hotline Miami 2 being on the disappointing end of the scale, the soundtrack is phenomenal. The Hotline Miami series has introduced us to a whole new genre, which through the process of cross-referencing we have discovered is called Synthwave, and the soundtrack contains some of the best out there.

When we disagree on something on the site, it becomes a running joke that we just won’t let go of. We very quickly came to a stalemate as to which track was clearly the best, and hence this category suddenly appeared on our GOTY game tracking tool. I favoured MAGNA’s pounding track Divide, whereas Calum allied himself with Pertubator’s slap bass fuelled Sexualizer. Another artist that featured in the original trailer was Carpenter Brut’s incredible Escape from Midwich Valley. While this track never made it into the final game two of his others, Le Perv and Roller Mobster, did. The point I’m getting at is that Hotline Miami 2 continues the tradition of amazing soundtracks that its predecessor started, and we came to the democratic conclusion that we have a tie category.

Surprisingly, however, Calum let me write this section. So screw democracy, Divide by MAGNA is the winner.

Game of the Year 2015

#5 – The Beginners Guide

Euan – For me, The Beginners Guide is one of the most important games to come out since we started this website. The real genius is the layers of craft involved in it’s production. Not only is it written and performed exceptionally well, and uses a unique framing to tell it’s tale, it is also a nuanced commentary on the act of creation itself. It’s not even just concerned with just game development in the way that The Stanley Parable does (which was also written by Beginners Guide’s Davey Wreden), it is a thought provoking experiment that has to be experienced to be truly understood and appreciated.

#4 – Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

Calum – For a free, 15 minute game, there is so much here.  A superbly written, insanely funny experience from the best named studio ever, CrowsCrowsCrows. I can`t really talk specifics about what this game actually is, you`ll just have to go play it to see what we are talking about. Some very clever subversion of expectation goes on, I`ll say that much. Some of the strongest voice acting this year too,  thanks to comedian Simon Amstel as a hilarious take on the “unreliable narrator” and Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland as…well… his own imagination? Seriously just go play it. It`s free and it`s probably one of the best things you`ll do all year.

#3 – Crypt of the Necrodancer

Euan – One of the standard problems with music based games is that after multiple playthroughs the soundtrack had a tendency to start to wear thin, resulting you only play the tracks you know or like. Roguelikes have a similar problem, where starting a new game from the beginning every time creates a seething hatred of the initial levels. Necrodancer manages to blow past both of these issues by having the best game soundtrack in years that appears to stand up to multiple exposures with ease. This is a personal opinion, but having the best tracks as the first few levels really helps with this. The moment where I knew this game was really special was the Konga Conga Kappa boss battle, where the standard “you have to move every beat” is thrown off by syncopation, forcing you to really listen and not move when it happens. Genius gameplay with an incredible soundtrack is an amazing combination, and comes highly recommended

#2 – The Witcher 3

Calum – The Witcher 3 is something to behold. A game that is both awe inspiring in its sense of scale and scope, and meticulous in its detail of everything in its world, The Witcher 3 is now, easily, the benchmark in open world gameplay. Populating it`s world with interesting characters that you want to help (or hinder), with combat that is challenging, rewarding and makes you FEEL like a witcher all set in a gorgeously variant world, you`ll never run out of things to do. Or reasons to do it. That’s not even touching the main quest, which features some of the darkest fantasy writing i`ve ever seen, as well as moments of silliness and sheer joy. Everything about this game is so finely crafted and it shows. From the detail on every monster and person in Velen, to the design of the cities and towns. Above all else, you will become a witcher in this world. You’ll hunt monsters with your tracking and sword fighting abilities, you`ll deal with moral dilemmas galore and you’ll love every second of it.

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Game of the Year 2015 – Tales from the Borderlands

Calum – Easily the best thing TellTale have created thus far, Tales from the Borderlands is an incredible bit of video game story telling. By understanding the style and humor of the Borderlands games, and giving it the telltale twist of characters with real depth and personality and choices that feel like they have impact on a finely crafted story, it`s a really merging of worlds that happens beautifully. All of this writing culminates in some truly spectacular set pieces. The highlights being the business guns fight in episode 4 and the end fight in episode 5. All of these use the classic TellTale QTEs in such interesting ways, I had my jaw on the floor throughout most of the series’ major conflicts. Special mention goes to Gortys and Loaderbot as stand out characters of the series. The perfect duo of naivety and just straight face-ness, they are hilarious to watch and interact with. This game is just so impressive on every level. Borderlands fans owe it to themselves to play this series. Along with adventure fans, comedy fans and fans of general crazy awesomeness.  Oh, also, best late title cards in video games probably ever. Hot damn they are amazing.

Euan – While we have our own separate preferences in games, as I have no doubt our personal Top 5 lists will show, we do have some overlap. Those mainly revolve around our taste in comedy, music and writing. It’s no wonder, then, that on a list that we both have to come to an agreement on our winner comes up well on all three of these fronts. Telltale have not been idle this year, with 2 series wrapping up this year and one still to be completed, with a further 5 projects announced or expected. There are many who have said that a certain “fatigue” comes along with such a sustained output which follow a very similar format, but Tales has proved that with the right set of characters and world, they can do great things. For me it was just exciting to see Telltale being funny again, after the emotional roller-coaster that was The Walking Dead. I was a big fan of their work on the Tales of Monkey Island and their revitalising of the Sam and Max franchise, and them getting back into the comedy game was amazing to see. With hindsight being what it is, the Borderlands universe is the perfect place to set a game like this. The world is so over the top to begin with, it’s only natural that it manages to house the insane things that happen in Tales (see our Best Moment award). I have described it as what would happen if Gearbox created a Telltale parody in the Borderlands world, and that is the highest compliment. It even takes the expectations of a Telltale game and messes with them in the way that only a Borderlands title can. It’s more fantastic proof that the Telltale formula definitely has some life still in it, and can handle humour as well as emotion. Long may it continue.