Hear ye, hear ye, we declare 2015 over. Done with. Finished. The end has cometh and with it the much anticipated, hotly debated and extra important PCGamesN awards. We've awarded our game of the year, a runner-up, and many more categories besides. Below you'll find the studio we think did the best work this year, our favourite console port, the games that had promise but didn't live up to it, and one we bet you've all forgotten. Disagreements, praise, arguments and insults accepted in the comments, as always. Don't get too nasty - it's Christmas.
Want a complete list of the best games of 2015? Step this way.
Game of the Year
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
While our end of year lists have inspired a lot of discussion at PCGN HQ, there was no debate when it came to our collective game of the year. The Witcher 3 wins hands down. Everyone who plays CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece walks away with stories to tell and personal, affecting anecdotes. And it’s so mind-bogglingly massive that, even if you’ve poured 100 hours into it, you’re still bound to hear new tales.
Impressively, it’s a triple-A RPG that is blessed with the thoughtfulness of indie offerings. Sure, there’s a big bad to fight and an epic quest full of spectacle and action, but what makes Geralt’s adventure so compelling are the little things: the throwaway characters and easy-to-miss quests that make the rich world seem so believable. And it’s not padded out with nonsensical busywork or the sort of MMO diversions that have started to invade single-player games.
The unfortunate side effect of all this is that The Witcher 3 makes other perfectly decent RPGs hard to play. The bar has been raised dramatically, and Geralt’s final adventure serves as a lesson in how to construct a compelling world and a gripping adventure. Also, you can have sex on a unicorn.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Hideo Kojima’s games - and, at times, employment status - are divisive, and The Phantom Pain is no different. Not because its quality can be doubted, but because some feel that it lacks a certain ‘Metal Gear-y-ness’. And it’s an argument with a degree of validity - the open-world structure, lack of memorable boss fights, omission of Codec conversations: all these things go against what has made previous games in the series unique.
But in moving away from what had come before, Kojima achieved something altogether different but equally impressive: the purest distillation of sandbox gaming that there’s ever been. An unparalleled toolbox for players to experiment with as they deem fit, and a world that will convincingly react as and when they do. While choice in most games is a binary thing, flagged up at specific moments in flashing lights, in The Phantom Pain every moment represents another decision. This way or that, this tool or that, this mission or that, this nudey lady poster on the side of the cardboard box or that one.
2015 has been a year in which we’ve been spoiled by numerous brilliant open-world experiences that offer hundreds of hours of gameplay. Is Metal Gear Solid V the best of these? No doubt plenty would argue that it is, and with good reason.
Indie Game of the Year
Even the very best games of a given year rarely offer anything genuinely different. Better, yes, but hardly ever new. Even those that have most impressed in 2015 are evolutions rather than revolutions - the basic open-world RPG structure had been in place for years before The Witcher improved on what had come before, while The Phantom Pain is a wonderful development of the sandbox genre, rather than its invention.
Her Story is like nothing you’ve ever played before. A detective game with no world to explore, no dialogue, no right, no wrong, just a database of videos to search through and piece your own conclusions from. And because your hand is never held and answers are never served up, the storytelling is that much more powerful. Players come, dip in for as long as they choose, and leave with their own interpretation of events, never to have them confirmed or disproven. It’s an approach from a one-man dev team bolder than almost anything that’s come out of big studios of late, and we await what's next from Sam Barlow with interest.
The 'Delivering On Promises' Award
Pillars of Eternity
After a distinctly rocky 2014 peppered with failed ventures and successfully funded games going silent, crowdfunding needed a hero in 2015. Obsidian's $3.9 million Kickstarter campaign for an isometric RPG draped in Baldur's Gate finery proved the perfect candidate: its developers were clear and consistent about the game they wanted to make, released it more or less on schedule, and gave backers plenty of beta time. In fact, a significant amount of Pillars’ QA testing was conducted by the community who brought the game to life. Also: an actual QA team.
Look, you can harp on about Stronghold making the game broken if you like. Or that long list of bugs that accompanied the final release in its early days. But regardless of their financial model, games are going to launch in a less than perfect state. If they didn’t, Metacritic would be a tediously uniform procession of 100s. The important thing is that Obsidian held themselves accountable, squashing bugs and rebalancing gameplay while keeping players engaged in the ongoing conversation.
There are crowdfunding projects out there with more backers and bigger budgets, and good luck to them. Pillars of Eternity won 2015, though, by establishing the limitations of its budget early, and delivering on a specific set of promises.
Triple-A Studio That Seemed The Most Human
CD Projekt RED
CD Projekt RED is not a human. It’s not even a robot. It’s a developer. But, importantly, it’s a developer which is responsible for a massive triple-A game while managing not to be a bit of a dick. There’s a bit of pandering, sure, in the sometimes obvious attempts to curry favour, but it’s hard not to like the people that work there.
They fought hard to be independent and won, and even after becoming this significant, successful studio, their actions are not the actions that we normally attribute to such entities. And it’s actions that are important. The folks at CDPR say all the right things, but that’s not important; what’s important is that there’s follow-through.
People would have lapped up all that pre-expansion Witcher 3 DLC. Some new outfits, Gwent cards, a quest here or there -– yeah, money would have been spent. But there wasn’t any need, because it was all given away. And while some of it was a bit throwaway, there were also bits and pieces that clearly took skill and time to create, and we never had to spend a penny.
Feels of the Year
Life is Strange
The story of Max, Chloe and time travel shined the most light on our cold, dead hearts this year. We cared more for the easily malleable destiny of these characters than we did for most of our own families, worrying endlessly between episodes as to what grisly fate we may need to avoid next. Life is Strange managed to consistently combine actual time-altering superpowers with meaningful decision making without (much) logical hand waving.
It also managed to cover a lot of big topics across its episodic run, from teenage pregnancy through religion, bullying, suicide, disability and euthanasia. Encompassing that broad a scope without ever feeling preachy or dismissive is impressive work, particularly in a game that manages to remain interactively fun throughout.
Depending on what side of 30 you sit on, opinions are varied on if the writing is annoying, realistic or both, but it remains a unique game in how it presents characters and their relationships as teenagers with any depth at all. Plus, it’s the closest Ben’s got to crying in ten years. He still claims it was an allergic reaction.
Legal Emulation of the Year
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
The FF13 series is controversial, but Lightning Returns is the best of the bunch and, moreover, the port itself is stable, operational and cheap. Square Enix, Sega and others have all made significant strides towards bringing us console classics from the last decade (or more, in some cases) this year, and that’s absolutely brilliant for those of us that missed the 360 generation’s best games. Best of all, that delay puts them at a budget price-point, making catching up less expensive than a Happy Meal. Long may it continue.
Square Enix particularly have done a good job with their ports. Although the options are basic - Lightning Returns has a menu bar at the top that lets you customise settings and resolution, but is otherwise clearly just the console version - they’ve learned a lot from the disastrously poor attempts of the past. While the wrong version of FF6 was ported, bringing some truly obnoxious sprite replacements from the mobile version, modders will hopefully have it returned to a decent state soon.
Arc System Works deserve a mention too, for bringing a great number of classic fighting games to PC this year, along with the fairly new and fully featured port of Guilty Gear Xrd SIGN that’s even receiving post-launch support.
Well, It Was Good On Console…
Batman: Arkham Knight
Ah yes, the game most deserving of recognition this year sadly crippled by a woeful PC port that refused to get any better. Batman: Arkham Knight’s PC troubles are the stuff of legend - so poor, so broken, so completely unable to function it had to be pulled from sale and wasn’t returned for months.
It’s a damn shame, because this is a great videogame. Ben bought it on PC, surmised rather quickly that it probably wouldn’t be playable at 5 or 6fps, then went to a mate’s house for four days to eat, sleep and play it on PS4. And, ludicrously structured Joker questline aside, Rocksteady proved again that they’re still the best superhero storytellers in the business.
But those of us who are PC-only may never get to find that out. The port still doesn’t operate at 100%, with a stable 60fps an impossibility no matter how many letters and numbers your graphics card has written on it. Refunds are still being offered through the end of the year, no questions asked. A sad last epitaph to what should have been the crowning moment of a franchise.
Game We’re Most Looking Forward To Playing The Remastered Version Of In 2017
Blood Bowl 2
It’s hard to believe that a few short years ago, the easiest and best way to play this nearly 30-year-old game on a PC was via barebones Java clients. In Blood Bowl 2, Jervis Johnson’s venerable sports ‘n’ wargame is rendered in bone-crunching Cabalvision HD (High Destiny, as the game has it). Its once-chunky ‘80s models, updated for a new century, now fumble the ball with such convincing cackhandedness as to induce wincing in their coaches.
Thing is, this Bowl currently holds eight teams, as opposed to the 20-odd strong catalogue of elves, centaurs and mummies in Blood Bowl 1’s Chaos Edition. Parisian developers Cyanide spent years transposing the characterful races of Warhammer’s Old World to PC the first time around, and they’ll surely do the same again for the sequel - pulling a hardcore playerbase still clinging to their favourite squads along with them.
It’ll certainly be a relief to come up against fewer Chaos sides, ready to carve apart your best runners with their tin-opener mutations. Until then, we’re left with a decision: play Blood Bowl at its most beautiful, or with all of its tactical diversity intact.
Game We’re Most Looking Forward To Playing The Sequel Of In 2017
Star Wars Battlefront
Of all the games this year, Battlefront seemed to have the best ideas but the least to do with them. It’s a fairly obviously brilliant thing - Star Wars universe, Battlefield ideals. Classes, vehicles, objectives, planes, anyone can summon up an ideal version in their mind. Unfortunately, especially when trying to keep to film-release enforced deadlines and mass-market appeal, it’s not quite that simple to make a game.
EA and DICE doubled down on the multiplayer, making it as accessible and immediately fun as possible. That’s fine, but there’s so much more that could be done within the structure of the game. Competitive modes, fully controllable large vehicles and space fighters. New maps in more interesting locations, like battles that take place off-world on the decks of spaceships, hangar bays stacked with fighter craft to take the blasting outside.
Nevermind all that, give us the single-player campaign that all the marketing materials hinted at existing. It doesn’t have to be as large, complex or heavily scripted as your average yearly FPS, but some narrative structure to a series of battles across the fabulously pretty and intricately designed maps would be enough. Let us feel like the hero for a little bit before going online to discover we’re another middle-of-the-score-table grunt.
The “Oh Yeah, That Was This Year” Award
Hands up: just how many of you had to Google for Evolve’s release date to check we weren’t lying to you? This game dropped off a cliff faster than Titanfall, its active playerbase dwindling to zilch very quickly after one of the longest, weirdest and most mis-managed marketing campaigns in history.
Confused messages about DLC, far too much of it announced far too early and a focus on a Season Pass before all the content of the base game had even been confirmed meant that by the time Evolve came out everybody was already sick of it. Given it was worth making a second round of DLC, actual sales probably weren’t all that bad. However, on Steam it has peak concurrent player numbers of less than 500 a day, 2000 away from even breaking into the top 100 and far below the likes of Modern Warfare 2, Undertale and Magic Duels - games it beats out easily in terms of age, budget and quality respectively.
Most tragically of all, it reviewed pretty well, our own Matt giving it an 8. The idea is clearly solid, riffing off Left 4 Dead in just an original enough way to make it fresh again and giving it a new, sci-fi lick of paint. A sequel would have a lot of name baggage to fight through but it is at least something we’ve all heard of. If and when 2K decide to take another shot at it, how they handle the messaging will be interesting.
On page two, our personal choices for games from this year that didn't set the world on fire, but we still loved anyway.