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.
The “Ok so it’s not amazing but I really like It anyway” Awards
There were lots of games this year that took our personal fancies, even if they weren’t the best by any means. Each member of the PCGN squad has laid out their personal pick for 2015.
Magic Duels – Ben
There is no universe where Magic Duels is the best game of the year, or even the best in its genre. It isn’t even particularly good, packed with bugs, broken promises and poor design decisions. But it is the easiest and friendliest way to play Magic: The Gathering on a computer, and that’s worth a lot. Originally intended to be a regularly expanded F2P version of the Duels franchise, the initial release wasn’t received very well.
However, it’s the best way to get into the world’s greatest card game, and an entertaining romp for veterans alike. I love Hearthstone, and I play it a lot, but I don’t think it’s even in the same league as Magic. I was greatly looking forward to a regularly updated, digital version with a better UI and Hearthstone-friendly F2P mechanics, and it does seem to be moving towards that slowly. For now, it’s carried by the strength of one of the best games in the world, and that’s why I love it.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide -Jeremy
Did you know that there’s a Warhammer rat-person to match every one of Left 4 Dead’s special infected? Well, Fatshark have found an equivalent for each. Gutter runners with glowing warpstone claws stand in for hunters, rat ogres for tanks, glass-globe hurling poisoners for boomers, and so on. Even the player classes in Vermintide are ripped almost directly from something else: beloved, board-based dungeon game Warhammer Quest.
This co-op skaven shooter is so upfront about what it take-takes from the hated man-things, though, that it’s hard to be affronted. Vermintide is a fantasy clone of a famous game in the style of a time when we were grateful to have those. Who got upset that Heretic existed, just because Doom did? Now in our sixth year since a Left 4 Dead game, you won’t hear us complaining.
I may not have been singing its praises from the top of Magnus tower, but as the bells tolled for the close of 2015, a good half of PCGN were visiting Ubersreik on the regular.
Dreamfall Chapters – Matt
Dreamfall Chapters doesn’t really get any fanfare, and that’s understandable: it’s a pretty niche adventure game acting as the second sequel to The Longest Journey, a point-and-click adventure that was incredible in its heyday, but now just a glimmer of nostalgia to those old enough to remember it. Chapters continues the story as if you played the previous games yesterday: it’s neck-deep in its own lore, and assumes you recall everything about its dual-world universe and characters. That’s part of why I love it – combined with a traditional adventuring style, it’s very much a game developed unashamedly for fans and no-one else.
But more than that, it’s Dreamfall’s world that has me enamoured with it. The twin dimensions of Stark and Arcadia – one a Blade Runner-inspired cyberpunk sprawl, the other a folklore fantasy – are deeply detailed and filled with unique, almost Guillermo Del Toro-like creature designs. The animations may be stiff and the acting often iffy, but it still manages to feel like a place that’s alive thanks to the vibrancy of its imagination. The puzzles can grate, but Dreamfall Chapters offers a world worth living in.
Star Wars Battlefront – Fraser
Star Wars Battlefront is probably too expensive, and its season pass is frustrating, so I completely understand how DICE and EA have managed to put people off. Here’s the thing though: I really like Battlefront. It’s not even a guilty pleasure; I just think it’s an inoffensive, fun game.
I confess that a lot of my enjoyment comes from how damn good it looks, and how exceptional the sound design is, but that’s sort of important, right? I mean, this is Star Wars — it’s got to look and sound the part, and no game has managed to pull off the style this damn well. I honestly couldn’t care less about how different the guns are or how simple the combat is; I just want to hunker down in a trench in Hoth, zip around Endor, and slice up Rebel scum as Darth Vader. Battlefront lets me do that.
The simplicity is really a selling point for me. There’s none of macho competitiveness or po-faced seriousness of CoD or Battlefield, just a bunch of people running around shooting each other with lasers. It’s silly fun, which is all I want from a Star Wars shooter. It’s the sort of thing I can just jump into after a hard day of having awesome opinions about videogames on the internet. It’s mindless enough to be relaxing, but with all the explosions and epic battles, still engaging enough that I’m not bored.
Volume – Phil
In broadcast media and cinema when something stratospheric like the Superbowl or a new Star Wars flick airs, rivals try to get in on the action by offering alterative options to a temporarily increased audience. It’s called counterprogramming.
In the world of videogames, when something stratospheric like a new Metal Gear Solid releases, rivals run a mile. That’s true of everyone except Mike Bithell, whose indie stealth follow-up to Thomas Was Alone got in a couple of weeks ahead of Kojima’s behemoth, but was always destined to lay overshadowed in its wake. Counterprogramming is not a thing in the games industry.
More’s the shame. Volume is itself a kind of love letter to early Metal Gear Solid games, and bears just as much of Bithell’s authorship when you play it as The Phantom Pain bears Kojima’s. It might not offer quite the same scope (alright, anything like the same scope), but it’s an auteured experience all the same.
It’s not the best game released this year, or even the best stealth game released this year, but it deserves a respectful nod for daring to do what it did, and when it did it.
Airport Madness: World Edition -Tim
Also known as: The best job simulator that reminds us all that at least you’re not an Aircraft Controller with the lives of thousands of innocent passengers in your hands and at any second they might all drop out of the sky and die.
“Clear to cross runway two.”
It turns out that stress can be relieved by applying more, different stress. Who knew? A few weeks ago, as our site exploded around us, I found myself randomly installing and playing Aircraft Madness: World Edition. It’s a very simple game about giving aeroplanes permission to take off. It’s brilliant.
You might have played Flight Control on a tablet. In that game you draw their approach to landing. Aircraft Madness is the polar opposite: planes choose their landing runway seemingly at random, but you have to get them to the terminal, refuelled and back out into the sky as efficiently as possible.
“Runway two is NOT ACTUALLY CLEAR.”
It turns out that airports are not efficient. Rather than, say, building one runway for landings and one runway for taking off and a terminal between them like any sensible designer would, they’ve been built with runways crossing runways, taxi-paths crossing runways, even taxi-paths crossing taxi-paths. Airport Madness takes actual real life aeronautical death traps and asks you to get the poor saps in their planes safely to their destination.
“RUNWAY TWO IS NOT CLEAR AT ALL WHY ARE YOU CHOOSING TO LAND THERE YOU DONKEY.”
It turns out that you might want to drive to Barcelona. Just look at it.
“OH GOD EVERYONE’S GOING TO DIE.”
It turns out you can manage an entire airport on only three commands: stop, go, and FUCKING GO NOW. All you need to do is point a plane towards a runway and hope the pilot doesn’t run into a traffic jam. Traffic jams, with the tail ends of aircraft pointing out into the runway, are not good.
“A crash has ended your shift.”
It turns out that generally if you give people enough time and space they’ll figure out the problem and everything will be okay again, and besides which, a site going down isn’t a life and death situation. No-one’s actually going to die.
Unless they’re landing at Barcelona runway two.
And that’s 2015! Well done everyone, we survived another year. Do you have a game that we didn’t mention you want to see appreciated? It’s possible it will feature in one of our best games articles that will be running throughout the break. In the meantime, tell us below and we can all fight about how wrong you are. Merry Christmas!