[user]Rudi von Starnberg[/user]
[votes] Game of the Year
01. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt # An absolute triumph of a game in almost every way. Like Alien: Isolation did in 2014, this game has wormed its way into my consciousness ever since I played it. There things I’d like to change or improve but they’re extremely minor in the scheme of things. The Fallout 4 trailer being revealed at a time when I was already playing this made me realise immediately that I had no interest in playing a Bethesda game again until they actually take some risks again. Similarly I knew I would never go back to Dragon Age Inquisition to play its DLC, and even Pillars of Eternity was immediately shown up for being minimal-effort in comparison when it comes to its story and quest design and characters. Just raised the bar for RPGs to a ludicrous degree.
02. Cities: Skylines # The game Sim City 2013 should have been. Essentially a huge unashamed rip-off of Sim City, in fact, with extra attention given to traffic and transport systems (showing the lineage from Cities In Motion). But the lack of originality doesn’t mean it’s bad – it’s a polished and very compelling city-builder. Watching the people of your city just go about their tiny simulated lives is like watching the most complex clock mechanism in the world, or a highly mechanised ant farm. Great visual style too, through the use of a kind of tilt-shift filter which makes it look like a model city.
03. Invisible Inc # Like a more deterministic XCOM geared for stealth rather than combat. Lovely design and incredibly tense; I think it’s pitched just a bit too hard, and the final scripted mission is a terrible anti-climax, but I really love this.
04. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain # Quiet is unforgivably bad, the chapter structure is terrible, the over-reliance on cassette tapes is tedious, the mother base management is abominable, the user interfaces are awful (particularly for the base management), the integration of multiplayer PF raiding adversely affects the singleplayer experience… there are a lot of flaws here. But what it does right – particularly the implementation of systemic stealth action mechanics in an open world – it does very right indeed, and I hope open world stuff learns from what MGS5 does right in the same way that open world RPGs need to learn from Witcher 3.
05. The Beginner’s Guide # Hit me so hard that it prompted an actual depressive episode. Turns from fascinating dissection of game design processes into an exploration of much weightier issues around creation and engagement with people’s creations. Can’t really say much more about it but it’s very good, I think. Although I also hate it for how it made me feel.
06. Darkest Dungeon # Like Invisible Inc this is pitched too hard but the look is perfect, the gameplay is compelling and fun, and the atmosphere is so thick and oppressive you can almost drown in it. Impressive, considering it’s a highly stylised 2D side-scrolling turn-based combat RPG. Most Anticipated 2016
A01. Stellaris # Space 4X games are probably the most stagnant genre in all of gaming, especially considering they’re still getting made but haven’t meaningfully progressed since… like… 1996’s Master of Orion 2. Paradox turning their attention to this zombie genre of shit boring soulless games and utilising all the best bits of their other games to create some kind of supergame with a bunch of new and exciting features too, and specifically addressing weaknesses in the 4X genre, is incredibly exciting to me. Finally, a game in which it will actually be possible to play as something similar to Iain Banks’ Culture – a metric I use to judge every 4X game and every single one of them has fallen short so far. Shame of the Year
SH01. Konami # Yeah. Konami I guess. I want to say “The way the gestating ‘anti-gamergate’ movement quickly shed its radical and righteous pretensions and became a vehicle for self-promotion and the hounding of marginalised people to suicide attempts by grasping hypocritical fabulists who need a new enemy now that gamergate is in full wind-down. Fuck all of you.” But that’s not exactly succinct I guess so uh yeah Konami why not it was really bad how they were a shit company Best Visual Design
V01. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
V02. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Best Soundtrack
S01. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt # The soundtrack deserves a special mention for mostly avoiding the usual generic epic orchestral stuff that saddles most RPGs and instead going for a score performed with ‘medieval-appropriate’ instruments like the flute and bodhran, and often with the instruments being slightly out of tune to give combat music an urgent, wild, unhinged feel. It perfectly fits the world and has a great line in memorable tracks too (especially the soundtrack of the Hearts of Stone expansion, which I couldn’t get out of my head for weeks after playing the damn thing). Strongest Narrative Design
N01. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Best Game World
W01. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I played a lot more games than this in 2015 but all of them, even the ones I enjoyed (sometimes a lot), were too flawed to consider them ‘best’. This goes for games like Pillars of Eternity, Life Is Strange, Helldivers, and a bunch of other stuff. There were also the perfectly competent games which I don’t esteem particularly highly even if I liked them, such as Mad Max. Then there were games which I thought were interesting at the time but the more I think about them the more I actually hate them, like Her Story. So. I thought about including XCOM2 on the list here – since I have actually played and completed it now – but it is in exactly the same ‘enjoyable but very flawed’ category. So is MGS5, I guess, but I think the stuff MGS5 does right makes it worthy of a place on the list.