It's the end of the year, which means it's pretty much the only time the GamesIndustry.biz staff gets to write about the games they play rather than the industry surrounding them. It's been a massive year on the AAA front, with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Batman: Arkham Knight, Super Mario Maker, and Fallout 4 basking in critical praise and dominating discussions around launch. Microsoft rolled out the first original Halo game for the Xbox One, Nintendo successfully launched a rare pair of major new IP with Splatoon and Yokai Watch, and Sony used third-party partnerships to try and make PlayStation 4 the platform of choice for highly touted blockbusters like Star Wars: Battlefront and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
A number of smaller-scale developers enjoyed success this year as well. Psyonix's Rocket League unexpectedly burst onto the scene in a big way, Paradox Interactive's Cities: Skylines laid the foundation for a new franchise atop the ashes of EA's always-online SimCity, and Her Story did the unthinkable in making full-motion video a thing worth talking about again. Crowdfunded efforts also continued to bear fruit, as Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity and Toby Fox's Undertale both paid off in a big way for their Kickstarter backers.
Given the long tails on PC free-to-play and mobile, it's no surprise that those platforms were still dominated by games that launched in 2014 or earlier, but 2015 still saw a handful of noteworthy new releases. PC gamers got their first crack at Heroes of the Storm, H1Z1, Smite, Clicker Heroes, and World of Warships, while mobile fans found themselves entertained by Angry Birds 2, Fallout Shelter, Alphabear, and multiple new Five Nights at Freddy's games.
That's an impressive list of releases, but it doesn't even include our staffers' absolute favorite games of the year. Those can be found below.
Rachel Weber--The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
An obvious choice perhaps, but I'm trying to tell you which game won my heart this year, not surprise you like a nervous boyfriend celebrating our first Christmas together. The Witcher 3 is just AAA done exactly right, huge scale, excellent writing, and a long term commitment from CD Projekt to keep delivering tidbits of content to stop the addicts from going into withdrawal.
I've done my time in RPGs (Oblivion, Dragon Age, Skyrim, Divinity - anything with an overcomplicated inventory system and health potions basically) but I'd never touched The Witcher franchise before. The idea of playing as a specific character instead of crafting a brooding, fine-boned elf huntress felt restrictive. Cut to an hour later and I was already warming to Geralt and the story that weaved around him, as complex as any Game Of Thrones subplot. You know you're into an RPG when you finish the main quest and spend hours combing the map for any hidden chest, any peasant with a lost dog, any unslain monster - that was me, still is me really. I can't bear to uninstall the game from my overcrowded hard-drive.
I'm consistently impressed by the innovation in the indie scene and I've had some great experiences with indie games this year, Her Story, Life Is Strange and Beyond Eyes were all special, but The Witcher 3 consumed me. Even the 100 hours of Fallout 4 I've played so far have only made The Witcher 3 shine brighter. So here's to you Geralt of Rivia, and Merry Christmas.
Matthew Handrahan--Oculus Touch Virtual Playroom
For my entire life as a gamer I've gravitated towards experiences on the grandest scale. The Grand Theft Autos, the Mass Effects, the Far Crys; games that drop the player into the kind of carefully constructed world that demands rigorous exploration and a very clear schedule. I've often heard friends complain of not being able to find the time any more. Somehow that was never true for me.
And yet here we are, December 2015, and Fallout 4 is not my game of the year. I'd like to think it was my fault, and that adulthood has at last eroded my ability to tackle something so broad and deep, but I suspect Bethesda has to shoulder some of the responsibility. Fallout 4 felt like the past, and I don't think I was alone in expecting it to feel like the future.
This year, I got that particular pleasure from a demo, an invigorating pick-me-up on a bleary-eyed morning at Gamescom. Until that point, you might have called me a VR sceptic, with only a small handful of the several dozen demos I've tried striking me as anything more than a novel approach to well established genres. Oculus Touch changed all that. After 20 minutes in that virtual playroom - picking up and throwing and smashing virtual items, aided and abetted by another very real player - VR started to feel exactly like the future of gaming. All I need now is two sound-proofed adjacent rooms. And two Rift headsets. And two Touch controllers.
It's a brave new world, and an expensive one at that.
Brendan Sinclair--Ori and the Blind Forest
I expect Bloodborne to get a lot of praise in this year's Game of the Year write-ups, and deservedly so. I imagine writers will gush about the game's approach to difficulty, how it challenges players without being cheap, how it encourages them to consider the ways their own sloppy play led to their deaths. I share those sentiments for my Game of the Year, but my pick is actually Ori and the Blind Forest.
In a year packed with high-quality, high-difficulty titles (The Swindle, N++, and Galak-Z can be added to that list), Ori and the Blind Forest was the only one tuned to my particular level of gaming skill. If that sounds a bit like an arbitrary way to hand out a Game of the Year honor, well, it is. I enjoyed Ori and the Blind Forest more because it pushed my abilities (such as they are) to their limit, and still provided me with the feeling of accomplishment upon completion. As frustrating as the game's handful of auto-scrolling chase levels were--and as blistered as my thumbs got trying to tackle them--few games this year provided anything close to the satisfaction I felt upon beating them. That's something increasingly rare in a world of games that either devolve into eternal grinding, or are designed from the outset to provide only the illusion of challenge.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful game, and an excellent example of the Metroidvania subgenre, but what I loved most about it was that it pushed me exactly as far I wanted to be pushed, and required just as much time to complete as I was willing to devote to it. A Game of the Year doesn't have to be some superlative touchstone for the medium to rally around; sometimes it's enough that it's the exact right game for you at the exact right time.
James Brightman--Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
There are two things that I have always loved in this life: video games and baseball. When those two things come together in a highly entertaining way, it makes me a very happy man. Sony's MLB The Show series fit that niche for me for many years, but in 2015 I discovered a little known gem on Xbox One called Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings. It's a refreshing change of pace from the super realistic simulation that MLB The Show does so well, but it doesn't veer anywhere close to the absurdity of something like Midway's MLB Slugfest either.
Despite the lack of an actual MLB or MLBPA license (meaning the players and teams are completely fictional), the game is immensely enjoyable with gameplay that, on the surface, feels like old arcade-style classics RBI Baseball or Bases Loaded, but actually offers a great degree of complexity and depth the more you play. At higher difficulty settings (which they label "ego") the game can be maddeningly challenging and makes you really earn every out and hit.
The simple Mii-like characters that Victoria, British Columbia-based Metalhead Software created for the game are a little too cute for my tastes, but the overall polish from the team shines through. Even with their Canadian roots, it's clear that these gents have the same passion for America's pastime that I do. And, to steal a line from Brendan, Super Mega Baseball really was the right game at the exact right time for me. During the latter part of 2015 I became a first-time dad (of two boys!), so as you can imagine, fitting in entertainment time is now a luxury, but if I set Super Mega Baseball to just 5 innings, a game can be completed remarkably quickly in between baby naps or feedings. That's a grand slam on my scorecard.
I asked my girlfriend, who spends a lot of long-suffering hours in the same room as me whilst I play games, what she thought my GOTY should be. She, very sensibly, suggested Witcher 3 - a game I've spent well over a hundred hours playing, generally whilst smiling, laughing or being otherwise emotionally invested. But I can't choose the Witcher, because Rachel got there first. Also, does that game ever end? I've hit what I thought must be the climactic battle four separate times now, and frankly, I'm ready to watch Geralt and Triss settle down in a nice little cottage made of monster bones and be done with it.
Anyway. I'm going for Bloodborne instead, hence the domestic anecdote, because this choice came as something of a surprise, for three reasons. Firstly, like a number of games this year (I'm looking at you MGS V) it features a lot of dogs. I like dogs. My girlfriend likes dogs. My dog does not like dogs. At least not dogs he can see and hear but not smell - which I'm guessing he basically thinks are ghosts. Anyway, When the dog is unhappy, it tends to catch on, particularly if he's trying to murder the television. Secondly, Bloodborne "looks like you're killing someone's nightmares." Can't argue with that, really, especially when it's sort of the plot. Finally "isn't Bloodborne the game that makes you really, really angry?"
Well yes. It is. Bloodborne engenders a constant, frothy stream of invective which has pushed my fairly extensive swearing roster to its very limits. I've raged and raged and raged at From's latest, to the point where I rage-quit somewhere around June thinking I'd never return. Then, three weeks ago I put the disc back in, just as something to ween me away from what was becoming a genuinely troubling Destiny obsession.
The first 30 minutes were hell. Wandering angry and confused around a blood soaked Bosch-Picasso remix, a Gordian knot of ghastly architecture and foetid chitin - I fought half-remembered controls and botched timing, desperate for some vague memory of what the hell I was doing something like 13 games ago. Then I remembered the Shadows of Yharnam, the three particularly bastardy bastards in a clearing at the greasy end of a poisonous swamp who'd driven me away last time.
With a bit of slightly less aimless wandering, I found them again. And I totally blitzed it. Aced them, first time. PREY SLAUGHTERED. Elation. I went wild. The dog went wild. My girlfriend looked up briefly from something more interesting. Total victory. King of the world. Untouchable. High on success, I went and poked around some of the chalice dungeons. I was amazing. Four bosses, straight off the bat. Blam. Power levelling, new weapons, new areas, branching choices, invincible!
Then, Byrgenworth. Rom. That shambling tumour. Rage. Fury. Utter, crushing, repeated defeat. Smeared all over his soggy parlour time and time and time again. Curse you Rom and your crappy cosplay of Fat Worm Blows a Sparky by way of Tim Burton. Curse your stupid deadly crystal rain. Curse your army of horrible, jumping, sickle-legged spider gits. Curse you for lancing my hubristoc boil. But I won't rage quit again. I'll have you next time, Rom. I'll ****ing have you.
And in the meantime, there's always Cainhurst.