As is tradition around these parts, we’ve been telling you about what we think are the best games of the past year. It’s been a cracking year, I think you’ll agree. But something that often crops up, is how the people who work in games that don’t write about them, deliver us titles we’ve hardly heard of, or ones that haven’t had as much love as you’d expect.
This year, as always, we asked people who make games, and who work in games, for their top three of the year. So here we go.
Peter Willington, Auroch Digital.
The physics feel chaotic yet controllable, there’s a satisfying (and infinite) learning curve, online balancing is peerless, it manages to bring splitscreen multiplayer back in a big way, and the community is still the friendliest in the eSports space: Rocket League is, quite simply, the best competitive experience games have to offer in 2015.
Ostensibly a game about cutting branches off a tree as it grows, Prune’s depth unfurls gradually but surely, blossoming over a couple of dozen levels into a supremely sharp interactive work on the fragility of man and the raw and eternal power of nature. A video game haiku, if ever such a thing might exist.
3. The Beginner’s Guide
Lots has been said about The Beginner’s Guide, but what solidifies Davey Wreden’s follow up to The Stanley Parable as one of my favourite games of the year is how it shifts its critical focus. It’s a confident deconstruction of creativity, obsession, privacy, design, and more, and it does it all in just under 90 minutes.
John Hardin, Atlus USA
The humor, the characters, the love-letter to Gearbox’s fantastic world of Borderlands, all of it was just amazing. The agonizing wait between episodes to find out what happens at the end of each cliff-hanger was the worst thing of 2015 because each episode was just so. damn. good.
2. Cities: Skylines.
I keep coming back to this game because of its ruthless sim-pli-city. It gives you every tool you need to turn a small stretch of highway into a sprawling metropolis. It’s a pleasantly aesthetic combination of zen gardening and ant farm and I absolutely adored it.
I still don’t understand this game. I mean, I understand how to play it, but I still don’t know how to beat it. It inspires relentless experimentation, and I love games that do that.
Martin Baker, 22Cans
A game like The Witcher isn’t something you pick up lightly, and even now I’ve not explored every nook and cranny of the game’s world. It’s not even something that I play for days on end as, if I did, I’m pretty sure I’d find myself thinking I was a Witcher myself. That’s the strength of a game like The Witcher 3 – and the previous games in the series too – once they’ve got a hold of you, they don’t let go for anything. For days after I found myself looking at mundane creatures and wondering how I’d hunt them, which potions I’d use in order to ease the hunt, which weapons, which…. wait, I’m not a Witcher.
For me, as an absolute fantasy nerd (and damn proud of it, thank you very much!) there hasn’t been a game this year which has surpassed the engrossing nature of The Witcher 3. When you’re playing the Witcher, you ARE Geralt of Rivia, and there’s been no other feeling like that all year.
With the slight disappointment that was last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity, I wasn’t my usual excited self when it came around to the release of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. It wasn’t even a day one purchase for me which, for a game in the AC franchise, is almost unheard of. Yet, when the game finally found it’s way to PC, I jumped on board and, with bated breath, waited for the pangs of disappointment.
They never came.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is a return to form for the franchise. The main characters – of which there are two this time around – are likeable and enjoyable to be around, the new mechanics that have been added – especially the Batman-esque grappling hook/zipline – are fun to learn and use, and the story doesn’t leave gaping holes in itself like a silk sheet being dragged across a bed of nails. Then there’s the fact that I got to swing/zip/run around Victorian London?! Sign me up for more of that please. If there’s one game I 100% this year, it’ll be Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate.
3. Mad Max
I don’t know about other people, but I wasn’t expecting much from Mad Max. Sure, it was made by the people behind the Just Cause franchise, a bunch of people who have been justly celebrated for the crafting of open worlds, but I wasn’t expecting to jump into a world that I instantly cared about. Having to think twice about getting into my car – and where I was going – because I might not have enough of that precious, precious fuel to get there.
Here I was thinking that I play games to escape from the worries of real life!
Almost everything about Mad Max was well crafted, just the right amount of addictive and there wasn’t a Tom Hardy in sight (not that that would have been a bad thing, it just meant that the developers weren’t relying on the critically acclaimed film to bolster sales).
Oh what a lovely day!
Steve Merrett, Voltage PR
Star Wars. I’m not as into it as some, and have no regrets that I blew up the few original figures I had with bangers when I was a kid.
Nevertheless, I have wanted a game that truly showcased the universe for years. As such, Star Wars Battlefront is my GOTY. Yes, I know it is short and predominantly multi-player, but I have kids so cannot spend hours in one game. My snatched gaming time is spent cursing console updates as much as actually picking through my pile of shame. As such, Star Wars Battlefront works for me.
It pays beautiful lip service to my wish list, with its slavish use of sound effects – I defy anyone not to smile when you first let loose with an AT-ST gun – and that first encounter with the all-powerful Vader gives a tingle worthy of the Force. I also like the basis of the multi-player – and this is from someone who rarely ventures online apart from to smash local mates at PES. To be a small cog in the Imperial or rebel machine and work towards a shared goal sums up the heroism of all those in the films who aren’t Luke and Han. The ones that are taking out things in the background. It paints an expansive picture of the battle or rebel and Imperial, and in doing so creates a proper fight within the Star Wars universe.
2. Rocket League.
Just brilliant. I used to love an old Lucasarts game called Ballblazer, which was a sort of futuresport where what appeared to be two armchairs tried to grab a gravity-affected ball and throw it into a goal. Rocket League adds all manner of control to this basis and is just incredible fun.
I tend to play online with a couple of close, local mates and have evangelised about Rocket League for ages. It is the fact that the physics and everything in the game just works so well. Snatched goals are met with roars of delight, and Rocket League is just a game that you want to play. It doesn’t need anything other than its purity of gameplay, and the mix of sublime control and freedom of movement makes for an often brutally competitive experience. A perfect execution of an idea.
Simple, yes. Brilliant, for sure.
3. Rare Replay.
They say the memory cheats. And that the past is viewed through rose-tinted glasses.
They are right. Rare Replay is one of my most played games of the last year, but also one of the most disappointing. As someone who grew up with a Spectrum, etc, and worked on magazines through the rise of the Nintendo formats, this should have been a lovely trip down memory lane.
And it is, but it is also a wake-up call. I loved all things Ultimate back in the day, and also fondly remember the likes of Battletoads. But nothing in this collection has aged that well. Knight Lore is lovely, and there is a simplistic charm to JetPac. But Underwurlde is a hard to control, frustrating mess; Gunfright is tedious and proves that scale does not mean better; and the likes of Banjo are slow and pondering. Yet, I keep returning and there is no doubt that this is a great way to present an enviable back catalogue – albeit a dated one.
I love it but it also makes me sad, but that I spend time with it still gains it begrudging admission to my list. And also shows how little time I get to play anything!
Dan Pearce, Game Dev Extraordinaire
1. Life is Strange.
Life is Strange is beautiful and earnest. Despite it’s time-rewinding premise, it manages to be the most grounded and human game that I’ve played since Gone Home, if not more so on account of it exploring so many more perspectives in so much more depth.
It’s only been a few years since I was in sixth form and Life is Strange feels like the most accurate representation of that time in my life that I’ve found in media. More than any other game that I’ve played, Life is Strange feels like it could be about me. People mock the dialogue but aside from one piece of awkward returning slang, which was later revealed to be deliberately out of place, the characters felt like they could be real people that I know. It’s characters deal with the same issues that people close to me have, and the game treats them with compassion and respect. I love Life is Strange for that, and I urge anyone to try it.
2. Fallout 4.
I’ll be candid, Fallout 4 isn’t a good Fallout game and I don’t begrudge any series fans for being a little let down by what it’s become. Personally, I don’t have a strong attachment to the series before Bethesda got a hold of the IP and with that in mind, Fallout 4 is the best Bethesda game that the studio has ever made.
It’s not my favorite Bethesda game, a spot goes to TES IV: Oblivion, but that’s largely on account of Oblivion being my first. How consistently Fallout 4 comes to surpassing my love for Oblivion is astonishing to me and something that I never thought would happen. The refreshing base building elements, the fantastic combat and the flawless art direction show that Bethesda really are at the top of their game. It’s essential.
Witcher 3 is kind of the other side of the RPG coin to Fallout 4. It’s a fairytale inspired, quest driven, lore heavy fantasy game that overachieves at pretty much every single thing it tries to do. It’s massive. It shouldn’t be able to exist. Two hundred people should not be able to make a game this big, this diverse, this dense, this consistently bloody GOOD.
I’m still not entirely convinced that this game can exist, despite owning a copy for over six month. Basically, CD Projekt Red absolutely smashed it. The game deserves all of the praise that it gets.
Mare Sheppard, Metanet Games
One of the best — and most challenging — puzzle games we can remember, and also incredibly novel. The game design itself is deceptively simple — a mash-up of Snake and Sokoban, sort of — but the virtuoso level design really makes it sing. It’s also amazingly polished, with all sorts of little animation flourishes that add a lot of personality; you can tell it was made with love by people who care, which is rare in games and something we really appreciate.
Another Snake-offshoot, this one caught us by surprise: who could have suspected that in 2015 there was anything new and exciting that could be done with Snake?! This game is *incredibly* clever, in that it uses the player’s limited attention as a currency; it’s pure genius to consider UI as a central and active component of game design, rather than just a passive vehicle. Fast, simple, fun, and incredibly clever, we would love to see this find a wider audience, because it’s a fantastic design.
3. Neko Atsume.
This one has earned a place on our list simply by being something we keep playing, despite the fact that we both tend to hate “time waster”-style mobile games. Maybe it’s just that we love cats, but we think it’s also the presentation and warm style which really won us over. The recent English translation by 8-4 has made it even better — “Meow Loading”!
Dom Carey, Microsoft
1. Until Dawn.
If you were to search Sony HQ for the PowerPoint slides showing the Until Dawn target demographic, I’m convinced you’ll find a picture of me. A teen slash horror with choices and consequences that branch the story into thousands of potential endings? Sign me up! Sure, the plot line is a little goofy and the character ensemble were clichéd highschool typecasts, but the superb motion capture and voice acting from Hayden Panettiere and cast brought those characters to life in a way that videogames rarely achieve. I truly cared whether they lived or died, and I played through the game again a second time to fix my original mistakes and allow everyone a happy ending. Until Dawn won’t spook everyone; but I encourage horror fans to play alone and with the lights off.
Continuing the theme of choice-based, episodic games where your favourite characters can be killed in a heartbeat, Game of Thrones is another clear winner. Telltale improved on their other series’ in a number of ways: most noticeably by dialling back the heavy point-and-click sections to focus more on dialogue and QTE action sequences. The plotline is both brutal and bittersweet as you’d expect from the Game of Thrones universe, not least in some of the horrific decisions you are required to make to progress the story. I was hooked from the first time with the Game of Thrones opening played, complete with Telltale’s re-imagination of the Westeros map.
I specifically call out The Taken King because a) it launched this year, and b) it has transformed vanilla Destiny into a much more polished and enjoyable experience. Destiny is the always-online game that we all knew we wanted but were too nervous to embrace, and it’s bloody good fun when played with your friends. In Year One, the light-based levelling eventually forced me out of the game – I didn’t have the time invest and keep up with other players – but the Taken King fixed this and then some. Crucially, coming back to the game without the level cap allowed me to experience Raids for the first time, which is where the game really sings.