The time has come. The votes have been cast. Across nine categories and twenty-three different games, The Game Fanatics have decided their 2015 Game Of The Year Award winners – with upsets and surprises galore.
The year of 2015 left us here at The Game Fanatics with quite a dilemma when it came down to deciding what was our Game of the Year. We couldn’t even keep our weeks-long process behind closed doors – it spilled into three public debates between our five Game of the Year nominees, and even then we were bending our rule set for five nominees over the standard four for every other category. But we’ve done it – whittled it down to nine categories that cover the breadth of gaming in 2015 and nominees that reflect the diversity of greatness this past year had to offer.
So, for full disclosure, here’s how our voting went down. For each category, our entire staff was asked to rank the nominees from 1-4 (or 5 in the case of Game of the Year); 1 as the highest, 4-5 as the lowest. A first place vote was worth 4-5 points, a last place vote worth only 1. The game that scored the most total points was named the victor.
That makes sense, right? Then let’s get on with the show, shall we?
ACTION GAME OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Batman: Arkham Knight, Rise Of The Tomb Raider
DEFINITION: The game that best blends a wide variety of action packed gameplay – from stealth to gunplay to platforming to puzzle solving – in addition to everything else.
RUNNER UP: Rise Of The Tomb Raider
It feels strange to praise a Metal Gear Solid game for its action gameplay. Especially considering its competition this year – Assassin’s Creed has run rampant over the action genre for years, influencing almost everything in its wake. The Batman Arkham series has redefined how open-world action titles are designed, and its combat replicated in nearly a dozen games since its original release back in 2009. And Rise of the Tomb Raider is the descendant of one of gaming’s most acclaimed action series, and the followup to the 2013 reboot that put heroine Lara Croft back on the map in a brilliant way. But Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain not only outclassed all of those industry standards – it also may be the next step in how open world games are designed. Its combat is flawless, the missions brilliantly designed to encourage many different play styles, and its controls are smoother and quicker than any other action game in its class. Again, these are odd things to say about a Metal Gear Solid game, certainly less odd than praising its story, cinematics, visuals, and characters, but they are all brilliant and they more than exceed expectations. That is why Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is our Action Game of the Year.
SPORTS GAME OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: FIFA 16, WWE 2K16, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, NBA 2K16
DEFINITION: The game that best brings to life the thrill of the sport it simulates.
RUNNER UP: FIFA 16
NBA 2K16 represents the apex of a dozen trends in sports games that have been building over the last several years. Sure, the gameplay is sharper than ever and the controls smooth and the visuals incredible, but it is the variety of game modes that send NBA 2K16 over the top. The Pro-Am mode allows for custom league play outside of traditional NBA teams with incredible customization. The ability to gather intel on and relocate teams adds unprecedented customization and detail to teams. But the real jewel of NBA 2k16 is its MyPLAYER story mode, written and directed by legendary writer/director Spike Lee and actually marketed as a real “Spike Lee joint.” This is a fully fledged single player story that takes NBA hopeful Frequency Vibrations through the first truly successful story mode in a sports game, one that is actually compelling and interesting. We know how to make sports games fun, but NBA 2K16 finally found a way to take the narratives of real world sports and make them work in video games. That is why NBA 2K16 is our Sports Game of The Year.
ADVENTURE GAME OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: Life Is Strange, Until Dawn, Game Of Thrones, Tales From The Borderlands
DEFINITION: The best game that blends together a modern focus on character decisions with classical adventure game aesthetics and gameplay.
RUNNER UP: Life Is Strange
The rise of the modern adventure game was driven by Telltale Games, accurately represented as such with two games in this category, and ever since their The Walking Dead hit the Telltale model has been the one everyone has been replicating. Until 2015, that is, and the surprising arrival of Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn, a game that for all its build up seemed like a cheesy romp through every horror trope in the book that came from the David Cage school of design- but when it came out, Until Dawn was revealed to have a depth and complexity that rivaled the best of Telltale and newcomer Life Is Strange’s traditional adventure game narrative. Boosted by AAA production value and a remarkably talented cast, Until Dawn showed that AAA development can take and mold the return of the adventure game for its own ends and do something original and interesting. That’s why Until Dawn is our Adventure Game Of The Year.
INDEPENDENT GAME OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: Her Story, Volume, Undertale, Rocket League.
DEFINITION: The best game that came from the developers outside the traditional studio system.
RUNNER UP: Her Story
Let’s be honest here – is there any game that better defines the recent rise of independent game development than Rocket League? It is infuriatingly simple – a rocket powered car goes around a soccer pitch. And yet, it appears to be endlessly playable and instantly accessible – it shows zero signs of slowing down, with developer Psyonix being quick on their feet to keep the game lively with new content and game modes. And it is just plain fun – an unholy amount of fun, an amount of fun that has carried Rocket League from complete obscurity to rousing success all the way to the end of 2015. It is one of the defining games of 2015, and our Independent Game of the Year.
ROLE-PLAYING GAME OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Undertale, Fallout 4, Bloodborne
DEFINITION: What makes a RPG is more of a feeling than any particular element. A game where you can get lost in the sprawling lives and worlds of others and control who and what they become.
RUNNER UP: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
After 7 years, Bethesda had every reason to rest on its laurels and simply remake their groundbreaking The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in a science-fiction world for Fallout 4. But they didn’t – Fallout 4 represents that most wildly ambitious game Bethesda has ever made, representing a massive change in how Bethesda creates and designs western role-playing games. Those choices have made it easily the most divisive game in our discussion this year – some say those changes increase player agency, some stand by the fact that they do not. What’s more, some say they create more interesting characters, and others critique those changes make the world more bland. But in the end, Fallout 4 won it out – its open-world maddeningly engrossing, its combat incredibly addicting, and its visuals beautiful and stirring, with ambitious narrative design and writing to back it all up. That’s why Fallout 4 is our Role-Playing Game of the Year.
SHOOTER OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: Halo 5: Guardians, Splatoon, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.
DEFINITION: The game with the guns, primarily focused on fast paced shooting action, that finds the best balance between just that and all other elements.
RUNNER UP: Halo 5: Guardians
Welcome to the biggest upset of our awards. How in the hell did a standalone, six hour, single-player only prequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order topple two of the biggest shooter franchises on the planet and a critically acclaimed and immensely popular newcomer? Perhaps we will never know – or perhaps it has something to do with just how much MachineGames packed into this short story of American WWII solider B.J. Blazkowicz as he attempts to break into a German military base in the Swiss Alps all while uncovering strange alternate universe Nazi secrets abound. The campaign’s missions are cleverly designed, encouraging varying playstyles from guns blazing to pure stealth. That open-ended sense of gameplay feels almost alien to modern shooters. The enemies are varied and intelligent and constantly challenge you as you progress through the eight missions. The combat effortlessly bridges old school shooter ideologies and modern combat thinking. And then there’s the secret element of MachineGames’ run on Wolfenstein – an incredible sense of tone, character, and empathy, telling a story far more compelling than a game about alternate history robot/occult Nazis ever should. Even in its short running time, The Old Blood packs a potent emotional punch – an honest one, an earned one – that outdoes every other shooter this year. It’s a matter of expectations and exceeding them, of delivering when and where it counts, and of giving even the most ridiculous things your all. That’s why Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is our Shooter of the Year.
NARRATIVE OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Life Is Strange, Her Story, Undertale
DEFINITION: The game that presses all the right buttons of good storytelling – meshing game design with narrative design, characters with mechanics, and writing that binds together the overall package.
RUNNER UP: Her Story
Telling a great story in a game is very, very hard. You can throw millions upon millions of dollars at a game’s graphics and combat animation, but none of that can solve sloppy writing, poorly crafted characters, and rotten pacing. And those issues are compounded when trying to tell a great story in an open world – you have to account for the fact that a player can go anywhere and do everything, and how do you tell a great story when someone can actively ignore what you want them to do? BioWare has made a living out of solving this problem, and fellow nominee Undertale made strides towards solving it this year, but no one found greater success in wide open world gameplay than CD Projekt Red with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. A thoughtful story of a father looking for his daughter lends ground to an epic fantasy tale of ancient hunters and empires at war, and The Witcher 3 ensures that no part of its world escapes the effects of war, and no character goes unaffected by your actions. A tale that stands alone whether you are a longtime series fan or newcomer to the Northern Realms, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a storytelling triumph and our Narrative Of The Year.
DEVELOPER OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: CD Projekt Red, Bethesda Game Studios, Psyonix Games, Telltale Games
DEFINITION: The developer that did the most, did the best.
RUNNER UP: Bethesda Game Studios
2015 was the year where developers were met with a great deal of controversy. Rocksteady faced down a public relations disaster following the PC release of Batman: Arkham Knight. The chaos at Konami over Kojima Productions and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ruled gaming headlines for the last 5 months of 2015. Hard talk over the ethics of season passes, microtransactions, and free-to-play elements in AAA and independent games alike raised great debate over ethical monetary practices in video games. But one developer that was never at the center of any of those conversations, be it business practices or broken games, was CD Projekt Red, developer of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Pound for pound the most expansive game of the year, The Witcher 3 was not only executed with incredible craft and care, but no developer strove more to make their experience worthwhile for players than CD Projekt – whether through their clear communication with the community, extraordinary technical achievement, exceptional amount of free content and even paid expansions that have already proven to be well worth price. It isn’t just that they created one of the finest games of the year – its that they did it right way. That’s why CD Projekt Red is our Developer of The Year.
THE GAME FANATICS 2015 GAME OF THE YEAR
THE NOMINEES: Bloodborne, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Rocket League, Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
DEFINITION: The game that, pound for pound, summing up each individual element, was the best game of 2015 as voted by our staff.
RUNNER UP: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Coming from behind to outpace Kojima’s latest, Fallout 4 found a way to come out on top. Was it the varied, colorful Boston locale that felt as dangerous as it did alive that swayed so many votes? How about the improved shooting outside of the trademark V.A.T.S. system? Overall, Fallout 4 felt like a greater game than the sum of its parts should’ve allowed. You had exploration, but didn’t have to utilize all corners of the map; you had companions and romance options without any forced hand holding on the matter. You were forced to do settlement construction, but those few times come and go without much fuss. Plenty of us had gripes and complaints to bare with the graphics or controls, and while a lot of those are valid, the game was still fun and engaging past the other gaming peaks 2015 offered. Not everything in the latest Bethesda wasteland was molded and built to perfection, but the story you can write yourself, in the ruins of Boston, in the dead monsters in the countryside, in the turns of its central mystery and in the midst of its many world-shaking decisions, outruns the rest of 2015. In Fallout, they say that war never changes. Apparently Bethesda doesn’t either – they are still the king. That’s why Fallout 4 is our Game Of The Year.
2015 has been a strange year. From nowhere came the strangest independent games, like Undertale, Her Story, and GOTY nominee Rocket League, giving the biggest AAA titles a run for their money in almost every category. One of gaming’s most legendary series, Metal Gear Solid, had its for-all-intents-and-purposes curtain call with The Phantom Pain – and against all odds may have redefined how open world action games will be designed forever. Adventure masters Telltale had some of their thunder stolen by genre newcomers Dontnod and Supermassive Games’ Life Is Strange and Until Dawn. NBA 2K16 brought compelling storytelling to sports games for the first time ever – courtesy of Spike Lee, of all people. Controversy swung everywhere amid some of the year’s most anticipated releases, while the titles that you would think would most beget controversy, like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, all was mostly quiet. Amid all this strangeness came our decisions for Game Of The Year – no decision was made easily, no things went unquestioned. But these are our honest opinions of the year gone by. We expect that 2016 will be no less strange – and we would want nothing less.