I was just as surprised as you were.
Another year in the books and with it, the best year in games the two most-recent machines – the PS4 and Xbox One – have seen since their release in 2013.
As this goes live, I’ll be beginning to wrap up a four-day livestream celebrating my favourite games of this year, all whilst having fun playing said games, chatting of them, giving away prizes and raising a shit ton of money in the process for Macmillan, who were enormous help to me and my family during the hardest of times a year ago.
And what a year to celebrate in games. This has been the best year of games I’ve enjoyed since 2013. And all of my top ten that year didn’t factor in current-gen, even if three of my top five are now on said machines.
But I digress. This year has been a year full of surprises for me games wise – both in a great way and in a not so great way. Games I expected to be in my top ten didn’t make it after all. And games I didn’t expect to make it in did somehow. Plus, games I knew would make their way into the list, but not in the ranking that was eventually settled on.
2016 looks set to be just as crammed as this year with incredible games, though. In fact, Q1 alone seems rammed to the rafters with potential end-of-year best candidates. And I will definitely get the GOTY battle that I’ve long been interested in since the start of 2015 a year later – Uncharted 4, the first full Naughty Dog game since The Last of Us not only won my 2013 GOTY but became my favourite game ever, against a title I never expected to even beat a Naughty Dog game as my most anticipated game for a certain year, No Man’s Sky.
But again, I digress, I’m getting off-course. In the end, this is the top ten I’ve settled on for this year.
You can watch me wrap up my GOTY 2015 stream for Macmillan below (join in too, you might win some prizes) along with ‘werdz eye rote’ on the top ten below. You can also find links to previous lists below, along with a major retroactive u-turn on what now is my 2012 GOTY!
10 – DriveClub Bikes
To emphasise how much of a turnaround DriveClub has had in the year since its awful launch, Evolution has continued to iterate on the game as more of a service, providing free additions and updates to the game as well as actually providing a season pass that is actually worth people’s money in one of the rare instances that a season pass actually works.
When DriveClub Bikes was announced at Paris Games Week in October as either DLC for the main game or as a standalone game, however, it added to the game in the biggest way since the game’s launch. Driving bikes feel is just as much a joy to play than the cars once you know how to control the bikes properly.
It adds even more excellent value to the DriveClub experience and shows how it has come in massive strides since last October’s launch.
9 – Rocket League
Cars. Football. What else needs to be said?
Even if you’re not a fan of football, this is still pure joy to play just for the experience. Even when you’re rubbish at it – and this is preaching to the choir from first-hand experience – you still get the biggest smile on your face when playing it. It’s just ridiculous fun.
And maybe, just maybe, once and a while, you’ll score the kind of goal in that just makes you go all Ronaldo.
8 – Fallout 4
Disclosure: I am not even in the halfway mark of Fallout 4; I’ve only put in ten, eleven hours as of writing this (which’ll have increased to 13, 14 hours after Thursday’s stream) and I’ve been distracted by other games. So far, the main story doesn’t seem to pull me in.
But yet, I still love what I’ve played so far of Fallout 4. The game seems a lot more tighter gameplay wise with first-person shooting mechanics being much, much better than they were in Fallout 3 and for my complaints of the main story not pulling me into the game so far, it’s when you go off the beaten track and don’t follow the waypoint marker on the Pipboy that the game opens up to you in possibilities that feels more natural.
I’m disappointed it’s not higher up in my list for a variety of reasons, but I still really like Fallout 4 a great deal. But only when I’m not marching to the drum of the main story’s beat, it seems.
7 – Her Story
This caught me off guard, admittedly. But as word of mouth started to spread around it, Her Story eventually found its way to me. And what a story it was.
Playing it on iPad (first time I have an iOS game in my GOTY list – it’s also out on PC), there was an incredible sense of mystery going into the game that had me very much hooked than I was expecting. It was a game that had a lot of people talking and theorising. It was certainly intriguing.
Her Story was a unique experience in games this year, one of few admittedly. And one that, again, caught me by surprise. But I’m glad it did because it’s excellent. Go check it out if you haven’t already.
6 – Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
I’ve never played a platformer with as much charm and wonderfulness than Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It should be of no surprise, really, but it still doesn’t take away how brilliant it is.
It’s insane how the game changes it up every so often, yet keeps you entice to keep going. Just when you think you have the game figured out, it throws a curveball at you down the line and makes you rethink how to approach it. There’s some excllent game design here.
But, and this seems to be a thing I’m saying so often now this time of year, it’s that Nintendo polish that really makes it stand out. So vivid and full of charm. Captain Toad is perhaps my favourite platfomer since Rayman Origins. It’s just wonderful and is easily worth checking out for Wii U owners.
5 – Splatoon
I underestemated Splatoon big time. Like, massively.
The first massive new Nintendo IP in quite some time, the concept was neat on paper, but I felt it’d be more of a fallacy I’d spend more more than two-to-three hours with if given the game. Instead, what I played was a rarity in itself: one of the very few games these days where I’ve played a multiplayer suite, enjoyed it – and this is the rare bit – and actually stayed around in it for a while yet compared to most MP games.
In fact, to help further my point, I’ve barely touched the single-player aspect to the game. Most of the time I’ve spent with the game this year has been from multiplayer.
Even when you’re rubbish at trying to take down other players, the game still makes you feel like you’re contributing something worthwhile to the match in a support role inking up the map that’ll determine whether you win or not.
Like I said, I really underestimated Splatoon. I was wrong about it. And I’m glad I was. Because it really is such a fun game.
4 – Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider is Crystal Dynamics’ Uncharted 2 moment. Seriously.
It’s hard not to make comparisons between the two, but I make the comparison because Rise is such an improvement on Tomb Raider 2013. I mean sure it looks better, but that isn’t why it’s an improvement. It’s story is such a better romp to play through (and I say that as someone who enjoyed TR 2013’s story) and gameplay feeling much more tighter as a response. Plus, much better setpieces.
It is such a fantastic action game that, even with a sequel set up at the end of Rise, it’s difficult to see how much Crystal Dynamics can iterate further when the third TR game in the modern era comes out. But as far as stepping stones go, this is a pretty great one to go from.
Just play Rise of the Tomb Raider already.
3 – Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
A story of love and loss.
That’s how Bethesda’s Sarah Wellock described Rapture when talking of it this past season on My Favourite Game. And I’d be pretty hard pressed to disagree.
For the three hours you spend with the game, you get such an amazing tale of those virtues mentioned above, finding out the backstory to specific characters – from nosy old racist Wendy all the way to mechanic Rhys trying to get his life back on track after recently coming out from prison – and exploring such a beautiful village in the English countryside with something more dramatic and apocalyptic happening in the background. It’s a story that really resonated with me hugely because of the loss I went through a year ago.
But the star of the show is the incredible, haunting soundtrack. I swear to God, if Jessica Curry doesn’t win all the awards that should go her way for the soundtrack, there is something so fundamentally fucking wrong with this industry. Quite frankly, everyone should be etching her name on those soundtrack awards right now.
Anyway. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is such a hard-hitting game as is, but doubly more so if it has actual resonance with you. It’s something everyone should play.
2 – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
In any other year, this would be my game of the year. Actually, the past two numbered instalments, 3 and 4, have both been my game of the year (if I was aware of the GOTY concept in 2002, I’d give it to 2 as well) with 3 being one of my top three favourite games.
But The Phantom Pain is nothing to bulk at all the same, obviously. In Kojima’s swansong to Metal Gear – and Konami – he provided not only one of the best open world games this-gen so far (perhaps tied with The Witcher III consensus wise, but this surpasses it for me) but one of the best ever created in turn with one of the best stealth games ever.
Whether it conveniently wrapped up the entire series in a bow is still up for debate and there is a part of me that’s sad we’ll never get a MGS6 with The Boss as the main character- certainly not one from Kojima at the helm as a producer at least – but for what it’s worth, I felt I got closure. And I’m okay with that.
Thanks for thirteen incredible years, Kojima.
1 – Life is Strange – Season One
If you had have asked me twelve months ago, after seeing the first trailer of it, if I had seen Life is Strange as not only a GOTY candidate, but would outright be in with an actually serious chance of winning it, I would have dismissed you. I mean it looked alright, but nothing incredible and was shaping up to be a bit too tweeny (if that makes sense). And especially in a year where a new, mainline, numbered Metal Gear was out.
And yet, at the end of the year, we have a game that has more heart, more emotion and more originality than anything else this year. Remember Me was a unique idea and had some great stuff, but fell short subsequently for me. But even I never expected Dontnod to bounce back from it – and financial uncertainty at one point – in the biggest and best possible way.
Never have I played a game since The Last of Us that made me full on cry to a game than Life is Strange did at numerous times in the season, but never moreso than the ending. Even with issues including wonky dialogue and shoddy lip sync, it tells a wonderful story of two teenage girls growing up, focusing on the little things that matter and more, facets of which can some people can relate to – I certainly did. And how within the space of a few episodes, the tone manages to flip excellently from said story of growing up and a rekindled friendship to something incredibly dark and twisted.
Plus, a soundtrack that really picks its moments well throughout the season. Would the end of episodes two or three respectively have worked so well without Local Natives’ Mt Washington or Mogwai’s Kids Will Be Skeletons? And depending on which ending you picked, what about Foals’ Spanish Sahara?
But if anything, it should be remembered for dealing head on with serious issues and including them in a delicate and careful but thought provoking way. Suicide, bullying, death, discovering one’s sexuality, to name a few. Dontnod and Square Enix deserve every single bit of praise their way for all of that.
As I said, even with its flaws, it’s a game that had more heart, soul and emotion than anything else this year. For me, it’s the best game I’ve played since The Last of Us.
I said it back in October, but I may as well make it official: Life is Strange is my Game of the Year.
And I am so happy it is. And I am so happy also that it exists.
Honorable mentions: Journey (PS4), Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Tearaway Unfolded, Destiny: The Taken King, Halo 5: Guardians, Just Cause 3, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Batman: Arkham Knight, Tales from the Borderlands, Volume, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Bloodborne, FIFA 16, Forza Motorsport 6, Dying Light and Alphabear.
Games that came too late for the cutoff: Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Rock Band 4, Rainbow Six: Siege.