Last year when I wrote my games of the year list I threw in some bonus awards besides the month-on-months and overall. Now, there are even more bonus awards, because if you head on over to Rice Digital me and my coworker Peter gave our picks on a variety of categories, from Most Frustrating, to Most Awe-Inspiring Moment. It’s a good read.
Without going on too much, here are my normal Games of the Year awards.
Just Fuck Off Already Award
Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered
Omikron Remastered would be more interesting than this. Fahrenheit has a bit of a reputation of “the first half being good”. But, this is inaccurate. In reality only the first 15 minutes or so are good. Only the opening diner scenes. That’s literally it. Anything else and you’re being way too kind to it. Absolutely awful. David Cage at his worst here. Play Heavy Rain again, realise what worked about it and what didn’t (the ending twist really, didn’t), then play Until Dawn, then make your next one. Leave this in the Recycle Bin where it belongs. Well, not even there. Delete that, permanently from your computer. At least the non-remastered version takes up less space.
Game of January
Grim Fandango Remastered
“Oh, why are you putting a Remaster in your list?” Because I want to, okay? I know I usually shy away from it, but this is a little bit of a different case because it’s just really good. Along with some of LucasArts’ other old adventure games Grim Fandango has always been a little tricky to get hold of, get running, and play through on modern systems. Grim Fandango Remastered, by the game’s original project lead Tim Schafer’s new company Double Fine, is a great rerelease that makes polishes it up and makes it more accessible than ever. It’s a great story in a vibrant, interesting, and most of all fun world, with some really memorable dialogue. It’s great to see some of these older adventure games seeing the light of day again, especially with enhancements like nicer graphics, director’s commentary, and perhaps most importantly improved controls. This is what a “remaster” should really be all about. It’s great to see Schafer getting more opportunities like this, with Day of the Tentacle Remastered expected in March of next year.
“We Lost Some of the Game” Award
Heroes of Might & Magic III: HD Edition
Fantastic, one of my favourite strategy games ever made in HD. Great job, Ubisoft. Except, what’s this, none of the Expansion Packs are included? The source code for the expansions was lost, apparently. But, the original game with the expansions is available on GoG for a pretty great price, and runs and looks great on computers still. Buy it there. It’s great. Still one of my favourites. Holds up today. This is a HD version that is worse than just unnecessary, but is actually inferior to the original. This is worse than trash. If you really wanted to put out a HD version of the game, maybe you should just suck it up and pay for it to be recreated. Or mod the originals or something.
Game of February
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
My first journey into the world of Monster Hunter was a great one. Monsters are pretty cool. Because of this, Monster Hunter always interested me peripherally. Long, slogging boss fights do not, and if I’m honest the Monster Hunter crossover missions in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker turned me off actually trying the series myself. I was a fool. It pushes some of the same buttons that I used to love about MMOs in terms of how it progresses (as Joe Skrebels notes for Eurogamer in one of my favourite Monster Hunter articles). Scavenging and looting feels sublimely tangible, and large portions of the game don’t involve advancing the story, but instead figuring out a plan for how you’re going to get the equipment you want, and then carrying it out. It’s the kind of game you would expect to have levelling and stricter RPG-like elements, but it doesn’t. It’s all down to armour and equipment, and even then there’s still a huge amount that is mostly down to skill and practice. Setting a lot of your own tasks just adds to that – your Monster Hunter journey takes you where you want to go. I’ve heard it’s the most approachable entry in the series yet, which makes me thankful I held out for this one. I’ve had a massive amount of fun with it, though it can get a little time consuming, so I’ve not played it as much lately.
Most Indie Non-Indie Game Award
Tell someone this isn’t an indie game and they’ll scoff at you. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Jonathan Blow, or one of the other devs from Indie Game: the Movie, had turned up at my door trying to sell me this, printing the code directly from their Macbook when I agreed. But Grow Home is a Ubisoft game. It turns out it feels indie because it was made by a very small team at Ubisoft Reflections, and was never definitely intended to be a big release, or even necessarily be released at all. But it turned out to be so fun that they did. And you know what? It is fun. Fun and charming. And lovely. And you can ride plants.
I Can’t Hate You Award
The Order 1886
The Order 1886 totally earned a lot of its criticism. But at the same time, it’s a little bit brilliant, isn’t it? You have to admire it for its ambition. Mostly, for me, though, I find it hard not to compare it to BioShock Infinite in terms of its obsession with its own story, characters, and lore. Somehow, I find it hard to say that The Order 1886 doesn’t come out on top. It certainly takes a lot of the issues I had with BioShock Infinite and changes them to be how I would have wanted. Maybe what I think I want isn’t always what I want, but The Order 1886 does a pretty fine job with it anyway. The gameplay is all right, and gets a bit annoying in places, but there’s not really enough of it to get too upset with, only two to three annoying arena rooms too far. Screenshots don’t really do it justice, it’s a gorgeous and rich world, and while the story might be a bit cheesy in places, the creators have the heart to see it through earnestly and completely. It’s not a cynical game, and I think it could have done with a lot more love, really.
Game of March
It’s Dark Souls meets Stylish Action, and that’s absolutely brilliant in my book. It’s such a dense game, that I’ve not really put as much as I want to into it yet, but boy is it good. Both the gameplay and world is massively rich, with the trademark style of telling the story through world building and context rather than cutscene infodumps. This is much more of a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror take on the Gothic stylings of Souls too. It all works beautifully. The way the DLC is accessed is a bit annoying, though. It’s not even too hard, as players can be summoned in to help in most any difficult situation. Somehow, making it a little bit quicker and more offence heavy makes it more approachable, too. It’s been nice to see a lot of non-Souls fans become enraptured in Bloodborne, which just goes to show how much effort they put into making this truly its own thing. Bloodborne proves that a great console exclusive is still a very powerful thing, and PlayStation 4 really hit the big time with this one.
Well Done On Fixing & Improving Your Game Award
DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition
While I still have a bunch of issues with DmC, Ninja Theory really have put a lot of effort into improving the game post-release. This Definitive Edition is a nice update package for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, putting the game at 1080/60, and even adding in a manual lock-in. DmC will never be able to live up to the “true” entries in the series. It’s a game with a combat system that’s a nice enough hack and slash, but not really stylish action. With a bunch of other great stylish action games out there, though, maybe that’s okay. I really do have to commend them for doing a really good job with this Definitive Edition remaster, when some other companies are happy to shove out the bare minimum onto 8th gen. Well done, Ninja Theory.
Game of April
Broken Age Act 2
“We got it from Grim Fandango, you like adventure games, Oscar.” Well, yes. Yes, I do. But Broken Age is pretty special, and not just because of its often repeated Kickstarter success of a history. Double Fine have managed to bring some truly classic feeling adventure game designs forward into the modern age, squeezing the genre down into its core essence. There’s a heap of excellent dialogue and gorgeous environments, but at its hearts its just so simple and intuitive anyone could sit down and enjoy it. That’s not something you can say for many older adventure games. While I love ’em, they can be a bit obtuse most of the time. Here there are only a handful of annoying puzzles, most of which were (for me), the puzzles that crossover between the characters, because they weren’t really flagged.
Best to “Pick Up” Fighter Award
Ultra Street Fighter IV (PS4)
When picking out some games to play over the Christmas period in a recent Rice Digital video, I noted that “even your Grandma knows what a hadouken is”. And I stick by that. Ultra Street Fighter IV might be one of the toughest fighters around to truly master, but the series has always been pretty strong at offering the ability to just pick up and play. Even special attacks aren’t too tough to learn. No matter who you want to fight, sliding this into your play space will guarantee in some fun — even for complete beginners.
Game of May
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I’ve already written a fair bit about The Witcher 3, and I have to admit, I’ve still not finished it (though I’ve still played a lot more than I had before). I was surprised at how much I fell in love with this game considering I’m not a massive fan of fantasy games in general, and didn’t get on to well with either of the prior Witcher games. It’s the kind of game that looks at similar games that came before it and just goes “nah, we can do this better”. The story is fantastic, the lead character is great, the world is huge and feels packed with meaningful content and detail (none of this Ubisoft-style collectibles). It’s the kind of game where I’m completing quests I’m over leveled for and thus get next to no experience, just because I want to see what happens in the quest. Other open world games are really going to need to step it up from now on.
Best Multiplayer / Shooter / New IP Etc. Etc. Award
Any excuse to mention this game is a good excuse. This was a May game, and tragically had to go up against The Witcher 3, otherwise I would love to have given it a Month award. Splatoon is a truly joyous game that offers some truly optimised fun. Gameplay is simple and intuitive. Matches last just the right amount of time. Tactics and loadouts are gradually made available at just the right time. The single player is short and sweet, and expertly teaches you multiplayer strategies. Superb. Without a doubt one of the best online multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
I Wanted to Love You Award (and Do, a Little Bit)
Batman: Arkham Knight
I wanted this to be a contender for June, I really did. If you’d asked me in the build up to release if it would be a strong overall contender for my game of the year I probably would have smiled and nodded, or nodded and smiled. But, I just can’t, in good conscience. I’m too burned with the horrible problems the PC version had on release and still has, and also the lackluster and very overpriced DLC & Season Pass. The core game is still fantastic, and I love the writing and gameplay. I even love the Batmobile. What a let down. I’m just too grossed out by the rest of it to let it get further than a mention. This is hurting me more than it’s hurting you, Arkham Knight.
Best of June
LEGO Jurassic World
Wow, LEGO Jurassic World beating out Arkham Knight? But yeah, it is. It’s a wonderful way to re-experience the Jurassic Park movies, and has some of the best jokes I’ve seen in the Lego games for a while, or so it feels, anyway. While it can feel a little reserved because of its less fantastical than usual source material, I found that a novel charm and a bit of a twist on the Lego games I’m used to. A lovely game that proves the Lego formula can still work. Also, you can’t go wrong with Jeff Goldblum voice clips.
Please Keep Making Games Like This, Swery65 Award
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
Not a true Games of the Year contender because it released on PC only this year, but I don’t have a Kinect so that’s how I’ve been playing this one. I loved Deadly Premonition, and now I also love D4. Please keep making games like this, Swery65.
Best of July
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos
Okay, it might be hard to look past the game’s clearly quite budget trappings and over the top sexualisation. But when you do you’ll discover one of the most interesting new stylish action fighting systems in recent history. You control all four protagonists at once, either expending a gauge to have them all out at once with the other ones CPU controlled, or switching them in and out on the fly. Each has two unique weapons that can also be switched out, and a ranged weapon on top of that. And you have to keep your weapons clean so they don’t become blunt, which can also be done in a combo. It’s a shame it is a little bit hampered by some uninspired stage design, but with a little bit more refinement the combat here could stand with the best of them.
I Just Don’t Get It Award
I played it for a bit and it was kind of fun I guess? I just struggle to see how people are getting so invested in this. Got bored of it quite quickly. Yet, I do feel like it’s on me to some extent. There’s clearly something that hasn’t clicked for me. And maybe it never will. If nothing else, this proved the true power of PlayStation Plus’ monthly games.
Best of August
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3
To be honest I somehow didn’t play much else from August. Summer is a bit of a dead time for game releases. I had a lot of issues with this game because ultimately it disappointed me, but there’s still a lot I love about it. For starters, it’s a great looking game, really capturing the feel of the One Piece source material. On top of that, it’s a great way to cover the convoluted and probably too long One Piece story, and it added in some really great additions to the Warriors mechanics we’re all used to. Ultimately, though, I felt it ended up trapping itself with its mission structures, making any strategy besides the bare minimum linear route pointless, making it feel like I was sleepwalking through some missions. A bit of a shame, but still one of the best One Piece games out there, no doubt about it.
Second Chance to Play Award
Dishonored: Definitive Edition
I absolutely love Dishonored. What a great and fantastic game. The Daud DLC is also included in the Definitive Edition, and I think it in some way surpasses the original game. I’m so hyped for Dishonored 2. Still, I think a lot of people didn’t really get the first one. If you missed out, now’s a better time than ever to check it out on 8th Gen systems. Of all the many re-releases, I think this is the one that feels the most “second chance”-y for me. Don’t miss it again. A fantastic setting and story, and some of the most inventive powers around for interacting with it. Abilities like “blink” that allow you to instantly teleport to the cursor really show how Arkane have taken their Thief backgrounds and translated it into gaming in the modern age.
You’re Right, It’s Really Good Award
Well, it is. I’m not too far into yet. Sorry about that. Liking it a lot, though. Everyone was correct.
Game of September
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence
I don’t usually see myself as a big strategy game kind of person. Though I do of course love Heroes of Might & Magic III, I wouldn’t really say I’m all that great at it. I also enjoy flicking on Total War or Civilization too, but I’m a bit rubbish. I might be good at Ticket to Ride, but when it comes to Risk (the Metal Gear version or otherwise) I’m a bit of a shambles. So, I really didn’t expect to fall in love with this one. I wrote about it a bit more here, in fact. But, well, I kind of did. I’ll admit, I’ve only played one game to completion (bits and pieces of unfinished games aplenty, though), but I won’t forget that time I had. It was a really love historical experience, and really impressed me with the way the strategic layers of the game changed as your sphere of influence grew, so you end up doing less direct control type things and mainly focusing on the broader strokes, as any true daimyo of course would.
Most Gamey Game Game Award
They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Except, well, they clearly do. Because this one exists. But it’s a bit of a rarity nowadays to pick up a game that just feels so much like a game. The gameplay is a pretty great mashup of exploration and both ground and vehicle combat (the vehicle combat is really interesting by the way); and the design of the wasteland is really cool. But it’s not really ever going to make your forget you’re playing a game. And that’s sort of great. Because it is. And it’s a really good one too.
Most Confused Award
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls
It’s starts off as a mash-up between survival horror and hack and slash, which, while a tad unconventional, kind of sort of actually works. But as it goes on it loses itself more and more. Tonnes of annoying puzzle rooms, boss battle arenas, escort sections, defeating waves of enemies. If it had just settled down into one thing, then maybe it could have worked, but it just gets quite annoying to play. It’s a bit of a shame, as there’s still a lot of great Danganronpa story and dialogue that fans will love. I’m just not sure they’ll love playing it.
Finish the Goddamn Game You Annoying Ending Criminals Award
Konami, for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
God speed with Kojima Productions at Sony, Hideo Kojima. The gameplay in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is so sublime, so finely crafted, that by all rights it deserves a top slot on any game of the year list. Except the ending is so gleefully unfinished that, like Arkham Knight, it makes me feel too gross to put in for the main running. I need to put the line somewhere, after all. The gall of them to slap the true ending on the Blu-ray collector’s disc as a compilation of unfinished cutscenes and concept art tied together by text. It looked like it would have tied out a lot of themes, and given it a proper ending, the lack of which was the main complaint about the game a lot of people had. It just gives the impression Konami doesn’t care about the end-player. And, given other things they’ve done this year, they clearly don’t. I’d be surprised if not being able to finish the ending wasn’t one of the prime reasons of the Konami/Koijima fallout. You’re killing yourselves, Konami, and you don’t even seem to realise. Or care. It’s beyond sad. It’s embarrassing. Have some self-respect.
Game of October
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Sometimes I can be a bit of an Assassin’s Creed Unity defender. But, while I think Unity did a lot right it doesn’t get much credit for, it’s still overall kind of a bit shit. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate essentially takes the things Unity was trying to do (with the single player at least, there’s no multiplayer to be found here), and just does it right. It works really well. It just feels great to play. And I’m so glad I can say that. Victorian London is also really lovely, and the Frye twins are both great characters with some excellent chemistry. Kind of wish Evie got more single player missions, though. But, well done, Ubisoft, you pulled it back together. Not quite a pull back as big as Black Flag, but it deserves a congratulations nevertheless.
Most Deserved Remaster Award
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
The first three Uncharted games already looked pretty great. Now they look better. I will always love the story and gameplay of the Uncharted series, and I don’t think that will ever change. There aren’t any truly dramatic changes to the games in this remaster, just a general polishing up, with a few little tweaks (some of the annoying jumps in the first game are no longer annoying, for example), and little extra modes and that sort of thing. It’s just a great low-key remaster.
Most JRPG Feeling JRPG Award
Tales of Zestiria
Even with its unique real-time combat, Tales of Zestiria feels the most like a traditional JRPG of any other recent JRPGs. There aren’t any huge surprises. It’s colourful, has fun characters, dungeon exploration. It’s just what you would expect, but done really well. Super good looking, very approachable combat, barely any load times. It’s great to see game just be some pleased with refining its roots than striving to drastically reinvent itself. Be proud, little guy.
RPG Rerelease That “Gets It” Award
Final Fantasy VII on PS4
Being able to speed up the game by three times is great. If you want to switch off random encounters for a bit, sure, go ahead. Boost up your health if you want to. It’s 2015. Some people just want to experience classic old games the easiest way they can, and it’s great that Square Enix have included that as an option for those who want it. Emulators have been able to offer similar things in the past (and still better, if I’m honest), so it’s great to see an official release begin to try and keep step. More of this, please.
Game of November
Nintendo Badge Arcade
Nintendo did it again. Somehow they made a “free to start” type game that gives you essentially meaningless decorations for your 3DS home screen and made it just really lovely. A lot of the badge designs are quite cool, and the method in which you grab them is both a little tricky, but never too hard. Coming out with a badge of some sort for a play is never very hard at all, but getting some of the harders ones are tough, or a chain that will drop a whole bunch at once is another story. It’s 90p for 5 plays, which is a little steep, but the paid for plays can then also be used to redeem home themes, which are paid-for products in the eShop anyway. But, they hand out free plays quite generously, and you can earn them in your daily free tries on the practice machine. For me, seeing how many badges I can earn without paying is a much a part of the game as playing the badge machines themselves. It’s all tied together by the Badge Arcade Bunny, a charming character that’s great to talk to, and really humanizes what could otherwise be a very sterile ecosystem if it had been made by the wrong people… Possibly linked to the following award…
Most Butchered Feeling Free to Start Game That Makes Me Feel Queasy Award
Nobody wants to leave a Picross puzzle half done. I can run out of energy mid puzzle? Gross. I appreciate that once you spend a certain amount of real money on the game (maybe around £35-40? It’s measured in the in-game currency so it’s hard to tell) it just gives it to everything for “free” from that point on. But, just interacting with that system is just gross. Stop. The Badge Arcade Bunny is a million times better than you’ll ever be.
Game of December
Xenoblade Chronicles X
At first I was a little down on this game, and I still think I prefer the overall story of the first Xenoblade Chronicles. X has a bit of a slow start, but when you get past it the huge, alien world of Mira is simply staggering — every inch of it both beautiful and dangerous. You don’t get the mech suits for quite a while, which would suck if the rest of the game wasn’t really, really great. Which it is. It continues and builds upon the arts combat system of the first game, which is one of the more involved and reactive JRPG systems I’ve every played. Overall the game is a bit of a mix between Final Fantasy XII, Phantasy Star Online, and Mass Effect. But better. It’s more a game about exploring than just following through a linear story, and that goes into the side quests too, a lot of nice character and story moments being behind optional Affinity Missions.
Game of the Year
It’s been a pretty massive year. Not only have there been some great games released, but it’s also been a year packed with great moments and experiences (which is kind of more what we go over in the Rice Digital list). There were more games than ever I wanted to give mentions to, which is why there’s an abundance of extra awards this year. Still, even though there was a lot of great stuff this year, it still breaks my heart that I just can’t put Batman: Arkham Knight or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain into the running. For the most part they really are great games. But it just wouldn’t be right.
Also, Rise of the Tomb Raider seems really good so far, but I’m just not far enough for me to really comment too much on it yet.
As usual, only the best games of seach month are in for the running of my overall Game of the Year award. So, a brief recap…
January: Grim Fandango Remastered
February: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
April: Broken Age Act 2
May: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
June: LEGO Jurassic World
July: Onechanbara Z2: Chaos
August: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3
September: Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence
October: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
November: Nintendo Badge Arcade
December: Xenoblade Chronicles X
Without further ado then…
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Go on, then. Help yourself to a few crowns. You earned it. To be honest, this came really close between The Witcher 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles X. And, Splatoon was pretty close to pushing The Witcher 3 out of May originally. But it just had to be The Witcher 3. While Xenoblade is great, it’s still gotten a bit grindy in places, whereas in The Witcher 3 I deliberately take on quests for basically no reward, just the experience of playing the game itself. Splatoon is great to pick up and play, but I can quite easily put it down and not play it for quite a while, whereas The Witcher 3 is always on my mind. A terrific game, and a real surprise for me to become quite so infatuated with it. But I have. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.