The 2015 Silicon Sasquatch Game of the Year Awards

It's that time of year again! Your faithful team of Silicon Sasquatch writers spent countless hours reviewing and arguing over games to deliver yet another definitive list of the year's best and most noteworthy games. As usual, we— Wait.

Didn't we shut this thing down back in April?

Oh. Well. Whoops.

Even the mercy killing of our beloved publication couldn't quell our desire to collaborate on another GOTY feature. So we did what any reasonable crew would do: we picked up a discount copy of the Necronomicon at TJ Maxx and brought this paranormal beast back from the great beyond — all in the name of education.

Consider this our last gift to you, our readers and friends. One final hurrah before we let this blog go peacefully on its way beyond the veil.

All right.

Let's talk about some games.

Category Awards

We're bringing back our list of award categories, and this time we've got some new twists thrown into the mix. These awards are designed to honor games that are exceptional in some way, and it's a great opportunity to recognize games that may not have the crowd-pleasing appeal necessary to land a spot in our top ten.

Best New Idea

Her Story

Sam Barlow | June 24, 2015 | Windows, Mac, iOS

Runners-up: Splatoon, Cibele

Best Add-on

Destiny: The Taken King

Bungie | September 15, 2015 | PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

In year two, Destiny finally reached the promise of its pre-release hype. Gone were the stingy, frustrating loot drops along with the dissatisfying grind for light levels, a mechanic as obtuse as it was demoralizing. After an aimless first year that put off all but the staunchest raiders and loot-hounds, I didn’t think it was possible to save Destiny from itself.

I stand corrected.

Whether rolling a new character or donning the helmet of your oldest Guardian, Destiny: The Taken King exhibited a sense of welcoming. It even tried and succeeded in making your Guardian integral to its sweeping operatic space adventure—an important note absent from the unrefined first year where each task felt more like busywork than saving the last remnants of good in the galaxy. This new plot, while derivative, had a pulse where its predecessor was dead on arrival. Missions flowed together coherently and the resolution, an introduction to late-game dungeons, PvP and raiding, felt earned.

Compared to the vanilla experience overstaying its welcome around the 10th drowsy story mission, it’s easy to overstate the virtues of The Taken King. However, this isn’t a case of hyperbole exploding the minor success of a bad game getting less bad. Bungie deserves credit for righting its wrongs, and with its voluminous tweaks, the company showed it could reinvigorate its blockbuster by facing its harshest criticisms. Bungie pulled a Diablo III and revamped almost every aspect of its loot and leveling systems. The same reasons Reaper of Souls excited jaded Diablo II fans without alienating core Diablo III players came down to how Blizzard came to respect the time and effort of its customers.

In both examples, the success of a retconning expansion comes down to giving out more loot for the average player and adjusting leveling systems to encourage experimentation and flexibility. Unless you were one of those hardcore year-one Destiny raiders, you probably gave up hunting down the best gear. And, if you were like me, you probably stopped playing as soon as you hit the level cap but realized light levels were a backhanded second leveling system that forced you to wear a hodgepodge of armor just to gain access to dungeons to then get more hodgepodge armor.

Because Bungie fixed these huge problems, it made one of the most mediocre games of 2014 into one of the most exciting games of 2015. For that, The Taken King is far and away the best add-on of the year.

Runners-up: StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone

—Aaron Thayer

Best Humor

Undertale

tobyfox | September 15, 2015 | Windows, Mac

More than any game I played in 2015, Undertale had unwavering confidence in its tone and message. Part of that comes down to the way it used the tropes of classic RPGs to say something new. But there’s a warmth to this game that might not be immediately apparent from the outside.

Everywhere you looked last year, Undertale was being roundly praised for its goofy sense of humor and knowing pastiches of Japanese RPG and animation archetypes. Those devices are put to great use at a rapid clip throughout the entire game, from the silly actions you take to resolve battles without violence to the still-inexplicable way that dogs infiltrate your inventory when you’re not looking. These moments keep you laughing throughout the duration of Undertale, even as it steps into more delicate thematic territory.

There are plenty of games with shrewd writing and genuine laugh-out-loud moments that were released this year. (Just check the runners-up section below for a couple of great examples!) But no game used humor as a device to break down boundaries — between characters, between the player and the game world, between the actions you take and the meaning behind them — like Undertale did. It’s a masterful example of confidence and control in tone from start to finish, and it absolutely earns its laughs.

Runners-up: Tales from the Borderlands, Contradiction: Spot the Liar!

—Nick Cummings

Best Moment

Life Is Strange: End of Episode 3

Dontnod Entertainment | May 19, 2015 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out…

One of the best aspects of Life is Strange is the dedication to ratcheting up the stakes with each episode. Episode 1 introduces you to protagonist Max’s new powers; episode 2 forces you to get to grips with them. But episode 3 is when it really lets you know that the series and its developers, Dontnod, are not messing about.

Previously, Max was able to rewind time by sticking her hand out and acting like a cassette player; it’s enough to turn back seconds and minutes, and allow the player to influence decisions and conversations. However, it’s episode 3 that introduces something much grander, and it coincides with the swelling emotions Max feels for her rediscovered friend Chloe.

There are many good, strong, and even shocking moments in Life is Strange, but we focused on this one because it hammers home some of the most important themes of the game. And when you knock on the door and greet Chloe, it shows that even the best intentions don’t always work out perfectly.

Runners-up:Tales from the Borderlands - title sequence in episode 5 with James Blake’s “Overgrown”, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture - conclusion

—Doug Bonham

Best Art Direction

Splatoon

Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 | May 29, 2015 | Wii U

Runners-up: Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Biggest Surprise

Rocket League

Psyonix | July 7, 2015 | PlayStation 4, Windows

Our descriptor for this category is simple - “Out of nowhere, something awesome.” I can think of little better to encapsulate the impact Rocket League had when it was launched last summer. It’s not just to do with the game’s quality either. It was released on PlayStation 4 as a PlayStation Plus title, meaning it was free for subscribers; this was normally the place where one found over-the-hill AAA releases or the previous year’s best indie titles during the PlayStation 3 era.

But with an understandably small catalog to compete with during the traditional mid-summer doldrums, Rocket League had room to hook all and sundry. Rocket League even allowed multiplayer between users on PC and PS4! It was all the gaming press could talk about for weeks on end, and as many people stumbled over themselves to ensure a PS+ download, they soon found the game lived up to the hype.

Rocket League is developer Psyonix’s pure multiplayer drug, and deserves to be remembered as one of the year’s best games - and its biggest surprise.

Runners-up: Undertale, Guitar Hero Live

—Doug Bonham

Character of the Year

Yennefer of Vengerberg from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

CD Projekt RED | May 19, 2015 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

You wouldn't necessarily think so based on the sales and ubiquity of games like Call of Duty, Clash of Clans and Super Mario, but games can make for a pretty terrific storytelling medium — one that allows players to interact with characters in ways that books, movies and other passive media simply can't allow. Among the all the interesting characters portrayed in games in 2015, Yennefer of Vengerberg is the most fascinating and well-defined.

Introduced originally in the Witcher books written by Andrzej Sapkowski, Yennefer was only mentioned in the first two Witcher games. She is considered the love of Geralt's life in the books, but as the first game begins with a tropey bout of amnesia CD Projekt Red introduced a new major love interest and left Yennefer in the past.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt tells a story that is in a lot ways a kind of conclusion for Geralt. He has recovered most of his memories and the people that were once important to him are reentering his life. Some welcome him with open arms but Yennefer remains at a distance, both literally and figuratively. Even if the player chooses to pursue her, most of the game leaves Geralt unsure if they are still soul mates.

Despite its reputation, Wild Hunt is actually pretty progressive in its depiction of women and sex in a video game. The women in Geralt's life have agency. They are not waiting for him to act and aren't afraid to act undesirable. Yennefer never behaves like a character whose life revolves around the player but rather another in a cast with their own story unfolding elsewhere. In a lot of ways, Geralt and Yennefer's romance may be one of the most believable in games to date.

Unlike other games depicting sex and romance, sex is not the end goal or a prize to be won: it is a step on a longer path of courtship. The climax of Geralt and Yennefer's romance is not physical intimacy but rather emotional in which she asks his help to remove a spell which bound them as soul mates so that she can know if they truly work as a couple or if it was only magic binding them together. It's almost a meta-moment of fiction, whereas many couplings happen simply because the author or fans will it so.

Despite her somewhat cold demeanor early on in the game, she demonstrates on numerous occasions she cares for Geralt and the other characters and, depending on player choices, is the most well-developed figure in the game. I hope we can see more women in games depicted less like Metal Gear Solid V's Quiet and more like Yennefer.

Runners-up: Mettaton from Undertale, Loader Bot from Tales from the Borderlands

—Tyler Martin

Best Narrative Design

Her Story

Sam Barlow | June 24, 2015 | Windows, Mac, iOS

Here’s an overly reductive way of explaining the entire experience of playing Her Story:

  1. Type a word
  2. Watch videos where someone says that word
  3. Repeat

On paper, it sounds...like research. Not like a game, at least. And the whole reason Her Story succeeds at being more than just a compelling performance by actress Viva Seifert is owed to an underlying design logic that’s nearly invisible but impossible to ignore.

The game is played through a Windows 95-like retro computer interface, which helps set the player’s expectations of what’s possible with that hardware accordingly. Searching a video archive through a series of terms one at a time feels fair on a scanline-riddled, convex CRT monitor. And the overarching story — the purpose of why you’re scouring this video database — is revealed in a tightly restrained and satisfying manner.

It might not look like there’s any rhyme or reason to the order you’re watching things in, but it’s impossible to ignore how the game’s sharp script is measured in introducing new concepts and terms to search for. At regular intervals throughout the game, a new possibility will leap into your mind — and the satisfaction of seeing that term reveal new dimensions to the character on-screen is tangible.

No two people will play Her Story in exactly the same way, and very few people will ever come to the exact same interpretation of what actually happened. But thanks to an impeccably refined script that meshes expertly with the act of playing the game, you’re in for a satisfying story no matter how you approach it.

Runners-up: Clickhole Clickventures, Undertale

—Nick Cummings

Best Soundtrack

Splatoon

Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 | May 29, 2015 | Wii U

Runners-up: Undertale, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The First-Annual Hideo Kojima Award for the Hideo Kojima-est Design Decision

Fultoning Everything, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Kojima Productions | September 1, 2015 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Runners-up: The indefensible objectification of Quiet, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; Playing a tape of someone pooping while hiding in an outhouse so the guards don’t search for you there, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Top Ten Games of 2015

And here's the main event: the ten best and most significant games of the year. This is the product of actual months of planning that culminates in a marathon, five-hour debate.

Each year, we try to come up with a list that represents the best games of their moment — the ones that we'll look back on as having the most profound impact on the medium in their time and for years to come.

Without further ado...

#10

Cibele

Star Maid Games | November 2, 2015 | Windows, Mac

The worst thing that can be said about Cibele is that it’s not really a game. However, 2015 emerged as a banner year for narrative-driven experiences that didn’t need to rely on tropes. If anything, Cibele was helped by its proximity to similar releases: comparisons to other 2015 “non-games” such as Her Story and Emily is Away demonstrated that these new and largely female auteur stories can captivate when told through an interactive medium.

Cibele takes place peripheral to the budding love of a young college student and her online beau. As Cibele (the protagonist’s online avatar), you click around your PC’s emails each day, look at old photos from high school and login to your favorite MMO to forge a deeper connection with a cute and mysterious guy (insofar as a person can be cute and mysterious when you only know them by their avatar and loot drops).

As a real-world player who’s pushing 30, Cibele succeeded in transporting me back to adolescence—naively spending hundreds of hours with digital acquaintances, trying to forge deeper relationships with strangers whom I never met IRL. For the two or so hours it took to finish Cibele, I felt like I was 19 again. I understood her. I was her. I had flashes of my own crushing heartbreak as I watched the credits roll. It was one of the most surreal and emotional out-of-body gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Cibele should be praised solely for the quality of work from its single author. But I want to point out that Nina Freeman made a game that stars a young woman, but is about the shared human experience of falling in love. In a post-Gamergate world—one that continues to disrespect women in the industry—games like Cibele are vital to changing the perceptions of videogames both among core gamers and larger society. Women are, and always have been, capable of making brilliant games that anyone of any gender can enjoy. Cibele should be the equivalent of required reading for backward-thinking young misogynists.

—Aaron Thayer

#9

Life Is Strange

Dontnod Entertainment | May 19, 2015 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

In many ways, Life Is Strange is a set of dichotomies. It makes use of the now well-worn third-person adventure game formula made famous in recent years by Telltale; however, the time-rewinding mechanic central to the game keeps it from feeling too derivative. Developer Dontnod is telling a classic American high-school story, but is able to bring in very mature and - daresay - edgy material into the game. And while the game may rotate around a friendship regained, it does so with two teenage girls at the center of the experience - still something of a novelty in gaming.

But it’s a credit to Dontnod that the game never loses its own balance. The craft put in to pacing the story, keeping each episode from overstaying its welcome, is a welcome change from other adventure and single-player games that hit drags along the way. The heartfelt relationship between player-controlled protagonist Max and her friend Chloe walks the tightrope of sincerity and teenage melodrama with aplomb. Life Is Strange’s time mechanic never feels all-powerful - in fact, one of the strongest moments in the five-episode series reminds you that power is nothing without control.

It’s hard to get too much further into the reasons to love Life Is Strange without touching on story details, but suffice to say, it earned our Moment of the Year award not through a cheap shock but by following through on a perfect setup. And in my eyes, that’s how the rest of the game maintains as well. Extremely well executed and a touching story that just happens to be set in Oregon.

—Doug Bonham

#8

Broken Age

Double Fine Productions | April 28, 2015 | Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

During previous Game of the Year deliberations, I found myself championing beautiful games. Not graphically intensive, next-gen festivals of specular lighting and shading and bump-mapping. Just games that, through their art and music in combination, struck me as beautiful. In past years, Braid, Bastion, and even Pokemon X/Y fit the bill. This year, it was Broken Age, and it might be the most beautiful yet.

That’s not to say that Broken Age relies on its looks, not by any means. It is one of the most challenging, compelling adventure games I’ve ever played, vaulting the point-and-click genre to heights previously only attained by Telltale. Broken Age’s story is whimsical and charming, a delightful romp in both fantasy and science fiction that turns the “distressed damsel” trope on its ear. The game’s voice acting—which features veteran voice actors like Masasa Moyo, Grey DeLisle and Jennifer Hale as well as traditional stars Elijah Wood and Jack Black—is nothing short of superb. Broken Age could have looked like Dwarf Fortress and by the weight of its other attributes would have made it into this year’s deliberations.

But between its gorgeous, hand-drawn environments and characters, and its lively orchestral soundtrack, Broken Age is, yes, beautiful. That should not be the only reason that you play it. But when you do, feel free to savor that aspect especially.

—Spencer Tordoff

#7

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

CD Projekt RED | May 19, 2015 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For all the impressive sales figures this generation of home video game consoles has produced, the games themselves have largely failed to distinguish themselves from their progenitors. Sure, games run slightly better, maybe at a nicer resolution, but little is done with the increased fidelity. CD Projekt RED's The Witcher III: Wild Hunt sets itself apart by using this new hardware to create a sense of place and an immersive environment unseen in most games.

Open-world games are hardly a fresh concept anymore, even ones with role-playing elements, but few provide adequate motivation to explore. The environments in Wild Hunt are practically covered in question marks and each one holds a reward, either a new quest and character to meet or a treasure to claim.

The game does have its faults: it doesn't have the best combat of 2015, the leveling system is unintuitive, and most of how The Witcher III plays is just good enough. But the world is a joy to explore, and watching the trees sway in the wind as Geralt tracks a beast through the forest is an incredible sight to behold.

Even the world, as massive and remarkable as it is, would not be enough to carry the player across the hundred-odd hours the game demands if it were inhabited by boring stereotypes. Wild Hunt graduated from the George R.R. Martin school of fantasy writing in which everyone is flawed and yet has believable motivations. Even Geralt, who we’re reminded had his emotions dulled as a result of his Witcher training, provides some genuine pathos as he searches far and wide for his adopted daughter Ciri.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt may not be the best game of 2015, but it sets new standards for open-world titles, games writing and quest design.

—Tyler Martin

#6

Super Mario Maker

Nintendo EAD Group No. 4 | September 11, 2015 | Wii U

In a way, it’s weird to classify Super Mario Maker as a game. Detractors love to call it a glorified level editor, and even its most ardent fans have very little common ground with each other in defining what keeps them engaged. It’s probably fair to say that Super Mario Maker is many different things to many different people. So here’s what it is to me:

Super Mario Maker is to making games what Mario Paint was to creating digital art.

Where Mario Paint taught a generation of kids how to sketch, paint, draw, animate and compose music, Super Mario Maker uses the universal language of Super Mario Bros. to teach its players how to make games. In doing so, it’s maybe the most comprehensive and effective game-design tutor (and practical tool) I’ve ever used.

Here’s what I mean: With Super Mario Maker, you learn a toolset for making levels (in development terms, it’s your IDE). You get exposed to countless creations from other players, and you release and receive feedback on your work in the form of favorites, clear rates, follows, and comments. Each level released is an opportunity to learn and a chance to build an audience. To anyone who’s ever wanted to make and share things, it’s a beautiful experience.

What’s most remarkable to me is how Super Mario Maker leads its players invisibly and effortlessly through a gradual learning curve of how to use its building blocks in increasingly complex and clever ways. All this happens while you’re also experimenting with other designers’ levels and reacting to the feedback you receive on your own creations.

Super Mario Maker delivers an authentic and comprehensive experience of what it means to be a game developer. In doing so, it celebrates the insurmountable brilliance of classic Mario games. But most importantly, it teaches you that you, too, can make great games. We always had the potential; now we have the tools.

—Nick Cummings

#5

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Kojima Productions | September 1, 2015 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

I could say lots of great and terrible things about Hideo Kojima as a video game designer, but the best thing I can say is that he is always surprising. What is most surprising about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is that (given the direction of publisher Konami) it sends the Metal Gear Solid series out with both a bang and a whimper.

The Phantom Pain may be the biggest departure from its predecessors (aside from the portable Peace Walker) in that it abandons the linear narrative full of expositional cutscenes in favor of an open-world mission based design full of optional missions and objectives and story beats few and far between. It does this largely to its benefit. The areas of Metal Gear Solid V are in many ways the tonal opposite of Witcher III: while gorgeous, they lack any unique treasures to find or interesting characters to meet. Instead they provide connective tissue for a series of exquisitely designed environments for a variety of missions that can be approached stealthily or guns-a-blazin'.

Metal Gear played a big role in pioneering the stealth-action genre, and one of the shortcomings of those style of games has been the lack of any grey area in the fail states. With this latest entry, Metal Gear manages to provide a perfect balance of incentives and risk to both encourage stealth but not punish when it doesn't work out. It's a good thing, too; as one of the longest Metal Gear games, it’s also the most fun to play.

Unfortunately, what might have prevented The Phantom Pain from unanimously being our Game of the Year is that the story largely falls apart in the second half and feels less like a cohesive narrative and more like a series of epilogue vignettes. It also doesn’t help that the game's only human companion (alongside a dog, a horse and a robot) is mostly used as a sexist prop to be seen and not heard.

Still, the game deserves a tremendous amount of credit for both breaking so hard from the Metal Gear formula yet still feeling familiar. It may not entirely be the Metal Gear finale we all wanted but it's still a very high note to go out on.

—Tyler Martin

#4

Her Story

Sam Barlow | June 24, 2015 | Windows, Mac, iOS

Some insane nostalgia lodged deep in the recesses of my mind makes me a complete sucker for games that utilize full motion video. It may date back to the first time I was shown Command & Conquer. I watched a friend beat a mission, and suddenly his screen went blank, his CD-ROM drive began making a sound like a large helicopter full of yaks attempting to get airborne, and suddenly there was television on his computer. Blocky, ugly television with no-name actors and awful scripts, mind you; it was only somewhat better than a very poor-quality rip of The Big Bang Theory. But it was astonishing nevertheless.

My tastes were never a good litmus of popular trends in video games, and FMV never quite took off before it fell out of use. It’s no surprise, either: the files took up a lot of space on CDs, the quality was abysmal, and the cost of production added too much to the game’s overhead among others.  With few exceptions (the C&C series, in my opinion, among them), the presence of live-action actors in a game is usually a red flag -- “WARNING: This Game Is Probably Not Very Good.”

Without delving into whether Her Story constitutes a game in the strictest sense (one might argue that it’s a tutorial in non-linear video editing), it’s safe to say that it is the most remarkable, impactful use of full-motion video in any game, ever. Each clip in the game, fully transcribed and searchable, offers just a sliver of the narrative. Aside the (admittedly confusing) achievements, there’s no in-game feedback, nothing to tell the player that they’re on the right track, that they’re assembling things the right way. There is no “win condition,” not in a traditional sense; one plays until they are content with their interpretation of the story.

If a game manages to tell a story in a way impossible to achieve in any other medium, it’s usually my pick for GOTY. This year, Her Story absolutely fits the bill. It’s a fascinating story, a compelling medium, and an impressive use of a format that once heralded green-screen sets and phoned-in lines.

—Spencer Tordoff

#3

Undertale

tobyfox | September 15, 2015 | Windows, Mac

At this point, Undertale’s reputation precedes itself. That’s too bad, because Undertale seems to inspire either absolute devotion from its fans or outright hatred from those who don’t like it. So you’d be forgiven if you didn’t want to approach such a controversial game.

I love Undertale, but it sure worked hard to earn that love from me. At first I thought I was playing a cute, strange homage to Earthbound: it looked like a Japanese RPG from the NES era, it was surprisingly tough, and it didn’t seem sure of where it was going. I couldn’t for the life of me fathom how it inspired such devotion from its fans.

After about an hour, Undertale finishes making its pitch to you. You start to understand the depth of the impact your choices have, and the cast of characters and sense of humor begin to mature. With each new section of the game, Undertale redoubles its efforts and portrays everything that came before with new significance. It builds and builds and builds until its poignant conclusion—a finale entirely of your own making.

I don’t really know how to sell a skeptic on Undertale. (If I did, this game would be in a very different position on this list.) But maybe it all comes down to this: Undertale has a real heart. It’s a warm game that wants to make you laugh and to have fun, and that devotion shows in every enemy encounter, every one-off snippet of weird dialogue, and every easter egg crammed into the game’s environments. It’s also the most genuine game I think I’ve ever played; the experience felt authentic, honest, and tonally consistent throughout. It probably helps that one person, Toby Fox, is the author of virtually every aspect of this game—the art, the programming, the music, the design.

Undertale feels deeply personal, and it succeeds at having an earnest dialogue with the player in a way that very few games in history ever have.

—Nick Cummings

#2

Splatoon

Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 | May 29, 2015 | Wii U

To be honest, I played about five hours of Splatoon. I’m over shooters these days as a rule, but my fiancée, Megan, was absolutely pumped to try a game where squid people shoot ink guns at one another.

Her fondness for a cheery art style with weird, inky squid kids wasn’t a surprise, but her interest in a competitive multiplayer shooter was. Megan, by no means ignorant of shooters (she’s a dabbler in the Uncharted series), was ready to embrace deathmatches at a time when I was doing everything I could to run screaming in the opposite direction of no-life turds maxing out their stats, putting pot leaves on their gear and entering 50th level prestige in whichever FPS was popular at the moment.

To be clear, Megan liking a shooter isn’t surprising because she’s “a girl, bro,” but because she’s never really liked them. Those of us who cut our teeth on Wolfenstein, Doom, GoldenEye and so many others speak a language unintelligible to those on the outside. Having seen her struggle with Uncharted, I realized my proficiency for controlling both a character and the camera in 3D space to aim and kill something, simultaneously, was a feat I’d taken for granted. That’s a massive barrier for people who may want to play shooters yet feel intimidated by their complex systems. Add to that the fact that many FPSes are derivative and boringly self-serious, it’s no surprise that many players out there just don’t give a shit about competitive multiplayer--a wasteland of trash people who yell, cheat and teabag their way through every match.

Splatoon has none of that aforementioned shooter baggage. Yes, it requires proficiency with 3D movement, but its single-player mode is one big tutorial. Megan learned the basics without the pressure. Over her dozens of hours of playing, I was amazed (and proud!) to see her slowly get the hang of aiming with precision. Again, I didn’t really stick with the game long,but the way it introduces newbies to the basics of shooting and competing against other real life players is a revelation. I’ve seen more than one wonderful YouTube video of happy gamer moms and dads filming their young daughter absolutely destroying Splatoon ranked matches.

So far I’ve barely talked about the mechanics of the game, but I honestly don’t think it matters. Splatoon does a lot of things well (emphasize teamwork and point accrual without needing to kill), and it does other things just OK (it still takes forever to rank up, which isn’t fun in the long term). But it deserves to be a game so high on this list because of its welcoming spirit. I’m sure many of you know or know of people who’d never have been caught dead playing Call of Duty thoroughly enchanted by Splatoon. For that reason, it’s one of the best things to happen to shooters in decades, and absolutely one of the best games of 2015.

—Aaron Thayer

#1

Rocket League

Psyonix | July 7, 2015 | PlayStation 4, Windows

How does a game about teams of rocket-powered cars playing a fake sport power its way to the top of our Game of the Year list for 2015? Simply by being the best sports game ever.

Now, Rocket League is not a sports game as you understand them - licensed teams and players, complex controls, real-life announcers providing canned calls of your match, and a reminder that “It’s in the game” up front. No way. In Rocket League there are no announcers, nor logos, or a year appended to the title of the game to differentiate it from last year’s edition.

Instead, Rocket League taps into what makes sports great to play in real life: locomotion. What Rocket League gets absolutely right is putting player movement control at the heart of the game. Playing a real sport is a combination of eyes and legs: reading what is happening on the field, and moving to adjust to that. Driving controls are a known quantity for gamers; pairing them with a sport without many rules but with a straightforward objective allows the game to feel more like playing a sport than any title I’ve played in years. It should be little surprise that most Rocket League beginners look like kindergarten soccer players: always chasing the ball, playing more with their feet than their eyes. Just like a real sport, proper matches involve teamwork, spacing, understanding roles and switching when needed, and the ability to master your locomotion at the stop of a dime in order to win.

What Rocket League taps into is the same sense of fun that follows whenever you get a chance to kick a ball around in real life. Few of us have the soccer skills of Pele, can soar like Michael Jordan, or crush a baseball like Ken Griffey Jr., but we can all try, and when you play with like-minded (and similarly talented) individuals, it’s always a fun experience.

By breaking from so many sports game conventions and embracing what truly makes real sports a fun and entertaining pastime, Rocket League provides the greatest sports game ever - and a landmark game for 2015.

—Doug Bonham

Honorable Mentions

Last, but not least: our personal favorites that didn't make the cut.

Nick

I honestly didn’t think I’d be here again: compiling lists, debating rankings, and scrambling to play every game I can get my hands on before we convene as a group to hash everything out. Then again, we closed up shop nearly a year ago, so I guess I could be forgiven for not expecting to publish yet another Silicon Sasquatch Game of the Year feature.

Here’s the thing, though: we all really wanted to do it again. I don’t really know why games criticism is so compelling to me, but whatever it is, it’s potent. Maybe it’s just valuable to have an outlet to dissect complicated media, or maybe I just have too many opinions about games.

Either way, it’s really gratifying to be back — and that’s thanks in no small part to 2015 being one of the best years for games in a very long time. I don’t know where we’ll all be a year from now, but I can say with confidence at this point that I’m gonna keep playing and (over)analyzing games until the day I die. Please take a moment to update your social media feeds accordingly.

The top ten list we produced features ten wonderful, distinct, impressive games that are all worth discussing. Here are four more games I loved. They didn’t make the group’s cut, but if you’re into thought-provoking narratives, expertly polished gameplay and sharp writing, you can’t go wrong with these games.

The Talos Principle

Croteam | December 11, 2014 | Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Android

What starts out as a great way to make the logical-spatial portion of your brain start earning its keep turns into a rumination on the nature of human existence and what it means to break down boundaries. With that in mind, calling The Talos Principle a game about moving blocks and positioning lasers is like saying Fez is a game about collecting 32 cubes—you’re missing the real message.

As you progress through a series of puzzle environments, you’ll be introduced to some challenging concepts and interesting characters that subvert your understanding of the nature of the game. For example, you might find a note scrawled on a wall and realize that your friend actually left it waiting for you who-knows-how-many months ago. Is The Talos Principle a shared experience? If so, what does that mean for your role in the game?

I finished every single thing you can do in The Talos Principle. I didn’t want it to end. If it had made the cut-off for our Game of the Year voting in 2014, I would’ve pushed for it as our number-one game. As it stands, it’s still one of my favorite games in recent years. There’s a really good chance you’ll love it too.

Axiom Verge

Thomas Happ Games | March 31, 2015 | PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Windows, Mac, Linux

Axiom Verge is not Metroid, but it knows more about Metroid than just about anybody. Much like Super Mario Maker used the building blocks of its classic platformers to establish a common language with the player, Axiom Verge goes out of its way to look, feel, sound and behave a lot like the classic NES Metroid. But to call it a mere homage is to do Axiom Verge a real disservice.

Instead, Axiom Verge uses the well-established Metroid archetype to subvert expectations and deliver a game that manages to challenge the player in unexpected ways: thematically, logically, narratively. Yeah, it’s a side-scroller on an alien planet where you pick up new weapons and discover new methods for traversing the environment, but that’s where the direct similarities end. You’ll see spaces that your character’s too small to fit into, for example, but the way you eventually learn how to navigate those spaces requires a totally different frame of mind than Metroid. In other words: there’s no Morph Ball to be found here.

2015 was full of great games inspired by the Metroid oeuvre, like the lush Ori and the Blind Forest. But Ori focuses on a distinct presentation while relying on familiar moves and tropes that make the act of playing it feel somewhat stale and rehashed. Axiom Verge takes the opposite tack: familiar trappings that lure you into a false sense of security. It’s no mere sequel or spin-off; instead, it’s a tough, rewarding, original game that feels like a true successor to the original Metroid.

Tales from the Borderlands

Telltale Games, Gearbox Software | October 20, 2015 | Windows, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, Android

I don’t particularly like Borderlands. The first game was a pretty cool surprise when it rolled up on my doorstep one day, featuring decent shooting mechanics that were buoyed by an addictive loot system, solid cooperative play and a heaping load of crass, distinctive style. But every game since then has failed to capitalize on the potential of the clever formula laid out by the original.

I also really didn’t expect to like Tales from the Borderlands. I wound up loving it. Fool me once…

I’ve played pretty much every Telltale game ever released, and to be blunt, most of them fail to do much with either their source material or the mechanics of play. This year’s Game of Thrones game was a disappointment on both fronts. On the other hand, Tales from the Borderlands manages to rejuvenate both the flagging Borderlands franchise and the narrative and gameplay conventions of Telltale’s adventures. It also has a great soundtrack, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Maybe the best thing I can say about Tales from the Borderlands is this: it surprised me enough to play through the first episode. And then it surprised me again — and again — and again. It features the strongest writing and best pacing of any Telltale series (move over, The Walking Dead) and it all comes together to form the most gleefully ridiculous (and maybe even a little moving) stories I’ve seen in a game in a long time. It’s a great time. Don’t miss it.

Nuclear Throne

Vlambeer | December 5th, 2015 | Windows, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

I did not reach the Nuclear Throne. I’ve never reached the Nuclear Throne. I hear the throne exists, but I haven’t seen it. I’ve come close! So close. So many times. But I’ve never seen the throne itself.

Will I ever reach the Nuclear Throne? I don’t know. But if the past few dozen hours are any indication, I’m not giving up anytime soon.

Vlambeer is a studio that takes the concept of “game feel” to its logical extreme. Every dip in framerate, every moment the screen shakes, every enemy bullet and impending explosion was meticulously iterated upon to create the final release of Nuclear Throne. It’s a game with lots of randomly generated moving parts and challenging action-oriented gameplay, not unlike Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac. But it has a feel that’s ragged, rough, doggedly consistent and wholly its own.

If you love action games where the journey of becoming better as a player is more important than the destination, here’s your new obsession.

—Nick Cummings

Aaron

Last year worked out pretty well in my favor, I have to say. It was the first GOTY in a while where I’ve struggled to call foul because certain games weren’t included in our Top 10, outside of the ones I detail below. And really, even the ones I’m writing about here have enough faults that I understand why they didn’t make the cut.

The placement of the Top 10 is always another matter of taste, but I’m very much happy with how hours of bickering by we five idiots put a bow on the entirety of 2015.

Then again, I may feel quite different once/if I catch up on the backlog of other games from last year—Rogue Galaxy in particular seems like a gem. But for now, I lay my weary head to rest (thanks, Kansas) by highlighting just a few oddball games deserving of your attention and which I deeply enjoyed. My colleagues weren’t convinced of their merits (in one case, they vehemently opposed its inclusion on any list), but that’s where I come in!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The Chinese Room | August 11th, 2015 | PlayStation 4

What’s with so many games making me cry last year? I think I’m just getting old. And doughy. And I’m about to be married, and I want to have babies.

Yeah, I’m a mess.

Point being: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, also called a “walking simulator,” which I find to be dismissive and unfair, made me cry about two to three times last summer. I’ve never been to the U.K., so I just assumed the depiction of pastoral, rural life in a small village is equivalent to the real thing. If it’s not, The Chinese Room fooled me. The voice acting is phenomenal--some of the best I’ve ever heard. It was like listening to a classy Masterpiece Theatre program with all the heartfelt British accents floating around. And I do mean floating.

The game’s title is accurate: everybody (except you—you’ve got places to walk, after all) has gone to the rapture. You’re the lone survivor/visitor (it’s never quite clear) to the small English town, checking vacant pubs and abandoned cars for any signs of life. Exploring the village you’ll meet weird energy balls which float and dance around you, and are the last remnants of the citizens of the town before whatever the hell happened, happened. You follow these balls of light to several distinct tableaus, which expand the story of the life lived in a small town—adultery, abuse, love, loss and everything that makes us human, despite the stark absence of human bodies. While you’re picking the town apart for hints to the mystery of the so-called rapture, the game’s beautiful, lifting and airy orchestral score will bring tears to your eyes. The acting is superb, but the soundtrack is transcendental.

Rapture is a one-and-done experience, but it never felt too brief nor overstayed its welcome. Most importantly, it surpassed its walking-simulator designation. It’s a gorgeous and deeply moving story that still keeps some mysteries to itself at the end, but if you do enough exploring you won’t be dissatisfied.

Fallout 4

Bethesda Softworks | November 11th, 2015 | PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

The date: June 15th, 2015. The place: an Airbnb rental outside Flagstaff, Arizona. The reaction: “Holy shit, a next-gen Fallout?!”

Of course I was interested, and predictably excited. I’m the member of our group who fought (successfully) to get Skyrim to the #1 spot on our 2011 GOTYs. Look: Bethesda games resonate with me, and check every box and push every button I have. In fact, I preordered the Pip Boy special edition when Fallout 4 was announced, beating out other Fallout fans for the privilege of owning a life-sized replica of Vault-Tec wrist technology—only to stuff it in my closet a few days later. I admit: I truly, deeply, madly love open-world Bethesda games.

So what happened this year? Why didn’t Fallout 4 place on our Top 10?

At first, I was a little miffed. Most of our team hadn’t played the game during deliberations, or if they had it wasn’t long enough to, in terms of seeing one of three branching endings, finish the game. I was outgunned by unenthusiasm for another trip through Bethesdian mainstays: kinda shitty graphics, buggy launch code and rarely interesting quests. Which, to me, are expected aspects of an Elder Scrolls or Fallout experience. By the end of our deliberations this past December, Fallout was clearly (some may say vehemently) pushed out of consideration in a fait accompli. My favorite type of game relegated to the doldrums of an Honorable Mentions. Again, I was a bit peeved. Except….

Now, as I write this, I’ve platinumed Fallout 4. To anyone but the most insane of fans and Wikia scourers, I’ve seen all there is to see. In the weeks since our deliberations I’ve come to accept the overwhelming fault of Fallout 4: it’s basically the same fucking game as Fallout 3! It even has Liberty Prime crashing through post-apocalyptic streets, blowing the hell out of NPCs in a very janky set piece sequence.

I still enjoyed Fallout 4 and its evolution of the protagonist—voicing the main character was a prudent move amidst the rapid adoption of strong voice acting in games over the past few years (i.e., Telltale’s efforts). Its changes to leveling and perks are fine by me, and overall it delivered the open world experience I wanted. But, for some insane reason, Bethesda made a game that feels like an expansion to Fallout 3. Why set the new game 10 years after the third one? Why have cameos from NPCs and factions intimately tied to the story of the Capital Wasteland and its Lone Wanderer? Fallout 3 took place over 100 years after the first game, and nearly 40 after the sequel. Setting Fallout 4 only 10 years and about 300 miles from its predecessor feels incremental, and not like a sequel seven years in the making.

I finally understand why Fallout 4 had no place on our Top 10. Even though it scratched the itch, it did little to advance the series. Sure, I liked it enough to hunt down all its trophies, but obsessiveness and free time do not equal one of the best games of the year. Fallout 4 is the sum of its parts--an experience mired in mechanics and problems nearly a decade old that offers a lot to see and do, but feels like it could have been so much more.

— Aaron Thayer