As with any Game of the Year awards, there’s games that slip through the cracks. 2015 has been another huge year for videogames, and a handful of games have quite deservedly risen to the top of the pile of both our writer and community votes.
Yet there are those games that, whether they were runners up or didn’t make the cut, still deserve to be talked about. With that in mind, here’s a brief rundown of some of our honourable mentions for Game of the Year 2015.
Jim: For the past few years, developers Telltale and Double Fine have continued to reign over the adventure game genre. There have been plenty of other success stories, ranging from Broken Sword and Dreamfall to Life Is Strange, but one game I feel is often overlooked is The Odd Gentlemen’s King’s Quest reboot. Since original publisher Sierra Entertainment vanished, it’s not a name that’s commonly slung around yet the latest King’s Quest is one of the best games the genre has seen in recent years.
Although fully modernised for a new generation, there’s an old school feel to the structure, requiring players to explore and interact with the environment while gathering key items. What stood out the most, however, was the game’s humour. Although prone to the odd giggle now and then, few games have made me genuinely laugh out loud and King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember is one of them. Series protagonist Graham exudes such an endearing sense of underdog charm as he goes from one calamity to the next.
That said, there are times – including one moment in particular – when King’s Quest got rather poignant and serious. For a game to enact such a tonal shift without tripping over itself is amazing to see. If you haven’t already, make sure you grab chapter one via PlayStation Plus while you still can!
Aran: Mad Max is a game that will generally be considered a mid-tier title. The story was kind of average, the boss fights were the definition of repetitive, and the car combat could have been better. However there was one major standout star of Mad Max and that was the environment. From the rocky, sandy areas where most of the inhabitants lived, to the oppresive black skies of Gastown or the open bright yellow stretch of sand in The Dune area, Avalanche created a beautifully dangerous world.
There were moments where the intensity of the harsh sunlight in the clear blue sky clashing with the sand made me feel thirsty, because the design pulled me into the world. It came to a point that I would take water with me before I fired Mad Max up. I think for the environmental design alone Mad Max and Avalanche deserve recognition.
Dave: Undertale is one of those games where those who have played it will sings its praises, but those who haven’t won’t understand why it is so good. Underneath the rather basic aesthetic, it’s the culmination of both a fascinating story and combat mechanics that rethink the entire RPG genre.
Its retro style graphics aren’t exactly a strong point, so the appeal of this little game isn’t going to be universal, but the places the main character goes to have plenty of memorable characters to interact with. The motherly figure of Toriel that guides you through the first section is a kind soul, while the recurring characters of Papyrus and Sans (complete with horrific fonts for their text) are endearing comedic fools.
Most RPGs just ask you to kill the enemies you meet in random encounters, but each battle in Undertale can either be tackled with force or by acting peacefully and sparing your opposition. Though if you do find yourself in combat, you can avoid damage by dodging incoming attacks in a small screen, as if you were playing a bullet hell shooter. On top of that, various decisions you make, no matter how small, affect the outcome of this frankly wonderful indie gem. If you have a tiny bit of spare time, check out this short and sweet RPG.
Jim: Year in, year out there seems to be a pocket of mobile games that go largely unappreciated. Although I expect plenty more people will get a chance to play it in 2016 with all these awards being flung around, I wanted to single out The Room Three.
Looking back at our shortlist of mobile contenders, it’s no surprise that Fallout Shelter nabbed the top spot – after all, it’s completely free to download and leans on one the industry’s most cherished gaming franchises. With a somewhat premium price tag by comparison, it’s obvious why games like The Room Three were glossed over, especially given the transient tastes of the mobile gaming masses.
For me, The Room Three far outstripped expectations. While retaining its meticulously tangible approach to puzzle-solving, it allowed for much bigger environments to explore. Fireproof’s sequel looks stunning too, and Grey Holm was instilled with an enriching amount of detail that really helps to sell its darker, more supernatural themes.
It’s just a really satisfying game to play and try to master, as you take on heist after heist in a steampunk world, doing your best to sneak past guards and get to the computers to hack them, and the sheer panic when it all goes wrong and you have to try and escape is just brilliant. It’s an awful lot of fun, and something I kept returning to for short blasts all through the summer.
For more on The Swindle be sure to listen to our podcast with the game’s creator, Dan Marshall.
Tuffcub: The simple fact is that no other game this year has had the emotional impact of SOMA. I will take a decent story over the latest whiz-bang graphics any day of the week, and SOMA slowly teases out the story of who and where you are in an almost cinematic way.
Each reveal has a hefty emotional hit and makes you think about the big questions in life – personally I find it astounding that a video game can be so philosophical. It all builds to a massive bittersweet end which will leave your mouth agape as the final credits roll.
It doesn’t skimp on the scares either, with the creatures that chase you around the undersea base emitting terrifying screeches as they stalk the corridors. It’s Alien, 2001, Apocalypse Now and Event Horizon all rolled in to a PlayStation game, and it’s bloody brilliant.
Kris: While I’m not surprised that it didn’t get a lot of love in out Game of the Year voting, I absolutely fell in love with Kingdom this year. It’s a small indie title, but it won my heart when I saw it’s simplistic styling at this year’s EGX, and everything about it is simply wonderful.
It seamlessly blends tower defence gameplay with city-building and exploration, diving towards 4X territory as it does so, but always keeps everything feeling incredibly intimate and simple. By presenting the entire world a single 2D plane, you’re never overwhelmed by the amount of space you have to explore, and by actually giving you an avatar in the game, your kingdom’s ruler, you get a feeling of real agency that’s missing from other, similar titles.
While there’s little narrative beyond what you make yourself, Kingdom still manages to remain engaging and create a real sense of tension at times entirely through its mechanics. By putting a genuinely new spin on established concepts, Kingdom managed to feel both fresh and familiar, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
Jim: Released way back in February, it’s no wonder Hand of Fate somehow managed to slip the net, despite being in our indie shortlist. That said, even after all that time, Hand of Fate stands out as one of the best digital games of the year, deftly combining elements from an amalgam of genres.
On one hand you had the board game set-up, but it also draws inspiration from trading card games as well as the “choose your own adventure” books of old. Sat across from the illusive dealer, players would select cards in a path-like sequence, each one presenting the next chapter in your journey. While some offered assistance, others would throw obstacles in your way along with the occasional battle.
This is where Hand of Fate got really interesting. Not only did it have a RPG-style progression system working in the background, the game also borrowed combat mechanics similar to those seen in AAA action titles like Batman: Arkham Knight and Shadow of Mordor. It may not have been able to boast the same sense of scale yet Hand of Fate’s combat felt incredibly polished and rewarding.
With such a unique premise and solid execution, we couldn’t possibly end the year without giving it another mention.
Dom: Armello was amongst the biggest surprises for me this year, though its beautiful art style did catch my eye when I first glimpsed it. Amongst the first three choices in the user focussed “choose your Playstation Plus game” scheme, it sadly lost to platformer Grow Home, but I immediately bought it anyway.
A true fantasy board game making a welcome transition to console, it remains one of my highlights of the year, particularly as a multiplayer title where not only can you play in a variety of ways with multiple tactical approaches, you should never give up till the final roll of the dice as victory may still be within your grasp.
With last year’s awards season all wrapped up, what games stood out for you that didn’t recieve as much recognition as you feel they deserved? Were there games similar to those that you see above, or perhaps more mainstream efforts like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Black Ops 3? Let us know in the comments below.