Here it is, on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, the most prestigious awards in video games: The Golden Gizmos! This is where we honor the greatest games of the year, or at least out of the ones we actually played. After that, we have the real show: The Golden Gremmies, awarded to the dregs of the industry. So let’s get it on!
NOTE: Games released in late November or December of this year are eligible for the following year. This includes titles such as Xenoblade Chronicles X, Yakuza 5, Just Cause 3, and Aviary Attorney.
GAME OF THE YEAR 2015:
1. METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
3. Super Mario Maker
4. Rise of the Tomb Raider
6. Read Only Memories
7. Tales From the Borderlands
9. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
10. Her Story
Despite my best efforts, I could not get Rise of the Tomb Raider above the #4 spot, as I am the only asshole on staff with an Xbox One. Expect it to crop up again next year when the PC and PS4 versions are out. That aside, MGSV (that’s V, not 5) seemed like the obvious winner. Despite Konami’s post-launch fuckery making the game actively worse as a result, even though the FOB metagame was the least enjoyable part of the game to begin with, the core game is so finely-tuned and just plain fun that it’s hard to argue against. As Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear, it’s underwhelming — a completely unnecessary, as well as extremely predictable, end-game twist makes it clear that MGSV is a side-story rather than a direct sequel, and we’ll likely never see the true Metal Gear Solid 5. But as a video game… A real-ass video game? It’s the best Metal Gear by a country mile, with a compelling gameplay loop, tight controls, fantastic animation, and a story that makes sense and doesn’t wear out its welcome with endless cutscenes about information control and nanomachines.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, meanwhile, has its own take on an open world adventure. Less concerned with emergent events, and more with interconnected storylines resurfacing when you least expect them, it’s an RPG with character. Whether Geralt is telling a demon to fuck off or hunting a vampire by getting drunk, the side-quests are often as entertaining, if not more so, than the actual main quest. It doesn’t hurt that The Witcher features one of the strongest supporting casts of any video game, especially when it comes to female characters — Yennefer and Ciri in particular are notable for eschewing stereotypes common in video games, although in this game Triss is mostly ineffectual and barely present. Wild Hunt nevertheless acts as a total conclusion of the series up until now, with more hopefully to come, as they finally made the game playable for non-maniacs.
Super Mario Maker is the type of game I hate: one focused on outsourcing the creativity to the users — more of a tool than an actual game. And yet… It’s fantastic. There are two keys to this: An intuitive, tile-based level creation system (made even easier with the Gamepad), and the core gameplay being Mario, so it’s rock solid. That’s something that LittleBigPlanet could never get right, leaving players to fumble with extremely deep yet convoluted creation tools, only to be rewarded with a floaty mess of a platformer when playing the levels. Mario Maker has its issues (mostly with level discovery, now aided by an external website), but constant additions mean these could be remedied fully in the near future. Even as it is, Mario Maker is by far the best “creation game” ever made. Sorry, Lode Runner.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a hell of a game. Much like its predecessor, the simply-titled Tomb Raider reboot, it’s what Uncharted should be. Upgrades, a Metroid-like sense of discovery in an somewhat open world (expanded further in this game, including side-quests and accompanying rewards from NPCs in the various hub-worlds) and characterization that actually gives Lara some depth. RotTR sees Lara seeking “The Divine Source”, essentially the Fountain of Youth, in a race against some clearly evil bad guys. It seems cut-and-dry, but Lara’s motivation to clear her late father’s name, along with main villain Constantine’s misguided beliefs, create personal stakes beyond the supernatural. Even when things go batshit, it’s a human conflict at its core, one warning against confusing faith with fanaticism, and combining those concepts with an action blockbuster that’s more impressive than this year’s Call of Duty or Battlefield games.
Evolve, contrary to what you might think, did not flop. It apparently sold quite well, which is good news for me, as I enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately, the playerbase dropped considerably, at least on PC (from what I understand, it, along with Titanfall, which suffered a similar fate on PC, are doing fine on XONE) which has led to the belief that it was dead on arrival. That, along with the misconception of its DLC available at launch (all gun and monster skins, which are either useless or actively handicapping the monster by making it easier to see) have caused an undeserved negative reaction. The post-launch DLC, consisting of extra Hunters and Monsters, was no more egregious than Mortal Kombat X‘s character DLC (although MKX also featured consumables as microtransactions, which I view as a far greater sin) but, again, invited controversy. Maybe all of this is because people were mad that they were duped into playing a first-person MOBA. I’m not sure what they were expecting.
Read Only Memories is a blast from the past. Although its most obvious influence is Snatcher, it takes certain cues from more modern adventure games as well. ROM is a rumination on the effects of human interference in artificial intelligence development. Nature vs nurture, via circuit boards and microchips. It also has Hassys, YMO posters, catgirls, and cyberpunks. Literally.
Tales of the Borderlands would be the winner of Best Surprise, if we had thought to make that a category. I hate the Borderlands games, as they are anti-humor incarnate, with a dull slog of a game to go along with it. The shooting doesn’t feel good, and that’s all you do. Luckily, Telltale managed to salvage a fantastic game from that universe, by doing one simple thing: Not really making a Borderlands game. Tales is, for the most part, so far divorced from the core series that it could easily have been a completely original game. Sure, the Hyperion corporation is there, and you see Psychos or Vault Hunters sometimes, but the main cast is entirely new, focusing on a couple of regular people trying to make their way in the galaxy while dealing with the nightmares that are Pandora and corporate infrastructure.
I didn’t play Undertale. Josh will have some stuff to say about it. Tumblr seems to like it a lot. I dunno.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Finally. A playable portable Monster Hunter. Although I played the first Monster Hunter on PS2, it really sucked. I fully got into the series with Monster Hunter Tri on Wii, thanks to its support of regular controllers so you can move the camera around with a second stick. Crazy, right? According to Capcom, it is, because the series has largely been handheld-focused, with the most popular entries on PSP and 3DS. Luckily, the New 3DS’s extra analog nub, while not a full stick, is fully capable of camera control and thus makes playing the game a much more enjoyable experience. The game itself, meanwhile, continued the series’ refinements of its basic tenents: find monster, kill monster, use its parts to make new weapons or armor, repeat. It sounds simple, but remains engrossing after all this time.
Her Story comes from the creator of my favorite Silent Hill game, Shattered Memories. Told in a nonlinear fashion, as you have complete agency over what you see and when, you unravel the mystery of a murder case. There’s only one cast member, Viva Seifert, and without a performance as good as the one she gives, the whole concept could be rendered worthless. Typing search terms into a computer, you find clips and piece together your own conclusions. There’s no win state. You’re done when you think you’ve figured it out. That format can cause some problems — I stumbled upon some pretty key scenes fairly early on, and was finished with the game before it actually asked me if I was done. Regardless, everyone should experience it, and the low price point ($6) makes that recommendation even easier. — Larry Davis
BEST GAME UNDER $30:
1. READ ONLY MEMORIES
2. Tales From the Borderlands
4. Her Story
Read Only Memories takes direct influence from Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, which is a sentence I never thought I’d type out in 2015. Everything about ROM, from its setting (Neo San Francisco, I mean c’mon) down to its narrative, is cyberpunk as hell. That it manages to pay homage as much as it does, as well as being its own thing, isn’t something a lot of smaller games these days can boast. — Joshy
* Lisa released in late 2014, and thus was eligible for this year’s awards.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
3. Read Only Memories
4. Tales From the Borderlands
5. Her Story
Undertale isn’t the revolutionary game that a lot of people have been presenting it as. But it does a lot more with its story than most other games, in general. By tying how many monsters you’ve killed or spared to your overall moral standing in the game, it manages to give the player an attachment to what would otherwise be grinding fodder that hasn’t been seen in games since Cavia’s NieR. That it also manages to be fuckin’ hilarious most of the time just seals the deal. — Joshy
1. THE ORDER: 1886
2. Star Wars Battlefront
4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
5. Batman: Arkham Knight
Congrats to The Order: 1886 for winning a Golden Gizmo, albeit on a technical award. This is kinda like when The Life of Pi wins an Oscar for Best Visual Effects or something. Hopefully, if there is a sequel, Ready at Dawn will actually bother to finish the game. — Larry Davis
2. Rainbow Six: Siege
4. Star Wars Battlefront
5. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Evolve is a great time, but you can read my review (linked in the GOTY portion) for my thoughts on that. Rainbow Six: Siege, meanwhile, was a late entry to this category, only coming out this month. Still, I’ve sunk a lot of hours into it. The attacking/defending dynamic is tons of fun, even if the Terrorist Hunt mode is a mere shadow of its heyday from R6 Vegas. It’s the 5v5 mode that’s the main draw. Splatoon was a surprise this year, as Nintendo is not exactly known for online multiplayer games. Even so, they delivered a great experience, albeit with a dearth of content early on, which has since been expanded via free updates (the earliest of which were already on the disc and “unlocked” at certain points post-release). Star Wars Battlefront is equally sparse, but you get to pay for its expansions! Yay! Snarkiness aside, it’s very fun, and the fanservice aspect is nothing to sneeze at. There’s never been a Star Wars game that looks or sounds as good as this (nevermind some of the terrible celebrity sound-alikes, Vader in particular) and blasting fools on The Forest Moon Of Endor as Han Solo never loses its appeal. Monster Hunter also shines its brightest when you’re in a team of 4, taking on the biggest, baddest monsters you can find. 4 Ultimate takes this even further, with the new weapon class that’s essentially a weaponized bagpipe. You play songs on it to buff your teammates like a Bard, and then you can bash monsters with it. What’s not to like about that? — Larry Davis
BEST NEW CHARACTER:
1. PAPYRUS (UNDERTALE)
2. Inspector Jenks (Contradiction: Spot the Liar!)
3. Fiona (Tales From the Borderlands)
4. Turing (Read Only Memories)
5. Venom Snake (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)
6. Code Talker (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)
Let me tell you about a skeleton man named Papyrus. He has amazing culinary skills, spaghetti being the only dish he can make. He has an insanely varied wardrobe (a cape, shoulder pads and boots that he wears at all times). He has a rug with a flame pattern that wouldn’t look out of place in a 10-year old’s bedroom, which compliments his sweet car shaped bed, a bed that I would like to speed down a freeway in. Papyrus is just a Cool Dude, with a capital “C” and a “D”. — Joshy
1. HOTLINE MIAMI 2: WRONG NUMBER
2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
4. Tales From the Borderlands
5. Read Only Memories
Yeah, okay, Hotline Miami 2 was disappointing in a lot of aspects, but the soundtrack was not one of them. It still had the same hard-hitting, bass-bumping, ear-piercing, murder-everyone-in-this-area vibe that was present in the first game. Other games this year, like MGSV and Tales From the Borderlands made great use of licensed tracks. After all, I did have Rebel Yell as my helicopter music for the entire game, even if MGSV also features The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love”, which did not exist in the game’s time period. A strange oversight considering the rest of the attention to detail. Read Only Memories and, I assume, Undertale, feature retro-inspired original music that fits the games’ tone in a way that elevates the entire experience. — Larry Davis
CONTRADICTION: SPOT THE LIAR!
There are no other nominees this year. Contradiction is the only one that matters. The story of the intrepid Inspector Jenks, who goes to a sleepy English countryside town to investigate a murder that will, at midnight, be rendered a suicide. The game, an FMV point and click adventure, isn’t the best in its construction: its main mechanic is pointing out lies or contradictions within the various characters’ dialogue, but these solutions are sometimes awkward or nonsensical. It’s also very rigid in what, exactly, it will accept as an answer. This can lead to the old adventure game trope of “trying everything on everything” even if, in this case, it’s trying dialogue options on dialogue options instead of items on other items.
But that doesn’t matter. Not really. What does matter is the colorful cast of characters, overacting like they’re William Shatner in a Farrelly Brothers movie. I’m still not entirely sure if the cheese is intentional — they seem to claim as such, but so does Tommy Wiseau. Regardless of whether or not the hamminess is genuine, it remains enjoyable, and really must be seen to be believed. This is, as far as I know, the only investigation game where your character can go around throwing up devil horns to everyone he meets. Hail Satan. — Larry Davis
BEST TROY BAKER:
1. RHYS (TALES FROM THE BORDERLANDS)
2. Theron Shan (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
3. Ocelot (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)
4. Two-Face/Jason Todd/Red Hood/Arkham Knight (Batman: Arkham Knight)
5. Erron Black/Shinnok/Fujin (Mortal Kombat X)
Phew, that was a close one. We almost didn’t have enough nominations to completely fill this category out, but thankfully the new story content for The Old Republic, Knights of the Fallen Empire, continues the storyline with the Baker-voiced Republic SIS agent Theron Shan. Still, even in a year full of more Troy Bakers, Rhys is his greatest accomplishment. The voice is the closest to Kanji Tatsumi that he’s done since Kanji Tatsumi, and he does make him likeable… For being an overly-ambitious corporate stooge turned con man, that is. Unfortunately, despite using facial capture to have Troy’s real-life beak prominently featured on the character, his Ocelot is a big wet fart. It’s not bad, per se, but he’s so incidental to most of the storyline that Ocelot could have been voiced by a desk fan and it would have been almost indistinguishable. As for the other entries: fuckin’ whatever. — Larry Davis
THE 2015 GOLDEN GREMMIES EPISODE VII: THE BRUNDLE AWAKENS
1. AFRO SAMURAI 2: REVENGE OF KUMA
2. Dying Light
4. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
5. Batman: Arkham Knight (PC Version)
The story of Afro Samurai 2’s development, I’m sure, will be an interesting one. Because the end result is such a horrible unmitigated trainwreck that it’s surprising it was even allowed to come into existence at all. Publisher Versus Evil apparently felt the same, eventually pulling the product entirely, and going so far as to over refunds to absolutely anybody and everybody who bought the game. Think the Arkham Knight PC fiasco, only if WB had more of a “scorched earth” mindset. Rumor has it there’s a digital landfill full of Afro Samurais. — George Brundle
3. Redacted Studios (Afro Samurai 2)
Ok, look. I tried to get Valve on this list last year, but George and Josh were still drinking the Steam Kool-Aid. Now, they have seen the light. Let’s look at all of the things Valve have been fucking around with this year:
- Steam Machines, which I am still baffled by. They cost more than a real-ass PC, yet run SteamOS, which not only has less compatibility with games than Windows, but actually runs games worse. And the things are ostensibly made FOR PLAYING VIDEO GAMES. They also have those dumb controllers, even though current controllers already work. The argument is that they can be used for games that normally would not work with controllers, but there are things called keyboards and mice for those.
- VR, because we need yet another entry into that market which has yet to even be proven on a large scale. That’s ok, Valve, I think Oculus, with all that Facebook money, and Sony will be fine. Just let them try it out.
- Sales being even worse, which is really saying something. Their metagames reached a point of extreme absurdity with the clicker thing this summer, and since then they just gave up with doing anything. No daily sales, no flash sales. The current one has trading cards, but they don’t even craft into a badge. So I guess they’re just for selling? But then why are people buying them? I don’t know. I don’t… I don’t know.
- Not making games. Fucking Blizzard is putting out more games than them. This was my main argument last year. Remember when there was a leak from an internal QA queue that listed Left 4 Dead 3? That was in like 2013 or something. L4D3 shows no signs of life, but goddammit, they’re still cranking out more Dota garbage.
- That “paid mods” business earlier this year. Rather than following the TF2 or Dota method of having users create content, which Valve then sells and gives a portion of the money to them, they instituted a Wild West policy of letting anyone upload anything and charge any amount they want. This led to people taking mods from the Nexus and charging money for them, while the original creator had no idea. Valve then backed out of this, but emphasized that their only mistake was doing this with a game that already had a thriving mod scene (Skyrim) instead of launching alongside a game. I am very surprised they didn’t bring it back with Fallout 4, but maybe they had a rare moment of common sense and realized nobody would stand for that either.
- Then, to top it all off, even after we had already decided Valve’s pure shittiness made them a shoe-in for this award, on Christmas fucking Day they have a massive data breach. Simply by going to any page on the Steam store, you would be logged into some random user’s account, able to see their personal data. This was not the work of hackers: it was Valve’s own insane ineptitude.
Bethesda just took forever to shit out another game that’s near-identical to a game from 2008, and Redacted (which, judging by their website, is not a real game studio) made a game so bad it was purged from everything. In many cases, either of them would have a shot at the top spot. But not this year. Not with Valve around. Fuck Gabe Newell. — Larry Davis
2. WB Games
While discussing the worst developer of the year, we were all pretty much in agreement that Valve ran home with the Golden Gremmy, but when it came time to name our worst publisher of the year, we had to really get into it. It was clear that the only two real contenders were Konami and WB, but it was only after laying out everything Konami did in one go that it became clear who the winner was. Sorry, WB, there’s always next year.
Konami, from top to bottom, has just been the worst in 2015. It all started when it was announced that Kojima’s role within the company was not only greatly reduced, but that he would outright no longer be affiliated with Konami once MGSV’s production wrapped. Since then, more and more details came to light on Konami’s unethical and downright disgusting treatment of employees, which included reassigning producers to work on pachinko production lines, or in Konami health spas rather than task them with actually making video games. It also became apparent that Konami just didn’t really want to do the whole games thing anymore, as they announced they would significantly roll back production for games on consoles, instead shifting their focus to mobile platforms. Of course, it’s well known that they cancelled the hotly anticipated Silent Hills – breaking Del Toro’s greasy heart in the process – and more recently decided that Hideo Kojima would be unable to leave the country to accept his award for Action Game of the Year at the Video Game Awards.
Hey, maybe president Takuya Kozuki can hop on a plane and fly down here to accept the Golden Gremmy on Konami’s behalf. Somehow I don’t think that would be as much of a problem. — George Brundle
1. ARKHAM KNIGHT IS FUCKING BROKEN
2. Konami Sends Kojima to the Pachinko Mines
3. Afro Samurai 2 Is Purged From Everything
Don’t think we’re letting WB off the hook entirely, because they’re still getting a Golden Gremmy for the absolute clusterfuck that was Arkham Knight’s PC port.
It’s been well documented by now that Arkham Knight launched on the PC with some serious issues, including missing graphical effects, issues with memory caching, stuttering problems, and downgraded textures. WB tried to make good by removing the game from Steam and other digital retailers, something that until this point was unheard of for a AAA release, but in the months following they made little progress in fixing the myriad of issues that plagued Arkham Knight. In the end, they threw the game back up on the market place with a lot of crippling issues still intact, which they proceeded to admit will probably never get fixed. Granted, you can still get a refund regardless of how long you played the game, provided you do so by the end of the year, but the game should have never released in such a sorry state. — George Brundle