Last time we looked at the year's best character. Today, we ask which of 2015's games offered the most interesting playgrounds in which put those characters through their paces.
We'll be publishing a different category each day through the end of the year, leading up to our final vote for best game of 2015. This has been a strong year for games, so anything's possible!
Methodology: Everyone at USG put their heads together and voted on 10 individual categories as a group, and each team member has nominated their own pick for the category. Rather than argue long and loud about personal opinions, however, we've taken a scientific approach: We voted on each category through an anonymous survey in which we weighted each nominee from "most" to "least."
This means, in theory at least, that a game that gets nominated by more than one person won't necessarily sweep the category—it's entirely possible for a dark horse to take the prize if it receives enough second- or third-place points from everyone.
Best Level Design: The Nominees
A few days ago, we gave Fallout 4 the nod for having the best open world of 2015. Today, we look at the flip side of virtual spaces: The best level design. Where open game are designed to draw us in with style and immersive worlds, great level design is less about the emotional response and more about creating an entertaining playground. Which games this year featured the sharpest moment-to-moment design, capable of testing our skills and getting maximum mileage out of their respective mechanics?
Bill: Rainbow Six Siege
This is likely the most underrated FPS game of the year. It has a long way to go before it can be considered an option for those who play competitively, but the level design is fantastic. The game uses both horizontal and vertical paths, allowing players to create openings and lines of sight through level destruction. The level design rewards the creative player, which is rare in FPS games today.
True to the From Software RPG tradition, Bloodborne offers sprawling, complex levels that loop back on themselves in ingenious ways. And, as always, there are few greater feelings in all of gaming than pushing yourself to that next time-saving shortcut, thereby making your next run slightly easier. These aspects, combined with the fact that Bloodborne's interconnected world can be approached in a variety of ways, definitely make it a standout of 2015 in terms of level design.
Jaz: Lara Croft GO
One of the best puzzle games this year - and indeed one of my outright favorite gaming experiences of 2015 - is Lara Croft GO. All you have to do is guide Ms Croft to the exit of each single-screen level, one step at a time. While it sounds easy, it's anything but. Levels are incredibly well designed to deliver fiendish, often sublime challenges whose solutions are always staring at you right in the face - but are far from obvious. The fact that it looks and sounds brilliant is the icing on a particularly tasty cake.
Jeremy: Yoshi's Woolly World
While Yoshi's latest outing seems to have taken a bit of a drubbing for its failure to radically reinvent the Yoshi franchise, in my opinion it succeeded by taking familiar play mechanics and offering clever new twists on them. From the way it so cleverly translates its hand-knit aesthetics into level mechanics to its unexpected new designs, Woolly World plays as beautifully as it looks.
From Software has proven themselves the masters of level design with the Souls series, and Bloodborne is no exception. Their gothic horror game moves effortlessly from twist Victorian towns to massive castles, all of them loaded with hidden routes and secret passages. Their greatest strength continues to be their ability to make their levels feel discrete but also coherent and interconnected - something that is quite difficult to accomplish in level design. It's a seamless experience, and in my opinion, that's the highest compliment you can pay a game's level design.
Mike: Dying Light
The ruined zombie-infested streets, shacks, and skyscrapers of Harran felt like a purposeful playground. Dying Light's city feels like it's real, but also at the same time a purposeful playground for parkour. It was simply a joy to run and jump though during my entire time with the game.
Nadia: Yoshi's Woolly World
I feel like Yoshi’s Wooly World didn’t quite receive the recognition it deserves. It’s the most visually-clever game on the Wii U by far, but it goes beyond giving us some warm and fuzzy graphics. Many of the knitting / woolen elements apply to level design, too. Between wire frames that fill out when they’re wrapped with yarn and environments that unravel when you pull a loose thread (SO satisfying!), Yoshi’s Wooly World serves up countless moments that make you say to yourself, “Ha ha, look at that! That’s great!”
The Winner: Yoshi's Woolly World
The first truly great Yoshi game in nearly 20 years offered a return to form for the series, with creative stage layouts and varied challenges to match its gorgeous tactile visual design. The best games in the Mario family don't simply offer tight, responsive controls—they give us opportunities to put those abilities to use in inventive ways. Packed with both secrets, Yoshi's Woolly World's level design proved that old-school sensibilities can still be surprising.
Runners-up: (2) Bloodborne (3) Lara Croft GO
Tomorrow: 2015's Biggest Disappointment