Our journey into recapping 2015 draws to an end at long last. Over the past couple of weeks, we've broken down some of the best experiences we had with games last year. But there can only be one, right? Today, we coronate a single game as the standout release of 2015.
Game of the Year 2015: The Nominees
Before we continue, a quick reminder of how we've selected our winners for these various categories, it's been a wholly democratic process from the start. The team brainstormed about 20 potential category concepts that spoke to us and our actual experiences with 2015's games more directly than mundane genre/platform categories, then collectively voted on our favorite 10 category concepts.
Then, for each category, every staff member was asked to come up with three nominees apiece. From there, we each narrowed it down to a single top pick for each category per person—regardless of whether or not someone else had named that game—and entered those top choices into a private, anonymous web poll in which everyone was asked to vote on each category. We used a weighted matrix voting system in which everyone was asked to rank each entry from 1 to 7 (best to least best), or to optionally abstain from ranking a game with which they were completely unfamiliar.
This weighted system accounts for why we could have results like the best DLC winner, where Shovel Knight took top honors despite Destiny garnering two nominations: Evidently only the two people who nominated Destiny gave it high marks, while most of the staff thought very favorably of Shovel Knight and all gave it high, though not top, marks. Cumulatively, those high marks add up and paint a more nuanced picture of the staff's feelings on these games.
For Game of the Year, we've used the same system. Everyone was asked to nominate a single title apiece for GOTY, based on their personal feelings, and regardless of whether or not someone else had already named it. These are personal choices that reflect the staff's individual thoughts, not nominees based on some sense that something ought to be nominated. So you'll see some perhaps unusual additions... and definitely some omissions that will surprise you. The goal here was to be sincere but fair, not scientific, nor to try and reflect some idea of the broader consensus. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments, of course! And without further ado, the nominees...
Bill: The Witcher III
The Witcher 3 is my GOTY, and nothing else even came close. I thought that Fallout 4 might, but Geralt and company stole the show. The quests were incredible, the environment was one I never wanted to leave, and I cared about every character I came across, even if it was just because I wanted to hurt them. When I finally finished The Witcher 3, I had to walk away from it and process the experience, something that only one other video game has done to me, and that was The Last of Us a couple of years ago. No other game in 2015 made me care about it as much as The Witcher 3 did, and naming anything else my GOTY wouldn’t feel right.
If you know me or my writing, this choice may seem a little obvious to you. And it's something I struggled with as well until The Old Hunters—Bloodborne's final content—made me remember just how much fun I had with this game in 2015. It doesn't offer the variety of customization options as the Souls series, but I honestly don't mind: Having a more action (and horror) focused take on From Software's RPG philosophy led to an experience that's ultimately unforgettable. Plus, even if it doesn't bear his name, Bloodborne amounts to the best H.P. Lovecraft game the world has ever seen. In a world where plenty have tried and failed to do justice to this author's unique (and often copied) brand of horror, that's quite an accomplishment.
Jaz: Forza Motorsport 6
As a hardcore racing fan, Forza Motorsport 6 ticked all the right boxes for me this year. Featuring an impressive roster of more than 450 nicely detailed and varied cars, 26 tracks (most with multiple variant courses), and highly realistic wet weather and night-time racing, it's simply the best racing game yet seen. What makes it so compelling is that it offers something for everyone. Whether you're into multiplayer racing, want to pursue a career, like customizing and tuning cars, or are simply looking to challenge other players on its incredibly comprehensive lap time leaderboards, Forza Motorsport 6 has you covered. Add to that some of the best-looking graphics yet seen on Xbox One, and you've got a killer app that's a must for every car nut.
Jeremy: Super Mario Maker
I played and enjoyed plenty of games, but none that inspired me the way Super Mario Maker did. Nintendo did an amazing job of transforming a complex concept into something approachable and intuitive, and my one regret is that I haven't had more time to dabble in the game since launch. It's a rare achievement in game design (and in designing games), and I can't recommend it enough.
Kat: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Just when you think of Hideo Kojima is out of ideas, he goes and completely reinvents Metal Gear Solid as we know it. What may be the final game in the series takes Metal Gear's tactical stealth gameplay and puts it in the sandbox genre, with brilliant results. The result is a game that feels fresh and vital in a year in which many big-time developers have stuck to established conventions - a consequence of the enormous risk associated with triple-A development. It's hurts by accusations of excised content, but it's undoubtedly one of the year's most memorable games. Indeed, fans will certainly be debating the surprising twist for years to come. I can think of no better candidate for Game of the Year in 2015.
Mike: The Witcher III
I struggled with this and ultimately I had to give it to The Witcher III. I honestly think that Rise of the Tomb Raider probably could've given this a run for the money, but I didn't get enough time to dig into the game before GOTY voting came around. Pound for pound though, The Witcher III was the more enjoyable experience I had this year. Wandering the world as medieval Batman was a ton of fun and the quest writing by CD Projekt Red is second to none. I didn't expect it, but the Witcher III was my jam and it makes me look forward to CDPR's Cyberpunk 2077.
Undertale made me laugh and cry. It introduced me to a bunch of new pals, then dared me to stab them in the back. It rocked me with its music, and asked me if I’d smooch a ghost (heck yeah). Seems like Game of the Year material to me.
The Winner: Super Mario Maker
And USgamer's game of the year is... a surprise? The Witcher III garnered two staff nominations, yet the singly nominated Super Mario Maker managed to take top honors, just barely pulling ahead of Bloodborne (with The Witcher III a strong third). But then again, maybe it's not such a surprise. Super Mario Maker took several category honors, so it's clearly well-liked among the staff. In any case, it was a tight race (as you can see from the results graph), a testament to just what a fantastic year 2015 was for gaming. Heck, one of the year's best and most popular games (Fallout 4) didn't even make the final round of voting! That's not a slight to Fallout 4 or any of the numerous other greats that didn't show up in our GOTY vote—it's a sign of how many great games debuted in 2015. Here's hoping for an equally fantastic 2016. And while we're waiting for the year's releases to kick off, be sure to check out any of these fantastic nominees you didn't have a chance to play in 2015!
Runner-up: (2) Bloodborne (3) The Witcher III
Recap: Individual Awards
- Most Rewarding Game
Super Mario Maker
- Best Open World
- Best Character
Nick Valentine (Fallout 4)
- Best Level Design
Yoshi's Woolly World
- Biggest Disappointment
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5/Star Wars: Battlefront
- Best Quest
The Silver Shroud (Fallout 4)/Family Matters (The Witcher III)
- Biggest Surprise
- Best Emergent Gameplay
Super Mario Maker
- Best Time-Waster
Super Mario Maker
- Best DLC
Shovel Knight (A Plague of Shadows)
Thanks to everyone for taking part in the discussion! And speaking of our winner for 2015, expect an announcement of the Super Mario Maker contest winners on Tuesday...