Strongest Game of the Year contenders for 2015

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With the end of Movember, you might think you’d be hearing the word goatee a little less often. And you are -- it’s been switched for GOTY. December is a great time for reflecting over the past year, and the year in gaming is no exception.

This slideshow contains a set of viable contenders for the title of Game of the Year -- from the beautiful AAAs to some of the year’s breakout indie hits.

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Bloodborne

Of all the games assembled here, Bloodborne is perhaps the most stylish. Moody, slick, and utterly devoted to its Gothic horror feel, this PlayStation exclusive is the distillation of the Souls style of games.

Like its predecessors, Bloodborne is unforgiving and fraught with challenge. Mastering the game is a feat that not everybody can accomplish, which only adds to the fire of its appeal. Everything about Bloodborne, in fact, seems calculated to inspire passionate fans -- the design, the lore, and particularly the exclusivity.

With a Game of the Year edition already planned, Sony and From Software are certainly being presumptive -- but it’s a genuine contender for the real thing.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is arguably the most traditional candidate for GOTY, but perhaps one that has been overlooked somewhat due to its relatively early release. However, continued support from CD Projekt Red in the form of updates and a well-received expansion, Hearts of Stone, has ensured that it has not faded from notice entirely.

And deservedly so. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an outstanding game. It wrestles with a world full of struggles and complexities, and is, perhaps, the clearest realization of a dark fantasy game since Dragon Age: Origins. Horror and humor play out across its vast, open world.

For me, the detail and quality of Geralt's animations stood out among a host of excellent features. The way he actively listens to everybody, from lowly peasants to Charles Dance, shows an attention to character and detail that is nearly unprecedented. Even the most inconsequential side quest is made engrossing in this way -- not that any of these well-crafted encounters need any help in that regard.

With its relatively early release, however, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has lost some of its oxygen in GOTY discussions, thanks perhaps in particular to Fallout 4.

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Undertale

I have feelings about Undertale that people look at when they want to be angry about an opinion on the internet.

If you can, tune out those annoying superfans and have a go at the game. Undertale's beginning is unfortunately by far its weakest section, but after it, a game full of heart, whimsy, and (in-joke of your choice. For me, that's affectionately patting vegetables) unfolds.

Undertale's strongest point is that each battle's outcome is ultimately your own choice. Whether you choose violence, or whether you resolve conflict through other means has a huge bearing on your experience with the game. In this way, it's reminiscent of Iji, a cult indie hit from 2008. Both games allow the player the choice of killing or not killing, and make both feasible play styles. Both also feature a character that changes their actions due to the player's decisions, making for some chilling moments.

An unconventional battle system, multiple -- and drastically different -- endings, a retro look and feel, top-notch writing, a soundtrack that isn't too shabby... it's no wonder that this has become 2015's little indie game that could.

Fallout 4

It's widely known at this point that Fallout 4's release was big enough to cause a dent in Pornhub's traffic. Skyrim with guns -- as people are wont to call Bethesda's title when they're feeling witty -- made one of the biggest splashes at E3. Fans, who had suffered through a heartbreaking amount of hoaxes (which is to say any number over zero), were finally vindicated by the game's announcement. The short wait until its actual release created a perfect storm of hype, propelling insane sales.

Like all of Bethesda's major releases, Fallout 4 is an open world game that is prone to glitches. Opinion is split on the game's quality with regards to its dated graphics, streamlined dialogue system, and simplification of RPG mechanics. Professional reviews of the game have generally focused on how it is a good game despite these few flaws, but a torrent of user reviews have been unable to overlook one or more of these aspects.

Settlements have also been a surprisingly divisive aspect of Fallout 4. As a fan of Fallout Shelter and possibly the only person who actually liked Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC… I completely understand. They’re definitely not for everybody, and it’s also possible that my enjoyment of these building mechanics indicates my subconscious rejection of the very concept of fun.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It’s difficult to disentangle this game from the emotions surrounding publisher Konami’s very public split with Hideo Kojima. Whatever your opinion about his work, Kojima’s name has spent years as one of the industry’s largest and most well known developers -- or directors, as he styles himself.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a very big game -- in scope, in style, in bosses. A persistent and online-base system allowed fans of management games to approach their tactical espionage action a little more flexiblity, and several optional partners and modes served to make stealth easier, should the player so desire.

The amount of cut content is staggering, and it is perhaps more staggering still that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is still able to stand as a viable GOTY without this extra content.

Rocket League

You know that your game has made an impact when it becomes a recognized Major League Game within months of its release. And with the announcement of Portal content for Rocket League, you know that impact is at the next level.

Rocket League is neither deep nor insightful, and stands as proof that games don’t need to be either to be highly regarded. It’s good, plain, fun, and revels in its beautiful simplicity.

A game that blends football with monster truck rallies is bound to perform strongly, and we’re not at all surprised to see it well represented in Game of the Year discussions.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

2013’s Tomb Raider might have been a little light on tombs, but its beautiful graphics and excellent writing were more than enough to compensate for this. Rise of the Tomb Raider builds on that rock-solid foundation to produce another fantastic game.

As a recent release, the dust has not completely settled on Rise of the Tomb Raider. All signs so far point to it being another genuinely excellent game, though, with an expertly crafted linear style that is refreshing in an atmosphere of open-ended AAA titles.

Like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Rise of the Tomb Raider has only a small share of the discussion online. The game’s crime? Being released the same week as Fallout 4. Hopefully more players will discover this scrappy GOTY contender before year's end.

Super Mario Maker

Nintendo are known both for their derivative franchise games and their odd, quirky offerings. Super Mario Maker synthesizes both by revisiting a game from the company’s past, Mario Paint, and modernizing one of its best parts to produce something great.

One of my very first pieces for GameSkinny was actually a slideshow about Super Mario Maker levels. To research it, I spent a happy afternoon on my friend’s couch, passing the controller back and forth to play levels online. We delved into the maker itself and altered levels we had downloaded, and tinkered shamelessly.

This, to me, is the core of the Nintendo experience, and Super Mario Maker delivers it in a way that’s surprisingly personal. Earnest level designs are a glimpse into how the mind of their creator works. If even none of the above were true, the sheer, infectious joy of this game would cement it as one of the year's best games.

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Conclusion

Lists like this are made to be argued over. Got any honorable mentions? Strong opinions about Fallout 4’s settlement system? Vehement disagreements? Get them off your chest in the comments.

Published Dec. 1st 2015

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I'm a writer and I have too many opinions about Fire Emblem.

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