The Golden Barrel Awards 2015

At the end of one year/beginning of another, we reflect on the games we played over the last 12 months and rank them in order of preference… at least we do here at Big Red Barrel!

2015 felt like a really good year for video games. Some long awaited games made it onto this generation and bowled us over with superb game-play and exquisite visuals, whereas other titles came out of nowhere to capture our hearts and minds (and thumbs). Like last year, reading through our anticipated list for 2015 brings about groans of disappointment for the games that haven’t arrived yet (and for those that probably should have spent longer in the oven!) – but it also shows us that sometimes what we hope for does arrive and, despite our elevated expectations, they can still floor us.

Also like last year, we arrived at the list below by asking our staff to list their five favourite games of the year and tallying up the weighted scores. With over 40 games listed in the final list, I am happy with the diversity shown in our choices. Read on and see what you think about our list.

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10. Ori and the Blind Forrest

10. Ori and the Blind Forest (Matthew J)

I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the Metroidvania style of games, so this out-of-the-blue renaissance for the genre in the last few years has been amazing for me. Still, even with as much as I love these games, I never thought that one would come around and actually surprise me. In recent years, we’ve seen games like Shadow Complex and Dust: An Elysian Tail come out and serve the genre some love, and even games like Axiom Verge successfully raised the bar this year by adding its own flavor, but I feel like no game in this genre or any other has pushed our favorite medium forward like Ori and the Blind Forest. When I first saw screenshots of Ori, I was floored. When I started playing it, I was enraptured. The only words I can find to describe it are “art brought to life.” What’s more is that the game is actually fun, with very tight controls and some quite difficult sections that demand a lot of the player. On top of that, the game even manages to tell a story that pulls on your heartstrings using only as many words as necessary.

It’s a beautiful game that still challenges the player, all while telling a story of hope, loss, and forgiveness. Definitely one of my personal favorite games of all time, and one of the best games from 2015.

9. Super Mario Maker

09. Super Mario Maker (Yoshifett)

With their most sadistic title since Pikmin, Nintendo once again cashed in on their impressive hold over our collective nostalgia with Super Mario Maker. While not every gamer enjoys producing new content, SMM is an intuitive way to explore (or create) hidden mechanics you’ve likely been pondering since you were a 4th grader struggling to finally finish World 8-1. While Super Mario Maker does not hold your hand while creating levels as much as you’d expect from a Nintendo title, new ways of molding levels open rapidly as you progress. Did I mention that this game is evil? People around the world make levels: some are easy, some are glorified Rube Goldberg machines, but many are the product of damaged minds set on the destruction of anyone who considers themselves to be decent at platformers. The 100 Mario Challenge (a highlight of this game) is much less generous than it seems when you run into one of these horrifying death traps. The highs and lows of Super Mario Maker combine to, well, make one of the year’s best games.

8. Batman Arkham Knight

08. Batman: Arkham Knight (Jess)

And just to get it out of the way, we’re certainly not talking about the PC version here. That was a crippled, buggy mess that Batman himself wouldn’t have had a problem putting out of its misery. It should never have seen the light of day and was one of the biggest AAA failures of the year. The console version however, was a perfectly toned and immersive send off for Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy (yes, it’s being referred to as a trilogy, I think we’re all more than happy to pretend Warner Bros. Games Montréal’s incremental Arkham Origins never happened).

Gotham was even more expansive and atmospheric, realised to excruciating detail and with stunning visual ambience and a wealth of quests and secrets to get involved in. And while it may have been slightly out of stride with the stealthy, sleuthy tone and probably shoe-horned in more often than the average player would appreciate, the inevitable addition of the Batmobile provided an often fun, new way to patrol the streets. Along with the huge arsenal of utility belt goodies, and trademark flowing punch-parry combat style that lets you take on hoards of thugs at once, it had all the idiosyncrasies of an authentic Caped Crusader experience.

The story was solidly voiced and pulled together several threads of Batman’s more punishing comic arcs, with lots of room to see our hero falter in the path of protecting his loved ones and upholding his oath to defend Gotham. Not just for superhero or comic book fans but for anyone who enjoys action games, Arkham Knight was a fantastic final chapter of Rocksteady’s mostly masterful handling of the IP, giving it the treatment to match the Dark Knight’s very own style of justice – occasionally flawed and stretched to its limit, but a whole lot of fun to be involved in nonetheless.

7. Monster Hunter 4

07. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (rwilliamssmith)

I went into Monster Hunter 4 not knowing what to expect, I was new to the series and although I’d heard mostly good things I’d also heard that it was convoluted, complex and even punishing at times. Luckily for me, that turned out not to be the case for the newest iteration. Monster Hunter 4 turned out to be one of the most involving delightful games I’ve played this year, stacked to the gills with humour, beautiful design, and extremely satisfying combat. That a title on a handheld format can stand toe to toe with some of the biggest releases in gaming history tells you almost all you need to know about Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. If you need to know the rest, pick up a copy and experience the Hunt for yourself.

6. Bloodborne

06. Bloodborne (Coleman)

Having never been particularly hooked with the Souls series, Bloodborne had stayed off of my radar ever since it’s announcement. After demoing the game at an event earlier in the in year however, I thought I’d take a gamble on the game and made my purchase – which was probably one of the better choices I made in 2015 (I’m looking at you Arkham Knight season pass).

Taking away the RPG element for Demon’s/Dark Souls but keeping its atmosphere and difficulty spikes, Bloodborne seemed to be the game tailored for a more hardcore hack and slash market. Not only did this make the game more appealing in my eyes but it also managed to lock itself into a part of my mind, where I constantly fixated on playing again and again – If you too have had Bloodborne dreams then you know what I’m talking about.

PlayStation 4 exclusives have been a bit on the lacking side though 2015 but for the few there have been, Bloodborne definitely tops them all.

5. The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

05. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Michael Barclay)

The Witcher 3 works on so many levels. It works as the final game in a trilogy that began way back in 2007. It works as a successor to the series of Polish fantasy books it is based on. Most importantly it works as a standalone game with its own self-contained story and fantastic open world. When it was announced that the third entry in the Witcher franchise would be fully open world I was a little dubious. The chapter structure of the previous instalments worked really well. Only letting you explore small areas at a time was somewhat claustrophobic but it was a great way of presenting the story of the first two Witcher games. Open world games often lose the sense of urgency that more linear games have. Sure, the world needs saving but I think I’d rather just wonder from town to town doing odd jobs for the next 15 hours.

Yet the world in the Witcher 3 is so fantastically crafted that this doesn’t happen. Wondering from village to village dealing with the countless monsters and other side quests fits so well in the existing Witcher universe. Trying to be a neutral party in such a bleak morally grey world is the crux of the Witcher’s story. In previous games we saw this in small linear chunks whereas now we have a whole world to explore full of megalomaniac sorceresses, corrupt barons, adulterous villagers, and racially abused non-humans. The icing on the cake is the games combat system. Those who have played the first two Witcher games know how the franchise has struggled with combat at the past. The Wild Hunt’s combat system may not be to everyone’s tastes but to me it finally feels like what fighting like a Witcher should feel like. It’s fast, it’s fluid and at times it’s bloody hard and I love every minute of it.

4. Rocket League

04. Rocket League (Diarmuid)

I didn’t play Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars nor had I heard of Psyonix before Rocket League released as part of July’s Instant Games Collection for PlayStation Plus. For many, prior to release, it was just another indie game we were getting as part of the service but within minutes of playing the game, it became one of my favourite gaming experiences of 2015. The simple control scheme, the huge audience it gained immediately on release and its addictive mix of skill and oh-no-he-didn’t moments make Rocket League an exhilarating game in perfectly-timed five minute chunks.

Since its release, Rocket League has been perpetually within one or two slots of my most recently played games on the PlayStation 4. It was the game I repeatedly came back to during my Extra Life marathon and is still my go-to game when I only have a few minutes to play. I may not have known who Psyonix were – but I do now.

3. Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain

03. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Chris)

Truth be told I was initially a bit worried about MGS going open world but my fears were crushed once I finally got to play it. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was my go-to game this year, I sank a couple hundred hours into it and still haven’t beaten all the missions! While the story felt a bit lacking and incomplete, the gameplay was head and shoulders above anything else. Infiltrating bases any way you wanted was a breath of fresh air for the stealth genre and tying balloons to anything not nailed down was a hoot!

The multiplayer that was added a month after launch was also a pretty fun distraction, offering up even more ways to mess around with different play styles.

Konami have said they’ll still be making more Metal Gears, but with Kojima now flying free, this could be the swan song to the series – I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that all pans out.

2. Tales from the Borderlands

02. Tales from the Borderlands (Lauren)

Even though we were graced with the first installment of this saga at the end of 2014, the story really hit home through the four chapters released during 2015. The dynamic between the characters is cemented during the chapters and the introduction of the relationships they build are endearing to the point where you feel the pain when something goes awry. The inclusion of established characters from the Borderlands universe is always done with a wink and tact but to those who may not be as familiar with the colourful spectrum of folks from Pandora and Elpis, the story is so immersive that even though you may not feel the same pangs of pure sadness and rage as those who have played the previous games, you will still feel with the characters and understand the horror they are going through.

If you enjoy Telltale’s games, this is them working at their best. The character and story is colourful and enjoyable to all, not just those in love with the borderland franchise.

1. Fallout 4

01. Fallout 4 (Smashsoul)

2015 was a year filled with a massive amount of stellar video games. There was something for everyone. It’s almost too difficult to proclaim one game in this amazing list as “the best”. Every game listed in this article impressed the team at Big Red Barrel in one way or another enough to earn a place here. They’re all winners. But when it comes to the game that popped up most frequently in our behind the scenes judging, Fallout 4 was our top pick by a slight margin.

Fallout 4 is not a perfect game, it suffers from many of the typical bugs Bethesda seem to have a hard time squashing. Fallout 4 isn’t even the best game in the Fallout series. But it kept us coming back for more and more on a daily basis. It took what we knew and loved about Fallout 3 and New Vegas and added in a whole host of tweaks, game play improvements and extras such as base building, crafting of weapons and armour, voice acting for the protagonists and a sweeping and memorable soundtrack. We’ve spent countless hours exploring the vast Commonwealth, uncovering its hidden secrets and meeting a cast of colourful characters and companions. You can go where you want, do what you want and be who you want. All of your actions have consequences in Fallout 4, and even after playing for 60 hours I can’t wait to jump back in to see where different decisions can lead me.

Bethesda Game Studios created another engrossing world with Fallout 4, and whilst it won’t be held in as high regard as some of their previous work it’s undeniably up there with The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V, Tales from the Borderlands, Bloodborne and Rocket League as one of the best games of 2015.

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So what do you think of our list? What was on your list that we omitted? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. greg heller

    Fallout 4 #1,,,, as it really should be

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