With Game of the Year announcements looming and the last round of AAA titles still warm on store shelves, perhaps it's time to take stock of the year that's been, and maybe even look ahead to the coming months. Simply put, it's been a good year (aren't they always?!) and we've been treated to some excellent video games along the way.
What's been most encouraging for me is the width and breadth of the offerings we've been treated to this past twelve months, and experiences are continually branching out in new directions. Even more encouraging, as gaming becomes more inclusive and with virtual reality looming around the corner, this diversity is only going to broaden further.
It's an interesting time at Nintendo. While the year will be remembered because of the tragic death of Satoru Iwata, it has also been a year of transition. The company has plans relating to theme parks, they're moving into the mobile space, and there's the Nintendo NX, their mysterious upcoming home console. With the Wii U still struggling to match the market share of its competitors, something had to be done to turn around the company's fortunes, but it seems like this shift has somewhat undermined the latter half of the Wii U's life cycle, and we're going to have wait until next year for the upcoming Legend of Zelda, and there's still no core Metroid game on the horizon. Might we see the NX make an appearance in 2016? We wouldn't want to bet against it, even if that might be considered a long shot.
Elsewhere Microsoft and Sony continue their battle for supremacy, although the noises coming out of Microsoft seem to indicate that they're resigned to playing second fiddle to the astounding success of PlayStation 4. The recent departure and relocation of former UK PlayStation chief Fergal Gara (he's now at Amazon) highlights this perfectly; when he started at the company the PlayStation 3 was the third-placed console behind Xbox 360 and the original Wii, and at the time of him leaving the company PS4 enjoys a dominant position in both the UK and around the world - that's quite the turnaround.
That said, each of the major consoles has its own merits. Nintendo's first-party offering is unrivalled and they remain dominant in the handheld console market thanks to the 3DS, while Microsoft continues to get great exclusives and, for all the talk of Sony's domination, Xbox One is still outperforming Xbox 360 in like for like sales. While Microsoft and Nintendo are both looking more inwardly, Sony are securing exclusivity deals with big third-party publishers, and in doing so are squeezing the most out of releases like Destiny, Star Wars Battlefront and Call of Duty.
There's a convincing argument to be offered for each of the platforms, and often the decision to go one way or another is going to come down to the player's pre-existing experiences with a particular console's killer franchises, or players buying into an ecosystem because that's where many of their friends are currently playing. Simply put, it doesn't matter which you go, the strength of each console means you can't really go wrong.
Of course, we've not yet mentioned PC, which continues to grow its install base (the increasing success of Steam being testament to this). The platform will be central to the VR revolution that's coming thanks to the wealth of virtual reality headsets that are on the way, chief among them the Facebook owned Oculus Rift. Sony has their own VR headset, but surely innovation in this area will be driven by the openness of the PC platform. Valve too has a VR headset in the works, and their dabbling with hardware continues after the first wave of Steam Machines made an appearance alongside the Steam Controller and their streaming device, the Steam Link.
On the software front you could reasonably argue that we've never had it better. From huge sweeping RPG adventures like Fallout 4, Xenoblade Chronicles X and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, via open-world action games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Batman: Arkham Knight, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, Just Cause 3 and (to an extent) Rise of the Tomb Raider. The shooter genre is particularly robust at the moment, thanks to Halo 5: Guardians, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Star Wars Battlefront and Rainbow Six: Siege all making an impact in 2015.
Racing aficionados were treated to Project CARS and Forza Motorsport 6, and FIFA 16 and PES 2016 offered improved experiences for football fans (and there's a lot of them about). Strategists have enjoyed a wealth of titles over the year, with Total War: Attila and Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void bookending 2015 as the most notable genre entries. We also need to give a shout out to some strong narrative-driven games like Life is Strange and Telltale's Borderlands and Game of Thrones series. As an advocate of indie games, I'd also like to flag the release of some great titles such as Broforce, Her Story, Undertale and Downwell; proof positive that you don't need a huge budget to make an incredible game.
There's so many more titles that I haven't mentioned in this whistle-stop tour through the year's finest offerings, so stay tuned to Gamereactor for plenty more GOTY discussion in the coming weeks. As for a more comprehensive look at the year ahead, we'll be putting our mind to that task at the start of January. You can read more of my thoughts on the matter over on Argos.co.uk, where I and some other UK-based writers offer their opinions on this year and next.