The last day of the year is coming, and it would be quite criminal of me not to give out some of my random crests to things I’d say deserve it. Considering most of my time was spent on video games, I’d say that this should probably be dedicated to that. As for other kinds of media, they are in no way in need of timely publications and recognition, however much that’s worth from me, so I’m not doing any of that. Let the snobs and the Oscar and Grammy figure it out; I’m not here to do their job. At least I’m qualified to do a gaming award post at least.
Now a bit of pre-fix before people start riling up: this list is entirely empirical, thus only games I’ve personally played/seen-played that came out this year count. Also I do not count unfinished episodic games (so no TellTale game this year) as well as game releases to other platforms. Also if you’re wondering why there’re no console/mobile/sports awards, you can swiftly remove yourself. Still, some categories are not present simply because I’m not particularly interested in them, this includes fighting games/hack and slash, platformers and strategy. Also, no game takes 2 prizes. That’s simple enough, I’d say, so let’s get the show under way.
1. Best story line: The Cat Lady
* no spoilers *
So hear me out. I’ve literally only completed the game this morning, and I honestly did not expect this to be here at all. Don’t get me wrong, the game has a lot of problems, but it’s one of those games that I’d regret not playing. After all, the only reason that I play it, and that it’s here, is because of its story. Personally, it was an excellent blend of symbolism and exposition. It wasn’t delivered very well towards the end, but the game has already gotten me hooked up to that point. The endings are… strange, to say the last, and not everyone is as good (in quality, not outcome) as the other. Still, the story certainly gets you thinking, and while it may fall short to some depending on what course of actions you took through out the game, it is nothing if not very high up of what’s released this year. Its utilization of some of the horror tropes are questionable, albeit fitting. The game is reasonably short and properly paced, which is greatly appreciated. I would recommend the game all the way if you can deal with some… questionable mechanics regarding the game and its presentation.
* Best art direction: Bioshock Infinite (+ Burial at Sea)
There simply is no contest. While the shooter mechanics are on and off, and the story is extremely controversial, the game is without a doubt mind-numbingly beautiful, as is its world. The guys at Irrational Games are simply amazing when it comes to just create a marvellous setting for the player to delve into, even if the story is linear. The flying city of Columbia in all its glory, as well as (spoilers) its imminent destruction is depicted convincingly throughout the game, and you can appreciate the work put into the art just by walking down a stair or two. Nothing is out of place, and nothing doesn’t fit. Even going forward (or backwards) to the city of Rapture in the released DLC Burial at Sea, one’s dream of being basked in Rapture’s live beauty is fulfilled. The city is just as vibrant and noir as one would expect of it, and nothing else is left to say.
* Best WTF: Saints Row IV
“The game Australia didn’t want you to play” is a rather effective way of describing this game. This obviously isn’t a real category, but I just had to fit Saints Row IV in there somewhere. The series has already gone off the deep end of ridiculousness comes the third instalment, but nothing quite beat the ‘Murica gun. Yes, it’s a machinegun that fires rockets and is also a flamethrower, and that’s exactly my point. If there’s anything you’d ever want to just have crazy unadultered fun, it’s this game. You do silly things at every corner, and you get silly rewards. It’s wonderful, is what it is, and I’m surprised the American media hasn’t blamed the game with anal probe and wild sexual and drug abuse for the degradation of their children yet. That’s all the game really is, and is all it’s trying to be.
* Best game with simplistic gameplay: The Stanley Parable
I’d say out of all the “games that are least games” released this year, none could compare to The Stanley Parable. The entire game is based on Stanley, or maybe not, to follow the storyline, or maybe not. It makes us question a lot, but is also a great load of fun if you just want to go ham on exploration. Its narrative-heavy, as all the games in this category are, but unlike them, it’s being comedic about the whole experience, instead of mind-bogglingly pretentious like that-one-game-that-I-can’t-name-before-going-insane. It’s a little bit of fun, really, and is entirely worth whatever time you decide to throw into it. The gameplay, or what’s account for it, is just enough to push me forward to soak in everything the game has to say.
* Best RPG: Path of Exile
It’s MMoDiablo, with a twist. The game is an all-around solid interpretation of the early 2000’s dungeon crawler, and it does it very well. The mechanics are solid, even if unimaginative at times, for one without a lot of experience in RPGs I’d say it does about what I’d want it to. The game needs tons of time dumped into before you can get the most out of it, but it’s also free and homes an extremely fair business model. Honestly, I have no idea how the developers make money, because not once did I feel the need to buy anything from their store at all. I’m grateful for it, of course, as while it can still be buggy from time to time, its simplistic design choices regarding animations and effects gives my machine an absolutely stellar performance rating, and I cannot argue with that.
* Best competitive multiplayer: Dota 2
Everyone who knows me before knows that I have a massive problem with Dota 2. I give it crap at almost every turn, but it’s mostly a love-hate situation more than anything else. The source material is too good, translating to the fact that without even trying too hard, this port of the game is going to be amazing. It holds self-providing potential never before seen, and would no doubt take off from here. The things I hate about the game is still there, of course, but as a game in itself, it is nothing short of sheer brilliance. It’s a game I’ve sunk thousands of hours into, and while I’ve stopped playing it, there’s no chance in the world I wouldn’t recommend it to absolutely everyone.
* Best Context-Challenge-Cathasis combination: Papers, Please
I admit, I owe this one to Yahtzee
Papers, Please is the combination I’ve always been looking. An extremely interesting and subtle storyline creeping on you at times when appropriate. The gameplay, while one could call repetitive, constantly introduces to you new mechanics and pushing your only abilities as well as risk-taking further. Lastly, it’s simply is fun, as you can feel your own grin riding with every Denied stamp slamming onto that passport. None clash with the other, and the design philosophy of the single-person developing team was what this game capable of such a feat. Simply put, it’s the most balanced mix of aspects game I’ve played this year, and the fact that all of those aspects are simplistic yet good is even more praise for the game itself.
* Best sound design: Contrast
Indeed. While the game is criminally short and buggy when I first played it, it single handedly ignited my love of noir art deco jazz. The game’s length did not leave much room for artistic pieces to revel in within the experience, but personally, that was perfect. The game is hence extremely atmospheric, and everything just make sense. The game has other good points, but unfortunately the budget of it seems to have left quite a bit to be desired. The duality mechanic is unique, yet haven’t been pushed into the limit just yet. The storyline is short and sweet, but ultimately not very interesting. Still, we’re here for the music, and damn did we get some of the best music I’ve heard this year.
* Best single player fps: Shadow Warrior
Ah yes, nothing like a dose of old fps philosophy to push everything up a naught. Modern single player fps-es are pretty much a preset for the multiplayer, or if you wanted to be a bit harsher a big joke through and through. The story is laughable, but that would have been perfectly fine if the game didn’t try to force it down your throat, in turn taking away the control of player in a game that’s supposed to be focused on shooting people. Last year’s Far Cry 3 was a decent contender, but it’s much more adventurous. This year, we have straight up in-your-face shooting that knows what it’s good at and does it well. Shadow Warrior is the name, based not very heavily on the old retro-Shadow Warrior that I did not have a chance to play long ago. However, you can see where the differences are. The story is deliberately B-class, the same as all other fps-es honestly, but they do not at all put an emphasis on it. Instead, it was on the weapons, the gun play, the enemy AI as well as the level design, which while isn’t as vibrant as old-school shooters, are still miles of ahead of modern ones. The entire game is about shooting things until they die, and not once did it feel it was too good for that.
* Best puzzle: Antichamber
It took me an embarassingly long time to finish this game, but boy did I feel satisfied. The lack of platforming is well appreciated, and it’s about as straight up a puzzle as you’re going to get. I like it though, because everything works in its context, and it does it’s job well. With a budget like that, I was satisfied with the absolute inexistence of narrative, and instead just focusing on figuring out just what the sod I was supposed to put in this blue neon mannequin. It was succinct, and well worth the money. There isn’t much to say about it, but then what else does it need?
*Honorary mentions: Guacamelee, a very good fighting platform but ultimately falling short substance. Tomb Raider, with very well thought-out regarding storyline and development, but ultimately didn’t deliver the entire experience. DmC: the only true hack-and-slash game I’ve ever enjoyed, but some of the mechanics are too disagreeable. Skullgirls, which was fun and great with the tutorials, but I cannot give an award to because I know sod all about fighting games. Dragon’s Crown, Tearaway, and Soul Sacrifice, which I’m confused of whether they’re going to be considered good if released on the PC.
Any way, that’s it for today folks. For some of you it’s already new year, so have fun with that. I’m still 13 hours away, but what the heck. If you wonder why some of your favourites didn’t make the list, you’re free to express yourself in the comments below. Rest assured, I will not take it to note.
Happy New Year