Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And the Winner is...

The end of 2013 draws near and that means is time for the (now annual, but still non-standard) game of the year awards.  A lot of indie games made the list year (for better or worse), and not a single next gen title.  Take note that there are a few disclaimers at the bottom.

Avant-garde Award:
When a FPS tries to be realistic it usually opts for stuff like muzzle climb, recoil inaccuracy and bullet drop off at longer distances.  However, a largely ignored fact of firearms is the intricate and complex variety of configurations.  So, here we have a unique take on the genre.  No ammo counter, you have to remember.  No targeting reticle, you have to line up the sights.  Instead of auto-reloads, players need to hit a minimum of three different keys (a lot more if you need to put fresh rounds in an empty clip).  Your enemies are sentry turrets and flying tasers.  And the storyline...well...let's just say it's out there.

Backlash Award:
Between this and Aliens: Colonial Marines it hasn't been a good year for sci-fi/horror games.  Unlike Gearbox's franchise flop which fell on its face out of the gate and ended up in most people's trash bins, Dead Space 3 keeps being brought up time and again as the prime example of everything wrong with recent game design philosophies; micro-transactions, "real ending" DLC, social desirability bias infested focus testing, plus it's made by EA.

Brutality Award:
Based on old arcade classics like Rastan and Ghosts'n'Goblins, this has to be the most difficult game to come out of Kickstarter.  Checkpoints are few and far between making it difficult for players that don't memorize the location of every spiked pit, giant snake, arrow trap and club brandishing lizardman that stands between Völgarr and his goal.  Let me put it this way, if this were in an arcade instead of on Steam it would eat quarters faster than the stingiest slot machine in Las Vegas.

Canvas Award:
On top of having several show stopping bugs at launch (which you can see here an here), this indie title starts off with predominantly bland brown/green foliage and dull grey stone.  Once you get past the early levels though it splashes you with a more vibrant color pallet.  Crimson rivers of blood, teal northern lights and the antique whites from the tree of life are just a few examples.  It's a sad story, but it's presented in a beautiful way.

Ecology Award:
Aside from some crudely repetitive animations and unremarkable voice work, this overpriced game is practically identical to its board game predecessor.  Gameplay, graphical presentation and the scenarios themselves are unchanged (dice rolls and all!).  Worse still no editing tools were included at launch, nor any other ways to customize or enhance the experience.  I guess the design team felt that anything other than a carbon copy replica would be heresy.

"Engrish" Award:
I'm not sure if the title of this game is meant to be catchy or simply a confession regarding a lack of branding creativity from the marketing department.  Either way it's not a translation error.  That said I think most people native to countries like Australia, New Zealand, England or the USA would raise an incredulous eyebrow when told the name of this game for the first time.*

Esoteric Award:
Yes, you can just slap a bunch of rockets together and make it into orbit or maybe even the nearest moon.  But if you really want to master this game be prepared to learn about stuff like Hohmann transfers, gravity assists, the Oberth effect, Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation and most importantly Kepler's laws of planetary motion.  Now if you'll excuse me I got to break out my calculator and figure out the delta-v budget for this new design I've been working on.†

Lemon Award:
No need to trigger an disaster from the options menu in the 2013 version of SimCity, just trying to play the game is a disaster in itself.  Countless bugs at launch, most notable of which was the inability to actually play do to always online server authentication issues.  More than half a year later it still has major problems, the biggest of which are fundamental design flaws related to poor AI for traffic and the citizen behavior.    

Testosterone Award:
Where to begin...drinking, smoking, drugs, shootouts, brawls, tattoos, torture, rock music, tough guy one liners, jumping/sliding/exploding chopper motorcycles. absurd sex scenes, and a revenge plot involving 1960s California biker gangs...check out this rather graphic trailer for just a sample of what this 20+ hour game has to offer.  Why did I choose this over the better made, but similarly themed GTA V you might ask?  Well, unlike this id fueled teenage power fantasy, GTA V has a bit of intellectual sophistication in the form of biting social commentary and snarky satire on the ills of modern life.

Underdog Award:
Originally released by Level-5 as part of the "Guild01" game collection only available from the 3DS eShop, this obscure little title is the product of Yasumi Matsuno (creator of Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy: Tactics and Vagrant Story).  It represents a fusion of board game and video game; players can role polyhedron dice using the touch screen and navigate by selecting rooms from a hand drawn dungeon map.  Combat is done via in-game miniature figurines which twirl, topple and shake.  To a degree you can choose what loot you get from defeated enemies which is important since characters only improve by equipping better gear.   Definitely worth checking out, if for no other reason than the evocative writing.‡  

*Only out in Japan in 2013

†Counted as a 2013 release because of the addition of a campaign mode

‡Actually a December 2012 release, but counted here since it was after last year's award ceremony

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