Saturday, December 6, 2014

Yearly Video Game Awards

Despite the huge number of games delayed until 2015, I managed to scrape together a list of award winning titles for this year.  As always the category descriptions can be found here.  Now, let the show begin!

Avant-garde Award:
Major tonal shifts and unique art style aside, this side scroller's biggest innovation is the fact that it's a video game about war in which you don't actually shoot anyone.  Sure, you drive a tank, direct some artillery and incapacitate a few guards by clonking them on the noggin, but you never pick up a gun.  Even the evil baron (who you defeat in a fistfight) is simply shamed and made irrelevant rather than outright killed.  

Backlash Award:
As the first big new open world IP of the next console generation expectations were running high for this one...and boy did it disappoint.  Not only were the graphics downgraded from what was shown at preview events, but the story was shallow and suffered form a severe case of ludonarrative dissonance.  The protagonist also turned out to be thoroughly unlikable jerk with no fashion sense.  Batman with a smart phone?  More like The Joker with a gun.  Couple that with bland bug-ridden gameplay and this Ubisoft product rightfully drew a lot of people's ire.  Perhaps the worst aspect was the sloppy PC port which suffered from poor optimization to such a degree that real life hackers were able to make noticeable improvements to the visuals just by altering a little bit of code.

Brutality Award:
There's something to be said for an already difficult game that's willing to wipe out half-an-hour's worth of progress simply because of bad luck.  The winner here is just such a game.  No matter what you do there's a scene midway through the second chapter wherein everything comes down a Russian Roulette style pull of the trigger.  Because the revolver has a single round in it's seven chambers this means there's always at least a 14.3% chance you'll have to start over at the beginning of the chapter...ouch!

Canvas Award:
While there have been more flamboyant looking games to come out in 2014, this Norse themed tale of hardship and survival stands out to me because of its more restrained visual style.  Oftentimes a scene is framed in black and white with subtle shades of blue or green, but dominating it all is a splash of vibrance somewhere onscreen.  The titular banner itself is a slash of red symbolizing a scrap of vitality and hope in a gloomy dying world.  Character portraits too have little touches like a small ornate ring on the finger of a gnarled hand, or a bright pair of eyes set deeply in a weathered solemn looking face.  It's one of those rare cases where the use of color works perfectly with the music, gameplay, story and overall themes.

Ecology Award:
Rail shooters are a hard sell in this day and age partly because the main appeal of one, i.e. holding a light gun, is not supported by most platforms.  Despite that Polish developer Teyon was determined to copy the staples of the genre.  The voice acting is ripped straight from DVD copies of the movies.  Cutscenes and gameplay feel like they're recycled low resolution 3-D renderings of exactly what took place in the films (except for Sylvester Stallone's hair which seems to have a life of its own).  Because there's only so much you can get out a couple of two hour action flicks, be prepared to see the same enemy models, hear the same lines of dialogue, and play the same sort of shooting (along with QTE) sequences over and over AND OVER again.

"Engrish" Award:
Normally this award goes to some poorly translated game from overseas.  This year though I have decided to give it to a game developed by industry veteran Bungie Studios, a company which (I might add) consists mostly of native English speakers.  While the grammar here is technically correct, the serious yet completely deadpan delivery of such an astronomically outrageous statement, mixed with the fact that the line is spoken by a famous and talented actor, is what really makes it hands down the winner in this category.

Esoteric Award:
Two playable factions, seventeen individual nations and 1,450 different units make this one of the most complex RTS games ever made.  Land, sea and air combat are all in full effect here.  The fog of war also plays a major role and can be affected by everything from simple smoke screens to the latest in electronics warfare.  Because of all these factors, knowing the subtle differences between the multitude of units on the battlefield can make the difference between victory and defeat.

Lemon Award:
It's one thing to label a game "early access" and release it in a buggy incomplete state.  It's another thing entirely to charge $20 for a unpolished full release title that has glitchy enemies, poor collision detection, unskippable plot info dumps, whacked-out crosshairs, shoddy AI, and text that scrolls the wrong direction.  Even simply jumping causes the view to clip through walls.  Lack of VR support at launch aside, this game needed a lot more quality assurance testing before it went to market.

Testosterone Award:
When a passenger airplane goes down in a remote forested coastline, the players of this game find themselves forced into a survival situation.  As if natural environmental hazards weren't bad enough, players also have to fend off groups of naked sallow-skinned cannibals with improvised traps and weapons (like a hatchet or flare gun).  Alternatively, the player can try to ward away danger by dismembering the bodies of slain foes and make them into gruesome effigies...which can then be lit on fire!

Underdog Award:
An episodic title and spiritual successor of sorts to Deadly Premonition, this quirky detective story features a unique sense of humor and geniunly meaningful Kinect support.  Sadly, it's also an Xbox One exclusive.  Hence, many fans of the game director's previous work are unable to enjoy his latest creation (having gone with PS4 instead).  It doesn't help that Microsoft has done absolutely nothing to promote the game.  Hopefully it will at least be ported over to the PC, if not other consoles, at some point.

So ends another year in the history of video games.  What will next year bring?  A lot actually, but I'm going to save topic for next time.

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