Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017 Winners

Well...this year started out strong and continued to build in quality to the point that it was looking to be one of the best years in video gaming history.  Unfortunately, a string of holiday-window releases killed the momentum somewhat with loot crates out the wazoo.  Still, there were plenty of candidates for my custom award categories.  Here are the winners for 2017.

Avantgarde Award:
The term used in this category is a French phrase that means "leading edge" and is typically applied to art (whether it be movies, photography or paintings).  So what could be a more appropriate fit here than Passpartout: The Starving Artist?  It is a game where you are a parisian painter trying to make a living by selling to a variety of connoisseurs (whose tastes can get pretty bizarre).  I never thought doodling in MS paint could be such a lucrative enterprise.

Backlash Award:
Twice voted worst company in the world, EA is determined to maintain it's reputation by burying one of the most beloved franchises in media history in fee-to-pay garbage.  The AMA hosted by the dev team, an attempt to justify the mechanics, was a disaster.  The real clincher for this award category though comes from a reddit post by the PR team which has since gone on to achieve the most downvoted post in reddit history.

Canvas Award:
There have been quite a few colorful games this year; Pyre and Drifting Lands being to excellent examples.  That said, I have to give this award to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild simply because it nails the sweet spot between bland and garish.  Each of the major locations have their own distinct pallet, but the shades used are carefully balanced mixture of bright and subdued.  The lighting engine is also great.

Ecology Award:
I really enjoyed Horizon: Zero Dawn.  In particular, the story and presentation were topnotch.  That said, the gameplay felt a little bit like an amalgamation of open-world games that have came before; bits of Tomb Raider, Enslaved, Far Cry, Assassin's Creed, Mad Max, Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor, Red Dead Redemption, MGV, The Witcher, Skyrim, and Watch Dogs are in the DNA here.

"Engrish" Award: 
MINOSMAZE...where to begin?  How about this quote from the narrator while transitioning from one gameplay segment to another:
"However Theseus knows that has no combat skills enough to duel with veteran warrior Minos."  
Lack of punctuation aside, "Minos" is not even the name of a person, but a place.

Esoteric Award:
In Rainworld, playing a slugcat is the least bizarre thing you'll do.  After all this weirdly adorable creature's goals are to eat, sleep and survive.  Other life forms you'll encounter in the game are less easily understood.  Odd symbols mark the UI, but unless you hunt around on a wiki no explanation will be forthcoming.  The environments are equally incomprehensible.  Where is this?  What's with all the abandoned industrial centers everywhere? Why does it rain so hard it can kill?  Don't expect the ending the make much sense either...    

Lemon Award:
Stubby limbs, sliding T-Poses, weird facial expressions, lifeless eyes, lipsyncing issues, mission and inventory management problems, poor checkpoint placement, environmental geometry traps, loading and pop-in textures...these are just some of the things that plagued Mass Effect: Andromeda at launch.  Supposedly, the majority of the game's five year development time was spent tossing around ideas without deciding on anything concrete (like what facial animation software they were going to use or the actual story script) while the last 18 months were basically a mad dash to get the game out.    

Testosterone Award:
Arena: an Age of Barbarian story is (depending on who you ask) a spin-off, sequel or stand-alone-expansion to the original.  In truth though I think calling it a remake of the 1987 game Death Sword (Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior outside the USA) would be the most accurate way of going about it.  Regardless, there's no shortage of nudity and gore (including one rather graphic death scene involving a spear to the crotch).

Underdog Award:
A very sad, but heartfelt story about life and loss, RiME is gameplay-wise a puzzle platformer that places the focus on feelings.  It's hard to talk about the game without giving all the best parts I'll simply say that if you've ever played Ico, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, or seen the movie "Pan's Labyrinth" then you'll have a pretty good idea of what you're getting into here.  It's not the best game from a mechanics point of view; the controls are a bit awkward at times and the graphics engine seems to be poorly optimised, but in terms of art direction, music and environmental design RiME is a tour de force.  I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the game give it a try...just make sure you have a tissue box handy.

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