And it’s time for the reveal… here we get to find out the winners for all of my best of the year categories. Prepare yourself… it’s going to be fun.
Best Story-Driven Game
This category’s winner was chosen based off of not only the caliber of the story but also the character design, how well the story fit into the overall game experience, and how satisfying the game that went along with the story was. This category was open to any game where the core focus of the game was building the story and executing it.
Mass Effect 3 – Mass Effect 3 features some of the most engaging and emotional moments in any game I’ve ever played and couples that with improved gameplay, interesting choices, and some of the best characters you’ll find anywhere. This creates a game that is satisfying, endearing, and engaging enough that when the ending wasn’t what fans were hoping for, they weren’t able to let it go; they had to make their displeasure known in unbelievable numbers. Nevertheless, this game is a fantastic conclusion to one of the most acclaimed trilogies in gaming history, and as such is certainly deserving of this prestigious award.
Best Open-Ended Game
This category was judged primarily on how well crafted the world was, and also on how successful the game was in making you feel truly empowered to craft your own destiny within it. Any game where the primary element of the game was choice and diversity of options was welcome in this category.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – Amalur is a fantastic world, hand-crafted to be the base for many games including this year’s Amalur. Unfortunately, those games may never see the light of day as the game’s assets are currently the property of the State of Rhode Island. But, this Open World RPG was everything I like to see in the genre: choices both small and large, interesting options everywhere, engaging combat, good writing, and fantastic side-stories. Reckoning was one of the most underappreciated games of 2012, but for me… it was everything I had wanted Skyrim to be, and much more.
Best Action-Oriented Game
As the title states, this category is won by the action. While factors like story, gameplay, and character design certainly contribute, how deeply engaging and satisfying the action and combat are reign supreme. The games in this category are all games where the gameplay came first, everything else was a secondary design element.
Darksiders 2 – One of my favourite games of the year, Darksiders 2 is a game that I cannot recommend enough. With amazing action, an interesting Zelda-style game setup, and a ton of secrets to find; it’s a game that really does live up to everything I had hoped for it. And, to top it all off, it even had a pretty solid and interesting story that builds hopes high for the third and fourth games in the series – which we can only hope will come.
This category, as opposed to the Best Story-Driven game, casts all other elements aside and merely evaluates how moving, memorable, and well crafted the story of the game is.
Journey – Journey’s story isn’t told through witty narrative, through high-impact set pieces, or through a myriad of character interactions. It is, instead, told through a much more instinctive medium… the environment. You can’t tell Journey’s story to another, you can only explain how the experience and the story moved you. But despite that, Journey’s story remains the most memorable and lovingly crafted story of the year. Because this is such an incredibly unique way to tell a story, and because the story is so fantastic – and so distinct every time you play – I’m more than pleased to give Journey this award. If you doubt that it’s worthy, go play the game. Tell me you aren’t moved by it, and that it’s beauty and simplicity don’t stick with you for days, weeks, or even months after you finish your Journey.
Best Gaming Moment
This category is pretty self-explanatory: It’s the single most memorable, unbelievable, well-designed moment in any game of the year. The moment that just made you sit back after it and feel special just because you were a part of it.
Mass Effect 3: Thane Krias’ passing – We all knew Thane was dying, he’d been dying since we met him. Seeing him in the hospital just really drove it home. But then to have him get his one last moment of relevance… where he managed to stop the ‘mystery assassin’ from getting his target, and go on to die peacefully was just amazing. But most importantly, seeing his peaceful death really drove home just how traumatic and tragic everything else was. This is how death is supposed to be: At peace, surrounded by friends and family, and able to move on to whatever afterlife your religion believes in. This was the moment that really made the story of Mass Effect 3 feel ‘real’ to me. Not the child, not the ruins of Earth, nothing else: Thane’s death was it. That is why this gets my pick for best moment of the year.
To win this category, a game must not only provide a well-implemented multiplayer element, but the multiplayer must do something special. Offer something that can’t be found elsewhere. Either some unique concept, or have something that is just incredibly well-made.
Starhawk – This was a hard category to call, as we had a lot of absolutely fantastic additions to the ‘multiplayer’ scene, but Starhawk really did something special with the ability to construct things on the battlefield. Sure Starhawk had a well-designed multiplayer system at its core, and it had all the game modes you expect… but what could be more satisfying than respawning and having your drop pod land on top of the guy who killed you just seconds earlier earning you multiple exp bonus rewards… or calling down a wall and having it land on a vehicle that just happened to be driving by at the right moment… or swatting a plane out of the air with an absolutely perfectly timed turret drop. For these reasons, and because the multiplayer was just incredibly entertaining, Starhawk wins my ‘Best Multiplayer’ award.
Most Innovative Idea
Another pretty self-explanatory category, this award is given to the game that offers something truly unique to the genre: something that could actually change the way games are made in the future.
Dragon’s Dogma’s ‘Shared Encounters’ – When I first read that Dragon’s Dogma was adding a system that would allow people to group up to kill a boss without actually implementing cooperative gameplay, I was intrigued. Seeing it in action as these online bosses where you fight them in your single player game and get rewarded when they eventually get taken down to 0 by players around the world ‘defeating’ the encounter in their own game… is a fantastic experience. Not only do you get the satisfaction of doing your part, and doing it on your own… but you also get that feeling of greater accomplishment when the boss is finally defeated for good. I think this is a feature that could be brought to many rpgs with tremendous success, and I hope developers recognize its promise.
Our one negative award – the game, moment, scene, or concept that was the greatest disappointment to me.
Ninja Gaiden 3 – I really really wanted to love Ninja Gaiden 3. But it was terrible. There is no other word for it. The story was atrocious, even as far as Ninja Gaiden games go, the combat was incredibly bland, every aspect of customization was locked behind dlc… essentially everything that made Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 fantastic was completely neutered in the creation of the third game. This game was terrible, and playing it made me depressed at how far a great series had fallen.
Best Downloadable Game
With how far the ‘downloadable game’ has come, I felt it deserved its own category. A category that recognized the quality and talent put into creation of these not-so-little gems that can be found on XBLA, the PSN, or even on Steam.
Journey – I don’t think it’s hard to understand why I feel Journey was the best downloadable title of the year. I mean, everything about this title was utterly fantastic. It was an experience that I still think about almost 9 months later. For a downloadable title to create such attachment is utterly amazing, and I cannot recommend this title enough. If you have a PS3, you are seriously missing out to not play this title.
Game of the Year 2012
This is the big one – the game that was my absolute favourite game released this year. Every aspect of every game I played this year were all measured in trying to determine who deserved this win… and with fantastic games in every genre, every field, every category… it was a tough pick.
Journey – Congratulations have to go to ThatGameStudio for being able to produce this unbelievable game. Every aspect of this game was perfect. The soundtrack was probably the best I’ve heard in a long time, the visuals – while not benchmark-setting – were beautiful and enchanting, the controls were simple and incredibly effective, the multiplayer was unique and intriguing, the story was memorable and almost primal in its appeal, and… most importantly of all, it changed the way I look at games. This game moved me, it changed me, and it still sticks with me. This is a game that, if you don’t own a PS3, you should be trying to find a way to borrow, rent, or purchase one for the sake of playing this game. It really is that incredible of an experience. You won’t regret, or forget, it.