Five Years of Game of the Year
One thing I've always regretted is not posting up game of the year articles on this site, despite frequently discussing the merits of one game or another after each successful year of gaming. There's multiple reasons for this, from simply not being around to post in December to not having access to a proper forum for this a few years back – but its an absence I'd love to remedy.
So why not get the whole last half-decade out of the way in one article so we are fresh for this year? That's my logic.
Before we dive into it though, let's set a few criteria. Firstly, I rarely give out awards to sequels unless they are a real jump from the first. There is a reason Call of Duty doesn't win Game of the Year – and I think it's pretty obvious. Secondly, I've been pretty harsh on myself and decided to only reference games I have personally finished. There are some great games I've played half of (Borderlands 2), or only played the sequel (Uncharted), or am 99% sure are amazing yet haven't had a chance to play yet (Journey) but it's only fair if I speak from experience. Also, despite how this article is looking back, I am picking game of the year based on when the game was released – not when I played it. This helps avoid “oh my god I love this game but didn't discover it until last week” scenarios, and keeps the quality of the games relevant to the years they were released.
Oh and once again this is my opinion. Thought it was best to reiterate that from the amount of “OMG X IS BETTER THAN Y WTF” comments these kind of articles are known to attract.
Anyway, on with the show. Let's take a leap back in time...
2008 - Mirror's Edge
Runner Up: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Honourable Mentions: Mario Kart Wii, Gears of War 2
Ahhh 2008. I was fresh out of Highschool and playing a buttload of WoW. I managed to fit in some other games here and there, but most of my time was split between my girlfriend, raiding and raiding with my girlfriend. Little did I know how much I was missing.
First up, the big one, Mirror's Edge. To this day I think this game is in my top 5, not only for quality, but for number of times completed. Simply put, there is no game like it (although a lot of titles take inspiration from it, Assassin's Creed). It has the perfect blend of vision and physics, and such a unique play style that it captured me almost immediately when I worked my way around to playing it in late 2010. It's one of the only shooting games I've ever played in which I never felt like I needed to pick up a gun. And that's something quite special indeed.
My runner up would be Super Smash Bros. Brawl, one of my favourite fighters of all time and right up there with the original. Sure, it might not be quite as tight as the N64 version – but thats probably because the N64 version had about 12 characters and this has about 50. Great game, many hours played, live it, learn it, love it.
Honourable mentions go to Mario Kart Wii for another excellent sequel that lived up to the N64 original (this was a big Wii year for me) and Gears of War 2 for turning a mediocre, grey and sometimes repetitive shooter into a fully fledged adventure.
2009 - Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves
Runner Up: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Honourable Mentions: Borderlands, Dragon Age: Origins
Back in 2009 I was in the middle of my university degree, and didn't have time for much other than my Xbox. Little did I know that I was missing one of the best story-telling experiences I've ever experienced releasing on PlayStation 3. It seamlessly blended a mix of third person shooting, quick time events and general Indiana Jonesness into an incredible title which forever blurred the lines between gaming and cinema in my eyes. I regret missing the original, and I was underwhelmed by the sequel, but Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves will always be golden to me. Touche PS3, touche.
Runner up goes to the then-little-known-now-well-known title Batman: Arkham Asylum, easily the best super hero adventure I have ever played. It took the darker batman we saw in Nolan's Batman Begins and ran with it, turning the sometimes comical caped crusader into a brutal, fist-fighting, batarang wielding machine of prison in-mate destruction. It also featured my favourite combat system of all time, the Free-Flow combat system, which is honestly beautiful to watch.
Honourable mentions go to the original Borderlands, flawed as it was (repeated enemies, locations, horrible end boss) it was still the best shoot and loot adventure ever created and I spent dozens of hours in its co-op for the sheer joy of shooting a midget in the face with a shotgun. And who could leave out Dragon Age: Origins, a litte more main stream fantasy than Mass Effect, a little less story focused than Knights of the Old Republic, but still an amazing RPG from Bioware back in there do no evil days (before the questionable sequel and the TOR mmo fiasco).
2010 - Red Dead Redemption
Runner Up: Mass Effect 2
Honourable Mentions: Bayonetta, Alan Wake, Infinity Blade
2010 was a year where I got back into gaming in a big way. I was fully off World of Warcraft, and playing anything I could get my hands on. Which was a good thing, because some of my favourite games of all time came out that year – including Red Dead Redemption. To call this game GTA with horses does a massive injustice to it – this is an homage to the Western so flawlessly created that the world practically jumps off the screen. Every detail was painstakingly researched (how many bullets does a Henry Repeater have? I know this now) and then beautifully animated – creating a world which was simply a joy to be a part of.
Runner up goes to Mass Effect 2, which turned an interesting but dense RPG shooter into an action-packed mercenary adventure with all the charm of Knights of the Old Republic and all the slick third person combat of Gears of War. Maybe Bioware went a little too much down the shooter angle and a little too basic with the RPG aspects, but the script and story had me captured from the get-go – something that the sequel just couldn't achieve.
Honourable mentions are split between Bayonetta, probably my top action hack-and-slash (if you can call it that) of all time – if you skip the horrible cinematics, Alan Wake for its incredible story-telling and Infinity Blade for teaching me that iPhones can have great AAA developed games too.
2011 - Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Runner Up: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Honourable Mentions: Bulletstorm, The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City
This was my first year working at GamePlayer, and what a year it was. There was a swathe of great games on practically every system, causing fans everywhere to refer to this as “the best ever year for gaming” (admittedly there were a fair few cynics decrying this at every oppurtunity – this is still the internet) and it was hard to pick which titles stood out from the crowed.
The top one for me was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game so flexible that I'm still amazed at the variety between playthroughs, and yet with a story sophisticated enough that I'm still not entirely sure what was going on. But when I wasn't re-thinking parts of the narrative, I was enjoying some incredible quality stealth action – interlaced with a few sword-arm kills for good measure.
Very close runner up was Skyward Sword, my favourite Zelda game ever after Ocarina of Time. Sure, there was no horse, but it took risks – something Nintendo isn't very famous for. And it was a world I quickly fell in love with, despite taking over 50 hours to wind my way up to completion. The motion sensitivity was so finely crafted that the entire game seemed like one long swansong for the Nintendo Wii, as this game marked one of it's last big games before Nintendo upgraded to the Wii U. But what a swansong it was, and what an experience, it successfully reminded me exactly why Zelda is regarded as one of the best game franchises of all time.
Honourable mentions go to Bulletstorm, everyone either loved or hated this game and for me it was the former – some amazing kill combos are there for those who can wade through the potty talk to find them, Skyrim, generic fantasy though it was even I have to admit the polish and sheer fun of that game, and Arkham City for expansive – if not amazingly innovative – sequel to Arkham Asylum.
2012 - Far Cry 3
Runner Up: Dishonored
Honourable Mentions: Halo 4, Sleeping Dogs
And now we've made it to last year and my choice of Far Cry 3.
Far Cry 3 was an odd beast, a sequel not many expected to gain popularity (and sales) as quickly as it did and a game which launched so quickly to 2013 that it was missed on a lot of GOTY lists. Despite this, I fell in love almost immediately. It reminded me of Red Dead Redemption, which is always a good thing, except on a tropical island and with a knife kill talent tree which was sheer murderous beauty to behold.
Dishonored takes second place, with stealth combat so reminiscent of Bioshock that it honestly came a bit too close for me at times. But once I got past the subtle differences between “inspiration” and “imitation”, this game captured me with it's incredibly polished gameplay, unique art style and ambitious setting.
Honourable mentions go to underdog title Sleeping Dogs, a game which was never meant to be (it swapped titles twice and studios once) which brought all the fun of GTA to Hong Kong – and then some, and Halo 4, which tended to reveal where the original Halo had hinted – but still was an amazing ride from start to finish.
And there it is. We are up to date. As for this year? Ni No Kuni.
.. I'm kidding! We have a whole year ahead of us, who knows who could take the crown, but whoever does I'll be sitting here waiting.
Ready to write another meandering article about it.