As much as we all love to celebrate videogames as a bold and fascinating new wave of creative expression (art, if you will) I’d argue that sadly we have a culture of criticism problem. Unlike literature and film, games developed alongside powerful forms of mass communication which means we haven’t had decades of old beardy dudes writing books titled like “on gameplay” and coming up with more words that mean ludonarrative dissonance. What we have are rapidly moving trends, particularly in the case of games as almost a sort of public theatre. Hey, I’m not knocking it, esports is part of all that and Starcraft sure has bankrolled a lot of my drunken evenings, but what we lack is a proper celebration of the navel-gazing brigade, the people who can eloquently explain why this game is good and why that game can eat shit. What we have are The Game Awards and while I’d sure love to devote a few paragraphs to hurl verbal shurikens at that particular festival of corporate ball fondling it’s much easier to remind myself it’s hosted and created by Geoff “that Dorito guy” Keighley and need I go on?
So fuck it then, I’m going to do my own awards show. By which I mean I’m gonna talk about a few games I didn’t get around to talking about this year and give them medals in random categories. There’s plenty I didn’t get round to playing and this is all extremely arbitrary but hey it’s as meaningful as giving an award for ‘Most Anticipated Game’ like those aforementioned wankslurpers (did you know 2015’s winner for that was No Man’s Sky? And it’s still a category they’re running, fucking incredible). Let’s begin.
THE EAR CARESSING ENTHUSIASTS’ AWARD FOR GNARLIEST SOUND ENGINEERING/AUDIO MALARKEY
I had intended to talk about the audio in my Wolfenstein 2 piece but whilst my many years of finding new ways to tell Protoss players they should glue barbed wire to their hands and masturbate themselves castrated, sadly my vocabulary is lacking when it comes to discussing the finer points of audio. Wolfenstein has some really good sound that does a lot for tension and atmosphere. Prey also had really good sound and I suspect this has to do with them both having the same lead audio designer/soundtrack guy. So this award goes to Mick Gordon of Mackay, Queensland, who’s really fucking good at his job. May your guitar strings never break, sir.
THE DOCTOR WHO-ESQUE AWARD FOR BEST FUNCTIONAL REMAKES
This one goes to Prey which was sort of a remake of Bioshock but in space. Before some Gen X’er grumbles something about ignorant fucking millennials yeah I know Bioshock in space was called System Shock first but whatever. One of the few immersive sims I find I can enjoy, extremely high quality environmental design, some decent writing and despite a fairly effective horror atmosphere there’s no real jump scares! Well, there is one so I hope someone at Arkane gets fired. Otherwise, yeah it’s just a solid fucken game. It’s hardly the most original thing I’ve seen but I can’t get worked up about that when it’s just so damn competent.
THE HIGH GRADE EARNING CHINESE STUDENT AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN THE FIELD OF OVERABUNDANCE
Can’t throw a rock in Steam-town these days without it ricocheting off a writhing throng of 2d metroidvania/roguelikes all viciously slitting each other for your attention. I thought I was done with this sorta shit for life but after playing Dead Cells I suppose this particular flame still has some kindle in it yet. Dead Cells: extremely well paced, nice juicy lovely pixel violence that gives the impression all the enemies are firework n gore pinatas, an impressive array of weapons and difficult enough to maintain interest. Give it a look if you’re into handy little timewasters.
THE ‘END-TURN CLICKERS ANONYMOUS’ AWARD FOR BEING A 4X GAME THAT’S BETTER THAN CIV 6 AND ALSO HAS A FACTION THAT I’M PRETTY SURE IS MEANT TO BE DONALD TRUMP’S WET DREAM TAKEN TO A GALACTIC SCALE.
Can you believe those fetid The Game Award gigacunts didn’t even nominate Endless Space 2 for their Strategy game category? I know right, what fucking frauds they are. Anyway, Endless Space 2 then. It’s a spacefaring 4x game that combines absolutely sublime presentation, a mesmerising soundtrack that captures the whole beauty of the cosmos thing and a strong emphasis on faction design that keeps the range of strategies interesting enough through multiple playthroughs. Possibly GotY for this nerd, it’s the new 4x game to beat.
THE IMAGINARY THORZAIN AWARD FOR BEST BUILD ORDER OPTIMISATION: THE GAME
This one’s still in early access and probably shouldn’t be counted until it’s released proper but the theme of this piece is ‘fuck it, who cares’ so in that spirit let’s give it to Northgard. I have a fondness for city builders; I like games where you’re just slowly moving things along while it all ticks up and that’s basically what a good citybuilder is. Northgard leans a bit more on the side of an RTS, but whatever. Closest comparison would probably be to The Settlers, you get food, chop trees, build some houses, mine out rocks, assemble a few soldiers and viking it up some. It plays at the sort of languid pace that combines well with strong liquor and a good podcast to listen to. You can even micro a little bit if you’re feeling fancy! Fucking amazing.
THE HIRSUTE MIDGET LIBRARIAN AWARD FOR BEST WORDS AND SHIT, YO, FEATURING PLAYABLE DWARF GENTLEMAN PIRATE. NO POINTS FOR GUESSING WHICH CHARACTER I PICKED.
In this age of fancy graphics and reasonably acceptable facial animations carrying a big story driven RPG (assuming you’re not being made by Bioware of course) it’s nice to see a more classic text box driven experience succeed so damn well. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is quite chunky in the literary department but it’s still probably the best written game this year. Any game that lets you take a perk that lets you talk to animals and then characterises them all appropriately deserves an award for that alone, and I’ll consider thoughtful combat, deep character customisation and a few core gameplay ideas that evolve cleverly as some kind of charming extra.
THE SMOOTH PEANUT BUTTER ON WHITE BREAD AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING MEDIOCRITY IN THE FACE OF OVERWHELMING EXPECTATIONS
I meant to write a full thing on Assassins Creed: Origins but the sheer extent of it’s uninspired blandness kept suffocating me whenever I made an attempt. Ubisoft took a year off from releasing CreedAss’s and instead of using that time to shake up the formula considerably, cut the entirely unnecessary future narrative malarkey that adds nothing and add some depth to the parkour and stealth mechanics they just tinkered with the combat a bit and called it a day. A game with absolutely no original idea, interesting feature or identity of its own, there truly is nothing bleaker I can say about it. Aside from it winning a followup...
THE OBLIVION HORSE ARMOUR AWARD FOR MOST EGREGIOUSLY FUCKED MICROTRANSACTION
I don’t hate microtransactions in games as a rule, even fully priced ones, as long as I feel I get reasonable value for the price of entry. I hated Shadow of War for fucking with it’s 4th act, something the devs would not have done in a pre-microtransaction world, but whilst Ascredigins has microtee’s they feel like an obligation the developers put in there to mollify a bitchy publisher. However, I do feel the need to point out it’s possible to spend about 5 bucks or so on a map of secrets that one can easily obtain by using this new fangled technology called an internet search engine. Yeah, Ubisoft doesn’t seem to think highly of your intelligence, arguably rightly so if you own a copy of Ascredigins.
THE REVERSE KNEECAPPER AWARD FOR BREAKING YOUR OWN SHINS BEFORE THE STARTING PISTOL FIRES
A late entry, perhaps, but congratulations are in order for EA who have managed to thoroughly savage their well anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront 2 before it even hit the shelves. It’s interesting where we draw the line on game monetisation but in the instance of Star Wars nerds I suppose it’s best to expect a certain level of entitlement, fairly warranted or not, and paying 80 bucks to not play one’s favourite glowstick wizard is a Death Star too far for most. It’s rare we get to see such an epic mountain of bullshit majestically collapse in on itself so enjoy it while you can before you realise some blameless DICE employees might lose their jobs over this debacle. Oh to a fly on the wall of these the meetings these publishers must be having.