Dave Irwin’s views do not necessarily represent the views of One Hit Pixel.
Let’s face it. Most sites around this sort of time focus on their Game of the Year content, rounding up the best of the best – heck, we did. The New Year is most certainly a time of reflection, but we need not just reflect on what is the best. Some sites also look at the worst as well, but what about individual elements of each game. Which game surprised us? Which game made us angry? Which game advanced something in our industry the most? I’ll be answering some of those questions, including which game made me rock out this year, with the first Pure Waffle Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2012 – hosted on One Hit Pixel. There’s a lot to cover, so without further ado: here are the alternative awards of 2012 that may or may not be worth receiving. Let’s dive in shall we?
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Tear Jerker
My first award(s) to hand out are for the one game that wasn’t what I expected to be. Usually this is for a game that does something mechanically unusual, but the winner this year did something I wouldn’t have thought possible: provoke emotions. This is a trend that we’ve seen a fair bit of in 2012, which in my eyes is a huge positive in an industry often perceived as focused on fun.
Now Journey was of course one of those games, but then again I expected it from a game by thatgamecompany. I didn’t however expect The Walking Dead to be the thing that would make me care about a small child before having kids of my own. Couple that with some solid point-and-click gameplay we’ve come to expect from Telltale Games and appealing visuals, and you have probably the best episodic game to be released – ever!
Each of the five episodes will ask you to make tough snap decisions that seriously impact what happens later down the line. I think the thing everyone remembers is that concluding episode; as memorable as that is, you can’t rule out the rest of the series for its greatness too as a bit of a surprise. This is because despite some success with episodic adventure games, Telltale had made an absolute turkey of an episodic adventure out of Jurassic Park last year. Just goes to show how much of a turn-around they’ve made.
Best Publically Funded Game
This year sparked the turning point of Kickstarter and other public-funding methods to release games. We’ve seen millions being spent in the revival of adventure games made by Tim Schafer and the revival of the post-apocalyptic precursor to Fallout – Wasteland. But then again, others have taken to Kickstarter to get people to fund their games and even with hit-or-miss games, we can finally say that we’re starting to see results.
Take for instance the winner of this accolade: FTL: Faster Than Light. Built on a budget of $200,542, a whole $190,542 more than the initial target, people evidently saw the potential of this space simulator. For those who had always dreamed of being on the NCC-1701 USS Enterprise, not only was it one of the best independently funded games of 2012, but probably one of the best strategy games too. It is an easy game to get into, a hard game to complete, and an even harder game to put down. Despite its humble origins, FTL: Faster Than Light is one of those success stories that makes trends stick. Heck, it’s why it has an award. It created its own accolade. Not a lot of games can do that!
Most Perturbing Story
Narrative is one of the most important things to me, as is evident by my background of studying Film in my student years and my life-long obsession with continuity. I’ve seen films not because I wanted to enjoy them, but because I wanted to learn from them about narrative structure. It is very rare that we get games that are particularly avant-garde, but this year we had two: Two games that ventured into unknown territory in terms of emotions and consequence.
But while The Walking Dead got us to care about our choices, the winner of this accolade got us to regret them in surprising ways. Spec Ops: The Line isn’t a fun game. It isn’t even a technically good one as the shooting mechanics are serviceable. The multiplayer mode was just awful. But the narrative? Genius! Channelling in the spirit of Joseph Conrad and the literary classic Heart of Darkness; Spec Ops: The Line manages to be important, showing us that our actions and their consequences can seriously affect anyone, even battle-heartened veterans just doing their job. The thing is, people see this every day, yet we never see it in games. We never see just how terrible White Phosphorus actually is. We never see how one mistake could condemn many. But most of all, we feel out of control. That is what is truly harrowing.
If 2012 can be remembered for one thing, it is the year that games became more than just being fun. Journey made us explore and build connections with strangers. The Walking Dead made us care about the well-being of others. Spec Ops: The Line made us regret rash decisions. Perhaps this will be the start of a trend. For games to be taken seriously as works of art as opposed to merely fun toys. The foundation has at long last been built and I think these three pieces of that foundation are equally important.
Head-banging Music of the Year
My most off-kilter award is one I feel needed to be created to reward the excellence in musical design. This isn’t generally how good the music is in the game, as that is what Best Audio in our proper Community Game of the Year 2012 categories was for. No, this is for the one track in a game’s soundtrack that made me want to turn my long, ever slightly fading locks, into a windmill. Being the resident metal-head, in order to win this award, your soundtrack needs to have one song that is an original composition with about as much prowess on the guitar as Zakk Wylde. Last year, I would probably have awarded this to Xenoblade Chronicles‘ “You Will Know Our Names”, just so you get an idea. If you live in America, you probably discovered that one this year.
This year though we did get One Piece: Pirate Warriors, a game full of guitar shredding and saxophones. Needless to say, it is a track in this game that got me head-banging, but which one. Well, it is the one that plays during the level The Monster From The Grand Line. Right from the get go, it doesn’t relent with awesome finger-picking and a catchy jazz melody. It’s been in my head since I first heard it back when I reviewed the game and it hasn’t gone away. It encompasses what makes the soundtrack worth a listen to, fitting the spirit of the manga/anime like a particularly silky glove. Sure it isn’t as technically brilliant music-wise compared to the orchestral prowess of Journey’s composition, but sometimes a good fun-sounding, high-octane soundtrack works for your game and that shouldn’t go unrewarded. With word of a sequel this year in the summer, I expect a similar rocking soundtrack!
Most Disappointing Game of the Year
I’m not even going to build the suspense on this one. While AMY was for so long the favourite and Medal of Honor: Warfighter was seriously considered [despite my best efforts – Ed], it was PlayStation Vita exclusive Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified that runs away with this. How can a game that spins off from one of the most dominant videogame franchises in history make such a stinker on a perfectly good handheld?
It was the game Activision said would sell the PlayStation Vita. It was the game that Sony built so much hype for their fledgling handheld, the game that would sell units. Likely, that was the case. Suspicion grew in my head when I realised very little had been seen of the game itself. But even I didn’t expect such a steaming pile of failure!
Yes, I’m not exactly the biggest Call of Duty fan out there and that statement alone will probably raise eyebrows, but even I can see that technically speaking the Call of Duty franchise has been consistently providing a relatively successful run-and-gun multiplayer that has millions of fans. I actually like the Black Ops campaigns a great deal, as they’re trying to do things differently. But this?! This not only besmirches the Black Ops name, but it vilifies the Call of Duty franchise. It isn’t a Call of Duty game – it is a broken mess.
Best British Developed Game
Being a British-based publication, we want to recognise the developers in the UK that have made games to put smiles on our faces. These can be British arms of triple-A developers such as the likes of Media Molecule and Lionhead Studios, or even smaller more independent ones. Any game is fair game, including sequels, but it has to have been released in 2012.
There was only one real winner for this and I’m happy to say that it is a developer that before I moved away from the region were fairly local to me who developed it. The game that helped secure Futurlab its deal with Sony to create content for the PlayStation Vita – Velocity – is this year’s Best British Developed Game. Why? Essentially it marks the first time anyone took a PlayStation Minis game seriously and also significantly helped with PlayStation Mobile.
There is a retro vibe about Velocity that has only really been tapped in the “bullet-hell” genre of games, only accessible to the more dexterous among us and relying heavily on cat-like reflexes. Velocity isn’t like that, mainly due to the ability to teleport around the place. It gives the player a sense of power as opposed to the dread often experienced with top down shooters of recent days. The attention to detail also cements the quality production values of a game that quite frankly was only restricted by the PlayStation Minis classification. With a deal in place and heavily teased stuff regarding either a sequel or more likely the upgraded PlayStation Vita version we all want, the future is bright for Futurlab!
Shameless Hype Ramp of the Year
There are times when a new game is marketed to death. This could be endless trailers, endless commentary, or even endless announcements of new stuff. It sometimes gets a little much when stuff just clogs my inbox telling me just how great the upcoming game is and why people should buy it. Granted, there’s a fine line between good press and not enough press, but there’s a well-defined one for overtly covering things.
Take Hitman Absolution for instance. This was a game that I had been looking forward to. I’d played the Sniper Challenge people got as a pre-order standalone DLC – a wise move and perhaps the most cunning thing that the PR team did with this game. But since that DLC, the Hitman Absolution cow was led to a shed where there was a lot of milking to be done. Hearing about Hitman Absolution every day got really dull fast. My excitement swiftly turned to boredom. I haven’t even played the game because of how much stuff was around before its release. I’d felt like I’d played the game already!
So there you have it, the first Alternative GotY is done. The winners are probably patting themselves on the back. The losers are probably wondering what went wrong and why they got mentioned in the first place. To those games that were mentioned in negative comments but weren’t the ultimate losers, you were lucky this time, but don’t count your blessings. If you have any suggestions for categories in next year’s alternative GotY awards, please feel free to comment them below!
“But wait!” I hear you cry, “You haven’t talked about what has really annoyed you in 2012!” Well, the thing is that there is a lot of that to cover. Tune in next time when I lift the lid off some absolute garbage. Until then, happy gaming!