Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

Dave Irwin

Dave Irwin

Sub-Editor

on February 1, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Dave Irwin’s views do not necessarily represent the views of One Hit Pixel.

So it is that time of year again, the one where people are more than likely praising those typical categories: Best PlayStation Game of the Year, Best RPG, Best Visuals; you get the drill…

I of course don’t do that on a personal level because you’ve probably read it many times in many other publications. If you read the Alternative Game of the Year awards 2012 , you probably know where this is going.
This year’s list of categories has grown slightly, so let’s begin with…

Head-banging Music of the Year

Last year, the head-banging award went to One Piece: Pirate Warriors. The sequel that followed this year not only had the same award-winning music track, but also some nice new pieces. Last year’s biggest surprise came in the form of The Walking Dead: Season 1, which recently began its second season. Unfortunately, Telltale’s series now has a reputation, so can’t be called a surprise.

Our winner this year is Killer Instinct for Xbox One. To answer the two questions, it is a surprise because when it was announced Double Helix was actually developing it rather than Rare, my heart sank. A fighting game close to my childhood was being handled by the people who brought us Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, Front Mission: Evolved, and worst of all Silent Hill Homecoming. Not exactly the greatest pedigree. All the more surprising then that the game that got booed at a showcase at EVO 2013 turned out to be so good!

As for which track managed to scrape the Head-banging Award for 2013? Why look no further than boot up the game and just hang on the title screen!

To be fair, it was close between all of the tracks so far. Heck, even the dub-step/electronic inspired tone of Orchid’s theme was incredibly appealing. I would also like to point out that the dynamic music technology is incredible beyond anything we’ve heard in music composition, as it quietens down after the action slows and speeds up when the combatants fight. Just another detail on an already great looking exclusive for Microsoft’s underdog console.

Biggest Tear Jerker

While last year the award went to Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 for the entire grim duration, this year goes to a game for its first few minutes. Compared to say Pixar’s Up, where the first few minutes show you the life of a happy couple, this year’s winner of the Biggest Tear Jerker sets up a relationship between two characters before cruelly ripping the two apart.

Yes, Level 5 and Studio Ghibli’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch takes it by making you think that the protagonist’s mother died tragically saving her son’s life, only to say “Nope, she survived that”. An overwhelming sense of relief is then shattered when suddenly she begins clutching her chest. With one of the bystanders proclaiming the death knell of “Oh, she always had a weak heart!”, the single mother dies of a heart attack. Sure Oliver’s voice acting is that of a whinny brat, but you do feel bad that something as real as heart failure could rip the two apart.

This of course becomes the basis for the game – Oliver saving another world in order to save his mother in the real world, but you never quite forget those first few minutes. It creates a drive that while seemingly futile, the player eventually wants to believe it works!

Best of British – Tearaway

When awarding this particular category, I did think back to Velocity Ultra, but felt that its status as a remake of Velocity disqualified it from the running. Luckily for Sony’s PS Vita, the winner of this category for me is also a British developed PS Vita game.

Tearaway is by far the most charming thing I’ve played all year, but then what do you expect from Guildford based Media Molecule – developers of the insanely popular LittleBigPlanet franchise? If anything, that should have been a great indicator that this PS Vita exclusive would use all the functionality of the device in clever and game-changing ways. Seeing fingers rise from beneath the PS Vita creates the illusion that you are putting your hand into the game. Perhaps it was a bit on the short side, but this adorable little game is the best reason to own a PS Vita if you don’t like remakes of epic JRPGs!

It represents the ingenuity of British game design, but 2014 looks to be an even bigger year. The likes of Volume from Mike Bithell of Thomas Was Alone fame and Velocity 2X from Brighton basedFuturLab just go to prove that the early days of the ZX Spectrum’s indie developer scene (which originated in the UK) are still here, able to compete with the biggest AAA budget games.

On an unrelated note, Guildford was pretty hard hit by flooding caused by recent storms. Several high-profile developers had their studios flooded. Hello Games (Joe Danger and the upcoming No Man’s Sky) are apparently struggling with cleaning and salvaging what is working from their studio after their insurance company declared that as they were in a flood risk zone, the insurance policy they took out didn’t cover it. Microsoft’s Phil Harrison has already publicly stated that he will “look into it”, so we’ll keep an eye on what comes out of it. We hope that this doesn’t hamper the developer too much and that work can continue on No Man’s Sky. We also extend our thoughts to those developers who were also affected by the floods.

Best Kickstarter Game – Shadowrun Returns

Based on a game from 1993 for consoles, which was also based on a table-top RPG, Shadowrun Returns is a celebration of how world building should be.

It may have had a relatively short campaign and not really had much beyond the basic elements of its tactical combat system, but it outshone the competition when it came to making its neon dystopia a believable world. Dialogue is by far the most enjoyable thing as it mimics the PC RPG games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights to a tee.

But by far the most important inclusion is the Steamworks integration with the development kit packaged with the game. People are already hard at work making their own campaigns, which may or may not eclipse the main campaign, but given that the main campaign was built using the same engine, it is entirely possible that user-generated content might be the reason to pick this game up in the future! With any luck, the authors of these campaigns will get recognised for their work!

The only real problem with the game is the unforgiving auto-save, which the developers are now patching for an upcoming update.

Most Pointless Investment of the Year – Ouya

Ouya? Oh No!

When the Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman wasn’t apologising through her pearl white shiny fangs, her company was making mistake after mistake. First the delivery of prototype consoles to backers was delayed, then the prototype consoles looked horrible, then the retail versions came out looking significantly better than the ones the backers got, before culminating in the “Free the Games” flop of dodgy deals where Kickstarter projects were “funded” with cash from suspect sources.Oh no! Even I can’t believe this thing exists! Marketed around the idea that the Android based console would usher in a new generation of games for the budget conscious, it probably would have been a good investment had savvy gamers not noticed the many flaws with its design and goals, or the fact that both Microsoft and Nintendo had the next generation of consoles on the way!

But isn’t this about the console solely? No. If you invested in the Kickstarter for Ouya, which also promised highly suspect emulation capabilities, you were investing in the company itself. Their console only has one IP not found elsewhere worth having – Towerfall which is seeing a PC port this year. Sorry Ouya, but as you didn’t offer your backers a stake in the company and only had a sub-par console to show for it, if you were in Dragon’s Den, the dragons would have been laughing the words “I’m out!”

Biggest Surprise – The Stanley Parable

While I was contemplating giving this to Shadow Warrior for its gameplay being better than the trailers could ever show, I had to give this one to The Stanley Parable. I’d heard about this social experiment before, but only ever as a mod for Half-Life 2. Years had gone into making The Stanley Parable into a fully fledged retail release, but it came out of the blue.

When I reviewed Dear Esther last year, I mentioned that it wasn’t a game but an experience. The problem with that style of development is that it isn’t very interactive. A very similar game came out this year to critical acclaim called Gone Home, in which you are a university student who is returning to her family home during the holidays to find nobody is home. The Chinese Room also took on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, making a game that would have been okay if it hadn’t been the follow-up to cult classic Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

The Stanley Parable seems to be of similar ilk at first, leading you by the hand through a mostly non-interactive narrative, until you decide to go off-piste. It is here that the true nature of this indie darling is unveiled. By breaking the fourth wall in such a way, it mocks the very foundations it is built from, not just the genre it masquerades as from time to time.

It mocks the way The Chinese Room developed Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs to be more about narrative, by constantly complaining when the player derails the plot. It mocks the way that games lead you through a plot in general. It mocks the player by creating the illusion of choice. It even mocks the very foundations of how videogames are made. As such, I’d highly suggest that if you want to become a game developer, you need to play this game and study what it does. You will need to find all the endings, including the “game breaking” glitch and fool around in the broom closet for a great deal of time. If you don’t, still play it, then put a family member in front of it and watch them play it. It’s a phenomenal social experiment and the biggest surprise of 2013, but not the best indie game…

Best Indie – Gunpoint/Risk of Rain

There had to be two indie game winners for me this year, both very different, both well worth your time.

Created by Tom Francis, a former games journalist who made the game in his spare time in GameMaker over the course of a few years, Gunpoint was the freshest take on a seemingly tired indie staple. Presented with the 2D pixels as a pseudo-platformer, you wouldn’t expect there to be innovation, until you look at the two core gameplay mechanics in this stealth-based action title.

The first is the upgradeable Bullfrog that catapults your unarmed Private Investigator into the air with great velocity, allowing you to literally get the jump on unsuspecting guards in this tale of corporate corruption. But it is the CrossLink that proves the most interesting, adding a hacking-based puzzle element that not only allows you to rewire door controls to other technology, but also cause guards guns to either not shoot or fire when triggered by switches.

Even the narrative sections branch out to other missions, giving the player room to be the personality they want to be – either an honourable gent or a gutless swine. A lot of the charm comes from its relatively low-fi nature, but the added touch of creating your own epilogue to share with friends is the icing on this particularly delicious cake. Of course, the narrative of Gunpoint isn’t the only place where lies have been found.

The second game was a bit of a late entry, releasing about as far back as November 8th on Steam, but it is another bite-size development house called Hopoo Games which consists of not one person, but two people working with the same development tool (GameMaker). They did bring someone in to do the music, but we digress…

What makes Risk of Rain so endearing is that it is relentlessly difficult, but somehow a rewarding rogue-like. You have a class that takes a while to master to begin with, rolling and gunning to avoid the nasty aliens on the planet you have crashed on. You must then collect enough cash to get power-ups. Most are static buffs, which range from an electrifying ukulele to a fluffy teddy bear that reduces damage taken; but others are able to be activated to fire a bazillion rockets that home in on foes or a mirror which creates a duplicate of yourself. But you must be careful as the difficulty goes up as time passes. As with all rogue-likes, one life, one death. No second chances!

Each time I have played, I have gotten a little further thanks to some sweet buffs that periodically unlock. The score is also just wonderful, harnessing the danger of loneliness on a barren hostile world! The pixel style works well, despite it being on the small side, and while I did struggle with the keyboard controls at first, the control pad option works just fine. I just wish I could optimise the graphics a little more to my screen! The best thing though is the inclusion of local and online co-operative, meaning you and some buddies can explore the world.

So yes, this is a cop-out, but I have genuinely had the same amount of fun with each! Both are different, despite being built-in the same program, but both are equally excellent. Thank you GameMaker, for being around to be the tool that made these two great indie games!

Biggest Lie – Aliens: Colonial Marines

To think we put this as number 16 on our Most Anticipated Game of the Year List for 2013… I wrote my blurb, pointing out that some of us were “understandably cynical”. After all, this was the studio that brought us Duke Nukem Forever, the game had been delayed constantly, and that the franchise hasn’t had a genuinely decent FPS since Aliens vs Predator 2. As the year properly began, the seams began to unravel. First the Wii U version that had so much potential was cancelled. Then the media campaigns began to ramp up, before finally the revelation that no game reviewing outlet got to play the game before release date, not even the big ones!

It turns out Aliens: Colonial Marines was an unfinished mess of a game that had an awful multiplayer and mindless enemy AI in the campaign. On top of that, the textures looked off. It wasn’t until Jim Sterling of Destructoid even put out a PSA saying that the game he saw in preview builds was not in the finished product that it dawned on everyone what had happened. Heck, merely grabbing an image representative of the final product was difficult as the internet has been plastered with the promotional material that left such a sour taste in people’s mouths!

Gearbox had pulled a fast one, bringing out a rushed FPS experience at full price that was not represented by any preview build sent to the media. What initially looked brilliant on screenshots and gameplay footage turned out to be designed for the press to promote the game.

So how come this didn’t isn’t the most disappointing game of 2013? Well…

Most Disappointing Game of the Year – SimCity

Oh EA… You promised so much when you announced SimCity. When it was announced that the game would require an internet connection to run, you told us that you weren’t going to make the same mistakes Blizzard did with Diablo III.

Then it launched.

It must be tough for EA to realise that those “measures” they put in place didn’t work. Not only did it break, but it also pointed to some of the flaws in EA’s Origin service. But there was worse to come. You see, they had made the multiplayer nature of the game mandatory, meaning that players built neighbouring cities in order to cooperate. Yet somehow you weren’t able to lock them down to friends, meaning anyone could come and build a city that drags the others down. On top of that, the space you were given was woeful compared to past SimCity games.

There were also bugs galore, but it was the constant disconnections at launch that sealed its fate. EA tried to appease the masses by giving away free swag, but for many this wasn’t going to make it up to them. They’d already been betrayed.

But was this the worst game of the year? Not even close!

Worst Game of the Year 2013 – Ride to Hell: Retribution

Apparently this game had been in development limbo for quite some time, 2013 was the year this turd rolled in on its faeces covered hog. Ride to Hell: Retribution is a game where you were a biker in the 1950s with a questionable past, attempting to avenge the biker’s brother after he is brutally (hilariously) murdered. Eyebrows are raised when the first thing you do is a short turret section that is disconnected from the rest of the game. Lack of sound effects in odd places, combined with horrendously bad voice acting in cut scenes was also worth a sigh of disappointment. Gameplay is so bland and uninteresting that it has no sense of challenge. So how does this get bottom honours?

Well if all the above wasn’t bad enough, it is also one of those games. You know, the ones where they put in badly rendered characters rutting against each other fully clothed! Saving a prostitute from a man trying to have sex with her, then being repaid by grinding each other fully clothed was bad enough; but when the very next woman asks you to get something from her deadbeat husband, then proceeds to hump you while still wearing her jumpsuit, you know this is a terrible game.

I’d also say that Day One: Garry’s Incident also qualifies, but that is just a terrible game with controversy surrounding its release. Ride to Hell: Retribution not only offends in terms of the intentionally controversial content, but offends me more by being existing. The funniest and perhaps also most tragic thing is that the company behind it wanted this to become a franchise. How sorely were they mistaken!