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Giant Bomb's 2012 Game of the Year Awards: Day Four

In today's penultimate array of awards, downloadable games TAKE OVER THE WORLD while big ol' triple-A retail games are saaaaaaad.

Welcome to the quick-and-filthy look at today's awards categories. Sure, we spent time writing that text below, but it's really only here for people who don't have the time or energy to listen to our deliberation podcast or watch the video recap for today's categories. That's not you, is it? OK, go check that stuff out and then swing back by over here if you're looking for a little further explanation about our categories and winners. Deal?

WarioWare Spirit Award

Frobisher Says!

The WarioWare Spirit Award goes to the game that most embodies the things that make WarioWare great: Frantic action, objectives that change so fast that part of the game is figuring out what the hell you're even looking at, and a certain awkward sense of charm. In a year with a WarioWare release, this category would be redundant. But these days (and with no proper WarioWare sequel on the horizon), you're going to have to dig around for games that follow in the fat man's garlic-soaked footsteps. Surprisingly, there were numerous games to choose from.

But no one else captures the true spirit of WarioWare better than Honeyslug's Frobisher Says!, which was launched as a free downloadable game back in October, with some additional paid DLC releasing to expand the game with more microgames. Frobisher meets the WarioWare standard in a few different ways, first by delivering on that frantic gameplay that requires you to be fast on your feet and then by packing in the work of numerous artists who hadn't worked on games before, which lends the proceedings a unique look. But it also pulls off the neat trick that many of the WarioWare games also accomplish: it uses the available hardware in a lot of interesting ways. In the Vita, Frobisher Says! gets to play around on a platform so packed with weird, often-clumsy control options that it can't help but make you respect all that stuff. One game exclusively uses the back touch to move. Another uses the camera to detect if you're smiling or not, with the goal being to smile only at the pretty ladies. It's amazing. And most of it is free, which is perhaps the craziest part of all. If you have a Vita, stop screwing around and go download Frobisher Says! immediately.

Runners-Up: Rhythm Heaven Fever, McPixel

Best Download Game That Makes Us Want to Eliminate Award Categories for Download Games

The Walking Dead

Don't forget about Gomez!

The winds of video game distribution are changing--have been changing for several years, in fact--and we're fairly certain (and if nothing else, hopeful) that with the next generation of consoles, the phrase "downloadable game" will give way to a more appropriate term like, say, "game." The games you obtain through your Internet pipe have become every bit as ambitious, mechanically sound, and narratively engaging as the ones that come in a box. Actually, in many cases, the downloadables surpass the retail games in all of those categories.

No download game resonated more this year than The Walking Dead, which told a damn good story, emphasized meaningful player agency, and hewed to the sort of piecemeal episodic release schedule that got people talking around the water cooler in a way they haven't for a long time. But truly this was the year when we repeatedly took a pause, looked at all the stuff we'd been playing, and were repeatedly shocked and delighted at just how many of our favorites were smaller games in the 10 to 15 dollar range. Mark of the Ninja, with its impeccable stealth-puzzle mechanics, and the lovely retro aesthetic and mind-bending cryptography of Fez were among the best games of the year, nevermind what they cost or how you obtained them.

But the list hardly stops there. Let this category stand as a tribute to all the excellent games that materialized on our PCs and consoles out of thin air this year, including Journey, Hotline Miami, FTL, Rock Band Blitz, Spelunky, Trials Evolution, Dyad, Sound Shapes, Dust: An Elysian Tail, McPixel, and too many others to list here. If this is the caliber of games that results from the modest budgets and ease of release afforded by digital distribution, the future is looking bright indeed.

Runners-up: Mark of the Ninja, Fez

Best Multiplayer

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Criterion is the studio responsible for some of the most influential multiplayer innovations of this generation. The "Autolog" feature that worked its way into the team's previous Need for Speed game is now everywhere, from shooters to open-world crime simulators. But the crew at Criterion isn't solely focused on reinventing the leaderboard. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a prime example of how to find ways to play multiplayer that feel inclusive, rather than just developing something that can only be enjoyed if you're willing to devote every last second of your free time to staying good at something.

Most Wanted's multiplayer is competitive even when it's cooperative. You're up against the other racers in your game whether you're jetting over to the next starting point or working together to all reach a specific rooftop. It also makes a lot of exciting moves in the way it handles its racing by eliminating boring old starting grids in favor of something a little wilder... a little meaner. But at the end of the day, it's still about learning how the cars handle and knowing how to bash another racer off the road, things that have a decidedly lower learning curve than most other multiplayer games out there. Tack on a fun leveling system that ties together your progress across all modes and all versions of the game to give you a Call of Duty-like perk system for your cars, and you've got enough little hooks to keep you interested for a good long time.

Now if they could just make it easier to mute all the chatty Russians with always-on microphones in the PC version...

Runners-Up: Spaceteam, Journey

Best Story

The Walking Dead

There are two stories playing out in The Walking Dead: the one you're creating and the one authored by the creators at Telltale Games. The tension between the two reveals the subtle brilliance of The Walking Dead. In terms of the broader story beats, you ultimately have little control over what happens in The Walking Dead, but your influence over who lives, who dies, and how you choose to interact with characters in the most bizarre and upsetting of situations is profound. Though the overall story head to the same point for everyone, how you get there and who you leave behind will be very different, and results in a game pulling off authentic player choice in a way we haven't seen before. Who could have predicted that in the year that gave us Mass Effect 3?

What's remarkable is how little desire you feel to see how else the story could have played out. Even though Telltale Games built in a "rewind" function for that specific purpose, there was no motivation to use it. Your story was the story, and Telltale Games managed to make that stick for five episodes. Still, since you knew the story could play out differently, the first conversation after an episode was "what'd you do when [insert horrible choice]?" The Walking Dead inspired endless discussions about what does and doesn't make sense in most dire of circumstances.

Player choice aside, The Walking Dead is just a damn good story. You come to know the characters on a very personal level, and while the armchair designer in us may realize Clementine is a bit of a crutch for the writers to pull at our heart strings, it makes your relationship with her no less important. Protecting her become vital to survival in The Walking Dead's dreary new world. If we can't raise children and impart our values onto them, what's the point of surviving? By the end of The Walking Dead, that question becomes paramount, and sets up a tear-jerker of a conversation. And this is all without complimenting the game's overlooked but no less impressive portrayal of an African-American lead character, complimented by a child. How many games would even try that, let alone pull it off?

Runners-up: Dust: An Elysian Tail, Papo & Yo

Most Disappointing Game

Assassin's Creed III

First off, let's be clear that, for something to be disappointing, there had to have been expectations of something great, and it hadn't been that long ago that greatness visited the house of Assassin's Creed. Last year's Revelations may have felt rote and unnecessary, dragging out the Ezio story longer than it needed while simultaneously robbing him of his youth, but 2010's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was this series at its best, and all signs leading up to the release of Assassin's Creed III seemed incredibly promising.

The exciting and unknown setting of the American Revolution seemed awash in possibility, as did the new protagonist, a half-British/half-Native American character whose lineage had the potential to make him more invested in the coming conflict than his predecessors. New settings and a new hero meant new activities, and what we had seen of the huge naval battles and of Connor traipsing through the treetops hunting game looked good, or at least, looked like a distinct change of pace. On the other side of the Animus, there was also the promise of finally wrapping up Desmond's story, learning the truth about the First Civilization, and bring a stop to the apocalyptic event that all of this has--apparently--been leading up to.

What we got wasn't bad, per se, at least not across the board, but it was hard not to be disappointed. Connor's righteous naïveté paled in comparison to the cocky self-assuredness of Ezio. The lack of verticality provided by the dirt streets of Boston and the other young cities of Colonial America was a trade-off for the tree-filled wilderness that linked them together, but there simply wasn't much to do in that wilderness, and it forfeited the kind of urban exploration that had come to define much of the series. While many of the mysteries surrounding the First Civilization and Desmond's connection to it get resolved, the final resolution was unsatisfying and abrupt. All of these weaknesses are compounded by the fact that, for all of the side-missions you can get up to, the game fails to wrap them up into an interesting, cohesive whole, which is ultimately what makes Assassin's Creed III our most disappointing game of the year.

Runners-up: Mass Effect 3, Resident Evil 6

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Posted by bushlemon
Posted by Scotto

I think the Walking Dead told a great, emotionally affecting story, but god am I tired of seeing it get all of these awards. It was basically an animated TV show, albeit an extremely good one, with some extremely thin mechanics layered on top, and what was ultimately the illusion of meaningful choice.

And don't get me wrong -- I'm not a hater of the game. I think it's fantastic. But I don't know what it says that a game that is only barely a game can be running away with any award aside from "Best Story".

Maybe I'm just overthinking this. I respect titles that can mesh story and gameplay together well, because I think that's harder than basically writing an interactive graphic novel.

Edited by Scotto

To hear Ryan talk about AC3 during the "Most Disappointing" discussion, it almost seems like he doesn't realize he reviewed the game, and gave it a 4/5.

And for Jeff to say Bioware "violated his trust" with Mass Effect 3, a game he also gave 4/5, to the point where he has no interest in future Mass Effect games? Yeesh.

And not only do they say these games they well reviewed are somewhat disappointing, but neck and neck for MOST DISAPPOINTING game of the year. Maybe it really is time to get rid of numbered scales altogether. It's not even like they simply got outvoted at the table or something - both guys were right out in front, championing the respective game they reviewed as being massively disappointing. I'd love to see this seeming dissonance explained further on a Bombcast.

I should add I don't even necessarily disagree with anything they said (well, I think Jeff was a little overboard), but if reviews are basically purchasing advice, I'd just like to hear an explanation for this seeming discrepancy. Why would someone buy the most disappointing game of the year?

Posted by dropabombonit

Another great day of awards. But I think RE6 should of taken most disappointing, that game is hot garbage. At least AC3 was extremely playable even if the missions and story were hit and miss

Posted by shenstra

The whole discussion about most disappointing game is weirding me out. How is Assassin's Creed 3 disappointing? Sure, it's not the most interesting AC ever made, but it's one of my favorite games this year and a (much needed) improvement over the last game.

Even more baffling is the lack of Diablo 3 in that discussion. Expectations before D3 came out were unreasonably high and the game turned out to be a complete mess. It didn't just fail to improve on D2, it managed to be worse than D2 in pretty much every way that matters. All the systems are boring as hell. The whole game feels like a generic MMORPG, without the "mass" part, but with pretty high production values (for an MMO).

I know, opinions. Still, it's weirding me out. Makes me feel like I've lived in an alternate timeline this year.

Posted by CaptainInvictus

@shenstra said:

The whole discussion about most disappointing game is weirding me out. How is Assassin's Creed 3 disappointing? Sure, it's not the most interesting AC ever made, but it's one of my favorite games this year and a (much needed) improvement over the last game.

I would argue Diablo 3 not even being mentioned in the discussion is more damning than if it had won Most Disappointing.

It wasn't even disappointing enough to get a mention. It simply faded into nothing in most people's minds, that is how unimportant it is. Which to me, is worse than showing up on the list.

Posted by PlaydohCutter

Ac3 most dissapointing for sure.

Posted by IntoTheN1ght

I agree with Jeff here, you guys gave ME2 GOTY that year, you spoke highly of the game. Assassins Creed 2 was merely just praised for what it was and RE5 was loved only by Vinny and Brad.

AC: Revelations wasent very good, the last AC game before 3. Mass Effect 2 was your GOTY as ive said.

Thus ME3 is easily the most disappointing game, the only reason it did not "win" was because Brad was batting for it, had he played ME3 when it was launched he would be fuming at the game like the rest of the audience.

GOTY will be a battle between X-Com and Walking Dead, maybe Farcry 3.

Anyway was a great read and podcast, great job by all of the guys.

Posted by MjHealy

I like Patrick but I hate that he says "triple-A", which is how you can tell he wrote the deck for this article.

Edited by aceofspudz

Terrible decisions day.

Mass Effect 3 most disappointing. Can't believe they fell down on this. Can't believe Brad thought it was okay. Can't believe Ryan and Vinny were so indifferent.

Walking Dead earns my personal nomination for 'Most Overrated Game Of 2012', specifically in how it bamboozled the bomb crew and many otherwise right-thinking people into thinking that their choices mattered in any meaningful way. Their speculations on whether some event or another would happen differently is particularly laughable when you know none of them do. It's all window dressing. My problem was that I lost my save and played through the first episode twice, making very different decisions the second time. Playing any of the episodes twice is like looking behind the curtain and seeing the wizard, and completely ruins the entire thing. Is that a good game?

Posted by DasUberOgre

I still don't understand the people saying TWDG should be eliminated from Downloadable Game because it was released on Retail.

It was released for retail a full month after it's final episode and until then was only available via download. While there is something that could be said for eliminating it because it's on a higher plane than other Download Games, it was still a downloadable game in the sense that it was a game.

And you had to download it.

So...yeah. Kinda scratching my head.

Posted by megatronicles

If AC3 is so disappointing, why did it deserve 4 stars?

Posted by Ronald

Two points: One, time has not been kind to Jeff's impression of Mass Effect 3. It's one thing I've been saying about Journey, time tends to lessen your feelings for a game, so while Jeff was disappointed he still enjoyed ME3. Now, after he has had months to think about it, his thoughts on the game have soured. It happens. But you are not given six months to review a game. The review has to happen in a timely fashion so people have an idea of whether or not to buy it when it comes out, not when it gets discounted. Even so, the game could be a five and still be a big disappointment. The category is biggest disappointment, not worst disappointment or worst failure. Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic game, but for some fans of ME1 it was their biggest disappointment of that year because it changed things. Jeff loved ME2 and didn't like a lot of the changes made for ME3 but still admits the game is good.

The second point, if Walking Dead is disqualified for getting a retail release, than so is Journey.

Edited by MeatSim

Save some awards for the rest of them, Walking Dead.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

@Rodin said:

you know the walking dead is nice and all, but really, Virtue's last reward is the real best story.

Except the part where no one played it, that hurts the game a lot. But yeah that series has some great story.

Posted by Superkenon

@Rodin said:

you know the walking dead is nice and all, but really, Virtue's last reward is the real best story.

I 'unno, VLR's easily one of my favorite things this year, but I'd have trouble rating it for its story before knowing where it ends up -- since it's essentially incomplete right now.

Posted by mems1224

Jeff should never be allowed to discuss multiplayer games lol.

Posted by ocdog45

The most disappointing discussion had me all jacked up. ever wanted to just punch one of htem threw the audio and be like WTF are you talking about!

Posted by Bagel

I enjoyed The Walking Dead for what it was and all, but... I'm starting to feel like it's getting some undue credit. I mean, it has its own award category, and has won a few others. It was good, but not THAT good. The experience broke for me when I figured out just how linear the game was on a replay, and it took a lot of the consequence out of anything I did.

Posted by Deathpooky

I like that the most contentious battle so far here is whether ME3 or AC3 was more disappointing. I'm definitely with the GB crew here. ME3 was profoundly disappointing in the ending, with the complete collapse of the themes and plot for those of us who played the game when it first came out. Plus DLC who knows, though I still think it only slightly rehabilitates the game from what I've seen.

But there still was a lot to love about that game. I'm mostly confused about Jeff's complaints about old characters showing up. The re-use of Tali, Legion, Mordin, and Wrex all make sense in those two storylines given their characters. And those two storylines were by far the best things in the game, easily some of the highs in gaming this year. Maybe it was strange having it occur with the Earth invasion happening in the background, but it overall worked for the idea of uniting the galaxy being necessary to break the cycle, compared to previous cycles which divided and were destroyed. It made good on a lot of we expected, even if the ending fell apart.

AC3 on the other hand - this was time for a semi-reboot, a great new setting, new characters, and a chance to actually push forward the plot in a series in danger. Just the idea of a game in the American Revolution with the Assassin's Creed plot and gameplay sounds amazing. High expectations to push forward after a few fairly good retreads. Instead the entire game felt disconnected, the main missions were worse than they've ever been, and the characters and plot fell flat. Pieces were great, but it did not look like a game in development for a solid few years post AC2. ME3 still ended up on the bottom of my top ten list. AC3 not even close to the list.

Posted by DoctorWelch

I just find it odd that both Mass Effect 3 and Assassin's Creed 3 got review scores of 4, and yet they are up there for some of the most disappointing of the year. I'm not saying i disagree with the selection or the review scores, I'm merely saying it's an interesting thing to consider.

Posted by Enigma777

Just wanted to point out that Revelations does in fact mention that Lucy is a templar (and goes in depth about her motivations). In fact that was one of my biggest WTF moments in that game. So a throwaway line in AC3 about it is more than acceptable to me.