The awards continue today with another batch of categories. Be sure to check out the podcast to figure out how we came to these conclusions and check out the videos for a more meanderingly endearing way to consume the awards. See ya tomorrow!
Walking Dead Episode of the Year
The Walking Dead's first season didn't have a single bad episode. Not a one. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Considering most episodic games can barely muster a single stand-out episode, let alone multiple ones, there was no choice but to call out this year's best Walking Dead episodes in their own category. Well, okay, there was a choice, but we chose to do it, dammit.
It's safe to say that The Walking Dead's best parts came during its utterly brutal middle sections. Episode 1 set the stage nicely, and Episode 5 tied the story together in a genuinely heart-wrenching way, but episodes 2, 3, and 4 were so chock full of action/sadness/action sadness, that they proved to be the clear standouts. And of those standout episodes, Episode 3 proved to be the most memorable of them all.
It's not hard to explain why, though it is somewhat challenging to do so without spoiling the whole damn thing for you. If you want that, our video coverage will more than suffice. If you don't want to be spoiled, all we'll say here is that Episode 3 is full of tremendously well-written shocks, twists, and emotional wallops, the likes of which were most certainly the highlights of the series. It's an emotionally draining episode, the kind of thing that will either break you entirely, or strengthen your resolve to power through the last two episodes. Most series probably aren't best served peaking in the middle, but in the case of Walking Dead's immaculately paced campaign, it worked out shockingly well.
Runners-up: Episode 2, Episode 4
By the end of The Walking Dead's season finale, once you're finished washing away the tears you swear you don't tell anyone about, there is one question on your mind: how the hell is Telltale Games going to top this? We're happy to see them try, but the creative turnaround of Telltale Games is a truly remarkable one. Many of us started to wonder whether Telltale Games still had it after the supremely lackluster Jurassic Park. There was a general sense that Telltale Games had accomplished its mission of bringing back the adventure game, but hadn't yet figured out where the genre had to go next. Bringing back old franchises wasn't enough.
The Walking Dead will likely have a profound influence on games both in and outside the adventure genre, but for fans of the point-and-click, it's a resounding shot of relevance. Through meaningful player-driven storytelling and a morbid tale about humanity in the most extreme of circumstances, The Walking Dead had players anxiously staying up late for each episode to go live. Telltale Games found a way to keep players interested in its episodic format in a way none of its previous games have, and created true watercooler moments once only the realm of TV and film.
If you wanted to get all mathematical about it, you could basically look at the Best Surprise as resulting from the difference between our initial expectations for a game and our final impressions of it. That game you thought was gonna be awful and then was kind of great? Yeah, that's this. In that sense, it would be hard to find a game that sounds less promising on its face than one made about 90 percent out of cutscenes driven by Quick Time events. None of us really wanted to give Asura's Wrath the time of day, and only dug into it grudgingly out of a responsibility to cover video games and generate site coverage.
Then a funny thing happened: Asura's Wrath grabbed hold of us with its six fiery, rage-fueled fists and refused to let go. It's hard to get more than a couple of episodes into the game's grandiose tale of scheming deities and Asura's burning need for revenge without just feeling aghast at the ridiculous enormity of the events taking place in front of you. Running the entire Earth through with your sword? Jump-kicking a planet-sized, Buddha-like starship in the face? All business as usual within the anime series-like episodic structure. What's even more astounding than the visuals, which consistently find ways to top themselves, is that CyberConnect 2 was able to come up with engaging and occasionally subversive uses of Quick Time events and simple button prompts that become way, way more satisfying than a game like this ought to be. If you can play all the way through this game without involuntarily yelling out "BURST!!!" at least once, there's probably something wrong with you.
Miiverse Community of the Year
I think it's safe to say that we took issue with a lot of the ways the Wii U and its initial batch of games are built. But it's not all frowny faces and expired milk. The Miiverse, Nintendo's attempt at creating message boards and a bit of a social network to go along with them, is a fun take on some basic website concepts. The best part is that Nintendo creates a Miiverse section for every game and application on the Wii U, from New Super Mario Bros. U to Netflix. Considering there are plenty of Wii U executables that don't necessarily need a community of their own, you might think that the sections for smaller games and apps would be barren wastelands. But no. This is where the true magic of Miiverse lies.
The Funky Barn community is the best example of this because the game carries an extremely evocative name, leading to a lot of fan art (well, "fan" art) of sheep with gigantic afros positioned next to disco balls. And since you can easily see at a glance if a poster has played the game in question or not, it's easy to see that no one on this board is actually playing Funky Barn. Not to brag, but we may have been the first "played it!" checkmark on that board when Jeff cracked his copy open for a quick and dirty live stream.
Runners-Up: YouTube, Netflix
Best Use of a Licensed Song
Far Cry 3 - MIA "Paper Planes"
Most games might try to make the player identify, or at least empathize with their protagonist, but Far Cry 3 does exactly the opposite in its opening moments, and deliberately so. While the handheld vacation footage of Jason Brody and his idle-rich posse of entitled Abercrombie & Fitch bros and bras flashing their Black Cards, doing shots of sambuca, riding jet-skis, and basically fulfilling the Ugly American stereotype with aplomb would've been enough to have you rooting for for the charasmatically psychotic Vaas, pairing it with MIA's druggy summer club hit "Paper Planes" really brings it all together. Never have I wanted to see harm befall my own player character as deeply or as instantaneously as I did at the start of Far Cry 3. Luckily, the game wastes no time delivering on that desire...