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Dave Snider's Eastern Bloc Game of the Year Brought To You By Dave Snider
If you didn't know by now, our designer Dave believes the best thing to come out of the the former Soviet Union was not potato vodka and perestroika, but odd and original games like Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason. These Eastern Bloc games not only share a loose geopolitical bond but also come with fiercely original ideas and technology that while not always coherent, are creeping onto Western store shelves at an alarming rate thanks to Russian publishers like 1C.
The best of the bunch this year was Cryostasis, a Ukrainian-developed first-person shooter that allowed you to jump into the past lives of fallen comrades while investigating a derelict ship. That game's frigid mystery and unusual story line seemed a bit off while we played, but then we got to the ending, and well... we're still confused. Cryostasis' ending alone scores five out of five stars on the only criteria you need to win this category... utter bewilderment and originality.
Runners-Up: Majesty 2, Drakensang: The Dark Eye
No disrespect to either Uncharted 2's Lazarevic or Brutal Legend's Doviculus--easily two of the most effectively menacing villains we've seen in a game this year, and two gentlemen we would never want to make the mistake of disrespecting--but 2009 was simply a banner year for antagonistic helicopters.
Maybe it's just one of those weird serendipitous things, like when you get two asteroid movies coming out back-to-back the same summer, or maybe it speaks to society's latent fear and distrust of unnatural flying contraptions, but there was just a volume of memorable enemy helicopter encounters in games this year. Then again, isn't it just a little too coincidental that some of the biggest, most memorable games of 2009 featured these hovering hate machines, including 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, Modern Warfare 2, Prototype, Shadow Complex, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine? More likely, these are all cautionary tales meant to warn us against the evils of non-fixed-wing aircraft. Either way, we've got our eyes on you, shifty, no-good helicopters!
Runners-Up: Zoran Lazarevic - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Doviculus - Brutal Legend
Worst Game of the Year
In a perverse sort of way, this is one of our most technically challenging awards to give out. Games and the people who play them have both become more sophisticated, and the standards for game design processes and quality assurance have come a long way. By this logic, the worst games of today should seem like handcrafted gems compared to the worst games of 10 years ago, but Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust is indisputable proof that we've still got a long way to go.
Not that the cheeky Leisure Suit Larry series has ever been freely associated with the upper crust of anything, but Box Office Bust lacks any of the playfulness or deliberately corny sexual innuendo that gave the Al Lowe-era adventure games their charm. Instead you get some lazy approximation of a cliche-ridden Hollywood send-up, filled with grotesque characters spitting venomous lines at each other. It's hard to tell who the game despises more, its own characters--most of who feature regrettable celebrity voices--or the player, who it punishes with infuriating controls and desolate open-world settings that seem to exist purely for the purpose of padding the experience with lots of needless running. It's such a repugnant concoction, it makes 2004's ill-conceived Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude look like a fun, appealing take on the Leisure Suit Larry franchise by comparison.
This is an ugly, tedious, stupid, mean-spirited, and profoundly unfunny game, and it should speak volumes that, unlike the other two nominees here, we couldn't bring ourselves to play enough of Box Office Bust to render a proper review. This quick look was the last time any of us could muster the necessary self-loathing to play this hideous game, and frankly, we probably deserve some kind of award for making it that far.
Runners-Up: Tony Hawk: RIDE, Velvet Assassin
Whether you like it or not, downloadable content is a video-game fact of life these days. But DLC need not always be associated with paying extra for content that should've been on the disc, or worse, paying extra for content that is on the disc. A well-considered add-on can bring new dimension to a game, or it can just give you a good reason to extend your stay in a place or with characters you've become fond of. In 2009, Bethesda showed us the right way to do DLC with its post-release support for Fallout 3, and Point Lookout was the best of the five episodes it released. Part of what made Bethesda's approach to DLC work so well was the timing. If you started playing Fallout 3 when it came out in October of 2008, and you kept up with the DLC, there's a decent chance you were still playing Fallout 3 in August of 2009. That's a seriously impressive lifespan for a single-player game.
Of the bunch, though, what makes Point Lookout so specifically noteworthy is the way it sums up some of Fallout 3's best characteristics. It takes you out of the Capital Wasteland, an area you potentially had your fill of by the time Point Lookout was released, giving you a glimpse of how hillbillies have handled the apocalypse. It's filled with memorable characters, none of which are as good or as bad as they initially seem (or are they!?!) The main quest is rich with the nihilistic humor and anachronistic sci-fi touches that are the hallmarks of Fallout 3's best quests, leading up to a no-right-answer finale that's still oddly satisfying. And, for you treasure hunters out there, Point Lookout is full of unique and occasionally quite useful souvenirs to bring back to your home in the wastes.
All this talk about Fallout 3 add-ons has got us antsy for Fallout: New Vegas, which is exactly why Point Lookout is our choice for best add-on.
Runners-Up: Grand Theft Auto IV - The Lost and Damned, Borderlands - The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
Guilty Pleasure Of The Year
OK, let's get one thing straight: 50 Cent's second foray into the world of interactive entertainment is not a good game. But it somehow manages to be great in some weird way. It's over-the-top in a way that approaches complete nonsense, and despite its mundane, somewhat-uneven gameplay, it's never so broken that you're forced to put it down and walk away. 50 and the G-Unit run around a torn-up-yet- unnamed Middle Eastern country, blasting anyone and everyone that gets in their way, from soldiers, to soldiers that double-cross you, to helicopters. Tons and tons of helicopters, in fact. All the while, you're just a man trying recover the diamond-encrusted skull that you were promised in lieu of a cash payment for a rap show. On top of all that, if you click in the left stick, the characters just sort of curse at the enemies they're blasting, prompting what might be the greatest line in video game history, Tony Yayo's shout of "I'mma kill your whole fucking generation, motherfucker."
It's not a great game. In fact, if you put it up against the eight billion or so other shooters that were released in 2009, it's competent at best. But it's so overboard that it transcends its dull shooting and becomes something that we'll guiltily return to again and again.
Runners-Up: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Godfather II