Step into the sausage factory with our Day Four Deliberation Podcast to find out how these ridiculous choices got made!
Character We'd Most Like To Party With
Have you seen where this guy lives? As far as we can tell, he's got an apartment orbiting its own star. Do you understand what kind of blue alien ladies you can pull into a room with that kind of view? The Illusive Man doesn't just know how to party, he throws the slickest soiree this side of the Omega IV relay. He's a fixture on the cover of Galactic Quarterly. Realistically, the Illusive Man is too classy for us to party with--but we should all aspire to be more than we are, right?
In all seriousness, the Illusive Man doesn't just know how to enjoy the finer things in life. This is a guy who gets things done, and doesn't let petty ethical quibbles or alien opposition stand in his way. He's a man of singular vision and unending drive, a strong personality that commands the respect of everyone around him. Plus, he's got robot eyes. That must make for a pretty good conversation piece.
Now, we're realistic enough to know what it would actually be like to party with the Illusive Man. We'd probably be lucky to get in the door at all, and even then the place would be packed with salarian sycophants and asari hangers-on. The Man himself would be sequestered in the VIP room, calling the shots and letting people come to him. It's precisely that elusive mystique that makes the Illusive Man the clear choice for this year's character who best knows how to show people a good time.
Runners-up: Frank Woods , John Vignocchi
Dave's Eastern Bloc Game of the Year
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a recognizable franchise at this point. While that may seem like a simple statement for most of us, for Ukrainian developer GSC Game World it proves that they're finally maturing into a major, international player in the realm of video game development. While Call of Pripyat differs little from the previous two games in the series in terms of gameplay, it's surprising nonetheless for how polished and complete it feels. Considering the famous stability and technical problems that plague other games made in the region, it marks the moment when you can almost see this series going mainstream in its next iteration. This is a great shooter that blends the FPS/RPG hybrid in a natural, realistic way that in many facets is the polar opposite of the Fallout series--the game it is most often compared to.
Make no mess about it, Call of Pripyat is definitely an RPG. While the game eschews the normal experience system found in similar games, it rewards exploration and quest completion with a constant progression of weapons and armor that make a real impact on your tactics. Add in some excellent day/night mechanics, weapon upgrades, and a real need to eat and drink vodka and you've got one of the most hardcore RPGs released in the past year. While Call of Pripyat could benefit from some instruction or hand-holding in the early game (it pretty much just drops you into the world) this feels like a natural progression in difficulty for those players who enjoy Bethesda or BioWare-style open-world games and want something more combat-focused. The fact that we can make that recommendation without also adding the normal caveat of "as long as you're OK with it being kind of broken" makes us feel pretty good this year.
Runners-up: Metro 2033, Machinarium
Retailer-Specific Pre-Order Bonuses
This just seems like the worst-case scenario coming to pass. Who are the people most likely to pre-order a game? We're guessing it's people that are already fans of whatever it is you're selling. These guys, as it turns out, are usually the people who are excited enough to want every single piece of content surrounding a game. So what's the best way to disenfranchise a game's biggest fans? By telling them that they actually can't get every single piece of content unless they're willing to do something drastic, like pre-order three copies of the game to get every single silly little download code.
Look, we don't mean to be thick-headed here. We get it, pre-orders of games have become a necessary evil, giving retailers clear signs of how many copies they need to buy from a publisher for the months ahead, and the best way to goose those numbers is to entice people into a specific store with the right kind of loot. But this practice is making games worse, not better. The industry needs to stop punishing its most ardent followers and make pre-order bonuses generic across all retailers.
Runners-up: Social Network Support, Eco Boxes
Rockstar Games has been the standard-bearer for gritty, sophisticated storytelling in video games for nigh-on a decade now, but it delivers something surprisingly personal with Red Dead Redemption, a game that celebrates the bitter, fascinating revisionist Western as defined by dark, thoughtful material like Unforgiven and Deadwood. The story of John Marston's bloody search for redemption--or, at the very least, some measure of peace for his young family--in this most volatile of settings puts him both up against and in league with a colorful cast of thoroughly compromised characters, each despicably human in their own unique ways.
Admittedly, much of the game has Marston serving as an errand-boy for scoundrels, but the game's exploration of themes like the encroachment of modern life on the frontier, plus a series of quietly surprising turns in the narrative, set Red Dead Redemption apart even from the nasty genre stylings of the Grand Theft Auto series.
Runners-up: Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake
Best DS-Only Game
The best handheld games are still the ones that can fill any length of time effectively. Whether you've got five minutes or five hours, Picross 3D is the sort of thing that just swallows time, filling the gaps between car rides, busses, trains, toilet trips, whatever. Picross 3D's brand of logic puzzle isn't always the most difficult, but chiseling out all of those little block puzzles is the most engaging and downright addictive thing we did with a Nintendo DS in 2010.
It's got a ton of puzzles, but you can also go in and create your own and get new puzzles from other players or go online and grab free new puzzles from Nintendo. There's actually not much more to say about it other than it's available at a very reasonable price and we recommend you pick up a copy if you haven't already. Picross!
Runners-up: Super Scribblenauts, WarioWare D.I.Y.