By dankempster 4 Comments
Hello, and welcome back to the second part of My Best of 2011 Awards. If you missed Part One, you can find it here. Go on, go ahead and read it. We'll wait for you while you catch up.
...Have they gone? Good. Let's get started before they come back!
'Andy, You're a Star' Award for Best Appearance by Andy Serkis
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
I'll be honest, Enslaved didn't have any competition in this category. However, even if any other game I played this year had featured the British actor who famously played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, I'm pretty sure Enslaved still would have come out on top. Andy Serkis turns in not one, but two brilliant performances in Enslaved. The more immediately apparent is the voice-work and motion-capture for acrobatic protagonist Monkey. It's a role he really shines in, delivering a believable vocal performance and fluid animations that really bring the character to life. In addition to this, Serkis also plays a real-life acting role within the game, as the primary antagonist Pyramid. I personally consider Andy to be one of the most underrated actors of our time, and these two vastly different but wholly convincing performances are both a fitting testament to his acting talents.
AUTHOR'S NOTE - This award was formerly called the 'Precious' Award, until my friend Duncan pointed out the much, much, much better title now listed above. Thanks, Duncan!
'How to Be Dead' Award for Best Shoe-Horning of Zombies into an Unexpected Scenario
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
2011 was a year in which I was accosted by zombies in multiple unconventional scenarios. Dead Space 2 pitted me against (sort-of) zombies in space, and Plants vs Zombies forced me to keep the undead off my lawn. But I think the most unexpected locale in which I did battle with the living dead was the Old West, circa 1908. Undead Nightmare, the sole single-player DLC expansion for the excellent Red Dead Redemption, brought zombies into a time and area where they hadn't really been done before. Even more impressive than that, though, was how well the whole thing worked in every aspect. Story-wise, the game was able to rationalise the zombie outbreak by means of some old Aztec curse, and the developers played well on the highly religious and superstitious attitudes of the time when telling Undead Nightmare's very unique story. The sparse, isolated nature of RDR's game-world made for some intense desert showdowns with hordes of zombies, but by far the best encounters with the undead occurred in the game's small towns. Defending the likes of Armadillo and Blackwater from waves of advancing zombies was a lot of fun. Undead Nightmare shoe-horned zombies into a completely alien setting, and made it work. That's why it wins this award.
'Pieces of a Dream' Award for Being Better Than the Sum of Its Parts
I don't think I've ever played a game more derivative than Darksiders. This post-apocalyptic action/adventure title borrowed almost every single one of its gameplay mechanics from another established title. The dungeon crawling and boss battles were ripped straight out of the Legend of Zelda franchise. The combat mechanics and ability upgrades were clearly inspired by the God of War series. Along the way, there was a flying-and-shooting sequence that recalled the Panzer Dragoon games, a Prince of Persia-style time-slowing ability, and even a portal gun eerily reminiscent of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. You'd think that any game attempting to combine all of these different mechanics and abilities would end up being a mish-mashed jack-of-all-trades that simply wasn't fun to play, but Darksiders somehow transcends that expectation and actually ends up being a damn great game in its own right. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then there are a lot of developers who should be feeling very flattered indeed after Darksiders' success.
'Falling Down' Award for Most Imprecise Platforming
MediEvil is a pretty old game. It's also a pretty fun game, so it's easy to look past some of the shortcomings that go hand-in-hand with its age, like its simplistic graphics and questionable collision detection. One shortcoming that it's not so easy to look past, though, its the game's incredibly imprecise platforming. Sure, the game comes from a time when 3D graphics were just beginning to become the norm, but that's not really an excuse. To put it in perspective, this game was released two whole years after Super Mario 64 essentially wrote the 3D Platforming Handbook. It's not enough for the game to have awkward jumping controls and unpredictable physics, though - some of the game's later levels expect the player to perform incredibly precise hops and jumps, with instant death as the reward for failing said leaps of faith. MediEvil, I like you, but your platforming sucks.
'Dead Parrot' Award for Game Most Evocative of Monty Python
The six-man British comedy troupe known as Monty Python are widely regarded as some of the funniest and most innovative comedians of all time. Their unique brand of irreverent, surreal sketches are held up as a bastion for the rest of the comedic world to aspire to. MediEvil 2 doesn't quite reach that level, but it certainly tries damn hard and does a pretty good job of it. The game's cast of memorable characters are constantly spouting chuckle-inducing dialogue, and exhibit a refreshing self-awareness that makes even the game's looniest moments seem grounded within the established fiction. In my short but enjoyable time with MediEvil 2, I fought bearded ladies at a freak show, recovered my skull after it was stolen by a seagull, had to chase and catch re-animated body parts to build a Frankenstein-style body, and engaged in a boxing match with a robot, all while chasing a lizard and a dog across Victorian London to stop them from raising the dead. If that doesn't say 'Pythonesque' to you, then I challenge you to a duel.
Also, sorry about the lack of a song for this award. When I think of Monty Python, I think of the Dead Parrot sketch, so it seemed like the best accompanying fit.
'Is This the World We Created?' Award for Best User-Generated Content
After the issues that plagued the PlayStation Network back in April and May of this year, all users of the Network were entitled to a choice from a selection of free games. Despite not really being affected by the down-time due to not owning (and not playing online on) a PS3, I decided to take advantage of the offer and download a couple of titles to my PSP. One of my choices was the PSP version of LittleBigPlanet, a franchise that I've been interested in but haven't been able to experience due to the aforementioned lack of PS3. I really enjoyed the core game itself, but what really impressed me was the wealth of user-created content available for download and play. I easily spent just as much time with user-created levels in LittleBigPlanet PSP as I did with the levels included in the game. It's a shame the creation tools aren't more conducive to handheld play, otherwise I might even have tried to design something myself.
'I Just Make Faces' Award for Best Facial Animation
Say what you like about L.A. Noire. The circumstances surrounding the push to finish that game, and the subsequent dissolution of developer Team Bondi, are enough to leave a sour taste in the mouth of any gamer who cares about the industry. The mechanics of the game itself also came under fire for allegedly being too simplistic and repetitive. Even aspects of the game's noir-inspired narrative were derided by some. One thing I think everyone can unanimously agree on, though, is that the MotionScan tech used in the game is responsible for some of the best facial animation that's ever been seen in a video game. Playing L.A. Noire, you don't feel like you're watching computer-generated animations - you feel like you're watching real people emote (which, for all intents and purposes, I guess you are). Even more impressive is how the tech has an impact on the gameplay, encouraging the player to observe intently during interrogations and search for tell-tale signs of dishonesty. Given the unfortunate fate of Team Bondi and the outrageous cost of the tech, we may never see MotionScan adopted in any future games. If we don't, I think it will be a real shame.
'You Better You Bet' Award for Most Improved Sequel
Assassin's Creed II
Last year, I played through the first Assassin's Creed, and enjoyed it in spite of its numerous issues. This year, I played Assassin's Creed II, and was absolutely blown away by how much Ubisoft had done to address those issues. ACII is a perfect example of what a sequel to a good-but-not-great game should do - keep what works, and improve on what doesn't. It retains the incredible free-flowing parkour and awesome combat system from the original game, and supplements it with a wealth of distractions befitting an open-world game of this nature. Main story missions are also made to feel more unique and less like the repetitive preparatory tasks of the first game. I enjoyed these improvement so much that ACII became the third game I've ever S-ranked. Next year, I'm hoping to play Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, so I can see how Ubisoft expanded further upon this gem of a game.
'Soon I Will Be Gone' Award for Outstanding Brevity
Fable: The Lost Chapters
As a gamer, there's little more frustrating for me than just starting to get into a game, only for it to end not long after I reach that peak of enjoyment. I had this experience with Fable: The Lost Chapters back in July. After having a lot of fun with Fable II last year, I decided to give its previously-inaccessible predecessor a proper chance. I got pretty caught-up in the main quest, which I actually think was better than the main quest in Fable II, at least from a story perspective. Then, just as my enjoyment of the game was reaching its zenith, the main quest came to an end. I'd been playing the game for around fifteen hours, doing all the side-quests that opened up to me alongside the main quest, and now here I was eager to experience more, but with the game unwilling to throw up anything new for me to do. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Fable: The Lost Chapters, perhaps even more than I enjoyed playing its sequel. I just wish there had been more of it for me to enjoy.
'Golden Touch' Award for Best Touch Screen Controls
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Yet another game that would have won by default if these were that kind of awards, Phantom Hourglass was one of only three DS games I played this year. Considering the other two were Pokémon White (which has very poor touch screen implementation) and Dragon Quest IV (which has none at all), I don't think it would have been troubled in this category. I don't want the game's de-facto victory to detract from the brilliance of its touch screen controls, though, many of which have a significant impact on some old Zelda staples. Take the boomerang, for instance - drawing a route for it to follow on-screen seems is so much more intuitive than the 'throw it, move Link and hope to connect' method employed in previous top-down Zelda games. I think the greatest compliment I can give to Phantom Hourglass's controls is that the whole time I was playing it, I never felt like the game suffered for not employing more conventional button-based controls. That's how right they feel.
That brings Part Two of My Best of 2011 Awards to a close. Join me tomorrow for Part Three, where I'll be handing out the last of the individual game awards. Thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Halo 2 (XBOX)