By dankempster 1 Comments
Welcome, welcome, one and all, to the third part of My End of 2012 Awards. Those of you who've missed Parts One and Two can find them here and here respectively. The rest of you should pull up a chair and get comfy, because we've got some gongs to hand out. The first of today's eight categories is:
'Take Me Back To The Islands' Award for Best Atmosphere
I had a very conflicting experience with Dear Esther when I played through it in a single sitting back in September. I loved the way it told its story, through piecemeal fragments of letters written to the eponymous Esther, but found the content of the story a bit airy-fairy and lacking in substance due to its deliberate vagueness and ambiguity. What was undeniably brilliant about Dear Esther, though, was its undeniable sense of atmosphere and place. Set on an unidentified Hebridean island, the game takes a wholly unlikely setting for a video game and turns it into one of the most memorable locales I've ever had the pleasure of exploring. So real did the whole thing feel, I could almost taste the salt of the sea, feel the bitter chill of the northern winds on the exposed hilltops, and smell the musty air in the subterranean caverns. Dear Esther has single-handedly made me want to retire to the Hebrides, and see out the rest of my days there doing nothing but writing and walking over those windswept hills.
'Old Red Wine' Award for Vintage Video Game That's Aged Well
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Another returning award from last year, I've recycled the Old Red Wine Award due to the identical circumstances under which I presented it last year - specifically, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of one of the most influential games ever. Last year the award went to Grand Theft Auto III, and this year it passes on to its sequel, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It's incredible just how well this keystone of the open-world genre has held up in the decade since its release, even more so than its predecessor. That's probably thanks to the game's distinct atmosphere, which perfectly captures the vibe of 1980s Florida in every aspect of its presentation and design. The series' trademark gameplay is as fun to get lost in as it ever was, supported this time around by much more elaborate and inventive mission design. Even now, ten years on from its release, Vice City is still playable, and still a ton of fun.
'I'm In Love With My Car' Award for Best Racing Game
Colin McRae: DiRT
Here's an award I definitely wasn't expecting to hand out this year. Last year I handed the otherwise-exemplary Forza Motorsport 3 an award for Most Repetitive Racing Sim, cited driving game fatigue as the reason, and declared myself officially done with the genre for the foreseeable future. Twelve months later, I became inexplicably hooked on Colin McRae: DiRT, playing through the entire career mode in little more than a week. After years spent with Forza and Gran Turismo driving round the same courses in the same cars following the same career progression, it was hugely refreshing to drive a little differently, throwing an assortment of off-road vehicles round dirt tracks and through rally courses. The more forgiving handling, simpler career progression and wider variety of courses all combined to renew my interest in racing games. Climbing the full course with a flawless run at Pikes Peak in a Suzuki Escudo was without a doubt one of my favourite gaming moments of 2012.
'Blood On The Valley Floor' Award for Most Blood Spilled in the Shortest Time
The Ultimate DOOM
I was originally going to call this award simply 'Most Blood Spilled', but very soon realised that such an award would almost undoubtedly go to Skyrim, - I must have spilled a LOT of blood in my 167 hours in Tamriel. So instead, I've renamed the award 'Most Blood Spilled in the Shortest Time', and while I haven't gone to the trouble of working out any exact gallon-to-hour ratios, I feel pretty confident in saying The Ultimate DOOM takes this award comfortably. It took me little more than four hours to hurriedly blast my way through the hundreds of Hell-spawn that litter the corridors of DOOM's three-chapter campaign, leaving no moving thing spared in the process. Given that I also died (a LOT), I also need to take into account the amount of my own blood spilled, and that's what definitely seals the deal for DOOM as the goriest game I played this year.
'Laugh Like You're Mad' Award for Most Laugh-Out-Loud Moments
The First Four Episodes of Sam & Max Save the World
Given all four of the episodes I've played of Sam & Max up to this point have all been cut from the same cloth, I feel like it's more appropriate to present them with a collective award rather than trying in vain to identify individual merits within each episode. That being said, no other game I've played this year has even come close to making me chuckle as much as even the least funny episode of Sam & Max Save the World. The unique, surreal brand of humour that Steve Purcell's dog-and-rabbit duo deliver is able to hit me square in the funny bone, and more than once I've found myself laughing out loud at irreverent on-screen happenings. My personal favourite joke so far has been the running conceit of the Toy Mafia and the Mafia-Free Playland and Casino they run in the third episode, perhaps best epitomised by this wonderfully hilarious song. I can't wait to play more Sam & Max in 2013, and I look forward to all the laughs that the remaining twelve episodes are bound to bring me.
'Last Ever Lone Gunman' Award for Best Call of Duty Game
Medal of Honor
The title of this award probably comes across as pretty cynical and sarcastic, but it's not my intention to upset the Call of Duty fan-base. It's more my slightly abstract way of saying that I was surprised by just how playable the original Medal of Honor's campaign was, despite the game being well over a decade old. I was shocked to discover that most of the things I've come to expect from modern shooters were already present in the genre as early as 1999. The controls are logically mapped with a modern configuration (albeit not by default). The missions aren't a straight run from one end of a linear level to another, but punctuated by a series of objectives that must be completed to proceed. There are undercover stealth levels which are all about procuring security papers rather than shooting your way through. Enemies take different amounts of damage depending where you hit them on their bodies, and won't just rush blindly towards you but will drop and take evasive action from your gunfire. All these modern bells and whistles made Medal of Honor much more enjoyable to play than I was expecting it to be.
'Lover Of The Light' Award for Best Use of Light and Darkness as a Gameplay Mechanic
Consider this a slight spoiler for tomorrow's Top Ten list - Alan Wake was without a doubt one of my favourite gaming experiences of 2012. A big part of that was down to the combat, which combined solid third-person shooting mechanics with a unique 'fight with light' system. Effectively, before the player can turn a gun on an enemy, they must first wear down its shield of darkness by exposing it to enough light using Alan's trusty flashlight. It's a simple idea, but one that kept every gunfight feeling tense and dangerous - having to hold the light on a single enemy in front leaves Wake vulnerable to attack from other angles. Light can also be used to keep enemies at bay in the form of flares, which can either be held or dropped to create a temporary safe-spot for Alan to stand in. This dichotomy between light and dark is masterfully used throughout the game's combat sections, to the point where I came to fear what might be lurking in the darkness much more in Alan Wake than I've ever done in any other video game.
'More Of That Jazz' Award for Best Expansion Pack
Halo 3: ODST
From personal experience, the best expansion packs I've ever played have historically offered more of the same gameplay that fans love, while also bringing something a little different to the core experience to differentiate it from the vanilla game. I honestly can't think of a better way to describe Halo 3: ODST than with the aforementioned sentence. It reminds me heavily of Half-Life: Opposing Force, another of my favourite expansions, in that it re-tells a story familiar to fans of the series, but through new eyes and from a different angle - in this case, from the perspective of a squad of ODST troopers dropped into the war zone of New Mombasa concurrently with the events of Halo 2. The combat is unmistakably Halo, but the new perspectives, original setting and film-noir presentation serve to differentiate it from the more familiar feel of Master Chief's three adventures. I'm now really excited to find out what approach Bungie took with their other spin-off, Halo: Reach, when I play it in 2013.
Here ends the third part of My End of 2012 Awards, and with it the individual awards for games played in the last twelve months. Join me tomorrow for the fourth and final part of this year's awards, when I'll be looking at my favourite album of 2012 and honouring some also-ran games before revealing the Top Ten games that defined my year. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 (X360)