2013 was the year we'd been waiting for. With new consoles announced, it meant the industry was finally lurching forward into a new generation, a move that always proves to have some messy, unexpected turns. Gaming giants are knocked off their perch, new kings are crowned, and longheld beliefs are questioned by evolutions of the market.
This also accurately describes Giant Bomb's process for picking awards. Knives are drawn, arguments are shredded, and somehow, somewhere, Brad won't give up on an argument about something.
This business is cyclical. What comes up must come down, and arrogance is often punished. It happened to Nintendo, it happened to Sony, and now it’s happened to Microsoft. Xbox One was the last new console to be revealed, but on the day Microsoft pulled back the curtain, no one was talking about games or its partnership with the NFL. Instead, everyone focused on what the company was taking away, especially how the company’s digital shift was stripping away some rights consumers had over physical games. Part of it was a communication issue, but much of it was tone deaf policy.
"If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards."
It didn’t help Microsoft’s case when Sony decided to twist the knife at E3, declaring PlayStation 4 as a console that would let things remain as they are. (How many times do we cheer for the status quo?) Who knows what ultimately prompted Microsoft to make the decision it did on June 19, but the facts remain the same: it was a complete reversal of its DRM policies. No more always on requirement. No restrictions on trading physical game discs. It was all switched off. It was an enormous admission it had read the market wrong, and the company didn't do itself any favors by pretending they were "too ahead of the curve."
The changes didn’t stop there, either. Microsoft eventually ditched its Kinect requirement for Xbox One, though it stuck by its decision to keep the device in the box and part of the interface. To make such drastic changes in the middle of finalizing its new console was an unprecedented move, one that made the next-gen race even wilder than we could have ever anticipated. Crazy! (Don Mattrick even left!)
Best Moment or Sequence
End Sequence, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
This is a fun category to think about and argue about, because it doesn't matter how good or bad the games in question are on the whole. Here we get to simply pluck one amazing scene or sequence of events out of any game we want, with no regard for the quality of the rest of the experience. That said, it's no surprise all the moments that made the list here hail from some of our favorite games of the year.
Only one of them feels like every previous moment in the entire game was building up to it, though, and it's the final minutes of Starbreeze's Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Without giving away too many of the specifics, both the storytelling and the unique gameplay mechanics--which have you controlling each of the two brothers simultaneously with separate analog sticks--reach a single climax that imparts a profound emotional resonance not just through the sequence of events that's occurring but also quite literally how you play your way through them. In a game that already creates a lot of pathos without a single spoken word to enhance its world design and narrative, it's nonetheless a rare feat that the most meaningful in the game (and indeed in most games of recent memory) comes about due to a subtle but profound change to the control scheme. You can't say that about many other games.
Best Use of a Licensed Song
BioShock Infinite, "God Only Knows"
As video game budgets have expanded and their productions have grown more lavish, we've seen more and more instances of culturally relevant licensed music being used to enhance some moment of drama or humor in story-based games. The time when licensed music was confined to the latest set of Grand Theft Auto radio stations is over. These days, you're likely to hear practically any cut from the entire musical body of the 20th century included to underscore some powerful or amusing moment. The built-in feelings these songs can evoke with just their first few bars creates a specific kind of impact that you really can't get any other way.
BioShock Infinite took that concept a grand step further by not only choosing a range of memorable selections from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Tears for Fears, R.E.M., and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but then rearranging them in a variety of styles that fit with the tone and atmosphere of the game's turn-of-the-century setting. None of these songs made a bigger impression than the first one you encounter, a barbershop-quartet rendition of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" that's instantly recognizable and yet profoundly puzzling as soon as you hear it. It's your first real clue about the anachronistic threads running through Columbia, and it establishes a mystique about the strange, unknown nature of the floating city and its residents faster and more effectively than an hour of expository dialog ever could.
If that weren't enough, the song's inclusion in BioShock Infinite seems to have reminded a lot of people that the Beach Boys weren't just a superficial, good-time surf band, and that Pet Sounds is actually a pretty damn classic and influential album. That's a sign of a musical choice that not only works exceptionally in context but also keeps people thinking about it even after the game is over.
Xbox One DRM Reversal
Corporations are stubborn beasts. While it’s interesting how some game companies have made us come to know and care about the people in charge, they’re still companies looking for our dollars. It takes a shift in earning potential to spur change, and when Microsoft announced it was reversing the DRM policies it had spent weeks defending, it was clear Microsoft had realized change was needed to sturdy the next-gen ship.
The news first arrived by a text message to Patrick’s phone. It was the opening moments of a day that seemed otherwise totally ordinary, and he turned to Brad to initially convey the news. WHAT?! What followed was a morning spent trying to nail down the news with sources, the result of which was a story that ultimately came a few minutes after another site published similar news. It was still a huge, crazy thing, one that not only signaled a massive shift in thinking for Microsoft, but we were a small part of, too.
It is easy to think consumers don’t have a voice, that “voting with your dollars” is a cliche. For the most part, that's probably true. But when consumers speak loud enough, sometimes they listen. And win.