"You there, boy! What day is today?"
"Why, sir, today is the third day of Giant Bomb's Game of the Year Awards!"
"Ah, so I haven't missed it! Do you know of the prize podcast hanging in the window at the poulterer's, not one street over but two?"
"The one as big as me? I should hope I did, sir!"
"Remarkable boy! Delightful. Go and buy it for me, and fetch it back here, and I shall give you a ridiculous awards recap video. Come back in less than five minutes and I'll give you half-a-crown!"
Best Exclusive Launch Game
Console launch games are an iffy business. Developers are working on compressed timeframes, designing and optimizing games against changing hardware specs that might as well be a moving target. The final console doesn't often even land on the team's desks until a short few months before the game has to be finished. Is it any wonder many launch games from one generation to the next are simplistic, rough around the edges, just plain bad, or a combination of all three?
Of all the launch games that shipped on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in November, Dead Rising 3 felt the most fully formed, the most similar to the depth and breadth of a game you'd expect to see shipping in the second year of a new console, not at launch. While this third entry in the quirky zombie franchise dispensed with some of the more oppressive time restrictions of its predecessors, it also got rid of those games' frequent, ponderous load screens and moved the zombie apocalypse into a huge, detailed open world chock-full of ridiculous weapons to build and unlimited hordes of zombies to use them on. And what hordes they are; while the game may not run at the resolution and frame rate of other launch games, it uses the new horsepower to fill the screen with a truly mindboggling density of zombies that are delightfully fun to mow down with a motorcycle-steamroller.
While Dead Rising 3's story starts out seemingly flat, with new protagonist Nick Ramos making his way through what seems like another perfunctory zombie outbreak, the game in fact holds all of its interesting twists and turns in reserve until later in the game. Just when the plot seems like it isn't really going anywhere, the game manages to tie into the previous Dead Rising games in a rapid-fire series of ridiculous and fun ways. It's a solid game all around, and far and away our favorite among all the games exclusive to the new consoles.
Apology of the Year
Look, we think it sucks that there continue to be game releases so botched, they require a public mea culpa from the offending company in the face of justifiable consumer outrage. To be nominated in this category isn't exactly a compliment, although in a backhanded way you could at least say it's respectable that the companies on this list bothered to make good on their mistakes at all. But it goes without saying that wed prefer this category didn't exist again next year. Ah, we probably shouldn't get our hopes up.
It was an especially egregious year for post-release apologies, and EA led the pack so thoroughly we nearly just called this category "The Electronic Arts Apology of the Year." But all of those slip-ups put together couldn't match the sheer mindbending absurdity of the Ashes Cricket 2013 situation. Here was a game so utterly messed up, so offensive to both its potential audience and its licensors from the cricket world, that publisher 505 Games actually bent the rules of time and space in an attempt to rectify it. They didn't promise a series of hurried patches to fix the game. They didn't just guarantee to refund everyone who had woefully sunk money into this failed project (though at least they did that). No, they went out of their way to cancel a game that had already been released. How do you even do that? You can't cancel it! It already exists! People bought it!
But they found a way. Ashes Cricket 2013 has ceased to exist as an active product you can purchase with money. We'll probably still be scratching our heads trying to figure this one out this time next year. Let's hope there isn't a repeat of this deplorable situation between now and then.
Expanded rights for digital games
These are uncertain times. The ways you buy and "own" your video games have become many and varied, and at the same time more nebulous than ever before. The calamity surrounding Microsoft's attempt at an all-digital, Internet-required future earlier this year made it clear many consumers aren't ready to let go of their physical games just yet. And we're lucky that the most sprawling effort so far toward a digital game library, Steam, has mostly been handled with customer-centric grace and good will. But the sales of digital games (or licenses to play the games, or whatever it is you're buying) is still ripe for abuse. It feels like we're still waiting for the first true disaster in that space to happen.
So it's great that we saw multiple instances this year of digital game services moving in a positive direction, offering more consumer protections instead of less. EA's once-maligned Origin service announced a great blanket policy to offer refunds within a reasonable timeframe for any reason. GOG similarly established a money-back guarantee for any game you buy and can't run on your PC. Steam began beta testing its family sharing service, allowing you to share your entire game library with a number of other machines besides your own. And on the console side, Sony and Microsoft ended up maintaining the status quo with regard to physical media while also expanding your options for all-digital purchases and rights management.
It doesn't feel like we're completely out of the woods yet in terms of consumer empowerment in the all-digital future, but for the first time we really felt like things might actually be moving in the right direction. And that's a good feeling.
Runners-up: PlayStation Cross-Buy, Advancements in console cloud saving
The Last of Us
Two years in a row, we’ve seen developers tackle one of gaming’s most reliable villains, zombies, and come up with a fresh way of appreciate them. The Last of Us’ fungus creatures are not the stars of The Last of Us, and like The Walking Dead, they set the stage for the human drama that makes Naughty Dog’s latest game so gripping. The Last of Us feels like Naughty Dog looking at the problems from Uncharted--mindless combat, a disconnect between the cutscenes and in-game action--and tackling them head on.
There are different ways to take advantage of technological progress, and The Last of Us does so by building a world for us to invest in. It leverages realism to present a sense of place, a world that’s awfully similar to ours, enough to make us uncomfortable. The environment conveys nearly as much storytelling as the advanced motion capture cutscenes do, filling in the expositional gaps usually left to game-y conceits like audio logs and hastily scribbled notes. (Though the game does have some of that.)
Even stranger for 2013, The Last of Us arrives as a new property at the end of this generation of hardware, just months before we ushered in new consoles. It's a feat impressive and surprising on its own. And it's a high note to go out on, making the studio’s bold choice for the game’s ending all the more poignant.