Here it is! Our final day of awards!
Dumbest Motion-Controlled Moment
In 2012 it seems as though the PlayStation Move and the Nintendo Wii have all but given up on delivering really stupid, embarrassing motion-controlled experiences, as the Kinect sweeps this category this year. Not that it was unearned; the two runners-up in this category definitely test the outer limits of the players' dignity, whether it be in pursuit of manning a futuristic walking tank or reliving their favorite Star Wars moments.
But even those clunky, ill-conceived experiences pale in comparison to Intel Discovered, an adver-game designed to help consumers realize just how funky-fly-fresh the new Intel Ultrabooks are. It achieves (?) this feat by putting you into really awkward, confusing scenarios with Chris Evans and the sleazy looking guy from LMFAO. No, the other guy. You should probably just watch our Quick Look of Intel Discovered, and then do whatever you need to forget this even exists.
Day-One Digital Releases
We live in the future. We have portable touch screens doing most of our work, cars that are about two steps away from driving themselves, and men are jumping to Earth from space just goddamned because. And yet, for so very, painfully long, we have been forced to endure the Herculean task of acquiring disc copies of games for our consoles. Sure, we could just tell Amazon to bring those discs to our homes on the day of release (because, again, the future), but still, these ancient discs, these wasteful relics of the barely-digital era, why oh why were they the only way to buy on day one for so many games?
So, hey, kudos to game publishers and console makers for getting together and finding a way to get games into players' hands as fast as humanly possible. If it's one thing the successes of marketplaces like Xbox Live, Steam, the PlayStation Network, and of course the Apple App Store have proven, it's that people will buy pretty much anything digitally if the price is right, and the storage space is available. Sony may still need to work on that one a little bit, what with Vita memory card prices being what they are, but still, we can't argue with the convenience of having major titles right at our fingertips right from launch day.
We recognize that this isn't going to kill the retail game market right away, of course. Discs will continue to thrive for as long as there is still demand for them. But bit-by-bit, that demand will taper off. Hard drive space will just keep getting cheaper, and even as new generations of consoles bring infinitely larger games, storage will continue to cheapen and expand, becoming less and less of a mindful factor as players download, download, download to their heart's content.
It happened to music. It's happening to movies, TV shows, and books. And yes, it's happening to games.
You can't stop it, so don't even try.
Change is coming. Join us. Join...the future.
Runners-up: PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection, Leaderboards Everywhere
Part of the reason longtime video game fans get so up in arms when a publisher announces a remake, reboot, or "reimagining" for a beloved franchise is because we're faced with the realization that what we used to love isn't marketable anymore. Out with the old? Bah, humbug! In a year where Telltale Games found a way to reinvent the adventure game with The Walking Dead and Firaxis brought back XCOM, the introduction of Kickstarter introduced a pathway for designers who are still interested in making That Which is No Longer Marketable and connect with an audience that's willing to pay for its ability to exist.
Even though Kickstarter has been around for a few years now, it didn't become a focal point in video games until Double Fine Productions asked for $400,000 to produce a new, old school adventure game. Fans responded by giving Double Fine that money in less than 24 hours. Over the course of a month, Double Fine managed to raise $3.3 million for a new game, and sparked an industry revolution. Now, high-profile projects are announced every day.
Every revolution has some bumps in the road, though. Yeah, we got the spectacular FTL out of Kickstarter, but too many Kickstarter-funded games have missed their shipping date by months. It's not clear when many of them will ultimately arrive--or if they'll be any good. Reports of mismanagement and mangled funding expectations are creating doubt about Kickstarter's viability. Late or not, if games like Double Fine Adventure turn out terrific, none of this will matter, but the expectations are sky high, and may help determine if Kickstarter is here to stay or not.
Giant Bomb's Worst Game of the Year Presented By Alex Navarro
Yes, Family Guy is chock-full of the laziest sort of base, offensive "humor." Yes, Black Ops Declassified's paucity of bland and barely functional content is an insult at the $50 sticker price. But at least you can play them. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is in a whole other class of bad. Sure, the game's got some ridiculous problems with mission design and structure, and many of the characters fit into groan-inducing stereotypical categories. All those things might be forgivable if the game played well, though. But hey, we couldn't even say with certainty how the game plays, considering it's IMPOSSIBLE TO PLAY IT AT ALL.
Look, Kinect ain't a great piece of hardware. That much is clear now. But there are ways to let people have fun with the Kinect, primarily by building games that don't expect one iota of precision from players (see Double Fine Happy Action Theater). Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor goes to the extreme other end of the spectrum, placing you into a simulation-style realistic battlefield mech scenario where every second counts and the worse you do, the more dinged up and inoperable your mech becomes, ensuring your inevitable defeat as soon as your visibility drops to nothing or your legs become immobile. There's a place for that grueling style of gameplay, but it's not in a game where most of your vital functions are controlled by loose hand gestures that the hardware routinely mistakes for different hand gestures or fails to recognize at all. One thing I'll say for the game: the feeling of frustrating futility when you're flailing wildly to try to reload your weapons or get out of the line of fire while being pounded by rockets on every side is quite unlike anything else I've ever felt playing a game before.
Heavy Armor could have been the "hardcore" game Kinect desperately needed, if it just worked like it's supposed to. Instead, it's a game so unplayably bad even Alex Navarro himself wouldn't touch it. What else needs to be said?
Game of the Year
It's pretty stunning that XCOM: Enemy Unknown exists at all. Considering the challenges that face game developers, this is generally true of most games that actually get published, but it's doubly true here. The original X-COM: UFO Defense came out in 1994, making it an ancient property by video-game standards. Its hardcore fan-base, the people who would actually appreciate an X-COM revival, would accept nothing less than the same level of merciless turn-based strategy that made the original so brutal, and so, so addictive. So why remake a game whose maniacal fan-base would burn it in effigy if it was anything less than blindly faithful to the original?
For whatever reason, 2K went ahead anyway. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Firaxis--the developer of the equally revered Civilization series, as well as Alpha Centauri, SimGolf, and about a dozen other more-obscure but still fondly remembered strategy games--was at the helm. And if there's a developer in this world today with the gravitas and the intimate understanding of the one-more-turn appeal of a great turn-based strategy experience, it's Firaxis.
This is the genius of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It rounds off the sharp edges for folks who might otherwise be intimidated by such a complex system as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but it doesn't sacrifice much of that complexity to get there. We could go on and on about the balance between the resource-management meta-game and the on-the-ground tactical combat, the way the game lets you fill in your own stories for your squad, the satisfaction of running a perfect op, and the sick relief of getting out with just one of your troops still alive...
We could go on, but we'd rather be playing XCOM.