Welcome back to the second part of My End of 2012 Awards. On the off chance you missed the first part of this four-day extravaganza, you can find it by clicking this link here.
Let's hand out some more o' them there awards, shall we? First up:
Quick disclaimer time. First, I promise all the above links are completely safe to click, and not one of them will bombard you with Beyoncé. Second, I realise the name of this award probably makes me sound like a member of the crowd who shouts 'oh look, more Halo' whenever a new trailer is released for an upcoming game in the series. That's honestly not the case - I've come to enjoy Halo because I know the reliably constant gameplay will provide me with exactly what I'm looking for out of this kind of game. Halo 3 certainly didn't disappoint in that respect. The gunplay was consistently fun, and challenging enough to be rewarding without ever feeling unfair or punishing. It's a distinctly beautiful game, and the campaign features some of my favourite set-pieces from everything I've played in this series to date. Halo 3 is more Halo, and that's just about the best compliment anybody could ever give it.
'Ten Years Gone' Award for Game I Should Have Finished a Decade Ago
The second category to return from last year's awards (and one that's very likely to return every year, given my game-playing habits), the Ten Years Gone award recognises games that I played to death back in the day, but never actually completed until recently. Vagrant Story comfortably assumes the position that Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation held on this pedestal last year. I played it for the first time about ten years ago, and loved it immensely, but was never able to get beyond the Snowfly Forest. Fast-forward to 2012, and I was finally able to lay this wonderful game to rest when I saw it through to its end in June. The gameplay and story were every bit as enthralling as I recalled them to be, and even now I'll still champion the game as the finest-looking full-3D title to ever be released on the original PlayStation. I've long held Vagrant Story to be one of my favourite games ever made. Now that I've finally finished it, I feel that claim to be justified, and stronger than it's ever been.
'Creepin' Up The Backstairs' Award for Best Stealth Game
Batman: Arkham Asylum
In retrospect, I guess Batman: Arkham Asylum isn't really a stealth game, per se. It's a game that features stealth, sure, but it's not the sole focus of the gameplay. That Arkham Asylum is still able to comfortably take this award, over an actual stealth game that I played this year, is testament to the strength of its sneaky bits. What I really loved about Arkham Asylum's take on the age-old gaming trope was how much power it left in the hands of the player, where so many other games would traditionally strip that power away. Rather than sneaking past the Dark Knight's foes, Arkham Asylum encourages you to experiment with the various gadgets hanging off your utility belt, dispatching them swiftly and silently from the shadows. The game's free-flowing melée combat was amazing, arguably even revolutionary, but I had my most fun with Arkham Asylum taking out the Joker's unsuspecting henchmen in a more stealthy fashion. I really hope Arkham City's transition to a more open game world doesn't come at the expense of those incredible stealth sequences.
'Supersonic' Award for Best Audio
The potential award for Bastion went through a couple of drafts before arriving in its current state. I had initially wanted to give it Best Soundtrack, but to do so seemed like a refusal to acknowledge the game's brilliant narrator. I then contemplated giving it an award for Best Narration, but doing that would have meant overlooking the first game soundtrack ever that I've actually done out of my way to buy and download. My solution was to cover everything under the blanket category of Best Audio. I've spent a lot of the latter part of this year listening to Bastion's soundtrack on my iPod, and I love the ethereal merging of samples and electronic drum loops with rustic guitars. Combine Darren Korb's score with Logan Cunningham's incredible performance as Rucks, and it's very easy to see why Bastion was the game that pleased my ears most in 2012.
'Handwritten' Award for Best Hand-Drawn Animation
Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent
The fact this award comes directly beneath the colourful, detailed, hand-crafted beauty of Caelondia in Bastion probably makes this award seem misplaced, but please hear me out before you force me into a straitjacket and ship me off to the nearest padded cell. I didn't have any personal affinity towards Graham Annable's distinctive art style before I played Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent earlier this year. But while playing through that game and solving its many devious puzzles, the simplistic sketch-style artwork and stilted animation transported me back to my childhood. I found myself barely five again, recalling classic, crudely-animated children's TV shows like 'Roobarb and Custard' and 'Henry's Cat'. It was also evocative of one of my all-time favourite kids' shows, 'Mr Benn'. So, while Bastion is undoubtedly the prettier game, it's impossible for me to deny the amount of nostalgic, child-like joy that Puzzle Agent's hand-drawn art brought me.
'What If I Do?' Award for Most Memorable Moral Choices
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
It seems strange awarding a game like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory an award pertaining to moral choices, mainly because it's not something many people would associate with UbiSoft's stealthy franchise, myself included. Sure, Chaos Theory presented the player with plenty of new gameplay choices, allowing them to decide to approach any given situation in a few different ways, but to any of those choices really present a moral conundrum? I'd argue yes, and I think it's present in the extreme dichotomy between the L1 and R1 buttons and how they influence Sam Fisher's actions whenever he takes an enemy guard hostage. With one delivering a non-lethal concussive blow and the other dealing a fatal knee strike to the spinal column, the player literally has the power to choose between an enemy's life and death in a split-second. It's this aspect of Chaos Theory that remained with me through the year, long after all the gadgets, locales and labyrinthine plot twists had left my mind.
'Man With Money' Award for Best Tycoon Game
Theme Hospital is technically the only tycoon game I played this year, so I guess it's earned itself this award by default, but that doesn't mean it was a bad gaming experience by any means. On the contrary, I had a lot of fun building various hospitals and watching my doctors cure all manner of weird and wonderful diseases as the cash rolled in. While I'm by no means 'au-fait' with the tycoon genre, Theme Hospital seems to boast as much or as little depth as the player demands of it - I was able to comfortably roll through most of the game's scenarios without too much menu micro-management, but there do seem to be a wealth of options under the hood that would satisfy stat-lovers desperate to maximise their profits. It also helped that the game was pretty funny, although as an NHS employee its satircal take on the notion of putting money before the needs of patients did hit a little harder than expected.
'Somewhere Else' Award for Best Side Quests
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is essentially Side Quests: The Game (and in a year when I played Skyrim, I'm not using that phrase lightly). Players looking to take a little time out from Ezio's ruckus with the Borgia will invariably end up in danger of drowning beneath all the odd-jobs and distractions scattered throughout Rome. Most of the fun stuff from Assassin's Creed II makes a welcome return - assassination contracts, rooftop racing, object-collecting and unique subterranean environments that this time serve as optional dungeons housing Keys of Romulus all supplement the game's main missions. In addition to these tried and tested mainstays, the guys at UbiSoft have crammed in even more awesome diversions to whittle away the hours with - city liberation, shop renovation, stopping Da Vinci's war machines... I could go on forever. Without a doubt the biggest addition, though, is the deep and surprisingly engaging Assassin's Guild side-stuff. I spent a lot of time building up my roster of assassins, to the point where it probably defines Brotherhood for me even more than its lacklustre story.
'The Place I Love' Award for Most Memorable Game World
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee
Oddworld was one of the first fictional universes I ever fell in love with. Before I ever picked up a Harry Potter book, or sat through a Lord of the Rings film, I spent hours of my life dodging sligs and scrabs in Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus. As a result, the creatures and lore of Oddworld will always hold a special place in my heart. One of my favourite gaming experiences of this year was finally returning to Oddworld, and for the first time seeing it rendered in full 3D, in Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee. The contrast between the feral beauty of Oddworld's natural environments and the oily oppressiveness of the Glukkon-run industrial sectors is just as striking as it was in Munch's 2D predecessors. The interactions and relationships between the various inhabitants of Oddworld don't seem quite as complex as they were in Abe's Exoddus, but that didn't stop the series' unique blend of platforming and dialogue-based puzzle-solving from captivating me all over again. I really love Oddworld as a setting, and can't wait to return to it next year with Stranger's Wrath.
There you have it guys - another day, another nine awards handed out to the games that made my 2012. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the final batch of eight awards. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Sam & Max Episode 4: Abe Lincoln Must Die! (PC)