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#1  Edited By staff  Staff

Find out how we came to these conclusions, as well as our picks for Giant Bomb's Top 10 Games of 2011 by listening to our final, jumbo-sized deliberation podcast!

Giant Bomb’s Worst Game of the Year Presented By Alex Navarro

Blackwater

On our final live show of 2011, our own Patrick Klepek quipped during a particularly brutal play-through of Batman Forever: The Arcade Game for the Sega Saturn that for as bad as bad games in the modern era might be, there is a decided, identifiable level of improvement from the days of yore. As terrible as a terrible game on a console, handheld, or the PC might be in this day and age, they'll always have something over the completely busted messes of gaming's more primordial days.

This is clearly the statement of a man who has never played Blackwater.

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Now, don't get us wrong. Blackwater is hardly a Big Rigs or E.T.: The Extraterrestrial in terms of sheer bustedness, but the moment the game dumps you into its despicable, ramshackle world, the overwhelming stink of suck still manages to knock you back on your Kinect-owning ass, like the unspeakable stench of a freshly-unsealed tomb.

The key difference between the awful games of yesteryear and today is that not only are today's games still broken, but they actually have the ability to come encumbered with awful ideas as well. Blackwater a busted-ass on-rails light-gun shooter full of idiotic enemies, horribly sluggish controls, and an audio/visual presentation that suggests a bizarre fondness for the "classic" works of Jarhead Games. It also happens to be a giant promotional tool for a private military corporation accused (and in some cases, convicted) of myriad crimes during the Iraq War. Not that you'll hear about any of that in the game, as you shamble through the game's various North African locales (which include "War-torn City," and, uh, "Slightly More War-torn City"), shooting the same five terrorist models and quipping one-liners that sound ripped from the broken subtitles of a Chinese bootleg copy of Delta Force.

While bad games of old may have simply been unruly, broken messes, games of the current age get to not only be horrible play experience, but also get to stand for horrible things as well. We suppose that's progress...?

Runners-Up:Madden NFL Football (3DS), Duke Nukem Forever (Multi)

Dumbest Motion-Controlled Moment

Rise of Nightmares - Movement/Steering

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It's impossible to not laugh at the ridiculous promotional videos Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have produced to show off how motion control technologies are "supposed" to work, and third-parties have struggled just as much to demonstrate how "becoming the controller" is supposed to be more...entertainingly immersive? Whatever.

Look no further than Sega's TV commercials for Rise of Nightmares, which show a company shrugging its shoulders at how to not make its games seem totally stupid.

Thing is, the Kinect-driven motion controls of Rise of Nightmares are totally, totally stupid. Fortunately, if you're a fan of the types of movies Rise of Nightmares is aping, that's actually a good thing. It strangely, oddly fits. So long as you're going into Rise of Nightmares with the right mindset, when you're staring forward, arms drawn to the side, shifting from right to left in order to look around the game's crudely rendered, barely "next-generation" environment--the act produces nothing but laughter. Like the publisher's House of the Dead series, the game never takes itself seriously enough that you can really hold it against the game.

It's still pretty dumb, though.

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Runners-Up:Self Defense Training Camp - Junk Kicking, Black Eyed Peas Experience - Dance to Start

Best Trend

Higher-Quality PC Ports of Console Games

As this generation of console hardware stretches on and on, more people--including several of us here at Giant Bomb--are turning to the ever-increasing power of the PC to deliver a smoother, better experience. Whether you're outputting your rig to your TV and playing with a controller, effectively turning it into a super-powered console, or you're sticking with the traditional pairing of mouse and keyboard, there's no denying that today's gaming PC simply runs laps around what those old dedicated boxes are capable of. That assumes the quality of the software you're running on that PC is up to snuff, though. These days, it's just a fact of life that the development of the vast majority of multiplatform games leads on consoles, and unfortunately many of the PC ports of those games in the last few years have gotten short shrift, resulting in otherwise great games that launch on the PC with all manner of technical issues and invasive DRM.

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While there are still plenty of PC games that roll out with major issues--we're staring daggers at you, Rage and Dead Island--it seemed like this year there were also a number of PC ports that got the attention they diserved. Eidos Montreal went as far as enlisting an external developer, Nixxes, to make sure the PC version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution ran properly on the PC and worked well with a mouse and keyboard, and indeed several aspects of the gameplay were best played on that setup. And after the complete mess that was Saints Row 2 on the PC, it was great to see Volition take the proper care with Saints Row: The Third, which inarguably looked and ran better on the PC than its console counterparts. Relic's Space Marine was another solid example of a game designed for consoles that still played great and looked better on the PC. In some small way, this trend makes us hopeful for a future where everyone can enjoy an ideal game experience, regardless of what platform they're playing on.

Runners-Up: Cloud Saves, Better Stat Tracking (Battlelog, COD: Elite)

Biggest News

Supreme Court Defending the 1st Amendment Rights of Video Games

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When the Supreme Court said it would take up a case involving video games being treated differently than other media, no one was surprised. It was inevitable the highest court of the land would have to rule on our favorite medium, and while no one expected the Supreme Court would rule against the rights of video games, being put in front of the Supreme Court means it's always a possibility. The stakes were immeasurably high.

Fortunately, everything went in our favor.

Video games are now a protected artistic medium, whatever cranky film critics like Roger Ebert might say to the contrary. It's possible that another case could involve video games being challenged again, but there's now modern precedent for games being on the same stage as movies, music and literature. The importance of this decision is hard to convey, but one only needs look to what happened to comics when the government decided it was time to regulate a medium that was supposedly destroying youth culture. Video games have come under the same scrutiny, and while the Supreme Court's ruling won't stop places like Fox News throwing a stink at the latest violent video game, at the end of the day, we can point to this Supreme Court's decision and be proud of how far it's all come.

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Runners-Up:PlayStation Network Hack, 3DS Launch and Price Cut

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#2  Edited By staff  Staff

It's Tuesday, and it's time for another batch of awards from our lengthy Game of the Year discussion. Want to know how we arrived at these choices? Check out today's companion podcast.

Skylander of the Year

Drobot

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The honored title of Skylander of the Year goes to that figurine that excels in every single category. The in-game powers must be useful. The in-game options and upgrades, be they in the console Skylanders game, the 3DS Skylanders game, or even that kind of lame online Flash game you can play in a browser must be excellent. And lastly? The figurine itself must look cool.

That makes this a surprisingly fierce category that is only narrowed by the fact that you can't yet acquire all 32 of the Skylanders in stores. But the field makes its leaders clear as you level the Skylanders up and see their upgrade options. Gill Grunt's water cannon makes him nearly unstoppable, yes. And Chop Chop is a friction' skeleton. But this year's award goes to none other than Drobot.

Drobot is a cyborg dragon that can shoot lasers out of his eyes, and when you upgrade the laser ability it gets even more devastating? Not enough? How about the ability to shoot gears out of your wings that bounce off of walls? Oh, and did I mention that dude can fly? Strafing enemies from a distance almost feels unfair, but Drobot's more than capable of taking out most bad guys before they can even get close. And that's pretty awesome.

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Runners-Up:Gill Grunt, Chop Chop

Best Debut

Bastion

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In a year where many of us spent hours in a podcast room complaining about how this year's games felt a bit too much like last year's installments, it's easy to forget the tremendous risks a select few developers took to bring us something genuinely new. Starting from scratch represents the largest risk in video games, but one that can reap the biggest rewards. Rolling the dice, making that plunge, and coming back with greatness was best summarized by what Supergiant Games accomplished with Bastion.

Bastion made an incredible splash at PAX 2010, enough so that Warner Bros. recognized what everyone else was raving about during and after the show, while us here at Giant Bomb took a keen interest in following the game's development. It would have been incredibly awkward if Bastion had just been smoke and mirrors, but that was hardly the case. Despite seeing so much of Bastion months prior to its release, Bastion completely captured the office's attention when it finally came out in July.

Bastion represents the total package when it comes to a video game. The hallmark of visiting a new world is that when the credits finally roll, you feel like you've truly visited a place. The lovely music, novel narrator, charming art and sharp action RPG gameplay came together to create something even greater than its individual parts. That all of this represents Supergiant Games' first release is what put Bastion over the top as this year's "Best Debut."

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Runners-Up:Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, L.A. Noire

Best Surprise

WWE All Stars

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There are a few of us here in the Giant Bomb Fortress that appreciate professional wrestling, but I think we'd all agree that the video games designed to re-create the drama and tension that occurs both in and out of the squared circle usually leave a lot to be desired. That's why we were caught off-guard by THQ's latest side offering, WWE All Stars. The publisher has tried the "old vs. new" thing before, and it's attempted to grasp at nostalgic feelings for the wrestlers of the 1980s with mixed results before. But All Stars actually gets all that stuff right while also offering a game that doesn't play like... well, like a wrestling game.

The fighting game-like nature of WWE All Stars' health bars and juggle combos really go a long way. But it's the insane takes on the WWE roster, both old and new, that start to make the game feel like something more than an "arcade" style game in an era when arcades barely exist. Finishing moves take on extra flips, crazier jumps, and all sorts of other properties that simply defy the laws of gravity. Yet there's an occasional piece of detail, like the way Paul Bearer shifts the microphone back and forth between his hands during his story mode cutscenes that let you know that someone out there gets it. Someone out there understands that there's power in having a wrestler and his manager talking directly into the camera. It's not just about "simulating" Monday Night Raw. The people behind WWE All Stars clearly get it. And that's something that, in this day and age, is a huge surprise.

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Runners-Up:Driver: San Francisco, Dead Island

Best Sky Game

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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There are some beautiful skies in video games this year, but this isn't "Best Sky." There are games that are practically all sky, too. But this isn't "Most Sky," either. Heck, it isn't even "Best Use of Sky in a Sky Game," which might have made a little more sense. Instead, this prestigious category is "Best Sky Game." And it's built specifically to honor the best game to come out this year that happens to use the word "Sky" in its title. Normally, this would be a fairly easy task. But 2011 brought down the sky all over the place, giving us three key nominees that were all quality products and all had "Sky" right there in their name.

The best game to use the word "Sky" in its title this year is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It's a fantastic game. Seriously, huge world. Big quests. Sick dragons. That mace that lets you automatically trap souls. It has all that. But more importantly? Skyrim also has "Sky" right there in its subtitle. It ticks every single box on the form. Sky games may get better in the years to come, but right now, in 2011, no Sky flies higher than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

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Runners-Up:Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Best Use of a Licensed Song

Saints Row: The Third: "Power" Helicopter Jump

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Was there ever a question it would be anything else? Actually, yeah.

After being played for the billionth time as one of the primary summer jams of 2010, Kanye West's "Power" should hold sway over us no longer. Despite the track creeping its way into one-too-many trailers at E3 2011, enough time had passed between falling in love again and the release of Saints Row: The Third. Volition's brilliant embedding of the thumping track during an early game mission where players toss themselves out of a helicopter is one of the moments where someone either is or isn't going to understand why Saints Row: The Third is such an incredible piece of work.

Patrick was so pumped up by the moment, he actually started the mission over to experience it a second time.

You should play Saints Row.

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Runners-Up:Gears of War 3 - Mad World, Kinect Sports: Season 2 - Event Ending Music

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#3  Edited By staff  Staff

The wait is over! Our 2011 Game of the Year awards begin right now and will continue through the rest of this week. Check back every day until Friday for new awards and Top 10 lists from both the site's staff and some special guests. Curious about how we arrived at this list of winners? Check out today's companion podcast to hear our deliberations in full.

2011's 2010 Game of the Year

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

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Look, we're not even sure how we define this category from one year to the next. Sometimes it's the game from last year we played the most, or at least thought about the most, in the following year. Other times it's the game that got the most and best post-release support and DLC from its developer. Hell, the first year we created the category simply to honor a game we felt didn't get its full due in the year of its release. It's a weird category, OK?

Anyway, we're pretty sure about one thing: StarCraft II continued to make its presence known in 2011. On a core mechanical level, it was an expected matter of course that Blizzard would continue to refine and perfect the game's three-way balance, but it's great to see that even at the highest competitive level, StarCraft II is holding up as well as you can expect as a venue for top-tier players to fairly showcase their skills against each other. Speaking of that tournament competition, it's a safe bet that relatively few people would be saying anything about "esports" right now if it weren't for the continued fervor around the endless high-dollar professional competition taking place entirely within StarCraft II.

And then there's the fact that Brad played more StarCraft II in 2011 than anything that actually came out this year. That guy should probably look into professional help at this point.

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Runners-Up:Rock Band 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops

Best Mission/Level

Saints Row: The Third - http://deckers.die/

How do you pick a single moment to highlight from a game packed to the brim with highlight reel-worthy moments? Such was the question pitted to us as we attempted to choose a best level from Saints Row: The Third, a game so replete with crazily memorable missions and events that this category might as well have just been called "Best Mission/Level in Saints Row: The Third." Don't worry though, we did at least consider other games. It was only sporting.

When the dust settled and Jeff had stopped screaming, the end result of our deliberations settled upon the http://deckers.die/ mission. As anyone who has played the game knows, this is the level where you play, at various times, a sentient toilet/sex doll/gun-armed TRON man trudging through a virtual reality world filled with giant murderous avatars, ancient arcade game references, and a straight-up text adventure sequence.

Did you get all of that? Good, because even typing all of that was kind of exhausting. http://deckers.die/ is easily the most ludicrously insane mission of a game predicated entirely on the concept of ludicrous insanity. We're not sure how much better we can sum it up than that.

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Runners-Up:Gears of War 3 - Cole Train Flashback, Uncharted 3 - Lost In the Sands

Best New Character

Portal 2 - Wheatley

2011's best new character doesn't have arms or legs or... a face, or many distinguishing features at all, really. Portal 2's Wheatley is a metal sphere with exactly one darting, eye-like viewport, but he does more with that single eye--and the breakneck dialogue that comes pouring out of him courtesy of Stephen Merchant--than any other character this year, no matter how many appendages they have. And considering Wheatley shares the stage with both the inimitably sadistic GLaDOS and none other than the disembodied voice of J.K. Simmons, that's a damn impressive feat. So impressive that he's our favorite new character in 2011.

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Wheatley is so great. He's great because he's not just there for comic relief, though he certainly does serve that role at first. It would have been easy enough for the writers to just let Wheatley coast through all of Portal 2 on cheeky quips and lovable buffoonery, but this wayward personality sphere goes through a hell of a character arc, emerging as a villain so menacing that he threatens to bring the roof down on all of Aperture Science with... well, with his runaway ineptitude. Plenty of great characters this year made good on a single hook or gimmick, but Wheatley maintains his core personality trait and yet plays a role in the game's story that's much larger than himself. Then he goes on to take part in what at least one member of the Giant Bomb staff considers to be the most sublime final moments of any game in memory. In a way, it's not too surprising that the sequel to Portal offered some damn memorable new characters, but that doesn't make the game's achievement in writing any less special.

Runners-Up:L.A. Noire - Captain Donnelly, Shadows of the Damned - Johnson

Dave's Eastern Bloc Game of the Year

Dead Island

Duders! Let's be honest. This category began as much so I could make The Hunt for Red October jokes as to highlight the overly-ambitious, but lovingly quirky games that hail from the post-Soviet regions where the PC still reigns King. In most cases these were titles that I'd only recommend to older, more patient gamers who enjoyed novelty above polish. 2011 then marks the year where that explanation no longer fits. From Poland came two games, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and Dead Island, that were downright blockbuster releases accessible to just about everyone. That leaves Cargo! The Quest for Gravity then to slide in under the previous expectations of this "genre". That is to say, Cargo! was a bizarre, creative game that could only come from guys with lots of Vs in their names.

Dead Island then wins by a hair. And by a hair, I mean it's the game I played the most of the nominees. Remember, this is Dave's Eastern Bloc Game of the Year and while you'd think my tastes would lean towards a pure RPG, the early difficulty and clumsy controls of The Witcher 2 made me hold off on that adventure till a proper patch appeared. Dead Island in contrast was an immediately playable and worthwhile experience that brought true innovation to melee-based combat in the first-person perspective. It's something that is sure to be copied by many games going forward and at least in my opinion was the only reason to see any major fault in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, whose combat felt mechanical in comparison. I really don't think any of us saw that coming. Welcome to the New World Sir.

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Runners-Up:The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Cargo! The Quest for Gravity

Best Music

Bastion

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In a year that saw new music from the likes of Akira Yamaoka, Jeremy Soule, Danny Baranowsky, and Koji Kondo, it's clear just how great the music Supergiant Games audio director Darren Korb created for the studio's isometric action RPG Bastion was to be the clear-cut winner in this category.

In crafting a genre Korb describes as "acoustic frontier trip-hop," he created the perfect soundscape to compliment both the surreal, cartoon art style of the game's visuals, with its folksy, narrator-driven storytelling. The slight variances in arrangement and style give each stage its own unique quality.

The songs themselves even become central to the game's story arc. Think about the instant wave of sadness and ache that swarms over you the first time you hear Zia humming out "Build That Wall" in the middle of the chaos around you, or the little lump in your throat you got when you first heard "Setting Sail, Coming Home" swell up over the final credits. Every single note of music feels utterly interwoven with the fabric of what the game shows you. It's original, ingenious, and eminently listenable stuff, and easily stood out as the top class of this year's musical crop.

Runners-Up:The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Rayman: Origins

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#4  Edited By staff  Staff

Don't agree with our choices? Then be sure and listen to our Day Five Deliberations Podcast to make yourself even angrier!
 

The Northies - Best Performance By Nolan North

 

Mafia II


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It's happened, people. The day has finally come. It's not enough for Nolan North to play the leading man in one beloved franchise after another. He wasn't happy when you were merely hearing his voice in every single game you ever bought, ever. One role per game? Forget about it.  
 
Let history remember this as the year when the Nolan-headed serpent began to devour its own tail, when video game voiceovers folded in on themselves and reality itself began to unravel. We present to you: Nolan North conversing with... Nolan North. 

   
    
  
And the Northie goes to... Mafia II. What else could it be? Our dear Nolan certainly made the rounds in a long list of noteworthy titles this year, but as we so often say around here, it's not the best Nolan but the most Nolan that truly matters.

Runners-up: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Army of Two: The 40th Day, Tron: Evolution, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Singularity, Alpha Protocol, Final Fantasy XIII, Dark Void, Transformers: War for Cybertron, Trauma Team 
 

Best Competitive Multiplayer

 

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty 

 
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At first glance, StarCraft II looks an awful lot like StarCraft I, with the same three factions mining the same minerals and vespene gas toward the same end of wiping each other off the map. But it's exactly that time-tested core RTS gameplay that makes this the best multiplayer game of the year. After more than a decade of intensely high-level competitive play, the most essential elements that make StarCraft what it is are practically etched in stone, so instead of trying to fix something that wasn't broken, Blizzard set about subtly refining, streamlining, and automating some of the more mechanical and menial aspects of playing StarCraft, making it accessible to players of any skill level.
 
And what a range of skill levels this game supports. StarCraft II has already spawned the most lucrative and widely publicized professional gaming tournament in history, with top players mastering ludicrously complex strategies in a game so mechanically dense it seems to defy mastery in the first place. For the mere mortals among us, the newly redesigned Battle.net does a great job of keeping you playing against opponents of like skill levels, so if you just want to turtle in your base and make hydras for 10 minutes before any attacking goes down, you can find others who play the same way. And despite adding a host of interesting new units, Blizzard maintained that finely honed three-way balance between terran, zerg, and protoss--no small feat in itself--ensuring that a whole lot of people will be playing StarCraft II online for a long, long time.
 
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Runners-up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Reach 
 

Best Ending


Red Dead Redemption


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It is arguably more challenging to convey a cohesive narrative in games than most other mediums--games are defined by user interaction, and the protagonist's free will (or at least its illusion) can throw a real monkey-wrench in the storyteller's designs. As difficult as effectively telling a simple story, wrapping up the loose ends and finding a satisfying conclusion is a feat that storytellers in all formats struggle with, and this is a huge part of what makes Red Dead Redemption such an accomplishment. Rockstar San Diego crafted a rich, detailed world, filled it with compelling, compromised characters, and found a satisfying arc for its lead character.
 
But that ending. That thrilling gut-punch of an ending. Righteous redemption and bitter, white-hot revenge all swirling together for an ending that felt earned. Games simply aren't made the way Red Dead Redemption was, and its conclusion wouldn't have worked had it not been for the specific way that the game repeatedly shifts gears leading up to the real ending. Coincidentally, Red Dead Redemption would also have won here had this been the award for Most Endings, with the way it ends, and then it ends again, and then it ends. It's maybe one of the best game endings, ever, which makes it an easy win for Best Ending in 2010.

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Runners-up: Bayonetta, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty


The "Take a Break" Award 

 

Final Fantasy 

 
We're hard-pressed to even define what the name "Final Fantasy" encompasses at this point, but for the purpose of this category let's constrain it to the games that are merely called "Final Fantasy" with a Roman numeral afterward. This year saw the release of the thirteenth and fourteenth installments in that core series; the former was a beautifully produced, underwhelming adherent to outdated JRPG conventions, while the latter was by all accounts a runaway MMO catastrophe so poorly received that Square Enix relieved its stewards of their jobs in the hope of remaking it into something people would actually want to pay a monthly fee to play. It wasn't a great year for games called Final Fantasy, so it's time to take a pause and think hard about what it was that made this series so popular in the first place.
 
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Look, all of us here at Giant Bomb have fond memories of various entries in the Final Fantasy series, but most of those entries came out well over a decade ago. A lot has happened, and continues to happen, in the ongoing evolution of game design since then, but it's starting to seem like Final Fantasy is too burdened by its own lavish production values and momentous legacy to keep up with those modern conventions. What's the answer here? We can't definitively say. Maybe it's time to ditch the expensive full-motion video. Maybe it's time to let a Western studio take a crack at this hallowed franchise. Maybe... no, it's definitely time to drop the Roman numerals and come up with a more creative way to name all these games. Whatever it takes, we just want Final Fantasy to surprise and excite us again, but only after it takes some time off to regroup and come back strong. 
      
Runners-up: Guitar Hero, WWE SmackDown!
 

Best PlayStation 3-Only Game


God of War III

 
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Kratos pulls no punches in this, his PlayStation 3 debut, which also wraps up the mad Spartan's trilogy of heavenly murder with all the inventive blood lust and blinding rage players have come to expect from the franchise. God of War III is a God of War game through and through, and while it's a franchise whose feel is oft imitated, this was a vivid reminder that no one knows how to sadistically murder a god like Kratos. 
 
Visually stunning, with a sense of scale that few games have the nerve to play with and the kind of finesse that reminds you of what's running under the hood, God of War III makes good on much of the promise of its franchise and its platform, making it our choice for Best PlayStation 3-Only Game for 2010.

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Runners-up:  Heavy Rain, Sports Champions
 
 
  
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#5  Edited By staff  Staff

 GAAAAAAAAAMES!
 GAAAAAAAAAMES!
With its seven-and-a-half year legacy soon coming to a close, tonight marks a certain end for Microsoft's online console service. After this, the original Xbox Live servers are going down--for good. No more Halo 2, no more... well, that's pretty much the big one. You get the idea. It's been a strong run for what has arguably been, for better or for worse, one of the most significant developments in the history of online gaming. But with the Xbox 360 so thoroughly replacing its predecessor, it has run its course, and now it's time to say goodbye.  
 
Join us, then, as we celebrate the memory of Xbox Live with our two-hour live stream extravaganza tonight from 10PM to Midnight PDT! We'll be playing loads of Halo 2 and other Xbox classics while taking your questions in the USTREAM chat below. And so, without further ado, LET THE XBOXALYPSE BEGIN!!! 
 
UPDATE: Now that our unintentional Xbox marathon has concluded, we've replaced the live stream here with an archived version of the first four-and-a-half hours of the show. Thanks to everyone who joined us, most likely to the detriment of their health and sanity!
   
  
     
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#6  Edited By staff  Staff

From the deliberate shock and awe of Modern Warfare 2 to Rocksteady's uniquely stylish distillation of the Batman mythos, 2009 was a year that brought us a lot of intense video-game experiences. But none featured more visceral excitement, stunning visuals, and uncontainable momentum than our pick for Game of the Year.
 

Game of the Year, 2009


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

 

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Part of the appeal for Uncharted 2 is that there's no gimmick, no hook--the appeal is that this is a very excellently crafted game experience. It's fun to play and a pleasure to look at. But that's awfully reductive, so let's get into what it is, specifically, about Uncharted 2 that makes it our game of the year.


First off, there's your main character, Nathan Drake. Despite his incredible, preternatural physical abilities, Nathan Drake is no superhero. He is, for all intents and purposes, a dude in a t-shirt. A dude in a t-shirt who just so happens to be racing around the globe in search of an artifact of supernatural significance, juggling an exceptionally evil Eastern European heavy and some duplicitous companions with their own agendas, while dodging a near-constant hail of gunfire, falling buildings, and helicopters. Considering the incredible situation he's gotten himself into, it's impressive that he's able to come off as Average Joe as he does, but it's a key part of the character's appeal, and the game's overall success. That the first time you see Nathan he's sitting on a wrecked train with a bullet in his gut reinforces that this guy is incredibly fallible, which brings a sense of danger to everything he does, despite his actual resilience and the infinite opportunities the game affords you to try and try again. Nolan North, who provides Nathan's voice, deserves much credit for establishing the tone for a character that doesn't quite know what he's doing, but is going to do it anyway, hoping for the best.

 
Uncharted 2 is also an absolutely gorgeous-looking game, the best we've seen in 2009, which puts it very high in the running for best-looking game of all time. The colorful, exotic environments are rich with detail, and the game's pacing is so relentless that you never linger in one place long enough to even begin trying to pick at it. A combination of performance capture and crazy technology that we have little hope of understanding produce character animation that impresses simply by looking natural in a way that few games would even know how to approach, let alone have the technical skill to actually pull it off. Uncharted 2 aims for a look that's just on Hollywood side of real with its world and its characters, which it pulls off while deftly avoiding the uncanny valley. It says a lot that the game is able to pull of subtle stuff like convincing facial animation and realistic-looking hair just as capably as it is a breakneck chase sequence or a fight with a helicopter.
 
It's one hell of a production, but Uncharted 2 isn't just about shiny things, it's got a real tactile feel to all of the running, jumping, climbing, and shooting that you'll engage in. And this is all to speak nothing of the game's highly credible co-op and competitive multiplayer modes, which leverage both the strength of the shooting and traversal mechanics which are the backbone of Uncharted 2's single-player experience. Too often do we see single-player games paired up with an afterthought of a multiplayer game, or vice versa, but Uncharted 2 nails it with both, and without ever compromising the tone of the game.
 
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the total package, a crowd-pleasing thrill ride that's incredibly difficult to put down and remarkably easy to recommend without ever feeling like it's pandering to the lowest-common denominator. It's funny, it's exciting, it's beautiful, it's nerve-wracking, and it's our 2009 game of the year.

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Runner-Up: Batman: Arkham Asylum

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