x360a's 2008 Game of the Year Awards
Written Wednesday, December 31, 2008 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Welcome to the first in a long line of x360a “Game of the Year” awards ceremonies where we brush the dust off the tux and sit around with cheap champagne to tell you who we thought were the real winners (and losers) this year in the gaming world. Rather than drip feed you the results, we thought we’d just throw them at you like one gigantic snowball. So go get your tux on, the party starts after the break. Be warned, it’s a long one!
We kick off proceedings this year with the “Best Premise” category. This category is simple; it’s the game where on the face of it, the premise, i.e. concept, sounds like the best game ever. However, sometimes these concepts deliver and sometimes they fall way sort, this year as always, has had a little from column A and a little from column B.
Failing to make the winner’s podium this year are our runners up; Legendary and Mirror’s Edge. Legendary was the “Turning Point” of the year; a pretty impressive sounding concept that is totally and utterly ordinary. We’ve always wanted to take on a whole range of mythological beasts that get released from Pandora’s box in a shooter, but no-one said it had to be mediocre. Such a shame.
Mirror’s Edge was one of the most unique concepts of the year - possibly ever - and the whole first person parkour action was truly a joy to behold. Granted, the title felt a little bit like guess work at times for too many to stomach but the whole liberating chases meant that Mirror’s Edge makes the podium this year with ease.
Seriously, even non Star Wars fans were quite looking forward to using the Force to cause wanton destruction but it never quite materialised like that. Telekinesis plus Spidey senses plus mind control should automatically mean Game of the Year, right? Wrong! Star Wars wasn’t a bad game, it was just that it wasn’t what it could have been. It had a hugely intriguing idea and potential for scope with the Force, but we can’t help but feel that with a little more polish, a few less glitches, that The Force Unleashed could have been so much more than the best premise this year.
Ahhh, story time. I’ve got to admit I’m a sucker for a deep and intriguing story ... You know, the type of story that will engage the senses, keep you on the edge of your seat and really hit home on an emotional level. That’s all well and good saying that, but what makes a good story? Twists, great characters that you can relate to and plenty of action in our opinion ... Who made the cut this year I wonder.
I must admit, Lost Odyssey was a slow starter for me. I couldn’t shake the feeling to start with that Kaim seemed like a mute idiot with no personality and I was dreading what I had let myself in for. The truth is though, as you progress through the story with Kaim retrieving his lost memories bit by bit, Lost Odyssey starts to come in to its own. The story is intensely deep and the Thousand Years of Dreams feature gives an extra insight in to the main characters and acts as a powerful addition to the main plot. You can’t go wrong with a power hungry sorcerer abusing his power to become the almighty ruler of a world embroiled in a three way war, and Lost Odyssey did just that. It has a little bit of everything; a little bit of romance, a few emotional deaths, reunions of long lost pals and plenty of aggression; the game’s story is ultimately part of the game’s success.
In the runners up category by a whisker this year is Rockstar’s hugely impressive GTA IV. The whole story and experience of GTA IV is as close to Hollywood we’ve come. Niko Bellic is a character that you come to love and feel for; a monster by his own right with misplaced morals and yet despite that, you can’t help but love him. GTA IV’s story line will have you on the edge of your seat throughout, from start to finish. Oh and the bank scene set piece is one of the best set pieces in video game history. How many games can add that to their repertoire?
It’s definitely a tough category this year with Fallout taking the award by a nose length. GTA IV although a fantastic plot seemed somewhat cliché and predictable but Fallout was a total mixed bag. Fallout 3 maps the life of Vault 101’s “vault dweller” from birth to near death (on multiple times) with plenty of huge and wonderful twists and choices along the way. The story takes place all over a devastated post-apocalyptic Washington DC as our vault dweller tries to find his father and unravel the mysteries of this once prosperous land. Without being spoilerific, if Fallout 3’s story was one word in a dictionary, it would be awesome.
The multiplayer aspect of a game is to live and die for a huge proportion of gamers ... I mean where else can you kill someone’s digital character and torment them after? Well, only on Xbox Live, that’s for sure (we know there are other places but don’t ruin the moment dammit!). This category places the biggest and best multiplayer aspects of a title in to a ring to duke it out for the top dog award. As always, there can only be one winner.
Both multiplayer games in the runners up slot this year were first person shooter *shock horror* and both have pretty big backgrounds behind them. World at War is fundamentally Call of Duty 4 but in a new setting which includes new weapons and perks. The maps are bigger, the maps are better and the whole thing looks utterly delightful. The fact that it is an improved version of Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer is partly the reason behind its success, but hey ... that’s nothing but a good thing right?
Also occupying the runners up podium with World at War is DICE’s latest Battlefield title, Bad Company. Like its podium partner, the game offers tonnes of rewards for those that put their time in, but at the same time, doesn’t necessarily give them a huge advantage over the newcomer. Huge varied maps where 24 players can change speciality per death made for some pretty intense games. Sure it only shipped with one gametype, but that was definitely enough to make it one of the best multiplayer titles of the year.
Was there really ever going to be another winner here? I mean, Left 4 Dead is the perfect multiplayer game. It gives you plenty of variation, co-operative and competitive gameplay, and the chance of killing wave after wave of zombie, sorry, I mean infected. Utter gaming bliss presented in a fantastic way. Seriously, where would multiplayer gaming be without Valve? Think that one over.
Welcome to the eye candy category where we do what men do best ... become vain and ogle at who is the better looking. Of course I’m talking about video games, you don’t think we’re that perverted, do you? Either way, you’ve got to be as fine as Cleopatra to get nominated in this category, yet alone win it. We’re talking the titles that turn heads, the titles you give a second look and wonder whether you are in fact playing a game or watching a high budget film ... the category where looks are everything!
Prince of Persia definitely gets the prize for most artistic title this year with Ubisoft Montreal truly showing off their creative skills. The technique used in Prince of Persia according to Ubisoft is known as “illustrative shading” which is a hybrid combo of cell shading for the characters set inside a more artsy world. The game is absolutely stunning from beginning to end and truly stands out from the pack this year.
Seeing is believing with the other nominee this year, which is deservedly Race Driver: GRID. When the GRID screens were released late last year, the whole “they were surely CGI” debate hit the internet once again, but to everyone’s surprise, the screens were in fact in-game. GRID is easily one of the best looking racing titles around, if not one of the best looking titles full stop; with its impressive car renders, detailed environments and its superb feeling of speed, GRID is another beautiful looking staple in the Codemasters racing catalogue.
Epic Games and Gears of War have been setting the standard for graphics for some time now and 2008 was no different. In every way, shape and form, Gears of War 2 looked stunning and continues to set the bar for games in the 21st century; with no game even coming close to its level. Whether you’re talking about the character detail, the dynamic lighting or the textures, chances are Gears of War 2 will still be setting standards long in to 2009.
The soundtrack in this day and age of gaming plays as big apart as the graphics. As the famous saying goes “presentation is everything” and that rings true with part of that complete package definitely being the soundtrack. Come on, you wouldn’t take a second look at Megan Fox if she sounded like Marcus Fenix would you? In this category we’ll look at the titles that sent shivers down our spines with powerful scores and blew us away with the performance of the cast.
Fable 2’s soundtrack was most definitely a joy on the ears, whether we’re talking about the chilling orchestral tones of the choir that follow you round Albion or the cameos from Zoe Wannamaker and Stephen Fry. Fable 2’s soundtrack rarely puts a foot wrong but it’s no match for our winner this year but it is definitely worthy of a place as a runner up.
Lost Odyssey’s soundtrack seemed to be able to incite your mood or predict what you were feeling minutes before you knew it. The pan pipe ridden travel screen was a delight every time you loaded it up, so much so that you felt the need to travel for no apparent reason. Not known for its hugely impressive voice acting, Lost Odyssey shines in the score; the emotional pieces that accompanied the Thousand Years of Dreams sections were utterly flawless in portraying the mood.
In at the top spot this year is Prince of Persia with his debut on the current generation technology. Whilst missing out slightly on top spot as far as the graphics went, Prince of Persia is a resounding winner in the soundtrack category. The epic soft Arabian score is complimented by a fantastic performance and chemistry by the game’s two stars (Nathan Nolan and Kari Wahlgren). It ultimately meant that Prince of Persia takes home the prize for the top audio dog this year.
We all love our classic franchises right, but they’ve all got to start somewhere, right? And that’s usually at the beginning. This category is where those newcomers get a chance to shine under the spotlight rather than be crowded out by a market full of titles that have had more facelifts than Madonna. After all, we do need a bit of fresh blood every so often.
Failing to make the podium this year are two of EA’s new intellectual properties and what a great way to start their new originality initiative. However, despite DICE creating a beautifully crafted first person, action-adventure title, sales were disappointingly low which would surely question whether the title will in fact receive a sequel. EA are saying that they won’t give up on the new franchise but whether they do or not, only time will tell. It’s tough being a new franchise in an already packed market.
Sitting on the runners up podium as well is of course EA’s hugely popular Dead Space which hit home with horror-survival fans and critics alike. This new breed of horror title sees its own unique in-game HUD system that adds to the immersion and introduces a new type of combat to the genre; strategic dismemberment. A hugely creepy and atmospheric title that is worthy of its place as this year’s runner up.
Taking home the candy this year is Valve’s latest first person shooter built on the much heralded Source engine. Left 4 Dead takes co-op gameplay and zombie annihilation to a new level and takes advantage of Valve’s new AI Director; a script that adapts to your performance as a team, meaning infinite replayability for you and your chums. Left 4 Dead is a worthy winner of this award this year and we hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship.
The Xbox Live Arcade is the best creation ever for some people and an annoying distraction for others. Whoever you are though, you can’t deny its success in bringing back some old skool and simplistic, innovative games to the forefront of gaming. Here we throw praise upon some of the best titles that are available for download on our Xbox Live Arcade every Wednesday and boy, has it been a good year or what!
For a lot of people Geometry Wars was a perfect game and was in no need of a makeover, however, the folks at Bizarre Creations thought “to hell with that” and Geo Wars 2 was born. A game that in every way shape and form was better than its predecessor, boasting new modes and new visuals to give the franchise a new kick and although no online modes were included, Geo Wars 2 is easily one of the best arcade titles of the year.
Falling just short of the winner’s podium this year is Johnathan Blow’s hugely original Braid. The title’s unique art style and well implemented time control mechanism are blended in with a solid platformer. Join Tim on his hugely vague quest to do something with some Princess ... It really is that vague but it seems to be more about imagery than anything else anyway; go figure, a game that makes you think! Either way, a fantastic title that just misses out on gold.
It was definitely a close one in this category this year but for us, the amusing and beautiful looking Castle Crashers takes home the slice of pie. Dan Paladin’s art styles amongst an old skool 2D combat on a 3D axis side scroller is a fantastic title worthy of a place in anyone’s collection. Throw in loads of massive, oversized boss fights and some black humour and we have a real winner on our hands this year.
Now THIS is the future of gaming, because if it wasn’t for innovation like this every year with developers trying something new and innovative, then gaming would get stale ... a bit like films ... Oh! I so went there. Prepare to throw praise on those that were bold, tried to change the world a brick at a time and truly make an impact.
It wouldn’t be an innovation category without throwing praise on what truly could be the future of sports gaming; NHL 09’s MMO style online mode. Join a clan style team and grab five other team players from that clan and take on a whole squad of like-minded opponents in a volley of big hits and stunning goals in the most interactive and involved leaderboard around. Seriously, MMO sports games was something we only dreamed about as kids, but this is happening ... now.
Sitting pretty with NHL 09 in the runners up category is the stuff of sci-fi movies; an AI technology that can react according to the situation that is thrown in front of it. This is exactly what Left 4 Dead’s AI director does and boy, doesn’t it do it impressively. Could this infinite replayability technology really be the future of all games? We bloody well hope so.
Voice activated controls has been touted as the next step for gaming for some time now but everyone seems to shy away from it, everyone except Ubisoft Shangai that is. Tom Clancy’s EndWar is the first fully fledged voice controlled title and for a first attempt, the command system is pretty damn impressive already. It would be rude to have given it to anyone else this year because if we’re being honest with ourselves, this is pretty damn revolutionary. Kudos, kudos indeed!
In order to be classed as a surprise hit for this year’s category, expectations have to be low or even non-existent. You know, that game you either buy on a whim or you buy because you have nothing better to play ... But as always in life, the underdog can shock the hell out of you and this year’s “surprise hit” category awards those that did just that.
I’m probably not the best person to be writing about FIFA since I’ve been brought up on its fiercest rival, PES, my entire life, but even I can put my hands up this year and say, “ok boys, you’ve done good.” In the first year since the existence of PES, FIFA is coming out of the year as the top dog and rightly so. With a new feel and more realism added to the beautiful game, FIFA literally puts PES to shame this year and we just weren’t expecting it, like we don’t any year. Touché EA for proving us wrong.
The history of the Bond franchise on consoles is a hot and cold affair; Goldeneye was hot, everything else was cold ... or rather tepid. We chalked down Quantum of Solace as another one of “those Bond titles” before it even hit the shelves but were pleasantly surprised. The game had a more than capable online mode – although the shotgun was a little off balance – with a fairly enjoyable, but rather short single player. Are we likely to see a Bond title of similar Goldeneye calibre following this impressive start for Treyarch? It looks more likely after this instalment.
Let’s be honest, no one knew what to expect of Lost Odyssey before it landed in February of this year. JRPGs on the whole don’t tend to be huge sellers (unless it has Final and Fantasy in the title) but when we got our mits on Lost Odyssey at the beginning of the year, we were blown away. A gripping story line, intertwined with a traditional turn based stance, with great visuals and a fantastic soundtrack meant that Lost Odyssey takes home our surprise hit of the year award.
In order for there to be a cloud of disappointment surrounding a title, the game itself needs to have had some sort of positive anticipation. This is usually generated by the PR folk themselves or with the natural assumption that comes with a franchise; the successor should absolutely put the predecessor to shame. The disappointment of the year category is riddled with titles that we just had a bit more hope for, but failed to deliver. We’re not saying they’re bad games, we’re saying ... is that it?
First on the list is fan favourite, Mercenaries from the ever resilient Pandemic. You would have thought that with the sandbox, everything can explode premise – with co-op may we add – that Mercenaries and Pandemic really couldn’t really put a foot wrong. Well, we were a tad off there. Mercenaries 2 is a decent enough title that is marred by technical error after technical error which detracts away from the experience totally. Even the co-op has a tainted side with players having to stay within a certain distance of one another, so it’s like having a leash on one another. A title that with a little more polish and care could have scored 80 something, rather than 70 something.
Moving from the sloppy to the damn right weird. The original Condemned title was quite simply put, a masterpiece, capturing the mood perfectly and being one of the consoles superb horror titles. Condemned 2, whilst still a decent enough title, was way too weird and surreal, and nothing we expected. It was most definitely the kid at school who tries to stand out by being weird and disturbing by dressing up as carrot ... Congrats Monolith, you certainly achieved that, but our response is the same ... we turn our nose up at it.
Did you really expect another winner this year? Too Human, like its counterparts in this category was a title that didn’t deliver. Being the first in the franchise usually means you get a bit of room for movement, but like Peter Molyneux found out with the original Fable, don’t promise something and then not deliver. Better yet, don’t do that and follow it up by claiming that people just didn’t “get it” and look elsewhere but the product in front of them. Excuse me Mr Dyach, I didn’t realise that there was much to “get” from a repetitive samey dungeon crawler with no user controlled camera. Forgive us please.
We’ve come to the point in the award ceremony where we reward developers for what they do best; making games. We don’t just look at who made the best game however, we look at the complete package and that includes game support, ease of access and general awesomeness. Who really impressed us most this year?
The two developers this year in the running but just falling short of the winning post are both developers that we’re rewarding for their post release game support. Criterion was an obvious choice for us this year considering their post release support with Burnout Paradise, as we saw update after update coming, thick and fast ... and free as well. A great example for developers worldwide to follow.
In a similar vein, but a tad more expensive, is Harmonix for its continued support of the Rock Band franchise. Sure, we could say the same with Red Octane with Guitar Hero, but the quality of Rock Band’s releases have put them leaps ahead of their rivals. Foo Fighters, Oasis, Nirvana ... Need I say anymore?
For us, the winner this year was a no brainer. Sure, it’s all well and good supporting titles after release which DICE have and are still doing as well, but they’ve also managed to churn out, not one, but two premium titles this year in the form of Bad Company and Mirror’s Edge. Now that truly is the sign of a good studio. Congratulations DICE you Swedish studs you.
So we move on to battle of the big boys; the publishers ... the multi billion pound companies that plough hundreds of millions in to game development a year; funding new and exciting (sometimes horrible and unsatisfying as well) titles that we have the pleasure in buying. So who truly had the best line-up this year?
Missing out by a whisker this year are two industry powerhouses and no surprising who they are really. Ubisoft’s 2008 catalogue is hugely impressive with the likes of Far Cry 2 and Prince of Persia leading the pack, with properties like EndWar, Shaun White and Naruto close behind. A really solid year for Ubisoft this year and we hope that they can continue that well in to next year.
Holding hands with Ubisoft this year (don’t tell them I said that) as one of the year’s best publishers, are no other than EA. A statement that a few years back would have got me hung, drawn and quartered. I know EA will say they’ve changed and seen the light, but we’ll let their titles do the talking. Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge lead the new and original IP push this year, but let’s not forget the rest of their catalogue; Bad Company, Burnout Paradise and especially for most, their continued support for distributing both Rock Band and Left 4 Dead. A pretty damn good effort if you ask us.
To take home the cheese this year are of course Microsoft and their game studios, who not only stake claim to one or two killer titles this year, but three! Gears of War 2, Fable 2 and Lost Odyssey are all absolutely fantastic games, each different and unique in their own right and a more than worthy purchase. Their support line-up is solid as well with a huge variety of titles on offer, from the family orientated Scene It? to the blood thirsty orientated with Ninja Gaiden 2. Sprinkle on some of Rare’s magic with yet more Viva Pinata and Banjo –Kazooie and we’re pretty sure they’ll be happy with 2008. Let’s hope 2009 is as big, although, we can’t see.
Here we are then ... The moment you’ve all been waiting for, the pinnacle of the awards this year ... in fact, the pinnacle and last thing we do this year period. Wow, I need a break. Up for the award were the crème de la crème of the year; we’re talking triple A, maybe even quadruple A this year, but seriously, these guys deserve all the credit they get for creating these titles that will live strong in our memories for years ... well until the sequel no doubt. Without further ado ... let the unveiling commence.
Let’s face it, GTA IV was ambitious title. A new direction from the boys at Rockstar and the gamble paid dividends. No one to date, and probably not for some time, has created such a living breathing city like Liberty City; absolutely massive in size, scope and detail. Mix in a Hollywood story with some fantastic acting and twists and turns, sprinkle a bit of satire over the top and GTA IV is easily one of the best titles of the year.
We “umm’d” and “ahhhh’d” over whether Gears of War 2 would make the podium this year and they did by a whisker. Gears of War 2 is a fantastic cinematic experience and totally beats its predecessor on terms of a single player experience. However, the multiplayer is not as polished as it should have been, with some suggesting that it may have even gone backwards. However, this beautiful looking game had one gem that kind of made us look past that and focus on the positives again; rejoice horde! It’s a mode you’d almost be happy to buy as a standalone game, it’s that good. So Epic, you can thank your incredibly crafted horde mode for your place on the podium this year ... and of course the fantastic visuals and engrossing single player mode.
Flying in as x360a’s Game of the Year 2008 is no other than Bethesda Game Studios’ very own Fallout 3, a franchise brought back from the dead and put right back on top of the world by the grand daddy of RPGs. Bethesda certainly did a fantastic job of creating a post apocalyptic Washington DC and throwing you in to a world of humour, decisions and plenty of radiation! It’s essentially Oblivion with guns from the outside but the incredible amount of detail in its inhabitants and missions gives Fallout 3 the traditional Fallout feel of old. All we can say now is ... roll on January and let us sink our teeth in to that DLC.
That about wraps up the year for us ... and what a high as well. With this feature we say a big goodbye to 2008 and a big hello to 2009. I kind of feel that I ought to break out in song right now but it’d be a terrible way to end a great year. Let’s hope that 2009 is as eventful as last year with as many big titles. Happy New Year folks.