Game of the Year Awards 2010 - The Winners
Written Friday, December 31, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
To call 2010 “the best year in gaming history” is a bold statement, but it’s a statement that I and many others stand by. Pretty much every month throughout the year saw a huge triple-A title roll out onto the shelves and as a result, hordes of gamers rushed out to get their mits on it. Whether you were a shooter fan, a sports fan, an RPG fan or an action-adventure fan, there was literally something world class for everyone and it’s about that time in the year where we gather together and celebrate the year’s best. With 13 categories to run through, join us as we delve into this year’s best...
2010 will always be known for a year that bought many great concepts to the table. Some of those delivered, some of them didn’t, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Well, it is here.
Propping up the leader’s podium this year are two games whose premise is spot on. The first, Dead Rising 2, had a simple concept as far as concepts go: survive the zombie epidemic in a Las Vegas style environment, and for the most part, Capcom's title delivered in spades. Not only did they deliver a compelling Las Vegas style environment with apt Vegas-style psychos, but they kept the environments fresh and everything had that Vegas feel to it... which is especially fun when you’re driving around on a motorbike with chainsaws attached to it.
The second of our runners up this year was Microsoft’s Fable III, which wins points not only because of Lionhead’s take on the whole revolution aspect, but gets kudos mainly for the game’s epilogue phase where you’re stuck making difficult choices and ruling your way out of a hole. Fable II’s ending might have finished with a bit of a puff rather than a pop, but Fable III’s ending sequence was more of a bang. Not only did Lionhead’s premise of building an army to take back Albion sound tantalising, but having the chance to wield the power of the crown was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Rockstar’s premise for Red Dead Redemption was a bold one and easily one of the most ambitious in recent times, which is why it took home the award this year. The San Diego based Rockstar studio opted to create an open-world Wild West adventure with one of the most realistic worlds you’ll ever see, and that they did. Considering that Red Dead’s game world was not only massively diverse, but the developer also sought to create the illusion of a living and breathing ecology, and in doing so, became one of the few developers to achieve it. Thankfully, not only have Rockstar San Diego dreamt big, but they also pretty much delivered on their word as well. It’s just a shame that other areas of the game weren’t as up to scratch as the premise and their delivery on it... you know, like all those glitches and those painstakingly boring horsey trips before every mission. Yawn.
As the gaming industry grows and matures, so does its ability to tell a good story and this year was no different. Three strong finalists, but only one proud winner.
Just missing out on the top spot this year was Red Dead Redemption’s tale of revenge. With John Marston leading the way of a cast of strong and likeable characters, Red Dead’s story was not only full of Rockstar’s trademark twists and turns, and moments of morality, but its ending is unlike anything we’ve seen in video games... like ever. In other words, as far as endings go, it’s pretty fantabulous. It’s just the shame that Red Dead’s story suffered a bit of a lull in the middle... you know, around Mexico when Marston became a pawn of anyone who could spin a lie. The gullible fool.
Remedy knows how to tell a good story. They did it in Max Payne and they damn sure did it in this year’s long-time-coming survival-horror title, Alan Wake; the winner of this year’s “Best Story” award. Telling the story of Alan Wake, a struggling writer who sets off on a quest to rescue his wife from the clutches of her abductors, Remedy doesn’t just bring the Pacific Northwestern town of Bright Falls to life with its excellent writing, but through its characters and storytelling it does something that a good percentage of video games don’t ever do... and that’s tell a story with heart, character and with the panache that you'd expect in a Hollywood movie. Alan Wake’s writer, Sam Lake, really has all the bases covered in Remedy’s latest outing; including comic relief; clever twists and turns; plenty of tension; jaw-dropping cliff-hangers; and more mood and drama than your average teenage boy. Alan Wake is a title wholeheartedly deserving of this year’s “Best Story” award.
To say the “Best Multiplayer” category of 2010 was the most difficult choice in the awards this year is definitely an understatement and it truly could have gone down to a coin flip in the end. However, tough choices have to be made in award shows like this... and they were made... and as usual, only one was left standing.
The first of this year’s “Best Multiplayer” runners up is Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, sticking two big fingers up at anyone who said that multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed wouldn’t work. Why it did work was simple though, because Ubisoft Montreal took the core idea of what makes Assassin’s Creed’s single-player works and adapted it slightly for multiplayer. Whether you’re stealthing around looking for your next target or duping those that have you in their crosshairs, Brotherhood’s multiplayer excels on so many levels. If they can eradicate the server issues, tighten up the matchmaking and not stack things too firmly in favour of veteran players so much for the sequel, then there’s no reason that the next instalment can’t win this award in the coming years. It truly is a breath of fresh air.
As I said, choosing this year’s winner this year was effectively a coin flip and luckily for Bungie, they came out on top. But why you ask? Well, it was for a few reasons in the end actually. Firstly, the Seattle based developer not only managed to create their best Halo title ever with Reach, but they managed to keep the multiplayer feeling fresh, even after 10 years working on the same franchise. The feature rich multiplayer offering not only has a wide range of match-types to tend with and also keeps players interested in the online by tempting them with daily and weekly challenges, but unlike its opposition in this category, every game takes place on a level playing field thanks to Bungie's choice not to hold the more powerful weapons back for higher ranked individuals – which had a major part in us deciding to give the award to Reach. With a wide range of maps and Forge to contend with as well, there really was no more deserving winner in 2010.
Believe it or not, the “Best Graphics” category over the years has become progressively trickier to judge, as more and more games reach the photo realistic levels that are suddenly becoming the norm. The cream still rises to the top though... and these three games are the crème de la crème of 2010.
Up there with the best looking games of 2010 is Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption which offered gamers one of the most believable and aesthetically pleasing game worlds ever conceived. Rockstar San Diego succeeded at creating a living, breathing 19th Century open-world, fresh with some of the most beautiful sunsets, the most daunting and terrifying thunderstorms, and the most hauntingly realistic rain and puddle effects ever seen in video games. Throw in some detailed character models, some incredibly animated horses and likewise, some superbly animated fauna that roam the plains, and it’s hard to knock Red Dead Redemption... Well, until you start looking at the glitches. A minor blip on an otherwise solid slate though.
Space... the final frontier... and in 2010, it became the staging ground of our “Best Graphics” award winner’s epic tale. In Mass Effect 2, not only did BioWare manage to create one of the most visually impressive galaxies ever conceived in the digital format, but they also gave it plenty of character, produced some of the most awe-inspiring horizons known to man and they also did some fine work on the game’s cinematography – case and point is the demise of the Normandy-SR1 on its last voyage. Even after all that, BioWare still didn’t stop giving and when you turn your attention to the actual characters, you get chills from the wow factor and can marvel for days at the intricate details and visual splendour that they each ooze. You only need to take one look at a Krogran – Grunt for instance – and you can see why it’s taking home the gold this year. Stunning. Simply stunning.
It’s true what some say, that music makes the world go round... well, it’s true figuratively anyway... and in recent years, original scores in video games have come on leaps and bounds. 2010 may not have reached the dizzy heights of 2009, but it was still a strong year.
Kicking off this year’s “Best Original Score” category as runners up is Square Enix’s latest Final Fantasy title, which blended the best of the East with the best of the West. Final Fantasy XIII, Square’s debut fully-fledged single-player Final Fantasy this generation, went through a few changes this year and in a bid to bring it into the 21st Century, Square were ruthless. Vastly improved visuals and streamlined gameplay were on the cards for the upgrade, but it’s the score that really stood out for us, blending the playful beats of Japan’s biggest franchise, with the more drum ‘n’ bass style anthems of the Western civilization. The end result? Musical bliss.
What’s that? Another Halo title came out this year with an epic soundtrack? Why does that not surprise us? It doesn’t surprise us because Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori really know how to put together a diverse mix of tunes. From the Arabian sounding ‘Overture’ and the war drum-esque ‘Winter Contingency’ compositions, to the soothing harmonies of ‘The Pillar of Autumn’ and classical Halo sounding ‘New Alexandria,’ the duo proved once again that they can portray the emotion in a Halo game almost perfectly. There really isn’t a weak spot to find in O’Donnell and Salvatori’s latest offering of melancholy and hugely appropriate anthems, so much so, that it was a shoe in for this year’s “Best Original Score” winner.
A quick glance at 2010’s line-up would indicate two things about how the year went. On the one hand, there were great sequels galore scattered throughout the year, but if you look between the gaps, 2010 also had its fair share of impressive new franchises. Maybe not in terms of sales, but in terms of quality, hell yes it did.
Zooming into its rightful place as runner up this year is Remedy’s excellent Alan Wake, which proved that games could match the production qualities and stories of those told in Tinseltown. A survival-horror game that excelled with its light vs. dark mechanics, Alan Wake tells the story of a failing writer and his battle against what lies beneath the surface in the quaint mountain town of Bright Falls. Unfortunately, Alan Wake failed to wow on the sales front, but when you consider it went up against the 8 million selling Red Dead Redemption, it’s hardly surprising. Let’s hope Alan Wake is a slow burner... it deserves to be.
Taking home the gold as the “Best New Franchise” of 2010 is Platinum Games and SEGA’s Bayonetta. 2010 started with a bang as Devil May Cry creator, Hideki Kayima, proved that not only could he evolve a genre that he effectively kick-started in 2001, but that he could do it in style with what he called “climax action.” With the leggy temptress Bayonetta leading the way, whose hair actually forms her outfit too, she and the game’s “Witch Time” and its huge bosses took centre-stage as Platinum Games put their name on the map as Japan’s rising star. With action sequences galore, its fluid combat and its over-the-top nature, Bayonetta is the rightly winner of this year’s “Best New Franchise” award.
To say there’s been a bit of a revolution this year on the Xbox Live Arcade is selling the service’s rise in quality rather short. In other words, there were so many great titles this year that narrowing it down to 15, then to 10, then to 5 and then to 3 and then to 1, was like trying to decide what the best film of all time is. We did it though and although many of the staff now have black eyes, we’ll remain friends... well, at least until next year’s awards anyway.
It wouldn’t be a top 3 this year without Double Fine’s latest foray and debut outing on the Xbox Live Arcade: the smaller bite-sized adventure known as Costume Quest. With a bizarre premise, this cutesy Halloween related action-RPG brings imagination to the forefront as you battle local trick or treaters around the mean streets of your atypical American suburb while you search for your lost sibling. With plenty of costumes to find and create, some fantastic transformational turn-based-esque RPG sequences and dollops of humour, Costume Quest very much fits in with Double Fine’s remit to create great, quirky and unique games.
From the fun and the cutesy, to the morbid and creepy. If there’s one title this year that’s had people talking for whatever reason it may be, it has to be Limbo. The dark, physics-based puzzle platformer has literally something for everyone and its lack of real tangible narrative – other than a young boy searching for what seems like his sister – means it's open to many interpretations. It’s likely it'll be its morbid and artsy presentation will first take your eye, but buried beneath all that though is a surprisingly thoughtful platformer that will have you scratching your head at various interludes with its physics based puzzles. Emotional, meaningful, eerily creepy and a hell of a lot of fun, Limbo is a worthy winner this year.
Quite simply put, innovative gameplay mechanics are what keeps our video games and experiences evolving, year in, year out. This year is no different, and while last year it was all about the publisher’s innovations though, this year it’s all about the games!
Making the runners up podium this year is one of the more gamey gameplay features from 2010 and thanks to Just Cause 2’s impressive grappling hook, it took the franchise from being decent, to being great. What’s so great about this grappling hook in particular you ask? Well sir, this is no ordinary grappling hook, and thanks to Avalanche’s great work on it, this easy to control gadget is not only able to be used to navigate the whole island, but can also be doubled up and used as a weapon too. The grappling hook’s slingshot technique coupled together with the parachute meant that you could effectively launch yourself up a mountain or wherever you wanted to go in Panau, but being able to use it to tether enemies together, pull them off ledges, stick them to walls and even stick them to vehicles or explosive canisters, means that it’s just as effective in combat now. It quite simply was a game changer for the sequel and was one of the most impressive implementations of a gadget in any game that we’ve seen in recent times.
Taking home the gold this year by a country mile though is Harmonix’s new “Pro Modes” for Rock Band 3, allowing you to not only rock out to a whole new level, but to learn music at the same time. It’s pretty ingenious stuff and really is the type of genre evolving act that can break barriers in not only the games industry, but in the music industry as well. We can’t emphasise enough how this could change the face of music games forever, and at the same time, teach you a new hobby too. Plus, chicks dig musicians and thus, by extension, they should love gamers now... right? Come on, surely that must be right!! Oh well, regardless of whether that actually pans out or not, Harmonix is deserving of this year’s “Innovative Gameplay Feature” award and should truly be praised for creating such an iconic and genre defining feature.
It’s now time for the “Surprise! You thought we’d suck! But we don’t! Screw you for doubting us!” category... or as we like to call it, the “Biggest Surprise of the Year” award. That’s right, 3 games, one winner; games that we were rightly cautious over and 3 games that said, “You know what? Suck on this!”... or something to that effect.
Kicking things off this year is the return of Need “Oh dear, I thought I was beyond saving” For Speed. Sure, we got a little excited by the announcement that Criterion, famed Burnout creators, were working on the latest Need For Speed sequel, Hot Pursuit, and even more so, when we heard that they were returning the franchise to its roots. Let’s be honest here though, we’ve heard it all before with Need For Speed and we’re only just recovering from being burnt last time, so despite our initial excitement, we were still massively apprehensive. When we finally went hands-on with Criterion’s attempt though, and more importantly, when it came out, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit proved that even the most unsalvageable franchises can be brought back from the brink, no matter how lost they really are. We’ll try to remember that next time, you know, when EA ruin SSX. Ouch. Low blow!
Perched up on the runners up podium with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is Raven Software and Activision’s Singularity, which to put bluntly, was sent out to die by Activision. Usually, when Activision sends something out to die, the title rarely merits any sort of backing, but this time, Singularity only proves that Activision have more money than sense, as they sent out what was a surprisingly great product into the wilderness with no chance at all. Maybe Raven faffed around with it too much. Maybe Activision thought, “Hey we have Call of Duty, we don’t need another shooter anymore!” Who knows? All we know is that they literally did send the title out to die. No fanfare. No advertising campaigns of any sort of impact. A big fat nothing, which is a shame, for such a great game.
Rebooting franchises and changing what made them so good rarely works. Just ask Sonic. So when Konami announced Castlevania: Lords of Shadow would be a 3D, next-gen, hack ‘n’ slash title, we did the usual roll of the eyes, scoffed and went large with our obligatory sarcasm... “Oh, great, just what we need.” That’ll teach us for being so cynical though, because when Castlevania: Lords of Shadow finally shipped this year, we were shocked to get our hands-on not only an impressive hack ‘n’ slash action-adventure game, but one of the year’s best. With puzzles galore, some solid platforming, a decent story and with what can only be described as an epic ending, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a title to get excited about. Now, where’s the sequel?
Next up is the “Surprise! You thought we were going to rock, but we ended up sucking more than Pamela Anderson” category... or as we like to call it, our “Biggest Disappointment of the Year” award. Games that were meant to be great, but really didn’t deliver. As such though, to be nominated, our expectations must have been at a fairly elevated level, so expect sequels of originals that showed massive potential.
How ironic... or should I say unfortunate, that last year’s runner up for our “Biggest Surprise of the Year” award, now has a sequel in the “Biggest Disappointment” category. Well, I suppose that’s what happens when you rush out a sequel in a year and add gameplay features that are totally against the grain of what made the original so engaging. In fact, everything that Ubisoft Romania did for HAWX 2 inevitably made the sequel far less superior than the original... which totally upsets the whole status quo of developing sequels. R.I.P HAWX, we could have had something special, but in the end you pissed your impressive start up the wall.
Okay, so The Force Unleashed was a decent enough game, right? It gave you a sense to feel what it would be like to wield The Force, and although it lacked a serious amount of polish, you could appreciate its potential. What quite happened between the original and the sequel though and how it went quite so wrong is a mystery that not even Sherlock Holmes could untangle. The franchise went from telling an epic story in a wonderfully diverse universe, to telling a poor story, crowbarring in various cameos and only allowing you to visit a handful of uninspiring locations. In other words, generally taking more backwards steps than Michael Jackson did when he moonwalked his way across the stage. Yeah, disappointed is an understatement. Dear LucasArts, Boo hoo! That is all.
It’s time to make the sprint towards the finish line and before we get onto the climax of the show, we must first throw praise at those who make or even fund the games that we get our jollies off on. First up... a trio of this year’s best developers.
When you say best developer these days, it actually physiologically impossible to do so without saying BioWare. 2010 was a huge year for the Canadian developer, not just in products released, like the brilliant Mass Effect 2, but in their post release support of their two RPG franchises as well; with Mass Effect 2 getting a handful of progressively improving pieces of DLC and Dragon Age: Origins with more solid - yet, not amazing - episodes. They even found time to announce Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3... I get the feeling that 2011 may be even bigger for one of the industry’s truly great developers.
In a time when most Japanese developers are either struggling to keep up with the fast moving West or criticising their Japanese counterparts, Platinum Games quietly knocked out a couple of gems this year to prove that Japanese developers were still as good as the best of them. Led by Tatsuya Minami and housing some huge Japanese names like Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya, Platinum Games started 2010 in style with its fast-paced, “Best New Franchise,” Bayonetta, before finishing their year with the even more fast paced and ludicrously outrageous, Vanquish. Considering that both IPs were the studio’s first HD console outings – following their Wii title, Mad World, and the DS title, Infinite Space – I think it’s safe to say that Platinum Games hit the road running. Unfortunately, while Bayonetta seems to have sold reasonably well, Vanquish got lost in the flurry of Christmas rush titles in October, but such is the gamble in releasing a new IP at the busiest time of the year. Hey, at least we should get a Bayonetta 2 though, right? Kudos Platinum Games, you’ve really outdone yourself this year and shown it’s definitely possible to jump in right at the top.
What makes a good publisher for the purposes of this award? In truth, it’s quite simple, but it never really pans out that way when we’re breaking it down. At its core, the publisher must have a really solid stable of games for that year, or in our case this year, support one impressive title to the nth degree, but not only that, it’s about consistency. It’s no good shipping 2 90% games if you’re going to ship 5 30% games... or something to that effect.
Speaking of publishers who created an impressive title and supported the heck out of it; let me present the first of our runners up: Rockstar. It appears that Rockstar can’t do much wrong these days and after spending far too long out of the limelight, they struck back onto the dance floor in 2010 with Red Dead Redemption. Just sending it out and reaping the rewards wasn’t enough for them, and throughout the year they’ve released DLC pack after DLC pack and looked to nurture those fans who look up to them. The DLC came thick and fast, and ranged from free co-op DLC and pretty expansive multiplayer DLC, all the way through to a whole new single-player zombie expansion. They even found time to bundle all the DLC up and ship it out on a separate disc. Can anyone say “Gee willikers, that sure is impressive you dirty rotten varmint!”? I could, but I’d look like a buffoon.
There really could have been no other winner this year, as Microsoft not only surprised the hell out of us with Kinect – and even a few of their Kinect games were pretty damn decent, a la Kinectimals and Kinect Sports – but its first party core offering this year was as good as it’s ever been.. If you like a bit of a good story and suspense, there was Remedy’s Alan Wake; if you ever longed to be ruler of Albion and to fart in people’s faces, there was Lionhead’s Fable III; and if you ever wanted to see what it would be like to step into the shoes of a Spartan that wasn’t Master Chief, then Halo: Reach had you covered. Three triple-A titles that all offered fantastic and unique experiences. Even though Crackdown 2 didn’t build upon its predecessor either, it would still be a decent title for those who missed the original first time around. Then there’s all their Xbox Live Arcade offerings as well, including the likes of Limbo and Raskulls, and that’s not even including their Xbox Live platform that hit Windows Phone 7s this year, either. Oh my, the list goes on. To cut a long story short, Microsoft Games Studios had an excellent 2010 and were clear winners this year. Unfortunately our prognosis for next year isn’t nearly as impressive, because aside from Gears of War 3 and Forza 4, we really have no idea what to expect... which can always be a rather worrying sign.
And that’s it... you’ve hopefully read through all 5,500 words to get to this point. You’ve hopefully soaked up all 103 witticisms and all 67 of my sarcastic comments... all for this. The pinnacle of our yearly awards show and the chance for this year’s standout game to join an elite club... It’s Game of the Year time folks! Let’s get it on!
Just missing out this year is Platinum Games’ superb hack ‘n’ slash title, Bayonetta, and being a new IP and making this cut is a testament to how impressive Platinum Games’ debut offering really was. A title that really did propel the almost stagnant hack ‘n’ slash genre back into the stratosphere and one that has raised the standard in what we expect from it now. Bayonetta not only delivered on the fast paced combat front, but with its unique ‘Witch Time’ mode, the reliance shifted from button mashing and carefully timed combos to battlefield tactics and sheer elegance. It took outrageousness one step further with its kill sequences and its climax action meant that the trip would never be short of epic highs. I mean, how often can you say you’ve fought angelic beasts on the surface of a series of falling structures? Never is the answer you are looking for.
BioWare’s epic space opera this year was a resounding winner for “Game of the Year” and they proved to the masses that it was easily possible to have both an epic RPG and a more-than-functional third person shooter under one roof. Not only did its transformation open the door for Mass Effect fans to lose large chunks of their lives to the well thought out and amazingly realised universe that sits within the confines of its two-discs, but it also paved the way for those that couldn’t get to grips with the original’s RPG-esque roots. Leading the way in both visuals and with its epic score, thanks to BioWare’s save system across the franchise, Mass Effect 2 was not only an in-depth experience for new players, but had a certain personal touch for those who had put the hours in with the original. Bubbling beneath the holy-crap-Shepard-must-save-the-universe exterior, were many threads, both in terms of loyalty missions and side missions, that truly expanded the experience to the nth degree and created one of the best overall experiences this generation. Mass Effect 2 was soaked in BioWare’s usual traits of choice and morality, which when combined with its depth, its insanely high production values and its ability to make you care about the universe you are sent to protect, make Mass Effect 2 a truly deserving winner.
In the words of Porky Pig, that’s all folks! Be sure to stick with us over the next few days as we look back over 2010 as a whole, look forward to 2011 and of course, dazzle you with our top 20 most anticipated games of next year. Congrats to all the winners, happy new year to all our readers and here’s to an even more successful 2011... if that’s even possible!