Game of the Year 2014 (And other unfashionably late awards)
THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN LIKE DECEMBER. I WAS TOO BUSY PLAYING BEEP BOOP PEW PEWS EATING DORY TOES AND REPLACING MY BLOOD WITH MOUNTAIN DEW HILL WATER VIA DIALYSIS. I ALSO WAS HAVING TOO MUCH FUN OPPRESSING BOTH MY OWN BROODMARE AND THE FEMALE SPECIES AS A RACE TO WRITE THIS THREE-THOUSAND WORD DOCUMENT. I HAVE NOW COMPLETED SAID DOCUMENT AND AM READY TO PRESENT IT TO YOU. GOD BLESS.
Game of the Year: TIE – Bayonetta 2 & Alien Isolation
The first is a flawlessly executed masterpiece of third-person action, the very apex of stylish character brawler games. It stars the titular dominatrix, armed with witch powers that draw energy from her hair (Bayo’s ‘do also serves as a bodysuit, so she temporarily becomes mostly naked as the player pounds the inputs and she kicks all the asses). She also has guns for stilettos on her high heels, just because it’s fuckin’ rad, and Bayonetta 2 is all about being fuckin’ rad, which is kind of the point of video games as far as I’m concerned. The opening level starts with said witch-domme’s Christmas shopping interrupted to battle demons from hell atop fighter jets as they blast recklessly through a city. It ends with a fight against a giant hell dragon as it ascends a skyscraper. Again, this is only the opening level.
Because IP owner Sega has (mostly) become a company that wouldn’t know a good thing if said good thing put it in restraints for being naughty and told it to lick its boot, Bayonetta 2 is a game that wouldn’t have been made if Nintendo (of all companies) hadn’t funded development and picked up the publishing rights. As such, Bayonetta 2 is a Wii U exclusive now and forever. This means you should absolutely own a Wii U. There’s a sentence I never would have written if Bayonetta 2 did not exist, so what I’m saying to you is Bayonetta 2 is that rarest of beasts: The platform-exclusive game that singlehandedly justifies the purchase of several hundred dollars of new video game hardware.
The other is the best survival horror game since Dead Space 1 & 2, and a licensed game that not only matches, but also exceeds its source material. That might be taken as heresy at the home of 80s action, but it remains undeniably true. The atmosphere of Alien: Isolation is downright oppressive, bringing the terror in a way that few movies can in our more jaded age. The game finds Ripley’s grown daughter seeking closure re: her mother’s death on a decommissioned space station belonging to Yutani competitor Seegson. The station, Sevastapol, is meticulously crafted with the sort of painstaking detail you’d usually expect from film preproduction – it does not come across as a series of levels, but an honest to god slum in the stars where people lived, toiled, and died. What this means for the player is an opportunity to fully explore one of horror’s scariest universes in a game developed on a budget usually reserved for its film installments.
Perhaps most impressive is how Isolation proves there’s a joyous middle for horror games between “Doom” and “Garbage Indie Walking Simulator With Spooky Art Assets.” There are guns here, yes, but little ammo with which to defend yourself from the malfunctioning synthetics and murderous residents aboard the station. There’s also the matter of the single Alien lurking about: She laughs at your guns, you can’t kill her, and the only hope for survival is zealous use of your motion tracker (in the late game, a flamethrower can buy you a moment to escape, but only a moment). Journos largely panned it for not holding the player’s hand & being unfriendly to deadlines, but for those willing to save often & make liberal use of the provided motion detector, Alien Isolation is a grand, glorious vision of what horror games could be if AAA developers still cared to make them.
Shooter of the Year: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Consider this an honorary runner-up for Game of the Year. A one-man army named B.J. Blazkowicz awakens from a coma to discover the Nazis not only won the war, but built a mech army and a moon base. The only remedy is an assload of violence. Sweet, sweet dual wielding, body-chunking, throat-cutting v-i-o-l-e-n-c-e. He’ll gleefully murder untold storm troopers, punch robot Dobermans in the face, and use the world’s largest chainsaw to interrogate a Nazi officer. All this, and B.J. still finds time to fuck the fear of God into his hot female sidekick as they ride a Nazi train undercover. Truly, a game for the ages. (Review)
Most Hyped Game Everyone Should Have Known Would Be Mediocre: Watch Dogs
From the second it was announced, game journos lavished praise on Watch Dogs, flogging their genitals raw over a game they thought would do what we (they) had been really waiting for: Drone on at length about technology and privacy issues with all the excitement of a monotone NPR broadcast (or, if you’d like, any given Verge article). Surprise! The game we actually got was a bog standard open-world exercise that did nothing to truly elevate itself above its competitors in the genre. (Review)
The Fecal Joystick Award for Excellence in the Field of Wasted Dollars: Thief
Terrible, dumbed down game design (not even a jump button, for fuck’s sake) meets a rancid story and shoddy, glitch-prone code. This kind of incompetence sucks anytime it makes it to a store shelf, but it stings extra hard when it ends up killing one of the most revered stealth franchises in history. If the Thief franchise was a living, breathing, shitting human baby, I’d be required by law to contact child protective services right now. (Review)
Biggest Letdown: Destiny
I don’t know that Bungie was ever going to replicate the lightning-in-bottle success of Halo. It’s the sort of thing that only happens once in a lifetime, by mistake. Consider that Halo started life as a Mac exclusive Real Time Strategy (RTS) game, then Apple let Bungie get loose and the rest is history. I can tell you from experience that Halo was pretty much all there was worth playing on the OG Xbox during its first year (anyone nostalgic over Kabuki Warriors? New Legends?). If Apple had kept its hold on Halo, Xbox would have ended up in the same failed product hell as Bob, Kin, and (any day now) Surface.
So, I wasn’t expecting anything like that. But I also wasn’t expecting an MMO-style game that somehow has nothing to do in it. I also wasn’t expecting a stingy, sadistic loot system, or for the game to not let me undertake its best mission unless I manually assemble a full team of six players without the aid of matchmaking. I still haven’t played said mission, because the backend of 2014 is full of fantastic games that don’t work against my enjoyment of it after the first 8-12 hours. (Review)
Best RPG as Decided By a Guy Who Generally Dislikes RPGS: South Park – The Stick of Truth
It’s playable South Park, written by the guys who make South Park, and developed by the guys who made Fallout: New Vegas. I think we’re done here. (Review)
Best Remaster: Grand Theft Auto 5
The flat-out best game of 2013 gets rereleased on hardware that can actually handle its vision. It also gets the ability to play in first-person mode, which is reason enough to double dip. Buy it again and watch the games press cry twice as Rockstar accumulates even more money.
Most Overrated: Shadow of Mordor
A decent licensed game? Sure. Takes the Assassin’s Creed concept and makes it into something you’ll actually enjoy playing? Yes. A revolutionary step heralding the future of gaming on next-gen consoles? Not on your life. For all the praise thrown at the game’s “nemesis system,” Shadow of Mordor basically tacked random loot generation principles onto high-level enemies. A neat trick by a fun game, but hardly the milestone it’s made out to be.
Best Game You Should Probably Buy Used: Far Cry 4
It’s a technically impressive first-person shooter with a great villain, plus it lets you rig C4 to elephants and jump off cliffs in a wingsuit. It’s also written by an asshole that wrote a game script referencing the Kanye West/Taylor Swift beef in TYOOL 2014 and believes people pulling for disclosure in games journalism are terrorists. So, you know, take money out of his pocket and save yourself some cash.
Best DLC: The Last of Us – Left Behind
Naughty Dog made a short bit of DLC featuring teenage lesbians. Unlike another “game” featuring teenage lesbians, this one involves more than walking around a boring house built with shitty graphics to read narrated, heavy-handed tumblr posts. Instead, you get to run from (and sometimes murder) fungus zombies in a gorgeously rendered shopping mall that’s been reclaimed by nature after the apocalypse. Worth it.
Best Downloadable Game: Rogue Legacy
It combines Castlevania-style dungeon crawling & the challenge of roguelikes with a modern leveling system that ensures you’ll always want “just one more game.” I was glued to my seat for weeks with this thing during the summer lull.
Best NES game of 2014: Shovel Knight
Pixel art is too often used as a stand-in for budget or game design talent, but Shovel Knight is the rare game that uses the style well to pay homage as a loving gesture, not a crutch. I’m not the first to make this observation, but here is a game that plays like you remember your old games playing, not how most of them actually did play (read: poorly). The retro-inspired game racket is often a perilous sea of shit, but this one gives me hope.
Best Tony Hawk Game You’re Gonna Get These Days: Olli Olli
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 is one of the best games of all time, and the pinnacle of the series as far as I’m concerned. The latest Tony Hawk game, released in 2009, was an embarrassingly broken piece of garbage that threw out the franchise’s incredibly tight twitch-based action controls for a terrible, unresponsive skateboard peripheral. The skating genre’s been dead since, but Olli Olli manages to scale down the elements that made THPS so classic and apply them to a low-cost 2D framework. If you wasted your youth on the Hawk games, you owe it yourself to pick this one up on whatever Playstation/PC platform you have.
The “I Can’t Believe They Shipped This To Retail” Award: Halo: The Master Chief Collection
How do you manage to completely break the multiplayer portion of games that worked just fine in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2011? How do you manage to do that and then charge $60 for it? How do you fuck up the legacy of Halo this bad when the entire reason your company was created was to make Halo shit after Bungie got sick of making Halo shit?
How bad is the problem? This game came out in early November 2014. I’m writing this on the last day of February 2015, and yet matchmaking remains 100% broken. Everyone involved at 343i should lose a goddamn job for this.
Biggest Masochist: Vandel
Who writes a review of both Daikatana and TekWar in the same year? Who makes each of those reviews the length of a capstone thesis? Vandel, buddy, it’s not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy these fantastic pieces. I did, they’re golden. But I’m worried about you. What’s next? Beyond: Two Souls? Take it from me, a guy who has been there: In 2015, do yourself a favor and rub your dick on a cheese grater half a thousand times. You’ll save yourself a bunch of pain.
Worst Game Journo:
In the summer, I went through a lot of trouble to start forming a concept for a bracket-style tournament to determine the worst game journalist of 2014. I drew up introductions and samples of each contender’s work. I put out some feelers to see who might want to be involved in the judging process. It was a fun idea and I was excited about it.
Then late summer happened, and the truth came out: There was simply no need for such a tournament. With rare exception, they’re all terrible. The games journalism racket is filled top to bottom with piles of broken human garbage who have no stable sense of personal identity, and/or wrap that identity up in their ability to tie their latest personal dramas in to articles about disposable computer entertainment. The issues these clods harp on are better handled through counseling, but hey, you try affording therapy on a journo’s salary.
What do you get when a bunch of dramatic, perpetually obnoxious liberal arts types grow awful beards and approach their 30/40s? With apologies to the handful of spinsters-in-training who lord their status as Token Vaginas over the racket at every opportunity, you get the entirety of the games press in the year of our lord 2014. No contest is needed: Fuck the lot of them, fuck them all.
Best Mainstream Game Journalist: Erik Kain
This is one of those “rare exceptions” I spoke of. Here’s why I feel that way:
- Erik Kain called out his peers for treating their readership like garbage, while still being willing to tell the fringe outliers of our movement to cut the shit. No game journo called it closer down the middle in 2014 than Erik Kain.
- This is probably because Erik Kain works for Forbes, a publication that isn’t always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, liable to go over if an angry publisher or two yank ad buys because of a bad review.
- Erik Kain has standing beef with Ben “Five Kids with a Dual Shock 4 Titfuck Doll” Kuchera, which means I’m sort of predisposed to like Erik Kain a whole hell of a lot.
In summation, Erik Kain writes for Forbes. This means that in 2014, the best mainstream game journalism came from Forbes. That is a sentence I just wrote, without a hint of irony.
Best Alternative Game Journalism: The Ralph Retort
Keeping track of all the happenings of Gamergate has been a headache, even for someone like me who arguably put the one of the first bundles of kindling in the fire pit. Ralph’s blog is the journos’ worst nightmare, a sort of Gamergate-friendly Gawker that painstakingly rakes muck on a cottage industry accustomed to having said muck entirely unraked. It deals in sensationalism as stock and trade, but no person or outlet has done a more consistent job of meticulously reporting on the horrible shit game journos do than The Ralph, so here’s to him.
Cockroach Award: Anita Sarkeesian & Jonathan McIntosh
In a year that saw the fortunes of the slacktivist games press approach rock bottom, these two charlatans cemented their position as the feigned-outrage industry’s most resilient power couple. A shrewd woman willing to do anything to keep her stock rising, including outright plagiarism & coopting the murder of actual children, Sarkeesian and her boyfriend/puppet master producer McIntosh managed to land attention and favorable press from Joss Whedon, Stephen Colbert, The New York Times and Nightline. They also got their non-profit status and a vig of Intel’s $300 million slush fund (founded as a pressured mea culpa for doing the right thing.) Anita’s shtick has always been that of a social justice televangelist, her new windfall makes her Feminist Frequency organization the tumblr equivalent of the Catholic Church. Kiss the ring, bend over the altar, pucker your shitpussy: It’s time to Listen & Believe.
Helen of Troy Award: Zoe Quinn
The infamous purple-haired lunatic certainly doesn’t share the beauty of “the face that launched a thousand ships,” but nobody can deny her despicable behavior in romantic relationships was the flashpoint for a war that has popped a rather resilient bubble of incestuous self-aggrandizing and backscratching. In a very real, very weird way, anyone who has ever rolled their eyes at a games writer trying to play sociologist owes Zoe and her “Five Guys” a debt of thanks.
Biggest News: Gamergate
For better or worse, what else could have taken this? A prolonged, six-month plus Internet shitflinging to defend the honor of goddamn video games is dumb as hell, but holy God & Christ you should see the other guys. The current makeup of the games press is dominated by posturing, left-of-Stalin faux-progressives with broken personal lives (that they just love to write about at length, only sometimes bothering to tenuously link them to Actual Video Games). The tumblrization of the games press over the past few years has been fascinating to watch, as those paid to cover electronic distractions have a mid/quarterlife crisis and decide it’s never really too late to chase that Pulitzer. It took a while – this has been festering for years – but 2014 is when gamers finally got sick of glorified marketers from the most expensive cities in the country lecturing them about “privilege.” Gamers have impotently threatened boycotts in the past, but this time, the disenfranchisement seems to have greatly outweighed the desire to start no-scope headshottin’ at 12:01 AM on release day.
Also, yeah, I typed the word “disenfranchisement” while writing about video games. I should probably go to sleep. Or go fuck myself.