Best Genre Defying – The Stanley Parable
Tim: Oh, readers. Of all the genre-defying games out there, you would vote for the one that’s really, really difficult to describe, wouldn’t you? Well, let’s try: The Stanley Parable casts you as Stanley, who discovers that he’s all alone in his office building. Everyone else has disappeared. From there, a passive-aggressive (and regularly hilarious) narrator attempts to make you follow the path of the story he’s laid out, while you either follow his instructions or wilfully ignore them to make him sad and see how he – and the world – reacts. The Stanley Parable plays with the notions of choice, consequences, achievements, exploration, and pretty much everything else modern gaming either does or should do. It’s wonderful. And if you’re not into artsy stuff, it’s also one of the funniest games of the year, with the demo alone providing more laughs and entertainment than more than one AAA mega-title I can think of.
Runner-up: Papers, Please
Best Horror – Outlast
Peter: Hello, I am a man who has not actually played Outlast. But I did watch Tim play through a decent chunk of it, so I’m fairly sure it’s a game about hiding in cupboards and asking angry men to please go away. Outlast is also a game in which you play an idiot who goes to investigate a super-creepy asylum without telling anybody, because that’s how people in horror titles behave. Blaming the victim isn’t really fair, but as I watched Tim being pursued through dilapidated hallways by a pair of naked men who crave an internal organ buffet, I couldn’t help casting my mind back to one of the life lessons of Arrested Development: “And that’s why you always leave a note.”
Runner-up : Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (and not, sadly, Barbie Dreamhouse Party)
Best MMO – Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Tim: Props to Square Enix: Final Fantasy XIV was rubbish, and rather than tell us that it was actually fine and we were just dumb, they admitted their mistake, took it down, reworked it over the next few years, and then re-released it as the vastly updated Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. And this time, they actually crafted a fine and robust MMO. There’s a lengthy main quest, some decent instances and boss fights, a unique crafting system, a vast swathe of classes (which can be swapped between at any time by changing weapon) each of which offer their own mechanics and can be customised with abilities from the other classes, and it also looks unspeakably beautiful. And hooray! The devs are now getting into the swing of things with free content updates, with the last one adding a huge amount of stuff as well as a PvP system. In short, it looks like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will be around for quite some time, and it’ll likely continue to improve and innovate as it goes.
Runner-up : Neverwinter
Best Open World – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Peter: I’m currently a little upset with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, because Ubisoft’s servers have been refusing to acknowledge my existence for about the past week. That’s more the publisher’s fault than the game’s though, and back when I was able to log in properly, ACIV was great. This award should perhaps be ‘Open Oceans’ rather than world, because Edward Kenway and co spend as much their time yo-ho-ho and blow-the-man-down-ing across the waters as they do on land. Unlike ACIII, Black Flag actually gives players access to the ‘open’ part without first making them do a fifty hour tutorial, and the vast amounts of collectibles actually have some point to them this time. Scampering across Havana rooftops makes a weird kind of sense when you’re chasing down another sea shanty for your crew to belt out as they stalk a tasty treasure convoy. ACIV also has terrific fun pointing out how silly the main series story is, to the extent that the ‘real world’ parts now cast you as an Abstergo Entertainment employee making a pirate game, and Kenway’s approach to most Assassin vs Templar problems is to call someone a shitbird and steal all their gold. It may be the last hurrah for some series mechanics that are beginning to creak louder than a ship’s rigging, but this result proves that Black Flag rediscovered much of the Assassin’s Creed charm that made Ezio’s trilogy so beloved.
Runner-up : Saints Row 4
Best Puzzle/Platformer – Rayman Legends
Tim: YES! You sensible, sensible people. Rayman Legends isn’t just the best platformer of the year – it’s also one of the best platformers of any year. Okay, yes, it’s a side-on run-and-jumper… but it’s full of secrets, unlockables, bonus modes and levels, clever innovations, perfect level design, beautiful art, a whimsical tone, and some of the best End of World levels ever. (I refer, there, to the musical levels.) It’s also playable in co-op with friends and family, just to make it even more smashing. As far as I’m concerned, Rayman Legends is a richly deserved winner in this category, and it’s a game that basically everyone should own.
Runner-up : Contrast
Best Roguelike – Don’t Starve
Tim: Because it just wouldn’t be Christmas unless you voted for at least one game full of giant bloody spiders, right? Still, I can see why you opted for this one. Don’t Starve is Klei Entertainment’s staggeringly big action roguelike which dumps you all alone in the wilderness and asks you to survive for as long as you can. Build up a shelter, research new items, equip and arm yourself, set up a farm, explore the world, craft new tools, chop down trees, run from giant bloody spiders, and never, ever stand around in the dark. While you’re at it, try not to starve. Don’t Starve is massive, ambitious, clever, and very, very compelling, and despite the giant bloody spiders it’s a worthy victor in this hotly-contested category.
Runner-up : Rogue Legacy
Best Shooter – Bioshock Infinite
Peter: It’s a little ironic that BioShock Infinite is skylining home with the ‘Best Shooter’ award, because even its most ardent supporters would probably put the gun-play below the game’s world-building and narrative aspects. Getting the most out of combat often means pushing the generic firearms aside in favour of Infinite’s plasmid-equivalent vigors. It’s a shame Booker is forced into unleashing death upon the inhabitants of the impeccably-curated sky city of Columbia so soon after his arrival, but at least the flocks of burning crows make it entertaining. Away from the violence, there’s a theme for everyone in Infinite’s far-reaching tale; from guilt, remorse, fatherhood and loss, to authoritarian oppression and false political equivalence. Casting such a wide net means a few inevitable holes, but Ken Levine’s obsession with the illusion of player choice is as taut as ever. Booker and Elizabeth are two of the year’s most engaging characters, and Colombia one of it’s finest stages.
Runner-up : Metro: Last Light
Best Strategy – XCOM: Enemy Within
Tim: I said this when I reviewed it, but XCOM: Enemy Within is pretty much the quintessential expansion pack. It’s not just a minor piece of DLC that adds a few little bits and pieces, nor is it a pseudo-sequel that adds half a game to the end of the original. It’s a product that vastly expands on, improves, and changes the way you play the base game, giving you more options and agonising decisions; more threats and abilities to counter those threats – and when the base game being expanded is as special as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you’re in for a treat. Everyone who enjoyed Enemy Unknown should grab Enemy Within, and everyone enjoyed Enemy Unknown. Right?
Runner-up : Company of Heroes 2
Best Third Person Action Thingy – Tomb Raider
Tim: The New Adventures of Lara Croft is, if I’m being perfectly honest, the first Tomb Raider game I’ve enjoyed in quite a long time. Yes, I know. I’m a heathen. I’m sorry. But I like fluid controls, solid gunplay, explorable environments with a degree of non-linear progression, excellent voice acting, likeable characters, strong plots, and solid narrative arcs. Apparently, so do many of you! New Tomb Raider has all of these things in spades, so – in short – I adore basically everything that Crystal Dynamics did with this reboot of the franchise, not least the wonderful atmosphere created by Rhianna Pratchett’s superb writing. My only real complaint with it is that it never went quite far enough, and (like complaining that you wish there was more of a game) that’s less a complaint and more an indication that you’ve been playing something truly special.
Runner-up : DmC: Devil May Cry