Best Game That’s Functionally Identical to the Last One But Now It Has Pirates: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Peter: Black Flag has received a much more positive reception amongst players than predecessor Assassin’s Creed 3 did, but I think you can make a credible case that there’s far less to separate the two games than it first appears. Both suffer from too many tedious, drawn-out story missions (“eavesdropping” and “tailing” respectively) and a narrative that’s all over the place in terms of pacing. The controls and mechanics haven’t really changed much between the two games, and combat is still borderline automated. But Black Flag has pirates, and because it has pirates it can focus a lot more on characters that are actually interesting, sea shanties and riding the waves of fortune. Amazingly, that’s all it took to redeem the Assassin’s Creed series. Not an overhaul of the creaking central mechanics. Not scaling back the absurd plot or obsessive collectathon structure of the open world, but the simple act of re-introducing a lead character with charisma and having him poke fun at the Assassins vs Templars as often as possible.
Best Game That’s Actually Identical to the Last One: Batman: Arkham Origins
Tim: The Batman: Arkham series is really rather good. The first game was something new and exciting, mixing up some solid stealth gameplay with some solid melee combat, and throwing in a reasonably open world with a whole lot of sidequests and collectibles. The second expanded the environs, turning a large section of Gotham into a prison in which Batman found himself trapped, and throwing in a load of new gadgets, abilities, and villains. It took one hell of a risk with the plot, too. Then there’s the third game, Arkham Origins, which… oh. No, that’s basically Arkham City all over again, only without the storytelling or the flair. “Actually identical” is hyperbole – obviously, it’s not the exact same game repackaged and re-released a year later; you have to look at sports games for that. But considering the innovation that the first two games showed, Arkham Origins is just a disappointing and stale retread of ground that was covered back in 2011.
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Most Worthy Attempt to Do Every Genre At Once: Dragon Commander
Peter: To play Dragon Commander is to experience some sort of development word cloud in motion. As if Larian went around the office asking people what their favourite game genres were, then said “yes, we’ll make that” to all of them. While it doesn’t quite manage to hit every category of gaming, Dragon Commander is a sterling effort at genre bingo. The first, and perhaps last, choice-based-RPG-board-game-RTS-dragon-simulator in history. Divinity: Original Sin looks great and everything, but I’m a little sad that it won’t be a roguelike-management-sports-FPS-platformer-RPG with added co-op.
Tim: On the plus side, Lords of Football 2 will probably be exactly that.
Best Slightly Old Japanese Console Game That Got a Fucking Abomination of a PC Port, but is Being Fixed Up by the Community: Deadly Premonition – The Director’s Cut
Tim: Bizarrely enough, this category isn’t quite the one-off that it might seem. With the consoles shifting generation, quite a lot of developers have apparently got it into their heads that – hey – there’s actually money to be made on that PC thing. Last year, we got a dreadful port of Dark Souls, which several Real Internet Heroes (most notably Durante) patched up, modded, and made excellent. This year, quirky life-sim/murder mystery/Twin Peaks-’em-up/horror comedy Deadly Premonition made an appearance on PC… with no gamepad support, a locked resolution, and absolutely no PC-specific options. Durante (and other unsung heroes, like InfiniteNine) promptly fixed it up with patches and HD fonts and HUDs and the like. From what I can gather it’s not quite done yet, but it’s getting there. Three cheers for the PC community, and three hundred cheers for the skilled members of the public able to drag horrible ports up to the superb standards their base games deserve.
Best Strategy Series Everybody Always Forgets About: Wargame: Airland Battle
Peter: I think Paul was originally going to review this one and then something happened like the site exploded and needed urgent attention, or something. The point is, the moment passed and we skipped out (again) on reviewing one of the Wargame series. Granted, it doesn’t help itself by having the dullest name possible (and, in the case of Airland Battle, one of gaming’s clumsier subtitles,) but that’s not really a good excuse to miss out on a game that actually seems to be doing its best to offer a unique spin on the PC real-time strategy formula. Wargame titles rarely seem to be included in end of year “Best Of” lists, despite their obvious quality and ambition; so we hope this award goes some way towards making Eugen Systems feel a little more appreciated for their work. Wargame: Red Dragon is Eugen’s next project. We’ll try to actually give it some coverage.
Tim: In fairness, I don’t always forget about this series. Wargame: European Escalation was great, and should be accoladed as such. It just… sometimes slips my mind. A lot. Like, for most of this year. And I completely forgot that Red Dragon was a thing until you mentioned it just then. I’ll, uh… I’ll get my coat.
Best Game That Didn’t Actually Come Out On Tim’s Birthday: Watch Dogs
Tim: It was meant to come out on my birthday. Then, a month before it was due out, they delayed it. I’m sorry, I… I’m not sure I can write any more about this. It still hurts, you know?
Best Plot Borrowed From Fringe: BioShock Infinite (WARNING THIS AWARD HAS SPOILERS)
Peter: Now look, I like BioShock Infinite’s ending just fine. It’s a breathless rush through parallel universe exposition and sci-fi bluster, but if you don’t try too hard to map it on a flow chart it just about holds together. I think. After finishing the game, I was watching Fringe on Netflix and … well, the plots are rather similar, aren’t they? Booker/Comstock is Walter. Elizabeth is Pacey from Dawson’s Creek. The Lutece twins are, um, Dunham? The alien dudes? I’m not sure. The point is, “child taken by one version of protagonist into parallel universe causes severe problems” is pretty much Fringe’s whole deal. Were Irrational marathoning the first couple of seasons while Infinite was going through its late-period development problems? I think we should be told.