Welcome to the PC Invasion Alternative Awards for 2017; the Third Estate of our awards coverage. There’s the Readers’ Awards, the results of which can be found here. We do staff picks (which should be rolling out later this week). And then there’s … this. An homage of some of the lesser-celebrated aspects of this year’s games. Want to know which game would benefit from having no story whatsoever? Or the best helicopter blade suicide of 2017? Read on, the alternative awards have just what you need.
The Alternative Awards Winners Are…
The What Took You So Fucking Long Award – Necromunda: Underhive Wars
Peter: I can’t remember exactly when we noticed that Games Workshop were licensing their properties to anybody who shouted a request loudly enough from the street outside their company HQ. But whenever it was, one game always seemed to be missing. Warhammer 40K had about fifty different games (including a chess variant for god’s sake). Creative Assembly were handling Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Cyanide squeezed Blood Bowl until all the DLC teams fell out. Even Mordheim was getting some love. So where the hell was Necromunda? It’s basically XCOM with Warhammer 40K hive gangs; you’d imagine that would do alright on PC.
Well, in January this year, Focus and Rogue Factor (who also made Mordheim, so, hmm) announced Necromunda: Underhive Wars. Then they re-announced it in July for some reason. I’ve heard absolutely nothing about it since those announcements, but the magic phrase ‘turn-based tactical RPG’ appeared both times so that’s good. Games Workshop also reissued the tabletop version of the game in 2017, so perhaps they’re holding off on a videogame adaptation until that’s had time to breathe a little. On that basis, this award may be a bit premature. But at least somebody, at some point, noticed that a Necromunda PC adaptation would be a great idea.
Tim: I’m pretty sure we’ve been banging on about Necromunda for the past few years, so I think we’re safe to claim credit for this one. Unless it’s rubbish, in which case… well, hey, it was still a nice idea. And yes, considering Mordheim and Battlefleet Gothic and so on, Necromunda‘s continued absence always seemed a little weird.
Award For Best Outfit Accompanying A Studio Announcement – Swery (White Owls Inc)
Peter: Swery (Hidetaka Suehiro) hasn’t had the best time getting his new game project, The Good Life, off the ground. Last I saw, the creative mind behind Deadly Premonition was pondering a re-launch on Kickstarter after a Fig campaign for $1.5 million USD fell well short. That’s a shame, because I’d rather like to play a game about a photographer stuck in a weird English village where everybody turns into a cat at nightfall.
But even if Swery’s plans for The Good Life don’t come to fruition, we’ll always have the promotional photos that accompanied the announcement of his new studio, White Owls Inc. Most people, if they even have a photoshoot for their new studio, opt for fairly standard headshots. Not Swery. Swery decided to imagine what would happen if the Pringles logo dressed as Oscar Wilde and adopted a messenger owl from Harry Potter. The results were spectacular.
Best Button Prompt Award – Tekken 7
Peter: The most infamous videogame button prompt of recent times is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s ‘Press F to Pay Respects’. Tekken 7 doesn’t quite manage to reach the heights of flatly abstracting funereal grief on to the action of pushing a small piece of plastic on your keyboard. But I think we can all accept that’s a tough hurdle to clear.
During Tekken 7’s prologue you control a young Kazuya trying to land a punch on your father, Heihachi, while he calls you pathetic. That’s a lovely piece of family bonding in itself, but things really take off after Heihachi knocks Kazuya out and carries him to the lip of a volcano. At that point the text ‘Throw Kazuya off’ appears, along with the button prompt to do exactly that. There’s only one option: tossing your humiliated son into the fiery epicenter of a volcano. Glorious.
Tim: Also: more chucking kids into volcanoes, please. (And here’s an F for the previous infamous button prompt. You can decide whether that’s me paying respects or implying something rude.)
Best Opting Out of the Entire Affair via Helicopter Blades – Prey
Peter: I don’t think Prey sold terribly well, which is an awful shame because it’s about as close to System Shock 3 as we’re going to get for the time being (an actual System Shock 3 is in development at Otherside, but it’ll be a while). These games, like their Looking Glass Studios/Deus Ex lineage, are all about giving the player maximum agency within an otherwise familiar first-person/RPG-ish structure. Want to use Prey’s GLOO cannon to reach places the level designers didn’t anticipate? Go ahead. Found a fantastic skill combo or left-field solution to a problem? Prey is all about that.
So when the helicopter touched down at the end of the introductory credits, I was instinctively drawn to one question: can I just end it all now by wandering into the chopper blades? The answer, gloriously, was yes. Receiving an achievement for it felt like a little nod of validation from Arkane. “We know your sort,” it seemed to say. “And we approve.”
Most Aneurysm-Inducing Game When It Came To Awards – PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS
Peter: It’s normally simple enough to ignore Early Access/Beta titles in game award ceremonies, but when they attract record breaking player numbers on Steam they’re a little harder to dismiss. Battlegrounds isn’t out on PC until mid-December (and even then we all know version ‘1.0’ isn’t going to be the absolute final release build). Nonetheless, millions of people have played and loved it, and played it in a form that, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly going to change radically before the close of 2017.
Battlegrounds has definitely done things that are award-worthy and it’s clearly going to be the PC game of the year for millions of people; but the weird, staggered way some games get released in modern times means it’s not an automatic inclusion in every list. In fact, we eventually excluded it from our Readers’ Awards on the grounds of it still being (at the time of the nominees) in Early Access.
Clearly, the only solution to all of this is for games still in Beta/Early Access to try as hard as possible not to get popular.
Tim: Basically, we had to have a long and annoying discussion as to whether or not this was going to be eligible for awards, and were amused by the fact that pretty much every other publication worth a damn was probably going to be doing the same thing. As far as we’re concerned, though: if you’re not finished, you’re not eligible.
Award For Making Late Stage Capitalism The Main Antagonist – Night in the Woods
Peter: People (well, animals) in the town of Possum Springs have problems. The lone factory has shut down (a victim of capital’s endless thirst for cheap, overseas labour), protagonist Mae’s parents are at risk of losing their house (thanks to the financial crash, subsequent recession, and ballooning university costs), and townsfolk on the streets are openly discussing the need to for a steady diet of painkillers and sleeping pills to stand any chance of getting through their dehumanising call center job. Follow almost any issue in Night in the Woods to its source and you find greed, profiteering, and alienation as the culprits. Dig even further, and you’ll find Possum Springs’ Baby Boomer generation taking the idea of sustaining themselves at the expense of the young to a rather literal conclusion. Perhaps the first videogame end boss in history for which a guide should just read “study Dialectical Materialism”.
Tim: I haven’t finished Night in the Woods yet (it’s on my perpetual backlog, after getting quite near the end of the game) but one thing I found interesting – which we’ll be revisiting in another award a bit later – is that I think it actually allows for multiple interpretations of this, in a rather beautiful way. While economics are definitely one of the antagonising forces working behind the scenes, I think you can interpret the game in a number of ways based on who you are and what you believe. I know I personally focused a lot more on the mental and psychological aspects of the game and its storytelling, rather than the economic factors, and I’m pretty sure that says more about me than it does about the game.
Peter: My Marxist reading of the game says nothing about me. Shut up.
Best Street Fighter 2-esque Car-Smashing Minigame – Night in the Woods
Tim: On a lighter note (and to encourage everyone who got confused and bored by that last award), Night in the Woods also lets you beat the living shit out of a car. So it’s not all doom and gloom and misery and economic analysis. Sometimes you get to do REALLY COOL CRIMES, like in Street Fighter 2.
Peter: Crimes? Crimes.
Healthiest Way to Celebrate the Successful Assassination of Your Child’s Murderer Award – Assassin’s Creed Origins
Peter: It doesn’t run all that well on PC, but behind those performance hiccups Ubisoft have managed to make a pretty good Assassin’s Creed game. Part of that is thanks to Bayek, who’s an amiable protagonist for the most part, but more than capable of channeling a great deal of rage when its called for. He’s also got a healthy relationship with his wife, Aya, who is an equally likeable character. They’re both passionate people, so when the dust settles on the corpse of the final conspirator (they think) in the murder of their child, there’s really only one way to let loose: by having sex in the highest tower in Alexandria, obviously. Like all videogame sex scenes it’s a bit goofy. But as an expression of a close couple dealing with the grief and violence of their surroundings, it’s actually pretty good.
Tim: I legitimately do not want to know why or how you believe (or, worse, know) this is healthy.
Peter: I’m available to lead marriage counseling sessions if anybody wants to know more.
Best Elves – Divinity: Original Sin 2
Tim: This is just the worst award and you know it, Peter, although – and I sigh loudly at admitting this – I do at least agree with the winners.
Peter: Stiff competition from Warhammer 2’s Dark Elves in this category. Those guys really know how to party (in the blood of slaves and close relatives). The elves of Divinity: Original Sin 2 take it this year, though. They’re far less likely to stab you without warning than the Dark Elves of Warhammer, so it’s safe to hang around with them. But they’re also a long way removed from the traditional fantasy ‘elf’ ideal of a poncy, know-it-all with perfect hair. For a start, they’re occasional cannibals who absorb memories through the consumption of flesh. That’s pretty much the coolest elf-power I’ve come across.
‘Best’ Way to Tumble Into a Sequel Through the Incredible Incompetence of Your Protagonist – Shadow of War
Peter: There’s rarely a neat way to turn the unstoppable god-like protagonist from the end of your first game back into an early game weakling in the sequel, I understand that. Shadow of War has the unenviable task of getting Talion from “is forging a new Ring of Power so he can kill Sauron” to “nope, just back to killing regular Orcs again,” and that’s not easy. Their narrative solution, though, has to be one of the stupidest I’ve ever seen.
Talion forges the new ring so hard (or, I dunno, it’s too powerful or whatever), that he’s separated from spirit elf guide Celebrimbor (who disappears) and has to pop the ring on to stay vaguely alive. Then he travels for five minutes to find Shelob (who I guess lives next to Mount Doom now, and is also a sexy goth witch), who, somehow, kidnapped Celebrimbor. She does her whole “I’m definitely not evil, give me the ring and you can have your elf angel back” (while Celebrimbor screams “NO YOU IDIOT” in the background) and Talion, for reasons that can only be explained by “well, we need the sequel to start somehow” says sure and hands it over. Bish bosh, you now need to relearn all of your skills and you just lost the one thing you spent all of Shadow of Mordor trying to find (a way to beat Sauron). Award winning storytelling, folks.
Best Game That Would Be Actively Improved By Not Having A Story – Shadow of War
Tim: On that note, I’d like to point out that while Shadow of War is a decent game, it’s fairly unique in that its plot and story actively detract from the enjoyment. As noted above, the game does not begin well (and frankly the end of Act One is also remarkably stupid) and it doesn’t continue particularly well, either. There’s plenty of potential for Odd Couple shenanigans with Talion and Celebrimbor… which are entirely soured by the fact that they’re joyless and irritating. There are a handful of decent characters… who get almost no screen time. There’s an opportunity to explore more interesting aspects of Middle-Earth… which are squandered in favour of showcasing relentless stupidity. The majority of the plot is the main characters playing catch with the idiot ball, and the only real enjoyment that comes from it is seeing what remarkable piece of inanity comes next.
Basically, I would enjoy a game about mind-screwing orcs into becoming my own personal warband of murder a lot more if it had no story whatsoever, and that’s saying something.
Most Unpleasant Jumpscares That May Be Unintentional – Tokyo Dark
Tim: I enjoyed Tokyo Dark quite a lot, not least because it’s basically the videogame equivalent of fusion cuisine. It’s part visual novel and part point-and-click adventure. It’s part noir-ish detective story and part supernatural investigation, tinged with a lot of Japanese horror themes. It’s got an excellent means of tracking all sorts of statistics based on your actions, from professionalism to sanity. It’s part western, part eastern, and it’s even got some really fascinating looks at bits of Japanese culture and folkore. For instance, do not look up Aokigahara and its more supernatural elements and associations if you plan on sleeping.
While it usually errs (very successfully, I might add) on the “building a creepy atmosphere” side of things, Tokyo Dark does indeed contain a few jumpscares. Normally, these are intentional. One of them… I don’t honestly know. Basically, a large part of the plot revolves around a really goddamn creepy mask. When it’s mentioned, the protagonist often brings it up on screen. Very suddenly. The mask is occasionally used as an actual jumpscare, yes, but I’m fairly certain that the fact that it’s animated as being lifted up means that all the other times it’s there for effect rather than to make me go “Aaargh! It’s that mask again!”
Alternate title for this award: “Stop Showing Me That Fucking Mask.” And every time I scroll through our image library, or down this page while I’m editing it, I’m seeing the mask again. SANITY -1 indeed.
Most Unexpected DLC Tonal Shift – Resident Evil 7: End of Zoe
Tim: Resi 7 was a wonderful, superbly creepy survival horror game that returned to the series’ roots. Too few supplies for too many enemies, and a focus on building up the sort of atmosphere that would make most ghosts go “Actually, I think I’ll haunt somewhere else; this is a bit spooky for me.” When it does finally let you cut loose nearer the end of the game by giving you plenty of ammo and things to shoot, you feel like you’ve earned it. The Banned Footage DLC played with the format a bit, esssentially compartmentalising different aspects of the game into different minigames, and that’s fine – things like the birthday party one in which you hunt for food items to feed family patriarch Jack were clearly not meant to be taken seriously. They are also probably justifiable winners for this category, but I knew what I was getting into ahead of time, there.
Just recently, we got Not A Hero and End of Zoe, two pieces of DLC firmly in the story category. While saying as little as possible about them (because spoilers), I expected Not A Hero to be fairly action-heavy. End of Zoe, focusing on a previously unmentioned character venturing into the woods and the Baker estate, seemed like it would be a little bit more on the stealth/horror side of things. A revisit of Resident Evil 7‘s earlier sections.
Then you discover that you’re playing as a bearded badass whose primary weapons are his fists, who spends the DLC punching the monsters to death and occasionally ripping off their heads with his bare hands. It’s weirdly hilarious, especially if you revisited the original game to refresh your memory of the events prior to starting. Remember running scared through the house? Remember first encountering the Molded, and probably wasting ammo, and wishing there were more bullets around so you’d feel more comfortable taking them on? Yeah, now you literally punch them in the face five times and then stomp on their heads until they explode. Not quite what I was expecting, but I’m sure as hell not complaining.
Best Terrifying Future In Which Nudists and Mini-Golfers Are Criminal Gangs – Tokyo 42
Tim: I don’t know about you, but I fear a world in which nudists and mini-golfers have banded together to form gun-toting organisations that operate outside the law. I did not even consider this a possibility until Tokyo 42, and now I have trouble sleeping. THANKS, EVERYONE.
Best Game That Kickstarted A Deep Philosophical Discussion With A PR Person – NieR: Automata
Tim: One major disadvantage of this job is that, while you get to play games a little earlier than most people, you can’t talk about them immediately. When it comes to something you really want to talk about, this presents a problem.
As such, on finishing NieR: Automata, I turned directly to the only people I knew I could actually rant to without breaching embargo or spoiling things: Square Enix PR. What followed was a bizarre and incredibly lengthy chain of emails discussing the MEANING of basically everything in the game. I can’t go into any real details, partly because of massive spoilers and partly because said PR person asked me not to give out any of his thoughts in case people thought it was some sort of official explanation from Square Enix, but it’s rare for a game to provoke this sort of massive, in-depth discussion.
What I will say is that, like with Night in the Woods before, I tended to find that the game’s subtext provides a look at your own thinking rather than obviously and overtly conveying any particular message. I took it one way, but unless Yoko Taro deliberately says otherwise (and possibly even then) I firmly believe there are all sorts of ways you can analyse it based on who you are.
(For what it’s worth, the above screenshot is just my opening salvo of the emails. They went on for awhile.)
Peter: Okay, fine, I’ll play NieR: Automata.
Undertale Award, For Game I Don’t Feel Comfortable Talking About Yet – NieR: Automata
Tim: Speaking of which, the email screenshot is also massively censored because NieR: Automata is a game that really should be experienced as blind as possible. Like, if you have any intention of playing it, do not go and watch livestreams or videos by screaming YouTubers or even videos by non-screaming YouTubers. Ignore everything until you play it, because – like Undertale last year – it’s a vastly better experience for it. Which also means it’s not getting a bunch of other awards I’d like to give it, so consider this a consolation prize for those rather more spoiler-y ones.
Peter: I said fine I’ll play it!
Read on to find out what won the S**t Square Enix Award, Horrifying Bosses Award and more >>