Alternative Awards Blade 2021

Hello, and welcome to PC Invasion’s Alternative Awards 2021. This is our annual tradition where we give out very silly “awards” to games that may or may not deserve them. And yes, awards is in quotation marks for a reason. You may have noticed, but around here we don’t go in for “Best RPG of 2021” or any of that nonsense. We’d never be able to get all the writers to agree on it, and that aside these things are intensely subjective. So instead, you get awards that are definitely not specifically tailored for individual games. Ahem.

More seriously, this article is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the year in gaming, reminding you of a bunch of things that came out which you may have missed or forgotten while trying to forget about the actual horrors of the year. You’ll see awards given to big games and small games. Some will be genuinely positive awards, some will be negative, and almost all of them will be backhanded compliments. But if you’ve ever wondered about the Best Murderous 1935 Socialite Simulator of 2021, or which game gets the prestigious Fyre Festival award, look no further.

 

Fair warning, too: I’m writing this, and there’s a lot I didn’t play this year. There will be some big omissions, for which I apologize; hell, there are omissions from games I really loved. Whatever game you loved or hated gets an award of some sort, too, if only in my heart.


Persona 5 Strikers Another Blade Image 4

Best Sequel We Didn’t Actually Need — Persona 5 Strikers

I’m somewhat baffled by the need for Persona games to get sequels. I mean, okay, the obvious reason is “people like the characters and Atlus likes money.” The problem is that by the end of the game (especially when the expanded re-release comes out, like Persona 4 Golden or Persona 5 Royal) the story is complete and all characters have gone through their full arcs. Which means that canonical sequel games like the Arena titles, which add to the actual canonical story, tend to feel like… well, additions that aren’t really needed. These characters have grown. There’s not much further they can go.

Persona 5 Strikers is an excellent game. It’s a fun twist on the Musou formula with good characters and an engaging story. It’s also a game that didn’t really need to be related to Persona 5, if I’m being honest. And while it’s fun to ride with the Phantom Thieves again, this not only doesn’t add anything to their completed story arc but arguably takes a little bit away from it. Again: excellent game, but certainly an unnecessary canonical sequel.


Final Fantasy Xiv Endwalker (24)

Best [REDACTED] — Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

I’m still not going to risk talking about Endwalker, because I don’t want even the slightest possibility of being the person who spoils any of the details. I’m not talking specifics about its incredibly clever use of music, or going into detail on its callbacks to previous expansions, or even how it’s an expansion that actually properly provides closure to an MMO. (Even if that MMO is still ongoing and will have more stories and expansions to come.)

So instead of one of the dozens of spoiler-y awards I can think of, Endwalker gets this [REDACTED] award in place of all of them. Well done, Endwalker. I particularly loved that bit where [REDACTED].


FFXIV Wholesome Alternative Awards

Most Wholesome Gaming Community Thing I Can Remember This Year — Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

This has been kind of a rough year, both in the real world and in gaming, so I wanted at least one award celebrating people actually being pretty awesome. There are dozens of examples of communities coming together and thousands of examples of players just doing small little things for each other.

But because I have a very short-term memory right now, and because I witnessed this firsthand, I want to highlight the Final Fantasy XIV community during the holiday period. The Starlight Celebration is FFXIV‘s equivalent of Christmas, and as with most MMO events, it’s been going on since the game’s inception with limited-time rewards each year.

With the massive influx of players over the past year, then, it’s really nice that the community crafted and bought a load of the old Starlight rewards — Santa costumes, and the like — and chucked them up on the game’s auction house for absurdly low prices, while also handing them out for free to passing newcomers. Just because you weren’t here five years ago doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to wear a nice Starlight Robe.

While a little bit sadder, I also want to quickly mention the Dark Knight vigil that Final Fantasy XIV players held after the passing of Berserk author Kentaro Miura. The Dark Knight job draws some pretty heavy inspiration from Berserk‘s Guts, and seeing rows of Dark Knights standing to attention in honor of the mangaka was one of those lovely-but-solemn moments that afforded me a little more faith in humanity.


Powerwash Simulator

Award for Making Me Enjoy Chores — Powerwash Simulator/Gas Station Simulator

I have spent about 25 hours of my life running a fake gas station and using a power washer to clean other people’s cars and houses, and I have enjoyed pretty much every moment. I have no idea why these games are so relaxing and enjoyable. It’s probably the whole Tetris satisfaction thing of making everything neat and tidy. Nonetheless, I still find it brain-achingly annoying that after doing chores in my real-world apartment I decide to relax by doing chores in a virtual world. Why?


Ff7 Remake Cloud

Sexiest Crossdressing Dancing Scene — Final Fantasy VII Remake

Look, all I’m saying is Cloud can work it. And Aerith clearly thinks so too if you watch this scene.

More seriously, I adore this scene — and, honestly, most of the entire Wall Market section of Final Fantasy VII Remake. The original Wall Market sliver in Final Fantasy VII is, in hindsight, a bit problematic, but the Remake team did a fantastic job of making a place that’s simultaneously sleazy and wholesome; gritty and inclusive. The original was a humorous take on the scummy underworld of Midgar, and Remake manages to update that beautifully and with heart. And with impressive flamboyance, as this scene proves.

Also, as this is on PC, you can mod the game to have Cloud in a dress for the entire game. Yes.


Babble Royale Alternative Awards

Award for Once Again Proving That Anything Can Successfully Be A Battle Royale Game — Babble Royale

I’ve mostly stopped being surprised by the fact that basically anything can successfully become a battle royale game. After the Mario, Tetris, and Pac-Man battle royales all turned out to actually be good, I figured that my days of being shocked by a non-FPS game being turned into a brutal tooth-and-nail competition were over. Enter Babble Royale, which turns Scrabble into a battle royale game. Fucking Scrabble.

All I can say is this: if you’ve never seen battle letters airdrop into a wordgame murderfest in which linking your word to an opponent’s word kills them, have you really lived?


Forza Horizon 5 Unlimited Skill Points Exploit Glitch Barrel Roll Rewind Exploit 1

Fyre Festival Award for Literally The Worst Festival Ever — Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is an excellent game. I am not disputing that. On the other hand, if you think about it logically for half a second and transpose it into the real world, the Horizon festival itself is just the worst thing.

So, hundreds of thousands of racers and enthusiasts from all over the world converge on a country like locusts, disrupting its industry and economy for at least an entire year. Now, no roads are closed. No areas are off-limits. Speed limits and traffic laws are completely removed. Devastation is all around: cars are routinely destroyed; houses and buildings are smashed into; crops are used for target practice; cultural heritage sites are ramps. And I’m minimizing things a bit here.

The damage to agriculture and industry (and ancient ruins) is incalculable, and that’s putting aside the fact that the country’s entire economy would presumably grind to a halt because nobody would dare actually go outside. Not that you’re much safer inside: you’d probably be quite pissed off when a multi-million dollar car smashes into your wall, reverses, does a donut on your lawn, and then drives off through your back fence. Probably while honking the Doom E1M1 theme.

Amusingly (or fittingly), I live in a place that hosts the most dangerous race in the world: the Isle of Man TT. It’s a two-week road race and tens of thousands come over for it, but we actually close the roads. We even have the tradition of Mad Sunday, where anyone can ride the course, and sections of the course have no speed limit at all. Trying to imagine this for a year with the entire island open for racing? Nightmare.


Riders Republic Release Date

Game That Bizarrely Made Me Wish For Permadeath — Riders Republic

Speaking of unrealistic videogame sporting events, Riders Republic is one of the peppiest and cheeriest games I’ve fiddled with all year. Because I’m a dark-humored bastard, I started imagining what it’d be like if your character could actually die if they landed on their head after doing an ollie off the top of a mountain on a snowboard.

Imagine: after crashing into a tree at ludicrous speeds, the game cuts away to a quick three-second FMV of a very solemn funeral, or a graveyard, or something. And then you’re right back in with a randomized character and everyone being all happy and cheery and nobody ever references it again. That tonal whiplash would be hilarious.

… I’m a monster, aren’t I?


Overboard 1

Best Murderous 1935 Socialite Simulator — Overboard

Overboard was one of the year’s more delightful surprises for me. I like my murder mysteries (as our next award will show) and I like games where I can experiment, and I like it even more when I’m the murderer and I’m trying to cover up my crime. If I can be a villainous 1935 socialite at the same time, then even better. Okay, yes, I actually am a monster.

Overboard can and will result in you failing and getting arrested many, many times, but there’s a deliciously vicious thrill in learning from each playthrough and attempting to pin your crime on the naïve ingenue or the nosy old lady. There are times when cause and effect don’t quite work out, but there’s a lot to experiment with — and a lot to laugh at, thanks to the dark undercurrent of humor throughout — as you attempt to carry out the perfect crime.


The Magister Alternative Awards

Best Game About Being An Alcoholic Hallucinating Fanatical Fantasy Detective — The Magister

I’ve just realized that while I usually tailor awards to individual games, this award could also probably go to Disco Elysium. As such I’m disqualifying that on the basis of not actually coming out this year, even though The Final Cut version did and little things like “release dates” never stopped me with Dark Souls games. So… okay, fine. Disco Elysium can get this award too. Dammit.

Anyway: The Magister is a randomized deck-building murder mystery RPG in which you’re dispatched to a sleepy town to investigate the murder of your predecessor. But depending on your randomized character, you might be compelled to drink every day, or visit the temple, or maybe you see enemies that don’t actually exist. Flawed protagonists are a standard, but it’s fun having something like that in a randomized game where you have to battle your own demons as well as the mystery at large.


Pineapple Pizza

Award for Finally Settling That Fucking Argument — The Big Con

The Big Con is a heartfelt and amusing nod to the ’90s that fills my heart with joy and my brain with the happy nostalgia chemicals. But if there’s one thing it does which no other game can claim to do, it’s “settle the pineapple-on-pizza discussion.” Well played, The Big Con. Well played.


Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy Review 1

Award for Making Rickrolling A Thing Again — Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

I legitimately cannot decide if this is a positive or an award of shame, but Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy wins it either way. The game is entirely steeped in ’80s music, and executing a Huddle lets you gather the team together and rally their morale for a tasty buff as well as amping up the soundtrack with some licensed music — which on occasion, might be Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Yep, the game can and will Rickroll you (with a promo video showcasing this). You think you’re going to get “Holding Out for a Hero” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and then that familiar opening plays, and… well…


The Game Awards 2021

Award of Shame for Most Inaccurate Name Imaginable — The Game Awards

Every bloody year I rail against The Game Awards, so I’m going to try to keep it short this time. I’ve written countless words about how this is E3 in December (which is fine) with a thin veneer pretending it’s about awards and celebrating the games industry (which is patronizing and insulting). All of those words are correct. It’s a rapid-fire showcase of about 300 trailers, and occasionally awards are handed out in even more rapid-fire fashion. The Game Awards is a game trailer minigun, with a half-dozen awards given out in one breath when they need to reload.


halo infinite craig easter egg campaign

Reverse Cyberpunk 2077 Award for Bad Pre-Release, Good Game — Halo Infinite

After too many decades of following the games industry, “don’t trust the hype” is a good rule of thumb. It’s not a metric that hype means a bad game or anything; it’s really just a statement that hype doesn’t actually mean anything. And even with a solid game, it’ll likely just lead to a backlash.

Halo Infinite had its backlash before it even launched thanks to a really crappy gameplay showcase, bringing us Craig the Brute. The game did not look good. The people were not happy. But surprise! It turns out that Halo Infinite is actually pretty damn good, and it also looks pretty damn good.


Halo Infinite Campaign Review

Dead or Alive Award for Horrendous Microtransactions — Halo Infinite

The less good part would be the microtransactions. Now, Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer component is free-to-play, which is excellent. As such, microtransactions are to be expected.

That said, one person figured out that getting everything in the first season would cost you just over $1,000 USD. (I will quickly note that this may have since changed, but people are still upset.) The first season. And this does appear to be the only way to unlock the best cosmetics, too. While Halo 4 let players rank up or complete challenges to unlock specific bits of gear and show off, there doesn’t appear to be any of that in Infinite. You just need to put down your money.

Fingers crossed something changes, but all indications are that plenty of people have bought the Battle Pass, so we’re more likely to see the system slightly tweaked than fully overhauled.


Everything To Know About Resident Evil Village, Including Lady Dimitrescu (3)

Most Horrible Meme I Never Want To Hear Again — Mommy Milkers (Resident Evil Village)

Despite the vast amounts of silliness in the plot and the characters and everything else, I quite enjoyed Resident Evil Village. Not as much as a few of the other recent Resi games, but it has some excellent setpieces and was generally a delight to play through. Unfortunately for me, the internet’s thirst was not a thing I enjoyed.

The internet went nuts after Lady Dimitrescu’s reveal, and Capcom kinda leaned into this — though I’ll give the developer some credit for not actually starting it, even if it did accidentally prove, once more, that sex sells. That said, if I hear “step on me, tall vampire lady” or “mommy milkers” again, I’m going to lose what little sanity I have left. And those are some of the more chaste memes.


Dark Souls Remastest

Obligatory Dark Souls Award for Dark SoulsDark Souls (for Dark Souls: Remastester mod)

No, that’s not a typo. Dark Souls: Remastest (Remastester?) is a mod for Dark Souls that’s had a few releases over the past few months, and it’s honestly breathtaking. I do not mean “it makes the game look prettier” like the 900 conflicting Skyrim mods you have installed. I mean that the astonishing talent behind this, InfernoPlus, has managed to mod Dark Souls in ways that should be absolutely impossible. And if that name sounds familiar: yes, that’s the same person who initially made Mario into a battle royale, which then got taken down by Nintendo. Also, Halo Kart. InfernoPlus does the best sort of silly things.

Anyway, Dark Souls: Remastester. The most sane addition turns Dark Souls into a social deduction game. Three players are innocents and have to progress through a level to either kill a very beefed up boss, or make it to a checkpoint. The other player is a traitor who needs to murder them all, and has some hilariously powerful skills at their disposal to do so, like summoning enemies or forcing other players to attack wildly for a few seconds. It’s amazing. It’s also the less impressive addition.

The more impressive addition turns Dark Souls into Halo. No, really. It hides Halo weapons throughout the game as a completely new weapon category (with custom animations), and not only that, but… Halo multiplayer. There are 13 Halo maps added to Dark Souls, complete with Needlers and Plasma Grenades, and one of those maps is the ludicrously huge Death Island. According to the dev, it “effectively requires 16 people to play.”

Oh, and it also adds in new items, new spells, special attacks for weapons, far more useful bows, and loads more. Like, uh, every single melee weapon has a bigger moveset. But I’m still mostly just impressed with the Halo insanity. Seriously, go and watch these two videos and tell me you’re not impressed. Once more, Dark Souls gets our annual Dark Souls award, thanks to the work of one unbelievably skilled modder.


Riotx Arcane

Award for Making the Extended Universe Better Than The Original Game — League of Legends (Arcane, Ruined King, Hextech Mayhem)

Okay, yes, that’s a slight dig at League of Legends, but there are very few games in this list I’m not digging at. Nonetheless, I will absolutely champion the fact that Runeterra has been pretty successfully expanded in a lot of ways. We’ll put aside Legends of Runeterra (as that was last year and CCGs feel like the first thing devs try to expand into) and just look at 2021. In that year, League of Legends expanded with a Netflix show, a rhythm-action game, and a full-on PC RPG. And by most accounts, pretty much all of them are actually rather good.

Other games often try to expand into movies and alternate genres with… limited success. But for whatever reason, Riot’s attempts to push League actually feel concerted and successful, so far. I don’t have much interest in League itself, but I’m curious to see where this goes.


Tormented Souls Worth It 6

Ongoing Award for Reduction of Spiders in Survival Horror Games — Resident Evil Village, Alisa, Tormented Souls, Evil Tonight, probably loads of others

If you’re a long-term reader of the PC Invasion’s Alternative Awards then you’ll be well aware that I suffer from pretty bad arachnophobia. This can a problem in gaming, because spiders seem to be the favorite enemies of both RPG and survival horror developers.

As such, I offer up all the praise to the many survival horror games released this year that have not included spiders as an enemy. Yes, some of the games mentioned have small scuttling beasties, but at least they’re not bloody spiders. Long may this trend continue.


Gloomhaven Alternative Awards

Award for Making Me Hate My Asshole Friends — Gloomhaven

For me, the mark of a good competitive game is that it makes me wish terrible things upon my friends. Look at Mario Kart or ChuChu Rocket or something for that. Gloomhaven, an adaptation of the board game by the same name, is a cooperative game — but it’s really good at making you hate your supposed allies by occasionally pitting you against each other.

It’s a fantasy dungeon crawler with some clever card-based mechanics and tight time limits, but that’s not important. The important things are two factors that mean that even while it’s cooperative, you’re also slightly competing. First, gold is not shared. Second, every player has a secret objective which is often unfortunate or outright dangerous for the party, and the rewards for completing it usually outweigh the risks. This means that putting your friends and the entire mission in grave danger often seem acceptable.

If you’re playing honestly, then you need to keep the hard details of your plans for each turn secret, along with said hidden objective. As such, it can be both surprising and utterly infuriating when your “friend” goes to pick up some gold instead of healing you, or opens up a door (resulting in another pack of monsters suddenly attacking) because they have a secret objective to… well, open a door in the dungeon.

You will scramble to salvage these situations. You will remember what your friends did. You will do exactly the same thing to them and justify it in your head as payback, and then the cycle will repeat. It’s a glorious simulation of being a very selfish mercenary in a horrible fantasy world, in which you can trust your friends as far as your objectives align, but knowing that there’s a chance they will screw you over for their own benefit. There’s no permanent loss here; you don’t lose a character forever if you die, nor do you lose treasure or gold. But that only softens the blow a touch when the encounters are as bastard hard, tightly timed, and require as much careful planning as Gloomhaven‘s.


Nier Replicant Review 1

Award for No, That’s Not A Name — Nier Replicant ver.1.22474484139…

Yoko Taro, you make great and fascinating things, but I’m not typing that out every time and fucking nobody is Googling it. Can we just call it the Nier re-release, or maybe Nier Replicant? Yes? Okay, great. I appreciate your willingness to work with me on this.

(I can all but guarantee he would not agree to that.)


It Takes Two New Gameplay Trailer Shows Potential Of Co Op Greatness (1)

Award for Worst Relationship Advice In A Game — It Takes Two

Fair warning: spoilers ahead. Also fair warning: I haven’t played It Takes Two, so this is an award-by-proxy. I have heard it’s a tremendously fun, in-depth, and detailed co-op game, and that’s fantastic. I’m up for those. I’ve also heard that its primary message is… well, if I’m being polite, “naively optimistic.”

The premise of the game is that a couple on the verge of separating are trapped in doll bodies and forced to go through adventures together to rekindle their love, at the behest of a very aggressive relationship therapy book. At the very end, they reassure their daughter that she is not the cause of their problems, and that they love her. This is good and important. From what I know, children of separating couples often feel unloved or that they’re to blame.

The bigger issue is that to break the spell and return to their real bodies, it turns out that the couple need to rekindle their love and kiss. This is a slightly bigger problem, and kinda terrible relationship advice.

The sad truth is that not all relationships can be saved, and that separating or divorcing can sometimes be the best possible thing for all parties involved — including the children. By the end of It Takes Two, the couple haven’t actually resolved their relationship issues. The stressors and problems that caused their initial plans to divorce haven’t really been addressed or fixed. At best, you could say that the two of them might commit to trying to address them, but the game paints it as “and they all lived happily ever after”… which would be fine in something for kids, but probably not in something where you have to dismember a child’s toy as it begs and pleads for you not to. Despite the looks, this isn’t really a game for kids, and the fairy tale ending to a game that otherwise tries to deal with very real problems in a fantastical allegorical setting does not work.


Psychonauts 2 story trailer raz

Award for [This Space Intentionally Left Blank] — Psychonauts 2

Okay, look, I still haven’t played Psychonauts 2 and I hate myself just a little for this. I don’t really do “favorite games” because I’ve played far, far too many; on any given day I could give you an entirely different list of 10 titles that I unabashedly love. That said, the original Psychonauts would pop up in that list more days than not, and I can guarantee that I’d have something to say about Psychonauts 2 if I’d played it. Probably “Award for Best Psychic [something].” Or… I don’t know. Something about characters, or James Bond references. Does it do those? I don’t know, I haven’t played it!

At a guess, it’s probably better at fantasy therapy than It Takes Two. Maybe that’s what this award should be: “Award for Best Fantasy Therapy, Probably, I Don’t Actually Know.”


Zadette Alternative Awards

REAL GAMER Award for REAL GAMERS — Zadette

Zadette is an oddity. It looks like a bad game, with stiff animations, slow movement, and the height of MS Paint art. But it’s a love letter to retro games; a very specific subset of retro games, with sprites the size of the screen, loincloth-clad barbarians, and instant death everywhere. And the thing is… it’s actually a good game. Though you may disagree in the first six seconds when your toe nudges a spike and your barbarian hilariously explodes into a pile of bloody limbs.

But no. Despite looking like a minimum-effort platformer (in which Zadette goes to rescue Zadette in the kingdom of Zadette), Zadette is tight, focused, and largely fair. There’s a lot of pattern memorization here; you’ll need to remember enemy spawns to make it through most levels unscathed. But bit by bit you’ll inch closer to glorious victory… and then, on finally finishing it, you’ll be told that there’s a hidden secret. One last challenge, tucked away for REAL GAMERS.

And oh, it is a challenge, and not a particularly fair one. But if you beat it, you can finally call yourself a REAL GAMER. You get a certificate and everything. I haven’t felt this accomplished in some time.


Square Enix NFTs CEO

Award for Ruining 2022 Within One Day — Square Enix

While this technically happened in 2022 and thus has no place here, the January 1st letter from Square Enix’s president, Yosuke Matsuda, deserves some sort of mention (and scathing ire) for immediately indicating that 2022 is going to be a pain in the ass, too.

Aside from being patronizing and insulting (“people who ‘play to have fun’” in quotation marks? Really?), the letter indicates a heavy interest in NFTs and blockchain games, and claims that these things have come out of their infancy. No. No they haven’t. People are still trying to figure out if there’s any use for them except pump-and-dump scams, and there are a number of privacy-related dangers associated with them. I’m not going to get into that, though.

I’ll just say this: blockchain may well turn out to be a good thing for gaming (seriously, at this point, the technology has barely been explored and nobody’s really sure), but right now it’s a poisoned well. The mere mention of NFTs and blockchain is enough to cause a public outcry, and this letter is so naïvely optimistic about the whole thing it feels like it’s ignoring reality and handwaving away every concern. For fuck’s sake.


Zadette 1

Best Love Story — Zadette

Okay, let’s forget about NFTs and corporate bullshit, and finish with something wholesome. Just look at that screenshot above. Truly, the greatest love story of the year, all summed up in a single picture! (Which means I don’t need to write 1000 words about it. That’s how the math goes, right?)

Tim McDonald
Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he's willing to admit. He's written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion - in all its various incarnations - for over a decade. When not writing about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He's also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man's only professional games journalist.

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