Best Purple Fountain Made of Tiny Enigmatic Fish: Torment: Tides of Numenera (Beta)
Peter: Not the most hotly contested category in gaming, I grant you. But that’s just an invitation for other titles to step up their Purple Fountains Made of Tiny Enigmatic Fish game in 2017.
In truth though, this award isn’t just about Purple Fountains Made of Tiny Enigmatic Fish. It’s more that said fountain was the point in the Torment: Tides of Numenera beta which absorbed me fully into that world’s strangely cohesive weirdness. There it is in the equivalent of the town square, presented as an absolutely normal piece of civil decoration. “This is where you inhabit now,” it seemed to say. “A place where Purple Fountains Made of Tiny Enigmatic Fish are the everyday.” If such things are Torment’s mundanities, it’s true eccentricities should be delicious.
Tim: I’m mostly wondering if we’ll remember this award when Torment is fully released, honestly.
2016 Nvidia Award for Graphics Options That Sound Like Occult Brainwashing: Watch Dogs 2’s technical manual
Peter: Not strictly limited to Watch Dogs 2’s tech manual, but that’s where we first encountered terrifying, occult descriptions of things like ‘Hybrid Frustum Traced Shadows’. If that’s not a term for an item of cyber-arcana, I don’t know what is.
INT. A LAVISH MANSION. The moon is full. Figures shrouded in cloaks surround a GPU of infinite power. A low chanting reverberates in your ears with the persistent thumping of your own heart. “When triangles are rendered in light space” the voices intone, “a frustum (bounding volume) is constructed using the triangle itself and the light direction.” One of the figures turns to you and lowers his hood. You see yourself, winking back. “And furthermore, hail Satan.”
Best Savant: Agent 47 (Hitman)
Peter: Agent 47 is the best at what he does (on-demand accident rental services), but the latest Hitman has made it clear that he’s the best, or at least convincingly impressive, at so much more. It started off in a fairly unassuming manner; in Paris, he can dress up as superstar male model Helmut Kruger and strut down the catwalk. Fine. Agent 47 is a confident guy, striking a pose isn’t so unbelievable. Pulling off a convincing yoga instructor in Hokkaido is a bit more impressive, but perhaps that’s just how 47 relaxes in between missions.
The mission which really hammered the joke home is Bangkok. Infiltrating a band dressed as an on-loan drummer, Agent 47 effortlessly pulls off a drum solo for his awe-struck companions. Either 47 prepares for literally any eventuality on these missions, or he’s the greatest savant who ever lived.
Tim: I like to think it’s a little of both. The man is clearly scary levels of prepared (well, unless I’m in control of his actions, in which case he’s a blundering idiot who likes hanging out in storage boxes), but I choose to believe he’s also just very good at picking things up on the fly. This is a guy capable of committing murder with a birthday cake to the face; I’m willing to believe that he can look at a drum kit and go “This can’t be that hard.”
Most Abrupt Tonal Shift from Commodified Bullshit to Horrible Personal Tragedy: Ubisoft’s E3 Press Conference and The Game Awards 2016 (Joint Winners)
Peter: The crude spectacle of videogame trade shows are ill-equipped to deal with any subject more serious than “here’s a new game we’d like to sell to you,” but that doesn’t stop them trying. Marketing events already suffer from a catastrophic authenticity deficit, so when they do decide to dip into the whirlpool of sincerity it’s fairly inevitable that they drown us all in the tonal undertow. Such was the case with our joint winners.
Ubisoft’s E3 press show opened with a lavish and absurd dance routine to announce the upcoming Just Dance 2016. A giraffe in a bow tie capered alongside lithe circus acrobats, and a man with oversized epaulettes pretended to play a guitar shaped like a butterfly. They were eventually joined by host Aisha Tyler, who rightly lauded the efforts of her panda-outfitted compatriots. Then, barely missing a beat, took a whiplash turn (and, in fairness, an acknowledged one) into “But seriously guys, the Orlando nightclub shooting tragedy …”
It was a similar story at the Game Awards, where, after an uncomfortable amount of time spent in the company of a person dressed as a nightmarish robot razor blade hybrid, we were catapulted towards the ‘Games for Impact’ award. Presented, naturally, by a couple of YouTube yuksters. They pivoted to award-winner Ryan Green (That Dragon, Cancer), who, under incredibly difficult circumstances, managed to give a moving speech about the game’s inspiration: the loss of his son to cancer. From grotesque commercialisation to the actual death of a child in record time; thanks, videogames!
Tim: Honestly, much as I want to snark at this, I don’t think it deserves to be mitigated by that sort of response. Ugh.
Peter: Yeah, sorry, this award is a bit lacking in levity.
Largest Number of Implausibly Important Tall Bald White Men: Hitman
Tim: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world from Hitman, it’s that there are a lot of important bald people in the world. Seriously: wherever you go, there will be a tall, muscular, broad-shouldered, white bald person who is somehow important in that region. He might be a world-famous male catwalk model. Maybe he’s a session drummer. Perhaps he’s a yoga instructor. But one way or another, wherever you go, there’s a bald person with access to restricted areas – just waiting to be garotted, dumped in a cupboard, and impersonated by a murderous savant in order to get one step closer to his ultimate goal.
Peter: I’m waiting for the mission set in an Australian city where Midnight Oil just happen to be playing.
Tim: Considering the Chuckle Brothers were used in an advertisement, I suspect Right Said Fred would be more likely. And I would be totally okay with that.
Peter: Hello, is that the Square Enix PR team? We’ve got a flawless ad concept for you …
Best Game You Probably Shouldn’t Actually Play Yet: Dishonored 2
Tim: Dishonored 2 is a really good game. I mean, a really good game. It has some of the finest level design I’ve seen in a long time, and… well, look, it’s more Dishonored. The fact that it’s got slightly wank pacing and a significantly less interesting story doesn’t detract from the sheer joy of the sneaky, teleport-y mechanics and the vibrant world in which it’s set.
The things that do detract are the numerous technical flaws. While some of these have been fixed (and, indeed, this is a game that you can now feel fairly confident picking up if you have a powerful PC) it still suffers a lot even on systems that can run basically everything else just fine on Medium settings. These are issues that may or may not get fixed in the future, but for anyone not running a 10-series GeForce, Dishonored 2 is a game you probably want to hold off on – either until it gets some better optimisation, or until your next computer upgrade.
Peter: Or, like me, you could give up on playing the PC version (since it now crashes constantly) and just play it on PS4 instead.
Best Exploitation of Legal Loopholes: Tyranny
Peter: Tyranny is an RPG in the Infinity Engine mould. But when it’s not being about character stats and choose-your-own-spell kits, it’s all about the law. Specifically, about your character’s application of that law. Whether that’s following along to the letter, or otherwise.
One of the better examples has you defending a woman who was assaulted by the anarchic Scarlet Chorus. Strictly speaking, she had no rights under the law of the land. But with a bit of legal footwork, and a spot of leading a witness, you can convince the highest court in the land that she was actually just about to join up with said Scarlet Chorus and is therefore protected as a member of the Overlord’s army. You get a bit of a frowny face from the top Judge, but that’s a small price to pay for circumnavigating your way to something approaching justice.
You’re a hero lawyer, just like Phoenix Wright! Except a bit more devious and autocratic.
Tim: There are some fantastic examples of the legal finagling and loophole-opening you can get up to in Tyranny, at least one of which is too brilliant to actually spoil. And now, despite the fact that he gets no respect and cannot order generals around, I’m totally modding in Phoenix Wright as a character portrait.
Best Game You Probably Can’t Play Until 2018: Final Fantasy XV
Tim: This probably feels like a bit of a cheat… and it is, but shut up.
There are a few awards I’d actually like to give Final Fantasy XV, which I played through on a non-PC system earlier this year, but unfortunately it’s not actually out on the PC yet. In fact, it’s not even announced for the PC yet. I say “yet” because I’m fairly certain it will indeed eventually hit the PC, as pretty much every other major Final Fantasy game has done so. That said, I’m also hopeful that Square Enix take their time and give us a proper PC version – something more Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn than Final Fantasy XIII: An Escape Key Insta-Quits. As such, unless work is already heavily underway, I suspect we’ll be revisiting this around 2018 at the earliest.
Best Giant Spider: Watch Dogs 2
Tim: We normally have some sort of spider-themed award. Usually it’s “Worst Excuse for Giant Spiders” or “Most Horrible Bastard Giant Spiders”, or something that equally shows off my distaste for the eight-legged nightmare machines… but Watch Dogs 2 has one of my favourite giant spiders ever. Some spoilers for one of the game’s best moments follow, so be warned.
Towards the end of the game, you need to break into yet another corporation, only this lot are building robots. Make your way to the basement where their secret research is going on, and you find out they’re prototyping heavily armed police robots… and also a giant spider bot. Which you then take control of, and use to smash your way out of the facility, gunning down scores of guards and destroying the rest of the prototypes. All of this, while The Prodigy’s The Day Is My Enemy blasts through your speakers.
It’s one of those utterly glorious gaming moments where you’re given the opportunity to really cut loose, shattering both enemies and terrain with a limitless supply of bullets and without worrying too much for your own safety; and the game celebrates it with a truly fitting, blood-pumping song. It’s easily my favourite moment in the game, and probably has the honour of being my favourite spider-related bit of any game ever. That’s admittedly a fairly low bar, but it shouldn’t detract from an excellent (and, thankfully, humorously lampshaded) moment in this game.
Best Cel-Shaded Neon Sci-Fi Samurai Bullet-Hell Synthwave Boss Rush Jailbreak: Furi
Tim: If you only play one cel-shaded neon sci-fi samurai bullet-hell Synthwave boss rush jailbreak game this year, it should be Furi. Or possibly a really heavily modded Prison Architect.
Most Staggering Dichotomy Between Saccharine Cutesiness and Bleak Personal Lives: Stardew Valley
Tim: Stardew Valley is a lovely, happy game. Escaping from the life of a corporate drone, you move to an idyllic little village to take over a farm. You grow crops, raise farm animals, and make friends with the local townsfolk. There’s no calamitous threat hanging over your head, and you don’t even have to fight the (generally cute) monsters unless you really want to.
Then you stop to chat to some guy on your way home one evening and realise that he’s an alcoholic who hates his life. And sure enough, if you pay attention to his daily schedule, you’ll note that he spends every night in the pub, and is deeply, deeply unhappy. And he’s far from the only one.
For such a cutesy game, Stardew Valley has a really dark side to it – and a realistically dark one, at that, which makes it all the more troubling.
Peter: I’ve only really witnessed Stardew Valley second-hand, but whenever I see my wife playing it there’s a 50-50 chance a guy called Clint is on screen talking about his soul-corroding loneliness.
Digital Crack Award for Just One More Turn: Stardew Valley
Tim: That bleakness isn’t going to stop you playing Stardew Valley, of course. Whether it’s a case of “oh, these crops will be ready for harvest tomorrow” or “I only need a bit more cash to upgrade my house”, or even “Abigail’s birthday is coming up, I should get her a present before I quit for the night so I don’t forget”, it does a phenomenal job of never letting me stop playing. Even Civilization VI hasn’t quite managed to keep me seated as endlessly as Stardew Valley.
Hatoful Boyfriend Award for Pigeon of the Year: Battlefield 1
Tim: We do like to return to the themes of awards from previous years, and thanks to Hatoful Boyfriend, we’re now pretty keen on pigeons. As such, I can happily proclaim that Battlefield 1 has what I’d consider the pigeon of the year.
While there is a multiplayer mode focused on catching a pigeon, Dick Dastardly style, our pigeon of the year has to be the one in the game’s first real campaign. Stuck in mud and surrounded by hostile soldiers hammering their way in, a helpless tank crew sends out a carrier pigeon with coordinates for a (potentially suicidal) artillery barrage on their position. What follows is a lovely little flight as you directly control the pigeon and bring it back to the artillery position, gazing at the battle-scarred landscape as you do so. And when you finally deliver the coordinates, the artillery barrage – through some miracle – leaves the tank mostly unscathed.
Someone get that pigeon a medal. Or possibly date him.
Peter: A medal awards ceremony sounds like the perfect “in” for proposing a date to me.
Best Dark Souls Game of 2016: Dark Souls 3
Tim: Speaking of awards we do every year…
Peter: The number of Dark Souls type games is steadily increasing year-on-year (2016 gave us Salt & Sanctuary, Necropolis, and – despite nobody fucking asking for it – Slashy Souls), but we’re happy to announce that the very best of those Dark Souls games is Dark Souls 3.
I have complicated feelings about this game. At the time, I enjoyed it immensely. A second play-through barely diminished those feelings. But there’s a detrimental arms race happening with this series, both with difficulty (no longer quite so reliably fair and just) and with enigmatic, loose-end item descriptions being shovelled into the eternal furnace of speculative lore theory. Dark Souls benefitted from a close textual reading. Dark Souls 3 kind of looks like it might, from a distance, but, for the most part, doesn’t.
However, as Dark Souls 2 amply demonstrated, a slightly disappointing or conflicted Dark Souls game still tends to have enough about it to outshine most other titles in any given year; and so it proves with this third entry.
Tim: I’d go with “conflicted” over “disappointing.” While it has a few issues (like, yes, some bullshit artificial difficulty) I have a serious amount of love for this game, and a lot of the problems I have with it are down to the fact that it’s Another Dark Souls Game rather than because there’s anything inherently broken within. I’m not at the point where I feel the series needs a comprehensive, ground-up redesign yet, but that’s obviously a very personal opinion.
Award for Getting an Award Five Years in a Row: The Dark Souls series
Tim: You never know, but I don’t see this trend changing in 2017. I’m sure we’ll find something to say about the next piece of Souls 3 DLC, award-wise.
Peter: It’s going to be the Rosetta Stone DLC for the whole Dark Souls 3 narrative and make all the loose strands and context-free references to the first Dark Souls coalesce into one terrific, enlightening moment of true understanding! (Tugs nervously at collar, sweating.)
1990s Throwback Award for Triple-A First-Person Shooter with Actually Good Campaign: Titanfall 2 and Doom (Joint Winners)
Tim: Holy shit: we actually got two decent first-person shooter campaigns in one year. Like, potentially-worth-the-price-of-admission good.
Doom is probably the least surprising of the two, as that’s always been a series with a much heavier focus on single-player than multiplayer. It doesn’t always work (hello, Doom 3) but this numberless entry in the franchise provided a hefty set of weapons, a load of secrets, and a lot of enemies to shoot with some spectacularly beefy weapons while you circle-strafe madly to avoid being killed. It’s challenging, entertaining, and very, very fast-paced. A really nice throwback to the series’ origins, but with enough modern trappings to make it feel new and impressive.
Titanfall 2 actually was surprising, both because its predecessor had no single-player campaign at all, and because… well, it’s a shooter with a very clear focus on the multiplayer; the mechanics aren’t really “built” around single-player. So the fact that it managed to make the most of the on-foot aerobatics and the in-Titan murderstomping, with a whole lot of excellent and innovative little ideas, was a genuine shock. Reportedly, the single-player campaign was designed by essentially brainstorming cool shit you might want to do in single-player with the usual Titanfall abilities, with levels built to fit the best ideas. I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes a lot of sense considering how almost every level brings something new and enjoyable to the table.
Most Innovative Shooter We’ve Played in Years: SUPERHOT
Tim: I don’t remember writing this award. Peter?
Peter: What? I blacked out for a second.
Rick & Morty Award for Most Cronenbergs: Inside
Peter: As a devotee of Harmontown, I should probably get around to watching Rick & Morty at some point. Anyway, Inside! This award is kind of a left-field spoiler if you’re familiar with the work of David Cronenberg, but not explicitly so. Let’s just say that the game goes all-in with a body horror theme to create the alarming sequel to Katamari Damacy for which nobody but Playdead ever dared to dream.
Tim: It’s one of the most bizarre gaming moments of the year. As noted, it’s not the sort of thing we can really discuss without spoilers, but it works wonderfully in the context of the game.
And good grief, Peter. Watch Rick & Morty. I assumed you of all people would get the reference.
Most Accurate Representation of Why Adventuring Is A Bad Idea: Darkest Dungeon
Tim: In hindsight, it’s sort of funny that very few games even think about the psychological impact of fending off nightmarish horrors or the stresses of saving the world. When they do, it’s either just as a plot point (Dead Space 2) or it’s because they’re horror games and sanity systems are sometimes a thing (Dark Corners of the Earth, Eternal Darkness, Amnesia).
While Darkest Dungeon isn’t quite Dr. Facepunch, Hero Psychiatrist – and that is a game I would like somebody to make – it makes it very clear that the sanity of your adventurers is as important as their actual health. It turns out that fighting to the brink of death against pig mutants or undead abominations is actually pretty stressful, guys, and while it may lead to a desperate surge in morale, it may also lead to shattering the fragile psyches of the only people brave enough to venture into the darkness. As if you don’t have enough to worry about.
Don’t go into dark caves and try to fight tentacled cultists and cannibal witches, basically. You might survive, but your mind almost certainly won’t.
Nope Nope Nope Award for Games Tim Doesn’t Want to Play Next Year: Outlast 2 and Resident Evil 7 (Joint Winners)
Tim: Every year, there are games I don’t want to play. Some of them are because they just look shit. Some of them are because they prominently feature giant spiders. Others are because they look really, really creepy, and that conflicts with my status as an avowed coward. That’s what we’re focusing on here.
I have a love/hate relationship with horror insofar as I genuinely enjoy it, but I have a hard time forcing myself through it, and the two games I’m scared will scare me are Outlast 2 and Resi 7. My mental jury is still out on whether or not I think Resi 7 will be any good, but the bits I’ve seen definitely look like things I don’t want to play in anything but bright sunlight with cheery music playing. As for Outlast 2, while the demo didn’t have nearly the same impact on me as the original Outlast did – too much supernatural, not enough eerie – I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt simply because of how fucking terrifying the original was.
Most Satisfying Headshots: Lichtspeer
Tim: I wanted to give Lichtspeer an award simply for being an accurate representation of the ancient Germanic future (and I should know), but I realised that it actually probably deserves some sort of award for headshots.
Headshots are weirdly important in games, and they’re one of those things you simply can’t talk about in public. “Yeah, I lined it up perfectly, pulled the trigger, and his brains just splattered against the wall. It was amazing!” is the sort of thing that gets you really odd looks from people on trains, for instance. Lots of games do headshots rather well, but Lichtspeer raised them to an art form. For one thing, they’re hard to do thanks to the arc of your spear throws. For another, they’re incredibly important, as most enemies otherwise require multiple shots to murder. And then there’s the way that they’re important to your combo, and the way they the enemies go flying when you land one. All of this, plus the general speed and difficulty of Lichtspeer, makes headshots in the ancient Germanic future feel just so goddamn good.
Most Staggeringly Anti-Consumer Move of the Year: Bethesda
Tim: It turns out that Peter’s not the only one who gets to write depressingly serious awards. Earlier this year, Bethesda decided that they weren’t sending out review copies until the day before launch, on the basis that they did this with DOOM and DOOM turned out to actually be a good game. This was backed up with lots of nice-sounding platitudes like “we want everyone, including the media, to experience our games at the same time.”
If I have to outline why setting up a corporate policy that essentially dictates that reviews will never happen before launch, and that there’s now a reason to rush the earliest reviews to capitalise on hits, then…
Oh, right, and it went one step better when it turned out that pre-ordering Dishonored 2 netted you access a day before everyone else. “We want everyone, including the media, to experience our games at the same time… unless they drop money early, in which case they can play sooner!” was presumably what was actually meant in that horrific and contradictory spiel. We can but hope that there’ll actually be some consumer backlash to this and people will stop pre-ordering the bloody games until reviewers have had a chance to point out whether or not they’re shit.
Peter: AKA, the Vladimir Putin Award For Suppressing Dissent.
Most Hilarious Backfire of a Staggeringly Anti-Consumer Move: Bethesda
Tim: Brilliantly, one of the minor problems with this policy was highlighted by the launch of Dishonored 2, a game with a PC port so poorly optimised that Peter has given up on playing the PC version. This actually came as a surprise, because I couldn’t honestly blame you if you though that Dishonored 2 would have a really lovely PC version.
On the one hand, I suppose a lot of reviewers shouting “it doesn’t actually work very well on PC at all” might’ve impacted sales a bit, so maybe the hideously anti-consumer move netted Bethesda some short-term sales. Considering exactly how bad it was at launch, though, I’m hoping it’s a trick that will only work once.
And yeah, much as I’d have preferred a really good PC version of Dishonored 2, I admit to some schadenfreude when it turned out to be a bit awful.
Peter: I wish it had backfired a little bit more, though. The number of PC publications giving Dishonored 2 a glowing review after Bethesda not only took active steps to make them irrelevant, but also delivered one of the worst ports of the year, was rather disheartening.
Award for Best Prince Tribute: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Peter: I’m relatively sure Eidos Montreal didn’t know Prince was going to die in 2016. Nonetheless, in the character of book-loving, cyber-Frankenstein Vaclav Koller they provided a convincing visual tribute. Granted, I’ve never seen Prince sport an augmented arm and customised lab coat over plaid shirt look, but that’s possibly just because he hadn’t got around to it yet. Koller’s hair, though, is pure Musicology-era Prince (compare it yourself with the invaluable Prince hairstyle chart).
Eidos could’ve gone further by having Koller install a chip in Jensen’s head that plays nothing but “Gett Off” on a loop whenever you activate that aug, but I guess I’ll forgive them off for not doing so.
Tim: “Let’s Go Crazy” when you activate combat augs, too.