It’s that time of year when the games press dishes out awards like “Game of the year” and “Best art design” and all sorts of other boring stuff. We love giving out awards and pointing to the Best Things of the Year, but we also wanted to do something a lot less standard – so we decided to give out some alternative awards instead.
Every game listed in this piece is, in our opinion, a really good game – be in no doubt of that. If it appears here, we recommend it. But recommending something for having the most polygons is really quite dull, so instead we tailored a very specific set of awards.
Want to know which game is most likely to ? Maybe you’re curious about the best game that has a made-up number of guns? Perhaps you’re wondering which game made the best use of a French robot, this year? If those are the questions that hound your thoughts every waking minute, read on.
Best Game That Was Cancelled, Then Got Released Anyway: Sleeping Dogs
Tim: Sleeping Dogs has a tumultuous history. United Front Games started work on an open-world action adventure, Activision picked it up and slapped the True Crime brand on it, Activision dropped the game because it probably wouldn’t sell, Square Enix later picked it up and renamed it again… and in 2012 it finally saw the light of day as Sleeping Dogs. And at the end of all that, what happened?
It turned out to be pretty damn good and it sold pretty damn well, that’s what happened. Considering the stormy seas the dev team weathered, it seems only fair to celebrate their victories over the treacherous waters of modern-day publishing. That, and its success is a bit of a middle finger to a major publishing house, which I can’t help but find amusing.
Best Chance of Oldham Athletic Ever Being Promoted Again: FIFA 13
Peter: When you support a shit football team, games like the FIFA series give you a glorious window into a fantasy realm where sporting miracles are commonplace. In real life, Oldham Athletic’s chances amount to ‘maybe getting out of League One someday, but probably by virtue of dropping in League Two.’ In FIFA 13’s career mode I can still turn them into a credible force.
For a series so scrupulously focused on maintaining a sense of authenticity through accurate team strips and 67 different choices of Nike ball, it’s reassuring that those fairytale promotions haven’t yet been hard-coded beyond the limits of player skill. Sure, it’s not at all realistic for Oldham to do anything other than languish in League One obscurity – but what’s the point of a football videogame without hope? Thanks, FIFA 13, for helping people to delude themselves a little while longer.
Best Surreptitious Re-Release of Dungeon Master: Legend of Grimrock
Tim: Man, Dungeon Master was great. Wasn’t Dungeon Master great? It was great. Finnish developer Almost Human clearly agrees, because this year they released Legend of Grimrock, a game that idolises Dungeon Master so much it kisses a poster of Dungeon Master before going to sleep in its Dungeon Master pyjamas and bedsheets.
Grimrock is pretty much Dungeon Master for the modern age, with a less confusing interface and prettier graphics, and this is no bad thing. It’s a fantastic game in its own right, with devious puzzles, clever side-areas, and combat that demands thought more than good equipment, but here we’re applauding it for being a loving homage done well. For bringing Dungeon Master back to us in 2012, we bestow this award on Legend of Grimrock.
Best Homicidal Tramp Tutorial: Hotline Miami
Peter: The woozy, sketchy world of Hotline Miami kicks off with its lurid, listing title screen and accompanying tune. But the tone of the game is really hammered home in the tutorial. Its first words to the player, uttered by a dishevelled tramp, are “I’m here to tell you how to kill people.” True to his word, he does exactly that.
After being guided through the execution of three white-suited gentlemen and using a selection of weapons found in colour-coded (yet oppressively lit) rooms by a man of reduced means and circumstance, you’re just about ready for the trip Hotline Miami has planned for you. Later, you will use the tramp’s own techniques against him and vomit in a back alley. This is the game tutorial against which all future tutorials will be judged.
Best Game We Didn’t Actually Review: Legend of Grimrock/Mark of the Ninja (joint)
Tim: We don’t review everything. Sad, but true. We normally try to tell you about everything that catches our attention and makes us jump up and down with barely-contained joy, but… well, sometimes things slip through the net, and that’s exactly what happened with this pair of fantastic games.
Legend of Grimrock and Mark of the Ninja are both utterly superb titles – pinnacles, respectively, of the first-person dungeon crawler and stealth-action genres – and yet we didn’t review them. This award is our way of saying sorry, and also hopefully tells you lot to purchase both games post-haste if you haven’t already done so.
Best Game Where You’re the President Printing Money to Finance Bug Porn (no, really): Frog Fractions
Peter: This award could just as easily have been called “Best Game To Feature the History of Boxing During an Underwater Section on Mars” or “Best Game in Which a Dragon-Riding Frog Has to Convince a Butterfly Judge to Give Him a Work Visa.”
That may sound like the sort of insufferable empty surrealism at the heart of so much terrible internet humour, but Frog Fractions is really a sharp, heartfelt celebration of the absurdity of videogame conventions and genres. Don’t just trust these stupid words, play it for free right here.
Best Game with a Made-Up Number of Guns: Borderlands 2
Tim: No, I’m sorry, “870 gajillion” isn’t a real number. Borderlands 2 is a fantastic game which gets exploring, shooting, questing, looting, RPG-ing, and DLC-ing just right, but it doesn’t have 870 gajillion more guns than Borderlands because that’s not a real number. I can’t wait for the Borderlands 3 trailer promising feleventeen kazillion guns.
Really good game anyway, though – and it does have a lot of guns, so that’s something. Also, the intro is fantastic.
Best Game of a Game of Thrones That Isn’t a Game of Thrones Game: Crusader Kings II
Peter: French developer Cyanide has taken two official cracks George RR Martin’s Ice and Fire series; one deeply flawed strategy game that for some reason chose to focus on pre-series characters nobody cared about, and one RPG with dodgy combat, mixed voice acting and a passable attempt at an original plot. Unofficially though, the finest Game of Thrones title around is a mod for Paradox’s Crusader Kings II.
Vanilla CKII sees the player cementing bloodlines, organising alliances, defending lands and scheming the overthrow of pesky siblings. In other words, behaving exactly like most of the rulers of Westeros. With mod in place, CKII truly is the greatest game of Game of Thrones that isn’t actually a Game of Thrones … game.
Best Obligatory Sewer Level: Dishonored
Tim: Since the global Videogame Levels Act of 2002, all games must – by law – include at least one level set in a sewer. Alright, I made that up, but it certainly feels like the world has taken a step in that direction.
Dishonored managed to go above and beyond the call of duty by actually containing a sewer level that’s fun. There are two periods in the game in which you have to delve into the sewers: the first is short enough to be inoffensive, while the second contains a satisfying conclusion to one of the narrative sub-arcs and some level design that once again tells you a bit more about the state of the city, while somehow completely lacking in mazes or puzzles involving the water level. Dishonored, you have raised the bar for Obligatory Sewer Levels. For this, we salute you.
Best Use of a French Robot: Binary Domain
Peter: Granted, I can’t really think of any other game released this year with a French robot in it, but Binary Domain used one really well.
The neckerchief-sporting Cain typified Binary Domain’s approach to characterisation; he was a paper-thin stereotype who defied a lack of depth with some terrific team interactions and legitimately fine dialogue. When you’re in the middle of a frivolous sci-fi jaunt, you want squadmates who’ll help dismember the hordes of mechanical enemies with flamboyance, style and a wry quip. Cain is just the robot for the job, and I attribute his presence as a major factor in so many reviews of this game concluding with some variation of “I enjoyed this far more than I expected.”
Best Game That Will Brutally Murder Your Friends and Family: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Tim: Don’t you just love games that let you name your squad or party members? With the advent of voice acting they’re becoming increasingly rare, but it’s still a joy to take a squad of your loved ones with you as you sally forth into battle against orcs or aliens or whatever. Save the world with the people you care about!
Joyously, XCOM: Enemy Unknown lets you do this. Of course, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is also brutally hard, and if your list of dead soldiers is fewer than 20 by the end of your first game then you clearly need to be playing on a higher difficulty level. I’ve seen family members vaporised by plasma, girlfriends blasted across the map by exploding cars, and childhood pals eviscerated by grenades. I’ve even seen IncGamers staffer Peter Parrish being given reconstructive facial surgery by a panicking newbie with a shotgun. If this sort of overpowering hatred for the player’s pals and loved ones doesn’t deserve some sort of award, I’m not sure what does.
Best… What the Hell Did I Just Play: Thirty Flights of Loving
Tim: This award could very easily have gone to Frog Fractions, but Thirty Flights of Loving‘s 15-minute completion time tips it just over the edge.
Blendo Games’ dizzying little first-person narrative-’em-up really does show that size isn’t all that important, because those 15 minutes pack in an intriguing story that tells you just enough for you to get a handle on what’s going on, and then leaves it to fizz away in your brain for the next six hours while you try to piece it all together. The game manically hops from one tantalising fragment of story to the next, and you pretty much just hang on for the ride while figuring out which bit goes where. Don’t get me wrong: it works well when you’re playing, but you’re not handheld through every individual plot-point and you’re not told everything. And when “The End” pops up on screen after 15 of the oddest (and yet surprisingly touching) minutes of gaming, the name of this award will make a lot more sense.
Best Game That Was Also Our Game of the Year 2011: Dark Souls
Peter: Happenstance has blessed us with two opportunities to praise the excellence of Dark Souls. In 2011, IncGamers gave the console versions the number one spot in a Game of the Year showdown. This year, as the site transitioned to exclusive PC coverage, Dark Souls was released on our new platform of choice. It was a bare bones port, but once fixed with this mod its hard to see it as anything but the definitive version of the game.
It’s almost a shame that the PC version came bundled with DLC, because otherwise a 2013 re-issue could be in the running for next year’s awards. Praise the sun!