In the wake of our first Scanline Media Game of the Year awards, I’ve ended up having numerous conversations with others about both our GotY lists, and others from ‘round the web. The past year was a strange one, as even journalists I fervently admire had lists I found almost inexplicable. Bizarre presences on lists, confusing absences, and ranking that made me double-take: instead of the usual knowing nods I give these awards, my expression grew ever more baffled as I observed the divide. Perhaps this is just an effect of my increased involvement with the industry since starting Scanline, but I do want to explore this a little further.
Jeff Gerstmann said something pretty strong at the end of Giant Bomb’s 2013 Game of the Year deliberations (paraphrased)- “A lot of very good games. Not a lot of great games.” This is my first year actually putting a top ten on paper, but I have to agree with him. As I was making my top ten, I honestly had to stretch a little to get it all to work. I mean no disrespect to the games I put on that list- they are all exceptional games, and I was pleased to be able to honor them in such a way. Still, as I’ve said previously, Game of the Year is something special to me- it takes a very special sort of game, with ambition, courage, and stellar execution. Frankly, I don’t think there were ten games this year that hit the admittedly high bar I set.
Up front I should mention that of course, as a minimum wage worker who gets only the occasional press copy of small games, there was a lot I didn’t get a chance to check out. The Swapper, Brothers, Saint’s Row IV, Ni no Kuni… I missed a fair bit. Honestly, the only game that I think would have made my top 10 had I played it is Mario 3D World, but Gunpoint was an out of nowhere barnburner, so who knows? Everyone has games that they missed, and perhaps this year is better than I thought it was.
Seeing BioShock Infinite on top 10s, however, really made me raise an eyebrow. My intent is not to browbeat or insult, but that game… okay. I liked the combat a lot, and I know others did not. I liked the art design, I liked Elizabeth and the Luteces. But the rest of that game was just a big mistake. Time travel/multiverse plots are very hard to do well, and Infinite doesn’t even come close. Setting aside plot holes, it’s just so frequently stupid (and at this point I will drop a spoiler warning). Oh boy, now we’re in an alternate dimension where there are ghosts! Is this a joke?
Even when it’s not being obviously ridiculous, it fails at telling the story. The jumps from dimension to dimension are used to jump from a starting point to a conclusion, without anything in between to earn that conclusion. Oh, we meet this character and hey she seems to have some anger issues, and now we’ve jumped to a dimension where she is a power-hungry psychotic. Did you want to justify that jump, BioShock, or- no? Okay. Gotcha.
I could keep going, but we need to keep moving. GTA V did also not make my list, and I honestly think it’s a pretty fantastic game. It’s not a particularly brave game- aside from the character switching, it is exactly what you would expect from a GTA game. It also fumbles the story pretty badly, and doesn’t really integrate its story and world all that well. Even so, it would have made the list if it weren’t for its misogyny. I met maybe two women in that entire game (who had about two lines each) who were not portrayed as shrill harpies that the men around them endure because they have no choice. As an industry, as a society, we’re better than this, and I refuse to honor such writing with a GotY spot.
The big one, though, is The Last of Us. Certainly, Naughty Dog’s final PS3 masterpiece doesn’t need my praise- they are practically drowning in awards after that survival action game swept the press off their feet. It is a wonderful game. You should probably play it, because I honestly have no great complaints with it. I didn’t enjoy the gameplay all that much, but I hate cover shooting with a passion. Clearly, I’m in the minority on that one. The writing was pretty incredible, the graphics and art design were fantastic, that ending is probably the ballsiest thing a triple A game has done in years… really, it’s a stunning piece of work, and absolutely cause for pride.
In truth, I’m still not sure if I made the right call leaving it off the list. It’s a game of highs and lows, though: for as many moments of pure genius there are (that intro, the winter segment, the ending), there are as many stretches that just bored the life out of me (spring, the opening city, the university). As much as I respect the brilliance of its craft, it just didn’t click with me. I almost feel bad for not liking it more than I did, but… here we are.
Of course there’s more to talk about. There’s always more. So many games get released, and the variety of opinions on them mean we get a lot of different winners. Early Access, too, has complicated things, as everyone makes a judgement call on whether or not to include them in their lists. For my part, I decided that I would include any Early Access game that felt worth the time and money in its current state. Starbound and Kenshi are going to be magnificent games one day, but they’re just not there yet. I feel good about the winners we had, and I salute those that fell short. Here’s to hoping to for a stunning 2014!