Monday, January 5, 2009

Game of the Year Awards

At last, the time has come to pick my Videogame of the Year, as well as three runners-up and my pick for best new hardware. This tradition goes back to 1981, when I was 15 years old and had just gotten an Odyssey 2 for Christmas. Why I started it and continued it through all these years, I'm not sure. But the show must go on!

It was a banner year for great videogames, with many of the games that I beat this year all likely nominees. But I had to narrow it down, so here's what I came up with. Keep in mind, the award has always been for the games I personally played in that year, which does not necessarily mean that the game was released in the same year.

Winner : Grand Theft Auto IV (Microsoft XBox 360)
2008 was the year of the open-world "sandbox" type of game for me, and GTA IV was the biggest and baddest of them all. No one has ever made a larger, more detailed virtual world (much less a sprawling metropolis) that can come close to what Rockstar Games achieved with this title. But it's not just the size - the sheer number of things that your character can do in this game also adds to the value of this package.

And if all that weren't enough, the story and the characters are well produced, eliciting sympathy for the lead character and his friends, even though their in-game actions could certainly be considered sociopathic. Grand Theft Auto IV is really the whole enchilada, and the four months it took to beat it are a testament to its polish, playability, and sheer fun.

Runner - Up : The Orange Box (Microsoft XBox 360)
Not since Sppedway/Spinout/Crypto-Logic for the Odyssey 2 has a three-pack of games so completely defined my first days with a new videogame system. Included in The Orange Box are Half-Life 2 (plus its expansion episodes), Portal, and Team Fortress 2. Portal itself was the most amazingly innovative game I played in 2009, a first-person puzzle and action game that challenged my brain in ways no other game ever has, and offered one of the best endings in game history. Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2 Episodes 1 and 2 were stunning first-person shooting bliss of the highest order. And the class-based Team Fortress 2 provided a lot of online multiplayer fun.

Runner - Up : Dead Space (Microsoft XBox 360)
Survival-horror games have, ironically, been done to death, so it takes a new approach to really stand out in the crowd. Dead Space puts the player in the role of an engineer on a derelict spaceship full of horrific creatures, and the game's innovations work well to refresh the genre. The undead "necromorphs" require the player to shoot off their limbs to stop them, instead of headshots. The game's weapons are for the most part innovative and fun to enhance, and the zero-gravity sections of the ship work amazingly well. Dead Space was a blast to play, was graphically impressive, and offered many scares along the way.

Runner - Up : Bully : Scholarship Edition (Nintendo Wii)
Another one of Rockstar Games' "sandbox" titles, Bully puts the player in the role of tough kid Jimmy, dumped by his parents at a strict boarding school divided into factions of nerds, jocks, preppies, greasers, and townies. Jimmy not only has to survive all of that, but he has to actually attend school as well, with the Wii's motion controls being utilized to their fullest to do things like dissect frogs in Biology class. Exploring the school and the local community was as much fun as exploring the game's social aspects, like juggling girlfriends and learning fighting moves from the local hobo. There was a lot to do in Bully, and the game's hilarious sense of humor made it all worth the time.

Best New Hardware : Microsoft XBox 360 Pro System

And those are my awards. Your mileage may vary.

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