And here we go again: It's time for our annual Game of the Year Awards, in which we hand out lots of hardware for all sorts of deserving titles.
If you're wondering, yes, the decisions were difficult. In fact, more deliberation was probably put into these awards than in the last couple of years combined . In our view, recent years have been more cut-and-dry but 2012 gave us a little of everything, and the competition was stiff.
So you may not agree with everything but hey, that's inevitable. That being said, we'll try to briefly explain why each award was handed out.
Here we go…
Winner: Assassin's Creed III
We start with one of the more difficult categories, as no one game really stood out from the crowd this year. From a visual perspective, multiple titles achieved fantastic things, such as what Golden Abyss did for handheld gaming and just how far digital games have come ( Journey ). But in the end, despite the hiccups and minor gaffs, the sheer size, scope and ambition of Assassin's Creed III makes us side with Ubisoft's project. Far Cry 3 and Mass Effect 3 could be argued to be more technically sound, but neither attempted what ACIII attempted; the immersion provided by that massive and amazing environment was just incomparable.
There's a very good reason why composer Austin Wintory received a Grammy nomination for the music in Thatgamecompany's masterful Journey . The beautiful, haunting cello will remain with the player long after he or she has completed that memorable, surrealistic quest. The score fits so perfectly with both the concept and the style, and becomes a gigantic part of the overall experience. No game in 2012 exhibited the importance of a quality score more than Journey , which is why this category was a no-brainer in our eyes.
Best Sound Effects
Winner: Far Cry 3
There's just something about exploring that amazing environment in Far Cry 3 , and much of that awe comes from the fantastic sound design. The continual ebb and flow of ambient effects that keep you riveted, the diversity of the weapon audio that encourages experimentation, and the overall chaos of action that makes you tense; it all contributes to this AAA production. You had best have a decent sound setup when playing this invigorating open-world shooter!
Winner: Assassin's Creed III
This could very easily have gone to Mass Effect 3 or maybe Dishonored , but once again the sheer scope of Assassin's Creed III swayed us. There are just a huge number of voices that were recorded for that game, and the vast majority are not merely competent, they're excellent. Connor is actually one of the weakest performers; his surrounding cast of major and minor characters are all exquisitely performed. And don't forget that you're hearing different accents, dialects, and a ton of hugely distinct personalities. If you really think about it, this award could only go to one title.
Winner: Mass Effect 3
The haters can whine and complain all they want. There really wasn't another game this year that boasted a better script, better writing and dialogue, better acting, and overall, a better assembled storyline. There were holes and flaws, sure, but that doesn't stop it from being a superb achievement, regardless of personal preferences pertaining to the ending(s). You have always been able to turn to this franchise if you're looking for emotional, dramatic, top-quality plots and character development. That didn't change with Mass Effect 3 .
Best Artistry/Art Direction
The subtlety and mesmerizing nature of the gorgeous artistry on display in Journey is quite astonishing. It's minimalism at its best, as it emphasizes the invisible yet powerful elements of the game; it helps awaken that inexplicable attachment within us. It's not about the shifting sands or the gusts of wind rippling your scarf, or the wonderfully designed landscape. It's about bringing art to life, so what other game could possibly win this category? Really?
Winner: Max Payne, Max Payne 3
One of the biggest bad-asses in video game history returned this year, and he returned with a vengeance. Max Payne 3 featured the tortured protagonist at his gritty best, with plenty of surprises and plot twists to keep Max (and us) guessing. His no-nonsense, down-and-out persona has been attracting gamers for years, but he definitely took that grizzled awesomeness to a new level in the latest series iteration. Max Payne for President! The dude rocks .
Winner: Dishonored, Debut Trailer
We do things a little differently than other sources in this category; we only nominate trailers for games that came out this year. That's partly so we can view the finished product and see how well the trailer in question represented that product. Of course, the majority of promotion trailers these days are designed to entice and titillate by any means possible, even if it isn't even remotely representative of the actual game. But anyway, this year's winner is the debut trailer for Dishonored , which got us hooked from the start. An intriguing story and a look at gameplay that featured elements of multiple genres made this preview totally astounding. We wanted more…and boy, did we ever get it.
Winner: The Unfinished Swan
Although Journey is clearly a strong contender, one has to realize the amount of never-seen-before originality on display in Giant Sparrow's The Unfinished Swan . It featured a truly interesting and involving gameplay mechanic that was both accessible and incredibly inventive. It was pretty surprising seeing what they could do with such a concept, and one can't help but be impressed – and even enthralled – throughout this ingenious, artistic adventure.
Winner: The Darkness II
Of all the games that didn't get enough attention this year, we're going with the twisted, the gross, and the super cool guilty pleasure that was The Darkness II . In some ways, we wanted to give it to Twisted Metal and although it didn't sell anywhere near as many copies as it should've, it also had plenty of attention from journalists and gamers. It was the climax of Sony's E3 2011 show, remember? The Darkness II got next to nothing in the way of promotion, advertisement, or general attention, and that just wasn't fair. Singularity was overlooked some years back and this reminded us of that…gamers, rectify this and give Jackie Estacado and his crazy demon arms of death a try.
Winner: Resident Evil 6
Even though we never said Resident Evil 6 was a great game, we couldn't quite comprehend the extraordinarily low review scores and rampant hostility generated by annoyed gamers. We agree that the game suffers from an identity crisis and the production has its fair share of irritating issues. But scores of 4 and 5 simply weren't warranted. The good news is that such intensely negative reviews didn't seem to hurt sales too much; RE6 ended up shipping nearly 5 million copies.
Most Anticipated Game
Winner: The Last Of Us
A year has passed and nothing has changed: The Last Of Us won Most Anticipated in our Game of the Year Awards 2011 and although we've now seen more of Grand Theft Auto V , Bioshock Infinite , and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch , nothing can dissuade us from the fact that Naughty Dog might once again deliver a groundbreaking product. With what appears to be an extremely effective and emotional story, well-drawn and interesting characters, and an unbelievable blend of adventure, survival, stealth and action elements, The Last Of Us could very well end up being one of the best games of the generation…if not the best.
Platform and Genre Awards
Best PSN Game
The Walking Dead has become quite the phenomenon and rightfully so. Fans of Heavy Rain and anyone who wants to become emotionally attached to a storyline should play it; that much, we've recently discovered. But nothing on the PSN quite tops Journey this year. It's a very personal game; we're not exploring a vast desert, we're exploring something within ourselves, and we can feel it from the moment we begin. The adventure is exquisitely crafted and beautifully designed, the pacing is perfect, the music is of the utmost quality, and the experience will stick with you for a very long time.
Best Vita Game
Winner: LittleBigPlanet Vita
Gravity Rush and Uncharted: Golden Abyss make strong cases but Sackboy has stolen our hearts again. LittleBigPlanet Vita is an absolute must-have for owners of Sony's new portable device. It doesn't cut any corners; it's just as robust and complete as LBP has always been, and the visual display and touch mechanics are both extraordinary. Most everything works like a charm and there's a ton of longevity due to the ridiculous amount of content. Great for all ages and always a fantastic option for burgeoning designers or anybody with a highly creative mind, LBP on Vita needs to be in your handheld library.
Best PS3 Game
These days, most multiplatform games are pretty similar across platforms, so it's important to look for exclusives; i.e., titles that define a particular console. In this case, there is no game that defined the PS3 more than Journey , which created an industry-wide love-fest (which is great) and showed us what the best imaginative and creative minds can do. You have to have access to the PlayStation Network to experience it and hence, it's our pick for PS3 Game of the Year. One big reason why: It isn't limiting or restricting; it's for everyone , including those who have rarely (if ever) picked up a controller. That's pretty impressive.
Best Multiplayer Game
Winner: Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Say what you will about Call of Duty , but there's a reason so many millions enjoy playing the game online. It's also important to note that without the online multiplayer, these games really won't appeal to many people. And that's why the developers tend to put their hearts and souls into the online competitive play. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is different than Modern Warfare 3 (last year's winner in this category) but in some ways, BOII is even better. It's one of the most complete online experiences one can have, and it requires both strategy and skill. It essentially defines the term "multiplayer."
Best Music/Rhythm Game
Winner: Sound Shapes
Something more needed to be done with the music/rhythm genre, and that's precisely what we got from Sound Shapes in 2012: A fresh spin on "playing" with music. This innovative approach to blending action and audio resonated with a great many, including us. There's just something so addicting and unique about it, and it goes well beyond the traditional elements of the genre. Rock Band Blitz and Michael Jackson: The Experience aren't anything new, as fun as they are, and not all that impressive. Only Sound Shapes made us go, "Woah…something new in the realm of interactive music!"
Best Racing Game
Winner: Need for Speed: Most Wanted
The racing genre was a little thin this year, but that doesn't mean fans were left out to dry. All they had to do was pick up Need for Speed: Most Wanted and be happy. Filled with nonstop action in an open-world environment reminiscent of Burnout Paradise , you could jump instantly between any of the cars you've collected, compete in individual events for each vehicle, and tackle the Top 10 Most Wanted racers in Fairhaven. The control was tight, the challenge was obvious, and the fun factor was through the roof. Loved it to pieces!
Best Sports Game
Winner: NBA 2K13
In a year where the MLB: The Show franchise didn't wow us the way it usually does, and where Madden showed it still has some punching power, we have to go with NBA 2K13 . For b-ball aficionados, it really was like a dream come true- A realistic yet easily controlled and in-depth basketball simulation that was great for one or more players. It made some of the more complex hardwood maneuvers more accessible while not sacrificing any of that required authenticity, and that's no easy task. You just have to appreciate and applaud such effort.
Best Role-Playing Game
Winner: Mass Effect 3
It was one of the easier categories to pick, unfortunately due to the less-than-stellar release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 . We loved FFXIII-2 for a few reasons, but it doesn't stand up to the overall quality of Mass Effect 3 . With an epic, nicely written storyline, great characters, a huge and involving universe to explore, and top-notch gameplay with plenty of depth and customization, this was 2012's superior role-playing experience. If you're a sci-fi fan, expect to be sucked into a richly detailed and wonderfully designed world that will leave you breathless.
Best Fighting Game
Winner: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
In one of the tougher categories to call, we give it to the fighter that presented us with a combination of various attractive qualities. On the surface, this may appear to be another party brawler but beneath that pretty, fast-paced, apparently simplistic surface beats the heart of a fully developed fighter. Developer SuperBot Entertainment has said they'd like it to act as a "gateway" for those who haven't played much of the fighting genre, and it should do just that. Great production values and an immense amount of diversity cap off this PS3 exclusive, so give it a go.
Winner: Borderlands 2
It was a tough call. There's a lot to like about all the nominees. However, only one game seemed to strike a chord with shooter fans of all types; Borderlands 2 managed to make itself irresistible to those who loved lengthy campaigns, and to those who loved playing with others. Undoubtedly the co-op game of the year, this one offers countless hours of fun with several buddies, and you'll find yourself dreaming of loot in your sleep. A more complete and enjoyable production than its predecessor, Borderlands 2 and it's gazillion guns and 96.5% more Wub Wub demands your attention.
Best Action/Adventure Game
Winner: Assassin's Creed III
When we think of the label "action/adventure," we think of the combination that the genre implies. We think of a game that headlines the category by offering the best in both action (via combat and other mechanics) and adventure (exploration, puzzles, story elements, etc.). Dishonored sort of defies labeling and in truth, doesn't best epitomize this genre in 2012. No, that honor goes to the vast and often astounding Assassin's Creed III , which is easily the most ambitious title of the year. Featuring some of the best variety and a historical setting that continually reinforces the "action" and the "adventure," ACIII is just a beast.
Best New IP
It isn't often that we get amazing new IPs these days, but there is one that really stood out in 2012: The amazing action/adventure title from Arkane Studios and Bethesda, Dishonored . Journey is a landmark achievement in its own right but Dishonored felt like a fuller, more impact-ful product simply because it built upon previous foundations and somehow made familiar gameplay mechanics feel fresh. There was just so little wrong with the game, which encouraged freedom and choice while still providing us with a linear, engaging storyline. There's no doubt that Dishonored is a very special game.
Best Non-PlayStation Game
Winner: Halo 4
It's probably the one game not available on the PlayStation platform that would've been in the running for multiple awards this year at PSXE. Featuring amazing graphics, the return of the iconic Master Chief, and that patented Halo gameplay that followers have come to know and love, the fourth installment has generated a ton of positive feedback and widespread critical acclaim. There's no doubt that it's one of 2012's most esteemed and popular games, and those who only stick to the PS3 ought to be just a little jealous. Admit it.
Special: The PSXE Favorites
This is just a list of the games that we played most during 2012; the titles that held our attention the longest, the ones that kept us coming back for more again and again. There are a number of reasons as to why but I won't get into specifics. And besides, it's difficult to pin down precisely why Darksiders II is just so damn absorbing, and why Rock Band Blitz is so addicting, and why it's hard to dislike the goofy, over-sexualized, totally cornball entertainment that is Lollipop Chainsaw . So no explanations. Just…we love(d) these games this year.
PSXE Community Choice for Game of the Year 2012
Winner: Assassin's Creed III
You guys had the chance to vote for your Game of the Year and the results are in: It's Assassin's Creed III ! It was close; Far Cry 3 may have been the surprise runner-up while games like Journey , Borderlands 2 , The Walking Dead , and Mass Effect 3 were all very close to even. ACIII delivered in a lot of ways and obviously, the majority of our readers see fit to give Ubisoft's epic masterpiece this year's highest honor. Ah, but do we…?
Let's find out…
No preamble or introduction. Here you go-
Game of the Year
After quite a struggle, we have settled upon our choice for Game of the Year 2012. Maybe it isn't what you expected. Maybe you believe we gaffed on this one. Maybe more popular picks, like Journey and Assassin's Creed III , would've been more widely accepted. But we're not in the business of producing a "widely accepted" selection for the very best title of the year. Sorry about that.
ACIII was epic. Journey was a step in the right direction for the industry. The other nominees all have their obvious merits. But in retrospect, Dishonored is the most complete experience with the least number of flaws, in our opinion. It's the epitome of "greater than the sum of its parts," as the game doesn't sport the best graphics, the best sound design, or the best story. But you know, it does everything exceedingly well.
It's just so difficult to take anything away from Dishonored . On top of which, it really did defy labeling as it gave gamers a heady combination of genre elements that – wonder of wonders – gelled into one thrilling, absorbing, ultimately cohesive adventure. A solid story, great acting, and a fantastic setting tied it all together, while we couldn't help but marvel at the stability and fluidity of the gameplay. Freedom was involved but not to the extent of an Elder Scrolls , and all in all, this game was about balance in so many ways. Poetic variety and contrast.
It's just such an overwhelmingly wonderful production with so few in the way of shortcomings, and that's what put it over the top for us.
Obviously, you are all entitled to your own opinions and once again, I reiterate- Choosing this year's awards was no easy task. And putting them up is an extremely long and arduous chore, so please…a little respect for the amount of work involved. 😉 Oh, and I know we've ran down a list of our favorite contributors at PSXE in the past, but I'm exhausted and besides, there are now too many to list. To all our friends and frequent readers, you should know by now how much we appreciate you, and you know who you are. At least, you should. 🙂
Happy New Year and here's to another 365 days of amazing gaming!