Game of the Year Bullshit

So every site in the world is crowing about what they thought was best. That’s really useful if there are games on the list you haven’t played, but worthless if they spend the whole time drooling over GTA4. Kotaku listed a summary of major/minor sources’ GOTY choices. Of note is the complete absence of Gears of War 2, Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Wrath of the Lich King. If each source had a vote in a kind of AP poll of Games of the Year, being able to rank 1-25, that might be interesting. Unfortunately, no one with a voice has come up with it. Additionally the Kotaku post is missing input from my two paragons of gaming opinion: Penny Arcade and MTV Multiplayer.

Since my utility from these lists is derived from finding hidden gems, I personally forego the One Game To Rule Them All format and give a short list (3-5 titles) that really “did it” for me that year by being particularly innovative and/or just by sticking in my craw and being unforgettable.

For history’s sake, here are the previous lists: (Also: Can you believe I kept some sort of blog since 2001?)

2001 – Halo, Ico
2002 – Splinter Cell, Jet Set Radio Future
2003 – Disgaea, Beyond Good and Evil
2004 – Katamari Damacy, Burnout 3: Takedown
2005 – Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, Psychonauts, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Meteos
2006 – Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Dead Rising, Guitar Hero II
2007 – Portal, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Passage, Bioshock

Last year, I had to craft a longer “short” list before narrowing it down to the above four.

I will do the same here, but today I start with some tongue-in-cheek titles like I did in this article last year.

First, the snarky bits since I am on the Internet where no one thinks about being nice before typing. Last year I made up the following awards:

Most Underrated Overrated Game: Halo 3
Most Underrated Underrated Game: Assassin’s Creed
Most Overrated Overrated Game: Super Mario Galaxy
Most Overrated Underrated Game: Flow

But in retrospect the names were a little tough to parse. “Most Underrated Overrated” means that it was a game the public/press decried as overrated, but was actually pretty good. “Most Underrated Underrated” meant a game that wasn’t proclaimed a Game of the Year by anyone, but probably should have been. “Most Overrated Overrated” meant a game that had a ridiculously high Metacritic compared to the actual consensus quality of the game as measured by enthusiasm post-launch period. And the last category was a game that everyone said was underrated even though everybody knew about it and wouldn’t shut up about it.

These kudos were actually a lot harder to come up with than the games of the year since their overratedness or underratedness is relative to expectations. Regardless:

Most Underrated Overrated Game (aka Great-Game-That-Didn’t-Meet-Public-Expectations): Burnout Paradise

Public reception seemed to be blasé about Paradise but I found it not only to be innovative in terms of game design and user interface but innovative in terms of content delivery with their DLC packages. It’s a damn fun game that I have never seen mentioned on any Game of the Year posts. It has flaws, but it provides the core Burnout experience in a fun, new way. I think it lost megapoints by not including a Crash mode. Certainly that was my favorite mode in Takedown and I am hoping it comes back in future installments. A Crash mode at user-defined points in Paradise City seems both feasible and filled with potential, especially given the shared-with-friends aesthetic that they tried to hit. If you didn’t try Paradise, you missed out.

Most Underrated Underrated Game (aka Great-Game-That-Even-The-Bloggers-Mostly Missed): Valkryia Chronicles

I feel wrong giving out this title to a game I haven’t yet finished considering the many other capable titles available (Etrian Odyssey 2, King’s Bounty: The Legend, Pixeljunk Eden), but I am going to even with only 50% completion. The game not only molds together tactical RPG with light elements of the precision FPS, but it avoids what turns me off on most strategy games by changing mechanics in every chapter. Very few fights are similar because in one you may have to take out a megatank that can obliterate your forces, in another you may have only a subset of your army, in another you may have to use the cover of sandstorms to move your army, and so forth. Each chapter brings something new and interesting and this is even in lieu of the beautiful cutscenes. The story could be better, but considering the game is Japanese, it could also be a lot, lot worse. I am generally surprised that this was released to no fanfare, especially given the drought of PS3 console exclusives. If you are interested in strategy RPGs at all, you owe this one a try.

Most Overrated Overrated Game (aka Mediocre-Game-That-Metacritic-Would-Have-You-Believe-Is-The-Second-Coming-Of-Christ): Grand Theft Auto 4 and Super Smash Brothers Brawl (tie!)

So this seems like an odd choice in the case of Brawl because it didn’t show up at all on the Kotaku List of Lists, but it had a 97 Metacritic for a very long time only to settle down to a 93 after some absentee ballots rolled in. Even with the dip, it is rated above most of the other GOTY contenders. Do this thought experiment: replace the beloved Nintendo characters with random IP that you have no attachment to. Is the game still good? Do you notice the vast camera issues? The control issues? The lack of polish (to be VERY generous) in the single player mode? No game with a 93 Metacritic was ever so riddled with basic flaws.

Grand Theft Auto 4 is a much easier choice. Only 5/86 reviewers on Metacritic gave the game below a 90. 48/86 gave the game a perfect score. It is currently the top rated game on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. And unlike with Brawl, my quarrel is not that it isn’t a good game, but instead that it isn’t a perfect game.For every wow-neato moment, I had a similar and more powerful moment that both broke the illusion of the world and caused frustration and annoyance. The police that attempt to kill you if you brush up against them and that employ kamikaze techniques are probably the primary culprit that ruins the experience. The indestructible trees have been widely ridiculed but in a game whose primary kudos mention the “realness” of the world, it is the little things that do one in. For instance, don’t run into an officer on foot while in a drunken stupor or he will try to murder you in cold blood and there is damn little you can do about it.

But I’m no nitpicker on minutiae – the meat of the game annoys me. It has the Wind Waker syndrome where 80% of the game is spent trying to get somewhere to do something interesting rather than having 80% of your time actually spent doing interesting things. Oblivion solved this systemic Morrowind problem by including fast travel. GTA has no analog. For every mission, you have to carefully (as to not upset the kamikaze kops) navigate across the world, checking your map multiple times only to get interrupted by calls from Cousin Roman when you are on the other side of the world. It’s a shame because the game has so many great moments hidden behind a veil of repetition and same-ness from earlier efforts in the series. Best game of all time? Not so much.

Most Overrated Underrated Game (aka Please-Just-Shut-Up-About-This-Already): Braid

Again, like with GTA, this criticism comes not because Braid is a poor game. I had a good deal of fun with it. Instead this comes from the legion of Braid followers that have been telling us for four years that this is gaming’s Citizen Kane and that it will not only change our perceptions of what games could be, but our very perceptions of life itself. I’m not making that last bit up, it was from a preview that I currently cannot place. While we didn’t get a new school of philosophy, we got a very capable and beautiful puzzle-platformer with a satisfying ending despite an incoherent and deeply pretentious story. Clever? Yes. Industry-changing? Not really. So can we stop talking about it now?

Extra snark awards:

Best Game Story Apparently Lifted From a 10-Year Old Boy’s Notebook Doodles: Metal Gear Solid 4

Seriously, I cannot stand the sites that praise this story. Histrionics, melodrama, and eye-rolling moments abound. It had the shit-blowing-up-factor of a Michael Bay movie with the meaningless philosophy of a coke addict’s ramblings. One comes to expect that from this series by now, so I wasn’t offended by it. I felt quite entertained by how ludicrous it was. What I am upset with are sites calling the writing “amazing” or “deep”. Neither words apply.

Best Game Starting with Q: Quantum of Solace
Worst Game Starting with Q: Quantum of Solace

Thanks to Matthew Gallant’s game list for this one.

Least Useful Name for a Game: Infinite Undiscovery

So what is the act of undiscovering something? Forgetting it? How can one be forgot to an infinite degree? And even if you answer that question, what the hell does that tell you about what the game is? A game’s title doesn’t have to be useful, but it should at least be coherent.

Okay, this post went on long enough. My top picks of the year come tomorrow with a big disclaimer that I haven’t played most of the top games of this year yet and will render a final verdict long after we stop forgetting that it isn’t 2008 when writing out our checks.

3 thoughts on “Game of the Year Bullshit

  1. You do realize in GTA 4 you can take cabs everywhere. That does cut down on the travel time.

    Great site otherwise.

  2. Indeed I do namesake, but you still have to hail the cab, wait for it to show up and then either pay extra money to skip or wait while the driver navigates like a sick robot. Either way you are still spending the majority of the game traveling.

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