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Check Out 25 Years Of Game Informer's GOTY Awards

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jan 02, 2017 at 06:00 AM

In 1992, Game Informer published its first annual video game awards. The one-page celebration of the year featured just a handful of categories, including Best Concept, Best Playability, and Best 8-Bit Game. While the format has changed over the decades, one game has always risen above the rest to become the standout experience of the year. Join us for a trip back through 25 years of G.I.'s Game of the Year awards.

1992: Street Fighter II
Issue #8
Capcom's genre-defining Street Fighter II was the winner of G.I.'s first ever game of the year award, with the staff lauding the SNES port as a "perfect translation" of the arcade sensation. Street Fighter II also won the Best Playability award, while Sonic The Hedgehog 2 won the award for Best Graphics.

1993: Mortal Kombat
Issue #15
In an NBA Jam-themed issue featuring a very young Andy McNamara slam-dunking on the cover, Acclaim's Mortal Kombat K.O.'d its chief competitor for the top slot. That said, Street Fighter II Turbo still got the nod for Best Playability, while Shadowrun won Best RPG, Star Fox won Best Shooter, and Aladdin won Best Translation From The Big Screen.

1994: Donkey Kong Country
Issue #22
Starting in '94, G.I. skipped an overall GOTY award, and instead crowned year-end winners by platform. However, by comparing genre award winners, it appears D.K.'s groundbreaking outing would have topped the Genesis' top contender, Earthworm Jim, earning it a retroactive GOTY nod. The real surprise is that DKC unbelievably (in hindsight) beat out Super Metroid as the best SNES game.

1995: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong's Quest
Issue #34
The introduction of the PSX and Sega Saturn make it a bit harder to retroactively determine an overall GOTY winner. G.I. crowned Ridge Racer the winner for Sony's new system, while the Saturn standout was Virtua Fighter 2. However, DKC 2 also won the award for Best Graphics, and beat out big hits like Super Mario World 2 and Chrono Trigger, so we're giving it the nod.

1996: Super Mario 64
Issue #46
1996 saw the reintroduction of a definitive Game of the Year award, and that honor went to the Nintendo 64's killer-app, Super Mario 64. Mario's transition to 3D astounded the G.I. staff, and topped three huge franchise starters: Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Crash Bandicoot. Super Mario RPG also got plenty of love, winning the awards for Best SNES Game and Best RPG.

1997:  Final Fantasy VII
Issue #58
Sony picked up its first GOTY award in '97, flooring the competition with the unforgettable Final Fantasy VII. Square Soft's mega hit also won Best PSX Game, Best Graphics, Best RPG, and Most Memorable Moment, while Sephiroth took home the new Best Villain award. Other GOTY contenders were Tomb Raider 2 (with Lara Croft winning the Best Hero award), and Star Fox 64, which won the Best N64 spot above Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter and GoldeneEye 007.

Coming Up Next: Game Informer's GOTY picks at the turn of the century...

1998: The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Issue #70
G.I. was back to only naming platform winners in 1998, but Ocarina Of Time's success was still pretty definitive. In the Best Action/Adventure category, G.I. named Link's first 3D adventure the "obvious" winner when directly compared to Resident Evil 2 (which won Best PSX Game) and Metal Gear Solid (which was the PSX runner-up). Other big contenders were Pokémon (Best Game Boy Game) and Half-Life (Best PC Game).

1999: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
Issue #82
Retroactively figuring out an overall game of the year for '99 might be hard – unless you're old enough to remember G.I.'s long-running obsession with Tony Hawk. The staff dubbed Neversoft's arcadey take on the sport as "True gaming zen," giving it the nod for Best PSX Game, Best Action Game (for some reason), and Best Playability. Other potential contenders were NFL 2K (Best Dreamcast Game), and EverQuest (Best PC Game).

2000: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
Issue #93
The dawn of the 21st century brought yet another redesign to G.I.'s year-end awards. In addition to the usual platform and genre categories, readers were also treated to a top 10 list of the overall best games. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 took home the top prize, followed by The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask and Chrono Cross. The PS2 launch shortage won the dubious Blunder of the Year, with G.I. calling the system the "hottest commodity since the Cabbage Patch Doll."

2001: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty
Issue #105
Tony Hawk's reign ended in 2001, but for good reason. THPS 3 landed at number three on the overall top 10 list, behind two huge juggernauts: DMA Design's Grand Theft Auto III, and Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2. Reiner had high praise for Kojima's stealthy sequel: "Without the slightest hint of doubt, this is the greatest game I've ever played." Microsoft's genre-changing shooter Halo made a smaller splash with a still respectable ninth-place finish.

2002: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Issue #117
Under the new and more familiar studio name of Rockstar North, the talented developers behind the Grand Theft Auto series moved up to the number-one spot with Vice City's colorful, '80s-era mayhem. The last original 2D Metroid game, Metroid Fusion, came in at number two, while Final Fantasy X rounded out the holy trinity of 2002. In other news, the Best New Character award went to Shinobi's Scarf. For some reason.

2003: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Issue #129
2003 marked the first year that G.I. switched to the chronologically listed, Top 50 format. While no official Game of the Year was selected, The Wind Waker certainly sounds like the winner based on its description: "Easily one of the best games of the year, we even voted it the top title of this console generation." Other high-profile contenders included Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and the original Call of Duty.

Coming Up Next: The big franchises strike back...

2004: Halo 2
Issue #142
The original Halo left G.I. a bit underwhelmed in 2001, but Master Chief commanded everyone's attention in the sequel. Despite being up against huge titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the legendary Half-Life 2, Halo 2 took home the G.I.'s Game of the Year award. Id Software's Doom 3, the last entry in the series until this year's reboot, also earned a spot on the list, while the Best Villain award went to NBA star Ron Artest for reasons long forgotten.

2005: Resident Evil 4
Issue #153
Still considered the best entry in the series by Game Informer staff, Resident Evil 4 beat some major competitors for Game of the Year in 2005. God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, Psychonauts, and Jade Empire all became instant classics, but they couldn't keep Leon Kennedy down. The number one disappointment of the year went to the delay of Twilight Princess and dearth of good GameCube titles. Some things never change.

2006: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Issue #165
At least Nintendo can say the wait was worth it. Sporting new motion controls for its transition to the Nintendo Wii, Twilight Princess earned the top spot when it released at the tail-end of the year. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, and Final Fantasy XII also made a big impression, along with cult classics Okami and Bully.

2007: BioShock
Issue #177
Whether you played it 10 years ago or just checked out the new remaster collection, there's no questioning BioShock's status as a classic. BioShock beat out a trio of other massive series starters for Game of the Year; Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune all launched in 2007, while big-name sequels like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, God of War II, and Halo 3 also failed to catch Irrational's masterpiece.

2008: Grand Theft Auto IV
Issue #190
Rockstar's "next-gen" reimagining of Liberty City redefined the monumental open-world series yet again, and beat out some big GOTY contenders including Fallout 3, Gears of War 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4. Some big new series hit as well, including EA's sci-fi horror hit Dead Space, Turtle Rock's fantastic co-op shooter Left 4 Dead, and one of the first downloadable darlings, Braid. It was also the year of the Red Ring of Death, which topped our Disappointments list.

2009: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Issue #202
Nathan Drake's second adventure ratcheted up action and spectacle, which in turn ratcheted the series up to the number-one spot for the year. A number of new series kicked off as well – Borderlands, Infamous, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Plants vs. Zombies all sprouted in 2009. A few sequels offered Drake stiff competition, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Ezio's debut outing, Assassin's Creed II.

Coming Up Next: The best games of last generation and the early current-gen winners...

2010: Red Dead Redemption
Issue #214
Mass Effect 2 represents the high point of the series for many fans, but Commander Shepard still couldn't stand up to John Marston's mighty six-shooter. Rockstar's open-world opus struck a different tone than the raucous GTA series, and so did the gameplay. Despite an overly lengthy jaunt through Mexico, Red Dead Redemption became an instant classic, beating out other big titles like God of War III, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Heavy Rain, and Halo: Reach, Bungie's last hurrah with the series.

2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Issue #226
2011 was a year of big sequels, with Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Batman: Arkham City, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Portal 2, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 all winning awards for their respective genres and/or platforms. However, a bigger sequel loomed over them all, as Skyrim transformed Bethesda's open-world RPG series into an industry juggernaut. As a sign of the changing times, DLC and remasters also got their own top 10 lists.

2012: Mass Effect 3
Issue #237
Finally, Commander Shepard prevails, though Mass Effect 3's color-coded ending made our Game of the Year nod a controversial one. Firaxis' stellar XCOM: Enemy Unknown was another talked-about GOTY contender in the G.I. offices, along with Arkane's Dishonored. However, 2011 was also by characterized by small but potent experiences, such as Journey, Fez, the mobile hit 10,000,000, and The Walking Dead, which established Telltale's formula for years to come.

2013: The Last Of Us
Issue #250
After three excellent Uncharted games, Naughty Dog sent off the PS3 with a heck of a swan song. Joel and Ellie's unforgettable journey staved off two other exceptional titles loved by the G.I. staff for game of the year: Grand Theft Auto V and BioShock Infinite. The debuts of PS4 and Xbox One made 2013's E3 an event to remember, as Microsoft's prompt reversals on the latter's always-online and anti-used game policies made big headlines.

2014: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Issue #262
In a transition year that saw fewer standout hits, the G.I. staff's fight over game of the year was more contentious than ever. Dragon Age: Inquisition's open-world quest-a-thon scarcely bested Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor's Nemesis-fueled tale of vengeance, while a small but vocal splinter group sang the mixed praises of year-one Destiny. In facepalm-worthy news, P.T.'s Silent Hills reveal was crowned the top moment of 2014. Oh, Konami...

2015: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Issue #274
If Dragon Age: Inquisition upped the bar for current-gen RPGs, The Witcher 3 blew it to smithereens. Wild Hunt's superior storytelling, characters, and combat propelled Geralt leaps and bounds above the Inquisitor, and landed CD Projekt Red's masterpiece at the top of the list. Fallout 4's solid but conventional gameplay failed to put up much GOTY competition, but Bloodborne was a strong dark horse contender until the 11th hour. Rise of the Tomb Raider, MGS V, Axiom Verge, and a revamped Destiny all received love as well.

2016: ???
Issue #286
What, you didn't think we'd spoil the surprise, did you? Check out the next issue of Game Informer for the full 2016 rundown, including all the big platform and genre winners, as well as our pick for Game of the Year.

What was your game of the year for 2016? Share your pick in the comments below!