Funny To A Point – The First Annual Not 50 Awards
2018 is just around the corner, which means we here at G.I. have one last editorial task to complete: arguing endlessly about best and worst games of the year, and then compiling the eventual surviving titles into our annual Top 50 list. However, just like with E3, there's one glaring flaw in our award-picking process: Everyone's stupid opinions always get in the way of us picking the correct winners!
Seeing as how finalizing our year-end awards is the only thing standing between us and holiday break, I have devised a brilliant, two-birds-with-one-stone solution: I'll simply disavow the Top 50 altogether and launch my own competing awards list, and I'll post it right now so that I can go home and start binge-gaming and eating Christmas lasagna* immediately.
With that I present to you the first annual Not 50 Awards, which admittedly would've been a better alternative title for the E3 Hot 50 awards, but I already called those the Dubys. Regardless, like the Dubys, the Not 50 Awards blows all the other year-end lists out of the water because not only are all the winners hand-picked by me, but all the categories are as well. The title is also 100-percent accurate, because there aren't 50 of them. Anywho, let's begin!
Paint By Numbers Award: Call Of Duty: WWII
Hollywood has gone through painstaking efforts to capture the authenticity and drama of World War II in masterpieces like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. Sledgehammer Games in return went to great lengths to ape those stories in the most unsurprising and forgettable ways possible.
Even if you haven't played COD: WWII, you kind of already have: Your buddy has quite the attitude, and likes to play the knife hand game, because of course he does! When he gets shot (spoiler!), he asks to see the picture of your sweetheart back home one last time (Golly gee!). "Quick, we need to take back that AA gun ASAP! Good, now get in the AA gun and shoot down planes for... oh, let's say three minutes. Good, now onto the next white-bread objective!"
I often take gamers to task for claiming that COD is the "same game every year," because in reality the cycling developers do their best to mix things up and introduce new gameplay mechanics (you were piloting ships in space for half the last game, for crying out loud).
I will not be making that argument this year.
The Thin Line Award: Cuphead
People often say there's a thin line between love and hate – usually when describing some crappy romance movie about a tragic couple who really love each other, but the woman suffers from an eating disorder and the guy has hotdogs for hands. However, the saying also applies to video games!
I love Cuphead. I also hate it. The classic cartoon visuals are an absolute thrill to behold, to the point where I want to stop and savor each boss design and animation like the creepy kid who cries over the plastic bag in American Beauty.** However, that appreciation withers pretty fast when you're stuck shooting at the same f---ing dragon for an hour because his stupid cloud platforms are random and his energy orbs keep splitting into more energy orbs every time you accidentally shoot them and how did that fire imp change directions in mid-air?!?!?!
Dammit, Cuphead. You're one beautiful jerk.
G.T.F.O. Award: Lootboxes
Look, we gamers have put up with stupid cosmetic hats and dancing emotes for years now, because ultimately video games cost a lot of money to make, and developers need extra revenue to continue supporting their games. But lootboxes and microtransactions are officially out of control now and fundamentally warping game design for the worse.
And I get it. I mean, why would you create a game where players just go on adventures and have fun all the time when you could instead craft a grind-fest that encourages them to buy blind lootboxes every second they spend playing – and also rake in an extra BAJILLION dollars? If you're interested in making money, the latter is the drastically better option.
Unfortunately, the rest of us are interested in actually playing a GOOD GAME, and 2017 has me ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater – or the cat turd with the litterbox as it were. I know that's not an actual proverb, but it should be.
Best Childhood Phobia Revival Award: EELS!, Super Mario Odyssey
I've written about my phobia of things swimming underneath me in video games several times over the years, and it all traces back to the damn eel in Mario 64's Jolly Roger Bay level. So you can imagine my joy when the demonic snake fish showed up in Super Mario Odyssey again. By "joy" I mean "abject terror," obviously – when the first one popped up I inadvertently shouted, "It's that damn eel again!"
And I'm 99-percent sure Nintendo was going for terror this time around; everything in Odyssey is happy and colorful and adorable, except those freakishly realistic eels. Just look at it! Why would you do that to us, Nintendo?!
Also, they're not limited to holes anymore – they pop out of everywhere now, so you're NEVER SAFE. I'm never going in the water again...
Pity Prize Award: Destiny 2
Man, do I feel sorry for Bungie. Destiny 2 provided me with dozens and dozens of hours of enjoyment this year – so much so that I devoted two columns to my ongoing obsession. But most "fans" seem to consider the game a huge disappointment because, after spending hundreds of hours maxing out three different class characters, the end-game doesn't provide hundreds of MORE hours of engaging content.
I guess you can blame Bungie for that – they're the ones who set the expectation of a "shared-world shooter" that gamers can play for years without getting bored. But from a normal-human-being-with-rational-expectations standpoint, getting 50+ hours of fun out of a sprawling co-op shooter is still a success...isn't it?
And I have to question if players really know what they want at this point. Sure, Bungie has made legitimate mistakes over the past few months, and there are plenty of reasonable requests circulating out there. But a confounding number of players seem to be demanding that the game be more like Destiny 1. You know – the game that everyone and their mother complained about for three years while still playing it religiously...
Is there anything that Bungie can do that would satiate fans? Or is griping about Destiny just part of the gameplay ritual at this point? Either way, here's to Bungie: Good luck trying to fulfill everyone's wildest hopes and dreams in 2018 and beyond.
Most Forgettable Moment Award: Death Star, Shmeathstar!, Battlefront II
Who could forget that incredible moment in Battlefront II's story campaign when Iden witnesses the Death Star blowing up? Clearly Iden, for one – and it only takes her a few seconds.
The early mission starts with a spaceboatload of potential. Iden and her squad of assassins are on Endor*** mopping up Rebel soldiers, when out of nowhere the Death Star explodes. The camera pans across the sky showing the full scale of the destruction. For the first time, Star Wars fans see the weight of that moment through the eyes of the Empire: bad guys or not, these are human beings who just lost their MOON-SIZED home, along with everyone they've ever known. Everything they were fighting for was just scattered across the cosmos along with their headquarters.
How does Iden react to the devastating event? After looking on in abject horror apathy for all of three seconds, she shrugs it off and relays a trifecta of action-movie dialogue cliches to her fellow squad: "Look alive, we can grieve later, we need to move."
Then it's back to shooting more random rebels while the squad bickers about whose fault it is with all the passion you'd expect from alien senators debating the Naboo trade embargo. What a moment!
Keeping It Real Award: Josef Fares
A Way Out director Josef Fares might be a bit unhinged, but damned if he isn't honest. Geoff Keighley found that out first-hand during this year's The Game Awards show, and although the antsy host tried his best to move things along, Fares wasn't having it.
Among the many audience-erupting highlights was Fares declaring that A Way Out, "Doesn't have anything with the EA sh-- going on with the lootboxes and stuff." However, he followed it up with another truth bomb for all the EA haters out there: "It's nice to hate EA, blah blah, but I don't care about that sh--. What I'm saying is this: All publishers f--- up some times; that's how it is. But in this case, they've been treating me very well."
It was a frank but valuable reminder: No company is perfect, but no company is evil, either. Well, maybe Comcast.
Most Creative Use Of Farts Award: South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Fart jokes are a time-honored tradition in video games, but all too often developers stifle innovation in favor of what has worked before. Not Ubisoft San Francisco, however. The developer went above and beyond in exploring what flatulence can bring to gameplay. Players can use their farts to move objects, rocket up to out-of-reach areas, and even turn back time. There's also a dedicated fart button that allows you to gas everyone you come across. The game also raises some serious, introspective questions, such as, "What is wrong with you?" and "Why is that funny?" At least that's what my wife asked me, anyway.
Best Game I Won't Play Award: Persona 5
I'm sure Persona 5 is a great game. Everyone who has played it seems to love it, and I enjoyed the one Persona game I played eons ago. I have Persona 5 downloaded on my PS4 as we speak, and refuse to delete it every time I need to sacrifice another game to the data gods. But as far as I can tell, the game never actually ends, and conservative estimates suggest that you need to play around 30 hours just to get a sense of what the game is all about. Who has that kind of free time?!?!
I tried to start the game one night a few months ago, but fell asleep before I got to the title screen. The TITLE SCREEN! The next time I find myself bedridden with hobbled legs like James Caan in Misery, I'll be sure to give it another go.
"It Gets Better" Award: The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
What better reward to bestow on Breath Of The Wild than the go-to response I keep hearing from fans every time I bring up an indisputable criticism of the game? Here are some examples:
"Oh well the climbing gets better once you get the climbing gear (even though the game doesn't tell you where it's located or even that it exists!)."
"The stamina isn't that big of a deal after you upgrade it a couple times (which involves tracking down and completing dozens of shrines)."
"Just keep playing, the extra slots make inventory management WAY less annoying (after you find dozens of hidden korok seeds to pay for them)."
"That didn't bother me as much after I got the special ability from one of the main dungeons."
At this point I've spent about 20 hours waiting for Breath Of The Wild to "get better," and while I don't hate the game, it feels like everything I've done so far has been in service of mitigating the game's flaws and frustrations. Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm at 200 hours like that nutjob Kyle. Where's Kathy Bates when you need her?
Super Ready For 2018 Award: EA
Hoo boy. From the Battlefront II microtransaction debacle to Mass Effect: Andromeda to EA killing off Amy Hennig's narrative-driven Star Wars game to shuttering Visceral to Hawaii's investigation into the company's "predatory practices," we're guessing the executives at EA have already chucked their 2017 calendars and are drinking themselves into the new year. Oh, they also crammed a bunch of awful microtransactions into Need For Speed too, if anyone noticed.
Regardless, it is once again important to remember that EA is composed of real human beings who care about the jobs they're doing, and that the company made some good games and good decisions this year as well. Still, you know you really screwed the pooch when you get an angry phone call from Mickey Mouse.
*Yes that is my family's real, stereotypically Italian Christmas tradition. It is also the best tradition ever. (back to top)
**Come to think of it, that movie has NOT aged well, huh? Yeesh. (back to top)
***Yes I know it's actually the moon of Endor, get outta here with your kindergarten technicalities. (back to top)
Awkward Sex Noises Award: Every Female NPC, Breath of the Wild
Only one thing elicited more raised eyebrows from my wife this year than the constant farting in Fractured But Whole, and that was every conversation in Breath Of The Wild. Seriously, what's with all the strange moaning and cooing that female NPCs make? I get not wanting to do a ton of voice work, but Nintendo's solution sounds like something you'd hear if you pressed your ear up to the door of a brothel. I'd like to talk to just one Hyrulean that doesn't sound like a turtle humping a shoe. Is that a Master Sword in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? And I'm done.
Most Screwed-Up Scale: New Donk City, Super Mario Odyssey
Can someone from Nintendo explain to me how size works in this game? Mario is already about a third of the height of New Donk City residents, which is confusing enough in itself. But that water tower is way too small, and the floors of the building on the right are about half the size as the one the left. Who lives in this madhouse of a city?! Oh well, at least they got an award out of it...
Surprisingly Great Award: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Kingdom Battle made the Duby awards for how absolutely bonkers it looked, and the quality of the final game is equally surprising. It's not just that the XCOM formula somehow works for the random, family-friendly mash-up – it's that Kingdom Battle actually goes beyond the inspiration and carves out its own enjoyable niche. The team-up actions and heavy focus on melee makes Kingdom Battle a much faster and freer turn-based tactics game than XCOM – and you also don't feel like you just got kicked in the crotch when your entire squad wipes. Well done, Ubisoft!
Moby Dick Award: The Mighty Thunderjaw, Horizon Zero Dawn
Gamers have faced off against plenty of massive creatures in video games over the years, but few demand the same respect as Horizon's Tyrannosaurus rip-off, the Thunderjaw. The towering robot is capable of smooshing Aloy faster than you can say "Holy crap is that a dino--" and requires you use all of the skills and weaponry at your disposal if you want to survive.
I still have fond memories of my first 30-minute showdown against a Thunderjaw – even if some stinking Carja soldier came in at the last second and stole my kill. Regardless, a great enemy in an even greater game.
Best Shameless 180 Award: Fortnite
Fortnite's development cycle has lasted WAAAAAY longer than an actual fortnight, but the biggest challenge facing Epic's ambitious open-world crafting shooter has been getting players to notice it. That is until a few months ago, when Epic made a rather shrewd course correction in the form of a 100-player battle royale mode, which launched the game's popularity into the stratosphere.
And you know what? That's okay; Fortnite contains a lot of new and exciting ideas, so if it has to regurgitate one from PUBG (which didn't exactly invent the concept) to remain viable, I'm cool with that. Epic is already branching out with its own 50-vs-50 team mode, so hopefully Fortnite can legitimately make a name for itself moving forward.
Besides, I'm sure we'll see PLENTY of much more egregious PUBG ripoffs in 2018.
Not Up To Code Award: What Remains Of Edith Finch
I enjoyed What Remains Of Edith Finch a lot, but let's face it: There's no way this house is passing inspection. No wonder those damn Finches are dying all the time! How is that thing even standing?!
In fact, it's a bona fide miracle that they all didn't get killed by the house a thousand times over. The Greenbriar residence ain't got nothing on this baby.
"Lifetime Achievement" Award: Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
This special commendation goes to the classic puzzle platformer from Oddworld Inhabitants. In this case, the "lifetime achievement" is ensuring I will never correctly spell the word "odyssey" for the rest of my life. Due to Mario's new adventure, it was a bigger issue than usual this year. Thanks a lot, Abe.
What The Hell Is Going On Here? Award: Night In The Woods
I can accept a game about anthropomorphic animals getting into all sorts of depressed millennial drama – it is an indie game, after all. But this is where I draw the line, dammit. If Mae is a walking, talking, sentient cat, then what the hell is sleeping next to her on the roof? This is a hundred times worse than the Goofy/Pluto paradox! It would by like if you just casually strolled by some naked feral beast child sleeping on the sidewalk on your way to work. Night In The Woods is a weird game.
The Golden Heart Attack Award: PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds
Forget horror games – nothing made me launch out of my seat in sheer terror more than PUBG this year. My wife worries all the time about how startled I get while playing games, but PUBG was the first time she seemed generally scared for my well-being. There's nothing like having 20 minutes of tense but mercifully uneventful scavenging interrupted by thundering gunfire or a deadly headshot out of nowhere. Full-body cringes are a common occurrence in PUBG, even when I'm the victor in a given skirmish! Does Razer sell gamer-branded defibrillators?
Goat Of The Year: Assassin's Creed Origins
This is what it all comes down to, ladies and gentlemen. There were plenty of amazing GOTY contenders this year – the mountain goats from Breath of the Wild, Jackie from Night In The Woods – but none of them could hold a flame to our nubile nanny (I am assuming it's a female goat purely for the sake of alliteration. PROVE ME WRONG!). Assassin's Creed Origins' goats would make even the most limber Olympic gold-medal gymnast blush. Just look at that half-twist upside-down head tuck – and perfect tail formation to boot! Congratulations little buddy, you truly earned the honor this year!