This week, Zero Punctuation gives out awards for 2009.
If I could sum up the year with three words, they'd probably be: "Recession proof? HA!" It's been a turbulent year for the industry, with most companies considered to be doing pretty fucking well if they only had to fire one busload of employees, and a large number of big releases being pushed back to Q1 2010 and leaving me with a disappointing list of squeaky farts and the occasional trumpeting biffer that I now have to pick awards out for. So here we go. Incidentally I still couldn't be arsed to make actual physical awards for these, so if you own one of the winners, just draw a little cock on the box with tip-ex or something.
The Quadruple Amputee Kindergarten Award for Least Necessary Sandbox
Sandboxes really have become the iPhone of gameplay mechanics, formerly the choice of trend following douchebags, but now not having one makes you the poor kid from school who has to wear his dad's old pants with the legs cut off. But like the Greater London One-Way System, a trend followed mindlessly can lead to all sorts of problems. A lot of games do need the freedom of their sandboxes--inFamous has its city-fixing mechanic, Prototype is just a great big murder activity center--but in some games, the sandbox is little more than a gameplay-padding apron for a knowingly flimsy story campaign to hide behind. Brutal Legend, for example, was a game that seemed to use sandboxing to avoid having to come out as an RTS game to its disapproving dad. But the winner of this award is first person Nazi-em-up Wolfenstein. Good sandboxing is composed firstly of freedom, and there's little freedom in first person when you go around wearing blinkers and turning as fast as a fucking merry-go-round, and secondly of exploration, and why would you want to explore when you already know you're just gonna find more Nazis?
The Greater London One-Way System Award for Biggest Dead End
The Biggest Dead End Award is for new innovations in technology that really isn't getting us anywhere, like an experimental bread helicopter with baguettes for propellers. DJ Hero this year made a wonderfully concerted effort to murder the entire rhythm genre, with a controller designed for people who want to give themselves carpal tunnel syndrome, but I'm inclined to give this award pre-emptively to Microsoft's Project Natal. As long as there's no physical feedback, motion sensor controls aren't just a dead end, they're a dead end full of spiders and your mum standing at the back saying you'll never amount to anything. Shigeru Miyamoto said as much at E3, which makes me wonder what bucket he had on his head when the Wii was getting specced out. But he meant it as a dig at Natal, which apparently thinks that what the EyeToy was missing was an undercurrent of pedophilia.
The Cement Block On A Racecourse Award for Biggest Non Starter
In an industry where sequels come down like the fucking autumn rain, new intellectual properties should be encouraged as they make their first wobbly steps towards their first sellout. But that doesn't mean they should get complacent, so the Complete Non Starter Award is for new IPs that brain themselves on the hospital floor the instant they slithered from the womb. And the clear winner by a unanimous vote of one is Wet. If it just had a main character who was as appealing as a crying baby that's been strapped to the side of your head, that might've been enough. But the gameplay was also like putting all the worst ideas in the world in a smoothie maker and drinking the result from a pouch made from a hollowed-out ballsack. Soundtrack was alright, though.
The Everything-Proof Shield Award for Most Obstinate Refusal to Die
After Super Mario Bros. Wii was just a NES Mario game with four times the bullshit, I was tempted to give this award to Mario. But frankly it's a little too obvious. Complaining about Mario's undying nature is like using a shield and claymore to take on a speeding train. So instead I'm giving it to Michael Atkinson, the South Australian Attorney-General, who continues to ensure that half the games get banned or censored, and whose ancient, black, dried up little heart still manfully strives to keep him alive in the face of the searing waves of hatred that are broadcast to him from all over the nation and the world, every second of every day. Well done, you miserable old fuck.
The Razor Blade Filled Vagina Award for Fastest Reversal of Fortune
2009's Razor Blade Filled Vagina Award for most tourtured analogy remembers the Resident Evil series, which sadly passed away this year. After a first installment considered by some to be classic but by me to be rubbish, the series circled the drain for a few sequels worth of wonkily controlled zombie shooting and the various fixed-camera environments, full of tedious puzzles based around unlocking doors with objects from the trophy cabinet. Then, suddenly Resident Evil 4 demonstrated how to get a good game out of the series: completely change the gameplay, and make the story about something mostly unrelated. Sort of makes you wonder why they even called it Resident Evil 4, rather than, say, Captain Poncyhair vs Continental Europe. But anyway, 2009's Resident Evil 5 got a bit too cocky and tried to force the entire series backstory down the throats of its new audience. The results was some inbred backwater child with a lung growing out of its back and racism instead of legs.
The Golden Dog Biscuit Award for Genuinely Best Game
The most obvious candidate for Game of the Year would be the absolutely spellbinding Duke Nukem Forever, but I am sadly forced to disqualify it, because it was so incredibly good that it caused some kind of quantum collapse that erased it from existence and from the memories of the human race. Besides that, 2009 didn't have a Saints Row 2, that is, a game I can call really good without having to qualify the statement. But since I'm forced to pick from the thalidomide babies, Batman Arkham Asylum was probably the one with the least birth defects. Despite Batman walking pompously around like Gotham City's grumpy dad and dialogue that presumably came free with the script-writing software, Arkham Asylum successfully balanced combat and stealth, and managed to do the impossible by giving the comic book nerds something they wouldn't be able to complain about.
And so, the two-thousand-and-exes are left behind as we look ahead to the twenty-exty-exes. Perhaps this will finally help us feel like we're actually living in the future, rather than a psychotically grim corporate apocalypse where an iPhone has a net worth significantly higher than a human life. Happy new year!
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