Best indie game (smaller priced games that we loved (i.e. no more than $20)

Winner: Gone Home

Picking Gone Home was a no-brainer to me.  The entire game was shrouded in mystery (if you managed to avoid spoilers), and as you go through it, you realize that while the story is sublimely cliché, the manner in which the story is told to you is fabulous.  The game is a master class in pacing, and in providing subtle clues without exposition.  It is so easy to just tell you what’s happening, but that’s amateur writing 101.  Understanding the specific issues that plague Sam and Katie’s father, for example, that aren’t documented in the letters around the house, demonstrates the power of the game’s environment.

It faced a lot of criticism for not having many game play mechanics – all you do is walk around and pick things up.  There is no loss state in the game.  There are puzzles that are solved purely by discovery, though one puzzle requires that you paid attention throughout the game.  You can blast through this game in an hour, but that’s not the point.  The whole point is to discover a story, and this story has so many side elements that are fascinating.

Runners up: Candy Box and A Dark Room.  I loved these games for the same reason I loved Frog Fractions.  They’re crazy and out-there and completely unexpected.  They didn’t do anything revolutionary – in the end, they’re just complex-coded dungeon-crawlers that are displayed in ASCII, but the level of discovery those games foster is fabulous.

Best game that’s available through early access (games that are not quite finished but are fun so far)

Winner: Didn’t play anything early access

I’m not going to eat undercooked chicken and I’m not going to play games that aren’t done yet.  I’m not going to pay to be someone’s beta tester.

Most Interesting Gaming Moment

Winner: Discovering the nature of Terrence’s personal situation in Gone Home

Terrence is a hugely tragic figure in Gone Home, and learning the reasons why was fascinating.  He is an exceedingly complex person with successes and many failures, and by the end of the game, you end up feeling so sorry for him.

Best Character

Winner: Terrence Greenbriar, Gone Home.  

I originally said Clementine, but I realized that’s mostly a holdover from 2012.  Terrence is much more fully realized over the course of the one game.  Terrence doesn’t say a word in this game.  You don’t see him once.  You see almost nothing that he’s written and you don’t hear his voice, but you know him.  You know his childhood, his early adulthood, his parenthood and how unhappy he is.  Fabulous writing and an amazing character.

Runners up: Clementine, The Walking Dead, Season 2, and Sam, Gone Home.  Clementine, for obvious reasons (I adore any character who can get me as emotionally attached as Clementine, and Sam, for being well-characterized as a teenager and for having fabulous voice acting)

Best Art Style/Graphics/Prettiest/Nicest Looking

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

It’s a risky choice because it’s a 3DS title and that automatically limits its resolution, but I adore A Link Between Worlds for its use of 3D.  I suppose it helps that I can very adequately compare it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but it holds up very favourably.  The 3D isn’t overdone but adds a great layer of complexity to the graphical expression of the game.  The animations are unbelievably smooth, and the sequences where you become a painting are terrific.

Runner up: Super Mario 3D World.  This game is a Pixar movie on steroids.  It’s bright, it’s vibrant, the colours contrast perfectly, and lighting is such an important and well-implemented feature of the game.  As you progress through certain levels, rain splashes onto the screen, and it REALLY looks like actual water.  Amazing accomplishment.

Funniest Gaming Moment

Winner: The player gets called out for not turning off the lights in Gone Home. 

Obviously I didn’t play too many funny games this year, including The Stanley Parable.

This one really hit at me because it called me out for how I behave in video games.  When I play a Zelda game, I’ll walk into someone’s house, open up all their cupboards, smash their pots and walk out.  I’ll turn on every light in a Deus Ex game and walk away.  When I play Splinter Cell, I’ll shoot lights just to create darkness for me.  All of this is such alien behaviour in the real world, and yet it’s totally normal in a video game.  So, for Gone Home to call you out for not turning off the lights in the house as you progress (the game makes the assumption that you do not turn off the lights as you leave the room, and a later note addresses this issue), it’s a real contextualizing of video game behaviour vs real life behaviour.

Game I want to see a sequel to

Winner: Super Mario 3D World

No contest here.  Super Mario 3D World is a triumph of level design and I know that they have more tricks up their sleeve.  I want to see more of that.

Runners up: Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  I’m not that far into Blacklist, to be honest, but I can already tell that I love how the game plays and how the game progresses.  It hearkens back to the glory days of stealth games, allowing you to play it how you want.  It still dumbs it down a little bit – for example, there are no passcodes to glean from enemies as you interrogate them, and there are no locks to pick, but the core conceit of the original Splinter Cell games is still active.

Game I never want to see again

Winner: Call of Duty: Ghosts

Look, I loved Modern Warfare 1, as did everyone else.  It was a fresh take on the first-person shooter genre, it provided a compelling story with excellent cinematics, and it really was influential in how franchises developed their games.

Flash forward six years, and they’re still doing exactly the same thing.  The effect has been so diminished that it is rendered null and void.  I’ll be honest – I didn’t finish Ghosts, because I was so bored with it that I couldn’t be arsed to continue.  Every mission that I played was directly analogous or otherwise similar to a mission in Modern Warfare 1 – every single one.  It was just a rehash of that game with a fresh coat of paint.  I know that a lot of games are similar – say, Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, two of my favourite games of the previous generation.  But there’s still considerable innovation between those two games.

Ghosts is a warhawk’s wet dream.  America invaded by foreigners who aren’t white?  GOTTA KILL ‘EM ALL.  It’s just offensive, really.

Best Audio

Winner: Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Not so much a commentary on “best music”, because Super Mario 3D World would clean that up if that were how I was interpreting this.  In terms of actual sound effects, I have to give this to Blacklist.  Guns fire with emphasis and purpose.  Explosions aren’t as huge as Call of Duty would make you believe.  Glass shatters and it’s cacophonous.  Everything sounds clear and isn’t too high or too low on the bass/treble mixer.

Runners up: Battlefield 4

Biggest disappointment

Winner: Call of Duty: Ghosts.  

This game is going to win every single bad-game award this year.  I’ve already explained why I hate it, so no need to go further into it.

Biggest surprise (in games in general or a specific game)

Winner: Candy Box and A Dark Room, “discovering the point of them”. 

Both were games of complete discovery, of insane depth, and fantastic design with limited technology.  I was surprised simply because I had no idea what I was getting into.  Every time I thought I knew what the game was about, it removed another layer from its onion.  By the time you reach the developper’s room (not a typo) in Candy Box, it feels perfectly natural, but it’s such a departure from the woods that you really have no idea how you got there.  A Dark Room is just ASCII Diablo, but the crafting and harvesting systems it has in place are incredible.

Runner up: SPOILER ALERT (highlight for spoiler): The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 1: Colon, that fucking dog

Game I’m most looking forward to in 2014

Winner: The Walking Dead: Season 2 (the rest of it)

Not a big surprise here.  I adored The Walking Dead: Season 1, and I will adore Season 2 as well.  The first episode was a good reintroduction to the universe, and I have no doubt that they will do well with the rest of it.

Runners up: Mario Kart 8, The Long Dark.  Mario Kart because IT LOOKS BEAUTIFUL, and The Long Dark, because it’s the first game I’ve Kickstarted, it has terrific voice acting lined up, and the minimalist-yet-stylized art style looks incredible.  Plus, they’re a Canadian developer, and always good to support the locals.

Best co-op game

Winner: Super Mario 3D World

No brainer here.  Like Left 4 Dead, Super Mario 3D World opens up and becomes better the more people you add to the mix.  Everything about the way you play the game changes when you have to account for others.  Forced scroll levels become mayhem.  Boss battles become strategic initiatives.  Planning and timing is key, and the levels are perfectly designed to suit both solo and co-op runs.

Best multi-player game

Winner: Super Mario 3D World

See above.

Most addictive game

Winner: Super Mario 3D World

“Just one more level.  Just one more level.  SHIT it’s 2:00am”

Runner up: Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  Blacklist (and Splinter Cell games at large, less Conviction) implements metrics which allow the player to customize how they want to approach the game.  The rush that you feel when you beat a mission without raising the alarm, or when you knock out every single enemy in the level is without parallel.  When you fail to reach this goal, you feel compelled to replay the mission until you get it.  It’s how I’ve already spent something approaching 14 hours in this game, and I’ve only beaten one of the solo campaign missions.  I’ve spent all my time on the optional missions, perfecting my skills.

My dirty little secret game (which game were you most ashamed of liking?)

Winner: I feel no shame for anything!

Best handheld / mobile game

Winner: I feel like this one isn’t fair because it’s such a blowout, but it has to be The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. 

It’s a perfect follow-up to Link to the Past, and those are words I never thought I’d type, ever.

Runners up: A Ride Into The Mountains.  It’s delightfully simple and frustratingly difficult at times, but at 99 cents, it was a steal.

The Inaugural Wall Punch Award (which game made you so frustrated that you wanted to throw a controller or punch a hole in a wall?)

Winner: Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

Raise the alarm, the mission ends.  Get seen by an enemy, the mission ends.  10 out of 11 hostiles incapacitated, the last one is heavy infantry and you can’t let him see you or the mission ends.  SUCH FRUSTRATION.

Runner up: Super Mario 3D World.  This is abated slightly by the inclusion of the White Tanooki suit (rendering you invincible for the entire level), but that doesn’t change the fact that some of these levels are wtf hard.

Best Game I played this year (can be a game released from any year, but that you played this year)

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (I’m assuming that this should be games I played for the first time and that I shouldn’t pick Super Metroid, as I did replay that this year)

This was a really tough choice because I was so spoiled for choice.  ALBW, Super Mario 3D World, Spec Ops: The Line, The Walking Dead, Skyrim, To The Moon, I played them all this year.  In the end, I can nitpick enough about the other games not to include them, but I can’t nitpick too much about ALBW.  It sort of won by default.  It was such a strong field this year that I feel bad not picking the others.

Runners up: Super Mario 3D World, Spec Ops: The Line, The Walking Dead: Season 1.

Best 2013 Game

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Not much else needs to be said about it.  This game sold me the 3DS XL, and it’s worth every penny.  If you’re a Zelda fan, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing this game.  It’s the direct sequel to the best Zelda game ever (eat it, Ocarina of Time), it’s faithful yet fresh, and provides so many new gameplay challenges.  Get this.  Now.

Runners up: Super Mario 3D World, Gone Home