Is Nothing Kotaku's Game of the Year?S

This may sound off-key coming from the guy who nominated the 12th edition of annual sports franchise for overall GOTY last year. But I'm inclined to say "None of the above," this year. I prefer for these honors to truly mean the game, at minimum, was the best at what it did. This year's big games, nearly all of them sequels, seem to arrive at that point more out of incumbency and the expectation that they would be a game of the year nominee.

I agree with Luke that the best games are the ones where you lose yourself in another world, or lose tremendous hunks of time doing something you truly enjoy. I just lost myself in these worlds long before Skyrim came along. As much as I enjoyed these games, I realize their shortcomings (or, to be honest, lack of heft) don't make them GOTY timber.

That doesn't mean I'm going to give a GOTY vote to another title simply because everyone else is.

WHAT I LOVED

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters—This was our Sports Game of the Year. Nothing in 2011 hooked me from the start like this did, and I'm not much of a golf fan. While Augusta National—as picturesque as anything in Skyrim—was the big selling point, this was the rare sports game that transformed how it was played. The inclusion of a caddy made a very technical game accessible to neophytes like me, without babying the difficulty level. It was made on a nine months production schedule, too, which exposes some flaws, and threadbare areas, but also underlines its real strengths.

DC Universe Online—This should be MMO of the year, largely because we haven't had enough time to judge The Old Republic's impact. Sony Online Entertainment's post-release support has been fantastic, giving two new power sets, including a thoughtfully composed Light Powers grouping. The key is building a character you really do enjoy. When I created a perfect analogue of the Hobgoblin (different continuity; sue me) I was back into up-all-night mode, terrorizing Gotham. Although the necessity of teaming up was something a little off-putting to me at first, it's a laudable design goal that forces you to use an MMO's greatest resource: the other players. Bringing it all to a console was an enormous undertaking that should be lauded.

Fruit Ninja Kinect and Pinball FX2—The first two games made the PS3 my dominant console this year. If it wasn't for these two Xbox 360 downloadables, it could have been a shutout. Fruit Ninja Kinect is probably the best Kinect game available, which is due more to that catalog but shouldn't diminish the game's simple appeal. Pinball FX2 inhaled my time and money like a real pinball table and its superb Marvel table series reconnected me to the comics and characters I loved as a kid.

WHAT I HATED

Nearly Everything on a Phone—This has been the year of mobile phone gaming. We've reviewed more than 225 games in our App of the Day feature, and they are now all bleeding into one. I'm sick and tired of three-star scored physics puzzles and endless runners and I'm mindblown by how much PR representation 99 cent games have. The field is unbearably oversaturated with developers all trying to do the same thing, which ends up making an entire platform feel like derivative piffle.


Kirk Hamilton responds:

I know how you feel, Owen. In fact, my own GOTY nomination stood out to me out in part because so many of the (great) AAA sequels we saw this year felt like iterative improvements on past GOTYs. But all the same, I don't think we should give our Game of The Year award to the villain from The Neverending Story just yet.

WHAT I LOVED

Mobile Games—Since my GOTY nomination is an iOS game, obviously I don't think that the smartphone category was a complete wash. That said, I feel your exhaustion with the avalanche of middling mobile phone games. But in addition to S&S EP, we also had Jetpack Joyride, Infinity Blade II, SpellTower, and SpaceChem. Not too shabby, I'd say.

So Many Super-Strong Sequels—While I don't think that most of the AAA sequels this year are worthy of GOTY consideration, I'll counter your wide-ranging "Nothing" with an equal wide-ranging rebuttal. 2011 saw several GOTY-worthy sequels like Portal 2, Skyrim, Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Super Mario 3D Land, Skyward Sword, and Rayman: Origins. But the year also featured a ton of games like Dead Space 2, Saints Row: The Third, FIFA '12, Crysis 2, inFamous 2, Gears of War 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, Mortal Kombat 9 and Forza 4 which, while perhaps not GOTY material, were all highly polished and fun.

In Other Words, "Everything"—It was hard for me to choose my own GOTY nomination not because everything was so bad, but because most games were so good. 2011 gave us an overwhelming number of well-made, enjoyable video games. In the words of The Wire's Marlo Stanfield: "Sounds like one of them 'Good Problems.'"

WHAT I HATED

Dragon Age II—Seriously. God.


Luke Plunkett responds

What is this, Time magazine? I thought the criteria for Game of the Year was to pick the best game of the year. If the best game was a derivative piece of shit, then you pick it, by virtue of it being better than any other piece of derivative shit. That said...

WHAT I LOVED

Man Has a Point - Most of the big games of 2011 were, in some ways, disappointing. Mostly in that they all, Skyrim included, were simply honing formulas set down years or sometimes even decades earlier. If barely-improved iterations like Modern Warfare 3, Assassin's Creed Revelations and Uncharted 3 are the very best the video game industry can produce at the biggest time of year, it's a sad state of affairs.

WHAT I HATED

GOTY Means GOTY - That doesn't mean none of them don't deserve the accolade. It's not like they're terrible games. Indeed, many of them - and my two favourites of the year, Skyrim and Total War: Shogun 2, are among this group - should be applauded for finally mastering a genre of design that's been years in the honing. Like I said above, the Game of the Year winner should be awarded to what you think is the best game of the calendar year, not whether a season's crop of games meets some spectral criteria.


Brian Ashcraft responds:

Nothing? NOTHING?!

WHAT I LOVED:

Numb - We are supposed to come up with our favorite game of the year. But who says we have to? What if by not coming up with a favorite, we are then able to unleash a bitting commentary on 2011?

WHAT I HATED:

Oh Come On - OWEN! There's got to be at least one game you liked. Pick that! This is Game of the Year, not Best Game Ever Made. Just select something you liked. Nothing feels like a cop out!


Stephen Totilo responds:

Owen, I don't think you're well. I prescribe a dose of PixelJunk Sidescroller. This year was awash in wonderful games. Every year is. The only thing years aren't awash in is time, and I wonder if that's what your 2011 was short on...the time to play the greats. Hell, I wish I had time to play more Dark Souls so I could sleep at night when the commenting howls stir.

WHAT I LOVED

So many games: Portal 2, the aforementioned Sidescroller, Super Mario 3D Land, Bulletstorm, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Pushmo, Lego Star Wars III, Sword & Sworcery, PixelJunk Shooter 2 and, for a time, Find Mii.

So many parts of games: The bomb system in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Horde 2.0 and Beast Mode in Gears of War 3, the sandstorm level in Modern Warfare 3, the moments I wondered if I could trust my own character in L.A. Noire, the ending evil levels of Infamous 2, the mid-game twist in Lost in Shadow, and more.

WHAT I HATED

Complaint: The Sequel: The insinuation that games that aren't the first in a series are inherently creatively limited. Video games are an iterative medium. Sequels are a valid vehicle for improvement.

On any one platform this was a thinner year than year's past, but, game-for-game, I think it's as good as it ever was.


Evan Narcisse responds:

This nothing talk reminds me of Nietsche's quote about staring into the abyss. But 2011 wasn't totally abysmal, or even totally meh.

WHAT I LOVED:

See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me: Owen, you're rankled by the torrent of middling mobile games and that's fair. But I loved the little discoveries I was able to make this year, like soaring with Tiny Wings, weaponizing boogers with Gesundheit or leisure driving with Bumpy Road. None of them may have been GOTY material but they and games like them were clever little underdogs that made the year great.

WHAT I HATED:

That Bloated Feeling: Too many AAA games—even some of the best ones—felt padded in the name of some algorithmic value proposition, as if X number of hours justifies charging Y number of dollars. Whenever a game overstays its welcome, it feels to me like the developers were too insecure to make cuts or find a punchier pacing. I think it's that kind of fumbling that makes it easy to feel like nothing deserves to be 2011's Game of the Year.

Bottom line: for all the shovelware and overweight offerings, there's no way I can't say that 2011 didn't give me games that I'll remember for years to come.



Mike Fahey responds:

I disagree with the whole concept here. As far as I am concerned, Game of the Year does not equate BEST. GAME. EVAR. It simply means that among the games released during any given calendar year, this one is the best. If three shitty games and one mediocre game is released in 2012, then welcome to game of the year, Mr. Mediocre.

In other words, what Luke said.

WHAT I LOVED:

What Luke said: Remember back when Luke said "I thought the criteria for Game of the Year was to pick the best game of the year. If the best game was a derivative piece of shit, then you pick it, by virtue of it being better than any other piece of derivative shit"? That was awesome.

WHAT I HATED:

Nothing: I can't think of a single game I truly hated this year. Call me a ridiculous optimist in a feathered cap (Also buy me a feathered cap. What? You said it!), but even the most useless piece of Wii shovelware had some redeeming qualities. Maybe it was the graphics, or a clever bit of writing. Hell, just the fact that the developer has a product up for sale is some sort of triumph, in much the same way I praise my babies for dropping a particularly large load. There's always room for accolades.


There you have 'em, our arguments for and against nothing as Kotaku's 2011 Game of the Year. We'll have two more arguments this week, and then we'll vote and announce the winner on Monday, January 2.

Read the rest of our 2011 GOTY debates.

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