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Game Of The Year awards 2004

Game of the Year

What a year we’ve had. Can you think of a better twelve months for gamers in the last half-decade? Console hardware has been cheap, there’s been competition over the handheld market and we’ve had tons and tons of great games. We’ve had huge sequels and a great crop of new games right on our doorstep and even if they all arrived at the same time, we’ve been spoilt rotten and loved every minute of it. Our Game Of The Year awards celebrate the best and brightest of this year’s videogames, along with those we’d rather forget about. The choices we’ve made have been extremely tough, but here they are; the best and worst of 2004.

Best game audio – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

This award goes to game released in 2004 that has the best audio. By audio, I mean a combination of musical score or background music, sound effects and voice acting. Sound is often overlooked but can play a crucial role in games, so developers who embrace it and use it well should be recognised.

San Andreas‘s audio is a great mixture of everything, with superb voice acting by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and a range of radio stations which are both humourous and prove vital to setting the overall atmosphere in the game. Even the pedestrians converse with one another, and it’s this sort of depth and variety in the audio that makes it stand out. It may be a cliché to praise the awesome music and voice acting in the GTA series, but dammit, we just can’t help it! Featuring plenty of 90’s tunes that make us nostalgic for the time when mullets were more acceptable and an A-list cast of voice actors, this one lives up to the high standards set by the predecessors.

Finalists – Halo 2 (Xbox), Fable (Xbox), Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (Multi)

Worst cover art – Midnight Nowhere

This award goes to game released in 2004 that had the worst box cover art. When it came to marketing, the budget for professional graphics obviously just wasn’t there.

Well, need we say more?

Finalists – Dead or Alive Ultimate

Best strategy game – Rome: Total War

This award goes to the best strategy game released in 2004. This encompasses games that as their main component focus on the science and art of command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale operations. For example, Civilization is a strategy game, but Command and Conquer: Red Alert is not. While many games fuel our desire for fast paced action, strategy games get us thinking and planning. They require a huge input of time from gamers, so if a developer can reward that effort effectively then you’d got quite a game. Strategy games need to be compelling and carve a uniquely personal experience for the user like no other games do. They need to capture your imagination and make you feel like a crucial part of that world. A game that can do all of this and more deserves a round of applause, because few developers choose to risk creating such a title and consequently create a masterpiece.

Of all the games that I’ve played this year, Rome is probably the one that I’ve managed to find the least faults in. It builds on the previous Total War games and takes yet another massive step forwards ad away from its competition. It features real time tactical battles and an overall strategic empire-building campaign, but manages to distinguishes between each concept, excelling in both and tying them together ever so neatly.

The way the campaign and combat aspects link together is well designed and implemented, the core battle gameplay is brilliantly executed, the graphics are superb, the lifespan lengthy, the audio of the highest quality and it’ll even teach you history without you realising it. It has so much depth and aptitude that you’ll find yourself drawn in for hours, which will quickly turn into days, months and, dare I say, years. There’s been so much effort put into every single aspect of the game that it’s hard not to admire the hard work of the developers behind it. Rome: Total War goes far beyond what many games do and never ceases to impress.

Finalists – Football Manager 2005, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3

Worst use of a license or IP – Driv3r

This award goes to game released in 2004 that makes the worst use of a license or IP (intellectual property). This encompasses direct sequels (e.g. Halo 2, Jak 3), games based on previous games but the same IP (Mario, Army Men), games which use a license (FIFA 2004, The Incredibles) or any combination of the above (Goldeneye). Basically, this award goes to the game that has made the poorest use of an IP that it didn’t invent itself. The developer had the source material on which to work on, but botched it up completely.

The Driver series has a strong history and is well established within the industry as a sign of solid game design. With the announcement and following publicity of the third in the series, the first to be on a next-gen system, people started to follow Driv3r as it looked like a promising game. Oh, how we were wrong. The game that everyone thought would be so good turned out to be hideously buggy, graphically average and seriously flawed in its gameplay. Rockstar take three years to produce masterpieces, benchmarks of game design, but Reflections have taken almost double that time and give us an unfinished, unpolished disaster. It plays and feels like an Alpha version of a game, something that should never be released for retail. No other title has been so highly anticipated, yet turned out to be such a horrible mess.

Finalists – Fight Club

Best budget game – Guilty Gear X2 #Reload

This award goes to the best budget game released in 2004. For games to qualify, they must be released at half the normal retail prices, so under £20 or $25. Re-released ‘classic’ games – e.g. Players’ Choice, Platinum – do not count. This award is important because budget games are far too often of a poor quality, so any that are enjoyable should be applauded for their efforts.

For only $20, you get one of the best 2D fighters ever created, complete with Xbox Live multiplayer to boot. Guilty Gear X2 #Reload is a 2D fighting game fan’s dream come true. It’s got all the flash and pizzazz of Marvel vs. Capcom, the finely tuned balance of Street Fighter, numerous unprecedented gameplay enhancements that push what we expect from the genre and some of the best hand-drawn graphics to ever grace a videogame. Make no mistake: if you are a fan of 2D fighters, you need this game.

Finalists – Technic Beat, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow, Katamari Damacy

Greatest technical achievement – Halo 2’s graphics and online mode

This award goes to game released in 2004 whose technical achievement(s) set it apart from the rest and just showed what can be done if the effort it put in. The developers have gone the extra mile out of the platform that they’re working with and it shows.

Not only is Halo 2 gorgeous, with particle effects, reflective surfaces and other bits of eye candy, but the framerate stays rock steady no matter what is happening, even during campaign co-op and 4-player slayer matches. The online mode is where the game really shines though. The way it seamlessly matches people and games up and brings everything together is truly astounding.

Finalists – Half-Life 2’s graphics and physics, Getting GTA: San Andreas to run on a PS2

Worst game – Midnight Nowhere

This award goes to worst game released in 2004. The developers laughed in the face of gaming standards, shunned imagination or innovation and generally created an dreadful game.

This was as equally bad as a few other games this year, but not amusingly so. The game’s twisted sense of humour never stopped toying with sick and misplaced ideas. With profanity, nudity and even the chance of making corpses dance using electrical surges, there’s plenty of here for those looking for an ‘interesting’ gaming experience. At times, Midnight Nowhere is just creepy and disturbing, but it’s not executed in the way that other games make this type of content more acceptable. So what we end up with is a poorly constructed, frustrating game with some seriously unsettling content. The graphics are reasonable, but the gameplay interface and mechanic are flawed. The dialogue is plain weird and the replay value diminished by every other element in the game. This is certainly one game to stay away from and definitely the worst game released this year.

Finalists – Gorky Zero: Beyond Honor, The Sniper 2

Best original game – Katamari Damacy

This award goes to the best game released in 2004 that is not based on a license or other previous game or series. The developers of the game have had to invent their own story, characters, environments and so on, meaning that creating a successful game is even more of a challenge than normal.

For a game that simply involves rolling a ball around and collecting various items littered about, it sure is a blast to play. Not only is it an original idea as far as characters and content, but its gameplay is so unique that it can’t be comfortably classified into any existing genres.

Finalists – Painkiller, Feel the Magic

Best game – Rome: Total War

This award goes to the overall best game released in 2004. For once, we have a year where there is no clear winner and so many contenders. So many games have won such praise that it’s an almost impossible task to pick out the best game, but it’s got to be done.

It may be hard to imagine a strategy game like Rome: Total War scooping the Game of the Year award in the face of such competition, but for those who value the intricacies of a thinking man’s game, it’s an almost foregone conclusion. Rome: Total War is extremely hard to fault. I’ve been playing it for months, but haven’t found a single thing that’s annoying or counter-intuitive in the slightest. The way the campaign and combat aspects link together is well designed and implemented, the core battle gameplay is brilliantly executed, the graphics are superb, the lifespan lengthy, the audio of the highest quality and it’ll even teach you history without you realising it. It has so much depth and aptitude that you’ll find yourself drawn in for hours, which will quickly turn into days, months and, dare I say, years. There’s been so much effort put into every single aspect of the game that it’s hard not to admire the hard work of the developers behind it. Rome: Total War goes far beyond what many games do and never ceases to impress.

Finalists – Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Half-Life 2

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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