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Game of the Year Awards 2007 – part 1

Game of the Year

This past year has been a fantastic one for gamers. This budding industry has seen the rise and fall of plenty of franchises, but never before have we seen so many quality titles, sequels and newcomers, battle it out for entertainment infamy. The video game community is a fickle bunch, and it says a lot about the quality of this year’s product to see so many success stories. Notable franchise continuations include the culmination of the Halo series, a new direction for Call of Duty, and a charming, classic Mario platformer, all of which propelled public interest in gaming sky high.

Often viewed as a shallow pool of violent, senseless, and dull pieces of entertaining sludge, video games have a tough time winning the public over. In 2007, however, that’s started to change. Bioshock, an original title for the Xbox 360 and PC, proved that first-person shooters had brains too, and Mass Effect (another 360 title) again pushed storytelling and art to new heights. There have been many technical benchmarks set this year, with PC juggernaut Crysis displaying a gorgeous photorealistic environment, and (controversially) acclaimed console hit Assassin’s Creed showed console owners beautiful, fully interactive 12th century cities. Even the Wii, the console that many dismiss as a technical weakling, displayed immense detail and artistry with Super Mario Galaxy. The PS2 survived another year, and not just through Sony’s life support- some truly great games are still being released on the aging console. Regardless of what platforms we owned, we were spoiled for choice when it came to quality purchases this year.

Of course, while all of these games (and many unmentioned ones) are fantastic in their own right, there will always be bickering. Some people enjoy different things, and we all love a bit of analysis. We’ve reviewed plenty of games this year, but which is the best? Which game had the best graphics? The best story? How much will we have to spend on riot gear to protect us, should the masses disagree? The Thunderbolt staff have spoken, bickered about it, and spoken some more. The bickering may continue for all eternity, but the votes are in.

The winners are…

Best portmanteau – Ninjabread Man

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It may have ended up as one of the worst games released this year, but Ninjabread Man is perhaps the most amusing game title in years and a fantastic premise. It’s the sort of ludicrous game that you’d think up with a friend over a pint, but publisher Data Design went with it anyway:

“Candy Land is under attack! This once sweet and tasty land has been taken over by hordes of snapping Cup Cakes, Angry Bees and Jelly Monsters and only one thing can stop this evil army of monster cakes. He’s one tough cookie; a guy that won’t crumble under the pressure…… ‘Ninjabread Man’ is here!”

Worst game – Deal or No Deal

Just when you thought the TV gameshow was bad enough, out comes a game of such a low quality that ITV can’t even have produced it. The visuals are drab, the soundtrack isn’t much better and ultimately, you’re paying for something you can play online for free.

Most disappointing game – Kane and Lynch: Dead Men

The developers of the Hitman games know how to weave a good antihero story. Trying something a bit new, Kane and Lynch tried to pull off a good crime game, but failed utterly. Even in dark stories, characters need to be appealing to the audience. Neither of the title characters are worth rooting for. Essentially, the titular characters are just douchebags. Even the game’s online mode, which was interesting because it let you be a douchebag, falls flat thanks to a frustrating cover system. Oh, did we mention that the entire game looks like a PC game from 2002? Yeah. No thanks.

Best story – BioShock

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It’s not so much the story that makes BioShock special, but its storytelling. Unlike games like Halo, which also features a grand narrative, BioShock told a story that could only be told in the interactive game format. In a movie theater, the twist could have been deciphered pretty quickly, as all of the dialog segments and major pieces of information would have to be condensed and revealed in a point blank manner. Within the video game format, BioShock could tell a story and present the player with masses of dialog and extra clues, and what’s more, not have the player realize what they were being shown. This technique allowed the eventual ‘reveal’ moment to be all the more powerful. We doubt if anyone saw it coming.

Best visuals, artistic – Okami

With all three next generation systems running rampant this year, it seems odd that a PlayStation 2 title is one of the best looking games of 2007. But all becomes painfully clear from the moment players are let loose to explore a world so washed in colour and charm that you will find yourselves weeping at its unparalleled beauty. Okami is a game that will still look stunning years from now.

Best visuals, technical – BioShock

The first time I ever saw this game included a shot of some of its water. Only one word can describe how it looked; stunning. Even though the game wasn’t being released for months, the title took graphical quality to new limits. The entire title looked like a Hollywood Blockbuster, with some truely amazing locations littered throughout. For me, the release of this game raised the bar for what the next generation can achieve visually, as so many decent games have looked shoddy in comparison. Techinally, I think this title will be at the top of the pile for a long time coming, as the feat reached is going to be difficult to surpass. Absolutely stunning.

Best audio, musical score – Halo 3

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Anyone who’s played Halo before knows that the game’s success relies partly on it’s great sound design. However, Halo 3 lived up to its reputation with another beautiful orchestral soundtrack. Whereas the last two games had been mostly generated with computer software, Halo 3‘s soundscape weaves in majestic horns, strings, and vocals to make the music all the more robust. As well as the intense and memorable reworking of the main theme, the soundtrack features some great new tracks too. The music is far more memorable than most action movie soundtracks, let alone action games. The first four notes of the Halo theme are now just as culturally significant as the opening of the Mario Bros. theme. Martin O’Donnell deserves every piece of praise he gets for this inspiring final chapter of aural Halo history.

Best audio, sound effects – BioShock

Crouched on a balcony, nervously peering over as the stomps of the big daddy below shake the building. The music is tense and thundering down, your heart is racing and the little sister running in and out of the big daddy’s legs is singing joyfully in this godforsaken world.

She stops and yawns as her towering guardian stops to comfort her. “I’m ready for dream time, Mr Bubbles” she murmurs, hand rubbing her tired eyes. It’s all so cute, and you crap your pants as the vending machine at the bottom of the stairs you’re sneaking down picks up on your presence and screams “Welcome to the circus of value!” around the room.

And all that’s before you pop up from behind a bar stool with a 12-gauge, pumping lead into the Big D’s helmet before he can turn and counter…

Most innovative game – Portal

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It’s amazing what a single piece of weaponry can do to a genre. Being able to to get from point A to B with next to no effort is now a luxury I’ll miss everytime I play an FPS without my precious Portal gun. Utterly insane from the get go and one of the funniest games to come around in years. It was a pleasure to play through and a game of limitless possibilities thanks to Valve’s completely unique approach to FPS puzzling.

To be continued…

Take a look at the second part of our awards here.

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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