It’s that time of year again when I allocate time to watch hours’ worth of adverts on a programme broadcasted at 3am in the UK so I can get disappointed inevitably when the title I’m pulling for wins next to nothing. Okay, okay, I might have felt something other than pure fury last year when Elden Ring won game of the year, but that was a rare case where one of the most popular titles of the year was also genuinely one of the best.
It is nevertheless generally true of The Game Awards that the blockiest busteriest blockbusters tend to win over the inevitably more deserving indie titles that have completely reshaped the games landscape. Remember when 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition – a title now long forgotten – won game of the year, when the now-classic Shovel Knight wasn’t even nominated? Doesn’t that just fill you with an unshakeable rage? Anyway, here are my picks for the most notable awards.
Game of the Year
I can’t really be mad at most of the choices for this year’s top award, although I am a bit frustrated at the absence of any indie picks; I personally would have liked for Dave the Diver to at least get a nomination. I also must complain about the presence of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Nintendo already have their nomination for this category in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I don’t see why they should get to double dip with a relatively tame Mario title. Additionally, in spite of my vocal love for the Resident Evil 4 remake, it is pretty much just an update to a 2000s classic.
The real competition here is between three genuinely superb titles: Alan Wake II, Tears of the Kingdom, and Baldur’s Gate 3. Given that Zelda had a very recent win in 2017, I’d like to, in spite of my love for it, write off Tears of the Kingdom. And, while Alan Wake II is exactly a title that appeals to me, – bathed in horror, Americana-style – Baldur’s Gate 3 is undeniably one of the greatest modern successes of role-playing games. Larian Studios have created an absolute monster of a game – ambitious, sprawling in scope, and, importantly, deeply invested in granting player control – and I, much like the rest of the gaming community, just cannot get enough of it.
Best Game Direction
Yeah, this is going to be another battle between the aforementioned big three. What can I say? Each title feels deliciously cohesive and includes fresh, new innovations in game design. I would suggest ruling Tears of the Kingdom out, given how it partially coasts on the innovations of its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, but I would still be perfectly happy if it won.
I’m probably going to be picking Baldur’s Gate again for its innovative approaches to game design, alongside the sheer effort Larian put into narrative options and variety – one of the game’s biggest wow factors, almost reminiscent of Fallout: New Vegas in its proficiency (which, coming from myself, is high praise indeed). Where Alan Wake, good as it is, utilises relatively conventional game design, Baldur’s Gate pushes forward.
Whatever you do, just don’t give it to the snivelling apology piece that is Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. I can’t believe that we’re continuing to give CD Projekt Red more chances – Phantom Liberty exists purely to say sorry for how bad the original game was in 2020, hoping to gain some goodwill. Again, either Alan Wake or Baldur’s Gate can take this one for me, and I am personally leaning towards Alan Wake as a principle of personal taste. I can’t help but really enjoy Remedy Entertainment’s style of making strange games about strange places and equally strange inhabitants. Sorry, Baldur’s Gate! You’ll probably win this category too.
Best Audio Design
I understand this may not be a traditionally notable category, but I’m desperate to express my sheer joy at the Dead Space remake being nominated here. I have already previously discussed Dead Space‘s use of audio design to frighten and overwhelm players, yet I feel obligated to point it out again, given this nomination. The squelch of human flesh and blood, splayed over the grinding of machinery. Voices over the intercom, transformed into something inhuman-sounding through tech issues. This grating audio mix of the mechanical and the organic can at times be the game’s most frightening asset. I must also point out that the majority of nominees for this category are horror games, reaffirming my belief that the horror genre consistently puts out the best sound design – the RE4 remake would be another well-deserving win for this category.
I was actually a little disappointed by the nominations for this category. Yuri Lowenthal was pretty much guaranteed a nomination by virtue of the fact that he voiced Peter Parker, but I can’t help but wish his colleague Nadji Jeter had gotten the nomination instead. Likewise, I really feel that Idris Elba’s contributions to Phantom Liberty were lacking by comparison to Cherami Leigh’s – but he’s the big star, and must thus be nominated. Anyway, give it to Neil Newbon for his performance as Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3. I don’t think that will be a hot take in the slightest.
Best Indie Game
Once the kids are done playing with their toys in the mainstream categories, the real innovative titles come out to play in the indie section. And I have to say, the nominations for this category are all at least good. Cocoon wasn’t for me, but I can recognise how others might enjoy it. I actually really enjoyed Dredge, and would be equally, if not more happy for Dave the Diver – this year’s other fishing-themed indie hit – to win this award.
For the indie nominees, the only real atrocity is the exclusion of Pizza Tower; I wrote it off as a joke, and it somehow managed to completely rewire my brain chemistry. In the face of the hyper-polished AAA titles we are constantly subject to, Pizza Tower reminds me that the amount of pores I can see rendered on a character’s face is ultimately meaningless – the only truly meaningful thing in life is pizza.