Rankings matter. This is something everyone discovers very quickly when they pop into a multiplayer game and try to learn the ropes. It comes as no surprise, then, that games have their rankings as well, which brings us to the topic of a Game of the Year award.
For most of us, a game getting a GotY award means that in a couple months’ time we can expect a complete release with all the DLC, updates, and occasionally additional stuff like artbooks or soundtracks. It also means that many media outlets annually make their lists of the most important (for quality, innovation, artistic value etc.) games of the year, with one winner, dubbed the Game of the Year. Since there is an utterly unwieldy number of such lists, we’ve compiled a short list of GotYs from the past decade. For the purposes of this text we considered five sources, across three categories. First: two fairly prestigious award ceremonies: BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards and Golden Joystick Awards. Second: Metacritic, because we can’t talk about game rankings without referring MC, can we? Third: two established media outlets, namely Eurogamer and IGN. Some of them had a form of a reader’s choice award, and we factored it in as well, sometimes clearing up ties, more often highlighting the advantage. Let’s find out, then, which games the five sources considered the most notable each year, starting in the distant past of 2007.
2007 – Super Mario Galaxy
Colour me surprised. When I set out to count up the points I expected something like BioShock to get the most votes. But no. Between editorial lists and reader’s choice Super Mario Galaxy got double the votes of BioShock. How about that. It seems nobody can resist the moustache. The title is a little bit of a misnomer, too, since Mario’s exploits are actually intergalactic in nature, not confined just one galaxy. Super Mario Galaxy has the red-clad plumber hop around tiny planets doing what Mario does best: jump, collect coins, stomp on the heads of lesser creatures. All in a colourful, creative, and friendly game not without some challenge. A Nintendo standard given 3D form and mechanics which make good use of it.
2008 – Fallout 3
Fallout 3 was Bethesda first foray into the world of classic RPGs by Interplay/Black Isle Studios. Released full ten years after the last core entry was released (yeah, Fallout 2 is going to be 20 years old next year. Scary prospect), it traded isometric camera for third/first-person camera and dynamic action. The change was certainly weird, but it made for a more immersive, down-to-earth view of the wastelands we’ve only ever seen from high above. The V.A.T.S. system proved somewhat divisive, being an awkward way of incorporating the previous games’ Action Points into a decidedly action-based combat, but it was perfectly possible to never use it, so not too much harm done. The game also had a great idea of introducing a radio via PipBoy, which plays classic bits from the mid-20th century. It’s definitely worth checking out.
2009 – Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves
Uncharted will come back later, but let’s deal with this one first. Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves at the time was praised as one of the best games of all time and a milestone for the game industry. It also helped cement Nathan Drake’s status as one of the iconic video game characters for the new generation, and a worthy competitor for the adventurer throne alongside Lara Croft. It didn’t hurt that he was dubbed by Nolan North, a man of incredible voice-acting talent, who lent Nathan a lot of credibility and roguish charm. And if you are a PC gamer, like me, and you doubt the power of Uncharted, consider that the rebooted Lara Croft incorporated the setpieces and careful pace which made Uncharted into such a cinematic and energetic experience.
2010 – Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 was a smash hit in 2010, not least because it had an amazing trailer. It also diverged quite strongly from the previous game, going almost head-on towards third-person shooter territory, with linear levels, limited progression and you know what? The game was still tons of fun. The missions were intense, and linear structure allowed for some cool scripted moments. None better than the famed suicide mission, which remains one of my favourite gaming moments in general. The entire game felt like an extra-long heist movie mixed with a good bit of Firefly and the A-Team. Ridiculous? Sure. But fun, and full of some of the best character moments in modern BioWare history. It also had one of the least informative and the most epic trailers at the time, not least because of Two Steps from Hell’s incredible Heart of Courage track. How about them calibrations, huh?
2011 – Portal 2
Portal 2 is Portal, only with more puzzling stuff. Which was enough to get a couple of Game of the Year titles, apparently. Portal 2 had a bit more plot than the original game, some new mechanics are introduced, and the game got a dedicated co-op campaign featuring wacky robots. The game was also at the same time darker and funnier than the first Portal, and while it didn’t shake the world as much as its glorious predecessor, it was a worthy follow-up. Besides, screwing your co-op friend over in the middle of a level is always fun for at least one person!
2012 – Double winner: The Walking Dead and Dishonored
Look, we’ve written about Dishonored time and time again, we’ll give it a rest this time. Let’s talk zombies, though! Before Telltale created the amazing The Wolf Among Us based on Bill Willingham’s comic, there was The Walking Dead. And it brought some well-deserved fame to a previously relatively unknown studio. The Walking Dead is Telltale longest-running franchise now, and the seeds of the success were sown with the story about a convicted criminal and a young girl trying to survive together in a zombiecalyptic setting known from the comics or the TV show. It was a story worth experiencing. Unlike the more status quo-upholding The Wolf Among Us, TT’s TWD used the setting, but created its own cast of characters, which allowed it to put in decisions potentially resulting in death of key characters. It was dark, it was sad, it remains worth checking out, even five years later.
2013 – The Last of Us
Continuing with the shambling, decayed theme, let’s talk about The Last of Us.
Ok. No more jokes. This is a serious game. Meet Joel and Ellie. One is a jaded middle-aged man who lost too much. The other is a slightly less jaded teenage girl, who lost too much…and also happens to be immune to the zombie plague which destroyed a good portion of at the very least North America. Both are capable of surviving for a bit, but Ellie has a significant advantage over old man Joel. She can use a knife without it breaking every time. [/oldjoke] Jokes aside, due to good level design, good writing, and excellent performances from voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson becoming invested in the story of the unlikely duo comes almost naturally. And that ending… which probably was spoiled to you by the Internet already, but we won’t take our chances. Check TLoU out if you have a chance, especially with a sequel coming out at one point in the future.
2014 – Dragon Age: Inquisition
The horrendous Hinterlands and tiresome (though oddly beautiful) Hissing Wastes aside, DAI was a ton of fun. Ditching the grim and gritty feel of Origins (a change disliked by many), and the street-level problems of DA2 (a change liked by many), DAI introduces high-level politics, high power-level, and some truly gorgeous locales to BioWare’s original fantasy franchise. It has some memorable missions, including a spectacular ballroom crime/spy story, the conclusion of which may leave you loudly applauding your character. In general Dragon Age: Inquisition has the feel of a light-hearted, but defined tabletop RPG campaign, complete with interesting and occasionally quite ridiculous characters. One wonders if a snarky off-screen narration would further improve the experience. Also: the coolest dragons in recent memory.
2015 – The Witcher 3 – Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 like Dishonored appears on waaay too many lists here, but this time we are actually justified in including it, because it got a huge headway over other entries for this year. Blame reader’s choice lists, I guess. What’s left to say about TW3? Maybe something about the developer/publisher? CDProjekt Red had a commendable publishing scheme, which normally would mean just a regular one, but this is the kind of world we’re living in now. There was a bunch of free bonus content released briefly after the launch adding stuff like different haircuts for Geralt, alternative outfits for some characters, or cooler Gwent cards. For free, not 1,99 apiece, or only 4,99 in a bundle. Nice. Then there were two large paid expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, which were well worth the price, because they added spectacular quest lines, a full new region probably rivalling the main game’s Velen, and additional mechanics to give progression a twist. So yeah, it’s small wonder The Witcher 3 got a ridiculous number of GotY awards.
2016 – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Told you Nathan Drake would appear again. Uncharted 4 turned out to be a magnificent game and a worthy closure of the roguish treasure hunter. The game revolves around the return of Nathan’s long-lost brother, though dead via origin story, but unlike Uncle Sam and the Waynes he managed to survive. What follows is the last adventure of two Drakes, despite Nathan’s self-imposed retirement. According to most, if not all reviews, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End enjoys incredible care in every aspect. It was one of the most visually impressive games of 2016, and had incredible, captivating scripted sequences rivalling iconic moments from Indiana Jones in terms of cinematic prowess and tension. The vocal performances were also a huge boon, including Nolan North returning for the role of Nathan, Troy Baker as Nathan’s brother Sam, and Laura Bailey as Nadine Ross, characters we’ve met again in this year’s Uncharted: Lost Legacy.
For obvious reasons we don’t have a winner for this year. It doesn’t stop us from trying to speculate a little bit, though, especially since we’ve been having a really good year this year. One obvious contender is obviously [raises megaphone] PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS [lowers megaphone], the game you can’t get away from if you read any media outlets. It’s truly The Witcher 3 of 2017 in this respect. How a Battle Royale game became such a spectacular success is beyond me, given the presence of very similar modes for H1Z1 and Arma, but whatever the reason nearly 10 million owners on Steam (according to SteamSpy) made this game hard to ignore. Nearly a million concurrent player yesterday (again, SteamSpy) are testament to this game’s popularity. Another option might be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch. The return to Hyrule was met with nearly universal critical acclaim (barring one infamous 7/10 over which the Internet lost its collective…mind). It is a reportedly stunning game, with a lot of fun to be had even outside of doing what the plot demands. Then there’s Prey and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, each of which does some interesting things. The point is, there are some game to choose from, and we didn’t even find a place to mention Horizon Zero Dawn. By popularity alone PUBG has no competition, but if the contest will be about some less fleeting features like technical aspects, writing etc, Hellblade and Prey have a pretty good chance. What are your types for each year, including 2017? As always, let us know in the comments.