Innovation wanes off year by year and we are left with more and more of Call of Duties and other sequels of the same ilk, mass-marketed towards ignorant people who don't even want anything more than quick kill-fests. That makes easier to pick up the cream of the crop because there are not many great games to choose from.
Game of the year: Dragon's Dogma (PS3, Xbox 360)
Capcom's sleeper hit is the closest you can get to playing the classic Dungeons & Dragons pen & paper role-playing game as a modern video game. While it can't hold the candle to Bioware's storytelling and character interaction, it excels in gameplay mechanics. Rendered beautifully with Capcom's own engine, every exquisite detail is blended into one comprehensive package.
The sun sets up for Arisen and her party
There's no separate battle mode, the game IS a battle mode. When you run into a monster while strolling on the road, you don't get hurled into some limited area surrounded by invisible walls and playing with different rules. It all happens as is and when you dangle a cyclops you set to light with a fire arrow, slashing it away with daggers while your support pawns puncture it with arrows and spells, you know there's no return to Dragon Ages, no matter how seminal they were. Dragon's Dogma is the new yardstick to the fantasy role-playing games by a dragon-sized margin.
Game of the Year: Mass Effect (PS3)
What? Another game of the year? Yes, can't help it. It seems there can't be a game of the year without a Bioware title because after five years of its original release, the first Mass Effect is finally available for PS3 as a part of Mass Effect trilogy or as a digital download. In all this time the game hasn't aged at all. While some gameplay mechanics may feel stiff compared to the sequels, story presentation and character interaction (both the areas Dragon's Dogma lacks in, incidentally) are as good as ever.
Lisbeth Shepard aboard Citadel, in the good old days!
For me Mass Effect games have alway been about Shepard. My very own Shepard. Like a friend put it, it's as if there are thousands of alternative realities with their own Shepards. I believe many gamers played their Mass Effects with default John Shepard though, shame on them. They missed the idea of the series, to create and play a character the way you like. My Shepard, like everyone's Shepard should be, is unique, there's no other like her, and with Mass Effect fresh on PS3, I can go through the whole trilogy with the same Shepard, something I couldn't do earlier because of my Xbox's demise. It's this personal input which makes Mass Effect trilogy so epic. Bioware's grand opus twinkles brighly in the thick stardust of science fiction, equal to the best movies and books of the genre.
Best beat'em up: Dead or Alive 5 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Recently I played DoA2 on PS2 and DoA: Ultimate and DoA3 on Xbox and was amazed how fast, frantic, dynamic and good-looking they still were. In comparison Dead or Alive 4 for Xbox 360 was a piece of crap. So let's just say I wasn't exactly looking forward to Dead or Alive 5... until I saw a picture of newly designed Lei Fang and despite of her cutey doll-looks there was uncanny realism to her features, especially those Chinese lower lids. I fell in love and the next time I visited Gamestop I switched my Tekken Tag Tournament 2 pre-order to DoA5 pre-order and not only that, to the collector's edition, something I wouldn't normally do.
I sold the game with my cute looks!
After the farce with Tobonobu Itagaki leaving Team Ninja or getting booted out of Team Ninja (depends on the source), many were concerned where it would take Dear or Alive series. I say it was the best thing that could happen to Team Ninja as they were free to concentrate on making DoA a fast, frantic, dynamic and good-looking beat'em-up again. This time the girls (yes yes, there are some guys too but DoA has always been about these steaming-hot fighting babes ;) look different to each other with their own features. Team Ninja doesn't also do "Project Souls" and axe the roster mindlessly, instead they add a couple of quality characters to the ranks. The new story mode is bit of a hit and miss affair but it's a good start towards greater things in the sequel(s).
Spunky Mila is the new gal to the roster
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is also a great fighter, but it's not as good as a Tekken game as DoA5 is as a DoA game. If that made any sense.
Best adventure game: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (PS3, Xbox 360)
Who would have believed these days there could actually be a great adventure game which isn't a re-make of some golden oldie? But here we have The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant piece of original Sherlock Holmes fiction and the first in Frogwares's long-running series designed with consoles as a lead-platform. The game has everything you could hope from a Sherlock Holmes mystery; it's witty, dry - in a good sense - and clever.
The great detective himself and doctor Watson solve both traditional adventure gaming puzzles and Myst-like riddles. Both work well in the context. The story spins a real suspense and holds tight right to the end with no slacking in between. The character model of Sherlock Holmes has this uncanny expressionless expressiveness which complements the whole atmosphere of the game.
London in 1890's is rendered authentically for Holmes and Watson in search for clues
Those were the main categories, couldn't come up with any other genres with good enough games to be the best of the year. There could be those for sure but then again, we haven't played every game out there. And we couldn't leave Mass Effect 3 without awards so here we go:
Best voice actress (lead): Jennifer Hale as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3
Best supporting voice actor or actress: All squad members and important NPC characters in ME3
Best biceps: James Vega in ME3
The most complicated way to describe a straw: Drunk Tali in ME3
The most satisfying renegade interrupt in ME3: Finishing Kai Leng off
Biggest missed opportinity: Not to have Kasumi Goto as a squad member in ME3. She had a cameo though, but I want to play with Kasumi! (Oops, that didn't sound quite right I guess...)
Mass Effect 3 concluded the trilogy with a bang!
And some more awards:
Best comeback: DoA5 after abysmal crap that was DoA4
Sexiest half-dragon, half-blonde bombshell: Ayumi during the last level in Blades of Time (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Murdered by critics, Blades of Time is actually pretty good action adventure!
Springing up a hill
Sexiest belly: My Arisen in Dragon's Dogma
Dragon's Dogma has great character models. And no, my Arisen doesn't normally wear just strings, here she's undressed for this shot
VF5 is a no-nonsense fighter but dress-up is actually better than in recent Tekkens!