This will be three video game related posts in a row but there hasn’t been much else to write about lately and this blog did start out with games as a focus. I hope to resume varied content again soon.
The nominees for this year’s Game Awards were announced last week. This has already been a really great year for releases so it is a bit more interesting than previous years have been. Before moving into the main topic, I want to give the very idea of the Game Award a spray similar to one I’ve already given to the Academy Awards. As I’ve repeated before, I think the very idea of having even a semi-official [Anything] of the Year is stupid and the Game Awards are no exception. This post shouldn’t be seen as me giving legitimacy to the idea of awards shows but they do exist and I am merely commenting on something that exists.
In every form they have appeared, these awards have been little more than three hours of pure cringe. The only genuinely entertaining things have been the unscripted occurrences and the amusing supercuts that appear later. Despite the hilarious ineptness of Angry Joe in his confrontation with Geoff Keighley back in 2010, there are legitimate criticisms to be made about these award shows. I will demonstrate this with a single category this year which is for Best Sim/Strategy Game.
First I will give an overview of the nominees for Best Sim/Strategy Game with some commentary. I have also included the overall Metacritic score as of writing which I know is not alone an indication of quality but is still one useful metric that is easy to recognise and arguably more legitimate than a Game Awards nomination.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp (Metacritic Score: 82)
The first obvious problem is that this is a remake of two games released in 2001 and 2003 for the Game Boy Advance. Calling this a remake is quite a stretch too and they really need to define the differences between ‘remake’ and ‘remaster’. These are essentially the same two games with updated art assets and a new interface. It can’t be considered a genuinely new game release. You could also add that it was ready for release in 2022 and delayed because it was considered inappropriate to release such a game when a real war had just begun. I’ve only played the original and it is a great turn-based tactical game but this release should not be a contender simply because it isn’t a genuine new release.
I will also note here that the remake of Resident Evil 4 is a nominee for Game of the Year and a few other categories. This decision I would defend as it is a complete remake on a new engine, with new soundtrack, art, voicework and plays noticeably different to the original. This is why one really needs to define the difference between remake and remaster for the purposes of nomination.
Cities: Skylines II (Metacritic Score: 75)
I have no experience with the previous game but a cursory glance suggests this has not been well-received and looks to be yet another release that will be actually finished a year or two from now. Just checking the Steam reviews (another better metric of a game’s quality than the Game Awards), and you can see this could only be a contender in a barren year of releases. As an example, last year a game called Dune: Spice Wars which was still in early access was nominated though it did not win. It would seem at a glance that this was nominated simply to fill the category with nominees and that it was released just a few weeks before the nominees announced makes it an even more questionable inclusion. It does fit the category at least.
Company of Heroes 3 (Metacritic Score: 81)
This is very similar to the above with very mixed reviews on Steam but a generally positive critical response. I have not played this game either but have some experience with the series, having played the first two games — though not the expansions or multiplayer. This one seems like it was nominated more for the pedigree of the franchise and studio than the quality of the actual game.
Fire Emblem Engage (Metacritic Score: 80)
This was one of the big early releases of the year for Switch and while well-received it has not seen the same success as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the previous Switch release — which won the award in this category in 2019. I do not question having this one included as most Fire Emblem games are great turn-based tactical titles.
Pikmin 4 (Metacritic Score: 87)
There is nothing odd about Pikmin 4 appearing here either as the cute aesthetics mask what is quite a deep strategy series. Not counting the original Advance Wars releases on GBA, this is also the only game in the category that I have played. Although noticeably simpler than the previous three mainline games, it is still very good and I would say that it well deserves the nomination. The only observation I will add here is that there is something odd about Nintendo taking three places in this category. The Ubisoft published exclusive for Nintendo Switch Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope also took the prize last year as did the first game in this series in 2017. Nintendo has developed and published many great strategy titles but there are a lot of companies producing much better titles in the genre.
So these are the nominees and one at least shouldn’t be there and two others are questionable. But this is just one of those awards where the nominees are read out and the winner announced with little ceremony. It has the elevated dignity of not being quickly announced in-between pre-show advertisements but not much more. Why do I care? Well, for a couple of reasons. For one, if these awards are to matter then every category should genuinely reflect the best releases that year. The second reason (and my main reason for writing this), is that there were at least two great games that weren’t nominated.
Neither of these games got a lot of media attention or advertising but were very well received and reviewed on mainstream websites. It is hard to explain why they were overlooked as they came out in July and August which was well before the nominations ended. Considering that three of the Game of the Year Nominees: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Alan Wake II and Super Mario Bros. Wonder received nominations though released less than a month before the categories were announced suggests there wasn’t much due diligence with this particular category.
Jagged Alliance 3 (Metacritic Score: 81)
I have an obvious bias with this particular game and it was when I saw it missed the nomination that inspired this post. However, I am not alone in my opinion as it has received high praise across multiple outlets. The Metacritic score is equal to one and higher than two other nominees and has generally very positive reviews on Steam. It is also the (very) long awaited sequel to one of the most beloved and influential Strategy/RPG series in gaming history. Yet it is not nominated.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew (Metacritic Score: 85)
My bias is not at work here as I have not played this game though after discovering it, I am certainly keen to. This has a higher Metascore than all but one of the nominees and has received much higher praise than almost any of the titles above. It was created by developers with proven success and by all accounts (excluding my own), is a great game. My own bias aside, I would say that this not only should have been nominated but be the top contender in this category.
I had a quick look at some other releases this year using both Steam and other release lists. These were the two most notable games I could find but my search was not exhaustive. To be fair, this is not a genre that gets a lot of new yearly releases but it could have obviously done better this year. I am not putting this down to anything nefarious — just a mixture of indifference and ignorance. As shown at the ceremony, the producers care a lot more about advertising, celebrities, voice actors and narrative design than they do about actual games released in a given year. The only real prize of any significance related solely to games is in the Game of the Year category. Yet, if they are going to insist on having something called “The Game Awards”, they should be diligent in considering each category. Looking at previous years, shows they have been sloppy with this category before and I would probably find the same is true of others as well though I don’t care to check.