Jump Dash Roll's Alternative Game Awards of 2018
While it’s all well and good to praise the games we enjoyed the most in 2018, we should also consider the alternative side of gaming in both the AAA and indie markets. Those titles which had their quirks, the developers who made some interesting decisions, and the things which made us laugh or sit up and take notice in an industry which lurches from paragon to pariah depending on what month it is. All of them need to be recognised — and that’s exactly what we’re going to do with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach. So, without further ado, here are the JDR Alternative Game Awards of 2018!
The Roald Dahl Award for Most “Boy” in a Game - God of War
It was a tough call. Red Dead Redemption 2 loved to stick a “boy” into any conversation, whether it was a character deriding another (racially or otherwise) or Arthur Morgan simply talking to his horse. And he talked to his horse a lot. But ultimately, no in-game character said “boy” with as much emphasis, regret, despair or pride as Kratos did to his son Atreus.
Christopher Judge’s masterful portrayal of a monotone deity with an epic beard fit Kratos perfectly, but it was the offhand way in which Kratos kept his own child at arm’s length which proved to be the most intriguing thread running through the game. And dropping “boy” into their conversation every two minutes was the most satisfying way of cementing it. It’s almost like he’d forgotten Atreus’ actual name…
The Theresa May Award for the Least Appealing Deal - Fallout 76: Power Armour Edition
Whilst those who actually ordered this £160+ edition finally got the canvas bag that was promised, Bethesda did their best to channel their inner Theresa May before relenting. Things began rather badly when they told everyone who received unappealing nylon bags rather than the rather cool looking canvas ones that it was down to cost and availability, as the bag in all of the promo shots was just a prototype.
They then upped their arseholery to a whole new level by saying they weren’t planning on doing anything about it but offered some in-game currency of about £4 in the hope that everyone would just go away. And if things couldn’t get any worse, it turns out that they were sending out better quality bags… but only to “influencers” on social media, who wrote nice reviews about their game. Eventually, after a monumental backlash, they relented, and are currently in the process of sending out what was initially promised. But you’ve only got until Jan 31st 2019 to request one, so get on it and make sure they follow through with their offer.
The Call of Duty Award for Least Innovation In A Series: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
You'd think that Call of Duty would win its eponymous award year on year, but no. In 2018 it somehow managed to get out-mediocred by another series: Tomb Raider. While the reboot of Lara Croft was a tremendous success filled with excitement, action and even a few tombs, by the third outing it was clear that all was not well. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was the epitome of a cut and paste job, discarding the heart and emotional impact of the first game and doubling down on the bloat and busywork of the second.
While it's still a playable game and even enjoyable at times, it is clear that any sort of progression in terms of keeping the series fresh and interesting was way down on the list of core game ingredients. Whether that was due to developer Crystal Dynamics taking a back seat in favour of Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal is anyone's guess (though comparing Mankind Divided to Human Revolution would show they had form in this regard). But just as Arkham Origins felt like a pale imitation of a Batman game, so too did Shadow seem like a hollow husk of what had come before in Lara’s world — all the pieces were in place, but the series' soul was missing.
The Most Agonising Narrative Choice Award: Florence
Sure Detroit: Become Human has that whole narrative tree path thing going on and Red Dead Redemption 2 might ask you to choose between playing as a good or bad cowboy but the real game that had JDR agonising over its options was Mountain’s mobile offering Florence. Part way through the game Florence and her new fella Krish decide to move in together; cue a series of mini-games that will give any shacked-up couple cold shivers.
Whose toaster stays and whose toaster goes? Do you ditch your favourite teddy bear so there’s space for your significant other’s LP and records? Now that’s real, meaningful player choice. Sure it has zero impact on how the game plays out but it might give you pause next time you consider chucking away your partner’s cherished (never used) skateboard.
The Cursed Highway of Satan Award for Best Video Game Glitch: Red Dead Redemption 2
For as long as there have been video games, there have been video game glitches. Mysteries that range from moderately silly, all the way up to frankly horrifying. Don’t even get me started on the John Carpenter-esque nightmare that is the Sims.
You’d think that as our games became more and more advanced, with millions upon millions spent on development and QA, that glitches would be a thing of the past. Well, you’d be wrong, thankfully, as video game glitches are still well and truly front and centre, even in the biggest of titles - especially open-world titles.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has been a triumph for Rockstar, and players have praised the game for its incredible story, atmosphere, and astonishing attention to the little details. Somewhat unsurprisingly in a game quite this large, a few things slipped past the testers.
And by “a few things” we actually mean “a cursed road that sets fire to horses”.
At first, players assumed this was the sort of random glitch that affects many an open world game, but after some time it was realised that there is one specific road near the town of Rhodes which causes unfortunate equines to combust.
Maybe it’s just a glitch. Maybe it’s actually a portal to Satan’s underworld dimension. It wouldn’t be the first time Rockstar has done something weird in one of their titles.
The Harvey Weinstein Award for Toxic Masculinity: The Gaming Industry
One might have hoped that in the wake of the #MeToo movement last year, shockwaves would have been sent across the civilised world, forcing companies to take a hard look at their business practices. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Just as the awfulness of Gamergate failed to inspire any meaningful change in the way women are treated online, so too did having a spotlight thrust at C-level management in studios and publishers fail to do more than just confirm what we already knew: misogyny and "bro culture" is alive and well in the gaming industry. While Riot Games was one of the biggest perpetrators of misogynystic practices, it was only exposed after some in-depth journalism by Kotaku, and other than a half-hearted apology from the League of Legends developer and an impending lawsuit, very little has visibly changed.
Over at Rockstar, the owners were boasting of workers doing 100-hour weeks and implying that those who didn't weren't as committed to their game as those who did. Clarifications and statements issued later resulted in both good and bad press for Rockstar after it allowed current staff to post about their experiences with the company, but how many of those would have genuinely felt they could be honest in public with their employer making note of every tweet? Would this have happened if women, rather than men, led the company? What gamers — particularly younger ones — need to see from the studios making the games they love is leadership and example setting. What message does it send out that women who apply for top jobs with the same (or better) credentials than their male counterparts are overlooked or condescended to? 2019 needs to have its own #MeToo movement in gaming if it's serious about showing the world that misogyny is not welcome, but I fear that we are still some years away from progress in this arena.