Jump Dash Roll's Alternative Video Game Awards of 2020
Goodness knows we need to chill after the hot mess of 2020, and there are plenty of options for doing just that with your trusty PC or console — take a look at our pick of the year's titles for inspiration. But let's not forget that gaming isn't just about games. It's about the decisions the industry makes to progress or regress, to innovate or stagnate, to inspire or to make an absolute shambolic mess.
So, in traditional tongue-in-cheek fashion, here are the stories that caught our eye in 2020 and deserve one of the (occasionally) coveted JDR Alternative Video Game Awards!
The Fake £20 Award for Gift That’ll Lead To The Most Christmas Tears: The Xbox Series X
Wait, I meant the Xbox One X. Or is it the Xbox Series S? Actually, I think I’m trying to make a joke about the original Xbox...or the Xbox 360? Technically, it’s part of my job description to know which one of these consoles is the newest, and even I can’t keep them straight. I pity any parent that walks into their local electronics store, asks for an Xbox, and ends up with a crying kid on Christmas who was looking forward to getting a console that can run Microsoft Flight Simulator properly, but instead got something from 10 years ago.
What was wrong with adding a number at the end of each consecutive piece of hardware’s name and calling it a day? Say what you will about Sony, but at least PlayStation 4s were still in stock when preorders opened up for their next generation platform.
The Game With More Bugs Than Its Real Life Source Material Award: Empire of Sin
2020 will likely go down in history as one of the buggiest years in history. Between the COVID-19 “bug”, the plethora of bugs that started to infest people’s houses after they were evicted when they lost their jobs because of that viral bug, and all of the various bugs we experienced in gaming, there was a lot of material to draw from for this award.
However, Empire of Sin is the winner, because it somehow manages to be buggier than the real life streets of 1920’s Chicago where the game is set. This is a game that actively warns you about how controlling too many whorehouses will lead to your gang getting STDs, where the police complain about all of the dead bodies on the street, and where one of the mob bosses is concerned about keeping their crew literally clean. However, it does all of this while being one of the buggiest games we’ve played this year, which is no small feat.
Between the crashes, missions not being able to progress, and the occasional graphical oddity, the game managed to have more technical problems than the actual 1920s. These bugs were the reason that what could have otherwise been an okay game received our lowest score of the year, taking its place below the painfully forgettable Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia and even the newest Call of Duty.
The Richard Johnson Award for Biggest Waste of a Title: Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town
A wise man once said not to judge a book by its cover, but could anyone blame us for being disappointed that Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town isn’t a more adult version of The Stanley Parable, rather than a child-friendly puzzle game that serves as a spiritual successor to Monkey Island?
What makes the disappointment even worse is that the title isn’t even false advertising: you play as a kid named William Morgan who investigates a curse in a skeleton-filled village named Bone Town. It’s a bloody travesty that the title is taken by such a mediocre game, when it could’ve been used on a porn-themed choose your own adventure tale.
The Whom Must Have Award For Title That Helped Me Meet My Word Count Requirement: The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet Of Chaos
For better or worse, a big part of being a games journalist is ensuring that you meet your word count requirements and Jump Dash Roll is no different to the rest of the industry. Our readers need to have a good idea of what they might be buying into, so we have word counts that encourage us to write in-depth reviews, even if a title isn't particularly interesting to write about.
However, thankfully, from time to time those uninteresting games have titles like The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet Of Chaos, whose name is almost an entire sentence in and of itself. What’s better is that even when you shorten the title, it’s still five words long! Although the game itself was fairly terrible, writing the review proved to be at least 20% easier than slogging through that Trollhunters game whose title is only four words long.
The Chris Avellone Award for Most Dramatic Fall From Grace: CD Projekt Red
Four years ago, CD Projekt Red could do no wrong. The Witcher 3 had cemented its place in the hearts of RPG fans, while Blood and Wine was released to the kind of reviews that other studios would kill for — and this was DLC that the Polish company casually threw into players’ laps. CDPR was known for listening to players, gathering feedback, and releasing polished games with both depth and playability. It was the golden child of the industry.
Then Cyberpunk 2077 happened and the company imploded.
It’s hard to point to the exact moment at which things fell apart for the studio, but the warning signs had always been there. The Witcher 3 only got out of the door off the back of some serious crunch. The kind of crunch that led to CDPR admitting it was inhumane and promising wouldn’t happen for its next game.
Then it happened. Of course it did. This is a AAA studio which had investors eagerly awaiting news of its success. Every delay was going to cost them, financially from its backers and in goodwill from its consumers. But as long as it had gamers and the media on its side, it might have been able to work something out. In response to the crunch, CDPR tried to cover both angles and announced employees would get 10% of the company’s annual profits for their efforts.
In doing so, it effectively painted itself into a corner. Not only did it now have to release a game on PC alongside two generations of consoles, it also needed to get the game out to ensure that the people who flogged themselves senseless making it could actually go home and tell their families that at least they’d got something out of it. It isn’t a coincidence that CDPR’s financial year ends in December each year. Since the success of the game directly impacted the profits that their employees would receive, if they didn’t get the game out of the door before financial year end, employees would suffer and — no doubt more importantly to CDPR’s C-suite — the company would be able to use the huge day one sales and pre-sales to mark 2020 as a financial success, before letting them pitch a more reserved forecast for the next year.
It was an incredibly cynical move, made even more puzzling by the fact that CDPR was obviously going to be found out if the game it released was not damn near perfect on every format it allegedly supported. If Cyberpunk 2077 had been released running at top end performance for all platforms it played on, gamers may have given them the benefit of the doubt.
But it didn’t. The PS4 and Xbox One versions were riddled with bugs and performance issues. How were these not picked up or reported on before launch? Because CDPR made the incredible decision to try and cover them up. They didn’t offer journalists code for last-gen consoles, in what is now considered among many in the industry as a deliberate move to skew review scoring. Only PC code was offered. Outlets were told not to discuss PS4 or Xbox One releases, or publicise gameplay footage. Games journalists are always wary when a PR company or studio doesn’t offer review code. It seems that this time was no exception, but worse still, CDPR had burned through its political capital and done so under the delusion that they wouldn’t get caught. This is the gaming community, after all — containing people that sent the developers death threats when they had the audacity to delay the game’s release. Did they think that PS4 and Xbox One players wouldn’t spot that the game was borderline unplayable? Or that they wouldn’t take to the internet to air their grievances?
There was still time to salvage the situation. If CDPR had put its hands up and acknowledged the issues — as it had been so good at doing in the past (at least, publicly) — it may have come out the other side bruised and humbled, but with enough goodwill to save its reputation. It looked like that was the path they were taking, too. After a furious backlash from gamers who had forked out for a broken game, CDPR apologised and offered a refund.
And then it managed to turn the dumpster fire into an utter shit-show. It appears that the refund CDPR offered was simply directing buyers to the store from which they purchased it. Needless to say, Sony was not amused when a legion of pissed off gamers demanded a refund for their broken PS4 download. This was not a refund from the developer, but a refund from a store front. CDPR had shifted the responsibility onto Microsoft and Sony and effectively washed their hands of the situation.
In an investor call, one of CDPR’s board said that the encouragement to ask for refunds led to “misconceptions”. It seems that these misconceptions might be due to gamers following CDPR’s advice, but that nuance appeared to bypass them entirely. Now the studio was not only dealing with a catastrophe of its own making thanks to the inevitable pursuit of its bottom line, it was actively screwing over the people that it had taken money from. The industry’s inexorable move to allowing the release of broken, semi-broken or merely barely finished games and patching them on day one was on full display here, but it was apparent to all and sundry that the studio has simply decided to abandon the last-gen consoles in favour of the Xbox Series and PS5 titles. A patch was simply not going to cut it.
Should Sony and Microsoft have done due diligence on the shambolic state of CDPR’s last-gen version before putting it on the market? Absolutely. Yet this is how games — especially AAA games — are released now: hoofed out of the door with fixes happening in real time. The studio thought that it had built enough collateral to allow it to keep shareholders happy while taking a few body blows from gamers for releasing a shoddy title that would get patched in due course. Maybe they thought all PS4 and Xbox One owners would wait and get it on next-gen (a platform on which the game works significantly better, but far from perfectly). The problem is, you can only play a game on a next-gen console if a next-gen console is available to buy. And by all accounts, they are absolutely not.
Sony took matters into its own hands a week before Christmas, clearly furious with CDPR’s stance. It agreed to offer refunds to anyone who purchased the game from their store - but the kicker was that they removed the game entirely for purchase. It was an unprecedented move, one which was clearly designed to show gamers not only where the real power lay, but also to deliver a stunning rebuke to CDPR’s executive board. Microsoft duly followed suit, but stopped short of pulling the game from its store.
It seems that the one-two punch of PR manipulation and public hand-wringing might have worked well for CDPR in the past, but when it is repeatedly exposed as just that, actual action rather than words was required. That action came late, far too late, when it tweeted eight days after launch that it would refund purchasers of Cyberpunk 2077 from its own pocket if they couldn’t find success from their retailer.
So where does this leave the studio? There’s no denying that some versions of Cyberpunk 2077 work reasonably well — Stadia players got the best of that deal (and PC players, as long as they have a decent rig) — and the world that CDPR has created is both incredibly detailed and ridiculously immersive, as our review attests.
But even being the fastest selling PC game of all time is unlikely to help the studio in the coming year. The launch (and the decisions that were made to deliberately deceive players and press in the weeks and months up to that launch) was an unmitigated disaster. The handling thereafter compounded that issue, turning the golden child into a supervillain. The internet is a fickle place at the best of times, but it has a long memory. The damage done to CDPR’s reputation may eventually heal, but the calls that were made would have had board approval and as such, some of those board members are unlikely to be in place this time next year. Gamers are certainly unlikely to jump on the preorder bandwagon for the studio’s next game, should one ever materialise.
One positive that can be taken away is that the ripples will hopefully be felt far and wide and act as a warning to other studios considering a half-baked release to appease investors, or forcing their staff to work themselves into the ground for an arbitrary date. No amount of accumulated goodwill can absolve you of the cardinal sin of deceiving your fanbase; the fact that CDPR thought it might is simply staggering. The studio has a rocky few months ahead and at this point it’s hard to say if it will come through chastened but ultimately unscathed, or disbanded entirely and reformed under a new name. Either way, it’s a devastating sea change for the once-lauded developer.
The CD Projekt Red Award for Worst Textures Seen in a Video Game: Halo Infinite
Let’s face it, Cyberpunk 2077 has had a few problems, especially loading textures on consoles. Which is why it gets its own award this year. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the screenshot below.
However, another game that was supposed to release this year was Halo Infinite. Back at the title’s gameplay premiere in July we were shown almost nine minutes of gameplay, and, well … the game was delayed shortly afterwards. This may or may not be due to audience ridicule, I can only speculate, but the Halo community did latch on to the fact that textures could be seen popping in and out in the distance, and the character models seemed a bit off for a next-gen title. Take the Brute from the trailer that fans have made dubbed Craig and made into a meme for example.
This award is for you, Craig, you magnificent beast.
Sony Interactive Entertainment Presents: Most Easter Eggs in a Video Game Award
Astro’s Playroom might just be the best game on the PlayStation 5 at the time of writing — no, seriously. The pack-in platformer isn’t just a blast to play, nor is it merely a cool tech demo for Sony’s fancy new DualSense controller. In just two hours, across four distinct worlds, it also manages to be a love letter to PlayStation and PlayStation fans whilst being the perfect welcome to the next-generation of Sony hardware.
You might not think that you have the same nostalgia for PlayStation that you do for say Nintendo or Atari, or whoever. The thing is: you totally do! Astro’s Playroom proves that within about 30 seconds and just doesn’t stop. When grabbing my first collectable artefact — a PlayStation Eye Camera — I audibly gasped. It’s true. There’s one in my loft and I can assure you I’ve never audibly gasped at it!
This happened all the time too. Whether it was a hardware relic from PlayStation’s past — shout out to the PSP Microphone — or seeing a few of Astro’s robot mates recreating (or are they creating?) famous scenes from The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid, I’ve never seen more easter eggs, or a better use of them, than in this game.
Even the game’s trophy list is packed with references to games like Cool Boarders and, early PS3-era indie game, The Last Guy. That second reference is so obscure I had to provide context. That’s how deep we’re getting here! There’s even an excellent joke about Sony Interactive Entertainment’s name change in there, which is just super nerdy isn’t it?
As a PlayStation fan through and through it was wonderful to explore this world, indulge in the fan service, but also see that it was being handled properly and that the game was excellent — and free! — too.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be punching the PlayStation logo on a virtual PS2 and making it spin around for at least the next five minutes.
The Duke Nukem Forever Award for Most Conspicuously Absent Game: Elden Ring
Elden Ring. Ring any bells? Announced at E3 2019, nothing has been seen since. It’s a FromSoftware game developed in partnership with George RR Martin of Game of Thrones fame. So are we surprised we haven’t seen it yet?
Perhaps not. Yet, we’ve heard nothing about the spiritual successor to Dark Souls for one and a half years at all. I mean, literally nothing. Not one nugget of news has come from anyone officially involved with the game, leading many to wonder: does it even exist?
It seems odd if it doesn’t, to be fair. I mean, it’s a FromSoftware game and their most recent was amazing but also not Dark Souls. There’s a whole subreddit going hollow at the thought of there being no actual Elden Ring, wondering if its very idea is more akin to the bad ending of Solaire in Dark Souls (maggots are never good) as opposed to the game actually releasing.
There’s hope, as always. Rumours indicate it’s done and the studio is in polishing mode. The reason it’s taking time is to get it right whilst employees take time off from the whole global pandemic thing, or manage with the ever-changing working conditions that brings. This is amazing, if true. Just think: a triple-A developer saying “It’s OK to look after yourselves, it’s OK to avoid crunch, let’s take care and get it right when we can. Until then, let’s be conspicuous by our absence. People are still talking about us, right?”
We certainly are.
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