It’s the awards show that everyone always waits for!
Thank you! Thank you. I’m just waiting for that trumpet fanfare to die down over there. Thanks. Yes, yes, you can stop now. Lovely. Now that we’ve seen all the wonderful red carpet outfits — Kratos, you look divine, darling — and had three too many cocktails, it’s time to get to the awards proper.
Now, it would be very simple for me to pick the easy choice this year and go straight in for what a lot of people will probably expect to be the best game of the year. But I’m not about that, as you well know. You can tell by my drink choices that I don’t always go for the easy option. To that end, Sonic Frontiers will not be receiving an award tonight. I know, I know, it’s clearly the greatest piece of artistic entertainment created by the hand of humankind, but it can’t have everything. Sega needs to be fair to everyone else. With that out of the way, on with the show.
My love for FMV games is hardly a secret, but Not For Broadcast absolutely blindsided me with how much I enjoyed it. You work in the broadcast booth for a news channel during a tumultuous political upheaval in 90s era UK, and you just need to make sure the broadcasts go smoothly. Before long though, you’re caught up in a political struggle that turns violent quickly, but the only thing you can do is run those live broadcasts by choosing what to show, what to censor, and what adverts get broadcast. Through that limited interaction though, you’re practically running a soap opera. Characters die or make dramatic returns, dirty secrets of political leaders are exposed or hidden by your hand, and invasive messages take over the airwaves should you allow it.
I fell in love with the wonderfully well acted characters, adored the story of weaponising wealth in the political system, and laughed out loud at some of the absurd moments that cropped up. With 14 endings and a variety of paths to go down to get to them, it’s impressive how well the story holds together, and also provides heaps of content to entertain should you wish to replay it. This one finally came out of early access right at the start of this year, and has stuck with me since.
Another early release from this year was Martha Is Dead from the team that created the rather harrowing The Town of Light. A linear horror tale of a woman that secretly takes over the life of her twin sister on her shocking death in a lake close to the family estate in 1940s Italy. The story here is intense and focuses on Guila’s mind slowly unravelling over the course of the game. Your tasks each day start out somewhat menially, by completing chores and pursuing your love for photography, but as things progress and you discover more about the estate, you’ll find yourself needing to carry out far more unsettling acts. The scenes in Gulia’s dreams are particularly harrowing.
This is an excellent horror game, but is absolutely not for the player with a weaker composition. Whilst the devs did put in ways to not participate in certain scenes, some of the violence on display is quite extreme and even made me feel a little uncomfortable in places. The story is also quite harrowing, as events that you see may or may not have happened in very different ways to how you experienced them. An impressive release that flew somewhat under the radar, I’d recommend you give Martha Is Dead a go. Interestingly, the characters from this game are referenced in the previous release The Town of Light, so if you played that, you may find some additional nods to the developers’ other games.
It may have been snubbed by another, lesser award show, but Vampire Survivors is the standout indie hit of the year. It’s a one stick shooter in which you just move your character around hordes of approaching enemies and try not to die. You aren’t defenceless though, as all your attacks are automatically triggered whilst you move. It’s the simplest game I’ve played in years but the depth! The depth is incredible. Choosing a character can set you up in different ways thanks to different stats and starting items, but from then the real game begins. When you level up by collecting dropped crystals, you get to select a new weapon or item, or upgrade one you already have. The trick comes from building your character into an absolute death machine.
Build correctly, and you can march around a level practically untouchable, devastating all those who approach you, and it’s incredibly satisfying to get things that right. There are heaps of weapons and items, with several that evolve into new ones when combined, over 100 unlockable characters, hidden levels, secret codes, and a codex filled with hilarious enemy descriptions. Add to that the lovely art style and absolutely cracking soundtrack and you’ve got what could arguably be called a perfect game. Don’t sleep on this one.
Yes, another horror game. Don’t judge me or I’ll have security remove you. I’m looking at you, Kirby. I was torn between Madison and Oxide: Room 104 for this slot, but I went with the former thanks to the higher production values. This is an actually scary horror game that builds on that subgenre made popular by P.T all those years ago. You walk around a house you’re trapped in, with a magic camera that can change the environment when used, and act as a light source when the lamps inevitably give up. You’ll be pursued by different entities as you explore the house and the other worlds that seem to be bizarrely connected to it as you unravel a tale of demonic summoning and the collapse of a family.
Madison drips atmosphere. The world, whilst quite small, is perfectly formed, with a house that initially makes sense, but feels dark and foreboding at every turn. Even when there’s nothing out there, you’ll feel under pressure that something could appear at any moment, and this is in thanks due to a fabulously constructed soundscape. Distant bangs and smashes won’t herald the arrival of some horrifying creature, but they might, and that uncertainty drives the horror here. Some of the puzzles are a little unclear at times, and the inventory management becomes annoying, but this is a horror game that is begging to be played. Beware Blue Knees.
I struggled with this last slot, and I really wanted to include Beacon Pines, but the draw of Immortality is just too great. There’s nothing else quite like it out there. Even thinking back to Sam Barlow’s other games like Her Story, this doesn’t even compare thanks to the places it goes. You’re presented with a series of video clips of an actress called Marissa Marcel, including three movies she filmed but were never released, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. The actress has gone missing, and you’re trying to find out just what happened to her over this three decade period. You can watch the clips, and click on elements of them which will then take you to another clip that contains the same element. By doing this, you build up a huge database of short video clips that you can scour through to piece the story together.
Now, that alone wouldn’t have kept my attention, as I normally want a little more directing, but once you discover something about these clips, the whole story goes off the rails. Everything gets flipped on its head as you question every clip you’ve seen so far. It takes a while to reach the credits, and even then you’ll want to go back to find more. It’s gripping stuff, helped by what must have been a herculean effort to put this together. There are three films in this, plus all sorts of extra footage, all of which is well acted and put together. Nothing feels forced or fake unless it’s supposed to. I can’t comprehend how hard this game must have been to make and that deserves praise alone.
And that’s it folks! I’m sorry if you didn’t receive an award this year — Aloy, stop pointing that bow at Martha, she’s had a tough time and deserves that award! — but you’ll just have to try harder next time. Now we only have the venue for another eight minutes, so if you could clean up your vomit and get out that would be lovely. See you next year!