It’s the most wonderful time of the year – not Christmas, but time for The Game Awards! Not those ones, though – the VG247 Alternate Game Awards. Which are better than the glitz and glamor of the real ceremony, so say we. Yeah, we vote on The Game Awards, but on these ones, we decide them. So they’re more accurate.
This has been a funny old year for video games. As Tom mused earlier in the year, it’s been a great year if you’re a gamer, but probably a challenging year for video game websites relying on huge slam-dunk releases. But, it gave us Elden Ring, it gave us Pentiment, it gave us a good Sonic game... and a bunch of other stuff.
In honor of the good, bad, and ugly this year, here’s our 2022 Game Awards. When you’re done, hop back in time and view 2021’s winners, won’t you?
Best Marketing Campaign: Hellena Taylor for Bayonetta 3
Marketing is an under-appreciated medium – we all engage with it and are all subtly influenced by it – and there’s squadrons of talented individuals working hard to try to sell you their latest product. Competition for the best marketing is fierce indeed. Congratulations, then, to actor Hellena Taylor, voice of Bayonetta for her first few appearances before being unceremoniously replaced in Bayonetta 3, which released this year. She’s the architect of this year’s finest marketing campaign.
Taylor posted an incendiary video to Twitter accusing developer PlatinumGames and publisher Nintendo of sidelining her out of greed – and the internet was with her. People were furious, petitioning for her reinstatement and stupidly directing unnecessary abuse towards her replacement. But then, it all sort of unraveled.
First, it turned out that Taylor’s original video outlining the situation hadn’t exactly been 100% transparent about how much money she’d been offered, or the sequence of events that led to Bayonetta’s recasting. Some accused her of lying. Then came her campaign to boycott the game and donate to charity, featuring an anti-choice charity responsible for some pretty provocative billboards. Finally, people noticed connections to some not-so-great folks in her liked tweets and followed accounts.
It was the full milkshake ducking, and she could’ve done it at AGDQ – she speedran it. Attempts to mount a fight back didn't really work. What began as a campaign to get fans to boycott Bayonetta 3 got more people talking about it in a more sympathetic way than would’ve ever happened otherwise – and Nintendo didn’t even have to issue a comment. You don’t get that from Saatchi and Saatchi!
Award for the (Probably) Most Criminally Misunderstood: Forspoken
Gamers are pretty fickle types, and it doesn’t take much to put them off. That means a few wrong steps can be brutally damaging even if the core game is good – and we’re getting the feeling that’s what’s happened to Forspoken, Square Enix’s big new stand-alone game from the developers of Final Fantasy 15.
Between cringeworthy dialogue in trailers and public relations foot-in-mouth situations like describing the game’s black protagonist as having “a hip-hoppy kind of walk”, Forspoken has sort of become the butt of a bunch of social media jokes, and while Square Enix has tried to ride the wave and even embrace the memes, one can’t help but feel that as a new IP, it’s all been fairly damaging to the game’s chances.
The game itself, though? We’re increasingly thinking it looks pretty decent, and bursting with interesting ideas - thus this award. It may have spent a lot of this year as a social media punchline – but it has the potential to be much more than that. We’ll find out in a couple of months.
Most Dedicated Fan: Elden Ring News & Daily Update
While he was working at plying his craft for a long time before 2022, if there were any year to acknowledge the work of YouTube’s Elden Ring Daily Update, it would be now.
During the excruciating wait for the spiritual successor to the Dark Souls series, this solo YouTube behemoth put out 621 videos, daily, telling fans if there was an Elden Ring update. Most days this was just him saying... today, there’s no news. Which was fascinating, if only to see a man find hundreds of different ways to say nothing has happened. But then things started to happen, and he actually became a useful channel, summarizing everything from interviews and media tidbits to leaks and analysis.
Perhaps most impressively, Elden Ring Daily Update didn’t see fit to ply this into a YouTube career once the news stopped: the account’s final post, day 621, was its final post. That’s dedication to a bit we respect. Mordecai, who ran the channel, still runs an Elden Ring Update twitter feed that’s well worth following if you’re a fan.
Best Willy Creation Software: Street Fighter 6
Video games are art. As such, it is the belief of this writer that the tasteful depiction of cock and balls is paramount for the medium. The gaming penis pantheon is for only the hardiest of developers brave enough to ask their artists and animators to bring the full package to our screens. To rise in such a group requires you to beat off stiff competition, something Street Fighter 6 has done handily.
This is all thanks to the game’s battle hub character creation and its laid-back approach to setting limits on body morphing options. Whereas in a typical character creator, a wacky face with a massive forehead, or bulging ears is all you can get, but in Street Fighter 6 you can really break past these feeble limits. The result, horrid monsters with spindly arms, lanky ghouls sitting at arcade cabinets, and bulging cocks throwing out fireballs at confused crowds of innocent players.
We live in a timeline where the younger generation of fighting game diehards will spend more time as a literal huge nob in a digital arcade than being actual nobs in actual arcades. This is obviously sad, devastatingly so, but what a send off, right? Getting bodied in a first-to-three only to see a fat hog standing up and shooting off emotes in your face, calling you free as f**k in the lobby chat. The body may be gone but the spirit lives on.
Worst Trend: All this NFT & Metaverse Bullshit
We can’t believe all this nonsense is going on. We can’t believe how rubbish all Zuckerberg’s Second Life ass metaverse looks even though Facebook is one of the richest corporations on the planet. We can’t believe that people are still doubling down on this NFT stuff for games even as the market crashes and burns. It’s mind boggling. We’re not reading your press releases, lads. We’re never reading them. Stop sending them.
At least all this nonsense crashing might lower graphics card prices a bit...
Most Impressive Slate: Square Enix
Square Enix has had a bloody good year. Yes, this is the year when the massive Japanese publisher released Babylon’s Fall, but one can’t help but be impressed by the sheer breadth of what they’ve put out. There’s long-awaited remasters (Crisis Core, Chrono Cross), a deliciously niche FMV game (The Centennial Case), big-budget spin-offs (Stranger of Paradise), dormant series’ making a semi-triumphant return (Star Ocean, Live A Live, Valkyrie Elysium), and three different significant strategy RPGs (Triangle Strategy, Diofield Chronicle, Tactics Ogre). That isn’t even everything!
In all of this, one can see a curious new Square Enix emerging: after jettisoning its Western studios – which made good games but never really ‘fit’ the rest of the company – it's beginning to double down on what made it truly famous. That’s highly Japanese, often fairly niche mid-tier RPGs – but still accompanied by mega-budget bets in the form of main-line Final Fantasy games.
In terms of raw line-up, it feels like the most confident and self-assured Square Enix has been in years. This is a publisher that in the past has felt rudderless – but this slate has a real sense of cohesion behind it.
The Amnestic Award aka ‘Wait, that came out?’: Square Enix
There’s one big problem with that impressive Square Enix slate, though... half of it launched with next to no fanfare or ceremony. It felt like the company had too much to worry about, and therefore a bunch of perfectly good games just sort of... launched. When we, a team of media who live and breathe games news, get caught off guard by a release, you know that you’re not getting the word out well enough.
It’s hard to believe things like Star Ocean: The Divine Force and Valkyrie Elysium came out this year because there was no buzz, and barely anybody talked about them. It’s all well and good having the slate – but it’s no good if even hardcore JRPG nerds barely recognize those games have released. Was it a lack of resources? A case of too much of a good thing? Whatever the answer, it feels like an opportunity missed.
"The Witness" Award for the Best game that smart arses won’t shut up about for years – Pentiment
Look, it’s very simple: when you’re one of the few intellectuals in a profession of dunces such as games writing, where the majority of its personalities don’t know the difference between the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Empire (with at least half of them thinking the latter is a reference to WWE), a history-steeped game like Pentiment is a delectable treat.
What a joy it was to have license to expend entire paragraphs of a review pontificating about the tax records of ancient Mesopotamia, instead of having to pretend to give a toss about the usual sludge like ‘replayability value’ or ‘the combat system’.
For those of us languishing in this (what we ambitiously refer to as an) industry with the curse of knowing things (real things, not Sonic lore), Pentiment was a welcome excuse to flex the most important muscle in front of a bunch of weedy sadsacks.
Please, for the love of god, read some books. Or play Pentiment, which is almost like reading a book but with speech checks.
Best sports game without context: Goat Simulator 3
Goat Simulator 3 is all about being an unruly agent of chaos with four hooves, but what if I told you that this game, unintentionally, might be the best sports game of the year? If anything, the game should've been titled Goat Extreme Sports Simulator 3.
For a start, this goat goes where no goat has ventured before. When you aren't practicing your balancing skills as you grind around town, you're stealing cars from NPCs and racing them. Then, when you finally tire of Hoofball and scoring goals all day, you're able to visit the church and engage in some CrossFit with the mourners.
More importantly, however, is how easily Goat Simulator 3 can become Tony Shark's Pro Skater 1 + 2. Forget about Pilgor the Goat, and change into your Tony Shark fit; after all, nobody can argue with a shark on a penny board, and with enough practice, you could even give Tony Hawk himself a run for his money. All else fails, you're still a skateboarding shark. Just eat him.
Most Mid S**t Imaginable Award: Gotham Knights
If the Arkham games made you feel like Batman, Gotham Knights makes you feel like a chump. You’re meant to be Batman’s protege, but you instead feel like a cosplayer at an anime convention trying their best to look like Batman, and immediately failing.
This is fitting, because Gotham Knights’ heroes have all inherited a portion of Batman’s skills and gadgets, making each of them useless at most things on their own. But it’s not their lacking expertise or constant self-doubt that makes Gotham Knights a chore – it's gameplay that ignores the solid foundation established and refined with the Arkham games, replacing it with something that just isn’t as good.
It's all competent. It works. You can see the effort in the systems, the art, even the story. And yet, at every moment, Gotham Knights makes you feel inadequate. Whether when your character incessantly pirouettes between foes to deliver a punch, when you have to grapple your way through Gotham until you can unlock what was once a basic traversal mechanic, or when you have to watch one more damn cutscene with the squad sharing basically the same sentiment – this is a game that undermines your every attempt to feel cool.
Best Puzzle Design – The PS5 OS
The PS5 is a machine with a ton of great games. But as a machine, it’s the one playing games with you.
Every time you turn it on is a new test. Why is it rebuilding its database this time? Is it because you left something plugged into the USB while it was in sleep mode, should its horns be facing north instead of south, or maybe the mammoth console is just too humongous for the tiny slot in your TV stand that was meant to hold a circa-2006 DVD player.
Then when the thing’s actually turned on, the mystery intensifies. To the left you have the PlayStation Store, awesome. Then to the left of that you have the PlayStation Store again. Cool.
The intriguing redundancy continues to the system tray, which includes “sound”, “mic” and “voice” that are, apparently, all different things.
But the real mirage in the desert is trying to find your screenshots. Pressing (but not holding, you fool) the PS button brings up recent captures and that’s simple enough. But sometimes if you nip back into the game it disappears. Where to? No one knows. It’s almost as if it was designed for sharing cool images with your friends and not ripping 40 screens at a time for guides.
Best excuse for no diversity: Final Fantasy 16
“The story we are telling is fantasy, yes, but it is also rooted in reality,” Final Fantasy 16 producer explained in a toe-curling interview answer to the question of if the game’s medieval world would feature any prominent characters of color. The world is indeed based upon medieval Europe – but it’s also one that features giant Kaiju Battles and people spewing fire from their hands. Maybe that is historically accurate. Did Joan of Arc turn into a dragon? It was so long ago, who’s to say?
While there was undoubtedly merit in the argument Yoshida was making, the phrasing and delivery killed this discussion stone dead right out of the gate. It was roundly mocked by some, others got angry. And naturally, it kicked off culture war stuff about if there were any black people in medieval Europe in reality (there were, though they were uncommon – the historical accuracy-obsessed Pentiment, set in the 16th century, features an Ethiopian character). So, making a game set in such an era is not inherently equivalent to hanging up a ‘no coloreds allowed’ sign.
Anyway, I get where they’re coming from, but it was probably the worst possible answer to give. If Square Enix is going to go after huge Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher with Final Fantasy, it needs to start expecting to face the same Western–centric questions about diversity as them.
Best game that is nevertheless slightly Rubbish: Sonic Frontiers
Let’s be honest for a second here. Sonic Frontiers is really good. I might even go so far as to call it a little bit amazing – it's Sega and Sonic Team achieving seemingly the impossible, managing to deliver something new while threading the absolutely tiny needle that is Sonic fan expectations of what the series is and should be. It’s truly astonishing that this game is as good as it is – it's practically a miracle.
And yet... it’s a little bit crap, isn’t it? It’s got the spirit of Dreamcast Sonic in its disjointed-looking worlds with random crap just floating in the air. It’s pretty, but also cheap-looking, all at once. Its characters are colorful and striking, but its world is bland.
It’s a weird game. It’s a must-play game. But, is anything more appropriate for a Sonic game than being just a little bit crap in spite of itself? Maybe Sonic Team really does understand the franchise after all.
Saddest death of the year: The idea of a microtransaction boycott following Diablo Immortal’s financial success
This was a banner year for big-name deaths, highlighted by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. But while we’re talking about people with a ‘divine right’ meeting their maker, let’s talk about god slaying for a second...
The best feeling in a Diablo game is the feeling of killing a god; striking down some totemic figurehead, some infernal pope of the darkness, as you wield a power beyond belief and summon strength from some unknown depth in order to dethrone a deity. Over three games – and one terrible mobile rip-off – Blizzard has nailed this formula. How ironic, then, that the most affecting death in 2022 is the death of Diablo’s credibility.
In the months prior to Diablo Immortal’s release, director Wyatt Cheng said: “In Diablo Immortal, there is no way to acquire or rank up gear using money.” This proved to be untrue as the game seeped onto players’ phones and PCs; estimates placed a fully-upgraded character as costing around $110,000.
The response? Even the most dedicated members of the Diablo community boycotted the game, resulting in less coverage, fewer players, and a slower trickle of gold coins into Blizzard’s overflowing coffers. The saddest thing about the death of Diablo Immortal isn’t the fact it’s coughing its life away as a dusty icon on a forgotten panel of your mobile phone home screen, no; it’s that no one even noticed it fade away in the first place.