Op-Ed

Op-Ed
The Escapist Awards 2009 - Winners Announcement

The Escapist Staff | 12 Mar 2010 13:00
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Looking back on the games we played, we've seen some truly remarkable advancements and achievements, and we're happy to reward those who've made it all possible. Please join us in congratulating our 2009 The Escapist Awards nominees, and stay tuned for the announcement of our winners.

To learn more about The Escapist Awards click here.

I. Overall Excellence

This category recognizes areas of broad greatness in videogame design. Each of these awards (with a few exceptions) highlights the accomplishments of teams, not individuals, acknowledging that great things often require time, hard work and communication.

Game of the Decade

Winner: World of Warcraft (Activision/Blizzard)

Nominees: World of Warcraft (Activision/Blizzard), Halo 2 (Microsoft), Grand Theft Auto III (Rockstar Games)

There are a number of valid criteria for determining your Game of the Decade. You could look for the "best" game, the most influential or simply the most popular. But here at The Escapist, we decided that our Game of the Decade was the game that this decade would be remembered for.

For the 1980s, it was Super Mario Bros. For the 1990s, it was Doom. And while it's certainly true that Grand Theft Auto III's explosion of the "sandbox" genre and Halo 2's cementing of online multiplayer as a centerpiece of console gaming were landmark moments in the past 10 years of gaming, there's no question that the game of this decade is Blizzard's World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft was not the first MMOG and, depending on whom you ask, it may not be the best. But it was the first MMOG for everyone.

There's no denying that Blizzard's game is expertly crafted, and that its questing and dungeon-running are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack. But more importantly, WoW is accessible. Blizzard took great pains to ensure that almost everyone could get a taste of the world they had created, and showed that you didn't have to spend five hours every night on your computer camping rare monsters to have epic fantasy adventures. WoW introduced millions of people to the idea of virtual spaces and realities that had previously been considered the sole domain of the reclusive shut-in.

WoW isn't just a game for the hardcore gamer college student in Minneapolis; it's a game for the public prosecutor in Orlando, the FBI agent in Washington, D.C., and the school librarian in Flagstaff. Heck, WoW is more than a game; it's a lifestyle on the scale that no other single title has ever achieved. There are 11 million people with active accounts, and two to three times that number have given Azeroth a try over the past few years. It's spawned a living, breathing culture that surrounds the game, where two complete strangers can meet, learn that they both play WoW and instantly decide whether their new acquaintance should be a trusted friend or someone to watch out for depending on if they're a member of the (hated) Alliance or (those dirty) Horde.

It's tempting to say that WoW has crept its way into pop culture at large thanks to its appearance in South Park, references in Stargate or even strange homages in Russian deodorant commercials, but even that wouldn't be entirely accurate. World of Warcraft has made non-gamers into gamers. It's made millions of people aware of a genre that many never knew existed (or were afraid to try). It's exploded the popularity of virtual worlds and MMOGs exponentially. It's given countless people a home away from home where they could be stalwart warriors or sneaky rogues.

There is almost no aspect of gaming in the past five years that hasn't felt the impact of WoW. There is no other game in the past 10 years that will be remembered more than WoW. So for The Escapist, the choice was obvious.

World of Warcraft: A reality all its own, and our Game of the Decade.

-John Funk, Games Editor

Game of the Year

Winner: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Eidos)

Nominees: Assassin's Creed 2 (Ubisoft), Dragon Age: Origins (EA), Batman: Arkham Asylum (Eidos)

Game of the Year is one of the hardest categories to judge. Even in a relatively slow gaming year like 2009, is it possible to judge just one game as "the best" the industry had to offer? We think that our list of nominees tells the story here: Assassin's Creed 2 is an open-world action game, Dragon Age, an RPG and Batman: Arkham Asylum, a cross-genre brawler. Three radically different games, and yet all ranked highly enough with our team to merit a nod for Game of the Year.

I won't lie - it was a tough decision. We debated this one longer and harder than any of the others, but in the end, if we're being true to what we, as The Escapist value most about the experience of playing a game, then Batman: Arkham Asylum was the clear winner.

As brilliant as Assassin's Creed 2 and as engaging as Dragon Age: Orgins were, the team at Rocksteady Studios created something truly unique and inspiring with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Here is a game that combined elements of stealth shooting, puzzle-gaming, atmospherics, brawling, innovative mechanics, first-rate story, art and level design and the acting talents of some of the best people working on games - or any medium - today.

Batman: Arkham Asylum brings so much to the table, moves the bar forward in so many ways, it is easily a game that we'll be thinking about - and writing about - for years. If that's not a Game of the Year, I don't know what is, and that's why I'm pleased to present Batman: Arkham Asylum as The Escapist's Game of the Year.

-Russ Pitts, Editor-in-Chief

E for Innovation

Winner: 1 vs. 100 (Microsoft)

Nominees: 1 vs. 100 (Microsoft), Flower (Sony), Shadow Complex (Microsoft)

If you've ever sat on the edge of your couch, yelling at the game show contestant who blew their shot at a fortune because they couldn't answer a question so easy your dog knows it, then 1 vs. 100 is right up your alley. Competing against thousands of other trivia hounds over Xbox Live is reason enough to show up, but nothing beats the thrill of actually making it up on stage for your chance to win real prizes. Although the game's first season suffered from glitches galore, the revamped second season smoothed out the rough spots, added achievements, levels, and new play styles. The presentation is so slick and polished that you barely even notice the Sprint commercials that play every few minutes, though that may be because you're using the time to run to the bathroom before the next round of rapid-fire questions begins. 1 vs. 100 gives all kinds of players - hardcore, newbies and everyone in between - the chance to play together in a fun an familiar way, making it the perfect party or family game.

-Susan Arendt, Senior Games Editor

Best Shooter

Winner: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision)

Nominees: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision), Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve), Borderlands (2K Games)

Was the winner of this category ever in doubt? Modern Warfare 2 was the unstoppable juggernaut of 2009, dominating the holiday release schedule and leaving other lesser games scrambling for an early 2010 release. But amid all the hype and the eye-popping sales figures, it's easy to forget that Infinity Ward didn't end up in the top spot through sheer luck. These guys know guns. Every movement, every sound, every minute polygon in Modern Warfare 2's weaponry has been lavished over, and it shows. For the sheer, visceral thrill of pulling the trigger and hearing that subtle "thwap" as it connects with its target, no other game even comes close. Half-Life 2 may be the thinking man's shooter, but Modern Warfare 2 is the shooting man's shooter. And sometimes, thinking's overrated.

-Jordan Deam, Features Editor

Best Strategy Game

Winner: Empire: Total War (Sega)

Nominees: Empire: Total War (Sega), Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (THQ), Demigod (Stardock)

There has always been a deep chasm dividing strategy gamers, between real-time strategists on one side and turn-based tacticians on the other. Fortunately, there are games like Empire: Total War that bridge the gap, giving us great turn-based gameplay and great real-time action. Add in top-notch 3D graphics, naval warfare, and a deep respect for history, and you have a smash hit. Marshal your battle line and fix bayonets, because Empire: Total War is sweeping the field for Best Strategy Game of 2009.

-Alexander Macris, CEO and Publisher

Best RPG

Winner: Dragon Age: Origins (EA)


Nominees: Dragon Age: Origins (EA), Torchlight (Runic Games), Demon's Souls (Atlus)

With the robust resume of Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights behind BioWare's team, it would be a disappointment if Dragon Age: Origins was anything less than stellar. Thankfully, D:AO delivered a story that hit all the right dark fantasy touchstones with great voice acting and interesting tactical combat. The PC version shone brighter than it did on consoles, but both offered over 50 hours of play, not counting replaying the game with different backgrounds or every little side quest and collectible. And we all know it's those little things that make a great RPG.

-Greg Tito, Games Editor

Best MMOG

Winner: Aion (NCSoft)

Nominees: Aion (NCSoft), Runes of Magic (Frogster), Champions Online (Atari)

If there were ever a game that deserved this title based on the strength of its visuals alone, Aion would definitely be very high in the running. Impressive technical graphics bolster the gorgeously fantastic vistas in the world of Atreia, resulting in a unique and memorable aesthetic surrounding the brutal clash between the Elyos and the Asmodians. Aion may not very innovative, but it's exceptionally polished and really does try to offer something for everyone, no matter what you like in your MMOGs.

-John Funk, Games Editor

Best Simulation

Winner: Sims 3 (EA)

Nominees: Sims 3 (EA), H.A.W.X (Ubisoft), Forza 3 (Microsoft)

In its first week of release, Sims 3 sold 1.4 million units, making it the best PC launch in EA's history. It also earned the coveted title of best-selling PC game worldwide in 2009, beating out heavyweight contenders WoW and Dragon Age. The Sims franchise has been a consistently innovative crown jewel of its genre, and the release of Sims 3 only cemented its deserving of The Escapist's Best Simulation Game of 2009. Don't let the numbers alone convince you: The Sims continuously provides the new standard for simulation games, and The Sims 3 was no exception. It melded the familiar gameplay we all know and love with a few drastic improvements, including a dynamic character creation system and seamless neighborhoods that evolve as you play.

-Lauren Admire, Editorial Assistant

Best Sandbox Game

Winner: Assassin's Creed 2 (Ubisoft)

Nominees: Assassin's Creed 2 (Ubisoft), The Godfather II (EA), Brutal Legend (EA)

The test of a good sandbox game is how much you mind ignoring the main storyline, and although Ezio's quest for revenge is quite satisfying, much of the joy in playing Assassin's Creed 2 comes from simply wandering around Renaissance Italy. The scenery is jaw-droppingly beautiful, lovingly and exquisitely detailed to produce environments that feel familiar, but also fresh and new. Italy practically becomes a character in and of itself, tempestuous, dangerous, but also comforting and loving. The side quests and missions are a welcome refinement of their cousins from the first Assassin's Creed, too. You're still collecting tidbits and geegaws, but now you have more tangible and relatable reasons for doing it. And let's be honest: hanging out with Leonardo da Vinci is pretty damn cool.

-Russ Pitts, Editor-in-Chief

Best DLC

Winner: Fallout 3: Point Lookout (Bethesda)

Nominees: Fallout 3: Point Lookout, Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned (2K Games), Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (Rockstar Games)

Fallout 3 not only re-invented the Fallout franchise, it breathed new life into the RPG genre, bringing the essence of Bethesda's ground-breaking Elder Scrolls series to the post-apocalyptic setting. Playing Fallout 3, it was clear these were people who took their role-play gaming seriously, and it was a joy to experience the world they created.

This made it all the more exciting that the follow-up DLC adventures each added a new element to the fascinating world of post-apocalypse Washington D.C. Point Lookout, built on the Amer-Asian war backstory, putting the character on the trail of a long-dead Chinese spy, and introduced numerous other adventures and mysteries, cementing Fallout 3's place in gaming history as one of the most satisfying and versatile videogame worlds ever created.

-Russ Pitts, Editor-in-Chief

Best Action/Adventure

Winner: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Sony)

Nominees: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Sony), Batman: Arkham Asylum (Eidos), Assassin's Creed 2 (Ubisoft)

From the moment we first meet Nathan Drake in Uncharted 2, we know we're in for one hell of a ride. Tagging along on his search for Shangri-La is the stuff that blockbuster movies are made of, with gunfights, lost temples, bloodthirsty mercenaries and a beautiful partner that you probably shouldn't trust. The locales are stunning and the dangers are great, but fortunately Nate is more than up to the task. His skill with a gun is only slightly less impressive than his ability to scale buildings like a parkour-loving monkey, but both pale in comparison to his knack for defusing tense moments with his self-deprecating charm. Uncharted 2 reminds us that while games can be profound, moving experiences, sometimes, they're just rollicking good times.

-Susan Arendt, Senior Games Editor

Best Aesthetic

Winner: Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Marvelous/Ignition Entertainment)

Nominees: Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Marvelous/Ignition Entertainment), Aion (NCSoft), Zeno Clash (Valve/Tripwire/Atlus)

Muramasa: The Demon Blade wasn't the most innovative game to hit the Wii last year. It didn't make use of the console's motion controls in any meaningful way, and if you didn't come into the game with a working knowledge of Japanese mythology, the plot likely left you bewildered and annoyed. But that didn't matter all that much, because Muramasa was simply gorgeous. Each new environment, from the sun-drenched wheat fields of the plains to the eerie stillness of a snow-covered bamboo forest, is so breathtaking that gameplay almost becomes an afterthought; you simply want to wander the world and take it all in. Vibrant, lush, evocative - these aren't words that come up often when talking about videogames, but Muramasa is the exception to the rule.

-Jordan Deam, Features Editor

Best Party Game

Winner: Rock Band: Beatles (MTV Games)

Nominees: Rock Band: Beatles (MTV Games), 1 vs. 100 (Microsoft), Buzz (Sony)

A great party game is one that you can pick up and play when you're surrounded by your mates who may or may not be imbibing intoxicants. A great party game is just as much fun to watch as it is to play. A great party game is ... The Beatles: Rock Band. Harmonix didn't just port Rock Band, they made the game a tour of the history of the band that all fans could appreciate. From the studio sessions to playing Shea Stadium to the trippy Sgt. Pepper's era, playing the Beatle's songs while attempting to harmonize with your friends lets you experience Fab Four's music like no other product had before.

-Greg Tito, Games Editor

Best Puzzle Game

Winner: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (Level 5/Nintendo)

Nominees: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (Level 5/Nintendo), Flock (Capcom),vPixelJunk Shooter (Q-Games/Sony)

The world of Professor Layton is absurd. Oh sure, it may look like the world that you and I live in, but it's a twisted world, where puzzles are a strange form of currency. Need to order dinner? Solve a puzzle! Looking for a missing boy? Puzzle! Trying to solve a riddle about a mysterious cursed box of legend? Well, that's kind of a puzzle on its own, when you think about it. But this absurdity comes along with a unique brand of special Professor Layton charm: The puzzles are clever, the art style delightful, the story and characters engaging and it somehow just all fits together. Why do we love Professor Layton? That's no puzzle at all.

-John Funk, Games Editor

Best Fighting Game

Winner: Street Fighter IV (Capcom)

Nominees: Street Fighter IV (Capcom), Punchout (Nintendo), BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (Arc Systemworks)

2009 saw a sudden resurgence in the all-but-extinct 2D fighting game, and leading the charge was a very familiar face: Street Fighter. With Street Fighter IV, the granddaddy of fighting game series proved that it still had its old glory. It melded an old-school Street Fighter core with some newer advancements and refinements and topped it all off with some of the coolest artistic stylings we've ever seen in a fighter, resulting in a game that had generations old and new alike just itching to start hurling Hadokens once again.

-John Funk, Games Editor

Best Casual Game

Winner: Plants vs. Zombies (Popcap)

Nominees: Plants vs. Zombies (Popcap), Crayon Physics Deluxe (Petri Purho), Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo)

I'm not saying this just to be coy, but we've always had a soft spot for casual games at The Escapist. If you don't believe me, check the Zero Punctuation archive. One of the first games I asked Yahtzee to review for us was Peggle. He hated it, of course, but that game has been played - and loved - by millions of people; people who will probably never play a AAA blockbuster console title. Does that mean they're not gamers? Hardly.

So when it came time to pick our Casual Game of the Year, honestly, there was very little debate. Peggle developer Popcap blew our minds earlier in 2009 when they sent us a preview copy of Plants vs. Zombies. Sure it was a short, little flash game you could play in minute spurts, but it was engaging, fun and inventive. Never in our wildest dreams had we imagined the tower defense genre as a monumental struggle to defend one's lawn form the shambling undead, armed only with vegetation.

In the weeks since we voted PvZ our winner, we've been pleased to see the game ported to iPhone and become the top-selling iPhone application of all time. We were not surprised. It's a well-deserved honor. And so, we believe, is our award for Casual Game of the Year.

-Susan Arendt, Senior Games Editor

Best Xbox 360 Game

Winner: Shadow Complex (Chair Entertainment/Epic Games)

Nominees: Shadow Complex (Chair Entertainment/Epic Games), Halo 3: ODST (Microsoft), Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve)

It is, perhaps, ironic that the best 2D game in a decade came from Epic, the world's most successful developer of 3D game engines. But Shadow Complex is more than just a critique against the game industry's assumption that 2D gameplay is obsolete. With its near-limitless detail, its artistic visual cinematography and its engrossing narrative of American civil war, Shadow Complex is our choice for the Xbox 360 Game of the Year. That's one thing both conservatives and liberals can agree on!

-Alexander Macris, CEO and Publisher

Best PS3 Game

Winner: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Sony)

Nominees: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Sony), Demon's Souls (Atlus), InFamous (Sony)

What sets Uncharted 2 apart from its fellow PS3 exclusives this year can be summed up by one simple phrase: "Oooooh, pretty!" The game's character models and animations were stunning enough, but Uncharted 2's scenery is what really steals this particular show. Huge, sprawling temples, dense, lush jungle, ruined cities coated in a fine layer of dust... all of Uncharted 2's locations are delicious eye candy, exquisitely detailed and enormous in scope. Making excellent use of vertical space, the environments of Uncharted 2 have a sense of scale that make other games seem toy-like by comparison. It's more than just a showcase for the PS3's technical prowess, of course, but oh, what a showcase it is.

-Susan Arendt, Senior Games Editor

Best Wii Game

Winner: New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo)

Nominees: New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo), House of the Dead: Overkill (Sega), MadWorld (Sega)

If you venture back into New Super Mario Bros. Wii's Mushroom Kingdom by your lonesome, you might come away from the experience a bit underwhelmed. Sure, it's more Mario - but is that enough? Jump in with three friends, however, and NSMBW becomes a different game. It can go from being gently cooperative to dangerously competitive in a fraction of an instant: One moment you're rescuing your buddy after a near fatal fall, and the next you're repeatedly tossing him into a pit of spikes for stealing your Fire Flower. The possibilities for griefing are nearly endless - I spent a full minute chasing my friend around on a Yoshi, repeatedly grabbing him and spitting him out until we were both nearly crying with laughter. It wasn't thought-provoking, visceral or complex; it was simply fun. And after 25-plus years of Mario, that's an emotion Nintendo has pretty much mastered.

-Jordan Deam, Features Editor

Best DS Game

Winner: Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (Nintendo)

Nominees: Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (Nintendo), GTA: Chinatown Wars (Rockstar Games), Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo)

In this refreshing take on the Mario universe, Mario and Luigi end up helping their long-time nemesis, Bowser, by travelling through his innards, powering him up in order for him to overcome the challenges he faces on the top screen. The game is continually charming and built on a solid foundation of excellent gameplay and attention to detail, while also deftly taking advantage of the DS's unique strengths.

Such a charming and interesting setting and storyline combined with rock-solid action RPG mechanics have earned this game the title of Best DS Game of the Year.

-Andy Rose, Editorial Intern

Best PSP Game

Winner: LittleBigPlanet (Sony)

Nominees: LittleBigPlanet (Sony), Gran Turismo (Sony), Dissidia: Final Fantasy (Square Enix)

LittleBigPlanet for the PSP successfully translated all the entertaining aspects of the popular PS3 title sans co-op to a portable system. That in and of itself is a rare accomplishment, but what really makes this a lasting title is the ability to fully realize your own levels using in-game tools, and then being able to share those on an online platform with the world.

The nearly limitless number of levels makes this already enjoyable title endlessly replayable, and when you tire of playing, you can turn the tables and create your own dream level - all while being able to carry the game in your pocket - and that is what has earned LittleBigPlanet the Best PSP Game of the Year award.

-Andy Rose, Editorial Intern

Best PC Game

Winner: Dragon Age: Origins (EA)

Nominees: Dragon Age: Origins (EA), Spelunky (Derek Yu), Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve)

The console may be king, but some genres continue to be better enjoyed on PC and Dragon Age: Origins proves that RPGs is one of them. A glorious heir to the grand tradition of PC RPGs dating back to Ultima and Pool of Radiance, with gripping story, immersive environments, exciting combat, and deep character-building, Dragon Age: Origins is our choice for this year's PC Game of the Year.

-Alexander Macris, CEO and Publisher

Best iPhone Game

Winner: Canabalt (Semi Secret Software)

Nominees: Canabalt (Semi Secret Software), The Sims 3 (EA), Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid (ngmoco)

"Run or die" games have become an indie staple in the last few years. From Dino Run to Robot Unicorn Attack and the upcoming Bit.Trip Runner, it seems everyone wants a slice of this (admittedly tiny) pie. But among its fellow racers, Canabalt stands out. It distills the speed-based platforming of Sonic the Hedgehog down to a single input, which works perfectly with the iPhone's less-than-precise interface. The controls couldn't be easier: Touch the screen to jump. Don't touch the screen to run. And the rules are even less complex: Don't fall. Something so simple shouldn't be this much fun, but Canabalt doesn't care - it just keeps on running. And so will you.

-Jordan Deam, Features Editor

Best Browser-Based Game

Winner: Echo Bazaar (Failbetter Games)

Nominees: Echo Bazaar (Failbetter Games), Time Fcuk (Blubaby), Scary Girl (Nathan Jurevicius)

The gameplay of Echo Bazaar is little more than a simple grind: click here to level up one stat, click there to level up another. Lather, rinse, repeat. But the simplicity of its gameplay belies its addictive and enticing nature. What makes Echo Bazaar so wonderful and weird is the world it creates in Fallen London, a city dragged underground to the 'Neath, where the dead walk the streets and souls are for sale. Equal parts macabre and cheeky, Echo Bazaar hooks you with its premise and keeps you clicking away to find out what happens next. Which, as it turns out, is almost never what you'd expect. Frequent updates and new lines of content keep Echo Bazaar feeling fresh and new even for those tasty mortals who show up each and every day.

-Susan Arendt, Senior Games Editor

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