Historically, first person shooters have dominated the category of Best Videogame. Previous winners include Borderlands 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Halo: Reach, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Halo 3, Gears of War and Resident Evil 4. Independent of individual play mechanics, each of these titles possesses at least some elements of an FPS game. During the eight year voting history of this category, only one title without FPS elements has claimed victory. That upset occurred five years ago when Super Smash Brothers Brawl was our obsession of the year. Stating the obvious with regards to our staff’s videogame behavior, we have a type. 2014’s voting throws a lot of preconceived notions out the window, only not the main one.
2014 Calvin Awards: Best Videogame
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
February 10, 2014
In a year where a lot of different titles received relatively similar levels of support, there was a single frontrunner. The obvious choice for Game of the Year is exactly the one we selected. Bioshock: Infinite, a game I consider to be the most brilliant achievement in the history of videogame storytelling, was the consensus choice as Best Videogame. In the process, it received over half of the first place votes. In fact, a couple of voters only listed one game on their ballots, presumably because Bioshock: Infinite is that much of a triumph as an immersive gaming experience.
What does the staff of BOP love about Bioshock: Infinite? Our tastes in videogames do not always mirror our other entertainment desires. Sometimes, blowing stuff up is the perfect stress reliever at the end of a long day. Alas, Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games somehow found a path that triggers our brains even as we enjoy reckless individual combat in the clouds.
The key to this unlikely accomplishment is the cloud world of Columbia. Like Rapture before it, Levine and his co-workers focus on the minutiae of the environment, thereby enhancing the interactivity of the gaming experience. Columbia is a fictional exploration of a civilization that expands upon the themes of America after segregating itself away from the rest of the world.
A visionary named Comstock ostensibly rejects the United States while celebrating the ideals of the founding fathers of our country. He is an elitist xenophobe and quite the racist to boot. He always happens to be a decorated war hero who had a dream about how to build floating buildings that can remain in the clouds. Once that dream was realized, he became the de facto ruler of the new country.
Bioshock: Infinite places the player in the role of Booker DeWitt, a confused gambler seeking to negate a debt. His task is to retrieve a non-player character named Elizabeth, and she proves to be the key to the playing experience. Elizabeth is coded to react to all the new discoveries of the surrounding environment. Having been locked away as a de facto prisoner for years, Columbia is just as new and impressive to her as it is to the player. Unlike most videogame NPCs, however, Elizabeth is a useful resource rather than an impediment. She showers the player with gifts such as coins, health and ammo. In the process, Elizabeth becomes less an artificial construct and more of a companion for whom players inevitably form an emotional connection.
Either Elizabeth or the sky world of Columbia would be reason enough to consider Bioshock: Infinite a serious candidate for Videogame of the year. It is the story, however, that differentiates this game from so many before it. Bioshock: Infinite explores heady themes such as the notion of heritage worship, American self-satisfaction and the nature of redemption, all while delivering a kickass early 20th century shoot-em-up experience. And I have not even mentioned the soundtrack yet. Due to a sublime implementation of character development, several classic songs of the 20th century are reinvented as the greatest hits of 1912. You will never hear God Only Knows the same way again after listening to the Bioshock: Infinite version. Simply stated, this game is a hallmark achievement in videogames. It is the runaway choice for Best Videogame of the year as well as a serious contender for greatest of all time.
Our runner up is the absolutely delightful Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a life simulation game like no other. A follow up to the previous games that appeared on earlier Nintendo platforms, New Leaf for the 3DS is an immersive experience that has the primary character become mayor of the town, living amongst adorable anthropomorphic animals. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff to do, and as time moves on in the game, goals can change. Whereas early on a player might have a focus on catching all the bugs and fish and filling the museum with them, later on the goal might be to create the perfect house. Some people search for their ideal villagers, while others focus on growing trees, or developing the town, or obtaining all the badges, or… truly, the possibilities are endless. It’s a welcome relief from the same ol’ same ol’ in the grinding RPGs and sims available on smartphones and tablets.
Not only does The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds evoke nostalgia for the past games in the series, it provides new experiences as well. The game looks great in 3D, and uses such innovative tactics as allowing Link to transform himself into a painting on a wall and requiring the player to move through the dungeons using both the 2D and the 3D feature in order to find all items and paths. And the puzzles placed throughout the story are challenging in the best possible way. It’s a welcome return to Hyrule.
First person shooters stage a comeback in rounding out the top five. The Last of Us, arguably the best Playstation 3 exclusive in the history of the console, is our selection for fourth Best Videogame of the year. Honestly, it probably would have placed even higher if more of us played the PS3. We are largely an Xbox crowd. Those who do power up their PS3s more than semi-monthly discovered the joy of attempting to survive in a dystopian future. Portraying Joel, gamers attempt to save an infected woman named Ellie who is somehow exceeding her life expectancy by a factor of weeks already. Her blood ostensibly holds a cure for the plague that has destroyed civilization. The player is tasked with taking Ellie to a health facility that can mine the cure from her. As was the case with Bioshock: Infinite above, the player inevitably bonds with Ellie over time, which is problematic because she may need to sacrifice her own life in order to save millions of others.
Dead Rising 3 is also dystopian in nature, but our fifth favorite videogame of the year is more straightforward. It is set a decade after the events of its predecessor, which in and of itself occurred years after a zombie apocalypse. Storyline has always been secondary with regards to the Dead Rising franchise, though. What matters is that this game is the first next-generation console game to be nominated for Best Videogame. It is absolutely gorgeous in terms of graphics. Plus, the game mechanics have been overhauled in a logical, user-friendly way. Combined weapons are not automatically stored in the player’s locker, meaning that they can be summoned at will. Plus, there are invincible vehicles in this game. If a player wants to run over thousands of zombies, all he has to do is level up high enough to enable that capability. From there, it’s a different kind of zombie apocalypse, and this time you’re driving.
Sixth place goes to Fire Emblem: Awakening, the latest in the terrific series of strategic role-playing games. Featuring some of the best story and production value you’ll see on the 3DS, you find yourself becoming wrapped up in the safety and welfare of the characters and planning their battles accordingly. The game is customizable, too, so that if you’re a more casual player, you can ensure the game is set up according to your needs, but if you want a real challenge, you must suffer through the fact that you get attached to characters who stay dead when they’re killed. It was a great year for the 3DS.
The second next generation game that we laud is surprisingly not an Xbox One or Playstation 4 game. Instead, it is a Wii U title. Please take a moment to recover from shock. Now that you can breathe again, the explanation is simple. There was a new Super Mario Bros. game last year. Specifically, Super Mario 3D World single-handedly justified the cost of a Wii U system for several of our staff members, me included. The joy of new Mario Bros. adventures never recedes, even after 25 years of gameplay. I could bore with the minuscule changes in this game from previous iterations, but there is little point. It is the latest ultra-entertaining release from the wizards at Nintendo. Simultaneously retro and innovative, Super Mario 3D World is a wonderful way to lose a long weekend blissfully gaming the time away. Our staff is thrilled to relive our youth with our seventh favorite videogame of the year.
Do you like to sing sea shanties? Sure, we all do. Perhaps this explains why Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag becomes the third game in the franchise to be nominated for Best Videogame of the year. This also may be our staff’s back-handed way of saying “Screw you, Assassin’s Creed II!” since that is the only title in the franchise that we have excluded from our list. Anyway, Black Flag is a huge leap forward for the franchise as gamers take to the open seas, exploring new lands. The real hook, however, is what I referenced above. During their voyages, players can compile pieces of various tunes. Once a full song is completed, the hearty crew members will occasionally regale the user with the tune. It is one of the most creative forms of quest-related positive reinforcement in the history of videogames. Our staff frequently sails across the ocean simply to hear a hearty song. Due to personal touches like this, Black Flag is our choice for eighth Best Videogame of the year.
You may need to employ Google Translate in order to understand our final nominations in the Best Videogame category. We once again celebrate RPGs with our last two choices. Finishing in ninth place is Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Megami-est of all the Tensei titles. The 3DS release features something called Demon Fusion abilities, and that is reason enough for anybody to want to play it. If you accidentally trigger an apocalypse via unforeseen Demon Fusion issues, please do not sue us. In tenth place is the ever so slightly easier to spell without cut and pasting Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. We technically voted for the Playstation 3 version of this game, although any of you who speak Japanese will enjoy the 3DS version as well. The game presumably involves a White Witch and some kind of Wrath. Basically, it’s an RPG wherein players defeat monsters thanks to the aid of their Familiars, which is Pokemon-ish without being legally actionable. Also, Studio Ghibli was involved in the development of the game, which means it is absolutely gorgeous.
Narrowly missing the top ten and thereby breaking one beloved staff member’s heart is Forza Motorsport 5. Its primary difficulty in getting nominated was that only a few of our staff members bought Xbox Ones this year. Most of the ones who did obviously preferred Dead Rising 3 instead. Also falling just outside the nominated group are State of Decay, Grand Theft Auto 5, Pokemon X, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon.
2014 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music