Okay, so 2013 didn't quite turn into the "Year of the Kickstarter" we once imagined, as many high-profile releases were knocked back to 2014. That didn't mean a shortage of quality titles, however, each equally deserving of our attention. But which ones are deserving of the year's Aggie Award hardware? That is the question.
We don't have an answer for you just yet (or rather, we do, but we want to drag out the suspense a while longer), but we are willing to narrow down the pool to our top five finalists in their respective categories.
Speaking of Kickstarter, noticeable by their absence will be the two "broken" games. We're talking about Broken Age and Broken Sword, of course. Both of them arrived with a bang, but having been split into two, they remain unfinished to date. As impressed as we were by the games so far, it's not fair to judge them on the merits of only half a game. Ditto for The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead: Season Two, which have only teased us with promising first episodes so far.
Conspicuous by their presence this year is an abundance of non-traditional adventure games. As developers continue to push the conventional envelope, we're being treated to an unprecedented level of new and creative ways of melding story, exploration, and puzzles (often in varying degrees). For every diehard adventurer whose head this causes to explode, there are many others re-embracing a genre that's daring to break out of the limited formats of yesteryear. There are still lots of classic-style releases contending as well, obviously. Just like the genre itself, there's room for both old- and new-school in our Aggie Award consideration.
No matter what you think of our choices, you'll soon have the chance to vote on your own faves in our upcoming reader poll. The final Aggie Awards presentation will run from Wednesday to Friday, February 19-21, so don't wander off if you want to know which of the following games (listed in alphabetical order) are destined for bloated acceptance speeches.
One of the core components of any adventure, the game’s narrative must engage the player’s interest and imagination. Entertaining in its own right, a good story also immerses the player in a believable game world and serves as motivation to overcome the challenges presented. While often accompanied by quality writing, the plot is a distinct feature that may or may not be ably supported by the actual dialogue.
Best Writing – Comedy
Arguably the hardest genre to write well, comedy done right has the ability both to amuse and uplift, finding humour in the ordinary and laughter in the unexpected. Often dismissed for not being “serious writing” (oh, the irony!), comedy has long been a beloved adventure staple and deserves appropriate recognition.
Best Writing – Drama
If comedy lifts the soul, then drama explores and challenges it. Though sometimes misrepresented as dry and boring or overly theatrical, a gripping drama simply engages players on a deeper emotional level. Quality writing is essential in maintaining the player’s connection to the characters, game world, and the story unfolding.
Gabriel Knight... Tex Murphy... April Ryan... Guybrush Threepwood. These names roll off the tongue of any adventure gamer as a testament to the importance of compelling protagonists in an adventure. But just as important are the villains, sidekicks, and significant supporting characters, which are often the juiciest parts. This category recognizes those who have made the most memorable contribution, regardless of role.
Puzzles are an integral aspect of adventure gameplay, but not the only one. Good pacing, rich exploration, and variety of activities are all factors in player enjoyment as well, all suitably integrated into the storyline. The best games seek the right balance of these elements for the most rewarding gameplay experience.
A somewhat ambiguous category meant to highlight any unusual, distinctive element. A creative concept can run the gamut from story premise to game mechanics, from stylistic choice to technical innovation. It doesn’t even need to have been successfully implemented, as it’s the idea itself that deserves the acknowledgement in a genre renowned for its conservative approach.
Adventures can transport us to memorable places we’ve never been before, including those we never even imagined. Or perhaps to locales we’ve visited already, but never quite like this, making them feel fresh and new and awe-inspiring all over again. This category can refer to an overall game world or even a single environment in a given game so long as it’s a relevant location.
Best Graphic Design
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this category speaks volumes. Regardless of style, this award recognizes games that are not only visually attractive but stylistically distinctive. One look at a screenshot should elicit a “Wow!” followed by “Hey, that’s from…!” Includes both game world and character design, but not cinematics.
From “bustling” city streets that look deserted to clouds that never move, animation is rarely a genre strong suit, often the victim of budget constraints. But richly animated adventures add so much to player immersion that any game that goes the extra mile in this area is deserving of appreciation. This category includes in-game character and ambient animations, plus cinematic cutscenes.
As a complementary element playing in the background, often a game’s soundtrack is noticeable only when it becomes intrusive, but a strong score and attention to pacing can add so much to a game’s ambience. A catchy theme song can likewise make game music memorable, and an in-game musical number even more so. Whatever its particular strengths, the rare game that excels musically deserves its accolades.
Best Voice Acting
Often under-valued by publishers but never by gamers, quality voice acting can enhance a player’s investment in characters as surely as poor acting can ruin it. With so much international localization, voiceovers can be difficult to skillfully oversee, but any game benefits greatly from proper direction and believable acting. This category refers to the overall quality of vocal roles in a game, not to individual characters.
Best Sound Effects
As with music, sound effects are frequently given short shrift in adventures, but effective use of audio adds a vital layer of moody ambience. You may not be able to put your finger on the reason, but some games make you feel like you’re really there, and often the atmospheric sounds have drawn you in subconsciously.
Best Independent Adventure
Some independent studios release their games commercially, but with no external publisher backing or secure distribution channels (at least at first). These self-published titles rarely get the attention (or sales) they often deserve, and the best of them merit a closer look from anyone who’s overlooked them to date. This list does not include games from companies fully established as publishers, even if they develop games internally.
Best Console/Handheld Adventure (Exclusive)
The home console and handheld platforms haven’t quite championed a genre resurgence like we once hoped they might, but there were still several quality titles released in the past year. To avoid duplication, the following includes only those games exclusive to non-PC platforms. Ports are not deemed to be original releases, and are therefore ineligible.
Best Non-Traditional Adventure
For a genre that’s remained largely unchanged for decades, it’s actually got a rich history of experimental titles that push the creative envelope in unique, memorable ways. They don’t “evolve” or “redefine” adventures, but rather expand our understanding of what an adventure can we with their bold vision. Purists may resist, but this award honours those games that stretch beyond traditional genre conventions to offer something completely new, or at least present the familiar in imaginative new ways.
Best Traditional Adventure
Why mess with a good thing? While innovative adventures provide a welcome breath of fresh air, the lifeblood of the genre continues to be the many games that closely adhere to the comfortable, tried-and-true design formulas. Full of inventory and logic puzzles, memorable character dialogue, epic storylines and immersive exploration controlled with an intuitive point-and-click interface, they may not have changed much since Monkey Island and Myst, but they’re no less enjoyable when done well.
Best Adventure of 2013
No sneak peeks! A winner has already been decided, but we're not tipping our hand. Join us February 19-21 to find out!Continued on the next page...