Is it that time of year again already? Seems like only yesterday we were recognizing the top games of 2017, but time sure flies when you’re having fun! And if you didn’t have fun playing the whopping 137(!) new adventures that came out in the last calendar year, you’re doing it wrong!
The sheer volume of titles is partly why do this every year. With so many to choose from, how can you be sure you’re not missing out on the cream of the crop? Three words: The Aggie Awards!
Once again, “diversity” was the keyword for adventure games in 2018. Not in the “equal representation” sense, but rather in presenting something for gamers of every stripe. Like a little stealth in your spine-tingling horror? You’re covered. Adept at a little platforming between puzzles? Plenty of games to keep you hopping. Hold the puzzles, extra dose of story? Lots of those to go around. Narrative schmarrative, just make my brain hurt? Some of those here too. And yes, there’s even a few – gasp! – good old fashioned point-and-clickers for the diehards among us (you know who you are).
The flipside to all that variety is that it’s even harder to pare down the best of the lot. Comparing apples to oranges is actually easier than comparing a co-op multiplayer puzzler to a VR adventure using echolocation, or side-scrolling anime to a “documentary” adventure about a real-life disaster.
But choose we must, so argue we did – for the first time ever bringing our generous Patreon contributors into the mix for their input – and have at last made the first painful cuts down to five finalists for each category. Think we’re out to lunch (even more than usual) or managed to get it right for once? Rest assured, you too will have your chance to vote when the readers’ choice poll arrives in just a few days.
Remember, of course, that like the games themselves, the Aggies are all for FUN, to celebrate the best and brightest the genre has to offer. There are no losers, only extra acclaim for a job well done. So if you’re not having fun with the process already… you’re doing it wrong!
And now, without further ado, our Aggie Award nominee finalists for 2018! This year we have a special treat, as the very talented Ivy Dupler (Lamplight City, Unavowed) plays host to our first ever video presentation! If you can't stand the suspense, simply scroll down to see the written list as well, complete with links to check out the games for yourself.
Tune back in February 20-22 for our three-day presentation to find out who won!
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 – if in fact it has dialogue at all.
(Note: As an adapted work, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is ineligible.)
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... 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, whatever the approach.
A somewhat ambiguous category meant to highlight any unusual, distinctive element. A creative concept can run the gamut from unique story premise to clever game mechanics, from stylistic choice to technical innovation. For the purpose of this award, 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. (Note: VR is a shared evolution among many new adventures, so that alone does not constitute an individual game concept.)
Adventures can transport us to memorable places we’ve never been before, including those we never even imagined. Or perhaps to locales inspired by real-world locations, but never quite like this, making them feel fresh and new and awe-inspiring all over again. In these games, the setting is like an integral character of its own, inseparable from the story taking place within its borders.
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 not only jaw-dropping admiration, but intuitive recognition of the game to which it belongs. This award 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 the genre’s 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 music is noticeable only when it becomes intrusive, but a strong score and attention to timing can add so much to the ambience. Dramatic escalations can heighten tension at just the right moments, while a catchy theme song can make a soundtrack truly memorable, and an in-game number even more so. Whatever its particular strengths, the game that excels musically deserves its accolades, even if its impact is subtle.
Best Acting (Voice or Live Action)
Often under-valued by publishers but never by gamers, good acting can enhance a player’s investment in characters as surely as poor acting can ruin it. With so much international localization, voice-overs can be difficult to skillfully oversee, but any game benefits greatly from proper direction and believable acting. Live acting, meanwhile, adds an entirely new realistic dynamic, but the added realism makes it that much harder to pull off successfully. This category refers to the overall quality of performances in a game, not to individual characters.
Best Sound Effects
As with animation, 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.
The Silver Aggies
Okay, we're not really naming names just yet. What we can tell you is that, of the many titles that aren't winning a golden Aggie statuette, either because they just fell short or were never actually eligible, a handful of other great games won't be going home empty-handed. With categories like Best Side-Scrollers, Best Comebacks, and Best Kept Secrets, to name just a few, there are plenty more surprises in store!
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 be 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/or logic puzzles, memorable character dialogue, epic storylines and immersive exploration, they may not have changed much since Monkey Island and Myst – or even the original Zork for some – but they’re no less enjoyable when done well.
Best Adventure of 2018
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Sorry, adventurers. The only clue you're getting is that the final group will come from a combination of Best Non-Traditional and Best Traditional games, but we're not saying which! (Possibly because we still haven't decided.) Tune back in February 22nd to find out!