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And thus, game of the year for 2016 begins! John, Scott, Michael, and Rose all sit down to hash out the first categories for day one. If you want to keep our winners and losers a surprise, then listen to the podcast linked above. We deliberated, discussed, and debated each category until a winner, and two runners-up were decided.
For today’s GOTY we gave awards for Best Soundtrack, Best Audio Design, Best Visuals, and the What The Fuck Award.
Best Soundtrack: VA-11 HALL-A
Runners-up: DOOM, Furi
There were a lot of solid soundtracks this year, but few were as accomplished as VA-11 HALL-A’s two-part, 62-track OST: Sounds From The Future and Second Round. With a style that’s both wildly varied and totally unified, VA-11 HALL-A delivers no end of instantly iconic bangers. There’s the head-bobbing pulse of “Good For Health, Bad For Education,” the driving power-rock of “A. Rene,” and a plethora of great songs for any mood. It’s a soundtrack that epitomizes every piece of cyberpunk media which came before it, while also being its own unique work- and for that, the VA-11 HALL-A OST is the perfect music for mixing drinks and changing lives.
Best Audio Design: Oxenfree
Runners-up: Overwatch, Devil Daggers
There’s something incredibly impressive about how different games can use their audio design in wildly disparate but powerful ways. Oxenfree on its own is a narrative experience much akin to games like Life is Strange or a Telltale series, but its core conceit really sets it apart from the pack. As you wander through the mysterious Edwards Island, a handheld radio can be used to tune into the supernatural elements of the island, letting you hear things that feel eerie and wrong. From cut World War II sound clips, to haunting orchestral music, everything you can hear on the radio creates an incredible atmosphere of unease for an already anxious situation. When you actually tune into specific objects, the distorted hum that accompanies the equally disturbing visuals makes every second feel powerful, dark, and dangerous.
Even aside from the general sound work, all of the voice acting you’ll hear in the game sounds crisp and real, like you’re really listening to a couple of friends talking. This becomes even more effective when things like possession come into play, making the distorted voices of familiar friends feel all the more corrupt. Oxenfree lives and dies by its audio design, and when you still call to mind exactly how a game sounds, long after it’s done, you know it was good.
Best Visuals: Hyper Light Drifter
Runners-up: VA-11 HALL-A, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst
Very few games nowadays manage to have an entirely unique aesthetic identity, especially when it comes to pixel art. Hyper Light Drifter’s visuals, while definitely steeped in inspiration from its forebears, are still uniquely its own. An off-pastel color palette set to a drab and dying world. Areas that are not only visually interesting and have great environmental storytelling. Hidden areas always have subtle clues leading you in their direction. So many amazing touches, and it’s hard not to mention the game’s intro. It’s seriously an achievement, you’ve gotta check it out.
What The Fuck Award: The Coleco Chameleon
Runners-up: Palmer Luckey and his meme investments, CS:GO Gambling
It’s somewhat trite at this point to jump on-board the “2016” train, but it seems like even the games industry couldn’t avoid being an absolute wreck this year. We’ve seen multiple bizarre occurrences this year, but one stands glorious atop this festering pile of feces – and that’s the Coleco Chameleon. Having started life as the Retro VGS in 2015 (and failing spectacularly), 2016 saw RETRO Magazine’s Mike Kennedy reboot his pie-in-the-sky console into the Chameleon. However, a disastrous Toy Fair showing, which alleged the console to be little more than a Super Nintendo inside an Atari Jaguar shell, and the ensuing fiascoes saw the Chameleon devolve from a pipe-dream into spectacular farce.
A second faked prototype – revealed to be a DVR capture card – followed by Kennedy’s attempts to portray himself as a hapless schmuck who got taken for a ride by a skeevy hardware guy saw Coleco Holdings pull out, and the venture die officially. Allegations from people close to the project at one time or another that Kennedy had funneled money out of RETRO Magazine and Game Gavel (themselves largely unsuccessful ventures) into a separate LLC in order to cut his business partners out of Chameleon profits didn’t help Kennedy’s image; and even saw RETRO Magazine hemorrhage some of its few remaining staff members. Kennedy has since continued to occasionally surface in the retro scene for all the wrong reasons, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever bungle something as hard as he did the Chameleon.