December 31, 2003

~ PART 1 ~

Once again Sony is dominating the market for another year outselling the XBox and Gamecube by huge numbers on a worldwide scale.

There are a couple of rules for games to be entered into consideration. Firstly, the games must have been released in Australia during the 2003 calendar year, so no 2002 titles are in consideration. Also all these awards have been considered by those here at Future Gamez, and not the public. While we give scores for reviews throughout the year, the highest score may not be the winner in these awards, as long term appeal and a lot of hindsight is also considered.

Biggest Disappointments of 2003
3. Gran Turismo 4 delayed until 2004
Was it ever really announced for released in 2003? Perhaps not. It depends who you talk to but the speculation was rampant that a Christmas 2003 release was on the cards. The push to 2004 wasn't totally unexpected, but with the potential of 6-player online racing we should all be happy to wait as long as it takes to get this game. Sadly, there still isn't any damage which may hurt reviews, but the graphics and gameplay all look to be coming together perfectly.

2. Great Games Failing to Sell
There are several brilliant games that came out this year that while selling in some numbers, deserved much more attention from gamers the world over. Some of these titles include Beyond Good & Evil (UbiSoft), Zone of Enders: The Second Runner (Konami), Mark of Kri (Sony) and Freedom Fighters (Io Interactive). All are brilliant titles, but when second rate games manage to outsell brilliant titles it just shows how ill-informed the general public can be. It's was also sad to see some games sell in massive quantities, although they didn't deserve to. These games included the very average Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (EA Games), Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (Core Design) and EA Sports Rugby 2004 (HB Studios).

1. Development studio closures
Indeed the biggest disappointment of 2003 was the number of development studio closures, especially in the UK. The UK has some of the best developers, or should that be had, but 2003 has seen numerous development teams close down, or be bought out by a larger companies. Sadly these studios include Computer Artworks (The Thing), Attention to Detail, Silicon Dreams, Lost Toys (Battle Engine Aquila), Mucky Foot, Acclaim's Hunt Valley Studios (formally Microprose) and the closed, not closed, closed, not closed, Black Isle Studios (based in America). Losing so many development teams in a single year, which was strong for consoles overall, was a massive blow to the industry - and even more crucially - creativity. Let's hope 2004 fares a lot better.

Most Anticipated Games of 2004
3. SOCOM II (Zipper Interactive)
The original SOCOM: US Navy Seals was the game that kicked off online gaming in a big way. Almost every gamer playing online has ventured into this world at least once - with many seemingly spending their entire lives playing the game. The sequel, which is already out in America, promises many improvements, both graphically, and in terms of gameplay. This could provided a second boost to PS2 online gaming in PAL territories.

2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? (Rockstar)
Only just announced for release around Q'3 2004, and still without an official title -although San Andreas is rumoured, you don't even have to have seen screens or received any information to know this game will be big. The follow up to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was always going to generate interest on massive levels.

1. Gran Turismo 4 (Polyphony Digital)
There is little doubt that Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is one of the best racing games ever, and with the sequel in development for over two years now big things are expected. Despite the lack of damage to cars still, the promise of 6 people racing online is enough to make anyone without a PS2 jealous. Need we also mention the 500+ cars and 50+ tracks on offer. Didn't think so. Still no release date but it can't be too far off with Gran Turismo 4: Prologue (a large demo which sells for $AU35, basically) released in Japan already.

Best Publisher of 2003
Winner: UbiSoft
While UbiSoft have had numerous good games in the past, their 2003 output was, to put it simply, stunning. The year kicked off with the hit stealth based game, Splinter Cell before a trio of big titles at the end of the year including XIII, Beyond Good & Evil and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next year. While I've been sworn to secrecy about exact titles at this stage, I can certainly say that next year could be even bigger for UbiSoft.

Best Peripheral
Winner: Eye Toy (Sony)
While few games have made use of this peripheral to date, the potential is enormous, and the quality is very good. Just wait until you can place your face in game (as you can in Tony Hawk's Underground). Eye Toy: Play was one of the most entertaining games with a group of friends and while Eye Toy: Groove seemed like a bit of a rip-off there is no doubt that the camera will become an essential component in many future titles. Hell, if rumour is to be believed then the PS3 will have a camera already built into the system!

Best New Technology/Engine In A Game
Winner: Need for Speed Underground (Black Box)
Not really the greatest engine ever, it simply streams the tracks off the DVD as you play, but the quality of the graphics is impressive, and a massive leap over previous titles in the series. Of particular mention is the numerous changes you can make to the car with 4 layers of paint as well as decals. I defy you to find someone that doesn't admit that this is a stunning looking title. The physics engine certainly leaves room for improvement as the game is quite arcade based, but it's a step in a very exciting (and pretty) direction.
Runners Up: Eye Toy: Play (Sony), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (UbiSoft).

Worst Game of 2003
Winner (or should that be loser?): Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Black Ops)
There is only one word to sum up this title - crap. While the movie was one of the best this year this game fails on almost every level. The use of Arnold's voice and likeness for the first time only made the game even more disappointing due to the waste of potential. Technically there were worse games, but for such a big title to fail so dismally it's a disgrace to the Atari brand. Hell, you'll even get more enjoyment out of the demo of Terminator: Redemption which is due next year.
Runners Up: Charlies Angels: Full Throttle (UbiSoft), MTV Celebrity Deathmatch (Take Two).

Best Intro & Cut Scenes In A Game
Winner: Jak II: Renegade (Naughty Dog)
Naughty Dog really have been able to capture the essence of what makes a great video game, and the cut-scenes are simply stunning, even rivaling those in Pixar's movies - but in real-time. The characters are superbly detailed, but it's the little things that make the difference, the flick of a hand, the lifting of an eyebrow, a small smirk.
Runners Up: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (EA Games), Zone of Enders: The Second Runner (Konami).

Best Game Based On Pre-Existing Property (Print or Film)
Winner: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (EA Games)
Without a doubt the final movie in the trilogy is going to become one of the biggest movies ever, some predict it will be second only to Titanic. It's great to see then that Electronic Arts have put just as much effort into the game making it as enjoyable for fans of the movie as possible. The graphics and sound are straight from the movies while the gameplay will keep you entertained for weeks.
Runners Up: Simpsons: Hit and Run (Vivendi), Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (Blue Tongue).

Most Original Title
Winner: A Dog's Life (Frontier Developments)
Who ever would have thought that a game based around a dog could be so interesting. Switching to smell-o-vision allows you to "smell" the surroundings, including the droppings of other dogs. Yes, droppings - shit, crap, feaces. This game isn't the best ever seen, but it is an idea that deserves an award for originality and will likely interest the casual (maybe female) gamer.
Runners Up: Eye Toy: Play (SCEE), War of the Monsters (SCEA).

Best Arcade Conversion
Winner: Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution (Sega/AM2)
Every year the number of arcade based games diminishes, and indeed I wouldn't be surprised if next year this category only has one or two entrants to pick from. But this year Sega's brawler wins due to the perfectly balanced gameplay, and stunning visuals. Unfortunaltely the game was released at full price dispite only moderate additions over the previous game. In America it was released as a budget title. Still this is a worthy purchase for any collection that only just beats Namco's title by a whisker.
Runners Up: Soul Calibur 2 (Namco), Time Crisis 3 (Namco).

Best Multiplayer Game
Winner: SOCOM: US Navy Seal's (Zipper Interactive)
It doesn't get much better then this. 16-players online is simply amazing and limiting the game to broadband online ensures little lag during play. The headsets allow you to communicate with teammates for tactics ensuring some great battles and unlike America Australian gamers seem to have a lot more respect for each other during play - which includes no cheating.
Runners Up: War of the Monsters (SCEA), SSX3 (EA Sports BIG).

Continue to Part 2 of the 2003 Future Gamez Awards

I hope you enjoyed reading the 2003 Future Gamez Awards. If you have any comments feel free to e-mail me at the usual address: