December 25, 2005

~ PART 1 ~

What a year. Not only has the Playstation 2 continued its dominance but Sony has released the most powerful handheld system of all time in the Playstation Portable. Software for both systems has pushed new boundaries and while many are looking towards the next generation we can assure gamers that there's still a few years in the Playstation 2, and the PSP is almost certain to be a massive hit.

There are a couple of rules for games to be entered into consideration. Firstly, the games must have been released in Australia during the 2005 calendar year, so no 2004 or 2006 titles are in consideration (even if they were already released in Japan or America). 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. Finally all categories are for PS2 and PSP titles, except for graphics and sound where they were considered separately.

Biggest Disappointments of 2005
3. Still no R18+ rating for games in Australia
As with last year we're going to cite the lack or R rating on games in Australia as a major negative for a) the Australian consumer and b) the games industry here. This year saw several more games Refused Classification and while we'll admit that some are pushing the boundaries of acceptability there's nothing that can't be seen in most MA15+ rated movies let along R18+ ones. The good news is that you can make a difference. Simply go here to the Refused Classification web site to see how you can contact your local Attorney General to let them know why you want the R rating for games (please be nice or they will throw away your mail). Every letter will count and you can bet that we'll be pushing this next year as a new meeting to discuss the matter approaches.

2. High price point and lack of extras on PSP movies
Look there's little dispute that the PSP is a spectacular piece of hardware when it comes to video playback. We have seen many outstanding transfers of movies to the UMD format and have no hesitation in trumpeting their quality. There are however two areas that still annoy us. The first is the price point on some discs. While many are around the $24.95 range some (including Fox) are over $40. Considering the DVD's can be bought for under $20 it makes little financial sense to buy the PSP versions. Another disappointment is the lack of extras on the discs. Why do I need a disc with 5 different languages - surely one of them could be scrapped in favour of a commentary track - hell I'll even accept a subtitle commentary like those on the Star Trek DVD's.

1. Midway buys, and then shuts down, Ratbag
Four months ago there was much excitement in the Australian gaming community with the news that mega American developer and publisher Midway was buying one of Australia's biggest development studios (Ratbag) for $US6 million in order to set up an Australian studio. It was a major boost for an industry still in its infancy however the joy was short lived. In a stunning move however Midway sent over their Vice President of Worldwide Studios in mid-December to read a note to Ratbag staff stating that Midway were slamming the door shut on the development team. As a result 50 people are looking for work and one of Australia's most loved developers is now gone thanks to corporate greed. Boo Midway!

Biggest Surprise of 2005
3. Popularity of PSP Movies
Despite the fact that PSP movies made the 2005 disappointment list due to their price point and lack of extras they also make the surprise of 2005 list due to their magnificent sales. There was little doubt that the PSP would do well, and Sony Australia's prediction of 250,000 units being sold here by 2006 seems to be on track. What has surprised is the take up of movies on PSP. Now only is their quality quite superb but PSP owners don't seem to mind shelling out for movies which have little or no additional content, and are much more expensive then their DVD equivalent.

2. Hot Coffee mod, contraversy and the OFLC's banning
Who would have thought that some digital sex could turn the industry on its head. The game was GTA: San Andreas but with the patch allowing virtual sex between two very cartoon looking characters the OFLC made the ruling that it was a part of the game and that the MA15+ classification should be revoked. It wasn't confined to Australia with many other countries forcing the game off the shelves. It cost Rockstar millions, meant the game was off the shelves, and will forever make developers look at every bit of code on their discs before releasing it. The only question; What will the OFLC do when we start to download content from overseas to play here? That's a big can of worms they've opened.

1. Jaw dropping quality of PS3 games shown at E3
The XBox 360 has just been released around the globe (except Australia, because we don't matter apparently), but the games that have been released have been less then spectacular and offer little more then higher resolution ports of current franchises. Where the real next generation starts is the PS3 which made a massive impact at E3 2005 in May. The technology, including Blu-Ray, is stunning, and the game trailers (some pre-rendered admittedly) were jaw dropping. Sony have estimated 200 million PS3's in homes within 5 years, and it certainly looks well ahead in terms of technology that's for sure. Roll on 2006, and much more info.

Most Anticipated Games of 2006
3. Kingdom Hearts II (Square-Enix)
Well we have to keep this in this position. While we were hopeful of a release in 2005 the game is coming out quite soon in Japan which means a late (read: Christmas 2006) release is likely in PAL territories. The first game was a surprise hit, but in hindsight a match made in heaven. The wonderful characters from the stables of Disney matched with arguably the greatest RPG maker in the world, Square. This sequel promises more of everything and early indications are of an even bigger and grander game.

2. Final Fantasy XII (Square-Enix)
I guess this is touch and go if it will make it out in PAL territories in 2006 given that the Japanese version isn't due until March 16th, but given that focus will be fast shifting to next generation Square-Enix will be quite keen to push this out to retail before the PS2 is yesterday's news. The graphics and gameplay are shaping up very nicely indeed and this is the one game we're most looking forward to next year.

1. Shadow of the Colossus (Sony Japan)
This isn't a sequel to the cult hit game ICO, but rather something original. The game was released in Japan and America late this year and received rave reviews making the wait until February for PAL territories even more agonizing.Shadow of the Colossus sees the hero having to climb giant monsters in order to kill them. As they move around, however, their bodies move and transform. If you don't move quick enough you may end up plummeting to the ground. An original concept, great graphics and strong gameplay should make this a massive hit. Let's hope it sells in greater numbers then ICO though...

Best Australian Distributor of 2005
Winner: THQ
THQ wins this award hands down due to the fantastic lineup of title which they distribute in Australia. Not only do they include THQ titles (WWE 2006, Destroy All Humans, Full Spectrum Warrior) but also Capcom, Sega, Koei and some others. More excitingly the company is also keen in bringing out niché titles which, while selling in small numbers, are among the best we've seen all year including La Pucelle: Tactics, Makai Kingdom and Phantom Brave. Let's hope this continues in future.

Best Publisher of 2005
Winner: Sony
Publishers do just that, they publish titles for release onto the market. Sony has had a fantastic year with many fantastic titles to their name. Gran Turismo 4 and God of War lead the charge, but it's also the continued support for the microphones through their SingStar titles and numerous Eye Toy games (and the fantastically useful Eye Toy: Kinetic) which deserves a mention while Sony's Buzz: the Music Quiz, and peripherals looks like opening up an entirely new niché market - expect many more discs for that one in future! Then we head to the PSP where Sony have published games including the very enjoyable Everybody's Golf (also on PS2), Wipeout Pure, and puzzler Go! Sudoku which just hit the market. A great year for the company which has a wide slate of games to entertain both hardcore and casual gamers.

Best Developer of 2005
Winner: Pandemic Studios
When thinking of the best developer this year we considered Sony Europe, Namco, Capcom and so many other monster companies, but we kept coming back to one. Pandemic Studios. 2005 was a phenomenal year for the company with monster hits such as Star Wars Battlefront II, Mercenaries, Full Spectrum Warrior and Destroy All Humans which was developed at their Brisbane studios. While the latter two titles weren't highly reviewed on they both impress on different levels. For such a small company to be outputting four titles in a year (on the PS2) is an impressive feat.

Best Peripheral
Winner: Buzz Buzzers (Sony)
Well another year and another fantastic peripheral from Sony. These controls make gaming so simple that even your 90 year old grandmother can play too. Hopefully the games will improve a bit, but at this stage the peripheral is one with tremendous potential and another step in taking gaming to the masses - and especially those that still consider gaming a hobby for pre- pubescent teenage boys. The quality of the controllers is also very good, and with four bundled with the game for under $AU100 it's great value too.
Runners Up: Hori PSP Screen Protector (Hori), PSP Genuine Logitech Playgear Amp (Logitech).

Worst Game of 2005
Winner (or is that loser?): Fight Club (Genuine Games)
This game is so stinky we had no hesitation in placing it in this position. What has become a classic movie (even if it does bitterly divide opinion) was given one of the worst video game adaptations of all time. We didn't even review it (the game wasn't even pushed by the publisher) but we did hire it for a few weeks. Abysmal, dull, dire, shit. That's all that needs to be said about this game (if you want to even call it that).
Runners Up: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (High Voltage Software), Without Warning (Circle Studio).

Best Game Based On Pre-Existing Property (Print or Film)
Winner: The Warriors (Rockstar)
While Rockstar may be most well known for their Grand Theft Auto titles have proven their worth with this brilliant adaptation of the cult 1970's film. The game is brutal sure, but it also offers one of the best tie-ins by setting much of the game prior to the events of the movie. Cut scenes are brilliant, voice acting wonderful and as long as you don't mind the high levels of violence this is one game that deserves your attention - even if you haven't seen the movie!
Runners Up: Star Wars: Battlefront II (Pandemic Studios), Peter Jackson's King Kong (Ubisoft Montpellier).

Most Original Title
Winner: Lumines (PSP) (Q Entertainment)
So this is perhaps borderline original with heavy inspiration from the classic Tetris, but there is little doubt that Tetsuya Mizuguchi has given the classic a new twist. The game has heavy emphasis on the blend of gameplay, graphics and music and it's a testament that this puzzle game is one of the biggest sellers on PSP - and deservedly so. If you don't have this game you're doing yourself an injustice.
Runners Up: Archer MacLean's Mercury (PSP) (Awesome Studios), Buzz: The Music Quiz (Relentless Software).

Best Arcade Conversion
Winner: Capcom Classics Collection (Capcom/Digital Eclipse)
This selection may surprise some people, but not me. This is without a doubt the best arcade compilation we've ever seen with 22 of Capcom's greatest titles from the 1980's including the likes of Street Fighter 2, Ghouls & Ghosts, Commando, MERCS, and so on. If you like older games, and have ignored this one then you're a bit foolish.
Runners Up: Tekken 5 (Namco), Metal Slug 4 (SNK/Ignition).

Best Offline Multiplayer Game
Winner: Singstar 80's (SCEE)
This was a tough call. While runner-up Buzz is a great game it still has a few issues which could, or should, be ironed out. With this game now in it's 4th version SCEE have polished the SingStar series to near perfection making it the essential party game. The fantastic track list with artists such as Duran Duran, Madonna, Starship and Wham! also helps to make this a winner.
Runners Up: Buzz: The Music Quiz (Relentless Software), Tekken 5 (Namco).

Best Online Multiplayer Game
Winner: Star Wars: Battlefront II (Pandemic Studios)
This was a tough call as all three titles (all distributed in Australia by Electronic Arts too!) offer superb online gameplay - but still lack localised servers. The new Star Wars game adds new maps, vehicles, and options making it an even more well rounded experience then last years title. If you like Star Wars, and play your PS2 online then this is an essential purchase.
Runners Up: Battlefield: Modern Combat (Digital Illusions), Burnout Revenge (Criterion).

Continue to Part 2 of the 2005 Future Gamez Awards
Continue to Part 3 of the 2005 Future Gamez Awards

I hope you enjoyed reading the 2005 Future Gamez Awards. If you have any comments feel free to e-mail me at the usual address: