December 31, 2008

~ PART 1 ~

It has now been over 20 months since the Playstation 3 launched in Australia - and two years for America and Japan and the games really are starting to show what the system can do - but to be honest they aren't pulling as far ahead of the XBox 360 as most expected - with plenty of sub-par releases compared to Sony's competitor. Still, the system continues to build as a media center with an impressive Video Store (in America) and the launch of Playstation Home.

The PSP struggled in all regions except Japan where the handheld has sold in massive numbers thanks primarily to a Monster Hunter title from Capcom which has shifted millions of units - and may see that flow on to the rest of the world in 2009. The best news though is that such large numbers have seen developers having another look at the system. Finally the PS2. Certainly in its twilight it was a lean year for gamers still using the aging system, but there were one or two releases of note, and continued strong support for SingStar.

There are a couple of rules for games to be entered into consideration. Firstly, the games must have been released in Australia during the 2008 calendar year, so no 2006 or 2007 titles are in consideration (even if they were already released in Japan or America last year). 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 PS3, PS2 and PSP titles, except for graphics and sound where they were considered separately. So let's get to it...

Biggest Disappointments of 2008
3. Playstation Home is Released; but then what?
It was out third biggest disappointment last year for not being released, and this year it gets third place again for being release, but containing very little. Your Home Space, a Central Hub area, a movie theatre with little to watch, a Shopping Mall with little to buy (and what is there is too expensive!), but one saving grace - the bowling arcade where you can bowl, play pool or some small arcade styled games. There is so much missing from this release - Europe and Australia doesn't even get the Far Cry 2 or Uncharted club rooms yet like America. I'm not saying Home is bad, but there is just sooo much more to do. Add in a night club, add in the game rooms, add in game launching, add in private chats, the list goes on. For two years of hype and buzz, the result - even at Beta form - is so small it's disappointing.

2. Price of some Downloadable Content
Downloadable content seems to be a 'requirement' of so many games these days, from extra missions, to extra costumes, to extra features many games have something. What is annoying, or make that disappointing, is the cost of much of this content. Take Playstation Home. If you want a new shirt for your character, well some stores are already charging almost $3. For the full Santa outfit - that's almost $AU10. Way too much in our books. Then you get into the clubhouses, a fee to buy one to start with, and apparently, from March next year a monthly fee to keep it. What stupidity. Now, having said that, there are exceptions. Criterion have been brilliant in their free upgrades for Burnout Paradise and many other companies offer free, or next to free content as well. Still, it's something that needs to be looked into.

1. No Price Drop for the PS3
Admittedly the system now comes bundled with a game - and a latest release at that - but $AU699.95 for the console in Australia is a rip off. When the Australian dollar hit $US0.95 the US systems were selling for the equivalent of $AU420 - we were paying 66% more. Even today with the dollar at $US0.68 that is $AU586. Without a price drop the PS3 has come third to the Nintendo Wii and XBox 360 this Christmas - a situation Sony must not repeat next year if they want continued developer support. A price drop is a must.

Biggest Surprise of 2008
3. LittleBigPlanet struggled to sell in the numbers it deserved
There is absolutely no doubt at all that Media Molecule's title is groundbreaking, stunning, and engrossing, but the sales never really materialised. While it opened with a bang, the second month sales in America in particular showed a sharp decline. Fortunately things are a little better in Europe, but with Worldwide sales sitting at only 1.52 million units to December 20 Sony would have been hoping for significantly more. With all the awards piling up for the title though this game will hopefully see strong sales continue into 2009.

2. Resurgence of Electronic Arts
For years we have been harping on about Electronic Arts and the lack of originality in their games, and the poor annual updates to their sports franchises. While the sports games still have a way to go the company must be applauded for several impressive new titles including Mirror's Edge, Dead Space and Battlefield: Bad Company.

1. HD-DVD died so quickly, Blu-Ray wins format War!
In late 2007 there was a big shock with Paramount and Dreamworks announcing they were going HD-DVD exclusive, and reignited the High Definition format war. It wasn't to last though as in February 2008 HD-DVD died for good with its backers (that being Toshiba) deciding to pull the plug on the format. It was a massive boost for Sony, and the Blu-Ray format, which could then take over the world.

Best Australian Distributor of 2008
Winner: Red Ant
This really is a tough choice, Sony had a tonne of great games, but jacked up the price even when the dollar was soaring. Electronic Arts had a great lineup, but Australia doesn't even get their best game Rock Band until late in the year - no doubt to counter Activision releasing Guitar Hero World Tour and there is no sign of the sequel out in America. The winner we have to hand to Red Ant not only for releasing smaller titles, and Midway's, but for picking up the rights to Capcom's titles as well as Bethesda and Konami which is a major coup and should provide a monster 2009 for them.

Best Publisher of 2008
Winner: Electronic Arts
We never thought we'd say it. Electronic Arts has turned the corner and become the Best Publisher - and deservedly so. As many of you know Electronic Arts aren't a favourite company of ours due to recycled garbage over the years and a lack of quality titles. This year though we have seen several new IP's (Mirror's Edge and Dead Space) some great sequels (Battlefield: Bad Company) and an improving sports lineup.

Best Developer of 2008
Winner: Media Molecule
Media Molecule have a single game on the market, but it really is phenomenal, and genre defining which pushes user generated content, and content sharing, to new levels. LittleBigPlanet is that game and should be in every single PS3 collection. While there has been some small launch hiccups the scope of the project and the way in which it pushes gaming further then most multi-billion dollar companies makes it a big winner.

Best Peripheral
Winner: Guitar Hero World Tour Band Set (Activision)
Admittedly there has been a slight issue with the kick pedal on the drum kit, but there is no denying that the guitars, microphones and drum kit are a sexy piece of gaming hardware. The drum kit in particular is superior to EA's Rock Band kit due to the two raised hi-hat/cymbals included on Activision's kit. We may see an upgraded kit next year, but for now you can all prepare to have a blast with this game - and peripheral.

Best Blu-Ray Movie - Video Quality
Winner: Ratatouille (Walt Disney)
Pixar know how to make a movie - no doubt about it and Ratatouille is, in our opinion, one of their finest efforts, and certainly their best visually. The 1080p resolution allows you to see the finest hairs on the rats - including Remy - and the colours capture the mood and look of Paris perfectly. Not a blemish is to be found on this stunning video transfer.
Runners Up: Transformers (Paramount), Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney).

Best Blu-Ray Movie - Audio Quality
Winner: Transformers (Paramount)
No matter what you think of the movie (and we personally loved it) there is no denying that this Blu-Ray disc provides some of the most aggressive and impressive use of audio to date. The DTS-HD Master Audio track, even at 1.5Mbps from a PS3, is as impressive as one would expect with great explosions and gunfire, but also crystal clear sound.
Runners Up: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount), Hairspray (Village Roadshow).

Best Blu-Ray Movie - Extras
Winner: The Ultimate Matrix Collection (Village Roadshow)
Now this is how you load your release with extras. Admittedly recycled from the DVD releases for the most part this set includes 4 Blu-Ray discs with the three movies and Animatrix, but each with several extras, and then a further three DVD's filled with content. All up you're looking at well over 30 hours of additional content to get through. Nothing came close to this on Blu-Ray in 2008.
Runners Up: Iron Man (Paramount), Rush Hour 3 (Village Roadshow).

Best Blu-Ray Release Overall
Winner: Transformers (Paramount)
There really were a lot of strong contenders for this title this year but Michael Bay has truly demonstrated why Blu-Ray is a stunning technical marvel. The image and audio quality are superb - flawless even - while the extras provided in this release are detailed and well presented. If there is one disc to add to your collection make sure this is it.
Runners Up: The Ultimate Matrix Collection (Village Roadshow), Ratatouille (Walt Disney), Iron Man (Paramount), Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney).

Best Downloadable Game
Winner: Pixeljunk Monsters (PS3, Q-Games)
This choice will like have people up in arms a bit, but while there are some phenomenal titles as runners up - and missing out - this cheap game has kept us playing more then any other downloadable (and possibly retail) game - thanks to the phenomenal difficulty level prior to a recent patch. The Trophy Challenges are great and this is an essential purchase for anyone who likes strategy games and can afford a game the same price as a cheap meal.
Runners Up: Wipeout HD (PS3, Sony), Pain (PS3, Idol Minds).

Best Game Based On Pre-Existing Property (Print or Film)
Winner: Lego Indiana Jones The Original Adventures (PS3, Traveller's Tales)
While the format is becoming a little stale by now - and we do hope that Traveller's Tales make some improvements in the next title - there is no denying that the Lego games are still quite entertaining, with the Indiana Jones game having us in stitches in several places. If you're after an entertaining game suitable for the whole family then this game should fit the bill nicely.
Runners Up: Lego Batman: The Video Game (PS3, Traveller's Tales), Kung Fu Panda (PS3, Luxoflux Corp).

Most Original Title
Winner: LittleBigPlanet (PS3, Media Molecule)
In terms of gameplay, no, this is not the most original game this year, however it wins this award due to the massive advances in content creation and content sharing which hasn't been seen in a console game before. Already there are thousands of user created levels which have been played millions of times and with plenty of enhancements and additions in future from the developers this is a game which stands out as the most original experience of 2008.
Runners Up: Mirror's Edge (PS3, DICE), Echochrome (PSP/PS3, SCE Japan).

Best Offline Multiplayer Game
Winner: LittleBigPlanet (PS3, Media Molecule)
Had it not been for a lack of a patch to create content online Media Molecule's title may have one best Online Multiplayer game as well. Anyway in offline multi-player 4-gamers can work through the levels together, or even create levels together making it a brilliant social event.
Runners Up: Guitar Hero World Tour (PS2/PS3, Neversoft), Buzz! Quiz TV (PS3, Sony Europe).

Best Online Multiplayer Game
Winner: Resistance 2 (PS3, Insomniac)
For two years in a row this franchise takes top honors here, and this year it's due to the massive 60-player online matches, and also the decent 8-player co-op campaign. What really manages to amaze with this game is that even with dozens of players on screen at once there is minimal lag. Certainly a poster child for what online gaming is all about this redefines expectations.
Runners Up: LittleBigPlanet (PS3, Media Molecule), Burnout Paradise (PS3, Criterion).

Continue to Part 2 of the 2008 FutureGamez Awards
Continue to Part 3 of the 2008 FutureGamez Awards

I hope you enjoyed reading the 2008 FutureGamez Awards. If you have any comments feel free to e-mail me at the usual address: