It's that time of year again: The Game Awards are revving up to dole out shiny trophies to the best games of 2018. Of course, the most important accolade is the Game of the Year award, and this year has six great nominees to pick from: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Monster Hunter: World, Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption II, Celeste and God of War.
Like all awards ceremonies, the Game Awards are a popularity contest, and in that respect it may be God of War that gets knocked out of the running first. While the game sold great and garnered critical acclaim, it hasn't actually had a lot of talk around it since its release in April. No expansion, no story DLC; the only thing of note is that it got a New Game+ mode and a photo mode that can alter Kratos' face to make him smile.
Sony Santa Monica was under no obligation to do so, but a game releasing content after the fact helps it stay fresh in people's minds, and considering how much there is for that world to be explored, the lack of any post game adventures did feel like a missed opportunity. It's also the video game equivalent of Oscar bait: A game about a man enduring hardship with an emotionally stunted adolescent, presented all in a single take. Not bad bait in the slightest, but Oscar bait doesn't always take home the gold.
Monster Hunter's nomination was definitely unexpected. Like God of War, the game released early in the year -- earlier, even, since it hit back in January. Unlike God, though, Capcom has released DLC for Monster Hunter to keep it relatively fresh in players' minds, and co-op doesn't hurt either. It hasn't gotten a big expansion like most co-op games seem to these days, but it has received DLC monsters and quests to alleviate that.
With games being interactive, there's also the matter of what a GOTY winner says about the medium and pushing it forward. Anyone on social media knows that everyone's talking about Red Dead Redemption II right now, a game that delivers on its promise of a living, breathing world that makes its characters and story matter. But Rockstar's discussion of the game pre-release has shined an even bigger light on the industry's crunch culture. Even as everyone seems to be raving about Red Dead, giving it the most prestigious award when its studio caught criticism days before it released for 100-hour work weeks certainly isn't what the industry needs right now. And while their crunches likely weren't any worse, the same can be said in some capacity about Odyssey and Spider-Man.
Celeste, while considerably smaller than its competition, changes the industry in making an incredibly difficult platformer that's also warm and inviting. Too often it feels like playing a game intentionally hard is also one that laughs at your failures, but Matt Thorsen's platformer is encouraging and supportive. Whether that's because it wanted to break the stigma or because its central player already has anxiety and panic attacks, it's a welcome decision. Really, the only thing holding this one back from winning is that it still feels like major awards shows aren't kind to indie games yet.
Spider-Man and Odyssey are both great games that represent the two approaches to open world games today. Where Odyssey is big and bloated, Spider-Man is small and tight. Peter Parker's map of Manhattan isn't littered with side quests so much as it is sprinkled, while Kassandra can't seem to take a step without picking up three extra missions. If it weren't for Red Dead looming overhead, either of these two would have a good shot at first place. Where they're more likely to win is in their respective technical categories -- Spider-Man easily could win for its narrative and Yuri Lowenthal's portrayal of Peter Parker, as could Melissanthi Mahut for playing Kassandra, or Odyssey's score and art direction.
Truth be told, all of these games should win (except Red Dead), because they're all good at what they do and one game can't really represent the diverse slate that fills the year anymore. That said, it's more than likely going to go to Rockstar. A bad look, yes, but each year that Rockstar has had a game nominated for GOTY, they've won. Not to mention that, in the eyes of those in charge of the ceremony, giving Rockstar the award "properly" gives the entire company fair recognition, effectively ending that conversation on the studio's terms.
Will that happen? We'll find out when The Game Awards air on Dec. 6.