As promised, here are my personal picks for all of the basic game of the year (GOTY) categories. Of course, since these are all opinion, you are free to disagree with them, and all are totally up for discussion if you see fit. Alright, let's get the ball rolling!
BEST GRAPHICS FROM A TECHNICAL STANDPOINT: Battlefield 3 (Multi-platform)
It was very difficult to choose between this, Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3, and games like Crysis 2 and the Witcher 2 that admittedly look incredible when played on the right PC. In the end, I didn't really see any other final choice than Battlefield 3 however. I can generally tell when developers are really putting the work in, or if they're playing tricks on us. This one will not disappoint for those who have a big shiny new gaming rig they want to show off to their technical friends.
BEST GRAPHICS FROM AN ARTISTIC STANDPOINT: Rayman Origins (PS3 & Xbox 360)
It kills me not to give this award to a title like El Shaddai for the PS3/360 or Alice: Madness Returns (Multi-platform), Rayman Origins has too much charm not to take this one home. The creative scenery and overall atmosphere of this 2-D platformer will grab you, regardless of what type of gamer you are. It's the type of thing everyone should experience at least once just to say they did. They just don't make games like this anymore, and it's a damn shame.
BEST GAME SOUNDTRACK: To The Moon (PC)
We had some wonderful game soundtracks this year, ranging all the way from Bastion to Portal 2 to Skyrim, but I feel that indie title To The Moon's soundtrack takes the cake on this one. Not only is this game incredibly beautiful in the story department itself, but it has one of the most emotional soundtracks I've heard from a game in years. Once again, this is something that should be experienced by everyone, regardless of what type of gamer you are. You will more than likely cry after playing this, and the soundtrack will be the biggest reason.
BEST VOICE ACTING: Portal 2 (Multi-platform)
Was there ever any doubt? Don't get me wrong, we had some amazing voice talents in games like Batman: Arkham City (Mark Hamill) or Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Nolan North); but nothing was more memorable to me than all of the acting, dialogue, and overall execution of what we saw in Portal 2. The voice actors for this game deserve many awards and I hope they continue to win them.
BEST CO-OP MULTIPLAYER: Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)
It was hard not to give the one to Portal 2 as well, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have the most fun with the co-op in Gears of War 3. One again, Epic Games shows just how make a great action and third-person shooter title. Horde mode (which Modern Warfare 3 pretty much cloned from this series) is still one of my favorite ideas for playing with friends and working together to reach the common objective of staying alive longer. It's always fun to progress through the story mode this way as well.
BEST COMPETITIVE MULTIPLAYER: Battelfield 3 (Multi-platform)
My Call of Duty friends are going to beat me up for this, but unlike Modern Warfare 3 where we saw very little sign of any improvement, the team behind Battlefield worked exceptionally hard to create an experience that requires both a large amount of skill and tact if you're working with a team. I don't feel that kind of dynamic with Modern Warfare 3, even when playing with a group. I simply find Battlefield 3 the more rewarding of the two. Gears of War 3 and Dark Souls had very rewarding experiences as well, but in the end, I still see myself coming back to this one first and foremost.
BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT SEQUEL: King of Fighters XIII (PS3 & Xbox 360)
As a very big fan of this series, I will be the first to admit that King of Fighters XII was incredibly disappointing. Not only were there less than half of the characters from the previous entry, but there was no story mode or boss fights to even speak of. I was also tempted to give this to Mortal Kombat, due to the disappointing nature of the last few entries in that series, but King of Fighters desperately needed this to bring the series back to form and it did so in spades. I hope this series never dies out and this sequel was a great sign of things continuing for years to come.
MOST ORIGINAL GAME: Catherine (PS3 & 360)
I had a little bit of difficulty with this one, but when deciding, you have to factor in a lot of things, including the game-play mechanics and the story involved. In this game, you not only have a story involving a man who cheated on his girlfriend and has to figure out where to go from there, but you also have an insanely creative system of puzzles and unique atmosphere. Just like Persona 4 before it (also from the same development team), you get one heck of a psychological and all-around fascinating experience from this title. We need more risks like this in the gaming industry.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Desert Scene, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Another VERY difficult category to choose from here, between all of the wonderful moments from Portal 2, Skyrim, a very emotional scene in Gears of War 3 that I won't spoil, Bastion, and all sorts of other titles. Even though I found this sequel to be fundamentally flawed in quite a few ways, there was something very eerie and interesting about this scene in the game, where Drake suddenly became stranded in a desert, following a huge air-battle from the previous chapter. What followed was an intriguing scene of mystery and awe as Drake stumbles farther and farther to what he is certain will be his final moments of life. I won't go into any more details than that for those who have yet to see this, but I'd be surprised to find anyone not taken in by this.
MOST UNDERRATED GAME: Rayman Origins (PS3 & Xbox 360)
The lackluster sales of games such as this are really discouraging. This game represents a medium that is unfortunately dying whenever it doesn't come straight from a developer like Nintendo. This title is a mix of gorgeous 2-D style platforming with a very beautiful and unique setting. People (on the internet) always seem to complain that no one puts out anything innovative or unique anymore, and yet titles like this slip through people's radars. I will never understand it.
And finally, the best of titles by genre and system:
BEST INDEPENDENT TITLE: Bastion (PC and Xbox Live Arcade)
I was certain I was going to give this award to The Binding of Isaac for quite a while, but Bastion took the cake. Playing this game all the way through was completely rewarding and memorable. It didn't make me cry mountains of tears like To The Moon, but for these awards, I go with what I feel is the best mix of graphics (technical or artistic), as well as game play and story, and Bastion delivers on all of these fronts.
BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE GAME: Batman: Arkham City (Multi-platform)
The only titles that even came close to this for me were Uncharted 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but once again if we are going for the best overall package, this one wins by a landslide. Between the gripping story that shook you on all sides and the improvements to the already near-perfect game-play formula, we have a clear winner on our hands. Between the Christopher Nolan films and the Arkham game series, Batman has become THE superhero to follow.
BEST DRIVING GAME: Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)
Wasn't too much to choose from this year, and picking Mario Kart 7 would have seemed a bit silly for this one. Forza pulled out all the stops you would want and expect from a racing title of this series. It's difficult to make a racing game realistic and fun at the same time. This one has somehow managed to craft both of the elements together once again for a near-definitive experience.
BEST FIGHTING GAME: King Of Fighers XIII (PS3 & 360)
After mentioning the improvements above, it's also worth noting just how deep this fighter is. It'll all come down to preference of course, but I have always found the King Of Fighters series to be much skill-based than a lot of Capcom fighters like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or the Street Fighter series. Don't get me wrong, as I enjoy the hell out of those games as well, but KoF has become my forte over time, and for good reason.
BEST PLATFORMER: Rayman Origins (PS3 & Xbox 360)
If you've been reading my other mentions of this game, then you already know all you need to about why this is the clear winner this year. There was no other platformer as innovative, or even as close to being able to compete. I only hope other big developers will find new ways to keep this genre fresh and exciting (not to say that the indie developers don't do AMAZING jobs already. In fact, I very much hope their enthusiasm will carry on to the big-budget groups someday!).
BEST PUZZLE GAME: Portal 2 (Multi-platform)
Once again it's hard to put anything else near this one. Every installment of this series brings new and even more innovative ideas than the last. You'll stop and think after some trial and error, only to realize the solution was right in front of you all along. You'll smack yourself in the head, proceed to solve the puzzle, and feel awesome inside after the fact. And honestly, isn't that how all puzzle games should really make us feel?
BEST RPG: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Multi-platform)
You were probably all wondering when this one would come up. Well, here it is. One of the biggest Game Of the Year contenders on all fronts and for very good reason. This game is MASSIVE. It will take you DAYS to get from one place on the map to another on foot, just to reach an objective. The combat has been drastically improved and the scenery is absolutely stunning. Simply put, this is the kind of game everyone should be playing. I don't care if the only things you ever pick up are shooters and sports titles; you need to play this.
BEST SHOOTER: Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)
To put it simply, I can't help but come back to this title, even with Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3 competing for my attention. The story mode, the co-op, and the multiplayer all flow together wonderfully, with an excellent control mechanic, and many reasons to keep coming back for more. This is the shooter I'll be picking back up the most in the coming months.
BEST SPORTS GAME: N/A
I'm afraid I didn't play enough titles to accurately judge this one. From what I had witnessed however, it appeared that NBA 2K12 and FIFA Soccer 12 were the real contenders for this season, as well as the most improved from the previous year.
BEST 360 EXCLUSIVE TITLE: Gears of War 3
For the reasons stated previously, this is one of the titles I'll keep coming back to, next to Skyrim and a few others. It's perfect for picking right up to play, as well as taking real time to invest into the story and achievements. Unlike most achievements in 360 titles, the majority of the ones you obtain in this game will also yield bonuses and unlockables. It's good for just about any fan of shooters or action/adventure titles.
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE TITLE: The Witcher 2
When a game is developed for the PC from the ground up instead of being a shoddy port of a console, results will follow. The Witcher 2 is a great example of what a PC-developed title can really do. It's ridiculously in-depth in both it's environments and its form of controls. The PC community like to portray themselves as kings. When you load up titles like this at full speed for the first time, it's not hard to see why.
BEST PS3 EXCLUSIVE TITLE: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
On the exclusive front, there's little to no contest with this one. Even with the slightly flawed storyline, and a couple of difficulty hiccups, this one takes the prize. Naughty Dog has continued to out-do themselves with the level of quality and cinematic feel that the Uncharted series offers. Some could argue that they're watching more than they're playing with this entry, and I'd agree. I just can't help but say it was completely fun all the same. Another solid entry in what is still a magnificent series.
BEST WII EXCLUSIVE TITLE: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
When Xenoblade Chronicles comes out in the US, I'll gladly give the award to it. Until then, Zelda is the prime choice. The bulk of this game felt a bit more filler-oriented for my tastes, but the improvements in the gameplay, as well as some truly and memorable boss battles make this an easy win for the Nintendo Wii this year. Did I mention the soundtrack is absolutely stunning as always?
BEST HANDHELD GAME: Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo 3DS)
After months of console game ports and a few slightly more decent titles like Pilot Wings and Ghost Recon, we finally got a new first-party Nintendo title that delivers! Super Mario 3D Land is a perfect blend of the gameplay found in both Super Mario 64 and the more recent Super Mario Galaxy. Just when you think the game is finally over, you're thrown double the amount of stages (re-hashed, but so much that it'll feel like a new experience regardless), and given all sorts of other bonuses to keep you going. Pokemon Black and White was incredible, but I'd much rather give this to something more unique (for a handheld) and deserving on the market. This is the 3DS title you've been waiting to brag to your friends about.
BEST MULTI-PLATFORM GAME: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Just like my previous comments on the game, it's hard to argue that this isn't one of the biggest titles to come out this year. There were some truly stellar multi-platform titles like Dark Souls (that I almost wish I could come up with an award for just so it would get one!), Batman: Arkham City, and Battlefield 3 among others. Even with all of the other big league games such as these, Skyrim still wins this category for the sheer magnitude of content and breathtaking atmosphere involved.
AND LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST...
GAME OF THE YEAR: The Elder Scrolls Skyrim (Multi-platform)
This is a little redundant, but I don't care. This game wins in every way imaginable. This may be a debatable choice, but I dare someone to give me a game with as much content, scenery, and memorable gameplay moments as this one to come out this year. Xenoblade would be a sure contender in the size department, but until it comes out in the states, it wouldn't be fair to throw that in to the mix just yet. If you don't come out of Skyrim feeling like an epic warrior who can topple any obstacle and move large objects and creatures with your voice, then the validity of your soul may very well be in question.
And that's it from me! Happy New Year everyone, and keep those thumbs busy!