2017 has been an incredible year for video games; Nintendo released the Switch with success, Sony gave us a slew of exclusive Japanese titles like “Persona 5” and Microsoft premiered the most powerful console to date with the Xbox One X. “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (“PUBG”) took the digital distribution platform Steam by storm, and starting next month, it will do the same to Xbox Live. Whether you own a console or gaming PC, there were generation-defining experiences to be had.
On Dec. 7, the Game Awards will be presenting awards in over 20 categories to celebrate these experiences. Many publications such as IGN and GameSpot hand out their own list of annual awards, but with the Game Awards being determined by a panel of over 50 outlets — including the two previously mentioned — the collective voting makes this event the video game equivalent to the Oscars and Grammys.
With 26 categories in all, I won’t be able to delve into every set of nominations, and I’ve yet to play a fair share of these games, but thanks to Black Friday, that’s not to say I won’t eventually. Below, you’ll find my predictions for the categories that cover certain aspects of games, including the all-encompassing Game of the Year award.
Best Score/Music - “NieR: Automata”
The scores of “Persona 5” and “Cuphead” were flooded with the sounds of jazz, and “Super Mario Odyssey” gave us a festive theme song so catchy, Nintendo included the lyrics inside the game’s case. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” was accompanied by soothing woodwinds and soft piano keys, and the soaring strings of “Destiny 2” also helped in complementing 2017’s theme of classical music. As impressive as these four scores are, none rival the music heard in “NieR: Automata.” A Japanese role-playing game created by the eccentric Yoko Taro, “NieR” is an auditory experience like no other. Battles are amplified by booming drums and powerful choir performances. What elevates the score even further is its integration into the game itself. For example, chants of certain enemies will become the chorus to certain songs, and each song has multiple variations depending on if you’re peacefully roaming the world or engaging in battle. “NieR: Automata” is a game that has picked up massive momentum with fans, but a large number of video game journalists have not played the game despite its critical acclaim. If it’s recognized at all, expect the game to be awarded for its music.
Best Art Direction - “Cuphead”
As an admirer of the fine arts, I’ve always lauded video games for their ability to craft works unseen in other media. “Persona 5” dazzles in its anime art style, and even the menus have a distinct appeal. From a technical standpoint, “Horizon Zero Dawn” is phenomenal, as the six-year project takes an overgrown, post-apocalyptic America and combines it with futuristic machines. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” may have an open world with less polygons and textures, but the watercolor aesthetic paints a picture so vivid, Nintendo made it clear that high-end hardware isn’t necessary to create something beautiful. A beautiful game also doesn’t require a studio with hundreds of workers, as the three-man team behind “Cuphead” made the most visually stunning game of them all. “Cuphead” is a work of art, each frame perfectly capturing the look of a 1930s cartoon. The hand-drawn designs come to life in the animated world, making for a game that mesmerizes while in motion. Aside from “PUBG,” it’s the one game that makes me jealous of those with an Xbox One, because its art style is unparalleled to anything else from 2017.
Best Narrative - “Horizon Zero Dawn”
In addition to being works of art, video games have also become a platform for quality storytelling that rivals books, movies and TV shows. This has been great for indie developers, as “What Remains of Edith Finch” — which was published by the video game branch of the motion picture company Annapurna — was able to tell an emotional tale in a few short hours. We also saw narratives that unfolded over multiple playthroughs like “NieR: Automata,” which gives us a philosophical story told by a different character’s perspective each time the player beats the game. “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” is a story about mental health and trauma, and “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” gives us an alternate history where Nazis won World War II and now walk U.S. streets, a reality not entirely dissimilar to today’s America. These games show that delicate issues can be taken on by the video game medium to great effect. Among the nominees, I found “Horizon Zero Dawn” to be the most enthralling. For one, this was a game marketed for its sprawling world and combat against mechanical dinosaurs, not for having a story that surprises and keeps your attention for dozens of hours. The narrative builds a world covered in lore, and I found the events taking place in the present to be just as fascinating as the former condition of this much-changed United States. “Horizon” also introduced us to its main protagonist Aloy, a character sure to become the face of PlayStation.
Game of the Year - “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”
This year’s five nominees are all console exclusives, meaning players have great games to choose from no matter what system they own. “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds” may still be in early access, but the “Battle Royale”-style gameplay has given it thunderous popularity in the PC community. “Persona 5” for the PS4 is role playing at its finest, giving players hundreds of hours of dungeon crawling and life simulation side content. Sony also released “Horizon Zero Dawn,” a new franchise that took the best parts of open-world series’ like “The Witcher” and “Assassin’s Creed” to help breath life into the genre. Nintendo’s “Super Mario Odyssey” is a reminder of what video games are supposed to be, as it delivers unmatched fun and is a masterclass in game design. These are all excellent games worthy of being deemed Game of the Year, but as far as which game I believe will take home the award, my prediction goes to a game that launched with the Nintendo Switch back in March, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” By turning the series into an open world experience, Nintendo took an iconic franchise and revolutionized it for the modern gaming landscape. It will not only be heralded as Game of the Year, but will also be in discussion for Game of the Generation because it’s the title which singlehandedly ensured fans Nintendo wasn’t out for the count. I loved “Super Mario Odyssey,” but Nintendo’s other major release has left an even more lasting impact on the industry, and will only continue to as time goes on.
The Game Awards will air live on Dec. 7 starting at 7:30PM (CT), and can be watched online for free on YouTube and other major platforms.