The Golden Pixel Awards 2011: Gaming’s Best, Worst, and Everything Else

Welcome to Warp Zoned’s first ever Golden Pixel Awards. Sit back and relax as we reward the best (and worst) games of 2011 with accolades based on their rather unique accomplishments.

The Apocalypse List

The bombs have fallen, the zombies have horded, food is scarce, and you’ve boarded yourself up in a bunker that’ll stand for a hundred years. What better way to spend your time in “The Vault” than by playing Warp Zoned’s favorite games from 2011? It doesn’t matter if you call it a “Top Ten List” or “Our Favorites From 2011,” but these are the games we plan to keep playing even if there was no game industry to keep making games.

  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Dead Space 2
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Gears of War 3
  • Killzone 3
  • L.A. Noire
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Portal 2

If you’ve only got one or two games you can play, obviously grab Portal 2 or Skyrim for their ludicrous replayability (and because GLADoS would make you feel right at home). Senior Editor Nicole Kline is still amazed that Dead Space 2 didn’t get more attention, and wishes people remembered that January is still part of this year. Editor-in-Chief John Scalzo put more time into Mortal Kombat than any other game this year and absolutely adores this reboot of the series (even Freddy!).

Interestingly enough, the rest of the 2011 Apocalypse List managed to create a trio of paired sets for why we loved them. Batman: Arkham City and Deus Ex 3 asked the questions “What is good?” and “What is evil?” within a corrupt system that few games ever ask. Gears of War 3 and Killzone 3 both featured burnt out warzones that perfectly encompassed the franchises as a whole. And L.A. Noire and Zelda: Skyward Sword both delved into the past (though one went back much further than the other) to tell beautifully animated tales of hope for the future.

The Participation Trophy

The Participation Trophy is awarded to a game that wasn’t necessarily great, but it was great that we got to play it.

Winner: Duke Nukem Forever
What more can you say about Duke Nukem Forever? The long-in-development game ended up being both a labor of love for 3D Realms/Triptych/Gearbox and a challenge to every person that said it would never be completed. And challenging it was. The game feels archaic. Animations are stiff. The environments are full of “stuff,” but at the same time pretty bare. And one of the game’s running gags is that Duke is banging “The Holsom Twins,” two barely legal pop stars named after the Olson twins.

Yet, DNF also feels too modern. For example, why is Duke’s health represented by a regenerating shield? This is doubly out-of-place as his “armor” consists of a tank top and some jeans. Although, it makes a certain kind of Hollywood sense. Duke is an uber-hero, so watching him stand up unfazed after taking two missiles to the face has a certain kind of action movie logic to it.

And that’s why Duke Nukem Forever wins The Participation Trophy, because even though it is objectively a bad game, there’s also a certain kind of magic behind its misogynistic facade.

Best Game Where an Alien’s Head Pops Like a Grape

Spaceships, little green men, giant mecha, the world of science fiction will always have a place in video games (just look at Pong!). This is our favorite game where an alien gets an RPG to the face in 2011.

Winner: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
From Our Review: “If you’ve played [Earth Defense Force 2017], jumping into battle in Insect Armageddon feels much the same. There are bugs and there is the EDF. Shoot all the bugs and don’t die. That’s it. And in that way, Insect Armageddon is a great game. The action is intense and the battles are tough without making players feel overwhelmed, and the slight reprieve just before a giant boss bug rumbles into view is fantastic. Then there are the boss battles – some against giant bugs, others against towering mechas. It may not take place on Planet P, but the Earth Defense Force is the closest we’ll ever get to a Starship Troopers game. Do you wanna live forever? Well too bad, because humans get all squishy when a 20-ton mecha slams his fist into your face. But taking down that mechanized monster is super satisfying.”

Jason Voorhees Memorial Award

The rotting corpse of Jason Voorhees has shambled his way through 12 movies and horror movie fans can always be counted on to return to Camp Crystal Lake (so much so that the “Memorial” part of this award will always be in question). And so it is with video games, which often manage to get better after the 11th or 12th iteration of a series.

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The Wii has always been a polarizing platform, but as Nintendo gets ready to retire the little white box (for a slightly different little white box… hmm), one thing we can all agree on is how great The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is. Skyward Sword tells the tale of the franchise’s very beginning and proves that Nintendo had a plan for the history of Hyrule all along (OK, maybe not, but the timeline makes a certain amount of sense).

Between the breathtaking visuals, pitch-perfect motion control, and the inclusion of everything that makes a Zelda game a Zelda game, there’s no better representative of a good sequel in 2011 than The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The “Great Scott” Award for Best Trilogy Ender

Everyone loves a trilogy. And no one loves a trilogy more than game publishers. Getting three games out into the marketplace that can sell, sell, sell is a publisher’s dream. Thankfully, a few people still take this trilogy business seriously as we look at 2011’s favorite finale (until the inevitable fourth entry).

Winner: Gears of War 3
From Our Review: “Awesome. That’s all you need to know about Gears of War 3, the final chapter of the groundbreaking, chainsaw-loving trilogy. This is not to say Epic Games won’t make more – after all, they’ve sold over three million copies in the first week, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer that the franchise will continue. Rather, it is only Marcus Fenix’s story that has come to a close – and wow, what an epic, thrilling, and enjoyably violent conclusion it is.

With a lengthy, satisfying campaign, intense multiplayer deathmatches, crazy fun cooperative Horde mode, and tons of unlockables, Gears of War 3 is a must-have for the shooter fan.”

Most Disappointing Sequel

It’s a Hollywood adage that a sequel is always worse in some way. But for video games, it’s just the opposite. Taking everything they’ve learned from the first game, developers are able to put much more into a sequel (even after a dozen tries, for example, see above). Sometimes, things don’t work out that way.

Winner: Resistance 3
From Our Review: “It was a general lack of soul that made it utterly unplayable. There’s nothing here of the spirit of the series – it just feels like a husk of a game, like someone took the general concepts from the series, lumped them into a game that looked kind of impressive, and frenetically added in some fight scenes and a loose plot. There’s nothing here that acts as an adhesive to hold it all together, and that becomes painfully obvious as you go from chapter to chapter, caring less and less what happens to the characters. Whatever it was that worked in the previous games is simply missing from Resistance 3.”

Al Gore Award for Best Use of Environment In a Game

Ever since games moved beyond being about a simple character moving against a black background, they’ve used the environment to help tell their story. Who can forget the unique worlds of Super Mario 64 or the hostile world of Half-Life 2? And because sometimes you just want to stop and look around at the world.

Winner: Dark Souls
Dark Souls was a crowning achievement in environmental design. It managed to do exactly what it meant to do, and in the most perfect way imaginable. The game lived and died on its punishing difficulty and the environmental design captured this to a T. The crackle of a campfire always evoked a sense, albeit a momentary one, of comfort in a hostile world. The deep shadows give a sense of hopelessness in darkness, and when you finally see the sun again (a very integral part… sun means salvation) it’s one of the greatest joys in gaming. The environmental deign clearly and effortlessly mirrors the punishing difficulty, showing you when to breathe, and when to expect the unexpected.

Miles Dyson Memorial Award

AKA “The One Step Closer to SkyNet Award.” Video game technology is advancing at a lightning fast pace and now that next generation consoles have practically reached the limits of photorealistic graphics; the only other place to go is to make the game world as realistic as possible. There’s no fate but what we make and no limit to what a talented developer can do with the right piece of new technology.

Winner: L.A. Noire
It’s obvious that the Miles Dyson Memorial Award has to go to Team Bondi and Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire. They utilized something called MotionScan, and had their actors sit in front of a whopping thirty-two cameras and deliver all of their lines. The cameras were able to pick up the slightest nuances in their facial expressions, allowing gamers to decide if the person was lying or not. Shifty eyes? Guilty, of course!

When you play a video game, especially one driven by its characters, you expect to see feelings evoked through their faces. You want to see happiness, sadness, confusion, rage, etc. in a characters expressions. The design team of L.A. Noire knew this, and using their brilliant and revolutionary facial detection technology, they took it to a whole new level. Instead of just voice acting, they were able to capture every facial tic and movement. The payoff was incredibly realistic facial animations that weren’t just modeling a face, but actually having acting placed into the game.

This detail is crucial and made L.A. Noire stand out among video games in 2011. It doesn’t hurt that easy-on-the-eyes Aaron Staton plays Cole Phelps, the no-nonsense detective out for justice (who would easily win awards for the Sexiest Male Lead and Easiest Way to Get Your Girlfriend Into Gaming).

Thrifty Time-Reversal Award

Maybe you missed it the first time around. Or maybe it was your favorite game back in the day and you want to play it again. Whatever the reason, it’s back in 2011 with eye-popping 3D or a high definition makeover or some other update. And you can’t imagine not parting with your money and playing it all over again.

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
From Our Review: All in all, everything is where it should be. Everything that made the original Ocarina of Time such a great title is still intact, and everything it needed to become an even better title is now added. Unlike the case of most remakes, Ocarina 3D doesn’t detract from the original game, but re-imagines it, and does it well. Fans of most any Zelda game will recognize this game as an instant classic, and fans of the original Ocarina of Time will regard this remake as a success, maybe even one for the books.

The “This Game Rocks” Award

Games need more than a good story and gameplay sometimes. Sometimes they need to rock (or pop or jazz or what have you). This award honors the game with the best music of the year.

Winner: Bastion
From Our Review: “[The] whole audio experience of Bastion is amazing. Described by composer Darren Korb as “acoustic frontier triphop,” Bastion’s score stirred a longing in me for a world that is no more (and a longing for a “space western” television series that’s no more as well). Hmm, come to think of it, Rucks’s gruff narration and the game’s signature song, “Build That Wall,” would feel just as home in an episode of “Firefly” as they do in Bastion.”

The songs of Bastion are little ditties that would fit in just as well on your local college radio station as they would in a post-Calamity world (and believe me, I’ve tried). Anything to introduce the world to Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett.

The What? Award

The game that most perfectly encapsulates a single thought process as you play it: “What did I just see?”

Winner: Catherine
From Our Review: “An amalgam of strange and uniquely Japanese concepts and story twists, I assumed Catherine would either go down in the history books as a revolutionary game, or fall short and be simply categorized as weird. It turns out to be more of the latter than the former, but still has many redeeming qualities – and compelling reasons to play. Adult in nature, the serious tone adds to the uniqueness of the experience that is Catherine. The story is dark and twisted, full of plot twists and that J-horror flavor, frighteningly horrifying and yet realistic in a way that makes it feel like it’s part sociology class.”

The Video Game Librarian Award

Being a gamer is about more than just playing video games. As we all know, movie studios are still looking for that breakout title that’ll make “video game movies” the next great genre. But writers of fiction and non-fiction have been turning out some great stuff based on video games for years now.

Winner: Ready Player One
From Our Review: “Ready Player One is a fully immersive experience, bringing way more to the table than I expected or imagined. [Ernest] Cline’s meticulous attention to detail was absolutely beyond fun. For anyone who grew up in the 80s, this book will bring you flying back to the television shows, movies, music, and video games from that decade. Everything from arcade games to the shows that aired, to a staggering number of movies and musicians, graces the dialogue and free time of the main characters.

It’s a sweet and adoring story told inside a video game, genuinely bringing the culture of gaming to life within a fictional universe. It’s pleasant and loving, affectionate and dedicated, and most of all, it’s absolutely fun. I can’t recommend this book enough to any and every person.”

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