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What game will win Game of the Year at The Game Awards?

It's anybody's game - almost

Psychonauts 2 Raz with brain

Let’s be honest: 2021 hasn’t been the best year for video games.

Between the delays, disappointments, and downright disasters — I’m looking at you Grand Theft Auto — the year hasn’t managed to produce as many stellar titles as years past. Even if there aren’t the same number of sure-to-be classics, there are still some great games nominated for The Game Awards.

For those who may not know, The Game Awards are the industry’s equivalent of The Academy Awards. While most publications have their own awards — you should definitely check out the MobileSyrup team’s personal selections — Canadian gaming industry entrepreneur, Geoff Keighley, has turned his show into a spectacle that surpasses any other. From major reveals like the Xbox Series X, to the iconic “f*ck the Oscars” moment from It Takes Two creative director, Josef Fares, The Game Awards have become the definitive awards show of the gaming industry.

Ahead of the show on Thursday, let’s take a closer look at each of the nominees to determine which games have a shot at taking home the statue for Game of the Year.

Deathloop

Deathloop Julianna

What is it?

Developed by the team at Arkane Lyon, Deathloop is exactly what its name suggests. When you die, you’re sent back to the beginning of a never-ending loop. The only way to escape is to kill the eight masterminds who created the loop in the first place. It’s a simple concept, but the developers have added special abilities to complement the shooting, giving players plenty of freedom in how they choose to go about taking down the loop’s creators.

Mashing the immersive sim gameplay of Arkane’s popular Dishonored series with rogue-lite mechanics, Deathloop stands out from the other games this year thanks to its distinct ’60s inspired style and clever level design.

The best part of Deathloop is its invasion mechanic. While you’re trying to kill the masterminds, a rival assassin named Julianna is trying to stop you. And if being hunted isn’t anxiety-inducing enough, being hunted by a real player makes the affair way more intense. Barely escaping into the underground tunnels, counter-sniping a player who’s camping, and setting up traps for opposing players made each loop stand out from the last.

Deathloop was the first game I purchased when I managed to get my hands on a PlayStation 5. I can’t think of a better game to start off the generation. If the haptic feedback from firing the shotgun isn’t enough to sell you on the game, then the killer soundtrack should be.

It’s also Brad Shankar’s favourite game of the year, so you know it’s good.

Chances of winning GOTY?

Deathloop reviewed very positively, receiving an OpenCritic score of 88. It also earned several perfect scores, with IGN calling it “a game like no other.”

The public perception has been slightly less glowing though. Issues with the AI and a lack of challenge in the second half of the game have been widely criticized.

Despite these criticisms, this is a frontrunner for GOTY. Arkane’s games have largely been overlooked during GOTY discussions in the past, so this could be the year that it receives the recognition it deserves. If it doesn’t take home many of the artistic achievement awards, I expect Deathloop will be recognized for the big one.

Chances: Very strong.

Where can you play it?

You can check the game out on PlayStation 5 and PC.

It Takes Two

What is it?

It Takes Two is the latest co-op adventure from Hazelight Studio. The indie developer headed by Josef Fares has made its name producing games that must be played with a partner, and It Takes Two is its best effort to date.

Calling it the surprise of the year sounds like an insult given the studio’s past work, but I mean that in the best way. It constantly surprises players with new mechanics, all of which feel fantastic.

You play as May and Cody, a couple who have recently filed for divorce. When their daughter wishes that they could fall back in love, the pair are transformed into miniature figurine versions of themselves. Now they need to find a way to get their bodies back.

One minute you’ll be playing a classic 3D platformer in the style of Banjo-Kazooie and the next you’ll be playing an action-RPG in the style of Diablo. Even Nier: Automata is jealous of how many mechanics It Takes Two has.

The game is played entirely in split-screen, making it the best local co-op game in years. And if you can’t be in the same location as your co-op partner, each copy of the game comes with an additional code to gift to someone else and play together online.

Chances of winning GOTY?

It Takes Two has received near-universal praise. Even so, the game is at a disadvantage. Due to the scale of the game and its co-op design, it’s unlikely that it has been played by as many members of the jury as something like Deathloop.

With that being said, Josef Fares is a fan-favourite, and the jury could recognize the sheer breadth of content in the game. In other years, this may not have stood a chance, but It Takes Two is a breath of fresh air in 2021.

Chances: It’s possible.

Where can you play it?

You can check the game out on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S/One, PC, and Game Pass.

Metroid Dread

What is it?

After what feels like an eternity, Metroid is finally back. Metroid Dread is a 2D action-platformer from MercurySteam that takes the series back to its roots.

Samus Aran, the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter, is tasked with investigating the disappearance of robots known as E.M.M.I. on a distant planet. When she arrives, she discovers the robots have been reprogrammed, and her weapons are useless against them. Instead of being the hunter, Samus becomes the hunted.

Though some may not be crazy about the idea of paying full price for a 2D platformer that takes less than 10 hours to complete, I’d recommend playing the demo to experience it for yourself.

In classic Nintendo fashion, the game controls like a dream, offering a plethora of abilities for Samus to explore the world with.

And the game lives up to its name. I felt the dread creep in every time I entered an area with an E.M.M.I. That makes it that much more rewarding to make it through.

Metroid Dread is the best Nintendo Switch game of the year, bar none.

Chances of winning GOTY?

Despite its length and genre, Metroid Dread has been recognized industry-wide for its achievements in game design. Taking the classic “Metroidvania” formula and updating it to make it simultaneously more approachable and challenging is something that other developers can only marvel at.

The game will need to overcome one major hurdle: it’s a Nintendo exclusive.

While this shouldn’t be an issue, unless you’re Mario or Zelda, this has often held games back from winning GOTY. Metroid has always been seen as a B-level property for Nintendo. Could this be the year that changes? I think it is.

With Metroid Prime 4 on the horizon and Switch consoles flying off the shelves, a quality release like this could be recognized by the industry for the achievement that it is.

Chances: Strong.

Where can you play it?

You can check the game out on Nintendo Switch.

Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 game

What is it?

Psychonauts 2 is one of gaming’s great success stories. Created by Tim Schafer’s Double Fine studio, Psychonauts 2 is the sequel to an adventure-platformer from 2005. You play as Raz, a young boy with extraordinary powers. As an aspiring Psychonaut, it’s your job to use your psychic powers to stop anyone from performing nefarious deeds.

If that sounds like a very typical story setup, you’d be right. But Psychonauts 2 is anything but traditional.

Raz needs to discover the truth behind a conspiracy in the Psychonauts organization, so he dives into the minds of characters around him. It’s an honest, touching, and hilarious look at the way our minds work.

The game is first and foremost a comedy. Just like Double Fine’s other games, Psychonauts is genuinely funny, landing punchline after punchline.

The platforming isn’t nearly as tight as the other games on this list, but the writing and activities will keep you engaged for the entire game. And don’t worry: you don’t need to have played the original Psychonauts to enjoy it, although it is on Xbox Game Pass.

Chances of winning GOTY?

Even though it’s on Game Pass, this is the game that has received the least attention on this list. It’s been praised for its writing, characters, and creativity, but as I touched on above, it’s also been criticized for its platforming and dated design.

And that’s why Psychonauts doesn’t have a chance. There are three 3D platformers on this list. Though it stands out thanks to its excellent writing, it’ll likely be overlooked due to gameplay comparisons.

Even though it’s one of my favourite games of the year, Psychonauts 2 would need a miracle to take home the big prize. Optimistically, I’d call it the dark horse of the competition.

Chances: Unlikely.

Where can you play it?

You can check the game out on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S/One, PC, and Game Pass.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart game

What is it?

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the latest game in the popular franchise from the team at Insomniac. The series has been running since the days of the PlayStation 2 and continues to be a staple of Sony’s catalogue to this day.

Though it didn’t launch with the PlayStation 5, Rift Apart was one of the early showpieces for the console. With ray tracing, gorgeous particle effects, and stunning environments, this is the game to put your new console through its paces.

Like the games before it, Rift Apart is a 3D platformer that sets itself apart with creative weapons, satisfying collection mechanics, and zany characters. If you’ve played a Ratchet & Clank game before, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting here.

Chances of winning GOTY?

Rift Apart is a very solid game.

Unfortunately, that’s the problem. It’s a victim of its own success.

Insomniac has been knocking it out of the park for so long with Ratchet & Clank that Rift Apart hasn’t surprised anyone with its quality. It’s an iterative game that’s very enjoyable and definitely worth playing.

It’s just not a GOTY contender.

Chances: Very unlikely.

Where can you play it?

You can check the game out on PlayStation 5.

Resident Evil: Village

Resident Evil Village

What is it?

Village is the latest game in the Resident Evil renaissance. Following the excellent Resident Evil VII — and the incredible remakes of 2 and 3Village continues the story of Ethan Winters. The first-person survival horror game transports the player from the swamps of the southern United States to a small village in Europe.

Ethan’s wife has been murdered at the hands of the series former-protagonist, Chris Redfield, and his daughter has been kidnapped. And if that’s not enough, Ethan’s going to need to confront lycans and vampires if he’s going to save her.

Taking a more RE4-esque action-oriented approach than VII, Village introduces a cast of new and returning characters to create one of the most surprising stories in the franchises long history. Twist after twist will reward players who persevere through the litany of puzzles and enemies. It’s a visual delight filled with gothic architecture, extraordinary character designs, and gore galore.

Brad Shankar had great things to say about it, too, so if you’re a fan of horror games, this is a must-play.

Chances of winning GOTY?

Resident Evil: Village made headlines leading up to its release thanks to the design of Lady Dimitrescu. The 9-foot vampire has cemented her place as a gaming icon, inspiring cosplay, fanart and memes.

That cultural moment and the game’s general popularity is a big reason why Capcom could be in the running for GOTY at The Game Awards. With millions of copies sold, Village managed to perform well both commercially and critically.

Unlike Rift Apart, Village separated itself from its predecessor in a number of meaningful ways. Not all of these were well-received by the audience, though, including the faster paced gameplay.

On top of that, Resident Evil 2 was recognized just two years ago as one of the best survival horror games of all-time. While Village is a great game, it’s living in the shadow of its predecessor.

Chances: It’s possible.

Where can you play it?

You can check the game out on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S/One and PC.

Where’s ‘X’ game?

You may have noticed that the list of nominees is missing a few games.

In the case of Halo Infinite — Patrick O’Rourke and Jon Lamont’s game of the year — it missed the deadline for The Game Awards by a few weeks. Be sure to look out for it at next year’s awards.

Then again, it’ll be against much stronger competition with titles likely including Horizon: Forbidden West, Elden Ring, God of War: Ragnarok, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 all scheduled to come out in 2022. But a few other games come to mind that could have been contenders for GOTY, including Forza Horizon 5.

The Game Awards uses a jury of more than 100 outlets and influencers to determine its nominees. The six games above are the ones that received the most votes.

So even though Forza Horizon 5 is the highest-rated game of the year on OpenCritic, it didn’t receive enough votes to be nominated. Is it a tragedy that the industry doesn’t think a racing game is worthy of GOTY? Yes. But that’s an article for another day.

You can check out The Game Awards on Thursday, December 9 at 8pm ET/5pm PT (with a pre-show beginning 30 minutes prior) to see who wins.

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Image credit: Xbox

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