Welcome to the Impact Gaming Awards, as voted by you, the readers and gamers of the University of Nottingham. It will be spread out over three weeks and three articles, starting here with a few of the categories and their winners and  runners-up. We’ll be talking about why each game proved so popular with you all this year so without further ado, here are the award-winners themselves starting with… 

Best Video Game Character

Winner:  Trevor – Grand Theft Auto V

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The three protagonists of Grand Theft Auto V embody the fundamentals of the GTA experience. The accumulation of wealth is seen with Michael, a wealthy ex-criminal trying to distance himself from his past and who has plenty of time to spend his ill-gotten gains. Franklin, the more traditional GTA character, has the desire to change and improve his life by breaking away from gang culture. Here we see the franchise’s usual storylines and its long-established ability of parodying different lifestyles. Finally, we have Trevor, the star of the game, representing the mayhem that erupts from every GTA game whether scripted or as a by-product of the player’s free-will. Trevor is shown to be mentally unstable, aggressive and spontaneous which all play fantastically amongst the dangerous adventures and mysterious encounters the game offers.  When you consider the other characters of the game, or those from previous GTA titles, it seems illogical for them to be shooting civilians on a whim, or driving at crazy speeds on a dirt bike into oncoming traffic. With Trevor’s suicidal nature however, this is perfectly plausible and grounds the ridiculous and fun gameplay into something believable. Obviously, on top of this, Trevor’s non-standard personality takes dialogue and sequences in different paths that are not expected, and in doing so creates great unique moments as well as great humour.

“Bring me my coffee or I’m gonna cut your arm off!”

Trevor’s personality isn’t just about violence and hatred though. As players are further exposed to him they begin to see through his rough, demanding exterior and see a sensitive character with the capability to care and love, albeit in a rather unusual and twisted manner. Although you wouldn’t want him to exist in reality, Trevor is so unique and refreshing to both Grand Theft Auto and gaming in general that there’s nowhere on this list where he deserves to be other than right at the top – and if you disagree with that, I’ll cut your arm off!

Runner-Up: Elizabeth – Bioshock Infinite

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Looking back at Bioshock Infinite, we realised that Elizabeth, the main non-player character of the game, is absolutely fantastic. Don’t get us wrong, when we played it through for the first time, Elizabeth was great but when the game is given breathing space to make its way around your mind, it only gets better for her. The main thing that makes her, at least to us, such an appealing character is how well Elizabeth breaks the mould of what we see as the female character in gaming, something which is missing from video games in general. Elizabeth is beautiful, innocent and charming, but she’s also brave, intelligent and skilled.

“Trapped in a tower with nothing but books and spare time? You would be surprised what I know how to do.”

Players are aware of these traits but the game doesn’t scream about them or force them upon us. This, for us, is truly admirable and allows for a deeper connection between Elizabeth and the player, on par with a character we might find in a great novel. Also, it is abundantly clear that Elizabeth was created with care. We see a full range of emotions from her as she is presented with different situations throughout the game. Just after her introduction she is extremely joyous and appreciative, allowing the player to see how wonderful Columbia appears to be to others, to her being distraught as the game’s darker themes come in to play. Elizabeth is wonderfully intertwined with the world and story of Bioshock Infinite, yet certainly remains distinct, memorable and, perhaps most importantly, real.

Best Gameplay

Winner: Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V driving

The innovation that Grand Theft Auto V brings to the table is its three playable protagonists. Not only does this allow for more mission variety, and as a result more diverse gameplay, but since each character has their own skill levels and special ability, playing as each of them can become substantially different at times. Michael has the ability to slow down time whilst shooting, Franklin can slow down time whilst driving and Trevor can go into a rampage, which doubles damage dealt and halves damage. Playing around with these mechanics individually is fun but they are most enjoyable when the story throws protagonists together, even if it makes me scream “Michael, let Franklin drive!” at my television on occasion. This is mostly seen in the game’s heist missions, another new addition to the game, in which protagonists team up, plan and then carry out a heist. In these you can freely switch between characters, allowing the player to take advantage of the different special abilities, locations and vantage points. These heist missions appear to be a fan favourite and add a bit of sophistication to the criminal activities that the franchise usually offers.

Seriously, I’ve played tennis in GTA V for longer than I’ve played entire campaigns of other games.

Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t just offer up the main storyline to showcase the varied gameplay though since a plethora of side missions and activities are available to sink many hours into. Play tennis or golf, compete in triathlons, pop down to the shooting range, race, parachute, scuba dive, walk your dog, or calm your being with a session of yoga. There’s a bucket load here in terms of quantity and importantly heaps of quality too. Some activities can become rather addicting and may even lead to you questioning your life at 3am when you’re still playing that ‘last game’ of tennis. (Seriously, I’ve played tennis in GTA V for longer than I’ve played entire campaigns of other games). There are also the side missions, Strangers and Freaks, and collectables to hunt for, as well as the elusive 100% completion to achieve. The gameplay of the latest Grand Theft Auto is familiar in its style and variety, yet the polish and detail which surrounds every element elevates it to an incredible experience and the best of this year.

Runner-Up: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

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The original Far Cry 3 was a complete joy to play and huge pressure was placed on its DLC to build upon it, whilst delivering the same thrills. Blood Dragon carried this off brilliantly; keeping the core elements but expanding the player’s arsenal and abilities in keeping with the new art style. 1980s excess came in the form of heavily modified guns, ridiculously high-powered explosives and a more linear format which allowed for more story development through maintaining a specific pace throughout. More superficial changes were still a joy to behold; the protagonist’s mechanical eye used to zoom into the distance, different sets of collectables and a new unlocking system all served to immerse the player in a familiar yet unique experience.

Similarly, the character’s mechanical limbs also play a role in empowering the player to truly feel like a Terminator or the like. Some futuristic additions even complemented the more linear story with a changed radar system and voiceover pointing the player in the right direction. Whilst in the original Far Cry you are alone in paradise, Blood Dragon makes sure things are never quiet for long. After all, the 1980s generation weren’t one for understatement.

Best ‘We’re getting too old to play this’ Game

Winner: Pokemon X and Y

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Pokemon X and Y are the video games we’ve all wanted since we first played Pokemon Red and Blue back in the day, and because of that they are impossible to not fall in love with. Featuring a huge amount of Pokemon across all the generations (including Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle!), Pokemon X and Y became the first handhelds games to offer us full on 3D battles, as well as a much improved interface and a fantastic online system.  Are we getting too old to play Pokemon? I certainly don’t think so, and neither do the millions of people that have already purchased the game. It’s a testament to tried and tested formula which, despite being over 15 years old, is still one of the most powerful brands in all of gaming and is seemingly unstoppable.

Developers Game Freak have really outdone themselves with these games and if you’re feeling nostalgic and want to play one of the finest RPG’s of the year, look no further than Pokemon X and Y. Okay, so it might not be the coolest thing to tell your friends you’re playing late into the night but let’s face it, training up a Charizard is pretty badass and any man or woman that thinks differently is clearly in denial.

Best Newcomer

Winner: The Last of Us

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Set in a future dystopian wasteland, The Last of Us focuses on Joel, who is charged with delivering a girl who may be the key to the cure of the disease that is ravaging the human race to a group called the Fireflies. Intelligently written, with stunning graphics and a good combat system, it avoids the commonplace tedium of humans vs. zombies by pitting Joel and Ellie against other survivors: this was my favourite part of the story. The emotional development of the characters is entirely credible and a breath of fresh air in an industry filled with cliché relationships. It even has the ability to be genuinely scary at points, and it is dark and gritty without being depressing. The Last of Us has been heralded as one of the best games of 2013, and it certainly deserves a place in the library of any PS3 user.

So there you have it for the first week of the Impact Gaming Awards. Did your favourite game win an award? If not this time, make sure to tune in next week, when we have our second of three articles and maybe you’ll see it there.

Tim Mallard, Thomas Welshman, Robert Priest, Aiden Collett and Anil Parmar

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