GOTY 2018: Most Fun

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This year we've brought back our category awards to recognize achievements in specific areas of game development. There are 10 awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners!

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Most Fun: Dead Cells

Motion Twin | August 7th, 2018 | Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One

Runners-up: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate | Hitman 2

Video games are still a relatively young medium, having only existed in the public consciousness for less than half a century. We like to praise their new advancements of interactive storytelling (we even gave one an award!) but games didn’t start out with much to say beyond, “Isn’t this fun?” While that was largely due to limitations of the technology, it’s important to understand not every game needs to be a heart-wrenching tale of the human condition or the failures of our current economic model. And even a well-told story, without compelling mechanics to keep players invested, may not prove engaging enough for players to see its resolution. “Most Fun” is here to reward Dead Cells, a game that kept us playing even with a largely absent narrative because its controls, speed and variety make it an absolute blast to play and incredibly satisfying to overcome the challenges it throws at the player.

To call Dead Cells’s plot minimalist is to call Antarctica “a bit chilly”. The player is given very little information about their protagonist (The Prisoner), their motivations, or what happened to the world, but it all oozes charm and character. The prisoner is responsive and reacts to moments in the world in charming ways: shrugging their shoulders, banging on doors, rubbing their chin. It’s these little touches that add levity to a dark world setting. Each level or “biome” comes with unique designs that make them distinctive and enjoyable to traverse despite being procedurally generated. Their raising or lowering the intensity helps keep the player from losing interest or feeling overwhelmed.

Procedurally generated games live and die on how their pieces fit together combined with the level of agency of the player. Dead Cells is constantly providing the player the choice to unlock new items and abilities if they so choose. Doing so may make the game more challenging as it reduces the odds of utilising favourite strategies, but it encourages the player to diversify their play styles, try new things and new combinations of items and upgrades. The controls combined with the equipment work well to make each run feel viable. Few moments in 2018 were as rewarding as that run when everything lined up perfectly and the final boss goes down. In Dead Cells’s story, it meant very little, but in the story of the player it meant everything.

Dead Cells is not a perfect game, but it is a deeply satisfying one that will continue to surprise because it’s fast enough—and most importantly, fun enough—to make the player feel, after each failure, that maybe, just maybe, the next run will be the one. — Tyler Martin