The "Best Surprise" award goes to the game that didn't have a lot of hype behind it but turned out more awesome than anyone could've imagined. It went from being off my radar to taking up all my time.
I don't think anyone was prepared for just how fucking sweet that Just Cause 2 would turn out to be. That magical combination of a grappling hook that can attach to anything and an infinite number of instantly deployable parachutes proved to be the most exciting thing to happen to open-world games in a long, long time.
Just Cause 2 is a game that sacrifices basic logic in a relentless pursuit of fun. Everything in this game feels ridiculous in the best possible way, like the game designers found hilarious glitches that, instead of fixing, decided to expand upon.
For instance, deploy your parachute just before impact while free-falling next to a steep mountain slope and protagonist Rico will instantly go into ragdoll mode, tumbling down the mountainside without taking any damage, then get up casually and brush himself off. I can't even tell you how many times I've done that, but I can tell you that it hasn't gotten old yet.
Easily the best part of Just Cause 2 is how the toolset they give you -- grappling hook, parachute, vehicles, explosives -- encourages on-the-fly creativity. It's less LittleBigPlanet where you have to plan things out methodically and more Katamari Damacy where you set little goals for yourself and achieve them within minutes. Ideas just came to me naturally in Just Cause 2 and were always a blast to execute: "What if I tied this to that, then put explosives on it, then dropped it off a cliff and skydived after it, then detonated, then...?"
Along with the toolset is the genius ability to record footage of your stunts and upload it to YouTube. Nothing spurs creativity more than giving somebody a camera and an audience. There's just no better way to motivate people to pull off incredible feats of stupidity than the promise of saving the moment forever. The video above was just a little idea I had while messing around, and while I still think it's really cool, it's also one of the least impressive Just Cause 2 videos out there.
While the story and missions were unforgivably uncreative, the core gameplay here is so damn good that it makes up for it tenfold. I got Just Cause 2 as a rental, expecting it to be pretty good, but something I'd be returning after a few days. Instead, I ended up pouring weeks into it, messing around whenever I had free time and conceptualizing crazier and crazier stunts.
I expected Just Cause 2 to be good, yeah. But I definitely didn't expect to be calling it "the most fun sandbox game ever created," and that's why it wins this award hands-down.
Runners-up: Darksiders, RISK: Factions