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 loved the first inFAMOUS.
Even after I'd beaten the storyline, I spent hours collecting the last of the scattered Blast Shards and finishing up any leftover side missions. Sometimes I'd just glide around, doing nothing in particular. Maybe I'd blow up a car or three. Maybe I'd do a Thunder Drop off the tallest building I could find. It didn't matter what I was doing, really; I just liked inhabiting Empire City and playing as Cole. Even so, I couldn't bring myself to feel anything more than dread for inFAMOUS 2.
Blame that on the first major reveal for inFAMOUS 2, which showed off a newly revised Cole, swapping out the bald, bland superhero with a gravelly voice for a trendy, tattoo-laden playboy with a cocksure swagger and a seemingly endless supply of clever one-liners, now fighting against the Reapers from Blade 2 with giant lobster claws for arms.
It only got worse from there. The second major reveal detailed the characters who'd be surrounding Cole on his latest adventure. Even as the developers recognized that Cole's buddy, Zeke, had been one of the worst parts of the first game, they promised that he would still be a major character in the sequel. As well, they showed off the two new ladies in Cole's life, Nix and Kuo, who would represent the newly revamped moral choice system. You see, Nix, a sultry African-American character who wears revealing red leather, keeps her hair in dreadlocks, and has fire powers, would represent "evil," while Kuo, an Asian-American character who wears a business casual suit, is a government agent, and has ice powers, would represent "good."
What's that called, children? Say it with me now: subtlety. Very good!
It honestly felt like the developers at Sucker Punch Studios were trying to burn their own franchise to the ground. It was the only explanation. Then—suddenly!—as if the clouds parted to allow God himself to intervene, Sucker Punch came to its senses. Cole was turned back into that beautiful, bald man we all grew to love (or at least tolerate) in inFAMOUS. Nix and Kuo ended up having much more depth than we could've anticipated. Zeke got a true character overhaul that not only made him bearable, but likable. Even those dumb lobster zombies turned out all right.
But that's not all. inFAMOUS 2 represents a true distillation of everything great about the first game while still layering on smart changes of its own. Take Cole's new Ice Launch power. When he uses it, ice rises from the ground, thrusting him forward higher than he could ever jump normally. It's a satisfying move that removes one more obstacle in the player's exploration of the city. But the true brilliance of the Ice Launch comes with the new electrical wires placed above the street just out of jumping distance, but at the exact height of an Ice Launch. Rather than having to climb up a power line to start Cole's electric grinding, the Ice Launch allows players to simply tap a button and speed away.
It's that kind of brilliant design that led me to call inFAMOUS 2 "one of the most perfect games I have ever played" in my review. Once again, I found myself playing for hours with no real objectives. I'd see how long I could skate along power lines across the city without falling, then test whether or not I could throw a car and tether to it while it's still in the air.
Based on those initial reveals, I thought Sucker Punch had completely lost sight of what made the first game so special. I thought I was going to hate inFAMOUS 2. Instead, it absolutely blew me away and became one of my favorite games of the year. I'm sorry I ever doubted it.
Runners-up: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Catherine