The joysticks cometh
The 34th annual Golden Joystick Awards are almost upon us and with the countdown clock ticking, there's still time to have your say in the people's gaming awards, with 21 categories to choose from in another fantastic year. But who will run off with the biggest and most coveted prize, the Ultimate Game of the Year? Well, with the likes of Uncharted 4 going head to head with Rise of the Tomb Raider and Fallout 4, the competition is sure to be fierce. With such a lineup of big hitters, we have to ask, is this the Ultimate Game field the toughest yet?
That's a tough call, because over the years, the winners of the Ultimate Game have read like a Who's Who of gaming achievement. So we've taken a trip back down memory lane to bring you a look at just some of the game of the year winners throughout the decades. Feast your eyes on these beauties, and do check out the video below to see them in action.
1983 - Jetpac
The Joysticks' very first winner was Jetpac, an arcade shooter written by Chris and Tim Stamper who eventually went on to form legendary Rare. An instant arcade classic, it saw your hover-packed Jetman hose down waves of aliens, while refuelling his ship to escape each planet. A true ZX Spectrum master blaster.
1984 - Knight Lore
A masterpiece of isometric action from Ultimate, Knight Lore saw Sabreman (hero of Sabre Wulf), alternate between human and werewolf forms as he battled through 128 rooms of a sinister castle, with just 40 days and nights to find the ingredients to beat his curse. It truly transformed gaming's perspective ... into an isometric one.
1985 - Way of the Exploding Fist
Beam Software's fighter may have been based on the arcade machine Karate Champ, but it delivered a wealth of fresh Bruce Lee-inspired thrills to Commodore 64 players. Fantastic player animations, beautiful backgrounds and a remarkably sophisticated array of attacks, blocks, kicks and punches, combined with its innovative Yin Yang scoring system meant there was a lot of depth to this impressive fighter.
1986 - Gauntlet
"The Elf needs food, badly!" The first arcade cabinet winner from the eighties, Gauntlet was a true pioneer of co-op and RPG gaming, with four different heroes crawling their way through a series of monster-haunted dungeons. Fast, colourful and compelling, with that outstanding 'just one more go' quality, this one sucked up many a 10p in our misspent youths.
1987 - Out Run
A classic Sega coin-op, Out Run was as famous as much for its hypnotic ambient soundtrack, as its free flowing drifting action. Driving a spanking red Ferrari Testarossa Spider with your girlfriend's hair blowing in the breeze, while being tilted around in the Deluxe cabinet, was surely one of gaming's ultimate driving pleasures.
1988 - Speedball
The Bitmap Brothers' fantastic futuristic sport was part ice hockey, part American football, part Rollerball - and as much about the old ultra violence as the scoreline. Featuring some brutally bruising encounters, it paved the way for the all time classic Speedball 2, but there was still many a joystick completely wrecked in this first Speedball season.
1989 - Kick Off
Dino Dini's seminal soccer game was the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga's true star player, a top down, fantastically realistic rendition (for the time) of the beautiful game. Pre-dating the legendary Sensible Soccer by almost three years, it swept the boards with 90%+ ratings from virtually major every UK publication and was a shoe-in as Game of the Year.
1990 - Kick Off 2
How do you follow up one of the best footy games of all time? Not easy, but with Kick Off 2, designer Dino Dino and programmer Steve Screech added after-touch, custom strips, slow-motion action replays, different referee personalities and the ability to import Player Manager teams into your game. Absolute footballing perfection.
1991 - Sonic the Hedgehog
The iconic platformer's plot, revolving around chaos emeralds and the evil Dr Robotnik, may have been largely bobbins, but its colourful graphics, brilliant level design and sheer sense of speed made Sonic the stand-out star of Sega's Mega Drive/Genesis. Sonic made the console fly high in the US and even (briefly) usurped Nintendo's dominant position at the top of the charts.
1992 - Street Fighter 2
Street Fighter 2 launched the fighting explosion of the early nineties with a raft of innovative arcade features that made it the ultimate fighting champion. Six buttons, competitive two player versus mode, special moves and a roster of eclectic, beautifully balanced characters, Street Fighter 2 became the template for the genre we still know and love it today.
1996 - Super Mario 64
Spearheading the launch of the Nintendo 64 was its figurehead Italian plumber, but Mario was entirely reborn for the 64-bit era, with 3D graphics and a deliriously playful open-world to explore while still delivering the unique charm of his 2D adventures. One of the most groundbreaking games of all time.
2002 - Grand Theft Auto III
The move to PlayStation 2 proved a pivotal moment in Rockstar's criminal odyssey, letting players experience the sights and sounds of Liberty City in full 3D. With its groundbreaking and immersive driving, shooting and exploring, this landmark sandbox world became one of gaming's finest ever criminal endeavours.
2003 - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Beating off stiff competition from the likes of Zelda and KOTOR, Rockstar followed up GTA 3 with Vice City, which many gamers still rate as the finest of all GTAs. Tommy Vercetti's rise from low level hood to Vice City crime lord echoed classic movies like Scarface and Carlito's Way, and was accompanied by one of the best ever licensed gaming soundtracks.
2004 - Doom 3
One marine and his outrageous assortment of heavy weaponry, versus a legion of demonic hellspawn - powered by John Carmack's legendary ID Tech 4 engine - was tantamount to FPS nirvana. Add in compelling multiplayer, and you had pretty much the definitive package for shooter fans.
2005 - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
As the noughties reached their mid-point, Rockstar was back with another incarnation of its all conquering franchise. Moving the action to the west coast, mixing its fictional tale with real-life LA politics and events, and introducing innovative new RPG elements proved a monster smash, as Carl 'CJ' Johnson returned to avenge the murder of his mother.
2006 - The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
Bethesda's vast, sprawling and epic - in every sense of the word - RPG really upped the ante. A huge game world, deep character customisation, Radiant-driven NPC behaviour and some of the most challenging dungeons and epic quests set a new gold standard for the genre.
2007 - Gears of War
The Xbox 360 needed some really big hitters to loosen PlayStation's grip on gamers' hearts and minds at the start of the last generation, and Epic's muscle-bound cover shooter was just the ticket to showcase the system's strengths. Superb cover shooting mechanics, active reloads, chainsaw bayonets and brutal execution moves made GoW a real show-stopper.
2008 - Left 4 Dead
A replay-focused co-op shooter built specifically for four players may initially have sounded like a tough sell before Left 4 Dead popularised such things, but Valve and Turtle Rock's zombie slaying marathon showed just how much fun you could have battling the AI, rather than each other. Great looks, frenetic action, zombie specialists and a game director that knew just when to press all the right buttons made this a co-op classic.
2009 - Fallout 3
Bethesda showed it was equally at home in an open-world sci-fi setting as in the Elder Scrolls' fantasy landscapes. Set in the ruins of Washington, you were forced to leave the safety of your underground bunker to search for your missing father, an adventure that took in a fully populated wasteland brimming with mutants, monsters, intriguing characters and, of course, the irrepressible Dogmeat.
2010 - Mass Effect 2
Boasting one of the highest Xbox 360 Metacritic ratings of all time (95% +), Mass Effect 2 from Canadian RPG overlords BioWare is widely considered the best of a highly impressive series. Deep character customisation, adult storytelling, intriguing themes, romance and a beautiful galaxy to explore cemented Commander Shepard's place in the pantheon.
2011 - Portal 2
Who would have thought a first-person physics puzzler would win such a legion of plaudits? Yet the quirky, mind-bending darkly hilarious Portal 2 did just that. Of course it helped that it came from Valve, who seem incapable of making a bad game. The Aperture Science facility sprang back into sinister life, with GLaDOS surely ranking as one of the most intriguing and nuanced villains ever.
2012 - The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
The fifth instalment of the classic RPG series was bigger, better and indeed much snowier than ever before, weaving Viking and Norse legends and casting you as a dragon slayer sent to protect the realm from the evils of Alduin the World-Eater. As the Dragonborn, you journeyed across its enchanting snowy landscapes reciting runes, slaying dragons, wielding magic and blowing NPCs halfway across the map with a cheery 'Fus Ro Dah!'
2013 - Grand Theft Auto 5
After a long break of nearly five years, Rockstar returned with the admirable GTA 5, but boy, was the wait worth it. Now playing as three characters instead of one, including the lovably monstrous Trevor, the mix of sandbox play, detailed heists, high satire and a soundtrack to die for made this the ultimate in a long line of criminal capers.
2014 - Dark Souls 2
The sequel to From Software's action-RPG may have featured fearsome levels of difficulty, but gamers rapidly became eager gluttons for punishment. Harsh - but fair - treatment proved an attraction rather than a turn-off, and Souls 2's beautiful world, unforgiving denizens and intricate mechanics made this one of the most compelling and challenging of all Joystick winners.
2015 - The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Most moral choices in RPGs are decisions between black and white, good and evil. CD Projekt Red taught us to embrace the grey and in the name of all that is good, earn some coin while slaying monsters. Saved you, pay me.