Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Grand Jury Prize 2010

After my "Ten Favourites" list, I decide on 'an alternative to 1st place', just as a special mention. Got the idea from Roger Ebert's Best Of lists. He calls it the Grand Jury Prize, which he based on the way film festivals go about it. And I am nothing if not unoriginal and completely lacking in imagination.

In 2008 I chose Braid.
In 2009 I went with Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.

Here's my choice for 2010, and why:

2010 invited one of the more putrid release windows in probably the entire entertainment industry. If a game wasn't trying to cash in on the success of Wii Sports, it was trying to ape Call of Duty.

And then along came a spider.

Five years is a long time for a game to be in development. Seven if you count initial planning stages in 2003. Only Duke Nukem Forever has had more jokes made at the expense of its vaporware status. There are Joystiq.com articles from 2006 that mention the haunting possibility that it might not come out until three years ago.

My first reactions were: "Oh man, seriously? Boring White Man Must Rescue Helpless Princess? Wacky wise-cracking sidekick?". The early premise is so mundane it's hard not to feel like it's trying to combat the enjoyment with the product. Fortunately the combat is a joy for me. It was nice to actually deserve the moments where I was attacked, instead of today's games which can't even be bothered to play by their own rules half the time. Who would have thought that the tiresome "LIGHT vs. DARKNESS" chestnut in video games could be made striking and effective if applied literally, as the chief gameplay and battle mechanic?

And while it will be way too heady and convoluted for some as it gets into the third act, I'm just glad it twisted itself into a more interesting creature than "SPACE MARINES SHOOT MONSTER NAZIS BEHIND COVER!!!". It helps that it takes place in a setting that feels like it could be a real place somewhere in the mountains. No skull-decorated alien headquarters can compare to the shadows of splintered trees.

I can't remember the last time I saw an ending in anything where I wasn't totally sure what had happened. My guess as to why this doesn't happen as often, or even ever may be that a confusing ending might feel like the writers were just making it up as they went along. It peels apart the idea that what happens was carefully planned and has a purpose, that there won't be loose ends and it'll all make sense. When this doesn't happen, it's tough not to feel like I've been the recipient of a practical joke. "HAHA, YOU JUST WASTED X HOURS, MORON!"

And while that is sadly true for some productions, I'm strangely willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt. It's nice to sometimes have more questions than answers. And I like me a conclusion that isn't neat and tidy. It may be desperately trying to be a love letter to Twin Peaks, the Twilight Zone and Stephen King. But after Halo: Reach this might as well have been War and Peace.

This was a madly expensive, exhausting effort for Remedy. And despite the hit-over-the-head in-game narration pointing out the blindingly obvious, and the horrible monkey faces, I gotta give credit to a AAA, big-budget game that takes more inspiration from David Lynch than Starship Troopers. It doesn't have to be perfect, or even the next Ocarina of Time. What matters is that "Alan Wake" tried to be something more than what we settle for, and I think it succeeds well enough. I wish more games set the goals this game strives for, and attempted them with even half of the dedication.

Honorable mentions:

~Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
~One Chance
~The End Of Us


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