Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Was it Love at First Sight?

When I thought about how I would present my list of favorite games played in the last year, I considered doing the reveal followed by the list of appealing characteristics that are usually employed in this kind of endeavour. But to be honest, I already did that with my previous post, Fallen Soldiers-explaining the reasoning behind why I left them behind using language that described the mechanics or narrative disappointments. For the best ones, however, the ones I treasured dearly, I will instead describe to you the moment during play where I knew I was enraptured.

A few of these were released prior to 2010, and they are in order of when I played them.

  • Bayonetta - After a striptease introduction in a graveyard that at best can be called coy, and at worst, overtly hyper-sexual, I was hesitant to join Bayonetta on her journey. But it was in a garden courtyard with a bubbling fountain centerpiece, when our heroine jumped into the air and her shadow glided carefully back to the ground using a set of sweeping butterfly wings, gracefully reconnecting with her ass-kicking, gun enhanced stiletto boots that I knew I was in for the entire ride. And when the moon lent a hand to assist Bayonetta’s graceful movements, I reached the point of no return.

  • Bioshock 2 - Although I adored being back in Rapture, now fighting for something more tangible than just my own life and the urgent need to escape, it wasn’t until a point near the end of the game that I experienced something more profound-seeing the world of Rapture through the eyes of a Little Sister. Instead of broken pieces of water-soaked furniture and mutated corpses, our ADAM addicted innocents see the rooms draped in white satin, with red plush floors and ornate urns with live plants spilling over the sides curved against each sloping staircase. The rooms are covered in rose petals and the bodies on the floor merely sleeping angels. This is a Rapture where the windows never crack, the people still laugh, and the propaganda posters are still fresh from the press. Nothing about the series felt more poignantly horrifying than toddling through the rooms and seeing the facade crack in flashes of despair, the real world infesting Ryan’s Utopian vision.
  • Heavy Rain - Despite the gaping plotholes and some terrible dialogue, no one will deny that the Oragami Killer changed the world of video games. But the moment I was most impacted by the narrative wasn’t when Jason died or when I had to contemplate cutting off Ethan’s finger. Absolutely, those scenes were emotionally wretched and shocking in terms how we normally interact with games, but it wasn’t until Ethan was attempting to escape the police on top of the hotel roof where I really felt the weight of the game fall on top of me. You see, Ethan was incredibly hurt, covered in bandages and limping. There was no way he could escape because of me. My choices were displayed right in front of me in the form of a beaten and bruised protagonist, who held his hand against his side in a gesture of unspeakable pain during each step he took. These were my consequences, and I was deeply moved.
  • Dragon Age - I was overwhelmed by Dragon Age. Playing it taught me a lot about how I have changed as a player since my formative years, when JRPGs were the will and the way. I knew I was in for a long ride, however, when the loading screen informed me that I had been playing for a total of 25 hours. Normally I am fairly aware of how much time I am investing into a particular game, but DA sucked me into a time vortex as only great games can. And it was during a lengthy series of Q & A with Alistair, when he shyly declared his love for me and nervously asked if I loved him in return that my heart was sold. And, oh wow, did I ever.

  • Alan Wake - Playing Alan Wake taught me that sometimes the magic is in the details. Although I thoroughly-nay, ridiculously-enjoyed playing Alan’s waking nightmare (despite the questionable abstract narrative), I was won over completely by Night Springs. The first time I came across a television set sitting innocuously on a desk in a disturbing lumberyard within a shadowy forest, I shrugged. And then I walked over and turned it on and found Night Springs, a sort of meta-show about the goings on inside Bright Falls INSIDE Alan’s head. Combined with the collection of foreshadowing manuscript pages & the addition of contemporary music between episodes and trickling out of radios, I couldn’t get enough. My iPod is full of music I found specifically while playing Alan Wake. More, please.

  • Limbo - At first glance, I found the grey scale art style of Limbo understated and beautiful, but it wasn’t until our little glow-eyed boy stops just short of a kneeling girl fussing in the grass, a stark white light illuminating her from above, that my eyes were filled with real emotion. This picture of innocence became worth saving, no matter the cost.

  • Portal - After two years of wondering, I finally saw the clean white lines of the laboratory fall away to reveal the shabbiness of the prison wardened by a maniacal representation of digital loneliness.

  • Costume Quest - From previous posts I have written, it is clear that almost everything about Double Fine’s little holiday adventure charmed its way into my Halloween enamoured heart. But it was the trick-or-treating that first made my hands clap in childlike glee. The heart stopping anticipation of knocking and wondering what would be waiting on the other side struck me as so reminiscent of what it is like to still believe in the magic of the unknown. And to recreate that feeling in one small moment was remarkable.

  • Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood - Call me overly sentimental, but if I ponder on all of the ways the third installment grabbed me and held on tight, I keep coming back to one moment, which I believe encapsulates all of the romance of the lead characters and the time periods in which the game are set. In the third of the “Cristina Missions” Ezio returns to find his youthful love promised to another man. But this man is a bit of a scoundrel, and Cristina asks Ezio to find him and save him from a consequence of one of his mistakes. Which he does. But he also insists that this man swear an oath that he will be the best husband to Cristina, using Ezio's usual showy and aggressive persuasion tactics. In the next moment we see Cristina, distraught over the events, running towards the bridge in which the altercation took place. In one swift motion Ezio grabs Cristina mid step and pushes her up against a wall hidden to the bridge, kissing her passionately, knowing this is goodbye. So many things about ACB met me squarely in the place where all of my favorite emotions, perspectives and romantic ideals reside, so it was fairly obvious from the beginning that I was going to continue loving the overall world in which the game was set. This flashback mission merely fanned the flames of my overall commitment to the series. And I am fairly unapologetic about how clearly my femaleness is showing right now.

In the past year I have played so many great games that it was hard not to mention more. My hope for the future is that we receive more games like Alan Wake, Bayonetta or Costume Quest. These games were innovative and had something new to offer, whereas so much of the hype and money spending goes towards sure bets in the form of sequels made quickly in order to feed the masses. Even though I am eager for some of these more well-established titles to continue, looking forward to titles such as Arkham City, Bioshock: Infinite and Portal 2, I find it’s incredibly important to recognize the rewards that creativity and new environments can bring, despite the risks involved financially. And I am excited to hear more about what 2011 will bring...

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