By Little_Socrates 2 Comments
Hello, and welcome to Game of the Year!
I'm Little_Socrates, and I'm gonna be presenting a series of awards for games that are, well, awesome. Before I publish a full version of my Game of the Year list (which is in my lists on the site, with short descriptions,) let's rip into some special awards, eh?
CUTEST CHARACTER AWARD
Okay, he’s a goofy looking potato-man throughout most of your playthrough. But those who have played Fez for a significant amount of time know the exact moment Gomez turns from doofy doughboy to OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT HE’S SOOOOO CUUUUUUTE. When those eight little cubelets turn into one full, golden cube, or after collecting a devious anti-cube, Gomez’s face effectively turns into a smile of joyous size. And there’s one other moment in the finale where he takes on pretty monumental cuteness, too.
Maybe it’s just the fact that Gomez’s cutest moments are at such rewarding points in the game. It’s always just after you’ve solved something especially devious, or explored a large section of Fez’s gorgeous world, or when you’ve just completed the game! And perhaps it’s to his benefit that he’s the star of one of the few nonviolent games that are any good. But Gomez’s cuteness should probably have faded away at some point in my brain, and it never did. He’s adorable!
In fact, he’s so adorable, that I’m gonna let Gomez present the rest of the awards. We’ll call them The Gomies.
You know what else is adorable? Costumes. And super-heroes are hot in movies these days, so Gomez has a pretty wide range of X-Men costumes to present these awards in! Sure, it might be more topical to have him dressed up as The Avengers, or Batman, or pretty much any super hero other than the X-Men, but I didn’t find fan art of Gomez dressed up as any super-heroes other than the X-Men, so he’s gonna dress as them, dig?
THE WOLVERINE GOMIE FOR MOST SAVAGE GAME
I feel weird recommending Hotline Miami to anybody who hasn’t seen the film Drive. It’s not so much that I think the “true value” of Hotline Miami is lost to those who aren’t familiar with Refn’s recent masterpiece. I think the reason would be that I know someone who enjoyed Drive won’t be disgusted with me for explaining what makes Hotline Miami so incredible.
Hotline Miami is a brutal, addictive, messy game where your sap of an assassin has gotten involved in something way, way over his head. Whether he’s a hitman of his own free will or a prisoner of psychopaths, he’s walking into house after house after office building after sleazy 80’s club and murdering all of the faceless thugs inside. There’s no quarter and absolutely no restraint. The gore is gross for a game presented in pixel art. The game plays with the nature of reality, too, which fits the game’s drug-addled 1989 club atmosphere.
The addictive nature of the game comes through in its core gameplay and music. The electronic drone of Hotline Miami makes you feel like you’re on some sort of intense and powerful drug, and the gameplay is so directly responsive that it’s very easy to fall into a trance-like state. Some people talking about Hotline Miami talk about getting keyed up while playing, to the point they felt near cardiac arrest. This wasn’t my experience. I tuned out the world around me during my playthrough, riding on an adrenaline-filled high.
The morning after my first night with Hotline Miami, I took ill. The rush had fallen off, and reviews of the game were beginning to ooze out of the outlets I read most commonly. With, well, glowing scores. I felt terrible. How had I enjoyed this game so much? It’s a disgusting and violent game, no matter how great the game’s feedback loop.
Then I looked up the most memorable song from the soundtrack.
Not a minute into the song, I was at my desktop, headphones on, booting the game. I finished it in the second sitting.
Hotline Miami is savage towards its denizens and its players. It doesn’t just treat its characters with disdain, but it hates the player equally. And while other games carried similar narrative intentions of disdain towards video game violence, no game makes the player as complicit to violence as Hotline Miami, nor does any game make such a good case for us enjoying it.
(This spoiler tag is for those who want to know a little more about the game’s narrative. It is spoiler-y. If you’re not going to play the game, read away.)
The game’s narrative arc focuses mostly on the question as to whether your protagonist enjoys the violence he’s committing. Three psychopaths in animal masks vaguely threaten your character. It’s implied that you are a prisoner of these masked men, However, the discovery comes in an epilogue focused on another character that the hitmen sign up for this job on their own; they are adrenaline junkies looking for a thrill who have gotten in over their head.
The narrative parallels the player’s arc. We are not “forced” to play violent games. We choose to do so. The game is pretty explicit about this, and it’s very difficult to miss the game’s message during a playthrough. The “true ending” of the game reveals that the psychopaths are U.S. hypernationalists looking to take down “communists infiltrating the nation.” This justification is unsatisfying and a bit ridiculous, but sensible; there is no good justification for the violence committed.
THE STORM GOMIE FOR CATCHING LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE
First-person shooters don’t really do it for me most of the time. Occasionally, a game like Halo 3 or the original Modern Warfare will come out and force me through its campaign in a rush. Other times, games like Singularity and BioShock will entice me enough to play through them, with just-solid-enough gunplay and excellent enough level design to get me through to the finale. The Darkness, released in 2007 against BioShock, Halo 3, Crysis, and the original Modern Warfare, was not one of those games. Its ambition and neat aesthetic were something I’ve appreciated from afar for some time, but I’ve never finished the game. Its gunplay is just a bit too wonky, and its only really effective characters are Jenny and Mike Patton’s excellent performance as The Darkness itself.
But somehow, The Darkness II is a successful and greater sequel than anyone could have imagined walking out of The Darkness. It’s got an incredibly engaging and empathetic cast of characters, a strange, post-modern storyline that helped segue into this year’s more reflective games, and pitch-perfect gameplay.
Enjoying my time with the characters of The Darkness II was pretty incredible. I feel comfortable saying that Jenny Romano, your girlfriend, is absolutely one of the best-written female characters in games. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her strong, or independent, or even defiant of the tropes that led to the incredible #onereasonwhy games feminist movement earlier this year. I just found her to be legimitately…human and feminine. She felt honest to me, in a way most game characters do not.
And, strangely, the game seems precognitive of this year’s largest video game themes. The exhaustion for violence in games is reflected in Hotline Miami, Spec Ops: The Line, Max Payne 3, and, if you believe its lead writer, Far Cry 3. Those are, unsurprisingly, also the nominees for Most Savage Game. But I think Jackie Estacado might actually have said it best.
Jackie Estacado said:
“Once The Darkness gets ahold of you, you start to lose control. You start to wonder what the fuck you're doin'. Time slips away from you. And then, all of a sudden, it's like you're sittin' in a theater, watchin' a movie of your own life. And you're up there on the big screen. Big as life, you're a fuckin' movie star. And you're killin' all the bad guys, tearing them limb from limb. And you feel good. You look good. Fuck, you are good. And then you realize something. Everyone else in the theater: they're screamin', 'cuz they're watchin' a horror movie. And you're not the hero...
You're the monster...”
I think the thing that is most tragic about The Darkness II is how greatly its shooting has been overlooked. Most people seem to agree that The Darkness II’s storyline and presentation are pretty great, but the gameplay is just this awesome twitch-shooting arcade romp. The evolution of Jackie’s powers over the game is pretty amazing, too, and there are so many awesome powers in the game that it eventually gets challenging to figure out where to specialize your character first (answer; go for Dark Armor, always.)
In a year filled with power fantasies, The Darkness II made me feel by far the most powerful. In fact, I don’t think a shooter is the proper follow-up to The Darkness II; by the end, I felt so powerful that I felt the next game would properly be a Devil May Cry or God of War-style character action game to account for the diversity of It also had a great cast of characters, and turned me from a Darkness nonbeliever to the top editor on the Jenny Romano page. And while I don’t think Digital Extremes has let the electricity out of the glass receptacle yet based on their fantastic ending, I think they’re probably going to have to put that bottle in storage for some time now. The game…didn’t really sell all that well. It sounds like it did slightly better than Catherine. That’s good-ish, I guess. But not necessarily good enough to greenlight another The Darkness game.
Hopefully, we’ll get The Darkness III. Either way, my eyes will be on Digital Extremes’ next project. But, until then, I feel content in saying that this game is the kind of masterwork that won’t strike twice.
Stay tuned for more awards throughout the week! And, for those looking for more contentious Game of the Year deliberations than those which appeared on Giant Bomb this year, subscribe to the Nerf'd Facebook Page or the podcast itself on iTunes! Our Game of the Year deliberations should be up by Friday, but due to some recording issues, we're guaranteeing it'll be up by next week. Follow the Facebook page for the official release, as well as our panel's personal Top 10 lists!
You can find links to the other Gomies posts here: