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Most Ridiculous Use of FMV
As players of the 1990s, we'll probably always have a soft spot in our hearts for full-motion video in gaming... especially when it's used for something completely ridiculous. While we'll probably never get back to the heady days of stuff like Night Trap and Sewer Shark, there are still a few teams out there finding crazy was to incorporate real people and footage into their games. But none did it crazier and more over-the-topperest than Twisted Pixel did with Comic Jumper.
After spending some time fooling you into thinking that it's a fairly standard side-scrolling shooter, Comic Jumper goes off the rails completely with a hilarious video intro that sets the stage for what's to come. The human side of the game is revisited a few times throughout, going so far as to actually put members of the game's development team in as characters in the game. But it's the super attack, a strong pummeling from a collection of human arms, legs, and even heads, that sends it over the moon. Those Twisted Pixel guys are out of their minds in the most glorious way possible, and Comic Jumper's dedication to making the most out of every single megabyte of video is actually the best part of the entire production.
Runners-up: The Fight: Lights Out, Alan Wake
Most Improved Franchise
Despite our half-ironic affection for Need for Speed: Most Wanted--or, perhaps, because of it--we've been increasingly disappointed with the year-over-year iterations that the Need for Speed series has been subjected to since. Even when it was revealed earlier this year that Burnout developer Criterion Games--arguably the best arcade-style racing developer in the world right now--would be taking the reins with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, we were skeptical.
But Criterion destroyed any and all doubts with Hot Pursuit, a razor-sharp racer featuring gorgeous visuals, a solid sense of speed, and a smart progression system that encouraged you to play the game however you liked, whether that meant focusing on playing as the pursuing cops or the evasive racers, playing online or off, or any combination thereof. The Autolog feature was specifically a revelation, dynamically generating attainable challenges based on how good your friends actually are at Hot Pursuit. The Need for Speed name is stronger than it has been for a good decade now, thanks entirely to Hot Pursuit, which is why we choose it for Most Improved Franchise of 2010.
Runners-up: Red Steel, Just Cause
Most Egregious Use Of Product Placement/In-Game Advertising
We're not even sure how this happened. How, exactly, do you ship a game where the main story is all about "fighting the man" while simultaneously making room in your story for pervasive branding? Shaun White should be ripping down these Stride gum billboards, not "freeing" the oppressive billboards and allowing them to show this friendly on-brand message! Seriously, did anyone even look at this before putting it on shelves?
To take matters one step further, the game even has a branded achievement/trophy that unlocks when you complete this grim task. It's too bad, too, because there are certainly some interesting ideas in Shaun White Skateboarding. But this aspect is so incredibly misguided that I don't think any of us will ever find out how it all turns out in the end.
Runners-up: Alan Wake, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
A game so critically focused on story and characters as Heavy Rain really ought to nail all of its dramatic elements. It's not as though there are any upgradable skill trees or headshots or 10-hit combos to fall back on; making your way through the plot is the experience in Heavy Rain, and while Quantic Dream did significantly advance the art of interactive storytelling in its long-awaited PS3 exclusive, there were a few lacking elements that kept this game from fully realizing its potential. One of those elements was just, man, the way people talked was kind of weird. Just weird enough to throw off the natural feel of the story, at least.
Now, we're not trying to claim anyone speaks unintelligibly in Heavy Rain or anything. The acting itself is generally quite serviceable. It's just that, for a story that's so clearly set and grounded in a specific area of the northeastern United States, it's pointedly obvious every so often that many of the principal voice actors in the game aren't native speakers of American English. The largely European cast gets it right 99 percent of the time--but that makes the contrast all the more glaring when they subtly slip up. It's that stray inflection here or oddly enunciated syllable there that takes you out of the story and makes you think "Oh yeah, right, this game was made in a place other than where it's set." For such a narrative-driven game, every aspect of the production should enhance, and not distract from, the storytelling.
Runners-up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Dead Rising 2
Best Wii-Only Game
We'll admit, it's maybe a little on-the-nose to choose a Mario game as the best game on a Nintendo platform, particularly when it's a direct sequel to a three-year-old title that originated most of its clever ideas. But none of that really matters, because Super Mario Galaxy 2 is just that good. This is Nintendo at the absolute top of its game, delivering bracingly inventive polygonal platforming action that builds on the sturdy foundation laid by the first Galaxy and a lush, playful art style that makes any technical arguments about the Wii moot. This is pure, unadulterated video-game bliss, and our pick for Best Wii-Only Game of 2010.
Runners-up: Kirby's Epic Yarn, GoldenEye 007