|Awards programs are, essentially, best-of-year lists, and two recent gala affairs in the North American video-game industry shed light on how unimaginative this years choices were.
On February 8, the Interactive Achievement Awards (IAAs) were handed out in Las Vegas by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Overwhelmingly, Microsoft Game Studios Gears of War, developed by Epic Games, came out on top at the IAAs, winning overall game of the year, console game of the year, action game of the year and another five awards for technical achievements.
Ive played Gears of War, and I found it to be an exhilarating experience. The controls were easy to learn, the game play was fast and fluid, and the never-ending carnage makes it worthy of your time. But handing it game of the year? Only a hardcore gamer would pick Gears as top title, but it is hardly the kind of game that transcends the stereotype.
To my mind, game of the year should go to a title that is innovative and original, and adds to the canon of video-games. The only thing really new about Gears of War was the mechanism by which your character moves from cover to cover while in a firefight, and that idea was derived from Namcos game kill.switch.
I will admit that Gears of War had the best advertising campaign of the year a television spot that suggested the experience of playing the game would be emotional. The game, though fun to play, did not fulfill that expectation.
At least Gears of War didnt win for story or writing. That honour, in the form of an outstanding achievement in story and character development award went to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, a game that did little more than recycle a plot and characters that were introduced 20 years ago when Shigeru Miyamotos first Legend of Zelda was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
A month later, in San Francisco, I attended the Game Developers Choice Awards, which are bestowed by the International Game Developers Association. Once again, Gears of War cleaned up, winning awards for best game, visual arts, and technology. Twilight Princess won the award for writing.
Im reluctant to perpetuate something I detest, namely top-ten lists, but there were a few games from 2006 that I believe were exceptional.
Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy was able to convey story and emotion using characters that looked like plastic Lego pieces. Even the half-dozen people in the world who dont know the story and characters of the Luke Skywalker/Han Solo/Princess Leia trilogy are able to tell when the Lego version of the Princess is perturbed with her rescuers. A simple frown, a crossing of the arms, and a tapping foot are all that is required.
Okami is a game steeped in myth that requires players to rejuvenate the environment by painting it with a brush and ink. Ill admit that your sidekick, Issun, comes dangerously close to ruining the game, but the depth of the story and characters and the beauty of the interface overcome his annoying presence.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, from Bethesda/2K Games, is a wide-ranging game that I barely scratched the surface of after playing for about 80 hours. There are multiple races and dozens of completely different environments, all stuffed into a visually thrilling design.
As for writing, there were three games in the past year that struck me as impressive in terms of their ability to develop complex characters and to tell stories with some originality. Bully, developed in Vancouver at Rockstar Vancouver, illuminated the life of an adolescent, trying to survive boarding school. Prey, from 2K Games, placed a Native character in the role of protagonist and based the story on a twist to North American Aboriginal mythology. Finally, Sony Computer Entertainments Resistance: Fall of Man is in the same category as Gears of War, but tells a better story, about an alternate history in which Earth is attacked by an alien force prior to the Second World War. The U.S. and British military combine forces to fight the Chimera rather than Hitlers Germans.