From one award ceremony to another, Wednesday the 12th of March will mark the 10th annual British Academy Game Awards. Along with Spike’s VGX awards, the BAFTA game awards are probably the one of the most prestigious gaming award shows in the world and will give out awards for categories such as Best Game, Game Design and Performer, as well as awards for individual genres. The ceremony will also be hosted by comedian and avid gaming fan, Dara Ó Briain, so not only is it an opportunity to recognise quality work within the gaming industry but it is also a lot of laughs.
Unlike last week’s Oscar nomination article, this won’t be a category by category analysis, not even for the big prize of Best Game. That is largely because the category is a two horse race between Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us. Grand Theft Auto V should win because as a series it continues to innovate and change with every passing era. It incorporates entertaining and interactive storytelling with openness and places as few limitations as possible on the player. Grand Theft Auto V is the kind of game that doesn’t have an ulterior motive, it just wants you to have fun in whichever way you want and that kind of approach to gaming should be rewarded. That being said, I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if The Last of Us pulled out a win.
However, the nominations for the various awards to the BAFTA gaming awards highlights some interesting points in relation to three games; Papers Please, Beyond: Two Souls and Batman: Arkham Origins. Firstly, I’m really happy to see Papers, Please being nominated for four awards, most remarkably Best Game. I’m not so deluded to think that the game could pull out the win there but I would be hopeful that the game might pick up one of the awards from Game Design, Game Innovation or Strategy and Simulation.
If you are sitting, reading this, and wondering what the hell Papers, Please is, don’t worry; I had no idea that this game existed either until I watched a Zero Punctuation video review by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw over on The Escapist. In the game you take the role of an immigrant inspector and must process the applicants who attempt to pass through the border. At the end of each day, the player is paid based on how many applications were successfully processed, including rightfully turning someone away, and then the player is given the decision of divide up the income between things like food, heating and medicine. The country appears to be a kind of Soviet state and have some rather harsh policies at times, sometimes forcing the player in to a moral dilemma of turning someone away because you will be paid and can feed your family or letting a woman through so that she can be with her husband.
The interface is extremely basic but capable of being more heart wrenching than many of the most realistic games I’ve ever played simply because it offers the player a struggle between self-happiness and the happiness of others. It can genuinely make you feel like a monster to have to detain someone so that you buy medicine for your child. In the later stages it becomes a struggle imply to quickly process immigrants because of the quantity of fact checking required. The game doesn’t look pretty and sounds dull but actual game play is actually very intense and emotional.
Beyond: Two Souls could learn a lot from Papers, Please; especially, perhaps, that less is more. In an October 19th review, I noted that the story of Beyond: Two Souls was ‘pretty good, though…nothing Oscar worthy’. And yet, because the game was largely story driven, it’s exclusion from the Story award at the BAFTA Game Awards must feel harsh. Quantic Dream games have always been story driven, to the point where some consider them to be more along the lines of interactive films than legitimate games. Whether that is true or not, one would have suspected the game to at least be nominated for the story award given that is what it was geared towards. That is not to say it should win. Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, The Stanley Parable and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons would all be more deserving winners. Yet, few games have ever been so bold to employ nonlinear story telling in gaming to such a degree and while I don’t think it ultimately works because it undermines the ability of the player to make impactful choices, the effort at least deserved a nomination.
However, if Beyond: Two Soul’s story award snub was an insult to the game then Batman: Arkham Origins’ exclusion from the entire show must be absolutely damning. Oh, how far it has fallen from the Game of the Year days of Batman: Arkham Asylum. It is not hard to see why Origins was overlooked though. Aesthetically the game looks no different from Batman: Arkham City whist the game play feels unresponsive and lacks the fluid movement of the previous games. The inclusion of Black Mask and assassins such as Slade Wilson quickly fades out, leaving Batman battling the same villains that he has for the previous two games and collecting the same equipment with which to do it. The game is as buggy as any game I’ve seen from Bethesda Games as well. There is nothing innovate about this game and what they did basically lift from the previous games, they didn’t even do well. Here’s hoping the recently announced Batman: Arkham Knight will do the series justice but it’s going to take more than the batmobile to repair this damage.
Who knew the gaming industry was capable of such scandal? Keep an eye out this Wednesday for the winners and see if Papers Please pulls out an upset over Grand Theft Auto V (unlikely, I know) or watch the battle of the lookalikes when Ashley Johnson, who plays Ellie in The Last of Us, takes on Ellen Page’s character Jodie Holmes from Beyond: Two Souls. Whoever wins it’s a great night for the games industry and gamers alike.