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Video Game Awards in Vegas: ‘Mass Effect 2’ beats ‘Red Dead’

The action-role-playing game “Mass Effect 2” won Game of the Year over “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” “Red Dead Redemption,”God of War III” and “Angry Birds” on Thursday night at one of the top video game awards, at Red Rock hotel.Mass Effect 2

At first blush, you may think “Mass Effect 2’s” real competition for the award was “Black Ops” since “Black Ops” grossed more than $1 billion in sales in November-through-December alone.

But the critic’s darling “Mass Effect 2” had to beat was “Red Dead Redemption,” as evidenced by its winning Best Game Direction and Best Action game at the Interactive Achievement Awards, in Red Rock Ballroom.

But truly, “Mass Effect 2” should have won. It’s a zillion-hour behemoth set in space, where the gamer portrays a ship commander docking around the universe (it’s a huge game), interacting with crew members and planetary residents (that’s the role-playing part, with massive dialogue choices in a compelling plot), and sharp, engaging shoot-outs.

“Mass Effect 2” also won Best Story and Best Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year.

“God of War III” would have been the next-best choice for Game of the Year. It is an astounding, continued vision of the journey of the rise and fall of a God of War, the gripping story of a bad Spartan who killed his family in a blackout rage, climbing Mount Olympus to avenge his soul against Zeus. It features extraordinary illustrations (really, more beautiful art than almost any movie of the past 10 years), grand storytelling and cinema scenes, plus addicting action.God of War III

“God of War III,” however, had to be happy with Best Animation.

Meanwhile, the best Portable Game of the year went to “God of War: Ghost of Sparta,” which is nearly as compelling, lush and action-packed as “God of War III.”

What’s sad about the “Ghost of Sparta” win is only that, since it’s only available for the Sony PSP, it signifies how far behind the PSP is in sales. Game disks rarely even come out for the PSP now. Meanwhile, the Nintendo DSi is the handheld game of choice for kids and families. And now the PSP is competing against the, more or less, crappy games people are buying en masse for their iPhones and i-products. To be blunt, the PSP has always been in a sort of Beta-vs.-VHS fight with the DS, and the DS has won, as did VHS.

But the DS is now getting rivaled by the video game industry collecting value (not just monetarily) in the iPhone and iPad market. Game companies see iGames as casual entry points for people who wouldn’t normally buy a game. And they’re right theoretically. But will those casual gamers who love “Angry Birds” truly use it as a gateway into deeper, harder, better games for Xbox 360 and PS3? There’s no indication yet that they will in massive numbers.

Speaking of which, the iGame “Angry Birds” won Casual Game of the year, after dominating the games division of Apple’s downloadable games.

But a casual game like "Angry Birds" was never going to win Game of the Year, just as a Kate Hudson romcom will never win Best Picture. Not in front of the black-tie crowd at these awards, these top few hundred video game directors, animators and programmers in the world, as well as some of the most influential game editors.

If Duke Nukem had walked into the Red Rock Ballroom and blown everyone away with a rocket launcher, the video game world would have been left in ruins.

The surprise of the night was the awesome, morbid “Limbo” walking away with Best Adventure and Best Sound. It’s a beautiful three-hour downloadable game from Xbox Live, in which you portray a little boy (shown in silhouette the entire game) fighting the elements and lost souls of Purgatory, trying to save his sister.Limbo

To win Best Adventure, “Limbo” beat out “Alan Wake” (a phenomenal game that blends the elements of a novel and a movie), plus “Heavy Rain” (another novelistic-movie inspired adventure), “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West” and “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.”

In fact, “Limbo” lost one of its nominations, Outstanding Innovation in Gaming, to “Heavy Rain,” a great choice itself, as a tale well-told that changes dramatically based on the gamer’s choices. Choice-alterations isn’t the innovation. “Heavy Rain” is innovative for being almost all story, like a mini-series, or a series of movies, in which you control various characters in a plethora of scenes. Imagine playing a dark HBO mini-series. That’s what it feels like.

The other big winners were “Super Street Fighter IV” (Fighting); “FIFA Soccer 11” (Sports); “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” (Racing); “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty” (Strategy/Simulation; and best Online Game Play); “Dance Central” (Family); and “Rock Band 3” (Soundtrack).

It’s easy to make too much of the downside of some of these victories. “Rock Band 3,” for instance, is in the “Rock Band” line of music games. Meanwhile, Activision has announced it’s cutting off future production of its “Guitar Hero” music games.

But this kind of ebb and flow of game genres is a normal part of the game business, just as expanding and contracting happens all the time in any other industry. Obviously, we’re in a recession, though. And although the game industry did better than most sectors of the American economy in 2009, it struggled in 2010, to varying degrees, despite sky-high sales of “Black Ops” and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 with its new interactive Kinect.

So that leaves us in the usual position of asking simply: Did these video game awards get it right?

My answer is “sure.” There certainly was no travesty of a victory for any one game.

If I had been in charge, I would have nominated “Fable III” and “Just Cause 2” for Best Game, instead of “Angry Birds” and “Red Dead Redemption,” because “Fable III” is an incredibly fun romp, and “Just Cause 2” is the most splendid, addicting “Grand Theft Auto”-type game possibly ever; and “Angry Birds” is too slight for Best Game; and the Western “Red Dead Redemption” was inspired but not inspiring (too slow, too much repetition, too much backtracking, or as I call it “Grand Theft Horse”).

Anyone who loved “Red Dead Redemption”: I dare you to go play the first “Red Dead Revolver,” one of my Top 5 games of all time. Anything cool in “Redemption” had pretty much been done in “Revolver” years ago, and better, if smaller.Red Dead Redemption

“Fallout: New Vegas” also got shut out. It’s a vibrant epic, though it lost a lot of support because too often during the game, the whole thing will freeze on your TV screen, forcing you to turn off your Xbox 360 or PS 3, and losing whatever progress you made after your last save point. Which sucks. Still, it’s worth the trouble.

Anyway, the awards are hard to argue with. This isn’t like the Golden Globes or the Oscars, where people win awards when they shouldn’t but they look pretty in a dress. As disappointing as I thought “Red Dead” was, I understand why people loved it. Even some of the game bigwigs I was sitting next to loved it. However, they hadn’t played many of the other games. Several told me they hadn’t played “Mass Effect 2” or “God of War III,” but they were cheering “Red Dead” because they knew it.

Yet who can blame them for not playing all the big games? Each of these games can eat up 20 to 60 hours of your life just to get to the end — the first time you play it, and not counting the multitude of hours it takes to delve into the online modes of most of these games.

In other words, for anyone with a job to get through to the end of one game in one week could take all his or her non-sleeping spare time. It’s probably literally impossible for any one person to play and beat every game on the market in a given year.

And with that, I’ll leave you with the trailer for "Limbo." Look how sumptuous this thing is:

 

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