Best Concept: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
It takes guts to remake a classic game by ripping it apart and rebuilding it from the ground up. Just about the only thing that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has in common with its 1998 predecessor is the initial premise: the bookish Harry Mason searching for his missing daughter in the once-quaint, now-hellish resort town of Silent Hill. But while the original relied heavily on the familiar “survival horror” formula, Shattered Memories brazenly and successfully stakes out its own territory with several ideas new to both the franchise and its genre.
The Silent Hill series has always been about pitting ordinary people against the surreal, the horrifying, and the unknowable, but this is the first time that the protagonist has been totally defenseless – Harry’s only option when faced with the nightmare creatures of the town is to run. The lack of combat makes encounters with the monsters of Silent Hill feel helpless, desperate, and intense. To balance the tension, however, Shattered Memories clearly distinguishes the limited action-based escape scenarios from the leisurely (if still terrifying) adventure portions that fill much of the experience, solving puzzles and exploring without any threat of attack.
Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Perhaps just as conceptually noteworthy is the game’s “psychological profiling” system, combining in-game psychoanalysis sessions (which frame the game’s main story) with concealed analysis of each gamer’s play style to alter the characters, locations, and narrative to a surprising degree. This system brilliantly plays into the game’s themes of perception, memory, and grief. Just one of these concepts might have earned this award on its own merits, but together they made an unstoppable force.
Runners-Up: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, Machinarium
Readers’ Choice: Machinarium
We didn’t ask for specifics, so it’s hard to know exactly what concept impressed you readers the most about Machinarium. But isn’t that really the point? Whether it's the silent storyline, tightly-interwoven game areas, three-tiered height restriction, clever moving-parts logic puzzles, or just the brilliantly-imagined robot world itself, when you don’t know which conceptual element is most impressive, you know a game is onto something good.
Runners-Up: Tales of Monkey Island, Time Gentlemen, Please!
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Next up: Best Setting... the envelope, please!