Best Gameplay: Last Window: The Secret of Cape West
Creating a fully immersive experience is always a tough challenge for any developer. We’ve all heard the debates: what’s more imporant – story or puzzles? And we all know the answer: BOTH, working in fully-integrated harmony. Yet even then, gameplay is so much more than those two alone. Exploration needs to be inspiring, character exchanges must be engaging, and interaction should be both relevant and rewarding. The best games understand this, and seek a balanced blend of elements for welcome variety, proper pacing, and sustained interest. You might think an “interactive novel” like Last Window: The Secret of Cape West would favour story to the detriment of all else, but you’d be wrong, as this gripping noir-tinged mystery is deftly supported with equally compelling player participation, making it a worthy winner of our Best Gameplay award.
Exploring the Cape West apartment building means frequently conversing with its other memorable residents, and deftly navigating sensitive subjects becomes an obstacle in itself. You’ll need to pay close attention, too, as each day closes with a reflective quiz that recaps the details of the investigation. The other puzzles provide interesting challenges as well, each seamlessly integrated into the plot and usually involving manipulating objects in clever ways. More impressively, the game frequently uses the unique control features of the Nintendo DS to their fullest. Even the simplest act of tapping directly to knock on a door draws you into the game world, but the many standalone puzzles make even better use of the touch screen. Actions range from delicately fishing out a lost ring to shaking money out of a piggy bank and hurling furniture around. The shoulder buttons, microphone, and folding platform itself are also put to good use in situations where the player’s actions perfectly mimic in-game activity. This constant variety of both challenges and means of personal interaction is more than enough motivation to keep investigating right up to the bittersweet finale.
Runners-Up: Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Puzzle Bots, Heavy Rain
Readers’ Choice: Heavy Rain
While some criticize Heavy Rain for being more movie than game, it seems many welcomed the change from traditional adventure fare, albeit only by a whisker in the closest five-way race of all. Emphasizing exploration, dialogue, decision-making and dramatic action sequences, this game gave players a range of freedom rarely experienced. And with its context-sensitive control scheme, everything from car chases to bringing in the groceries felt natural and rewarding, immersing you further into its multi-layered storyline.
Runners-Up: Lost Horizon, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, The Whispered World
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Next up: Best Concept... the envelope, please!