I think The Darkness II's Jackie Estacado deserves an award for being more utterly screwed in a single instance than any other videogame character in history. So here's the tale of the tape: I – playing as the main character of all first-person shooters: camera-glued-to-the-main-character's-forehead – was locked in a dark, dingy room while a horde of vaguely supernatural mob goons turned my mega-mansion (and my horde of vaguely competent regular mob goons) into a gory pile of mob goop. “Mansion under attack, lol #firstworldproblems,” I could almost imagine Jackie tweeting if he hadn't also been, you know, crucified at the time.
Then one of my none-too-subtle foes wheeled a TV inches away from my eyes so as to – both literally and figuratively – rub my face in what was to come. “It's your own personal snuff film,” he proudly announced. On the screen were two of my particularly talkative underlings – beaten, bound, and on their knees, with backs mercifully turned away from the pistol pointed in their general direction. “One lives, one dies. Pick.” And I should have cared. I really should have.
But I didn't. Not in the slightest. So, what changed between the original Darkness' masterclass in characterization and this sordid tale of heartlessness and heart-eating? Simple: time.
My favorite games of the year were Bastion, Skyrim, and the Witcher 2. Wow, that was easy. And hey, I already wrote extensively about allofthem. Convenient! So instead, I'm gonna discuss some of 2011's lesser-known greats. Previously, I turned into a quivering pile of mush on BioShock 2: Minerva's Den and The Binding of Isaac. And now, a game that may very well top both of them: masterful indie heart-breaker To The Moon.
To The Moon made me cry. Like, eight times. And I don't mean in the “single dramatic tear meandering down my cheek” sense. I'm talking about gushing waterfalls of salty face liquid. You'd have thought everyone I'd ever known and loved acted like they never knew or loved me and then promptly died. Of a disease whose main side effect is tragic irony.
And that's weird, because I figured myself one who'd be impervious to the game's barrage of gut-wrenching sadness bullets. I mean, its two controllable (notice I didn't say “main”) characters often turn humor into a weapon of mass face-palm-worthy irritation, and – aside from largely unneeded end-of-area puzzles – there's hardly even any interactivity to speak of. You walk around and click on predetermined objects. That's it. I'm a gamer. Why should I care about any of that?
However, if nothing else, let To The Moon serve as a lesson on why reductionist thinking is Bad and Wrong. Because if I'd given the game the cold shoulder over those concerns – or even just written it off as another tear-jerking, smile-seeking indie missile – I'd have missed out on one of the most genuinely heartfelt stories I've ever experienced. Videogame or not.