eGamer Mini-Awards 2012: Best Romance
What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. No not just for some, but for everyone. The Carpenters (ironic that I would use them on the day when some celebrate the birth of another carpenter) certainly had it right when they said that much. Whether they were implying something a little more Roman orgy or not, we don’t know, but we like to think it’s about celebrating love and that’s what we’re here to do today.
Gaming romances have evolved over time from the backwards and forwards bumping of pixelated crotches in something like Custer’s Revenge to fully fleshed out, well-realised romances between characters with emotion, depth and above all else, the ability to portray believable affection. For some games, this was the key element of the story, for others it was just something cool on the side that added that much more attachment to the entire package.
While the mistletoe is still out and nobody is under it, let’s take this opportunity to celebrate some of gaming’s best romances for the year of 2012.
Catherine — Vincent / Katherine / Catherine
Like all really great things in life, let’s begin this particular award with a love triangle. Vincent is in a relationship with Katherine, a very down-to-Earth female with sound values and an eye to the future, who has started to talk about such things as marriage and starting a family. This frightens Vincent, causing him to get a little too drunk one night and meet Catherine, an easy-going blonde who is all about the moment. They end up in bed together and the next day, Vincent realises his mistake and must somehow deal with two women who want a future with him, while trying to figure what it is exactly that he wants for himself. What’s amazing is that in doing so, the player is asked various questions that challenge their own ways of thinking and Vincent effectively becomes a rendition of the person playing him, based on those answers. It was both a harrowing and enlightening experience to play through Catherine and watch who Vincent ended up siding with. I was always hoping it would be Katherine, though. I dislike blondes.
Borderlands 2 — Lilith / Roland
Probably the most awkward romance of this year, in Borderlands 2 we were treated to the aftermath of the first game in which four brave vault hunters opened a vault that contained… well, nothing in particular. The thing that’s really great about this particular romance is the character continuity. As players go through Borderlands 2, it is revealed that Lilith and Roland fell in love and engaged in a romance, however Roland’s constant desire to fight in battles and Lilith’s desire to be left alone caused a rift that ended their relationship. However, they were still forced to work together and the result is some of the most comically awkward interactions you will ever see in a game, ever. It was great that a soldier and a siren found love, in such a hopeless place (had to) but it was even funnier that it didn’t quite work out. It’s one of those, “I love you, but I’m no longer in love with you” things that really stands out in Borderlands 2.
Mass Effect 3 — Male Shepard / Tali
I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that Commander Shepard of Mass Effect fame is something of a man-whore. If it has a hole, he will try to fuck it. In fact in the third game, he doesn’t even care about sexual orientation. Legs? Will fuck. No legs? Good enough, will still fuck. Okay it’s not that bad but the ridiculous amounts of memes have said enough of how promiscuous Shepard can be at times. It’s quite something then that the stand-out relationship for the series is one where it might actually be love and not just physical desire. Tali is easily the sweetest character of Shepard’s squads over the three games and also one of two to feature on all three. While this technically means she might not make it to the third game, it does set up for the most endearing and truly heartwearming love stories of the game, where an insecure and physically unappealing (except for those hips… daaaaamn…) alien finds comfort and care in her commander, who is a pillar of hope for her. It will touch you in so many places, watching the two of them be awkward and yet cute at the same time.
The Darkness II — Jackie / Jenny
Jackie Estacado watched his girlfriend Jenny Romano get shot in the head, right before his eyes. The trauma was enough to cause him to embrace the Darkness and become something more than human as he set out on a quest for vengeance. Having achieved that in the first game, Jackie decided that it was time to let go of the Darkness and live a normal life but unfortunately it doesn’t just go down without a fight. In the sequel, Jackie is informed that Jenny is still alive and his new quest, his eternal drive, the focus of all his energies, becomes finding and rescuing her. Think Mario but a far more grittier, Italian (wait…) Mafia vibe, with elements of mythology involved. Jackie is a man in love who desires to be reunited with his lover; something that can never happen if the Darkness is to be believed because unbeknownst to Jackie, Jenny is his one weakness and will be the end of him if he keeps to his foolish mission to save her. The Darkness II boasts a romance that is both sweet and cruelly engaging, as you discover that Jackie and Jenny, like a certain Capulet and Montague, truly are star-crossed lovers.
Lollipop Chainsaw — Nick / Juliet
Nobody enjoys high school romances. They’re too full of awkwardness, drama and teenage emotions that ruin what is otherwise a time of enjoying life. You date a guy for a week and already you’re talking about marrying him, then in a few months when it doesn’t work out, you hate his living guts. It’s all so Mean Girls, and little known to you, the rest of the world really could not care less. But in Lollipop Chainsaw, for whatever reason, we really could care about Juliet Starling and her boyfriend Nick. Maybe it’s because she’s a cheerleader zombie hunter, or maybe it’s because he’s been reduced to a severed head on a mount hanging off his girlfriend’s perfectly shaped butt. Juliet and Nick are cutesy, somewhat nauseatingly so, but their romance is pulled off so well that you want to like them more than you want to hate them. It feels like a romance and while it’s absolutely bonkers, the situation that they’re in, you almost want to see them have some happily ever after. This, compounded by the fact that Juliet kisses Nick every time you use any sort of power-up, really lends to the aesthetic of a high school romance done right.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops II — Alex Mason / Frank Woods
… What? Let’s be honest here, in the entire year of gaming, how many times did you play through the game and witness a character consistently watching your back (suggestively or otherwise) and always looking out for you, then mourning upon realising the error of their ways? What Mason and Woods had bordered on homoerotic at times, especially that part where Woods exclaims, “You can’t kill me!” I could feel the oxytocin from all the way across my room. In all seriousness though, this is just a joke nomination because I really liked their bromance and wanted to give some recognition to it. Note to self: Bromance award, next year.
In a year so full of amazing romances that truly touched our hearts without requiring us to touch our genitals (looking at you, Heavy Rain) it’s really difficult to pick an overall winner when really, they’re all winners. Just to be able to portray digital love is quite an achievement in a medium such as gaming where the audience is still maturing over time. It’s telling of how far we’ve come as an audience.
Still, there must be a winner…
Catherine’s entire story revolved around romance. In many ways, it was the love simulator of 2012, where the scenes presented to you in anime form told you a story that you then played out as Vincent at his local watering hole and then later those nights in his dream sequences, which posed many questions to the character. Some of those questions had me sitting and staring at my screen for ages as I decided, an example being: “Your lover is cheating on you. Do you…” with possible answers being: “Break up with them,” or “Make them end it.” Try and really think about that one, and consider the connotations of each. This is just one example of a myriad, where the game tested not just your ability to quickly solve puzzles but also everything you thought you knew about yourself. And watching it all play out thereafter, with Vincent making his inevitable choice (with eight possible endings), you realise that it was you who was in the romance that entire time and he was merely your vessel. Mind blown?