Enslaved isn't my favourite game of 2010. It isn't the title I spent the most time playing. It doesn't even fit within the central themes which ran through my gaming year: dancing, farming, waggling, waving and platforming like it's 1994.
I've chosen Enslaved as my game of the year all the same. In truth, this is partly because I've said all I have to say about dancing games and FarmVille and retro comebacks. And because I can barely remember anything about all those waggly and wavy games except the fact that at least half of them had "sports" in the title and only three of them were any good.
But to say it's just because of that would be doing Enslaved a disservice. This game stood out, and it still sticks in my mind three months on. I recall it being flawed, no doubt, but it was also more original, engaging and memorable than almost all the other games I played in the last 12 months.
At the risk of sounding negative, a lot of that is down to what Enslaved is not. It isn't yet another instalment in yet another blockbuster series. It features new characters, a new storyline and a new world to explore. (All right, they're nicked off an ancient Chinese legend, but I can't say I'm familiar with it. I did watch the eighties TV show but that made no sense anyway.)
A special mention has to go to the score by Nitin Sawhney. Never intrusive, always appropriate and sometimes just beautiful, it's the perfect accompaniment whether you're engaged in a tense action sequence or enjoying a bit of the old pathos. It sets the game's tone in a subtler but no less effective way than all those post-apocalyptic landscapes.
Enslaved is not an embarrassment when it comes to storytelling and character acting, like so many videogames are. The script, by The Beach and 28 Days Later author Alex Garland, is tight and believable. Characters don't bang on and on about what's happening around them, just in case you missed it. They communicate at least as much with their facial expressions and body language as they do with their words, just like in proper films. And, you know, real life.
As I wrote in my review, Enslaved has been constructed with the understanding that what is left unsaid can have more of an impact than what is said. This is important because so much of what is said in videogames is unnecessary, poorly written and riddled with clichés.
In Enslaved, no one says, "Goddamit, Colonel! We have to get the appropriately coloured keys to the correct laser-powered control panels before the reactor heats up above its maximum core temperature and blows this place sky high, or we'll all end up deader than fried chicken!" for example.
Compare another action-adventure based on original IP and released this year - Alan Wake (yes, we're really going there). That game also represented a bold attempt to tell a proper storyline with a proper script.
Unfortunately the attempt failed, partly because the writing wasn't good enough and partly because the game didn't trust the player to experience tension without being told it was time to. Alan's constant commentary on the action quickly became grating, and conveyed his feelings less effectively than Monkey's gruff grunts and sideways looks.
Perhaps most of all, Enslaved didn't ask as much of me as so many of the other games I played this year. It didn't insist I interact with people online. It didn't demand I buy a new controller. It didn't reach its full potential only with the addition of alcohol or small children. It never required me to wave my arms or kick my legs or hit imaginary balls. It didn't even ask me to stand up.
I just sat on the sofa, on my own, pressing some buttons and quietly enjoying myself for several hours at a time.
I didn't mind too much about the formulaic gameplay, the silly upgrade system or the dull on-rails sections. I didn't care that the game offered little in the way of challenge. I enjoyed button-mashing my way through fights. I liked being able to run, jump and swing around environments without fear of falling.
What conclusions can we draw from this? That I'm lazy, of course. This is a fair point considering the most exercise I've had in the last 12 months is trying to beat a six year-old girl at Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. (She won.)
More importantly, that Enslaved has enough good stuff going for it to make it possible to overlook the game's flaws. For me, that good stuff includes an engaging storyline, a credible script, quality acting, excellent pacing and a superb score.
And yes, the gameplay. It may be familiar but it's well-designed and solid, making for a fluid, satisfying and rarely frustrating gaming experience. I don't always want to perform pixel-perfect jumps or learn complex fighting combos. Sometimes I just want to press a button to make the man punch the robot in the face.
So I like Enslaved, enough to make it my game of the year. You can find it online for less than 20 quid now, and if you missed out back in October I highly recommend a purchase. Mind you, come Boxing Day it won't entertain your toddling nephew and tottery old gran half as much as Just Dance 2.