As usual, I’ve missed out on several “game of the year” candidates in 2010, only getting to them some time later, if ever. These include Red Dead Redemption (which I will get), Mass Effect 2 (will play), the new Call Of Duty (was it Black Ops in 2010? Not interested), Civilization V (not interested, never was into Civ beyond the original), Minecraft (probably won’t play, too time-consuming), Starcraft 2 (not my kind of game), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (the original was enough for me and I don’t have a Wii). Regardless, here’s the stuff that stood out for me over the past 12 months.
Games actually released in 2010
Heavy Rain – Is it possible to make an “adventure game” without any videogame logic entering the scenario? People solving problems by talking and making decisions, not finding and using objects? I have been wondering about this since I played my firs’t King’s Quest and it’s turned out that yes, it is. It’s also possible to make a videogame thriller without any fantasy elements. It’s also possible to make a videogame sex scene that I did not smirk at and a plot that I actually cared about on a personal level. I can’t wait to see the next game like this. I’ve been pimping this to folks and dragging them over to our home just to play this game, it’s that good.
Peace Walker – Delivering on the PSP promise of bringing big screen entertainment into my palm and actually being the best game of the huge series, in all respects but name “Metal Gear Solid 5”. Peace Walker wins its big screen big brothers in plot, storytelling, mechanics and fun hands down, not even stumbling on controls. If you’re into MGS, you need to get a PSP for this game alone.
Alan Wake – Mature action adventure with a psychological bent that does a better job than Heavy Rain in remembering it’s a videogame and isn’t any smaller for it. Alan Wake uses its North-West US setting to a great effect and lays its plot with master class writing and editing. You get the sense they’ve cut a lot and there’s a much bigger world than what you get to experience out there. Indeed, some of what’s going on elsewhere and with other people in the city is more intriguing than Alan’s story. Shame about the mechanics becoming a bit stale towards the end, but the story beats are worth your attention all the way through. Also, best forests and darkness ever.
Halo: Reach – The first Halo sequel to capture the energy and emotion of the original, effectively turning back time a decade, except with today’s production values and technology. The storytelling is surprisingly good, the other Spartans you’re running with a great bunch, and the drama of the situation carries you on a tidal wave to the bitter end. A fitting, moving ending to the space saga of today’s kids, growing up without Star Wars.
Rock Band 3 – That Harmonix can keep improving on their already unconquerable game is awe-inspiring and exciting. The keyboard adds substantially to the game, making you learn an entirely new skill, and the Pro mode (drums, guitar and keyboard) is the logical conclusion to the journey myself and thousands of others began with the original Rock Band. I’ve picked up a real guitar since, but that doesn’t put a lid on my enthusiasm for a good Rock Band party.
Dawn Of War II – The Chaos Rising expansion was released in 2010, so I guess this counts. A bold re-imagination of the hero powered RTS, using the license in a fitting manner, Dawn Of War II dares to jump sideways from its roots, making a computerized Warhammer 40K a thing of its own, and not a schizophrenic imitation of the tabletop original. I never would have imagined a leveling and looting formula would fit 40K, but it does, and with a fearsome grip on my attention.
Neptune’s Pride – It’s a sign of the times that a free to play browser game would enter an end of the year list. Neptune’s Pride strips strategy and tactics down to their skeletons and diplomacy is but a clumsy inbox. The game is changed because all of the mathematics are transparent – there is no random element whatsoever and the only second-guessing you’re doing is what lies beyond your sensor range and what are your neighbors thinking. The whole game ends up taking place inside that inbox, with nervous checks during the day to see how the real-time but glacially slow space war is going. My office game ended with guys wanting to not play again because it was too exhausting. I’m on my fourth game now, the game open in a tab right now as I’m typing this. (It looks like I might win for the first time.)
Older titles I only got around to in 2010
Gratuitous Space Battles – Released perhaps some time last year, I’m not sure? A unique blend of tactics, design and passive watching, it’s smart TV for gamers. If you’re into gratuitous space battles, you need to play this game.
Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition – All the way from 2008 and I’ve been interested in it ever since, but only got to playing it late last year. The combat centric, mechanically very definite gameplay just works. It’s realizing what I feel D&D always tried to do, which is only logical considering the game’s wargame roots in the seventies. A more surprising change is taking on videogames face-on, characters full of color and fantastic powers, energy beams flying every which way in a fight. It’ll be interesting to see how it translates to an actual videogame.