So 2010 has almost passed, which is a relief. Itís been a year of highs (going to PAX in September and meeting my Dtoid buddies for the first time and having an awesome time) to agonising lows (upheaval in my personal life). As such, gaming took a bit of a backseat for a large portion of the year. I did play and complete enough games to form a top 5 list, but a significant portion of the year was spent finishing games from 2009 that I never managed to finish off (hello Borderlands and Torchlight). This will probably be the case for 2011, as I bought a bunch of big games on Steam (Mafia 2, Fallout: New Vegas and Dead Rising 2) only to find myself without a PC at the end of the year.
So, anyway, hereís my list of my top 4 games of the 2010. Yes, thatís not a lot, but IĒm only putting something down here if I completed it and really enjoyed it. If thereís some obvious, glaring omission from the list, then assume I havenít played it, because I probably havenít.
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
Running up to the launch of the game, I felt that this title was being talked about only due to itís performance capture directed by Andy Serkis, itís story written by Alex Garland and itís soundtrack by Nitin Sawhney. Enslaved is more than itís famous elements put together; itís a lush verdant looking game, the perfect counter point to the bleached radioactive landscapes of the Fallout games. Playing as escaped slave Monkey, you have to traverse a variety of locals keeping safe another former slave, Trip, who you are bonded to via a helmet. Put it simply, you die, she dies.
To Enslavedís credit, despite the game being essentially a giant escort mission, Trip never hampers you or doesnít pull her weight in combat. In tricky situations, she hangs back waiting for you do finish in combat or for you to solve a fairly rudimentary puzzle. Thereís none of the Resident Evil 5 dodgy AI being more of a hindrance than a help. The platforming is fluid and feels natural. Handholds and ledges that you can interact with glow to make the traversal fast and fluid. Itís not like Assassinís Creed where climbing up a structure takes time and precise movements. Monkey is much more agile and able to clamber up huge structures in a matter of seconds.
Despite a slightly confusing and abrupt ending, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West offered just what I was wanting at the time; a linear story driven game that would give me some great characters, compelling gameplay and a complete experience.
In August, my dad gave me his old i-phone, an original model 3G. This was pretty handy as Iíd just been given $40 worth of i-tunes vouchers, so I plunged headfirst into the app store and loaded up on some games. Despite the obvious lure of Cut the Rope and Angry Birds, it was Fruit Ninja that drew me into my i-phone as a gaming device. Fruit Ninja is a very simple game to play; fruit is thrown up from the bottom of the screen and you simply swipe your finger across the screen to cut the fruit as if you were wielding a sword. Slice 3 or more fruit and you get bonus points. You get three lives, which are lost if any fruit drop without being cut and youíll lose all your lives if you slice a bomb. And thatís it!
Whatís compelling about Fruit Ninja is that itís not a puzzle game, which is a godsend for me being not that smart, but a game based on reaction speed and chaining combos together. Trying to maximise your combo is tense as leaving fruit hanging there is so tempting but knowing that you need to just hold off for half a second to guarantee your combo is tense stuff. Fruit Ninja has also been updated with two new modes; a Zen mode where there are no bombs or lives and you just need to the best score you can in 90 seconds. Arcade Mode is similar but offers Bonus Bananas that can either slow the game down, give you double points or unleash a fruit frenzy. Youíre going for the highest score possible in 60 seconds and itís this mode that gives you the most out of your combos (top score of 725 bitches!). Thereís a host of unlockables and achievements and the simple gameplay has meant Iíve played more of this game than any other handheld title.
Thankfully at the end of the year, my brother gave me a loan of his Xbox 360 (heís busy with Gran Turismo 5) and the first thing I did was get a couple of downloadable games. Costume Quest had been a game Iíd wanted to try for a while, after itís Halloween isnít as big a thing in the UK as it is in the US, but Costume Quest definitely harks back to (not entirely accurate) childhood memories. I did dress up as Optimus Prime one year for Halloween, so taking control of Reynard in his robot costume hunting after his sister Greta was fun from the get go.
Costume Quest offered me something that Iíve become really keen on; fairly short games, no grind and simple to learn mechanics. Itís amazing how streamlined an RPG is when you cut out a lot of the experience grinding you have to do, but the game never lacked things to do. Collecting costumes, Battle cards, the random battles.... Costume Quest is a bite sized RPG, full or charm and frustration free. Experienced RPG players arenít going to get a lot out of Costume Quest; if youíve played Dragon Age or any recent JRPG then this will appear really lightweight. And whilst thereís not a great deal of tactical depth, there still is a challenge picking your partyís costumes and perks. Each costume you wear has a critical ability, that either unleashes a devastating attack or a healing/protection spell. Have too many attack costumes equipped and you will get stuck; balancing is key here.
Whilst Costume Quest isnít the most in depth, hardcore game, it makes it up by being charming and approachable. Iíve put plenty of time into this game and felt I got my moneyís worth. As I said at the top there, Iíd like to play more games like this. Small, contained experiences that I donít have to devote large amounts of time on. More downloadable games from Double Fine is a-ok with me.
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect was a game I really enjoyed despite itís flaws. After a few playthroughs, I though ďI donít see what Bioware can do to make this better,Ē but it was only after playing Mass Effect 2 that I saw the first gameís flaws. The Mako? An unnecessary hassle. The RPG component? Unwieldy at best and seemingly having no impact on the gameplay. Inventory? Endlessly cluttered with a variety of guns, ammo and mods that were never used and just sold. Mass Effect 2 stripped all that away and focused on the reason I play a shooter/RPG hybrid; the mechanics and the story.
Mass Effect 2ís improvements are obvious from the first sequence; this is a game where characters can and will die under your command. The choice you have to make in the original Mass Effect was pushed on you and you were unable to do anything about the circumstances. Mass Effect 2 gave you more characters to manage but a feeling of genuine control over their outcome. The crew you would eventually recruit was larger than the first game and much more interesting; Mordin the Salarian scientist was the most interesting with his special forces background and his passion for musicals. Legion, the rogue Geth was a highlight too especially as he helped make the Geth more than just robotic bad guys.
The function to import your save game was something that may have seemed gimmicky at first, but after playing Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 in quick succession I found there were so many little things in Mass Effect 2 that referenced my previous save game. Re-occurring characters, references to missions from the first game. The big changes were welcome too; seeing Wrex as the leader of a tribe of Krogan was just awesome. But there were improvements in every area.
The new Normandy was a distinct improvement from the first game (fish tank!), the shooting felt more responsive, the game called for using your squadís special abilities more, the counter that showed you your percentage process throughout all the systems..... just a raft of improvements that made a franchise that was already one of my favourites into something really special. It left me desperate to play Mass Effect 3 and see this story that Iíve shaped through two games come to itís conclusion.