Could 2010 be the best year for videogames ever? Back in June I found myself wondering that, I'd never seen a year front loaded with such amazing games. I hoped that the rest of the year would continue to deliver such strong titles. Despite a few notable disappointments like Epic Mickey (damn camera), Donkey Kong Country Returns (damn waggle) and Heavy Rain (damn X for Jason) 2010 delivered such a plethora of high quality titles I believe it could be the best year for games ever. I had a hard time narrowing this list down to 10 but I decided to go with the games I simply had the most fun playing. I invite you to read my list and share your thoughts.
10. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
This game is by far my most pleasant surprise of the year. I loved the last gen Prince of Persia games but hated the Nolan North reboot from a couple years ago. Many were quick to dismiss The Forgotten Sands as a quickie movie tie-in but that would be doing it a disservice. It lacks the charm of The Sands of Time but maintains the clever platforming, beautiful graphics and tight controls of the series. No other game I played this year gave me quite the rush I got when I lept from a pillar onto a frozen waterfall, then jumped the other way, unfreezing the water and flying through to another platform. The combat is not the most challenging but I found the emphasis on crowd management and attack timing to be quite satisfying. If you missed this title, you can pick it up for 11 bucks used on Gamefly and it's well worth it.
Striking. That's the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Limbo. The haunting gray scale environment is unlike any other I've experienced. And the gameplay is deceptively simple but very challenging. You will die in this game. Repeatedly. But thanks to liberal checkpoints and tight controls, it never gets controller throwing difficult. Although, I will admit I had to consult YouTube for a couple of the harder puzzles. This game is an indie triumph and stays with you long after some of the big budget titles have left your memory.
8. Super Mario Galaxy 2
The most important thing to me in games is the feel. And damn does this game feel good. Basically a streamlined version of SMG 1, it is such a delight to navigate the environments in Galaxy 2 I keep coming back to this game. Nintendo has perfected the platforming formula and they make it look easy. After playing this game it's hard to go back to other platformers with their wonky cameras and cheap deaths. The only problem I can think of is: Where will Mario go from here? Super Mario Galaxy 3 would be a little stale, I can only imagine what Miyamoto and Co. have up their sleeves for the next evolutionary step.
Remember what I just said about "feel" being the most important criteria for me when it comes to games? I'm willing to make an exception for Enslaved. The auto-platforming isn't that satisfying and the combat gets repetive but the story and character interaction is so good I pressed on anyways. And after awhile I actually quite enjoyed the controls, especially on the levels where you jump on your "cloud" hoverboard, blast the mechanical "dog" with your bowstaff, then jump off to take it down. Those sequences were thrilling. But what Enslaved does best is character interaction. I've never seen subtleties in the faces of video game characters convey emotion quite like this. The only thing holding Enslaved back from true greatness is the bizzare inclusion of full motion video at the end. Seeing video of real humans in a computer generated world only serves to cheapen the entire experience. Still, this game is well worth playing for anyone that loved Beyond Good and Evil and a good story.
6. Call of Duty: Black Ops
Having Ice Cube bark orders at me was one of many fantastic revelations in Black Ops. Story-wise, this is easily the best of the Call of Duty games. The missions are varied and filled with "HOLY SHIT!" moments but nothing that approaches the absurdity of Modern Warfare 2. And I could not believe how gory some of the sequences were but that's not a bad thing. The campaign essentially devolves into a corridor shooter but it is so satisfying to fire those guns and there's so much going on that you hardly notice in the moment. As for the multiplayer, Treyarch took the foundation of Modern Warfare, removed the annoying things like killstreak chaining and added the brilliant credit system so we can unlock the guns and perks we want rather than grinding through a bunch or crap first. While I don't think the level design is quite as good as Infinity Ward's last title I will find myself playing this long after I quit MW2 in frustration. The only disapointment is the removal of Spec Ops which knocks it down a few spots on this list.
5. Alan Wake
This game has been a long time coming for 360 owners. I have been extra interested in it because I love the Max Payne games, I love Twin Peaks and I live in the Pacific Northwest where it's set. While Alan Wake falls short of greatness, it tells a mind bending Steven King-like story and has really satisfying combat. I don't know what it is about taking down the enemy shields with my flashlight then blowing them to smithereens with my gun but I never got tired of it (until the DLC episodes, but that's another story). Alan Wake has some of the best environmental effects I've ever seen (I've never jumped at so many shadows) and the episodic structure fit the game perfectly. I only hope Remedy gets a chance to keep the Alan Wake story going. The post-release downloadable episodes didn't vary the combat enough but the surreal environments that take place in Alan's head (or do they?) hinted at some very creative places a sequel could go to.
4. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
The Burnout Series have always been my favorite arcade racer and my roomates and I wasted many a night playing cops vs racers in Hot Pursuit back on the PS1 so the new NFS:HP seemed like a match made in heaven. And it is. The cars control exactly like Burnout, only thing time they're actually licensed exotic cars. Playing as both a cop and racer are extremely fun and no game delivers a sense of speed like this one does. I prefer this game to slogging though the open world of Burnout: Paradise and the online co-op and vs modes are the best I've seen on any racing game. My only caveat is that I haven't put nearly enough time into this game because I keep getting sucked back in by:
3. Halo: Reach
Fun. That's what Halo is all about. In terms of pure content, this game literally delivers so much you could play nothing but Halo: Reach for years and never run out of stuff to do. I feel Halo has always had the best controls of any console FPS and Reach refines them to perfection. Each level has so many ways to approach your objectives it plays different every time. Add in the daily challenges, the fantastic enemy AI and the skulls that modify the game settings and the campaign is something that I find myself replaying over and over. And the multiplayer is pure perfection. I don't know what sort of magic algorithms Bungie has conjured up but every match I play sets me up with people of a similar skill level. And I love that everyone has the same guns, unlike Call of Duty. On many matches I will completely eviscerate players 30 levels higher than me and likewise find myself getting pwned by noobs. But it's never frustrating. Unlike Black Ops where after getting killed for the 10th time in a row by an unseen enemy I want to shut off the game forever. Halo: Reach offers so many ways to be creative that you don't have to be the best shot on the team to contribute. I could go on and on about how much I love this game but I won't suffice to say this disc will be spinning in my disc drive long after all the other games on this list have been collecting dust on the shelf. Did I mention the jetpacks? Pure gaming bliss.
2. Mass Effect 2
My only regret of 2010 is that I never had sex with Miranda. I was so focused on everything else going on that by the time I got around to wooing her it was too late. Mass Effect 2 is one of those games that completely takes over your life. From the moment I started playing this it was all I could think about. During work I'd be counting down the hours to when I could jump back into the Normandy and go on missions. I'd dream about it. This is the game I've always wanted: A sci-fi RPG with great combat controls. Where ME1 had pretty crappy gunplay and a horrible framerate, ME2 ups the shooting controls to near Gears of War levels. The game is a pure joy to play. And BioWare has created the most convincing, lived-in sci-fi universe since the original Star Wars movies. I've never felt so attached to characters, I almost shed a tear when the reapers captured my crew, and those weren't even my squadmates. Over Christmas break I'm gearing up for another playthrough, this time as a renegade. And Miranda better watch out, this time I will not be denied!
1. Red Dead Redemption
There was a moment, hours into my playthrough of Red Dead Redemption where I was using the Dead-Eye targeting system to take out some enemies and I accidently targeted my own horse. I watched in horror as the yellow faded from the screen and I unloaded multiple bullets into my steed and he went down to the ground. I stood there, shocked, mourning over the corpse of the horse I had spent hours exploring the beautiful world with and I realized this was a moment that trancended games. I had become attached to a digital horse that was essentially transportation, the same thing as a car you'd drive in GTA. I hadn't even realized how much I cared for this horse until I had killed it. I actually had to stop playing for a while out of respect. This seems ridiculous but that's how amazing Red Dead Redemption is. It is by far the most convincing open-world game ever made. The citizens actually feel like they inhabit this world, whether you are there or not. Months later when I was playing the excellent Undead Nightmare expansion I had a moment where I was trying to rescue a woman from zombies but accidentally shot her in the foot. As the zombies surrounded her I jumped onto my horse and rode to safety but felt a twinge of guilt for letting her die rather than risk my own life and waste bullets trying to stop the zombie horde. I don't know what else to say about this game other than it is a masterpiece that everyone who loves videogames should play.
So there's my list of favorite games of the year. Is 2010 really the best year for games ever? It's hard to say. As much as I love these games, they'll never compare to the hours I put into Super Mario 3 as a kid or all the college classes I skipped to play Ocarina of Time. Objectively, though, 2010 had a ton of great games and something for everyone. 2011 has a lot to live up to but I can't wait. In the meantime, I'll be splattering fools in Halo: Reach
Runners Up: Kirby's Epic Yarn, Goldeneye, God of War 3, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Just Cause 2, Pinball FX 2
Best Downloadable Content: Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption (it completely changes the combat of the game and gives the environment a new eerie feel), The Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2 (a fun mission that hints at what we can expect from Mass Effect 3 if they fix the wonky hover car controls), The Writer for Alan Wake (loved the surreal level design but the combat is getting stale)
Most Anticipated 2011 games: Uncharted 3, Bulletstorm, Rage, Gears of War 3. So sue me, I love shooters.
Please leave your thoughts on my list and what your favorites of the year are!