Whether you’re a casual gamer or consider yourself hardcore, there’s no doubt that 2010 was a busy year, regardless of your system(s) of choice. Last week I asked the crew here at RGB Filter to send me a list with a few of their top recommendations, whether they were blockbusters or something the mainstream may have missed. The goal wasn’t to come up with a Top Ten or pick Game Of The Year, as such awards are about as relevant to the intrinsic quality of a game as winning Best Picture is to the quality of a film. No, this list is a little more subjective, and that’s why the responses range from quick responses to passionate descriptions of each.
For those who need a tally, Starcraft II appears on the most lists, which would make it the top choice. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Limbo, Mass Effect 2 and Minecraft all appeared twice, not counting honourable mentions.
So read on and if you think we missed something, let us know!
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (review) – Like Johnny, I absolutely love the Assassin’s Creed series. I can understand reservations people had about the original, but AC II fixed those, and AC: B has further refined the gameplay. If the ‘real’ sequel sees the same kind of improvements that the series has continued to work on, I think AC III may cause my brain to explode.
Limbo (review) – This game is well nigh perfect. In my review I gave it a perfect game achievement. You have to buy into the atmosphere of the game, or it may not work for you, but by stripping the visuals to a dark, monochromatic space, the platform puzzler manages to get under your skin without the accoutrement of overworked sounds and in-your-face visuals. And the spider is damned creepy.
Mass Effect 2 (review) – BioWare knows how to make an RPG action game like no other. Storytelling and gameplay flow back and forth so well that it becomes a cohesive experience. ME2 manages to capture that epic galaxy sprawling style of science fiction better than any game out there, and I’d say moreso than most SF film and TV franchises. Imagine Babylon 5, with a real budget.
There are a couple of honourable mentions that I won’t say much about… One is Minecraft, because I really haven’t had the time to delve too far into it. Also worth mentioning is the Kinect for Xbox 360. The titles out there right now aren’t all great, but it’s probably the most interesting thing to happen as an input device, especially in the gaming mass market, in many a year.
God of War 3 – The Good: Incredible graphics. Creating a new savepoint for aphrodite?… yes I did… (ED Note: verified) The Bad: Repetitive gameplay. Its clones were in many ways, better games.
Spiderman Shattered Dimensions – The Good: Great looking. Amazing game mechanics for 2 of the Spideys. The Bad: Horrible game mechanics for the other 2 Spidey’s
Splinter Cell Conviction – The Good: Addictive Gameplay. Solid Visuals. SAM FISHER! The Bad: DIFFICULT!
Darksiders – The Good: Brainless fun. Its a God Of War clone that’s better than God Of War 3. The Bad: Repetitive and Simplistic combat mechanics. Silly character design.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – The Good: Too much to point out, but I will say this… the improvements in ACB over AC II are, dare I say it, more profound than the improvements in AC II over the original. The Bad: Main storyline is too short.
Rock Band 3 – Harmonix have taken the best rhythm action game ever made and polished the gameplay experience until the shine is positively blinding. From the UI, song selection, single player mode, online play, addition of keyboards, every aspect of Rock Band 3 has been improved. What’s more Harmonix is actually trying to do something more than just be a game. They are addressing complaints that music games are harming music by turning Rock Band 3 into a full blown school of rock with the new pro-mode. In pro-mode you play songs on guitar, drums or keyboards note for note, turning gamers into musicians. While pro-mode might only ever be played a small group of hard-core players it’s commendable that Harmonix wanted Rock Band 3 to be something more than just a game!
Company of Heroes Online, Beta – Just over 4 years ago Canadian developer Relic (of Homeworld fame) released arguably the best tactical RTS game ever made. Building on the foundations introduced in their earlier Warhammer 40K RTS Dawn of Way, Company of Heroes, set in WW2, changes the way RTS games played forever (well at least until Starcraft II came along and time-warped us back to 1998). Unlike most RTS’s Relics games focus less on base building (but there is still a base and buildings), but intelligent use of squad tactics, combined arms, and using terrain and cover to your advantage. In addition instead of the simplistic resource mining of most RTS’s and the basic annihilation victory condition, CoH uses the capture of strategic points (fuel, ammo etc.) on the map to generate resources and achieve the win. For first time in an RTS capturing and holding an important point on the map actually meant something.
Fast forward to today, after 2 expansions, Relic has decided to go back to the beginning. And make CoH FREE! And make it a online only RPG RTS (but you can still play the single player campaign against the computer, for free!). Company of Heroes online takes all that was great about CoH (minus the expansions, since i am sure they plan to add those later, so sadly no Canadian soldiers for now) and adds so much more on top. All these extra layers on top of the vanilla game from 4 years ago make multiplayer almost feel like a brand new game, despite the fact that the graphics engine hasn’t been updated. Now individual players can really customize the play style to be totally their own, rather than falling into the default patterns of play that they learned playing the original CoH.
So to conclude: CoH, one of the best RTS’s ever made. CoH Online a FREE version of the same game made even better with new online features. Lastly I would be remiss in not mentioning that the lead designer of the game, Brian Wood, sadly passed away in a car accident in September, saving wife and unborn child in the process. You can donate to the The Brian Wood Memorial Trust here to help his wife and her family.
You can download the beta of Company of Heroes Online here.
Minecraft – What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Minecraft? I know that sounds like a cop-out, but if you haven’t taken the time to play this game please leave RGB Filter and go here ( http://minecraft.net/) NOW and buy the damn game. You can thank me later. Oh there is this video if you are not convinced.
Oh also IMO Minecraft is about to usher in a Golden Age of gaming, a renaissance where games will really change the way we think about everything, and all this will only be possible on an open, community driven, moddable system. The PC.
Starcraft II – Simply put, never has there been a strategy game that involves so many dynamic variables in such a balanced way. It is easy to get carried away and refer to the three warring races as elements to a three-way yin and yang (which I like to call the ying, yang and ling). The thought that went into the tiny things is another element that sets this game apart. The way zerglings, for instance, literally swarm around enemies and take them down with jaw-dropping speed and ferocity has a remarkably soothing effect, as if to say “Jason, for once, you are totally on top of things”.
Starcraft II – amazing narrative, addictive gameplay. It was so addictive that it helped me lose 16 pounds. Hubby is STILL playing, but to be fair, he only got on board a month later than I did.
There were so many great games this year that I’m sure will be mentioned by others (i.e. Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Rock Band 3, Heavy Rain) that I’m going to use my three games for stuff I think people might’ve missed this year, but are worthy of attention.
Metro 2033 – A criminally underlooked game that won’t necessarily appeal to those looking for the high-pyrotechnics Hollywood action of a Call of Duty. And while lots of games are set in post-apocalyptic wastelands these days, Metro 2033’s depiction feels especially true to (imagined) life. If the STALKER series had an appealing setting but got too hardcore for you, you need to play Metro 2033 now.
Resonance of Fate – Launched in the same month as Final Fantasy XIII, Resonance of Fate was doomed to failure, but it’s a more satisfying game on nearly every level. It’s a bit old-school and hardcore, but it’s got characters that won’t infuriate you, a threadbare plot that still makes more sense than FF13, and all the John Woo guns-akimbo action you can cram into a turn-based JRPG. Plus, Nolan North is in it, and he makes everything awesome.
Persona 3 Portable – As someone who’d never really played a Persona game before, P3P made me a fan both of the Persona series and of my PSP, which until then had sat mostly dormant. As games about high school students go, P3P did a far better job than most (cough Valkyria Chronicles 2) of making its characters seem like real human beings with believable motivations, and the persona creation and social links systems are addictive–like 90 hours addictive.
An honourable mention goes to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for the best multiplayer I’ve played since Team Fortress 2. I bought the PC version, of course.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 – The Mario team at Nintendo did something this year that I didn’t think was still possible; innovate in the pure 3D platforming genre. The amount of different ways that Super Mario Galaxy 2 can use a single mechanic is mind-blowing. Polished and refined gameplay help make this my game of the year and personal favourite Mario game of all time.
Red Dead Redemption – I’m one of the few people in the world who don’t care for westerns very much. So imagine my surprise when 20 hours later I found myself deep into Red Dead Redemption, the absolute best western (not the motel) game to ever hit the market. Without spoiling anything I will say that the last 2 hours of that game are unlike anything I have experienced in the realm of videogame storytelling.
Mass Effect 2 – I have to admit; I didn’t understand the hype and praise of the original Mass Effect. I played through the entire game and felt completely underwhelmed. Mass Effect 2 on the other hand is one of the most enjoyable and strangely addicting games I have played. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a change of heart between sequels and it’s due in large part to the improved combat engine. This is a game that melds combat, storytelling, and RPG elements so incredibly well that of course only BioWare – a Canadian developer – could be responsible.
Heavy Rain – OK, let’s face it; any objective review of Heavy Rain has to conclude that the game is a mess. The pacing is awkward, the choices placed in front of you have an unpleasant habit of feeling like no choice at all, and the whole “investigation” aspect is a joke. You don’t investigate, you select options until all the options have been selected; it’s just the game spoon feeding you facts, with you deciding what order to be fed them.
And for all that, I fucking loved it. Heavy Rain might be awkward, and clumsy, but I cannot recall any game that I have been more viscerally involved in. The fight scenes had me on the literal edge of my seat, heart pounding in excitement and panic. There’s a sequence later on the game where you get to kick in the door to a guy’s house with with a handgun and just go mental, and it’s fucking incredible. I was punching the air in exultation by the ending. On the other end of things there’s a sequence, as a much less physically imposing character, where you are imprisoned and searching for a way out; the game offers you a “scream for help button”, and god dammit, even though every writer’s instinct told me it would do no good, I fucking hammered that button like a madman.
What’s more, the plot had me on tenterhooks. It’s like something out of Wire In The Blood; a mystery story with a brutal edge, the kind of thing that doesn’t need scary monsters or supernatural elements to conjure up more visceral horror than Resident Evil or FEAR have ever achieved. Sadly, that same plot is let down at the last by a couple of really stupid writing choices. Looking back, I have to conclude that the principal elements of the story don’t actually hang together; there’s simply no way the culprit could have actually been in the right place at the right time to pull off even half of it. That’s a crying shame, because the conceit behind the mystery itself is balls-clenchingly fantastic, and I really wanted to see it done right.
For all it’s multitude flaws, Heavy Rain still managed something that very few games have; it left an impression. It might be clumsy, and sometimes broken, but it’s still one of the most emotionally powerful games you will experience. Quantic Dream have some inspired ideas, and I sincerely hope that they can eventually manage to craft something that really demonstrates their vision.
Starcraft II – Yeah, what can I say? It’s Blizzard. Everything about SC2 just screams ‘polish’. It’s a game that has been slowly refined through it’s years long development process, and every part of it shines. In fact, SC2 is more or less the polar opposite of Heavy Rain; it does almost nothing new, relying entirely on refinements of well tested formulas, but what it does, it does perfectly. It’s a game that feels incredibly familiar, and yet it continues to surprise you with it’s depth. More has been said about the strategies of Starcraft than I could I even begin to summarise, and I am barely even a novice at the game, but it still sucks me in with it’s compelling and rewarding gameplay. It’s the kind of game where a close loss can be every bit as satisfying as a win.
Add to that the immense single player campaign, full of smart writing and rich character development, the massive raft of achievements (unlocking usable in-game avatars, which is a nice tangible reward beyond just “ooh, more points”) and some of the most utterly brutal AI opponents ever included in a video game, and this thing is easily worth your money.
Especially when you consider that you’re still going to be playing it in ten years time.
Minecraft – When I was a kid I loved Lego so much that my grandfather built me a special table, just to play on, with drawers underneath to store my blocks. Well, most of them. I actually had overflow buckets for the stuff that wouldn’t fit. I built houses, castles, space-ships, tree-top forts, you name it. I squeezed in every detail that I could manage; working air-locks, bridges with actual controls, doors and windows that opened and closed, fully equipped Lego men manning their posts, and all the rest.
Minecraft was more or less designed precisely to destroy my life. The funny thing is, for a long time I completely dismissed it. I thought it was a neat concept, and knew that people had done cool stuff with it, but it didn’t seem like a game for me. Eventually, in a moment of stray curiosity, I tried out the simple creator mode version on the game’s website. About an hour later, I was looking up at my beautiful new house, with working doors and windows, and a wooden deck overlooking a cliff, and something in my head clicked.
I distinctly remember mouthing the words “Oh shit” as I realised just what I had gotten myself into. For almost a full week I actually refused to even touch the game again, knowing that it would devour my life. Then I caved, bought the full version, and generated my first world.
It had an island. In the sky. A floating fucking island.
I don’t have the kinda time to game as much as I used to, or even as much as I’d like, but that’s the cost of being a grown up: a kid, work, school, family, and an “ex wife”, will do that. That said two games this year caught my eye. Not only that these two games were good enough for me to play all the way through.
Alan Wake (review) – As far as I’m concernened this was a game that, despite soft sales numbers, ranks up there with one if the best games I’ve had the pleasure to play through. With a great well thought out story, beautiful graphics, solid acting/Dialogue, and better than decent game mechanics, my only complaint was that the game was too short. With an extra “episode” if dlc and another on the way they even remedied that. So check it out if you think it even might be your kind of game run out and get it you won’t be sorry. Play it, love it, and join me with fingers crossed for a Alan Wake 2 release.
Limbo – for an Xbox arcade game I was thoroughly impressed with this simply beautiful, and at the same time grotesque puzzle game. Highly addictive and sometimes frustrating this game is most likely akin to nothing you’ve seen before. Only two complaints, too short, and the end of the game is about as satisfying an empty glass of water. This game is all about the journey, and it totally makes up for the disappointing destination.
So there you go. If you’ve got some downtime this holiday season, there’s plenty of options from the past year worth either picking up, or dusting off,