Favorite Games of 2010
This year, I’ve decided to do things a little differently than my usual Best Of awards. Seeing as though I’m not a definitive authority on what the best games of the year are, I thought I’d just outright tell you about the games I personally enjoyed throughout 2010. Agree, disagree, leave comments about your own personal favorites, it’s all good. One thing is for certain though, 2010 was a fantastic year for gaming, and I had a great time. So, here are my personal favorite games of 2010.
Red Dead Redemption (PS3/Xbox 360) – This was a tough choice for me, as 2010 also saw the release of my two other favorite 2010 games: Heavy Rain, and God of War 3. In the end, I chose Red Dead Redemption, simply because I don’t think I’ve ever felt this immersed in a game world in any other game I played in 2010.
The story of John Marston and his struggle in the old west is nothing new by Western genre standards, but for a game, the way Rockstar San Diego absolutely nailed the theme and setting of the Wild West is nothing short of extraordinary. Not to mention the game features one of the best sky and weather systems I’ve ever seen in a game. The gun play and horse-riding felt amazing, and as an open world RPG (I’ll argue in another article why I feel RDR should be classified as an RPG), it felt incredibly organic. Nothing felt horribly canned and scripted as you wandered the incredibly huge map that is bigger than most traditional RPGs like Oblivion or Fallout: New Vegas.
Heavy Rain (PS3) – Although Red Dead Redemption had fantastic atmosphere, I think that Heavy Rain trumps it in how beautifully it manages to utilize atmosphere to influence the player’s connection to protagonist Ethan Mars.
The game begins on a gorgeous, sunny day, as Ethan wakes up and prepares to celebrate his son Jason’s birthday with his wife and younger son, Shaun. The mood is light, and happy. Soon, tragedy strikes, and so does the tone of the game. For the rest of the game, the world is dark, gloomy, and rainy, just like Ethan Mars himself. Further tragedy is punctuated by spectacularly designed locations (in particular the burned out apartment complex in which a rather gruesome scene unfolds), and gritty scenarios that leave Ethan and company battered and broken.
I’ve yet to play a game this generation, if ever, that made me feel some of the emotions I experienced by playing Heavy Rain, and that’s an unfortunate shame.
Favorite Unabashed Zelda Rip-Off:
3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3) – I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I’m also a sucker for the Legend of Zelda games. So it’s doubly ironic that my favorite Zelda game since A Link To The Past isn’t a Nintendo Zelda at all. Publisher From Software, and developer Silicon Studios managed to both tickle my nostalgia itch, but also my love of Zelda games in one go. 3D Dot Game Heroes unabashedly cribs the game design from the 8 bit, and 16 bit Legend of Zelda games, but adds a current generation twist by presenting the game in 3D pixelated blocks.
The story is classic 8 bit storytelling, with an insane amount of homages to old school RPGs from the 80’s and 90’s. The game play is classic Zelda, with your hero (either preset, or custom created by you; I made Link, of course) roaming a huge top down world, exploring dungeons to find upgrades that will allow you to reach new areas (grappling hook), as well as adding a few new wrinkles to the Zelda formula like upgrading your sword for length and width. The game is charming beyond belief, and enjoyable not just for it’s old school trappings, but genuinely fun game play. Sometimes you really don’t need to teach that old dog new tricks.
Favorite Downloadable Game:
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game (PSN/XBLA) – 2010 was apparently the year for old school game design getting a fresh coat of paint (The original Monkey Island games also saw upgraded re-releases on the network). Scott Pilgrim vs the World The Game is interesting in that it’s not only a licensed game tied to a movie based off of a comic book, but a dead ringer for the old school NES classic, River City Ransom.
With only a few tweaks added (like special support attacks and group combos), the game features enjoyable and classic sidescrolling beat ‘em up action. The game is colorful, with lots of homages to old school games, and really fun with 2 or more players (the game supports up to 4 players locally). At $9.99, the price was a steal, and definitely my favorite downloadable game of 2010
Favorite Action Game:
God of War 3 (PS3) – Nobody does it like Kratos, and the third and final (?) entry into the console God of War games took Kratos to new heights not just thematically (he ascends Mount Olympus to defeat his daddy Zeus), but technologically as well. There isn’t a single game on any platform that has the scale of God of War 3. From the jaw-dropping opening, to battling a gigantic Titan, the game never ceases to have you asking: “How did they do this??”
The combat is by far the best the series has offered to date, with a suite of new weapons and abilities that are genuinely fun to use, and with enemies that require you to mix up your approach in order to defeat them. The visceral feel of combat is ramped up to eleven thanks to the visual upgrades, and the story is a lot more complex and compelling than God of War 2’s angry Kratos. Oh, he was certainly angry, but it’s interspersed with some interesting interactions with Haephestus’ daughter, Pandora.
In a year full of great action games, none of them quite brought it like God of War 3
Favorite Old School Rebirth:
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow(PS3/Xbox 360) – As a gamer who grew up in the early 80’s, I was a huge fan of Castlevania. The series theme of Gothic castles, classic monsters, and whip-flailing game play had me hooked since that classic theme, Vampire Killer, blared through the television speakers.
The series has had lots of ups and downs, with IGA’s handheld Castlevania series being the high point, but it was time for the series to return back to consoles, and with a fresh start.
This new Castlevania, envisioned as a re-imagining of the franchise, takes the series back to the whip-wielding Belmont clan, as clan progenitor Gabriel Belmont embarks on a quest to rid the land of the evil Lords of Shadow. The game play is classic Castlevania, in that you are using a whip primarily to defeat foes, but the breathtaking art design ramps up that gothic atmosphere, the musical score is not the classic themes, but suitably epic, none the less, a deep combat system that’s wonderfully satisfying , and has a story full of genuinely surprising twists and turns. As a stalwart Castlevania fan, I was pleased with this rebirth, and eager for a sequel. Newbies to the series don’t need to worry about being lost in the lore as well. Developer Mercury Steam did a fantastic job breathing new life into this 20+ year old franchise.
Favorite Game To Play With My Wife:
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (PS3/Xbox 360)– Me and the missus are huge fans of the LEGO titles, so we were really looking forward to LEGO Harry Potter. Fortunately, we were not disappointed. Couch co-op games are hard to find in this gaming generation dominated by online only game play experiences, so being able to sit down and play through LEGO Potter together was refreshing.
The game is huge, as it spans the first 4 books/movies in the series, and also includes a rather large Hogwarts to explore as the story progresses, and you learn new spells. Fans of the LEGO games know what to expect game play wise, but there’s just something incredibly charming about reliving some of your favorite movies/stories in LEGO form. The clean visuals and humor make this a great family game in general, and certainly my favorite family game of 2010.
Favorite Sneaky Sequel:
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (PS3/Xbox 360) – Ubisoft Montreal was being sneaky in marketing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood as a primarily multi-player entry into the well done Assassin’s Creed series. Most of us didn’t even realize that there is a rather lengthy and full-fledged single player story in the game.
Player’s once again control Assassin’s Creed 2’s protagonist, Ezio Auditore de Forenze, as he leads a rebellion against the corrupt Borgia. Game play at first seems like classic Assassin’s Creed, with Ezio taking out targets and climbing across the incredibly huge city of Rome, but Ubisoft added a lot more meat to the core AC game play by allowing players to upgrade countless stores and landmarks, which increase Ezio’s income, allowing him to purchase and upgrade better equipment.
Not to mention the titular Brotherhood. As the game progresses, Ezio will be able to recruit a brotherhood of Assassin’s that he can send off on missions, leveling them up, and calling them down to assist during his own missions. And of course there’s the unique multi-player aspect of the game, that puts a twist on classic game play modes and offers some original ones to boot.
What seemed to initially be an expansion to the Assassin’s Creed series, quickly turned into an essential entry into the franchise, and a must have for fans.
Favorite 3rd Person Shooter That Pretends It’s An RPG:
Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) – Mass Effect was a great RPG. It was, literally, Knights of the Old Republic without the Star Wars license. Mass Effect 2 distances itself from it’s predecessor by focusing more on the shooting aspects than the exploring new worlds. Gone are the Mako trips down to hostile planets, large inventories, and even deep stat building.
What results is a game that feels more like Gears of War with a story than a true RPG. With that said, Mass Effect 2 is an excellent title for the 360 that has Commander Shepard exploring the galaxy recruiting a team of rag-tag individuals to help him discover the truth behind a rash of human colony disappearances.
The story isn’t as epic in scope as the original, but it does it’s job thanks to fantastic new characters (and some returning favorites), much better pacing, and it fully sets the tone for the 3rd and final chapter in the series. In a year that didn’t pack many highlights for the 360, Mass Effect 2 shone above the rest.
Favorite Survival Horror Game:
Alan Wake (Xbox 360) – The survival horror genre is woefully under-represented this generation, and especially in 2010, but at least we got one solid outing in the form of Alan Wake.
The story is a little bit Silent Hill, and a little bit Twin Peaks, and although it doesn’t quite reach the highs of either, it’s still intriguing and well executed. The tale follows horror/mystery writer Alan Wake as he and his wife escape the city to the quaint town of Bright Falls in an attempt to jump-start Alan’s creativity. In typical survival horror fashion, things aren’t what they seem, and suddenly Alan finds that his new book is somehow manifesting in the real world. The unique formatting of the story gave it a very distinct feel from other survival horror games, which is a plus(it is told like a television series, with each new episode having a recap of the previous episode, and ending credits/theme song). The game is creepy, though not outright terrifying (no Dead Space or Resident Evil level gore here).
The visuals are very good, with fantastic lighting effects, and the combat system is unique, with Alan weakening his shadowed foes with light from his flashlight, before delivering the final blow with a well placed gunshot.
I personally would have liked the story to have more of a conclusion (instead of forcing players to buy not one, but two separate downloadable content episodes to wrap up the storyline) on the disc, and a bit more clarity in some sections, but overall, it was another highlight in the 360 category.
Favorite Last Hurrah:
Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) – “Favorite Last Hurrah” has two meanings in this instance. First, is the fact that Halo: Reach was the final Halo game to be developed by series creator Bungie, before they left Microsoft and signed an exclusivity deal with Activision-Blizzard. Second, is the subject matter of Halo: Reach itself, which follows the Spartan unit Noble Team as they attempt to thwart the Covenant from invading the ill-fated world of Reach.
The story is based off of the Halo novel Fall of Reach, but it doesn’t quite have all of the depth and impact of a full-fledged novel. Even so, the polished Halo game play is in top form, and the visuals finally feel like they stepped into the next generation, with detailed textures and atmospheric effects. The game play is probably the most varied than any Halo I’ve played, and there are some rather unexpected scenarios not seen in a Halo title (such as hopping aboard a star-fighter and blasting off into space to sabotage a Covenant warship). And of course, there’s the classic Halo multi-player that have hooked gamers for years.
Overall, Halo: Reach has been the best entry in the series since the original Halo, and Bungie left the series on a high note.
Favorite Fake MMO On Consoles:
White Knight Chronicles (PS3) – White Knight Chronicles is a strange RPG, in that the single player campaign is rather ridiculous. The story is generic and cheesy, with a kind of campy, over the top quality that would turn off the more serious fans of the genre. As a fan of Level 5’s RPGs, I was willing to overlook the silly story because of the crisp visual presentation and enjoyable battle system. What makes White Knight Chronicles really interesting, is it’s online component. During the course of the single player game, players can recruit NPCs (Non Player Characters), and have them populate the town that players are able to craft and then use as a hub for the online portion of the game.
Players can meet each other in the various towns, and then join up, and complete quests separate from the main story. Up to four players can go off on a quest, leveling up, and earning the materials needed to craft the best gear. It has a very distinct MMO feel to the proceedings, and it’s surprisingly addicting. Whatever the shortcomings of the single player narrative, the online portion makes up for it. It even becomes necessary to replay the game at higher levels, in order to recruit the higher level NPCs, so that your online town can produce better materials that other players can buy to craft their own better gear.
Some dismissed Chronicles as a generic RPG, but under the hood was an addicting and fun game, if you took the time to really invest in what it had to offer.
Favorite PSP Game:
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP, duh) – The PSP had some rather remarkable games release in 2010 like Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, Kindom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and Ys The Oath in Felghana, but out of them all, my favorite was God of War: Ghost of Sparta, and for a multitude of reasons. First off is the spectacular presentation. Everytime you think the PSP can’t produce better visuals (Peacewalker was amazing visually), it surprises you. Ghost of Sparta is so visually stunning that you can’t believe the PSP is rendering the game. It matches, and often surpasses the scale and polish of the PS2 era God of War titles.
Secondly, is the combat. With only God of War 3 edging it out, the combat and weapons in Ghost of Sparta shame other entries in the series. The simple addition of a tackle move for Kratos opens up the combat to a world of fun, in the same way the grapple maneuver in God of War 3 opened up the combat significantly.
Thirdly, is the story. It is quite possibly the most personal and human story out of all 5 God of War games, and I’m hard pressed to say it even surpasses the story in God of War 3. Ghost of Sparta has Kratos on a journey to find his brother Deimos, who he believed to be dead. The tale is excellently told, with a final act that is just spectacular from a game design and story standpoint. The PSP is coming along in age, but then again, the PS2 was surprising 7 and 8 years into it’s lifecycle, so I don’t think we can count the handheld out just yet.
Favorite Under-appreciated RPG:
Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/Xbox 360) – I won’t go into it too much here (my upcoming review will cover that), but I have to say that I don’t understand the hate that the latest entry in the Final Fantasy series has garnered.
As a long time fan of the franchise, I’ve seen the series grow and evolve, and even radically change it’s game play, and never have I seen such changes met with the backlash and scorn as Final Fantasy XIII.
For a series that is over 20 years old, and 13 games long, I think some changes were in order. The rather original and unique story was refreshing. This lead to more linear game play, and in the face of Western RPGs that skimp on narrative, and instead focus on non-linearity, I thought FFXIII’s more linear approach was great. I love Western RPGs as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just want to be part of a good story, which FFXIII delivers. No, it isn’t as classic as entries like VI and IX, but it’s better than just about any other traditional Japanese RPG released this generation, and there have been some good ones.
The backlash against the game play changes also baffle me. What’s so bad about being able to restock your items/equipment at save points? Being able to restart lost battles, instead of having to retread the entire dungeon, using up precious items and resources just to get back to the boss, only to lose again was a great change. What’s so wrong about eliminating towns when the story doesn’t leave room for the heroes (who are always strapped for time) to meander about and undertake countless subquests when they should be saving the world? What’s so bad about allowing players to level up the skills/attributes they want to level up, instead of having stat increases determined by their class?
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII was the shot in the arm the franchise needed on a game play level. The quality of the story and characters will no doubt be argued to no end, but the game play changes were welcome.
Favorite Genre Mash-Up:
Darksiders (PS3, Xbox 360) – I admit that I wasn’t intrigued by Darksiders when I first saw screenshots and read some brief previews, but man am I glad that I gave the game a shot. If there is one game that manages to disprove the old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” it’s Darksiders. Part 3D Zelda, part God of War, part Portal, the game does a fantastic job aping some of the best aspects of those games, and wrap it in a rather well done narrative featuring fun characters and an interesting plot revolving around War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who is trying to clear his name after being accused of starting a war that ultimately lead to the destruction of humanity.
The visuals are incredibly sharp and clean, with rich detail, and great character designs by one of my favorite comic book artists, Joe Madureira. The combat is simple at first, but as players explore the large world, they find items that boosts War’s skills and allows him access to other parts of the game and pull off more impressive combos.
Despite being a genre mashup, the game manages to carve its own identity, if anything due to the fact that it mashes up its genres amazingly well. I can’t recommend it enough for fans of Zelda games, as well as well done, polished action/adventure games. 2010 saw a huge resurgence of the action/adventure genre, and Darksiders is one of the best.
Not So Favorite Game That Killed My PS3:
Fallout: New Vegas (PS3/Xbox 360) – Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Well, shame on me for sure this time. Long time readers may remember that two years ago, in 2008, my PS3 died on me. The game my wife was playing when it died was Fallout 3, using Bethesda Game’s Gamebryo engine. A rather dated, incredibly buggy engine that should have just died a gruesome death when Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion released.
Well, fast forward to 2010, and Fallout: New Vegas, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, also using Bethesda’s Gamebryo engine, releases. Instead of going with my gut, and buying the game on the Xbox 360, I bought it on the PS3, thinking that Obsidian would make changes to the engine and maybe improve it’s stability. Wrong!
In a horrible bit of de ja vu, my wife was playing Fallout: New Vegas, a slightly better looking, equally buggy version of Fallout 3, and my PS3 once again crashes, and makes that infamous 3 beeps, and then, flashing red lights. Yes. My PS3 overheated and crapped out due to a Fallout game on the Gamebryo engine. Now, when Fallout 3 killed my PS3, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe my PS3 was just worn out (of course, it was only a year and a half old when it died), so I decided to give Bethesda, Gamebryo, and Fallout another chance. Silly me.
The sad thing is that Fallout: New Vegas, when it works, is a hell of an RPG. It’s lengthy, with a more compelling story than in Fallout 3, and the combat is more interesting and refined. The world is larger and more immersive, and the folks at Obsidian (who were founded by members of the original Fallout and Fallout 2 team) infused a lot of the old school Fallout sensibilities into this new mold that Bethesda forced the series into. If only they would ditch that crappy game engine!
I ended up getting New Vegas for the 360 instead (my wife loves the games, so I got it for her, mostly), and no surprises, given the industries love of the 360, the game runs much better than the PS3 version. So that seals it, no Bethesda game will ever touch my PS3 again. Lesson learned.
And there you have it. My favorite games of 2010. It is by no means a comprehensive list of the many titles released in 2010, but they are the games I played and enjoyed. I don’t think there’s been a single year of this generation that housed so many quality video games. 2011 is looking to give 2010 a run for it’s money, and I can’t wait to sink my mitts into many of the titles releasing in 2011. Happy Gaming and New Years everybody!