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Gaming: Game of the Year 2010

As with the 2009 version this post will be an attempt to put every retail game released in 2010 into an order of preference. I don’t intend to overthink it too much, just assessing every new entry with how I feel it compares to the other games on the list until I find the right spot for it.

The list is rather small at the moment (starting with just four games) because I haven’t played many 2010 releases, but I’ll update it every time I play a new 2010 game no matter how late I play it (I’m still updating the 2009 one as I play more games). I wanted to get my thoughts written down though and figured there’s no harm in starting the list small.

I’ll start with number one at the top so start from the bottom if you prefer to read in reverse order:

The Normandy SR2

1) Mass Effect 2

Full opinion post here.

Bioware improved every technical and mechanical flaw of the first game, trimmed off the bloat and radically improved a whole bunch of things, all while telling a decent story and losing none of the depth of the universe. In some respects they’ve all but streamlined it right out of the RPG genre (if you count things like combat or inventory management as integral elements), but where it counts it still has everything great about a Bioware RPG, while also having combat that’s fast-paced and actually well designed.

Six standing solo.

2) Halo: Reach

Full opinion post here.

Bungie leaves Halo on a high note, playing it fairly safe but still delivering their best campaign to date as they tell the tragic story of the fall of the planet Reach. The main characters are a varied and likeable bunch (even if they don’t stray far out of standard military character archetypes), the overhauled engine looks fantastic, and some new additions to the arsenal and enemies helps counter some of the disappointment that might have arisen from a game that sits earlier in the timeline than the rest of Bungie’s games (with the necessary omissions that requires). It remains to be seen if 343 Industries can keep Halo at the same level as Bungie have, but if Reach turns out to be the peak of the series then that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, as it does feel like the developer pulled out all the stops to make Reach the definitive Halo experience.

Splicer attack.

3) Bioshock 2

Full opinion post here.

I expected Bioshock 2 to be little more than a competent game that would let me return to a setting I liked, hopefully not doing any major harm to the story or characters of the first game. What I got instead was a game that improved on almost every aspect of the original, being a better shooter and telling a fantastic, personal story about fatherhood that is going to stick with me for a long time, while also fleshing out the history of Rapture in a way that adds to the first game. It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by a game and Bioshock 2 is one of the most pleasant gaming surprises I’ve experienced for quite some time. That some people seem to have written it off as a forgettable cash-in or pale imitation of the original is almost tragic.

4) Super Mario Galaxy 2

Full opinion post here, as well as a separate post talking about the game’s co-op mode here.

Being a direct sequel that comes shortly after the original means there’s a little less wonder in Super Mario Galaxy 2 compared to going from Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Sunshine, or from Super Mario Sunshine to Super Mario Galaxy. Nintendo are still incredibly creative though, making it a relatively minor complaint. The game is another pure platformer that trots out new elements and concepts all the time and then discards them before they get stale, with fully 3D level design that sees you switch without thinking from behind views to 2D views to overhead views to upside down. It builds on a lot of what worked in Super Mario Galaxy, discards what didn’t and adds a bunch of new power-ups, features and modes that make it constantly fresh and fun.

5) Dead Rising 2

You can read some of my thoughts about the game here.

I didn’t know what to make of Dead Rising 2 being developed by Blue Castle instead of the original team. Sequels from new teams aren’t usually as good as the original (with Bioshock 2 being a major exception) and there really does seem to be a big difference between the attitudes of Western and Eastern studios (and the Eastern European/Russian ones, but that’s not relevant here). Blue Castle did a great job with the game though, building their own version of Capcom’s MT Framework engine (which they apparently weren’t allowed to use) and recreating pretty much everything that worked in the original – chiefly the large playground full of zombies and things to kill them with – while fixing a lot of the original’s issues – especially the terrible survivor AI, a major hindrance in Dead Rising. At times they do follow the original game’s lead a little too closely, mostly keeping the awkward save system, long loading times, awkward psychopath fights and even the general structure, when there was no need to do that. The upcoming remake thing that is Dead Rising 2: Off the Record will include a few improvements (especially with saving), so hopefully an eventual Dead Rising 3 will see Blue Castle shaking off most of the worst elements of the series for good.

6) Crackdown 2

I said a few things about the game here.

Most of what is good about Crackdown 2 is simply borrowed from the original game, but as Crackdown is one of my favourite games this generation I can’t dislike the sequel too much for that. I really do think Ruffian are on the right track with the structure, which just puts a lot of activities on the map and leaves you to do what you want, when you want, but unlike something like Saints Row 2 (which did the same kind of thing) there just isn’t enough variety in Crackdown 2. Play for an hour (or maybe even half) and you’ve experienced essentially everything you’ll see across the entire playthrough. What’s there was still a lot of fun for me and leaping around the city is still my favourite means of navigation in an open world game. It’s a game that rests on its predecessor’s strengths then, but that was a strong position to start from. Here’s hoping Crackdown 3 sees Ruffian stretching their creativity a lot more.

Heavy Rain

7) Heavy Rain

Full opinion post here, as well as all the notes I made in two playthroughs (with spoilers) here and here.

The best thing Heavy Rain does is tackle themes and subjects that just aren’t present in the average AAA game, and by standardising its interactions into vague prompts something like preparing a meal is just as interactive as a fight scene, allowing the game to delve into areas that in other games would be the dull sections between action scenes. Sometimes the amount of streamlining goes too far and renders the player little more than somebody to press a button to make the next cutscene continue, the story doesn’t always make sense and some of the voice work is awful, but Heavy Rain is still a good game and if it convinces other developers that gamers are open to more than just combat then it could prove to be a very important one.

8) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I wrote lots of posts about Enslaved, it being the first game I tried journal-style posts with:

Enslaved looks nice, doesn’t tell a bad story, has some decent facial animation, great voice acting and is ultimately fun, if never challenging in the combat or the climbing (which is practically automated and with little chance of failure). Ninja Theory let the story get in the way far too often though, stopping you playing for cutscenes, area scanning or simply making you look at something that you didn’t actually need shoved in your face. Moments like those should always be the last resort but it felt like for Ninja Theory they were the default, that ultimately they wanted to tell and animate a story and actually giving the player something to do was practically a concession on their part, just keeping the player occupied between cutscene triggers.

9) Donkey Kong Country Returns

 I ranted a little about the game here.

I haven’t finished this game so this is a very tentative position. As is stands though I can admire the quality of the game up to the point I played and Retro Studios really are a great developer, but I just can’t force myself to play a game that made design choices that don’t sit right with me. Cheap deaths and a deliberate skewing towards generating frustration just doesn’t work for me, especially when coupled with the outdated system of lives and continues (forcing you to replay chunks of content every time you get really stuck at a difficult point and run out of lives). It’s not a game made for me, which is disappointing.

Barry

10) Alan Wake

Full opinion post here.

Alan Wake misses the mark when it comes to being a horror game, with enemies too numerous and easy to kill to feel in any way menacing. The plot takes a while to get going (a lot of the first half of the game feels like filler content) but in the latter half of the game really does get good, which is also the point when some of the game’s better characters get more screen time and Remedy let themselves be a little less serious in places. The impressive lighting makes it look very good in the night scenes but fairly bland anywhere else, and while it’s a fairly solid shooter it feels like the game could have been a lot more than that.

11) Toy Story 3

I talked about this in February’s monthly review post, though I basically repeat myself below.

A decent game based on a Pixar movie is essentially unprecedented, the license having been entrusted with THQ during their shovelware years. Toy Story 3 is published by Disney Interactive and developed by Avalanche Studios and is a much better game. Some thought has clearly gone into making the story mode work (presenting it as a retelling of the movie’s events) but if that’s all the game had it would have been mostly unremarkable, though the inclusion of drop-in co-op play is a huge plus that Avalanche seem to have picked up from the LEGO games (and which should be ther eby default in any game meant for youngsters). The game also includes another mode though, called Toy Box, an open world setting that has you completing quests to restore the town, with a reasonable amount of customisation options. It’s a real surprise to find in a movie tie-in and is hopefully a good sign for the future.

12) Splinter Cell: Conviction

Stealth is a difficult genre to attract mainstream appeal. Built around hiding and avoiding combat, with punishing failure conditions that can see you failing a mission just by being seen or being forced to start over because a body was discovered far back in the level. Ubisoft’s solution with Splinter Cell: Conviction was to make it more like an action movie, with Sam Fisher as a room-clearing badass on a personal mission, mostly removing failure conditions entirely (with a few exceptions), making it easy to slip back into stealth mode and making full-on aggression a viable (and even encouraged) tactic. It’s a game where you have to almost force stealth play out of it rather than it being the best option and the story is pretty poor conspiracy nonsense, and while there’s fun to be had (it plays like a gun version of Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s stealth bits, if not as good) it’s neither a great stealth game or a good Splinter Cell game, making it a pretty disappointing entry in the series.

13) Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

I made some comments about the game in March’s monthly review post.

Did IO Interactive make the game so rough on purpose? I really do think there’s an interesting discussion there and I’d love to hear from the developer, but that doesn’t change that the game isn’t so much fun. Aiming is inaccurate, taking cover is never safe, Kane and Lynch are wholly unlikeable and unsympathetic characters, the campaign is short, and it’s just relentless bleak and intense. The art style really does work well with all that, emulating a shaky handheld camera, but it doesn’t help make the game fun to play.

14) Aliens Versus Predator

I shared a few thoughts on this game here in January’s monthly review post.

When it’s not being a fairly generic first-person shooter (the marine campaign) or a disorienting semi-stealth, semi-melee game (the alien campaign) there really is some potential in this. Leave the marines to Gearbox, ditch the alien and just make a brutal action-stealth game with the Predator and it could really could be something rather good (and something like the Riddick games, still possibly the best stealth game so far this generation). As it stands there are just three basic campaigns that use the same environments and too many of the same mechanics (the marine’s ability to melee aliens just doesn’t make sense), making it three thin experiences instead of one meaty one.

Lightning and Fang battle a Behemoth.

15) Final Fantasy XIII

I’ve posted about the game’s unimpressive opening hours here and my thoughts after thirteen hours here.

I’ve not completed Final Fantasy 13 which is generally a reason not to include it in a game of the year list, but I have put over thirty hours into it and the game just isn’t good enough to make me want to go back (I would like to finish it but keep finding reasons not to). The story takes a long time to get going or even properly establish a villain, for a huge chunk of the beginning there’s no opportunity to get the most out of the combat system as Square locks off functions and doesn’t give you a full party, most of the level and creature designs are fairly abstract things that don’t look real or functional, and for most of the time the game just isn’t enjoyable, a ridiculous thing to be saying that about a main entry in the premiere Japanese RPG series. It looks nice, the cutscenes are impressive, the characters aren’t bad and the combat can be fun when it stops holding your hand, but it just isn’t a very good game.

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