I've decided to do something different this year. Instead of a convoluted list of my favorite games by platform, followed by overall favorite game, followed by best graphics and sound and multiplayer and blah-blah awards, I've decided to just list my top 10 games of the year. My only criteria was which games I had the most fun with.
Overall, I thought it was a pretty weak year compared to others. Of course, I also didn't game as much this year as I have in the past and there are many great games which I missed out on. Alright, enough talk, onto my list.
10 - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (360)
I have yet to finish this one (it is one long game), and while I have my issues with it, there was a point in the game where I was completely sucked in and having a great time. The combat and magic system is plenty deep if you explore it and the visuals are absolutely stunning (if I was doing a "Best Graphics" category this year, this one would definitely be near the top). Having the "Castlevania" title may actually hurt this game more than help it. Sure, it gives it name recognition and probably helped with sales, but with that name there are also certain expectations of how the game will play and in that regard, it can be a bit of a let down. "Castlevania" this ain't. But a solid action title regardless.
9 - God of War 3
A fitting end to the trilogy. Doesn't change the formula established in the previous two titles, it just ups the intensity, violence, scale and stakes. Sony definitely followed the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra with this one. A fun title, with a rock solid, familiar combat system and plenty of pretty visuals to look at. It would have been ranked higher, but it played it a little too safe and the overall experience - while very entertaining - just felt a little too familiar. Similar to this next game . . .
8 - Halo: Reach
Another game series putting an end to a "chapter", Halo: Reach, like GoW 3, delivers the goods in a refined, polished, yet all too familiar package. It delivers on all the goods offered in previous Halo titles: solid campaign with some of the best AI in the business, fire fights that seem to be different every time you play them, options-galore multiplayer, insanely deep Forge mode, yet when the credits rolled I was left wanting a bit more. I felt that with how high the stakes were supposed to be in the single-player campaign, I never got that sense of desperation, despair, loss, tragedy, etc. The fall of Reach is a huge deal in Halo fiction, yet the severity of that loss did not come through in the game. It may be the most polished of the Halo titles, but it still left me wanting more out of it.
7 - Limbo
Here's a game that satisfied a hole I've had for one of my favorite game types, the Out of this World, Flashback, Oddworld category. Excellent art style, clever puzzles, and deaths? Sign me up!!! It may all be over way too soon, but in those 5 or so hours I spent playing Limbo I was completely sucked in. I hope we get some kind of sequel, or at least a spiritual successor in the near future. My one complaint (aside from the short length) is that the game quickly shifts theme and location very early from a spooky, survival setting in a creepy forest, to an industrial setting that revolved mostly around puzzle solving. I really, really enjoyed that first bit a lot more yet it made up a very small portion of the game. If the entire game stuck to that this title would have been way higher on my list.
6 - Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (360)
Here's a title that caught me completely by surprise. This game didn't interest me one bit when announced or when I saw the initial gameplay videos. An isometric-view Tomb Raider game? That could never work. As it turns out, it is the best Tomb Raider game I have played since the original titles. Excellent play mechanics, plenty of polish, great level design and perfect controls equal my 6th favorite game this year. I have yet to play this co-op with a friend, who knows, it may have jumped up a few spots if I would have. Highly recommended to those that haven't tried it.
5 - Super Meat Boy
Three Live Arcade games in a row? Super Meat Boy is old school platforming perfection. When you talk about perfect controls, this is the game you point to. You know how the Super Mario games have that perfect feel? Well, Super Meat Boy achieves just that. Moving Meat Boy around is a joy. Good thing too, because you need perfect controls to tackle the game's insane levels. Make no mistake, this game is brutally tough. Get ready to die. A lot. And then die some more. But the payoff when you finally pass a particularly tough level is exhilarating. Surprisingly, as many times as you will die, the game rarely gets frustrating and it is all thanks to the fact that you respawn the very second you die. No delay. No annoying sad death song. No black screen showing some death animation. No "Get ready . . . set . . . go". Just an immediate chance to try it again. If not for that one design choice, this game might have not even made my top 10. It may not be for everyone, I really think it caters to those of us that grew up playing games in the 80's, the kind that were harsh and unmerciful and losing all your lives meant starting the entire game over. If you are one of us, do yourself a favor and try Super Meat Boy.
4 - Call of Duty: Black-Ops (360)
Even though Blops falls into the same "more of the same" category as GoW 3 and Halo: Reach, offering a been-there-done-that single player campaign that is extremely linear, with robotic A.I., never ending enemy respawns, and so many over-the-top moments you become desensitized to them 1/4 of the way through the game, I just can't get enough of that multiplayer! It doesn't stray far from the groundwork CoD 4 laid and WaW and MW2 have refined. But Blops further enhances and balances that foundation. Ever since its release, this has been the one game that has steadily stayed in my 360's disc tray.
3 - Red Dead Redemption (360)
GTA with horses? Kinda, but not really. Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic sandbox game that while it follows the GTA formula, offers up such a different experience because of its setting and location change, that it surpasses GTA in every way. Rockstar really nailed the western theme. Everything shows an amazing attention to detail. The game plays smoother and the gunplay is far superior to GTA IV. Plus, I find riding on horseback to my objectives far more enjoyable than driving even the most exotic sports car. The game world is so lush, detailed and alive, that I actually enjoyed traveling the sometimes huge distances to my next objective and I rarely used any of the fast travel options. The voice acting is also excellent and the story serviceable. Throw in a pretty large DLC pack with zombies, and you have one hell of a winning formula. The game is long and definitely gives you your $60 worth. And I never even tried multiplayer!
2 - Darksiders (360)
This one surprised even me. Darksiders? Yup. When looking back at my gaming experiences this year, Darksiders was one of my absolute favorites. Something about this title just clicked with me. Maybe it was the art style (I love Joe Mad). Maybe it was the Zelda-esque gameplay. Maybe it was the comic book fan in me. Whatever it was, I enjoyed every second of this game and I was completely enthralled with it from beginning to end.
1 - Mass Effect 2
Wow. Just wow. Mass Effect 2 takes what was established in the first game and improves upon every single aspect. I have never felt more ownership of a gaming universe than I do with my Mass Effect universe. The sequel delivers on the promise the first game made that decisions you make will carry over. I was just surprised at how many of those decisions make an appearance. It is amazingly satisfying to see a character, or see the result of an action or decision from the previous game, show up in ME2. You really feel like this game world is your own. I simply cannot wait to see what occurs in the third game and how my decisions in this game will carry over. It also helps that the storyline is fantastic and carries with it a gravity that doesn't come across in other games. Bungie should take note, this is how you do it. When things pick up, I really do feel the weight of mankind's survival on my shoulders. Every action and decision requires careful thought, especially when your choices can mean the difference between life and death of your squadmates, because you actually grow to care about these characters and don't want them to die. Again, that is something very few games manage to capture. Mass Effect 2 is simply a must play experience, made all the richer if you played through the first title. Easily the best gaming experience I have had this year.
And there you have it folks. Interestingly enough, my top two games of the year both came out in January. That might be one of the reasons I felt this year was a disappointment, I reached my peak of gaming enjoyment at the very beginning, and no other title for the remainder of the year managed to surpass it.
I had a few titles I had high hopes for that ended up letting me down. They were not "bad" per say, but my expectations for them were pretty high. Mafia II, Heavy Rain, Gran Turismo 5 and even Halo: Reach which made my top 10, were all games that I felt could have been more. None are bad games. But the potential was there for them to have been excellent games.
There were also a handful of games which I wanted to play and never got around to. Alan Wake, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (which I hear has the most innovative and fun multiplayer in a while). I hope to play these at some point .
Here's hoping 2011 is a better year in gaming. I get an early gift with Dead Space 2 coming out in January. Dead Space was my GotY in 2008, so I have high hopes for this one. My two other highly anticipated games this year are The Last Guardian and of course, Mass Effect 3. If all three of those are as good as I hope they will be, then 2011 will definitely be a great year to be a gamer.