Don't agree with our choices? Then be sure and listen to our Day Five Deliberations Podcast to make yourself even angrier!
The Northies - Best Performance By Nolan North
It's happened, people. The day has finally come. It's not enough for Nolan North to play the leading man in one beloved franchise after another. He wasn't happy when you were merely hearing his voice in every single game you ever bought, ever. One role per game? Forget about it.
Let history remember this as the year when the Nolan-headed serpent began to devour its own tail, when video game voiceovers folded in on themselves and reality itself began to unravel. We present to you: Nolan North conversing with... Nolan North.
And the Northie goes to... Mafia II. What else could it be? Our dear Nolan certainly made the rounds in a long list of noteworthy titles this year, but as we so often say around here, it's not the best Nolan but the most Nolan that truly matters.
Runners-up: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Army of Two: The 40th Day, Tron: Evolution, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Singularity, Alpha Protocol, Final Fantasy XIII, Dark Void, Transformers: War for Cybertron, Trauma Team
Best Competitive Multiplayer
At first glance, StarCraft II looks an awful lot like StarCraft I, with the same three factions mining the same minerals and vespene gas toward the same end of wiping each other off the map. But it's exactly that time-tested core RTS gameplay that makes this the best multiplayer game of the year. After more than a decade of intensely high-level competitive play, the most essential elements that make StarCraft what it is are practically etched in stone, so instead of trying to fix something that wasn't broken, Blizzard set about subtly refining, streamlining, and automating some of the more mechanical and menial aspects of playing StarCraft, making it accessible to players of any skill level.
And what a range of skill levels this game supports. StarCraft II has already spawned the most lucrative and widely publicized professional gaming tournament in history, with top players mastering ludicrously complex strategies in a game so mechanically dense it seems to defy mastery in the first place. For the mere mortals among us, the newly redesigned Battle.net does a great job of keeping you playing against opponents of like skill levels, so if you just want to turtle in your base and make hydras for 10 minutes before any attacking goes down, you can find others who play the same way. And despite adding a host of interesting new units, Blizzard maintained that finely honed three-way balance between terran, zerg, and protoss--no small feat in itself--ensuring that a whole lot of people will be playing StarCraft II online for a long, long time.
Runners-up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Reach
It is arguably more challenging to convey a cohesive narrative in games than most other mediums--games are defined by user interaction, and the protagonist's free will (or at least its illusion) can throw a real monkey-wrench in the storyteller's designs. As difficult as effectively telling a simple story, wrapping up the loose ends and finding a satisfying conclusion is a feat that storytellers in all formats struggle with, and this is a huge part of what makes Red Dead Redemption such an accomplishment. Rockstar San Diego crafted a rich, detailed world, filled it with compelling, compromised characters, and found a satisfying arc for its lead character.
But that ending. That thrilling gut-punch of an ending. Righteous redemption and bitter, white-hot revenge all swirling together for an ending that felt earned. Games simply aren't made the way Red Dead Redemption was, and its conclusion wouldn't have worked had it not been for the specific way that the game repeatedly shifts gears leading up to the real ending. Coincidentally, Red Dead Redemption would also have won here had this been the award for Most Endings, with the way it ends, and then it ends again, and then it ends. It's maybe one of the best game endings, ever, which makes it an easy win for Best Ending in 2010.
Runners-up: Bayonetta, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
The "Take a Break" Award
We're hard-pressed to even define what the name "Final Fantasy" encompasses at this point, but for the purpose of this category let's constrain it to the games that are merely called "Final Fantasy" with a Roman numeral afterward. This year saw the release of the thirteenth and fourteenth installments in that core series; the former was a beautifully produced, underwhelming adherent to outdated JRPG conventions, while the latter was by all accounts a runaway MMO catastrophe so poorly received that Square Enix relieved its stewards of their jobs in the hope of remaking it into something people would actually want to pay a monthly fee to play. It wasn't a great year for games called Final Fantasy, so it's time to take a pause and think hard about what it was that made this series so popular in the first place.
Look, all of us here at Giant Bomb have fond memories of various entries in the Final Fantasy series, but most of those entries came out well over a decade ago. A lot has happened, and continues to happen, in the ongoing evolution of game design since then, but it's starting to seem like Final Fantasy is too burdened by its own lavish production values and momentous legacy to keep up with those modern conventions. What's the answer here? We can't definitively say. Maybe it's time to ditch the expensive full-motion video. Maybe it's time to let a Western studio take a crack at this hallowed franchise. Maybe... no, it's definitely time to drop the Roman numerals and come up with a more creative way to name all these games. Whatever it takes, we just want Final Fantasy to surprise and excite us again, but only after it takes some time off to regroup and come back strong.
Runners-up: Guitar Hero, WWE SmackDown!
Best PlayStation 3-Only Game
Kratos pulls no punches in this, his PlayStation 3 debut, which also wraps up the mad Spartan's trilogy of heavenly murder with all the inventive blood lust and blinding rage players have come to expect from the franchise. God of War III is a God of War game through and through, and while it's a franchise whose feel is oft imitated, this was a vivid reminder that no one knows how to sadistically murder a god like Kratos.
Visually stunning, with a sense of scale that few games have the nerve to play with and the kind of finesse that reminds you of what's running under the hood, God of War III makes good on much of the promise of its franchise and its platform, making it our choice for Best PlayStation 3-Only Game for 2010.
Runners-up: Heavy Rain, Sports Champions