Hey Giant Bomb! Been a while since I've posted a blog, so he's the end of year roundup: The customary selection of the very finest (and the very worst) 2010 had to offer for me when it came to playing games. As a reminder, this is my roundup of the games which I actually purchased and played during this year, and does not necessarily include games which were actually released this year. Nevertheless, I did actually play some games which were released this year and I'm pleased to say that for the first time, my Game of the Year is actually a game from 2010. 2010 was a great year for games, and more than that, a great year for PC games. Both StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Sid Meier's Civilization V showed that PC gaming still matters, if anyone was thinking that it was continuing to "die". However, I also saw a number of games ( Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain) which made me lament not having a console, but I am still very disinclined to stump up the cash to actually buy one. Anyway, let's have a look at our first category.
Best Role-Playing Game
Mass Effect: This was the year I was introduced to the Mass Effect series. When I first looked at GameSpot's video review of the original game, I thought what I saw looked interesting, but didn't consider it my cup of tea. How wrong I was. Mass Effect is space opera writ large. It naturally takes a lot of inspiration from Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, but it invents its own unique narrative and a universe which feels distinctly separate from all others. For one thing, there is a conscious effort to ground the fiction within reality, such as the entire principle upon which the "Mass Effect" of Eezo is derived. Then there are the characters that inhabit this world, each of whom is interesting and multi-faceted. And the glue holding all this together is Commander Shepard, who is the catalyst for change across the galaxy. A truly wonderful experience.
Best Racing Game
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box: The thrill is very much in the chase within Burnout Paradise. What it does best is simply capture the exhilaration behind the act of driving at an outrageous speed, with no regard for other traffic or the laws of physics. The racing in Burnout Paradise is fun: Nothing more, nothing less. The good variety of modes, unlockable cars and the sheer size of Paradise City mean that you'll be ruling roads in no time. There is also great online integration, which compares your race times against other people also playing around the world. Motorcycles are also fun, but their inclusion is a bonus alongside the more substantial car career. The best racing game I have had the pleasure to play since Midtown Madness 2.
Best Action-Adventure Game
Best Licensed Game
Batman: Arkham Asylum: Batman Batman Batman. Arkham Asylum is a bloody great game. Indeed, I fully see why it was awarded the BAFTA Game of the Year for 2009. No other licensed game has been this well designed, or simply been so fun to play. Licensed games are normally an area most people try to avoid because the general standing for these games has remained relatively low. Arkham Asylum doesn't just move the goalposts: It redraws the entire playing field. It's gorgeous to look at, the gameplay is really tight and exciting, and the fighting in exciting in both stealth and action elements, which mix together excellently. All in all, it makes you feel like you are Batman, and this is the biggest praise I can give it. I eagerly await Arkham City, because if it is anywhere near as good as Arkham Asylum was, it will still be an excellent game.
Best Original Soundtrack
Machinarium: Machinarium is a perfect encapsulation of all that is good in indie game development. It takes the old-fashioned medium of a point-and-click adventure and makes it charming, accessible, fun and rewarding for new players to experience anew. Couple into that a cute but minimalistic storyline and a soundtrack which is utterly screaming out for awards, and you really do have something special. The sound design itself is absolutely superb, each sound effect and musical theme blending perfectly to create a very unique atmosphere. Alongside this there are also the beautiful hand-animated thought bubbles which convey most of the plotline, which is a great touch. I certainly hope Amanita Design make many more games in the future.
Best Use of Nostalgia
Best Use of Cheese Squigglies
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Special Edition: Monkey Island 2 was the first game I ever played, and I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered the original floppy disks for it in the attic. But what pleased me even more than finding the original game was the great love and care that went into making Monkey Island 2 Special Edition. The soundtrack has been gloriously re-mastered and sounds wonderfully lush, whilst the pitch-perfect voice-acting revitalises the cIassic jokes once again. This Special Edition is definitely better than that of the original Secret of Monkey Island from last year, partly because the new animations are smoother and the art-styIe has improved, but also because Monkey Island 2 is simply a better game at heart. In essence, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition is the greatest thing LucasArts have done since Grim Fandango in 1998.
Most Addictive Game
Best Use of a Post-Apocalyptic Setting
Fallout: New Vegas: The call of the wasteland is instilled into the grain of my bones by this point, and it was inevitable that I would play Fallout: New Vegas very soon after launch. My love for Fallout 3 was only really hampered by the various bugs and errors, and it is disappointing to note that New Vegas is not lacking in this deficiency either. Nevertheless, I would tentatively say that New Vegas is a better game than Fallout 3, but not by a massive margin. Fallout 3 definitely has a better sense of scope and grandeur, especially given you're walking around a ruined Washington D.C. Whilst New Vegas does many things better than Fallout 3, such as the storyline, the characters and the voice-acting, it doesn't really have the same sense of scale its predecessor had. That aside, the Mojave Wasteland has a lot of interesting characters, places to explore and things to do. It also in many ways feels more true to the Fallout vibe established in the first and second games, and so I don't feel uncomfortable with dubbing New Vegas "The Real Fallout 3".
gbrading's Game of the Year
Best Character Design
Best Downloadable Content
Mass Effect 2: If I though Mass Effect original was great, the sequel definitely upped the ante. Mass Effect 2 takes almost everything that was great about the original game, and then either polishes it or improves it in some other noticeable way. Aside from the very tedious planet scanning and the fact that almost every level now feels very linear, the game has advanced in several major places. The plot is stronger, the voice-acting still fantastic, the gameplay and gunplay are far more satisfying and the entire thing is still almost painfully beautiful to look at. Plus, the immersion level is simply superb. You really do feel very much attached to this universe, because the characters within it are so expressive and detailed. Everything about the game just feels right, from the beautiful interior of the revamped Normandy to the varied landscapes of every alien world you visit. The game has also been supported by some great DLC, from the interesting Lair of the Shadow Broker which expanded on Liara's story, to Project Overlord, which was its own self-contained set of missions. Mass Effect 3 will have a lot of expectations heaped upon it, so I will be fascinated to see if it can stand alongside its predecessors.
Biggest Mixed Reaction
Worst PR Fiasco
BioShock 2: Oh, BioShock 2 you damn rascal. I don't hate you, I don't love you, and I don't know what to think about you anymore. It is difficult to even talk about the game anymore. To save myself from further injury, I can only suggest you read my BioShock 2 review, in which I get as close as I can to summing up what I feel about this game. My love of the original BioShock significantly coloured my feelings towards this sequel, but nevertheless from a gaming perspective alone, BioShock 2 is still a pretty good game. It's just a disappointment when it is compared to its predecessor. However, in terms of a PR fiasco, the cancellation of the BioShock 2 DLC Minerva's Den for PC and a major patch to correct issues, followed by the sudden un-cancellation of it were definitely a PR disaster for 2K Games. As of yet the DLC and patch still haven't been released, but they schedule it for early 2011. Let's hope they stick to their promises this time.
Most Generic Experience
Just Cause: Just Cause original is a huge game, to be sure. The islands of San Esperito are sprawling and very tropical, but sadly are very much devoid of interesting activities in which to entertain yourself. All you have to do is the same very small variety of derivative missions over and over again, ad infinitum, until you have eventually liberated the entire archipelago from the clutches of despotic President Salvador Mendoza. It's a cIassic example of wash, rinse, repeat taken to the extreme, and the end result is that the most fun you can have in Just Cause is when you are mucking around on your own, rather than doing any of the activities the game provides for you. The sequel Just Cause 2 however, understands this and takes steps to rectify it. More about JC2 at a later date.
Biggest Waste of Potential
Mirror's Edge: I really wanted to like Mirror's Edge more. For one thing, it is a staggeringly beautiful game. For another, it plays with some fascinating ideas, and when it comes to the first-person platforming it pulls it off rather well. There is a real flow to your movements and when pulling everything off right, it feels fantastic. However, it was majorly let down by several critical design flaws. First, forcing the player into very bad gunfights in several points and second, by not allowing the player to simply run, dodge or avoid confrontation with enemies. There are multiple points where you are in a room with a dozen heavily armed soldiers and the only way to progress is to take them down. If you try to run, you will fall in a hailstorm of bullets. This completely breaks the flow of the game, making it stupidly difficult and is a giant hurdle which definitely needs addressing.
Star Trek Online (Beta): 2010 marks the year I first played a MMO (aside from Second Life which I must admit I toured around once several years ago. It was confusing as hell and didn't seem in any way fun, except that I got to name my character Dostoevsky Huldschinsky). The beta of Star Trek Online for a while gathered quite a mystique thanks to it being featured in a couple of Giant Bomb videos. Since it was free, and since I do like Star Trek, I thought it was worth a look in. What I found was very formulaic; Missions which normally didn't have much variety and would have to be repeated time and time again in order to advance in rank. Still, although the game itself doesn't amount to much, it did allow me to achieve my first few seconds of semi internet stardom. I am featured in the final Giant Bomb video (as Heywood Floyd), helping to revive Jeff Gerstmann in several places, as well as dancing the Running Man alongside him. So I do appreciate the game for giving me that, at least.
Worst PC Port
Grand Theft Auto IV (+ Episodes from Liberty City): Although featuring as a last minute runner-up in this category last year, having fully played my way to 100% completion in GTA IV over the past year I feel perfectly fine as including it as the winner of the category this year. Although the game is excellent, GTA IV is not a good port by any definition of the word. For a start, you'll need a powerhouse of a PC to run it in the first place. If you do get it running, you will need to turn off many features, such dynamic shadows or higher quality textures. Indeed, I have never seen the "High" settings of GTA IV since my computer stops me from selecting them. Even with these things turned down, the framerate still has a tendency to slow in several places, and texture pop-in rears its head. Since a big patch earlier this year the game now looks even worse because anything you're not looking at is unloaded to make things run faster, similar to GTA: Vice City. Although this might have sped up the framerate in several spots, it overall contributes to worsening the look of the game significantly.
Any Other Business
Games on the Wii: Wii Sports Resort/ Wii Fit Plus
This year was a relatively quiet year for the family Wii. Last year we got Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus, and this Christmas we have just gotten Mario Kart Wii, which we have been playing quite addictively. Wii Sports Resort is a great collection of games, and the use of Wii Motion Plus makes the actions feel more delicate and precise. Archery is very entertaining, as is table tennis, sword-fighting and bowling. Air sports are fun for a while, but are not as fully-fledged as the more realistic sports. Wii Fit Plus is still Wii Fit, but with more customisable features and a better selection of activities. It's still good at improving your balance though. In 2011 I'm going to resolve to try and play some of the really great Wii games such as Super Mario Galaxy and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, because since the Wii is there, I feel I should make use of it.
Christmas Games: An Indie January
Coming into 2011 I will be playing through quite a deluge of indie games, including Super Meat Boy, Braid, Osmos, Penumbra: Overture, Lugaru HD, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, Gish and Aquaria. Most of these I got as part of the Humble Indie Bundle #2, which operates a pay-what-you-want strategy, with a percentage of the money also going to charity. Also, if you paid above the average, you were given all the games from the original Indie Bundle for free, which was incredibly generous. The games were also available to be redeemed on Steam, which was an added bonus. In total, the Humble Indie Bundle #2 managed to raise $1.8 million. I also bought Super Meat Boy myself, and I think that I'm going to have to buy a Windows 360 controller if I want to play more of it (which I do), because they make quite a point of saying that keyboard controls aren't very good, which is true. Nonetheless, something is compelling me to want to play more. It would also be very useful for piloting helicopters and planes in Just Cause 2 and Episodes from Liberty City.
Thanks for reading! I wish you all a very Happy, Safe and Brave New Year.