Christina Norman Christina Norman is a gameplay designer for BioWare, having contributed to Mass Effectand Dragon Age: Origins, and working as Lead Gameplay Designer on Mass Effect 2. She is currently working hard on Mass Effect 3, which means she knows all sorts of secrets about Shepard's next adventure that you would absolutely kill to find out.
Picking my top 10 favorite games of 2010 was really hard! When I sat down and looked at all the great games I had played the list was monumental. Many Venti lattes were consumed as I argued with myself over each change in ranking.
In the end, I was surprised at my own list, particularly given that many five-star games did not make the cut. Generally speaking, I've enjoyed all the games that are on other top 10 lists, and the absence of any of those games from my personal list should not be taken as a slight to those games. Halo: Reach is a great example--I love the game, it's super enjoyable, it just didn't make the cut for my personal 10 favorite games of the year.
I also decided to exclude my own game (Mass Effect 2) because we Canadians just don't nominate ourselves. With that said, I am incredibly proud of Mass Effect 2, and grateful for all the effort by my friends at BioWare who helped make the game what it is. I am honored it is on so many other people's top 10 lists for 2010.
Without further ramblings, here is my list.
I checked out FrontierVille because I had a Twitter friend who worked at Zynga who recommended it to me. I'd been avoiding all the "Ville" games on purpose, as I was sure they were not for me, but (putting my designer hat on) it seemed like a game I could learn something from. I was surprised to find FrontierVille provided a charming experience. The design was strong, with mechanics that fed back into socialization, daily play, and spending real dollars on advancement. I particularly enjoyed their quests, which drove you along a simple linear story, and taught you the mechanics of the game. Whether you love or hate Facebook social games, you can't deny these games are now an important part of the gaming economy.
I'm not a huge stealth fan, and I've never played any Splinter Cell game for more than half an hour. The cinematic style of Conviction, along with what seemed to be more "shooter" gameplay drew me in.
I soon discovered this game definitely was not a shooter, but its unique puzzle-stealth gameplay was really enjoyable once I got over the hump of trying to go Rambo on every encounter. My favorite feature overall was its unique cover system.
8. Alan Wake
I didn't know a lot about Alan Wake when it came out; I vaguely undestood it had been in development for a really long time, and it was highly anticipated, and it had an interesting story. That was enough to get me to buy it. I initially struggled with the combat mechanics, but once I got the hang of it I found the light mechanic was quite novel. Through the entire game I found a number of really well-crafted pieces of content and design. The story was a bit wacky, but also really engaging, and I finished the game feeling really satisfied.
I buy all kinds of games during Steam sales, and this was one of them. I'd heard about Racettear but didn't really know much about it. Something about running a RPG item shop? One thing I'm (designer hat) interested in is game economies, so any game that involves buying and selling items I am willing to try. Once I started playing Recettear I found much more than I expected for an indie game: nice, styilized graphics, a (wordy, Japanese) story, some fun action-RPG gameplay, and lots and lots of buying and selling. The overall feeling is quite retro, but I love retro games, so for me that's a plus.
Darksiders is a crazy kind of game, it has a whole lot going on and some of it isn't super polished but... a whole lot is going on and it's generally pretty well done. For the pure amount of cool stuff they crammed into this game it deserves being on my top 10 list. I really loved the combat in particular. It was challenging, but also very accessible, with a lot of available depth if you wanted it. I've never really liked Zelda games, but Darksiders had enough God of War to keep me interested, and in the end I really liked the Zelda-esque gameplay.
I don't play racing games. Maybe some Mario Kart at a party, but that's about it. I checked out Hot Pursuit primarily to check out Autolog, as I'm interested in social gaming. As soon as I tried cop mode, I was addicted. Every update from Autolog was a taunt to beat the scores of my (incredibly talented) friends. I found myself playing the same game 10+ times to try and squeeze out a 0.4 second victory.
I like JRPGs but I usually play them for 5-10 hours and then quit. At some point I get "gamer vision" and I can clearly see the next 60 hours of the game and I decide to skip actually playing it. Dragon Quest IX was different. In a lot of subtle ways, it was more friendly, and easier to play, than most JRPGs. A simple example: when you die, you lose some gold, but that's it. They also had a great, deep, class progression system. JRPGs often do. The combination of accessibility and the depth of the class-building helped me get into a weird gamer optimization mode where for 10-20 hours I enjoyed grinding my characters to perfection. Actually playing the game was fun as well, including the simple but very well-done story, that was bright and cheerful, but also genuinely touching.
I am totally biased when it comes to this game. It was basically made for game reviewers and game developers. What can I say, I love it, it pokes fun at the games industry while also being a solid little sim game. I'm biased, so who knows? Maybe this doesn't deserve a spot on my list... but I think it does.
Any game that can suck up hundreds of hours of your life is really good, or really evil. I think Civ V comes out on the good side. The gameplay of Civ V has been nicely refined to be faster, and more accessible. I don't really notice while I'm playing what's changed since Civ IV, but the game experience feels much smoother. Civ V was also pretty bold in its changes, removing unit stacking, giving range defense to cities without units, letting units embark, and moving to a hex grid. Each of these changes had a huge impact on the game, stirring things up and making it play in a way that was truly different from Civ IV.
StarCraft II is basically Baseball II, or Hockey II. It's not really a game so much as it is a sport. The main risk I saw as I was waiting for it to come out is that, somehow, Blizzard would screw up, but they didn't. StarCraft II is a truly great game, and in my opinion, is better than the original. The single-player campaign is great on its own and provides sufficient value to justify the full purchase price of a game, but the single-player game is only a small portion of the total value. The multiplayer of SCII remains at the quality you'd expect from Blizzard. It is the new center of the RTS genre, the comparison point against which all other games are measured.
ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER LIVES IN DETROIT. HE POSTS A LOT OF SHIT ON TWITTER AND AVCLUB AND SOMETIMES PUTS UP VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE BUT NOT THAT OFTEN
SHIT MAYBE YOU SHOULD WRITE THE FUCKING BIO
(EDITOR'S NOTE: ZMF is one of my favorite Internet Assholes, and the only person I'm aware of who has earned the right to use the word "ownage" without getting rightfully and justly curb-stomped. Formatting is the writer's original.)
EVERY YEAR SMACKDOWN VS RAW OFFERS ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE MYSELF IN VIDEOGAME FORM AND STOMP THE PISS OUT OF JOHN CENA. THAT ALONE KEEPS THIS ON MY TOP TEN LIST YEAR AFTER YEAR
KINDA SURPRISED HOW SIMILAR THIS WAS TO THE FIRST ONE SINCE THEY HAD FOUR YEARS TO COME UP WITH SOME NEW SHIT BUT FUCK IT BECAUSE ITS A WINNING FORMULA. ONLY THING MISSING IS THAT AWESOMEASS GONE GURU SONG THAT THOSE CONVICTS CRANKED IN THE PARK AS THEY MOWED DOWN YOUR DUMBFUCK SURVIVORS
8. PERFECT DARK
YEAH THIS IS SOME NOSTALGIC SHIT BUT LIGHTING FUCKERS UP IN FACILITY IS JUST AS AWESOME NOW AS IT WAS WHEN PRESIDENT CLINTON WAS GETTING HIS PIPE SMOKED IN THE OVAL OFFICE. PLUS THE PEOPLE I PLAY AGAINST NOWADAYS CANT LOOK AT MY SCREEN LIKE A BUNCH OF CHEATING BITCHES
7. FABLE III
MOLYNEUX IS LIKE AN UNEMPLOYED DRUNKEN FUCKUP DIVORCED FATHER BECAUSE HE WILL PROMISE YOU THE WORLD AND THE MOON AND ALL THE FUCKING STARS IN THE SKY AND THEN KICK HIS OWN ASS FOR A YEAR STRAIGHT WHEN HE INEVITABLY FAILS TO DELIVER. BUT FUCK IT AT LEAST HE HAS ENTHUSIASM AND THE STONES TO MAN UP AND ADMIT WHEN HES WRONG AND FABLE III MIGHT NOT BE THE WORLD AND THE MOON AND ALL THE STARS IN THE SKY BUT ITS STILL PRETTY FUCKING GREAT
6. TOY SOLDIERS
ONE OF THE MOST SATISFYING VIDEOGAME EXPERIENCES OF 2010: GASSING THESE LITTLE FUCKS TO DEATH BY THE DOZENS. THATS RIGHT YOU LITTLE BANGERS AND MASH EATING MOTHERFUCKERS BREATHE THAT SHIT AND CHOKE
5. HALO REACH
NEVER WAS MUCH OF A HALO FAN AND I ALMOST DIDNT PICK THIS UP SINCE ODST PRETTY MUCH SUCKED BALLS AND ASS BUT HOLY SHIT WAS I EVER GLAD I GOT AROUND TO CHECKING OUT REACH. FIREFIGHT FUCKING OWNS AND THE CAMPAIGN MODE IS THE GREATEST HALO SINGLE PLAYER EXPERIENCE BY A COUNTRY FUCKING MILE. NO WACK FLOOD NO BULLSHITASS LIBRARY NO STUPID FUCKING GRAVEMIND AND NO GUILTY DOUCHE 343. AND YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE SEEMS LIKE EVERYBODY ALWAYS HAD A HARDON FOR MASTER CHIEF BUT I NEVER MUCH LIKED THAT ZOO CREW SOUNDING ASSHOLE EITHER SO I SURE AS HELL DIDNT MISS HIM HERE
OWNAGE ON A BIBLICAL LEVEL. THERES NOTHING LIKE HOGTYING AN INNOCENT GUY AND CARVING HIM UP WITH A HUNTING KNIFE AND SNATCHING THAT SIX BUCKS HE HAD ON HIM AND THEN GOING HOME TO BE A FAMILY MAN. I MEAN THERES LOTS OF GAMES THAT LET YOU COMMIT ATROCITIES BUT THIS IS THE ONLY ONE I CAN THINK OF WHERE YOU CAN GO ABOUT IT LIKE THE FUCKING BTK KILLER
YEAH ITS BUGGIER THAN BEN ROETHLISBERGERS DICK BUT ITS WORTH PLAYING THROUGH THE PAIN BECAUSE THIS IS EVEN BETTER THAN FALLOUT 3 AND THATS SAYING SOMETHING. AWESOME VOICE CAST FEATURING WORLD RENOWNED ASSHOLE JOHN DOMAN AS CAESAR BRINGING ALL THE FEARSOME AUTHORITY HE HAD WHEN HE WAS PLAYING RAWLS ON THE WIRE AND MATTHEW PERRY AS BENNY WHICH GIVES YOU EVEN MORE REASON TO SHOOT THAT DEAN MARTIN WANNABE MOTHERFUCKER IN THE FACE. OWNAGE. OWNAGE NEVER CHANGES
FUCK WACK OPS AND FUCK REMOTE CONTROL CARS BECAUSE BATTLEFIELD BAD COMPANY 2 IS THE REAL. IT AINT ABOUT SOME SHITBAG CAMPER HOLING UP IN A BUILDING YOU CANT KNOCK DOWN AND SENDING KILLSTREAK HELICOPTERS UP YOUR ASS ALL FUCKING NIGHT. BATTLEFIELD BAD COMPANY 2 IS ABOUT TEAMWORK ITS ABOUT FLYING YOUR OWN FUCKING HELICOPTERS AND ITS ABOUT LEVELING ENTIRE TOWNS. THATS RIGHT ENTIRE FUCKING TOWNS AND ALL YOU DESIGNERS WHO CONTINUE TO PUMP OUT FIRST PERSON SHOOTERS WITH INDESTRUCTIBLE ENVIRONMENTS SHOULD BE FUCKING ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES
INSTANT FUCKING CLASSIC POLISHED AS ALL HELL AND JUST A THING OF PERFECTLY REALIZED BEAUTY FROM THE ILLUSIVE MANS OFFICE VIEW TO CLUB AFTERLIFE TO THAT KILLER FUCKING MUSIC ON PURGATORY TO MIRANDAS SPECTACULAR ASS. TOP SHELF VOICE ACTING WITH YVONNE STRAHOTSKI AND SHOHREH AGHDASHLOO AND ANIMAL MOTHER AND THAT BALD ASSHOLE FROM BATTLESTAR GALACTICA AND MARTIN MOTHERFUCKING SHEEN WHO GIVES THE MOST MEMORABLE VOCAL PERFORMANCE IN A VIDEOGAME SINCE MANHUNT WHEN BRIAN COX TOLD ME TO TAKE THOSE DUDES BUTCHER THEM BEAT THEM DOWN AND CHOKE THE FUCKING LIFE OUT OF THEM. PLUS COMMANDER SHEPARD SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE BILL OREILLY WHICH JUST MAKES HIM THAT MUCH MORE OF AN AWESOME GALACTIC ASSHOLE WHEN YOU GO RENEGADE. SPEAKING OF WHICH ANY RPG FROM HERE ON OUT THAT DOESNT ALLOW YOU TO PERFORM A SUMMARY EXECUTION AT LEAST ONCE IS GONNA BE A DISAPPOINTMENT. THIS SHIT TRANSCENDS VIDEOGAMES. GAMECHANGER BARRAISER AND ONE OF THE GREATEST FUCKING ANYTHINGS OF ALL TIME