By dankempster 5 Comments
Hi guys, and welcome to the final part of My Best of 2010 Awards. If you missed the previous parts about Mechanics, Moments, Characters and Things That Aren't Games, then you can find them by clicking those links. They're not necessary reading going into this part of the Awards, but they do give a bit more insight into why some of the games below made this list, so feel free to check them out.
Before I get this underway, I just want to clarify that this is going to be a little different to most other end-of-2010, game-of-the-year style blogs. For a start, this isn't limited to games that came out in 2010. Instead, it encompasses every single game I've seen the credits roll in since January 1, whether they were a 2010 release or not. The reason behind this is simple – I spend a lot of my time playing older titles. Even though 2010 saw me playing a lot more 'current' titles than any year before, I'd still feel a lot more comfortable incorporating everything I've played this year into this little award ceremony. Also, you won't see me picking a definitive 'Game of the Year' anywhere here. I'm dead set against the notion that one game can be held head and shoulders above the others, because they all offer such different experiences. For that reason, this list is in chronological order of completion - it's in no way hierarchical. With those foundations put in place, let's proceed.
Part Five - My Ten Greatest Gaming Experiences Of 2010No preamble for this bit - the title is self-explanatory. Line up the games!
Half-Life: Opposing Force
(Gearbox Software & Valve Corporation - PC - 1999)January saw me playing and beating both of the expansions for the original Half-Life on PC. Opposing Force was not only miles better than its counterpart, Blue Shift; it was arguably even better than Half-Life itself. Opposing Force felt like a trimmed down, tightly compressed version of its source material, retaining its exhilarating gunfights and well-structured puzzles while cutting out a lot of the "filler" content that made Half-Life drag in places (awkward platforming sections, anyone?). On top of that, Gearbox added a wealth of new weaponry and items, encouraging the player to experiment with new tactics in combat. The result is a game that moves at a relentless pace, plays superbly and engages the player from the opening helicopter crash right through to the final boss encounter. Adrian Shephard's tale is a compelling one, and one that is still enjoyable to experience eleven years on. In a year when I played Call of Duty 4 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, to hold this up as the best straight-up FPS I played in 2010 says a lot.
For a more detailed account of my time with Opposing Force, check out this blog.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
(Rare - X360 - 2008)February was pretty much a Rare month for me. As well as sinking a great deal of time into the original Viva Pinata, I worked my way through their most recent 360 offering, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Having had no experience with the bear-and-bird prior to this year, I came in with no expectations except the ones built up by Brad in his very favourable review. Nuts & Bolts turned out to be one of the most enjoyable titles I've ever played. Its vehicle-creation tools are incredibly flexible and intuitive, and the challenge-based gameplay really encouraged me to think about how to approach every situation and adapt my vehicle accordingly. Its best moments were those when I found a way to out-think the developers and take on a challenge in an unorthodox but very effective way. Its emphasis on putting the difficulty level in the hands of the player like this is one of the reasons why I think Nuts & Bolts is one of the most important video game releases of recent times, and why it was always going to make it into this top ten list.
For more info on why Nuts & Bolts left such a mark on my gaming year, check out this blog.
(Gearbox Software - X360 - 2009)As somebody who enjoys both role-playing games and first-person shooters, the concept of Borderlands was an instantly appealing one for me. When my girlfriend surprised me with a copy of the game back in February, I was delighted, and it wasn't long before I'd started my search for The Vault. Initially I wasn't that impressed - the game's opening quests were inane and tedious, and the writing was funny, but nowhere near as engaging as I'd hoped. Thankfully the satisfying gunplay, well-implemented RPG elements and the compulsion to keep searching for bigger and better guns were enough to drive me through the opening stages. The game really picked up as the world of Pandora opened up and the quests became more varied and complex in structure. My overall experience with Borderlands was a memorable one, and a very satisfying one. Who knows, maybe 2011 will see me pick up Playthrough 2, or even start over with a different class. Either way, I know my relationship with this awesome role-playing shooter is far from over.
Far Cry 2
(Ubisoft Montreal - X360 - 2008)One of the defining moments of my gaming year came from a highly unlikely source in the form of Far Cry 2. In spite of its poor reputation amongst the gaming community, I took the risk and picked up a copy after reading Brad's four-star review. I'm immensely glad I did, because it provided me with one of the most rewarding experiences of 2010 across any medium. The open-world format was refreshing and allowed for combat possibilities that just wouldn't happen in a corridor shooter. Every guard post felt like its own challenge, a completely unique combat situation that I could approach from any angle with any number of different strategies. The gorgeous environments were so breathtaking, and the gunplay so satisfying, that I didn't care about the game's on-off relationship with realism and I actually enjoyed driving from location to location. The missions were all brilliantly structured as well, even if the story holding them all together didn't grab me.
If you want to know more about why Far Cry 2 made this list, check out this blog.
Just Cause 2
(Avalanche Studios - X360 - 2010)Just Cause 2's presence on this list is proof of one thing - blowing stuff up is a lot of fun. The game's story and characters were laughable and its main campaign was painfully short, but that didn't stop me from spending close to seventy hours with this title over the course of 2010. To put that in perspective, that's more hours than I spent playing through Fallout 3 and all of the DLC in 2009. After exhausting the game's story and side-missions in May, I also went back to it later in the year to gather up all my outstanding Achievements and make it my second-ever S-Rank. The major reason I couldn't leave Just Cause 2 alone was two-fold. First, the huge game world was absolutely stunning and I wanted to see as much of it as possible. Second, the game's innovative grapple/parachute mechanics made for one of the most interesting and fun methods of open-world traversal I've ever encountered. Even the terrible story and characters added to the game's charm, making it feel more like a cheesy B-Movie than a ham-fisted take on the Hollywood blockbuster. Put all that together, and you've got a game which I definitely think belongs on this list.
Red Dead Redemption
(Rockstar San Diego - X360 - 2010)I've always had a great deal of respect for Rockstar as developers. Throughout my years as an avid consumer of video games, their releases have never failed to entertain me with their brilliant open-world game design and compelling stories. Red Dead Redemption not only lived up to those credentials, it surpassed them and once again set a new benchmark for open-world gameplay and video game storytelling. The narrative is one of the game's best points, telling the story of ex-outlaw turned family man John Marston. Watching Marston's quest for redemption unfold as the world around him struggles into a new age is an incredible experience. The game holding the story together is equally fantastic, offering a wealth of well-structured story missions, satisfying third-person shooter combat, and a number of interesting diversions that are more than worth pursuing. Much like Grand Theft Auto IV before it, it's a game that blew me away in every aspect of its design, and I'm sure I'll be revisiting it multiple times over the next few years.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
(Nintendo - GBA (orig. SNES) - 2002 (orig. 1992)The oldest game on my list is also one of the best examples of game design I've ever witnessed. A Link to the Past is a refinement of the gameplay formula that was born with The Legend of Zelda, to the point where the pace of the game flows like water down a linoleum slope. The overworld is masterfully crafted, granting the player access to new areas upon completion of dungeons. The dungeons themselves are also well-designed labyrinths, each one offering up a helpful item that will allow Link to reach a new part of the overworld. All of these items have multiple applications, both in and out of combat, and it really shows that Nintendo put a lot of effort into making sure every possible action had an appropriate consequence. On top of this well-realised game world, there's the added layer of the light/dark world dichotomy to deal with, paving the way for some memorable puzzle-solving scenarios. While the boss battles are what I've come to expect from the franchise in terms of strategic approaches, they did start to feel a little samey towards the end of the game. Nonetheless, that's a small complaint in what was overall a phenomenal example of game design. Even now, almost twenty years on, developers could learn a lot from A Link to the Past.
(Bioware - X360 - 2007)Despite no previous experience with the 'space opera' concept, I plunged into Mass Effect in August and powered through it over the course of a couple of weeks. I absolutely loved the title, mostly for its captivating universe and multiple alien races, but also for the engaging narrative driven by the actions of Commander Shepard, and the enjoyable shooter/RPG hybrid combat. A great deal of the appeal also came from the freedom of choice the game offered, allowing the player to choose whether their Shepard took a Paragon or Renegade path, as well as making some choices that promised to have repercussions in future Mass Effect titles. I also played through Mass Effect 2 in 2010, but for me its predecessor had more of an impact. I feel it had the better story, more involved RPG elements, and I preferred the Mako exploration of the original to its sequel's tedious planet-probing. Both games are brilliant, though, and strictly speaking this spot on my list belongs to both of them.
Want a more detailed account of my time with Mass Effect? Check out this blog.
Silent Hill 2
(Team Silent - PS2 - 2001)Even now, I'm not sure why I opted to give a spot to Silent Hill 2 instead of something else, like Assassin's Creed or Machinarium. Looked at solely as a game, Silent Hill 2 is good, but nothing exceptional. It's only when you look at everything surrounding the actual game part of Silent Hill 2 that you start to grasp how incredible the experience of playing it is. The game unsettles you not through straight-up scares, but through the creation of a harrowing atmosphere that encompasses every aspect of its design. The graphical tone of the game, the haunting soundtrack, the enemy designs, and the dilapidated environments all come together to create an atmosphere that puts the player constantly on edge. Similarly, the strength of the narrative lies not in what's said, but in what isn't made explicit. The way Silent Hill 2's thematic subtexts subtly pervade through the surface story is something that really has to be experienced to be appreciated. It's a game that I'm sure has more to offer to the player with every subsequent playthrough, and for that reason I'm definitely going to be returning to it in both the near and the distant future.
Interested in a comprehensive write-up about my time with Silent Hill 2? Check out this blog.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
(Kojima Productions - PSP - 2010)Say what you like about the PSP, but mine has served me incredibly well in the three years I've owned it. 2010 was no exception, and my pick of the portable bunch was Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Building on the foundations laid by its predecessor, Portable Ops, Peace Walker is yet another brick intended to plug the gap between the events of Operation: Snake Eater and Outer Heaven. Story-wise, the game delivers exactly what I've come to expect from Hideo Kojima - an overblown tale of nuclear proliferation and human values, highly entertaining and shamelessly engrossing. Thankfully, the game also boasts the gameplay to back it up. Ally recruitment is brought back from Portable Ops and refined to a point of near perfection. Missions are much better structured this time around, too, lending themselves much more readily to the PSP's pick-up-and-play nature. Congratulations are also in order for the game's control scheme, which sees camera control transplanted onto the face buttons to allow the game to play similarly to Metal Gear Solid 4. Add to that some compelling squad-building and item-researching, which practically double the game's lifespan, and you have my favourite Metal Gear title since MGS3.
And with that, My Best of 2010 Awards at last come to a conclusion. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to find some time to throw together a blog on my plans for 2011 from a gaming standpoint. Got an opinion about my picks that you want to share? Or do you have your own fond memories of games you played in 2010? Please post them here, because I'd love to read about them. All that remains for me to say is thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Fallout: New Vegas (X360)