By dankempster 10 Comments
Hi guys, and welcome to the first part of My Best of 2010 Awards. 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 (eight, in case you're wondering), 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. Instead, I'll be selecting my top ten most memorable gaming experiences of 2010 and blogging about them on New Year's Eve. With that cleared up, let's proceed.
Part One - The ComponentsAny game is only as good as the sum of its parts – the gameplay, the aesthetics, and the story. This first part of My Best of 2010 Awards focuses on these components of video games, presenting awards to games that have wowed me with their gameplay mechanics, their aesthetic presentation, and their engaging narratives.
Best Game MechanicUltimately, it's gameplay that keeps us coming back to the games we love. The way a game plays, be it innovative, highly refined, or simply just fun, can rescue a title even if its graphics or storyline end up being sub-par. This category recognises that a well-implemented game mechanic can turn a run-of-the-mill title into a memorable experience. Let's look at the top three game mechanics that defined my 2010:
Bronze – Shooting Dudes in the Face (Multiple Titles, Multiple Platforms)A whopping eighteen of the thirty games I ended up playing this year were heavily reliant on shooting mechanics as a key aspect of gameplay. From first-person shooters like Call of Duty 4 and Half-Life: Opposing Force, through games with third-person shooting mechanics like Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption, and even in titles like Fable II and Silent Hill 2, I spent a lot of time shooting things in 2010.
Silver – Levelling Up (Multiple Titles, Multiple Platforms)Previously only found in the realm of the RPG, 2010 was the year that levelling up became a mainstay across all the different corners of my gaming landscape. Sure, I levelled up in my fair share of role-playing games, like Mass Effect and Crisis Core. However, I also found myself levelling up in other scenarios - through online ranks in Call of Duty 4, by extending my prowess as a gardener in Viva Pinata, and even my weapons in Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters. Levelling up was definitely a big part of 2010 for me.
Gold – Innovative Open World Navigation (Assassin's Creed and Just Cause 2, X360)I'm usually one to moan about how very few titles designed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 actually feel like next-generation experiences from a gameplay perspective. Sure, they look nice, but they don't feel all that different from the last generation of consoles when I'm actually playing them. This year has forced me to rethink that attitude, and nowhere more so than in the case of games like Just Cause 2 and Assassin's Creed. These two current-gen titles offered wildly innovative ways to navigate their open-world settings, in the form of the parachute/grapple combo and edifice-scaling parkour respectively. Whether I was gliding over a military base in Panau, or ascending a church tower in Damascus, I felt like I was doing things that just wouldn't have been possible on a PS2 or Xbox (not to such a refined degree, at any rate). In a genre where I'm used to getting around by horse, car, plane, and even fast-travel, these two methods of traversal were a breath of fresh air to me. For that reason, Just Cause 2 and Assassin's Creed run away with the Best Game Mechanic Award.
Most Questionable Game MechanicEven the greatest of games can be bogged down by awkwardly-implemented gameplay. We've all played through sections of games that had us wondering what the developers were thinking, and I definitely experienced that feeling a few times over the course of 2010. This award picks out those niggling aspects of gameplay that we could do without.
Bronze – Trial Rooms (Dante's Inferno and Fable II, X360)I've never been a big fan of trial rooms in games. Any scenario that requires me to beat a specific number of foes in a certain way tends not to be an enjoyable experience, in my view. It's understandable, then, that the inclusion of trial rooms in two otherwise fun games definitely put a dampener on things. Thankfully, the Arena in Fable II didn't prove to be too much of an inconvenience. I wish I could say the same for the Malebolges in Dante's Inferno, though.
Silver – Malaria (Far Cry 2, X360)Far Cry 2 is one of my favourite games that I've played in the last twelve months. The dynamic gunfights, the gorgeous visuals, and the buddy system all came together to create an experience that I'll never forget. It's a shame, therefore, that I'll also never forget the damned inconvenience of contracting malaria and having to keep it at bay throughout the game. Having to go out of your way to pick up more medication was a nuisance, and having it flare up in the middle of a firefight even more so.
Gold – Planet Probing (Mass Effect 2, X360)
Mass Effect 2 was a bloody brilliant game. Arguably one of the best I've played this year. The combat is great, the controls responsive, the characters interesting and the story genuinely compelling. How could this Game of the Year contender possibly be a shoe-in for the Most Questionable Game Mechanic Award? The answer is simple - planet probing. Gathering resources by means of this tedious mini-game was a boring time-sink, and one that ultimately didn't yield much of a reward, as I finished the game with literally tons of leftover resources that went unused. This was one thing that BioWare probably shouldn't have changed from the first game, where it was possible to harvest a planet's resources simply by examining it. I eagerly anticipate Mass Effect 3, but I do hope that the developers see sense and scrap this unnecessary mechanic from the upcoming end to the trilogy. Until then, the game will have to make do with my Most Questionable Game Mechanic Award.
Smoothest Gameplay FlowSome games just... flow. They're structured so well, and their different gameplay elements so well intertwined that the experience ends up feeling seamless. This awards acknowledges the games I played in 2010 with the smoothest gameplay flow - games that I would intend to play for half an hour, but ended up surrendering whole evenings to without even realising it.
Bronze – Mass Effect, X360To be honest, I can't really pinpoint what makes Mass Effect flow so well. Maybe it's the way the game moves so naturally between conversation, exploration and combat, but I can't say for certain. All I know is that I managed to complete the game in a week and a half, clocking up nearly forty hours of game time. Figures like that don't lie.
Silver – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, GBAA Link to the Past represents the traditional 2D Zelda gameplay formula at its most fluid, I think. The game transitions effortlessly from overworld to dungeon, it's paced perfectly and supplies the player with a steady flow of new items and trinkets for their inventory. It's just an extremely well-put-together game.
Gold – Half-Life: Opposing Force, PC
I'm not sure I've ever played a game that's better paced than Half-Life: Opposing Force. Everything about it seems to have been geared towards producing the smoothest gameplay experience possible. The gunfights are speedy and exhilarating. The storytelling happens alongside the gameplay and never interferes with its flow. New weapons come through steadily and regularly, encouraging experimentation with different approaches to combat. The only thing that could possibly slow down anybody's experience with Opposing Force is death brought about by their own incompetence. The breakneck speed of the gameplay and the effortless grace with which the experience unfolds is more than enough to give it the Smoothest Gameplay Flow Award.
Most Gripping StoryVideo game narratives aren't typically impressive, but every now and again one will shine through as an example of great writing and storytelling. The nominees below impressed me with the way their tales unfolded, the nature of their storytelling, and the memorable moments that defined their narratives.
Bronze – Silent Hill 2, PS2If I don't remember anything else about Silent Hill 2, I think I'll always remember its chilling story. It's not just the plot points that make James Sunderland's journey so memorable, though - it's also the way in which the story is told, through heavy use of subtle subtext. Silent Hill 2 isn't just the story of a man looking for his dead wife in an abandoned town - it's a highly complex personal drama, where what isn't said leaves even more of a mark than what actually is.
Silver – Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, PSPAs a long-time fan of the Metal Gear franchise, I got a lot of enjoyment out of every aspect of Peace Walker, but I loved the story in particular. Bridging the gap between Big Boss' involvement in Operation: Snake Eater and his establishment of Outer Heaven, Peace Walker also manages to tell a compelling self-contained narrative exploring Naked Snake's own personal problems, his unresolved relationship with The Boss, and his struggle to break free from the restraints of allegiance that bind him to his past.
Gold – Red Dead Redemption, X360
You can always count on Rockstar to deliver a memorable story, but Red Dead Redemption trumps everything that's come before it. Shunning the stereotypical Western setting in favour of a bleak, last-days-of-the-West backdrop, John Marston's struggle for redemption from his past is the perfect accompaniment to this overarching tale of a world being reluctantly dragged into the future. The characters are often grotesque, but in a way that somehow circumvents the caricature and makes them seem even more real. John is an incredible protagonist, and watching his story unfold in the fifty-or-so hours I spent with Red Dead Redemption was without a doubt one of the best highlights of my 2010. For that reason, I give Red Dead Redemption my Most Gripping Story Award.
Award For Aesthetic ConsistencyA lot of people value graphics highly, especially from a technical standpoint. For me, though, it's more important for a game to exhibit a degree of aesthetic consistency - that is, for the graphics and music to complement each other well and add something to the experience. If the artistic style of a game's graphics is complemented well by its soundtrack, then I consider that a much greater accomplishment. The following games are the best examples of aesthetic consistency that I encountered in my time playing games in 2010.
Bronze – Dante's Inferno, X360Say what you like about this God of War-derivative, but it can't be questioned that Dante's Inferno boasts an incredibly strong aesthetic package. The game's gorgeous recreation of each of the Nine Circles of Hell is unique, but they're also consistent with each other. Add to that a clamouring orchestral score that captures the game's religious overtones as well as its epic nature, and Dante's Inferno sounds just as great as it looks.
Silver – Final Fantasy XIII, X360Final Fantasy XIII may not have been exactly the game I was hoping for, but it did present one of the series' most cohesive worlds to date. The beautiful backdrops of locales like Lake Bresha, the Sunleth Waterscape, and the Nautilus theme park are all completely unique, but also intrinsically tied to one another in their design. Backed up by a strong musical score that matches the game's graphical direction, Final Fantasy XIII is a treat for both the eyes and the ears.
Gold – Machinarium, PC
I think the screenshot says it all, really. Machinarium's hand-drawn art style perfectly captures the rusted, dilapidated feel of the slums in the robot city where the game takes place. Layered over the top of these beautiful visuals is a musical score lovingly composed by Tomas Dvorak, full of electronically produced music that matches the game's visual style to a tee. It's not very often that I'd say a game's aesthetic values are reason alone to check it out, but that really is true in Machinarium's case. There really wasn't ever another viable candidate for the Award for Aesthetic Consistency.
So here ends Part One of My Best of 2010 Awards. Join me again tomorrow for Part Two, in which I'll be looking back at The Moments that made 2010 for me. As always, I'd love to hear your views, so feel free to sound off below. Thanks for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing – Fallout: New Vegas (X360)