Out of the superb games this year, Bayonetta distinguished itself through its mechanical excellence as well as a ridiculous yet intelligent narrative. The presentation is excellent as well, so it's virtually a flawless game. Bayonetta is also one of the most misunderstood characters in terms of her place in the representation of sexual difference: her design is meant to emphasise her feminity whilst at the same time demonstrating her power and superiority. Don't confuse this with Japanese perversion or some other cultural stereotype. And mechanically, the combat is stylish yet quite challenging and complex. I look forward to returning to this game and replaying it over and over.
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Nothing really needs to be said here. Given how superb SMG1 was, if SMG2 is "only" more of the same then it's automatically in the running for GOTY. Not counting Zelda: OOT's freak results, "you can't beat" 97%. Not that the score matters, but stop expecting innovation where none is needed. If this was the fourth or fifth iteration of the idea and the industry moved past this then you might have a point, but Nintendo *is* the platform genre and if anything they will dictate its evolution. Can you really argue with the results?
Although cover-shooter mechanics are one of the few significant additions to the genre in recent years, not many games have moved on from the example set by Kill.Switch and Gears of War to produce excellent games that evolve the concept. Most of the games released since Gears are simply bad or competent iterations of the idea (Quantum Theory, Uncharted, Mass Effect 2, Terminator: Salvation, etc.). Not so with Vanquish, another well-presented and mechanically polished game from Platinum. Although the narrative is at best serviceable and doesn't have quite the same flair as Bayonetta, which is why it's placed lower. What Mikami and his team realised is that games like Gears of War tend to not be particularly fluid, privileging methodical advance over flair and execution. Vanquish gives the player the tools not only to advance but also to perform truly ridiculous moves (except jumping, not) that privilege style and speed whilst also allowing for a margin of error. The result is an enhanced experience that allows for greater depth and that means there's a world of difference between an average Vanquish player and a great one, unlike most other cover shooters.
4. Red Dead Redemption
The best narrative and protagonist (putting to one side York) this year by a sizeable margin. However, even though I love grand thematic narratives, mechanically RDR is still a little shaky in its movement and combat. And the multiplayer isn't that interesting. Although it's great I'm loathe to call GOTY for these reasons. It's still, I think, one of the more important narrative-centric games ever produced, and the amount of craft on display is evident.
5. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Fantastic game in terms of writing and the new additions it's made to ACII. Again, not an "original" game, just a sequel, but if it's this good it doesn't particularly matter. Arguably the best in the series to date, not a bad showing for a sequel released within a year.
6. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
An astoundingly good example of interactive storytelling and concepts that have never been seen before in gaming. I also can't help but think removing combat and replacing it with adventure elements did Silent Hill a service. One of the best narratives and most important examples of storytelling art this decade, even if mechanically it is not quite on the same level. Play this game.
7. Lost Planet 2
A game that received a lot of undeserved hate. Lost Planet 2 is a strategic, punishing, and mechanically polished shooter with a few annoying yet relatively insigificant niggles that somehow routinely cost it 40-60% in review score. Western reviewers and their priorities, eh? People confuse a low barrier of entry with mechanical polish, but that is not the case. Lost Planet 2 is easily better than Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, etc. The variety of weapons, the grappling hook, the various mech suits etc add a depth lacking in the "frag and forget" shooters dominating the market.
I was convinced of this game's rightful place amongst the best games this year when I was fighting aliens in space in a mech suit. How many games have you played this year that allow you to do that? The coop integration is less than ideal, but both the coop and competitive modes are a lot of fun.
8. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
I haven't really gotten into the multiplayer side of things (I'm natively bad at RTS even though I've been playing them for over a decade), the campaign demonstrated the wealth of ideas and polish that Blizzard applied to the game. It also has fantastic presentation, a decent stab at self-referential Western hokiness even though storytelling is hard to do in a RTS game, and the same well-balanced and honed mechanics with some new additions. Unfortunately I don't have a good enough PC to consider some of the other important PC games released this year, but even then SC2 is probably still one of the best.
9. Final Fantasy XIII
A criminally under-rated release that contained far more ambition and original ideas than almost any other JRPG in recent time, and from Square-Enix at that. What do people perenially complain about with RPGs? No innovation, slow and repetitive combat, wimpy or silent, amnesiac protagonists, etc.
What Squeenix has done is deliver a far faster and more brutal RPG experience that to some extent is more like an action game than an RPG. It dispenses with the pedestrian combat, needless exploration, pointless puzzles, etc. and is thus far more focused as a result. The combat system is actually interesting! I was engaged by it for almost the entirety of the game. Also, balancing the right classes requires considerable more skill and on-the-fly strategic thinking than any other turn-based JRPG.
Also, this is the best and most interesting cast of characters that Squeenix has produced in recent years. At least almost all of them show considerable character development and change over the course of the game despite the few particularly annoying ones. There is much more depth to them, and the story has a genuinely interesting SF world and premise. Even more than FFX, FFXIII continues to develop the idea of magic vs. technology as well as evolve the genre in an interesting direction.
What people call linearity and repetition I call a salutary re-ordering or elimination of tired elements holding back the RPG genre from evolving. If only Squenix could eliminate the fans holding the genre back too...
10. Deadly Premonition
If I were doing a wholly serious list, then Mass Effect 2 or some other more "deserving" game would be put here, but Mass Effect 2 doesn't need any points from me. I'm also tired of a game that isn't the best in its writing and only competent in its mechanics being feted as GOTY without argument. I don't mind that people like games like Mass Effect 2, which is a great game, but assuming it has the best narrative or mechanics (or hybrid thereof) this year implicitly sells a lot of other games short.
Anyway, Deadly Premonition deserves an honourable mention for having one of the best narratives this year, despite being crafted on a criminally low budget. It's obvious that the mechanics are at worst irritating and at best okay, but nevertheless taken as a whole DP is a great and memorable experience, and did I mention the writing? Seriously, stop underrating the writing in this game just because it doesn't have a familiar logo on it. SWERY has produced a better narrative than Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain, etc. with all their millions of dollars and it goes show that people in the industry simply don't know what good game-centric narratives are, and congratulations to the director for showing up the industry behemoths at their own game.