I'm 9 hours in (which I assume is very early in the game) but I am totally blown away. I don't even like JRPGs and I'm totally drawn in. Reminds me a LOT of the previous JRPG I enjoyed in any capacity, Final fantasy 12. Great combat, great story (so far), really smart systems.. I love how you don't have to turn in quests, or how the future prediction stuff feeds into the combat, and the fast travel, and the nonexistent penalty for death. It's like they looked at what made JRPGs boring and just sliced it all out, while taking the right kinds of inspiration from other more modern RPGs in the same vein. I guess I never thought of it like that before, but World of Warcraft really has a lot in common with JRPGs, so much so JRPGs are now cribbing from WoW. Impressive either way.

I know some people lament this game being on the Wii, but I actually think the shittier specs make for a game that was easier for Monolith to make. I mean we saw how Squeenix folded in on themselves trying to produce a JRPG with next gen assets, and for Xenoblade the developers really went as far as they felt they should, and the overall quality of the world and just running around it and looking at it is so good that any technical complaints about the visuals end up feeling really ungrateful. The first time i saw rain on a huge grassy field with building sized monsters wandering around I was completely sold on the illusion.

If you have a chance to play it, you really should give it a go. I think it's a truly stunning achievement.



"With bony hands I hold my partner/ On soulless feet we cross the floor/ The music stops as if to answer/ An empty knocking at the door/ It seems his skin was sweet as mango/ When last I held him to my breast/ But now we dance this grim fandango/ And will four years before we rest."

For gods sake, someone remake or rerelease this game in some form.


Duke Nukem Forever first impressions

I've been laughing my ass off for the first few hours of the game, and I think the gameplay, while not particularly great, isn't bad either. 
It's becoming sort of like Deadly Premonition to me, where the point really isn't the gameplay, but in the personality and in the detailing. Somehow, hearing people complain about the gameplay of the game almost pisses me off. There's some real snobbery to bitching about the "bad shooting" in a game where you can draw a dick on a kid's book. 
I think, in short, if you got a kick out of bad movies in the past, like Dead Or Alive or Piranha 3D, then you should get some nice happy times out of DNF. If you think those movies are for idiots, then don't bother.


Ranting about the Kinect again

I’m trying my best to reconcile my blistering rage regarding Microsoft’s application of the Kinect versus my amazement at the hardware itself. It’s hard to argue with impressive technology, but from watching today’s white-knuckled attempt at convincing gamers that the Kinect experience is a match made in heaven with traditional gaming, I had to take a long walk around the block and listen to several creepily relaxing self-help tapes to bring my blood out of a boiling state.

Microsoft and its partners are making babbling cavemen out of people, and trying to sell it as though it is the future. It goes right against everything I feel is central to being a modern human being, so much so I actually feel it’s an anti-human movement to try and spread this philosophy among consumers.

Language is about symbols. Words are a mechanism for describing a symbol, and the spoken word is a physical abstraction. Throughout human history the ability to convey concepts and ideas effectively have been at the vanguard of the evolution of human society; The ability for a people to carry and learn from their history is why we are where we are today. The abstraction of symbols and the ability to argue their meaning is literally what separates man from other animals, and as we’ve become more and more modern, the natural evolution is one of further abstraction; The evolution of language has been about efficiency and precision, and in generalizing language to the point where the symbols themselves need little translation to be understood across borders. In spite of all snobbery, the smiley face is a genius invention of written language, and it happened organically. A symbol for sarcasm, for disdain, for sadness. You can convey so much information with so little effort.

Programming is a wonderful metaphor as well, giving you not only the power to engineer complicated mechanisms from symbols, must allows you to define the symbols for yourself. It’s an art of pure language, and every seasoned developer knows the typed words are a means to an end; The more you do it, the less you want to type. You just want to get right at those symbols and craft.

Controllers are a generalized, efficient method of interacting with the symbols of the virtual game space. The symbols of alphabetized buttons, the control stick and the digital pad have, with the history of video game culture, matured to the point where a player versed in the symbology can make assumption as to their meaning within a given context. When Halo revolutionized the twin-stick control scheme now common to first person games on consoles, it was the dawn of a new dialect. A new configuration of known symbols that would enter our common language.

There is a purity, a beauty to the evolution of the game controller, because it has evolved alongside the demands of game developers and game players, with occasional mutations bringing about change. If you want signs of true divergence between the major players in the console scene, look no further than how they have handled their controllers. Whenever a new system comes out, the question is always; How will we talk to it? For me, personally, the hope is always that the controller will become less noticeable, for the sake of immersion. I want a beautiful, seamless experience.

But the Kinect is an absolute aberration in this regard. Never in the history of video games have players yearned for less responsiveness, less feedback, and more exertion, yet Microsoft seem to think removing nearly every sense that makes us human is the future of immersion. The idea that taking  the player’s physical space into the virtual brings an experience closer to reality is an absolute insanity, because as much as the brain wants to make the body believe, the body simply will not. Ask a piano player to play a beautiful piece of music on a piano that plays the keys 100 milliseconds after they are hit. No matter how much mental conditioning you go through, the shift in perception will never, EVER make for a natural experience.

But the latency is the innocent tip of the treacle-slow iceberg of hopeless bullshit Microsoft are attempting to foist on us. Voice control, another fallacy and fantasy of hopeless technicians and scientists without a vibrant soulful bone in their bodies, not only drags us kicking and screaming back to the spoken word, but it actually makes the spoken word worse. You are now expected to speak in a stilted made-up inhuman dialect that would only be made acceptable if it came from a particularly excellent Christopher Walken impersonator.

Today’s Star Wars Kinect demo, where a player shouts in an unnaturally enunciated voice, “light saber, on!”, sums up the futility of the spoken word in a context where tactile response and immediacy is the key to every possible shred of immersion the experience has to offer. Bioware’s demo of voice recognition in Mass Effect 3 was a staggering display of stupidity; Who are these blithering idiots who believe I want to introduce even an lighting flash of a second’s worth of my own physical body into a video game role playing experience? Stephen Totilo asks; What if I’m playing a female character? Consider too that you are holding the controller in your hands as you are expected to say these words, in the slow enunciated fashion the technology requires. You are a BUTTON PRESS away from making a statement and getting on with your life, immersion intact.

(It’s all I can do not to break down and lose faith altogether. I thought game developers and designers were smart people! When I was a kid I thought those guys and gals were wicked space wizards who wanted nothing more than to blow my fucking mind, and here you are, making yourself, and your audience, look like bumbling morons. Game developers need to take a stand here.)

But Kinect goes below and beyond perverting an art form. As designers make moves to craft custom experiences that “make the most of the hardware”, the true weakness, and true evil of the technology, becomes apparent: There is not a single Kinect-centric experience now, or upcoming, that does not reduce its users to cave men. Without fingers, a sense of touch, a sense of feedback, and without the ability to even communicate like normal human beings in the language of our choice, Kinect reduces us to invalids, unable to attain mastery beyond the confines of a technology that operates primarily on guesswork and heuristics.

Kinect is a devolving necromancy,  old discarded tissue brought back like a cancer to slowly poison a beautiful, pure language that has evolved organically since the very beginning of the industry. While I love working and playing with the hardware on my PC, as a gamer for most of my life, and especially as someone who loves language, I fucking hate the Kinect so, so much, and everything it stands for. It’s fucking vile. If there is any Darwinistic justice, this experiment will be aborted and discarded like the weakening mutation it is.


Boring game stories (also, cool stories)

I'm waist deep in The Witcher 2 these days. That game has a really good story in the sense that it has characters that are well developed and seem to genuinely inhabit their world. It's a complex weave of stories that make for a believable world, and as such it's fascinating to play the game just to let it wrap its web around you. It's delicious.

But it makes me sad too. Going through my list of Steam games, out of 173 games I count less than 20 with stories I look back at with any fondness. For a collection of mostly story-driven games, that's pretty damn shabby.

It's not that these stories aren't told well; You could argue that the primary role for a video game narrative is to be fitted well with the game mechanics so as to make for a seamless telling. It's that looked at in isolation, video game stories rarely challenge the medium. It's just not very ambitious.

They don't even stand up to the elevator pitch. Sometimes I wonder if games are greenlit based on pitches of their gameplay in a vacuum, rather than their stories. Has this changed over the years? (I'd love it if anyone in the industry would comment on this). I can imagine elevator pitches like this:

"First person shooter with RPG elements, where the player guides a unit of memorable characters through a near-future science fiction conflict. As the game progresses and comrades die, the player will receive supernatural powers from their spirits."

As a video game player I'm intrigued, but as a reader of fiction, I don't give a fuuuuuu

In terms of narrative, some of the most interesting games I have played have been RPGs and Adventure games. I think this may be because the mechanics have been designed around storytelling, rather than storytelling being worked around the mechanics. Planescape Torment for instance is the only game I will put up there alongside my favorite books when it comes to quality of narrative. The ONLY game.

I dunno guys, I'm rambling at this point. I just went through shelves of games today and I didn't see a single story I gave a shit about getting into. Even with LA Noire I was more interested in the gameplay/adventure/phoenix wright aspects than in actually being told a tale.

Ugh. Bored and old.

Let's end on a happy note; Which are your favorite game stories, and why? Why did these stories wow you so much? (Try to be objective though; The NES Battletoads story was great to me too when I was a kid.)


The Witcher 2 and combat

As an epic fantasy RPG it's awesome. Production values second to none, cool and deep story, everything i'd normally want from a game like it. Now all CD Projekt have to do is fire whoever motherfucker is responsible for the combat design and balance, and everything in the world is perfect.

Seriously, how the fuck did they think this game could get away with this unresponsive random nonsense? There are specific gimmick fights where the weaknesses of the fighting system don't piss you in the face so much, and those are enjoyable. However fights like the one against Letho belong in a totally different game. One made by wild, dirty apes who hate freedom. Sure, let's tie blocking to a limited resource. That makes sense. Sure, let's offer a lock on system, but who cares if the camera stays on whoever you're locked on to, right? Who cares! While we're at it, let's have whatever attack comes out when you hit a button be determined by so many variables that it's practically random.

Whenever The Witcher 2 decides to bust out its fighting system like it's proud of it, the game melts into utter, infuriating garbage. It's such a shame. It's like the most gorgeous, intelligent girl, only she's got tourettes. 

Some thoughts on Deadly Premonition

Deadly Premonition, a Twin Peaks tribute open-world horror/adventure game for the Xbox 360 and PS3 by Osaka-based Access Games, is absolutely incredible. You have to take a moment to consider the definition of that word.

in·cred·i·ble [in-kred-uh-buhl] –adjective
1.  so extraordinary as to seem impossible: incredible speed.
2.  not credible; hard to believe; unbelievable: The plot of the book is incredible.

The game follows an FBI-agent assisting the local law enforcement to solve a bizarre murder mystery in a small rural town. The game takes on strong occult overtones, and features a bizarre collection of townsfolk, all of which behave nothing remotely close to normal.

I'd followed Giant Bomb's "Endurance Run" of the game, which lampooned the title for a pair of full play-throughs. A curious thing happened during that long stretch of gameplay;  As the game introduced them to its menagerie of ridiculous characters and spaced out protagonist, they laughed at it, while groaning at the awkward controls, terrible localisation, bad graphics and silly audio production. However, as the endurance run stretched on, you could notice a subtle change in atmosphere. The game, with all its flaws, endeared itself to the players. By the end, it was even the centerpiece of a heated discussion on the site's 2010 game character of the year award.

When I found a copy of the game for myself, I was ready to laugh at it like I'd laughed at Ed Wood's nonsensical cinema. Instead, I found myself drawn to it, and the shocking revelation dawned on me that this piece of muddled auteur debris was genuinely entertaining. Even more so, it was making me look at other ostensibly more competent titles in my collection with a new-found disdain; How  boring!

This is Deadly Premonition, a game so overflowing with unchecked ambition and self-indulgence, so broad in scope and in its generosity, its urge to entertain, so perfectly singular that it has become, in my mind, close to what the gaming press has been clamoring for for years; "our" Citizen Kane.

Scope, art and budgets

Games like this aren't made anymore. They just aren't. Historically, the scope of a role-playing game is balanced directly against the budget allotment for asset creation. Games such as The Elder Scrolls II, which offered a frankly ludicrous amount of terrain to explore (twice the size of Britain, allegedly), did so by repeating a limited collection of assets. Its scope was allowed to grow unchecked because the very design and ambition of the game treated art assets as a means to an end. Spiderweb software's Exile series of RPGs offered players *vast* worlds presented by a collection of a few hundred tiles and characters that didn't animate. As the complexity of game engines grew and artists were given more tools, the amount of time spent on creating art clashed directly with the conceivable scope of a title.

When Neverwinter Nights launched, it attempted to utilize repeated assets to offer players a vast world while maintaining the visual standards of its day, and Bioware was criticized for the repetitive visuals. This occurred again more recently with Dragon Age II, which is practically notorious for its repeated scenery. You have to sympathize with RPG developers like Bioware and Bethesda, who have to offer players vast, dense worlds, yet still have to compete directly with titles like Call of Duty who can commit its "art budget" to a very constricted set of assets. Creating an RPG that can appeal on the same visual level is an almost impossible task, and so procedural asset generation and other such techniques are very much in the wind as Bethesda prepares to launch its next Elder Scrolls title our way. In more recent years, Spore offered a vast universe of strange creations by leveraging procedurally created assets. For the most part, however, players have become accustomed to beautiful, custom art.

Deadly Premonition has terrible assets. It barely blends between animations; nudging the stick forward sees the protagonist slide slowly across the floor, while still walking at a full clip. Walking by a supermarket fruit counter, the textures are crude, flat photographs of  fruit; They aren't even bump or normal mapped! The soundtrack seems to consist of a grand total of 6 poorly mixed songs.

Deadly Premonition's developers, at some point, must have fully come to terms with their budgetary restrictions, yet they still managed to offer an open, living world filled with things to do and explore (whether these things are interesting or fun is another matter). Their goal, apparently, became to deliver  scope. If it was intended or not, the way Deadly Premonition almost spitefully subjects you to assets that are *clearly* bad, actually has the effect of adjusting your expectations to the point where it all sort of snaps into place; The poor dialog, the silly music, the controls, and the assets.

Once you adjust to it, everything about Deadly Premonition seems  just right in a very rare way that effectively grants it a carte blanche;  It can do no wrong.

"Just call me York; that's what everyone calls me"

You can't discuss Deadly Premonition without paying close tribute to its protagonist; FBI special agent Francis York Morgan. Clearly an attempt at replicating Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper's quirky charm, the effect misfires completely as York proves himself a bit of an arrogant, self-obsessed prick, with so many obsessive-compulsive ticks and strange behaviors that you come to the early, intuitive conclusion that he is absolutely bonkers. This, again, has the effect of making you doubt his claim to be an FBI agent; That he appears to lapse into dream worlds where he kills zombies and monsters, before discussing 80s cinema in the car with his imaginary friend Zach makes everything he says feel unreliable.

The interesting thing is that this works. York becomes the friend you hang out with just because he's unpredictable in a safe way. He clearly  means well, but his conduct is like a steady stream of ticks and non-sequiturs. You giggle at his madness, but you're genuinely interested in where he's going with it. In this way, the player takes the part of Twin Peaks' Harry Truman, being puzzled and amused by this foreign figure, but we can't deny his methods somehow get results. We're the straight man.

In fact, the game appears to break the fourth wall regularly, with York's constant discussion with his imaginary friend Zach, some of which appears to directly adress the player. It's as though York includes the player in the game by making you a character. When York talks about his love for the film Tremors, I couldn't help but fall into character. Few games have inspired so many out-loud responses from me  (though perhaps that says more about me than it does about Deadly Premonition...).

"Red Ivy, the  shadow thing, the generator, it  all makes sense!"

Few things in Deadly Premonition are satisfying. A chess puzzle is so simple you feel almost offended when you solve it, yet York discusses it as a "battle of wits". Firing a weapon , which you can do at any time at anyone, with absolutely no effect unless it's a zombie, feels so weak any visceral joy from the gunplay is completely lost.  The game even manages to undermine any seriousness to the combat by having York constantly mutter to himself whenever you score a good hit. Driving around is equally ridiculous; Every vehicle feels like it spins around its center axis, and seem to have a top speed of 50mph, and a turning radius of a full block. Crashing into anything, living or dead, simply stops the vehicle dead with no other effect. As York solves the mystery, the way in which he does it is disjointed and random, with a logic only apparent to him.

The compound effect, however, is of a disconnected, dreamlike consistency. As York falls in and out of a horror-themed riff on Silent Hill's "dark side", either side feels equally unreal. After all, this is a game in which you are paid an FBI salary with bonuses for shaving and peeking through windows, and penalties for being "stinky", before you go riverside and go fishing for submachine guns. Pretensions towards normalcy and realism in this game would have created a number of dissonances with its ridiculous story that the game escapes cleanly by being a bit shit all around. Instead of complaining about the poor driving physics, you learn which cars behave in which ways, and learn to manipulate the system for the best possible outcome; I dare say at this point I'm a pretty effective Deadly Premonition driver.

"Do you feel it,  Zach  ? My coffee warned me about it."

Not too long ago, Remedy released Alan Wake, a Twin Peaks influenced game with stellar production values and a frankly ridiculously long production cycle. Released to much expectations, the game, for me, fell flat for a number of reasons. The biggest of which is that the game is about a horror writer, and features some absolutely horrible writing in spite of taking itself seriously. Guys, you can't do that. Horror is in itself inherently ridiculous. Successful horror stories in whatever medium are without fail dreamlike or extreme, and get to us by manipulating and sometimes transposing our understanding of reality and its rules. Twin Peaks worked as a horror story of sorts because it took its viewers to a strange place where the rules were fleeting and nobody acted anything like a normal person. It effectively  used the soap opera format to emphasize the strangeness of its characters and mundanity of its setting to emphasize the ugliness of its dark edges.

This is something Deadly Premonition *nails*. It becomes an unnerving experience because of its flippancy, which is often countered with frankly disturbing actions and stories. This is a game where a rocker guy constantly and frantically snaps his fingers while carrying on a perfectly normal conversation, and also one where characters discuss serial killers that urinate in and drink from the victim's skull, as the background music consists of whistling and kazoos. It takes you and your sensibilities to a place where their value becomes obscured.


What's interesting to me about laughter is that it's primarily a nervous reaction. We laugh to communicate our insecurity to the outside world, and we want our laughter reciprocated because that lets us know everything is alright. Who hasn't been freaked out by a noise or movement, only to laugh to ourselves when it proves to be nothing? The best comedians deliver ideas that challenge our world view, and do so without a smile. We are left to laugh because we subconsciously *desire* the balance a smile would lend the situation. We love to laugh together, because the more of us that laugh, the safer the situation. We're just animals, after all.

Deadly Premonition makes me laugh all the time. I've sat by myself, simply driving around the game world, bursting into laughter for no discernible reason. It's consistently  wrong, and my brain, conditioned by modern and more polished games, finds it hard to deal with the internal consistency of modern game design and how Deadly Premonition seems completely uninterested in any of that. This dissonance is absolutely core to the experience, as the absurdity of light-heartedness reaches a kind of balance with the absurdity of the horror it presents. Zombies moan ridiculously in low pitched voices, but as the game goes on even this becomes tuned to the vibe of the game world to the point where it starts actually being unnerving.

The net result, successfully emulating the Lynchian weirdness of Twin Peaks, is that the game is simply a joy to experience, for reasons that become hard to rationalize. Alternating between being disturbing and being ridiculous, you're put through an almost literal rollercoaster of emotions. One moment you're desperately running from an axe murderer in a section so long it actually becomes physically exhausting, and then you're peeking through a motel window to watch an effeminate man dancing like a stripper.

About the only thing the game genuinely lacks is a sense of emotional attachment to any of it, instead casting you as a kind of disinterested observer. You get the sense that this would be going on with or without you, as the game frequently directs you to carry out tasks for no intuitive reason. Why am I pushing this button? Why did I pick up this object? You're guided by the game to simply perpetuate its content. You aren't York. You're the player. As a result of this detachment, the game is more  interesting than immersive, which is starkly divergent to the current trends towards personally immersing the player and urging us to inhabit the player character. Deadly Premonition is absolutely fine with leaving you a viewer, even adopting TV-like mechanisms such as a "previously on..." segment when loading a saved game.

Perfect 10

The notion of perfection is strange to any art form. Outside of the realm of science, where something can truly be described as perfectly matching to an ideal, in art the definition progressively loses its purpose with every new observer of a piece. Deadly Premonition is notorious for receiving wildly divergent review scores, ranging from a 2/10 at IGN to Destructoid's 10/10 "perfect" score. Personally, I feel the game is perfect, in that it takes its budget, its scope and its vision and combines it to form a sweet spot where they all are appropriate. It's a game that offers something no other game has offered me; A genuine B-game experience that tells a story unlike any other in a form factor unlike any other. It's so unique it's practically punk rock, evoking Grasshopper Manufacture's games and to a certain extent the work of Platinum Games. With Deadly Premonition, Access have become the anti-Platinum, equally perfect in its imperfection. They've created their own playing field, and they have no competition.

The game is perfect, singular and so unique in its time that it escapes all meaningful comparison. For quirky, surreal, open-world murder-mystery-horror games, Deadly Premonition is the absolute gold standard, and I can't imagine it will ever be bettered.

You can pick it up for a song and a shuffle today, and I can't recommend it enough. This is a game I feel everyone interested in the subject of video games should play. It'll broaden your horizons and challenge your expectations.


Endurance runs and single player

I just rewatched some of the endurance run videos. I tried playing Persona 4 a while back but I could never have the, er, endurance to finish it, much like any JRPG. Watching the GB crew play it through brought me back to when i was a kid in another town and had friends who were as into video games as me. Really bitter sweet to think playing single-player games has become a very lonely experience as I've grown  older. 

I'm just really grateful to the GB crew for doing the endurance runs. They were really fun, social events that took socially enjoying single player games to a level I haven't experienced before. I hope you do more at some point; The stranger the game the better.

My 10 games of 2010

1. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)

My favorite Silent Hill of the series, Shattered Memories consistently surprised me with its atmosphere and narrative quality, its smart use of motion controls, and in how itmade me feel. It’s also the first time I’ve seen my girlfriend not only grasp but fully master a third person control scheme within moments of picking up the controls. We had an amazing night playing the hell out of this game, and while its psycho-analyzing replayability is apparently amazing, I feel content leaving my experience on the high note where it ended. It really, really sucks that there won’t be another one like it.

2. Limbo (Xbox Live Arcade)

Limbo is an ambient video game. It’s not particularly hard, not particularly long, and certainly not complicated. But every moment of its design exists to put you in a very specific space. From its vignetted silhouette imagery and its understated, gorgeous soundtrack, to the soft rumble when your character jumps and the way his legs kick when he’s climbing a vine, there is a quiet hostility and fragility to the game world that I can’t remember seeing elsewhere. It doesn’t hurt that the game has one of the most subtle, beautiful endings of any video game I can remember. It’s just a sweet, terrifying joy to play.

3. Vanquish (PS3/360)

I’ve already written at length about Vanquish. Suffice to say I still stand by my words. It’s an absolutely mindblowing third person shooter that asks players to do things they have always done in new and exhilarating ways. It’s a stunning technical achievement, stylish as hell, fun to play and – like Batman: Arkham Asylum – simply rock solid. I cannot recommend it enough.

4. Bayonetta (360)

Another Platinum game! The best character action game since Ninja Gaiden Black, it blew my expectations away with its generosity, ridiculous sense of humor, willingness to bewrong, and with a score-attack system that still keeps me coming back to levels again and again and again. It’s gorgeous, fast paced, tight and funny as all hell. Alongside Vanquish, Bayonetta stands as an epic middle finger to anyone riding the Japan’s Game Industry Is Dead band wagon. Show me a western game that can do these things, then we can have a conversation.

5. Starcraft II (PC)

You can strip away the multiplayer, and Starcraft II would still be one of the absolute best single player games on the PC this year. It has some of the worst characters and writing I can think of, yet the sheer joy of simply playing its missions and fuddling about with the bounty of new toys it throws your way makes for an astonishing real time strategy title. What puts it on top compared to other excellent genre entries like Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising is its unflinching dedication to delivering one of the hardest core multiplayer experiences on the market. I heard Starcraft II described as “Football II”, and this is absolutely true. FPS tourneys are moot; This is the first de-facto PC gaming sport.

I was not only surprised to really enjoy watching games being played, but Starcraft II awakened a competitive instinct in me I wasn’t ware that i had. It’s as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a game, and for that it’s one of the biggest gaming events of 2010.

6. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)

As a Lovecraft fan with a big spot in his heart for 2005′s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, Amnesia was like receiving a love letter. With its excellent Lovecraftian story, tactile physics, fun insanity mechanics, terrifying monster encounters and pervasive sense of dread, Amnesia is one of the best first person horror games since System Shock 2.

7. Red Dead Redemption (PS3/360)

I have a confession to make. Prior to Red Dead Redemption, I have never completed a Rockstar game. Even the ones I really enjoyed, such as Bully. There’s just always a moment where the games have fizzled out for me. I stopped caring about the characters, the story just drags on and on, and the mechanics become a set of errands to run. It boils down to a sandbox, and after a while that sandbox becomes boring too. Red Dead Redemption somehow avoided all those pitfalls. It offers characters I genuinely cared about, and a world I wanted to explore. Red Dead Redemption also gets this year’s Game That Almost Made Me Cry award for its amazing ending and choice of soundtrack.

It’s the best game Rockstar have made. That’s a pretty serious accolade.

8. Minecraft (PC)

I knew Minecraft was amazing the moment I realized I could plant a tree on a tree. I spent forever building the biggest tree imaginable, way above the clouds, and tunneled an epic tree house through its leafy walls. Then I dug out the ground beneath it, making it a free standing world-tree in the middle of the ocean. It was beautiful! Then, later, a friend of mine built an even taller burning swastika on the horizon, just to spite me.

Minecraft is the most delightful game I have played in years. It’s a roguelike made out of Legos, a playground that inspires creative rivalry. Its non-physics allow for amazing constructions. An undersea glass house filled with trees and flowers, leading to an underground mining and construction complex. I can only hope Mincraft grows laterally. It doesn’t need to be deeper. It just has to offer more variety.

9. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3/360)

I don’t know how Criterion do it, but they are the best guys on the planet for making arcade driving games that still feel grounded in reality. Hot Pursuit is a game about angry cars smashing angrily into each other while sounding angry. It’s addictive, gorgeous, competitive and, I’d say, the best Burnout game since Burnout Revenge. The Autolog feature is a great piece of design that facilitates constant score-attack rivalry, a form of multiplayer I’m absolutely stoked is returning to form.

10. Darksiders (PS3/360)

I’d written off Darksiders as a heavy metal Zelda clone. It turns out it IS a heavy metal Zelda clone. But it’s so good. Nintendo has dibs on the Zelda formula to the point where nobody else seems to regard it as a feasible genre. It reminded me of when Volition cloned GTA with Saints’ Row, and responded to criticism with “GTA is a genre”. Zelda is also a genre, and right now there’s only Zelda and Darksiders in it. And they’re both absolutely stellar. If you enjoyed the Zelda games at all, I can not recommend Darksiders enough. It’s a stunning game.


Vanquish, and how much I love it

Wrote a giant freaking Vanquish review just now. My hands are actually tired. You should check that game out. It's, er, pretty good.