Giant Bomb's 2009 Game of the Year awards feature rages on! What else needs to be said? Crank up today's podcast supplement and let's get right to it.
It's notable enough that Sucker Punch came out swinging on the PlayStation 3 with a game that was... not Sly Cooper. Not that there's anything wrong with Sly Cooper--and InFamous does retain some of that series' most notable mechanics--but it was a treat to see this talented studio come up with a new, darker setting and wrap it around some of the best open-world gameplay of the year.
An intriguing story with twists and momentum, a slew of side missions that tied into the game world and the fiction, a moral-choice system without much contrivance but with real effects on the gameplay... and all of it swaddled in a rough, sinister comic book world full of larger-than-life heroes and villains that will certainly lend itself well to the game's inevitable sequels. InFamous is a textbook example of how to roll out a great new franchise and give it legs that will carry it into the future.
Runners-Up: Borderlands, Shadow Complex
The quality and breadth of the competitive multiplayer in the sequel to Call of Duty 4 was always a given. But Modern Warfare 2 might have shipped without a single-player campaign at all, with only its Special Operations cooperative mode to supplement the multiplayer, and still felt like a complete, satisfying package. It's got to say something that your two-player co-op mode is more varied and intense and satisfying than modes that support, three, four, or more players in other games.
Spec Ops succeeds through its sheer number and variety of missions that have you doing everything from working tag-team with one player in the air and another on the ground, to working stealthily in tandem, counting down over your voice chat to pull off synchronized headshots. Every one of the 23 missions feels different and satisfying in its own way, and they're all completely new, punishing, insane experiences on Veteran difficulty. Spec Ops simply sets a new standard for cooperative online play.
Runners-Up: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Resident Evil 5
The Brad Shoemaker "I'm Callin' It" Award For Best Use of Zombies
If 2009 was the year of the zombie, let's all hope that 2010 is the year of games (and movies and TV and every other conceivable form of media) giving the undead a well-deserved break. We get it, zombies are scary/funny/ironic/insert-superlative-here. But Valve is still doing a fantastic job of using the undead tastefully that's easy to still feel good about. Left 4 Dead 2 amped up the action with a greater range of common infected enemies--zombies in HAZMAT suits, zombie riot cops, zombie clowns (!)--and a wonderfully visceral new dismemberment system that let you take those guys out by blowing their arms, legs, and heads off with glee.
And it must be said that the "special" infected enemies transcend the form of the zombie altogether. The new additions like the spitter, charger, and jockey act and attack in unique ways you'd never expect out of the docile, shambling mall-dwellers originally envisioned by George Romero. As long as Valve keeps expanding on the zombie milieu in such imaginative ways, we'd be happy to receive a third Left 4 Dead game any time.
Runners-Up: Borderlands - The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Plants vs. Zombies
All three of our nominees in this category aim to achieve very different things with their graphical presentation, and while each is stunning in its own way, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves takes it to another level. From the awesome scope of its exotic, international locales to the detailed character design and the incredibly fluid, naturalistic animation, the visuals consistently impress during both quiet dialog scenes and crazy explosive set-pieces. Even the way the camera moves can be impressive, and it says a lot when something so seemingly mundane has an appreciable positive impact on your experience. The graphics are a huge part of what makes Uncharted 2 such an effective thrill ride, and ultimately, this game is just a pure pleasure to look at.
Runners-up: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time
A good ending to a story can serve a lot of purposes, not the least of which is tying the various threads of the plot together. But a great ending is one that also makes you stop and reflect on all the events that led up to it, and that's what the conclusion does in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
...You know, this is a really tough award to write about; the way Shattered Memories' story wraps up is such an important piece of the puzzle, giving away too much about it would diminish the effect of each individual preceding event, as it happens. The game gets stranger and more confusing as it goes, sort of like what David Lynch would probably make if he ever got into video game development. It's that last pivotal convergence of story vectors, the way the disparate parts of the mystery come together in the game's final moments that give all of it meaning and make you want to start right over, playing through again to view the game's scenes again in a different light. That those scenes can change dramatically and lead up to a new ending that's different in its particulars but consistent emotional impact is key to the game's success.
Runners-up: Assassin's Creed II, 'Splosion Man