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Games of the Year, 2009

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  • #10

    Every time I've mentioned this game to friends, they've immediately replied, "Oh, you mean like Comic Zone?" So, apparently Unbound Saga owes a bit of a debt to that title (I've personally never played Comic Zone). Unbound Saga is a co-op 2D beat-em-up that takes place on the panels of a comic book. Enemies are hand drawn in each frame by a "creator," and the noises of your punches and slams are accompanied by words like "Bang!" and "Crunch!" written on the screen. Players have a surprisingly robust skill tree to work with, and it includes categories for combos, slams, talents, powers, and holds. The moves are fun and not overly-complicated to perform. Unbound Saga also features an interesting "meta" story between your character and the author of the comic!

  • #9

    Although Borderlands 2 introduces series darling Handsome Jack, there's just something special about the first Borderlands game. The silly quotes spoken by Brick, Roland, and Lilith as they traversed the world, the big splash screens that accompanied the introduction of certain characters (DR. ZED!), and the brilliant music by Cage the Elephant and DJ Champion that book-ended the experience. The guns in the first game just felt better to shoot for me than those in the second, and I felt more confident and capable playing Mordecai with the help of Bloodwing and my Pestilent Defiler revolver than I ever did in subsequent titles. In Borderlands 2, it seemed like more emphasis was put on the guns being quirky rather than effective. Anyway, Borderlands marked the beginning of a massive franchise, and is an excellent co-op FPS title on its own.

  • #8

    The "staccato" combat of Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum was just so influential. As more and more games attempted to emulate it, my friends and I referred to one game or another having "Batman combat" or something similar. You need to constantly pay attention to the enemies you're facing, as some will require a evade, some a cape stun, etc. As satisfying as this combat was, I likely enjoyed the predator sections that took place predominantly in "detective" mode even more, silently stringing up goons and terrifying your adversaries. Taken together, this melee and stealth combat, coupled with the gadgets and glide ability, really make the player feel like the Batman. The game also features a magnificent turn by Mark Hamill as the Joker, and includes many of Batman's signature foes, such as Poison Ivy, Bane, and Harley Quinn.

  • #7

    Modern Warfare 2 came along at a great time for me. I had spent most of my time in the original Modern Warfare being terrible with the XBOX 360 controller, and here came Modern Warfare 2 to save the day. Guns seemed to have less recoil (the ACR assault rifle basically had none at all) and enemies went down almost instantaneously. Modern Warfare 2 solved the multiplayer balance problem by just making every weapon overpowered, most notably the FAMAS, the Scar, the RPD, the AA12, the 1887s, and the SPAS-12. Perks like One Man Army were obscenely unbalanced, and killstreak rewards like the Pave Low, Chopper Gunner, and AC-130 could end a match in record time. Although this state of affairs encouraged camping behavior, I found it easy to put enemies down (despite my unfamiliarity with the controller) when I only had to keep my crosshair on them for a moment. Coupled with its capable multiplayer mode were 23 two-player cooperative Spec Ops PvE missions. These were likely the highlight of the game for me, sometimes putting the players in asymmetric roles that required timing and communication.

  • #6

    This game was a huge hit, and solidified Naughty Dog's reputation as a top-tier AAA studio. The game oozed production values, from it's environments and effects to the superb voice acting of Nathan, Sully, and Elena. Some of the game's scenes will never leave me, like navigating the moving train and climbing up the suspending car. There's also a notable scene in which a building collapses and Nathan has to maneuver the now-inclined floor to safety. Although I found the game's shooting mechanics and combat encounters to be a bit dull, the engaging and intuitive platforming more than made up for its shortcomings.

  • #5

    Just like the original FEAR, Project Origin included weapons that felt good to shoot and expertly-tuned bullet time combat. Little feels better than surprising an enemy in slow motion only to blow him away with shotgun pellets, or witnessing the slow motion shockwave from a detonating grenade. FEAR 2 also included satisfying mech combat in a few sections. Project Origin brought the creepiness, much like the original, including durable marionette minibosses and the bloody aftermath of Alma's telekinetic attacks. The level set in an elementary school is likely one of the creepiest I've seen in a game.

  • #4

    Resident Evil 5 gets a little too much hate. I think some players found that the addition of a partner reduced the fear factor, while others saw the game's enemies and locale as an expression of racism. However, Resident Evil 5 is a solid cooperative third-person shooter. I liked the way that both players got copies of any jewels found, to reduce the incidence of players fighting for currency. It's amazing how many games get this wrong. I also enjoyed the delicate balance of managing ammo and inventory space. Each player tends to develop a specialty and approach enemy encounters differently. I like that the game had responsive enemies - if you shoot an enemy in the arm, his arm flies backwards with the impact. Though I'm not sure why exactly, this aspect of a third-person shooter is extremely important to me, and I felt it was neglected in this game's sequel (Resident Evil 6). Although I had a co-op partner, I still found Resident Evil 5 to be terrifying. Certain enemies (Reapers) could instantly kill you with their beartrap-like mandibles, and the African desert conveyed a sense of hopelessness and desolation.

  • #3

    Cryostasis sort of came and went. It only came out as a physical release on PC, and (as far as I know) has never been made available on a digital service (Steam, GOG, etc.). Although I certainly can't claim that the shooting mechanics are good, they are passable. The game features a unique heat-as-health mechanic that I haven't seen done effectively since. Your health is represented on a heat meter that is always slowly draining. Damage makes you lose heat as well, and you'll want to stop at bright lights and steam valves to temporarily warm yourself. The main reason to play the game is its ambitious, emotional story. The game takes place on a wrecked ship, whose inhabitants have frozen to death and still lay frozen where they died. The player can "activate" the souls of these corpses and play through the last moments of their lives. If you choose a different course of action rather than the selfish one originally chosen, the corpse will disappear and you may have an alternate route to pursue. However, disturbing these corpses angers God, who has kept the sailors' souls imprisoned on the ship as punishment for their selfishness. The final boss is a fight against God for the souls of the sailors. See, I told you it was ambitious.

  • #2

    I've come to really appreciate the cooperative play that the Left 4 Dead series encourages. As you gain experience handling the games challenges, you'll find yourself asking, "Who has a molotov in case we run into the tank?" or "I have a medkit. Who's in gray health?" You'll want to stay together, find corners often to make a stand, and refrain from panicking. The AI "director" is so good at keeping the game tense. The comfort when finding a pipe bomb, or the relief when you make it to an objective quickly using an adrenaline shot - these emotions are palpable. I also loved the personalities of the game's playable characters, and the B-movie posters and grimy environments that you'll traverse. The game featured a very solid team-based competitive multiplayer mode as well, though I confess that I never felt particularly proficient at it.

  • #1

    Plants vs. Zombies is chock full of content. Not only does it have a campaign with great music and a solid learning curve, featuring thoughtfully designed plants (the good guys) and zombies (the bad guys), but it includes mini games, puzzle modes, and even a zen garden. Much of this content is great, and I enjoy the Vasebreaker and I, Zombie puzzle modes so much that I boot up the game from time to time to play the infinite variants. One great aspect of the game is the way that it reveals which enemies will be present on a level prior to the player's selection of plants. This alleviates the frustration of being surprised by something you couldn't have foreseen and having to restart a long level. Many tower defense games get this wrong - more information is not a bad thing! Despite this feature, the game was challenging, and I still found myself frantically dropping jalapenos to clear a lane from time to time.