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Best of 2009

As I slowly build this list, I realize one very important thing: I really didn't play that many games in 2009. Now, I did play some, certainly, otherwise I wouldn't presume to tell you what some of the best were. It's interesting though- there's not one game on my list that wasn't a product of the AAA hype machine. Not a one on here that I decided to take a chance on, not a one that wasn't expected to knock our socks off from the moment it was announced. Now this doesn't mean nothing else is good, but as a person with limited time and money for videogames, these are what I play. It's sad in a way, but I'd rather be sure that what I'm getting is quality, even if it's a known quantity. I'm rarely invited to take a chance on something unknown because of the constant bombardment of these huge titles. Even when there's not a huge new game out, my time is likely being eaten up by some multiplayer component- I spent more time playing Halo 3 multiplayer this year than I did with anything else. It's now how I'd ideally experience games, but it's the way the industry is positioned, and unlikely to change anytime soon. In a month, Mass Effect 2 will undoubtedly beat out Dark Void for my time, even though I'd love to see what's up with Dark Void. It's not like Dark Void goes away, but my time will be occupied with other things, other games, and eventually it will fade away and I'll never see it, even though I certainly would like to. With that in mind here are my favorites from '09:

List items

  • GTA IV was an ambitious game beset by many flaws- chiefly it's bloated story and the repetitive missions. Episodes from Liberty City takes those complaints and reworks the original GTA into a much better game, with more sensible protagonists, tighter stories, and more varied gameplay. The Lost and the Damned provided one of the most emotionally touching moments for me all year, when after rescuing Johnny's drugged-out girlfriend, she tripped on and fell down a flight of stairs while trying to leave a building. Most likely a random happenstance from the physics engine, but it struck me as an incredibly vulnerable moment portrayed perfectly, and it's stuck with me. Even if it's not intentional, there's something to be said for that.

  • Dragon Age is an interesting game for me. I certainly appreciate it's depth and complexity over the weak hybrid that was Mass Effect, but a game like this just makes me wish that developers spent less time on combat and more time on the other aspects of a game. Combat in Dragon Age is my least favorite element, but it's what I spend most of my time doing, and almost all of the story elements require me to rack up an insane body count. Someday I'd like to see someone make a game as ambitious as Dragon Age, but with no combat. With some more improvements and animations, the conversation and social systems could easily carry a game. It's just a shame to me that developers feel the need to pad out their games with so much pointless combat.

  • ODST has been the target of a lot of criticism since it's launch- mostly from people who were pre-determined to hate it and people who were expecting another product on the scale of Halo 3. Taken for what it is, ODST is still a fantastic game- a concentration of the tried and true Halo gameplay down into a slightly more grounded story and setting. Firefight was good fun, although crippling lag issues and a huge player drop-off since launch have somewhat limited it's appeal at this point. ODST really did nothing bad- it simply suffered from having the word HALO on the box and being priced at $60. It's more a love letter to the fans than anything else, but that's not necessarily bad, and certainly doesn't prevent others from enjoying it.

  • I didn't get to play Uncharted 2 through to it's conclusion, but that hardly matters. From just a few minutes with this beautiful, enormously polished game you can understand what is so great about it. The believable characters, the amazing graphics, and the explosive gunplay all culminate in a truly great product. I sometimes wish there was less emphasis on shooting, but I wish that about pretty much every game in existence. There's just no denying that this is a fantastic game.

  • As much noise as the developers may have made about "change" pre-release, let's get one thing clear. This IS Assassin's Creed. This franchise is ridiculously gamey, and ACII just confirms that. The period visuals are nice and I love exploring Renaissance architecture, but this is still a game where you can hold down A and walk through a crowd, slowly amassing your fortune. Ezio still does the ridiculous pushing through a crowd animation from the first game, which is about the least socially inconspicuous thing ever. Assassinations are the same way in terms of how the guards will react to you and how walking in the middle of four dudes somehow makes you completely innocuous. But you know what, I LIKE that. Assassin's in fun in an extremely gamey sort of way. I suspect I enjoy it very differently than the developers intended, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I'm never "immersed" in the gameworld- the mechanics are too obvious and occasionally too hilarious- but I am entertained by it, and that's all that really matters.

  • As a huge Halo fan, Halo Wars is for me. I never for a second thought I would be disappointed by it, and I was right- it delivered what I wanted. For everyone else, this game was a big question mark. Whatever your feelings on the franchise, Halo Wars delivered the strongest vision of RTS on console that we have seen yet, and blended this excellent gameplay with good use of the license. Your enjoyment of it was probably significantly hampered by not being a fan of the license, but the gameplay fundamentals were there, with a surprisingly strong campaign to prove it. RTS on console will never reach the level of their PC counterparts, barring some sort of radical interface change, but Halo Wars was a good first step towards building strong, simple, real-time strategy for console. It's a shame it was Ensemble's last, because with another installment they really could have perfected this formula.

  • I know what you're saying: "Fallout 3 came out in 2008 Lies! What is this I don't even". Well yes, you are correct. However, I didn't play very many games this year, and Fallout 3 technically had a release this year, in the form of Fallout 3: GOTY Edition. This is Fallout 3 as it's meant to be played- GOTY Edition fixes many of the problems with the original, and delivers a much heftier chunk of content (not that the original was lacking). The five included DLC packages are all pretty great, even if some (OpAnch, Mothership) suffer from too much of a focus on combat. Broken Steel extended the ending in a great way, while The Pitt and Point Lookout had interesting stories and entirely new areas to explore. Fallout 3's DLC represented a plethora of awesome ways to expand the main offerings, and having them all in one place just makes the game that much better. Combine all of this new content with the lifted level cap, new weapons, and good price tag, this is one of the best deals of the year. If you haven't played Fallout 3, or haven't played any of the DLC, pick up the GOTY edition. You won't be disappointed.

  • Yeah, its the same old Pokemon we've been playing since Red and Blue, but for someone who hasn't touched a Pokemon game since Pokemon Crystal, Platinum was great. The old graphical style remains intact even though the series has shifted to 3D, and the same sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic exists between the Pokemon. Although at this point the dream of catching them all is a bit out of reach for most of us (493!), Pokemon Platinum shows that Nintendo knows not to mess with success. I can see getting burned out on this series if you played every installment, but coming back once every two or three generations is great- there's enough change it feels new to you, but just enough familiarity that you still feel comfortable. I'd be fine to see the Pokemon series continue like this for another decade- I'd just make sure not to play all of the games, lest I ruin my own enjoyment.

  • It's a motherfucking NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. ON THE WII. I'm more excited for Galaxy 2 personally, as Galaxy was one of my favorite games this DECADE, but it's hard to argue with another classic, sidescrolling Mario. NSMB on the DS was fantastic, and the Wii installment continues that legacy, with solid platforming and art design. The added 4-player mode probably isn't a viable way to play the entire game, but it is a fun way to waste some time with some bros. If nothing else, this game gave us here at Giantbomb the NSMBW quicklook, which is a classic.

  • This game could be much higher on the list, or it could not be on the list at all- you can make a case for either option. On one hand, Modern Warfare 2 is one of the most graphically pleasing, adrenaline-pumping games in a long time, with a great co-op mode, a deep multiplayer progression system, and a campaign jam-packed full of amazing setpieces. On the other hand you have all the goodwill Infinity Ward pissed away with a series of escalating PR gaffes, a buggy mess of a multiplayer that still isn't anywhere near fixed on any platform, and a single-player story that makes about as much sense as Star Wars Episode I. However, the good outweighs the bad (mostly) in this case, and there's really no denying that MW2 is a quality game, even if it has some glaring flaws.