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Best of 2009

Loki: Best of 2009

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  • There isn’t much you can say about Uncharted 2 that hasn’t been said already. You don’t get a Metacritic rating of 96 for nothing, after all. We’re talking about a game that has a phenomenally well-told story of globe-trotting adventure, terrific voice performances by all involved, and intense action sequences that Michael Bay himself would be proud of. Uncharted 2 is a game that’s just as much fun to watch as it is to actually play, and when it comes to actually playing, it’s no slouch in that department either. Naughty Dog have clearly learned well the lessons of the first Uncharted, tightening up the shooting and movement controls. Gone are the days of shirtless goons taking 8 bullets in the chest before going down.

    Everything about Uncharted 2 is as polished as anything that comes before it. The graphics are incredible, and sit alongside Metal Gear Solid 4 as probably the best showpiece of the power of the PlayStation 3 that we’ve all heard so much about. The sound design is top class, from the voice work to the sound effects to the epic soundtrack that sets the stage for the action taking place. Even the multiplayer, which had the potential to be a crappy tacked-on addition, turned out to be highly entertaining.

    If you were to compile a list of great moments in games in 2009, you’d probably find Uncharted 2 dominating the top spots. There’s no shortage of jaw-dropping action sequences, whether it be escaping from a tower as a chopper fires rockets at it causing it to eventually collapse around you, or fighting your way to the front of a train as it makes its way into the Himalayan mountains, or even climbing up that same train as it hangs precariously over the edge of a cliff. Nathan Drake is as many parts John McClane as he is Indiana Jones, for the insane amount of punishment he takes while still cracking wise.As the most complete gaming package of 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves comes out the worthy winner in a year of great releases.

  • Loot lust is a powerful thing, as it turns out. Before this game came out I was skeptical at best. The prospect of another first-person shooter set in a barren brown wasteland wasn’t something that appealed greatly to me. But with a sprinkling of Diablo-esque elements to add to this wasteland setting, Borderlands has turned out to be one of my favourite releases of the year. The combination of multiple character classes, talents and skill trees, quest-driven story progression, and the ability to find phat purple lewtz proved too hard for me to resist.

    The lengthy story gave me a good 15 hours of gameplay on the first playthrough, and another 10 hours on the second hard-mode playthrough. And that was just for one character. The ability to play up to four-player co-operative online makes replaying with new characters enjoyable the second, third, fourth time and beyond. And as if the retail package wasn’t enough though, Gearbox have wasted no time in releasing significant downloadable content packs. It hasn’t even been two months since this came out, and by the end of this year there’ll be two downloadable expansions available. And these are by no means cheap little mission packs, they’re full-on expansions with new locations, art, voice work and characters.

    It can’t be understated how very, very close this was to being my game of the year. However, there could only be one game this year that would relegate Borderlands to second place.

  • Resident Evil is a franchise that at times can be hard to make heads or tails of. There’s a lot of crap that gets released with the Resident Evil brand slapped on it, but it seems when it comes to releasing titles in the numbered series, Capcom knows when to add that extra level of polish. Resident Evil 4 spectacularly brought the series into the new millennium five years ago, and at the same time invented the over-the-shoulder third-person perspective that has since become a de facto standard for modern action games. For the fifth entry into the series Capcom have again evolved the gameplay and shifted the focus to co-operative action, and done so very successfully.

    Although it flies in the face of what the survival horror genre has traditionally stood for, the addition of co-op to Resident Evil is one of the best things that could have happened. As Left 4 Dead proved, fighting the zombie hordes is much more enjoyable when you’ve got company. Besides the great gameplay, Resident Evil 5 was also one of the most visually amazing games to come out this year. The huge number of unlockables and weapon upgrades, coupled with the fact you could jump into any previously completed chapter, also made this game hugely replayable. Whether you were playing with a friend or with a random you found over the internet, you’d be having a blast. Resident Evil 5 is an excellent game, and thoroughly deserves its place as one of the top three games of 2009.

  • It goes without saying that when you make a game that becomes almost unanimously recognised as the game of the year, not many would envy your position when it comes time for you to pump out a worthy sequel. This is exactly the situation Infinity Ward were faced with in the wake of their 2007 release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Not only was the first Modern Warfare one of the best single player experiences of its time, it has been the biggest multiplayer game online for two solid years. No pressure.

    When it comes to the single-player component, Modern Warfare 2 is another success. Perhaps it goes a little too far up itself sometimes, and the amount of “holy crap!” moments that get thrown at you does get a little wearying, but the unrelenting action makes for an exciting 5 or 6 hours of gameplay while it lasts. However this is not where Modern Warfare 2 stakes it’s claim for being one of the best games to come out this year. This year sees an extensive online co-operative mode added to the mix to fill the last obvious gap in Modern Warfare’s repertoire. But once again, it’s the superb competitive multiplayer that will keep people playing this game for potentially another two years until Modern Warfare 3 comes out.

  • Historically, the DC licence is not one that has been particularly well utilised by creative media in the past. While Christopher Nolan does his best to right the wrongs of Joel Schumacher, Eidos have now done their bit to make sure there’s a Batman game out there that’s just as badass as the new movies. And what they’ve made is far and away the best use of any comic book licence in any game before it.

    Setting the game in what is essentially a jail for every one of Gotham City’s supervillains gave the developers free rein to craft a story that involved whoever they saw fit, and they deliver in spades. By the end of the game you’ll do battle with Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Bane, Harley Quinn, The Joker and even solve a few puzzles left by The Riddler. You could spend all day arguing who makes a better Joker, but Mark Hamill’s take on the sociopathic Clown Prince is as good (and frightening) as anyone’s. But probably the best thing I can say about Batman: Arkham Asylum, is that as you beat up on goons, swing around in the shadows, and use ridiculous high-tech gizmos, you really feel like Batman. And that’s a pretty awesome feeling.

  • The original Assassin’s Creed was one of the best games to come out in 2007, but there was a sizable list of complaints leveled against it. Mission variety, for starters, was not a strong suit. Development of the protagonist’s character was another. These are two things that Assassin’s Creed II does much better than its predecessor. Ezio is not just a far more likable character, he’s a more versatile character. All the moves you got and deeds you performed with Altaïr you now get with Ezio, and then some. One of the most pleasing improvements comes in the setting, which shifts to Renaissance-era Italy and sees you visit stunningly realised locales such as Florence, Tuscany and Venice among others.

    The best part about the original Assassin’s Creed was the story, which unfolded as a cleverly written conspiracy spanning over a timeline several centuries apart. Assassin’s Creed II continues this excellent story telling, and kicks things up several notches of insanity by the last 30 minutes of the game. Without giving it away, the ending throws up several questions in the way The Matrix: Reloaded did when that came out. Hopefully for Assassin’s Creed III they don’t go and make The Matrix: Revolutions.

  • This is a game that I would not have even given a second thought to playing had it not been for the now internet-famous Persona 4 Endurance Run on Giant Bomb, which saw Jeff Gerstmann and Vinny Caravella record themselves playing every last minute of this game from start to finish. Watching it at first, Persona 4 was entertaining insofar as it was quirky, playing out like some extremely Japanese anime series, but it didn’t take long before I decided I had to blow the dust off my PS2 and get this game for myself.

    Buried underneath the craziness of everything that occurs in this game is a thoroughly engaging storyline that keeps you interested from start to finish. The relationships between characters don’t always feel real, but they are always engaging. The strength of the cast of Persona 4 really carries this game right through to the ending, which is as unpredictable and entertaining as it is ridiculous. There are many faults that can be leveled at the gameplay of Persona 4, but being a JRPG it really needs to do one thing right, and that’s the story. And it does it phenomenally.

  • As someone who never really got into the old Metroid or Castlevania games, it came as a surprise to me that I enjoyed Shadow Complex as much as I did. Clocking in around 5 hours to complete on the first playthrough, it’s not a particularly long game. But when you only pay $20 for a game, this is easily forgiven. The story will most likely have your eyes rolling at the amount of cliches they beat you over the head with, but the gameplay is classic Metroidvania in a contemporary setting, rendered in 2.5D with Unreal Engine 3.

    There’s plenty of item upgrades and gadgets to pick up along the way, which makes you want to keep on going to see what’s next. The developers at Chair have done a brilliant job at spacing out new upgrades just far enough so it never feels like you’re being drowned in useless items, but at the same time the next new item doesn’t seem too far away. The environments you traverse through a awesome to look at, and the boss fights are great fun too. Overall this is very tight and well paced game, with production values that stand in stark contrast to the $20 price tag attached to it. Shadow Complex is undoubtedly the best downloadable game to come out this year.

  • This year Rockstar has set the high watermark for downloadable expansion content. With the release of Lost and Damned at the start of the year, and later The Ballad of Gay Tony, we were given another 12 hours worth of gameplay in Liberty City. The amazing production values on both of these expansions set them a class above downloadable content for absolutely any game that came before it. The Lost and Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony offer two greatly differing experiences, the former focusing on the biker gangs of Liberty City, and giving an insight into the city’s gritty underworld. By contrast, The Ballad of Gay Tony is heavily engulfed in the glitz and glamour of Liberty City nightlife, with missions as extravagant and ridiculous as the latter stages of GTA: San Andreas.

    Anyone who criticised GTA4 last year will probably find no remedy to their problems with it, as the core gameplay remains all but completely unchanged. But anyone who enjoyed their time in Liberty City would be remiss not to look into both these expansions. The better of the two would probably be The Ballad of Gay Tony, but since you can buy both of these games in one retail package, Episodes From Liberty City, I’m going to take the cheating way out and call them both one game in this top ten list.

  • With some 35 hours of gameplay on a single playthrough and an almost unthinkably large number of varying story paths, not to mention the multiple beginnings and endings depending on the character you create and the choices you make, Dragon Age: Origins is arguably the largest game to come out this year content-wise. The decisions you make in this game have lasting effects throughout, sometimes leading to you losing or even having to kill party members who might have fought alongside you from the very start. It’s one of the most dynamic and entertaining stories in any game you could care to name.

    Although this was very clearly made to be a traditional PC RPG, the console versions turn out to be plenty of fun to play as well. The game can get a little bit tedious as you level up further and gain more abilities, and in turn are forced more and more to use the radial menus. But this is no fault of the game, rather the constraints of the limited amount of buttons available on a gamepad. BioWare have a strong reputation for excellence in the RPG genre, and Dragon Age: Origins only serves to enhance that reputation. This is a great start for a new franchise, and one of the best games to come out this year.