The non-GOTYs, 2010

So, I've made my GOTY top 10 list, but I immediately noticed that it kind of stands out more for what is not there than for what it actually contains. So here is the complement to my top 10 games of the year: my top 10 NOT games of the year 2010.

List items

  • God of War was a beautiful rendition of what had been done equally well elsewhere. It sorely lacked the notion of polishing rough edges God of War II had and it definitely was not made with the same single-minded artistry to convey the concept of rage as the first. It was a sequel, through and through, and it's no wonder that some people keep pointing out that the PSP entry this year was a better game. Technically impressive, sure, but not a GOTY.

  • Alan Wake was Deadly Premonition by way of Hollywood. All the nuance, the character and the intelligence carefully scrubbed out to make... well, a shooter with a gimmick. Alan Wake, like Max Payne before it, was saddled with uneven writing that betrayed its non-English origin and made compromises to commerciality, not the least of which was a contrived open ending, that diluted what it was trying to accomplish. It was a solid ride, but an empty one in the end.

  • Halo: Reach was Halo at its best mechanically, but it was also Halo in its last throes creatively. Grasping at straws by retelling a "extended universe" tale in the form of a prequel, its campaign felt like padding, filling the gaps left by the main trilogy with more stuff to sell. Its multiplayer, while extensive and polished to a shine, also showed signs of an identity crisis for the first time, struggling to incorporate the new Call of Duty standard into its Halo-ness and only succeeding partially.

  • Starcraft II may very well be the best game on this list. I just couldn't bring myself to care. Like Halo: Reach, it straddled the line between continuing a winning formula and updating it. Starcraft also struggled to satisfy my generation, that played the first game a decade ago and moved on, as well as the rabid online fanbase that kept it alive as an e-sport in the interim. Like Halo, it undeniably succeeds in what it sets out to do, but the constraints of the context destroyed much of the emotional engagement I had for the game.

  • Ironically, this blurb is more of a defense of GT5 than it is an explanation of why it's not on my GOTY list. GT5 certainly feels outdated, rounding up the trilogy of games that tried to channel an old game for a new generation, but that also reminded me of how specific the GT feeling is on a racing game. Still, it is undeniably stiff and held back by a serious lack of restraint, phoning in areas in which it should have shone for the sake of including stuff it might as well have dropped.

  • I actually wrote a blurb for SMG2 to include it at the bottom of my GOTY list before I decided to switch it over with Darksiders. Like Super Meat Boy, this is a game I oppose on some level. An expansion pack for the great SMG, it feels like a cash-in, regardless of its insane quality and creativity and, even as a "I'm sorry" letter from Nintendo to its core fans, it is still a symptom of exhaustion in the big N's software development side. It is still one of the best gameplay experiences provided this year, though, and a master class in 3D level design.

  • This year's Braid, Limbo is certainly better than last year's almost unbearably pedantic model, but it somehow didn't cause as much of an impact on me. It is not trying to do anything particularly wrong, and it doesn't fail in its execution, either, but Limbo takes the easy way out in an indie market increasingly crowded with quirky, minimalistic side scrolling games. It gets tons of brownie points for reconnecting with the feeling of classics like Another World, Flashback or Abe's Oddysee, but it hits a very specific brick wall: all of those games were both more ambitious and just better designed than Limbo.

  • Bayo-frickin'-netta. This may be the one game I actively dislike on this list. The faux-girl power of the main character's oversexualization rubs me the wrong way, the twitchy gameplay is frequently frustrating and the overblown visual design is so messy I often found myself guessing what was going on. The game took everything I dislike about the Devil May Cry series and buit upon it until it took me beyond the tipping point to a place where I could no longer derive any enjoyment. And, you know what? With all the critical praise, I don't even feel guilty for my feelings about this one.

  • Not much to say on this one other than I haven't played it enough to judge. I got around to playing Modern Warfare 2 way too late, a few months before Black Ops came out, and I actually enjoyed the single player much more than I thought I would, but not enough to make me anticipate Black Ops, so I just skipped it.

  • A similar case to Black Ops. I am playing this game right now after getting to it a bit too late and... yeah, I'm enjoying it. Again, it's reluctant enjoyment, because the rehash of characters in a series that clearly established itself as a time-hopping conspiracy theory kind of thing feels like a cop-out, playing it safe to avoid losing the sweet spot they found in AC2. I haven't played it enough to kick out any of the games in my actual GOTY list, but even if I had, its risk aversion, very close in spirit to Mario Galaxy 2, would have prevented it from getting a nod.