Game of the Year 2009 - Retrospective

As with my 2008 list - I decided to go back and do game of the year lists for the two years I felt I could realistically create them which also happened to cover the other years of how long Giant Bomb has been doing them.

Important Note: I was a student at the time (which I'll often mention) so my budget was limited. A lot of these games are borrowed. Also, unlike other GOTY lists I have on my lists page (which are generally written in the last week of their given year), this isn't strict about when I played the game. Example: Demon's Souls was played in 2016.

List items

  • I remember my first playthrough of this game I was slightly underwhelmed. After all, I was coming off the BioWare high of Mass Effect and counting down the days to the second one and this game felt like a bit of a step back from that game and miles back from the trailers we were getting for Mass Effect 2. I think I got over it by my 4th or 5th character.

    For me, this was the last traditional BioWare game that we got in the classic formula and boy did this formula go out on a high. I have some amazing memories of running the four main dungeons of this game, saying up till 4 in the morning to get to the end of one. Even on my fourth playthrough, I was exploring every part of the dungeons and finding new ways to engage with the characters in conversations based on my origin.

    My third playthrough was the one where this game really ignited for me where I rolled a mage. I’d always stayed away from magic users in RPGs (exception: I always played adept in Mass Effect but that’s more of a shooter with powers) but thought it was worth a try. Not only was this my favourite play through, what I was originally discounting as a nothing play though suddenly became my ideal run. This game is a treasure and I hope to go back to it again.

  • I didn’t play this until after the release of Dark Souls 3 as I wanted to complete my Souls experience. What I found was an exceptionally designed game and actually scratched an itch that was left irritating me after I was underwhelmed with the second half of DS3.

    In 2009, based on all the reporting, this game scared the hell out of me. The idea of an extremely oppressive experience that enjoyed punishing you as a player just had no interest to me. That isn’t what this game was though, I don’t know if it was my inability to interpret discussions on the game or just bad reporting, maybe a bit of both. What should have been emphasised though is level design, that sense that only a souls game can give you of slowly creeping forward, finding shortcuts and different approaches.

    It all starts here, this series I have come to love and looking back, despite some of the control issues that remain, this probably remains one of the best games in the series.

  • So, here’s a funny thing/disclaimer: I won this game in a competition. I had no real interest in buying it based on word I was getting about it but I entered a competition and ended up winning a copy. I got it, played it and loved it, more than a lot of games that were released this year. In fact, if I did a top ten list in 2009, this would likely have topped the list.

    The key thing for me was personality, so many shooters at this point just turned me off because they were either too bland or focused on multiplayer deathmatch. Borderlands had a fun story that never really took itself too seriously, a cleverly built world that managed to find variety in the wasteland and, most importantly, good combat.

    The humour is dated now and Claptrap has been overused, but I’m still up for a Borderlands 3 and I only found more to love in the world playing Tales from.

  • My story on this one is funny in hindsight, I was in an EB around Christmas time and it was crazy busy. They had staff fetching games from the back for people as they were going to get in line so the counter staff didn’t have to do it. I had a lady come up to me with a smile asking me to give her the box of the game I was holding and she’d fetch it from out back. As soon as she saw the game was Bayonetta, that smile disappeared in a flash. I honestly felt like shouting, “I’m not a pervert, I’ve heard it’s great!”

    Bayonetta unfortunately must live with that stigma and I say unfortunately not only because it is a great game (although one that doesn’t really justify the luridness) it’s also absolutely insane and fun to go through. I still can’t successfully relate the story to anyone should they ask, but I know it was an absolute blast to play it and I enjoyed the hell out of it while I did.

  • Putting this game on this list wasn’t as much of a no brainer as you might think. In fact, my initial list didn’t include it just because I likely breezed past it while I was cross checking the games released in 2009. The reason for this is that I’m just not a fan of this series for so many reasons at this point that trying to argue my point is getting boring. Even as someone who isn’t a fan of the series though, Uncharted 2 is clearly a highpoint and really, the only game of the series I have found to be outstanding.

    And it’s right from the start right with that extremely memorable train section? This section not only expands the boundaries that had been placed on the first game, it kind of blows your expectations out of the water and you just end up getting into a good flow with the game.

    I think the reason the series dropped off for me is because they stopped expanding and the ideas of what they wanted this series which should have been pulp adventure became something more serious. That worked for a lot of people but for me, it was too much of a reach, especially in games where you commit mass slaughter. Thankfully, I found what I was after in the Tomb Raider reboot which I found to be a little more compatible with my tastes and a much better expansion on what I liked in Uncharted 2.

  • Orson Scott Card sucks, let’s get that out of the way. The underlying story of this game and a big (liberal?) plot to unseat the government is completely laughable and the stuff of crackpot conspiracy theories. Take that understanding into the game, laugh at the stupid nature of this story and analyse just how insane it all is and then have a blast playing through this great Metroidvania.

    I say the above because it is important context, unlike Metroid or Castlevania, you aren’t shooting aliens or killing vampires/monsters, you’re shooting humans and it’s easy to dismiss them as cannon fodder. Shadow Complex is such a well-designed game though that you can shift those ideas to the side for a bit while you enjoy the game. Although again, context is everything here and you should just keep the ideas this game is often trying to get across in the back of your mind.

  • I get that the film Chronicles of Riddick isn’t to everyone’s taste, believe me I do but man, I love it. It’s pulpy science fiction that Vin Diesel somehow convinced a studio to give them a whole bunch of money for. It tanked, but I’m so glad it existed.

    What didn’t tank was Escape from Butcher Bay, a great FPS that drills deep into the franchise lore and has a lot of fun with a character who shone through in a low budget alien horror film. Knowing that game was getting a re-release with a complete set of new levels had me super excited.

    While Dark Athena isn’t as memorable as Escape from Butcher Bay, it still maintains that core gameplay that made it such a killer game and is a lot of the ground work for what we loved about that version of Starbreeze. Also, Vin Diesel being all over this project, for a character he clearly cares for deeply really helps. I just wish people loved this Riddick stuff as much as I do.

  • This is probably the best game released in 2009, especially in terms of long term effect. It re-energised the fighting game and showed that 2D fighters could work and work well. It’s been slowly refined over time and its big success resulted a lukewarm response to the fifth game.

    The reason it’s in this spot on my personal list is because of my on/off relationship with it. I’ve had some genuinely great moments with this game and some good fights with friends, I just never got into it as much as I would have liked to.

  • At a point where indie games seemed largely to look the same and mainstream games were coming out of their bland post Gears of War look, here comes a game from Chile that blows any expectations you might have of a world out of the water. There is such a complete feel to this world that makes it feel so alien yet it goes for it and completely sells it. As you dig through levels that are designed both for the action but also for world building, it all slowly unravels to something memorable.

    My only issue with the game was the combat didn’t really work for the most part, it still feels like an indie game, but damn do I appreciate their decision to just straight up go for it. I haven’t like everything Ace Team has done since this game, but their perspective is one that is so entirely unique that it is always worth checking in on what they’re doing.

  • This one has come up in a few conversations I’ve heard recently about how this was a product that was selling one type of game and offered another. Personally, I never found the RTS moments in this game to be all that overwhelming because the joy of this game to me was exploring the Metal Album Cover come to life world that Double Fine clearly put a lot of care into creating.

    The game isn’t anything special from a purely gameplay perspective, but it does a great job at selling the world and characters. Honestly, that was a large part of what I’m after in a Double Fine game, while it was preferable that they deliver a great game, it isn’t a deal breaker. At the end of the day, I look back on this game and my memories of it are fond which is worth a lot.