One benefit to not being an early adopter is that feeling of a whole library’s worth of content just waiting to be discovered. I bought a Playstation 3 and a Wii in 2009, and mixed up my playing of both new titles and well-reviewed old favorites. That continued in 2010, assisted both by the encouraging example of prices dropping for new versions of older games (the Bioshock effect) and my Blockbuster Online account adding older video games to the queue. I probably played fewer games in 2010, but those games received (and demanded) more attention. Here are my top 11 that were released this year:
1. Red Dead Redemption – I knew I was in deep when I spent an hour trying to make sure John Marston’s hand avoided an increasingly speedy knife on a warn-down table overlooking the mountains of Mexico. This gorgeous title threw so much into the gameplay, from horse wrangling to standard third-person shooting to trying to outsmart a rampaging bear. The turn-of-the-20th-century setting proved to be a great respite from the increasingly standard variations of war-torn battlefields, jungles and spacecraft walkways. And the story took some pretty amazing chances, in both structure and execution.
Inevitable comparisons to Rockstar’s main franchise, Grand Theft Auto, can’t be avoided. In GTA4, the ancillary missions and quests seemed like just percentage points toward a mythical 100 percent completion. But in RDR, these were interesting aspects to a larger, more cohesive framework. Also, and I say this as a person who mostly cowers in fear of most online multiplayer, the co-op missions online add tremendous value to a title that packs enough emotional wallop that it might take a while to play the single-player campaign again. I can’t wait to try out the new zombie-fied expansion.
2. Dead Rising 2 – The effusive praise for this game on the Gamespot Hotspot podcast convinced me to jump into this series having not seen the first (an XBox exclusive with a Wii-ified version later). And it was a game in such a classic sense of the word. The simple mechanics allowed for the game to be populated by a treasure trove of details, allowing for the creation of some of the best weapons you’ll ever find in a hack-and-slash game. But everyone knows that just wandering around a mall, even one run rampant by zombies, can be tiresome after a while. So the strict adherence to a running clock to complete both main and side missions makes for some amazingly intense gameplay and somehow accesses that deep memory of the music quickening in the first Super Mario Brothers game. As with No. 1 on the list, I also enjoyed the online component to this game, a four-player competitive version of the televised game show that starts the game (and can make life much easier in the single-player mode by transferring virtual cash to your account).
3. God of War 3 – Oh my god, they’re gorgeous graphics, the same solid game mechanics present in the first two games and some really entertaining boss fights. This series probably made revisiting the era of Greek/Roman mythology too daunting for any serious competitors.
4. Enslaved – This is on the top of my mind, as I just finished it. But where the game’s creators didn’t spend much time on the character names (even Beppo would be better than just naming the guy “Monkey”), it made up for it in taking a small-budget approach to the thrills offered by the more prestigious Uncharted series. It’s the Cobra of action games, certainly worth a rental or a budget buy and sometimes more fun than the AAA games we’re supposed to love more.
5. Angry Birds – It’s the game that made me believe you can play games on the iPod touch. I don’t know if games can get bigger/better/faster/more for the device, but this will suffice for some time to come. Also, as an unrepentant reader of walkthroughs and FAQs while playing games, I appreciated Roxio doing the work for us and uploading YouTube clips of completed levels.
6. Final Fantasy 13 - Man, a lot of people don’t like this game. So much so that I saw the game on sale for something like $20 during Black Friday weekend after Thanksgiving. My copy of Final Fantasy 7 for the PS1 would go for more than that! Much of the criticism is valid, from annoying characters to a story that doesn’t open up until well into the game. But the combat system is a real treat, giving each fight the possibility of a pulse-pounding affair. The game would benefit from offering real decisions on party members and their specific strengths, rather than giving everyone similar abilities with slight variations. But it’s a testament to the series that it kept me trying to battle impossibly sized monsters just in the hopes they would drop materials for weapons/armor, even if those battles proved I really didn’t need it.
7. NBA Jam – Nostalgia can blindside you, or it can ease slowly into your mind. Having finally rented Punchout for Wii and felt how revisiting a classic can be especially painful on the Nunchuk-holding joints, I have gain an extra level of appreciation for how NBA Jam updated itself without changing the essence of its playability. As other sports titles battle year after year with a balance between simulation and pick-up-and-play (see No. 10), my best friend’s young son can play the game with his dad and enjoy it, while somehow gravitating toward the Rockets (Kevin Martin and Yao) as his go-to team. They’re no Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf, but play on, playa.
8. Metroid: Other M – This game could join FF13 in the bathroom, shedding tears from all those hurtful things said during the lunch hour. Wipe your eyes, Samus! Sure, the story stinks and longtime fans bristled at any characterization that weakened her bad ass past. But it pushes the envelope for graphics on the Wii
9. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions – As one of the only fans of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, I’m evidently easy to please when it comes to comic book adaptations. This game mixes some classic interpretations of Spider-Man gameplay with Batman : Arkham Asylum-esque stealth levels, all while populating the game with all sorts of lore from the Spider-Man mythos. I finished the game but never quite felt comfortable with the web-slinging mechanics, but the combat was varied … especially in some pretty entertaining boss battles. A nice “buy low” candidate for bargain hunters in 2011.
10. Madden 2011 – For some reason (mostly work/school related), I haven’t had time to dive into the time-sucking wormholes more commonly referred to as the Madden franchise mode. I did try out the Madden Card version of a franchise, which is great for all of us who want to see quarterbacks Todd Collins versus Todd Bouman lead their respective teams in online competition. And people thought taking the Carolina Panthers as an existing franchise was daunting!
11. Bejeweled 3 - The best way to take a break from designing Web sites for breaks of five minutes that turn into 15. And modes out the mother-flippin’ wazoo, alternating between strategy and time-limit panic.
2010 titles I hope to get to (and/or finish) in the new year: Super Mario Galaxy 2, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Fallout: New Vegas, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Heavy Rain, Goldeneye, Vanquished and Call of Duty:Black Ops