2010 was a great year for … ahh, fuck it. Let’s just get straight into it, shall we? You don’t need a self-serving opening paragraph justifying another lazy list article on the Net.
I have been to the mountain top, and on my way down I swung by the Cave of Assessment to reckon the top 5 games of 2010.
The rules are the same as last year. Once again, I’ve made my job easier by playing and not finishing a lot of games. This rules out possible contenders such as Darksiders, Bayonetta and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It also rules out impossible non-contenders like 3D Dot Game Heroes, Shank and Yakuza 3. That’s not to mention the games I didn’t even play. Why would I mention them? Sheesh.
5. Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment)
This was my most anticipated game of the year. A sequel to Fallout 3 made by some of the same guys who made the classic PC Fallout games? You betcha.
Obsidian tweaked the mechanics of Fallout 3 and made it into a better RPG. Tougher critters and stingier rewards for levelling up kept the game more challenging for longer. Finally being powerful enough to headshot Deathclaws from 200 metres away with a .50 cal using incendiary ammo was a personal highlight.
Fallout: New Vegas has a flexibility that puts most other RPGs to shame. Do I speak to this bloke and persuade him to give me the password to his computer, or do I sneak up on him, drop a land mine into his David Mundies and try to hack the computer? Some player out there even managed to finish the game without killing anything — that’s a testament both to the game’s robust RPG mechanics and to that player’s patience.
Obsidian did a better overall story, building up the anticipation before you get to New Vegas. Once you get there, the reputation system really kicks in, providing a host of difficult choices that put simplistic, binary good/evil karma systems to shame. Some of the best content is tucked away outside the main story — I appreciated it all the more for finding it myself.
If only the game weren’t so damned buggy and prone to freeze up, it may have made it higher up the list. Nothing kills the mood deader than having to get up off the couch and restart your console. However, for being a true RPG, Fallout: New Vegas jingle-jangle-jingles in at #5.
4. Just Cause 2 (Eidos Interactive)
This was my surprise hit of the year and the only game on this list in which I thought the main story was too short.
Just Cause 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously and nails what’s important in a sandbox game: combat, exploration and variety. The grapple and parachute are the standout features but let’s not forget the vehicle hijacking, gunplay (with dual wielding) and explosive canisters.
The tropical island setting gave it a relaxing air instead of recreating the big city stresses of traffic, tollbooths and relentless cop chases. I’ve never enjoyed simply moving around a world as much before without having a wicked soundtrack to distract me from the commuting.
Since the game’s release there’s been lots of tasty nibbles of DLC — cheap little weapon packs, vehicles and other stuff like jets for your parachute. I feel I should be more upset about this and rail about being milked for content that should have been in the game, but the fact is they were cheap and they are fun to try out, especially the parachute jets.
This is the perfect game to play when you don’t know what you want to play and for that it base jumps into #4.
3. Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego)
This is another wicked sandbox game where the world is the star of the show. As opposed to Just Cause 2, it did take itself too seriously, but almost pulled it off. I’m not a huge rap for stories in games, but I appreciated Rockstar’s attempt to tug on the ol’heartstrings with its ending. The story missions got repetitive, but amongst the flab there were some great set pieces that were like re-enacting your favourite shoot-outs from Western movies.
As for the controls, I had a few grumbles with shooting and walking, but they came up with the best horse riding I’ve experienced in a game. I actually felt a bond with my steeds, more so than any car I stole in GTAIV.
The world was so much fun to mosey around in and get up to random hijinks. Did anyone else NOT hogtie a nun to the railroad tracks, at least just once? And Poker is so much more fun when you can cheat! As for the wildlife, it could almost have sold me just as a hunting simulator.
Anyhoo, just like when Mongo punched out a horse, Red Dead Redemption does the unexpected and delivers a good cowboy video game. For that, it saddles up at #3.
2. Civilization V (Firaxis)
You think you don’t want to play Civilization V … until you start a game.
It’s almost impossible to summarise a game that purports to deal with the entirety of human history, so I won’t even try. This is a game so big in scope, it took two of us to review it. I gave it a 10 back in October 2010, and patches since then have fixed some of the complaints, most notably smartening up the enemy AI. So now Civ V is technically an 11 (no it isn’t —stop trying to break our rating system! – Hazizi)
Firaxis could have just tweaked Civ IV and updated the graphics but they went one bolder and overhauled many key features. Overall it worked. Perhaps it hasn’t completely superseded Civ IV but it has made combat more strategic, culture more understandable and the all-important population happiness mechanics more transparent. The design changes have made the game just as engrossing but friendlier to beginners, which means no one has an excuse not to play.
So for having the cojones to look afresh at an already successful timesink, Civilization V slowly builds its way to #2.
1. God of War III (Sony Santa Monica)
Other games lasted longer. Other games had bigger worlds, better stories, more side activities. But no other game made me punch the air and bellow at the sky.
For no other game is the word “beat” a more appropriate expression for completion. In order to get to the end of God of War III you have to destroy an entire pantheon of enemies in a bloodcurdlingly vicious (and satisfying) way.
The game is possibly the best looking game on PS3, but that’s not why it’s my #1. The boss fights are among the best in the business but that isn’t it either. The scale of the enterprise — fighting enemies on the arm of a giant titan, while the titan is doing the truffle shuffle to try and shake you off — would boggle you if you had more time to think about it. The combat controls are the single smoothest thing I’ve experienced in gaming all year, and now we’re getting close. They’re so tight you almost forget that you are using a controller. The enemy design is varied enough to force you to master all Kratos’ moves, not just a few favourite combos. You never feel that the game is being unfair or cheap, instead you feel that you should man up and improve your fighting technique.
As for Kratos, well he may be a surly coot, but he is the conduit for an astonishing piece of doublethink: he makes me feel tough while I am playing a videogame. This is why God of War III is my best videogame of 2010. Beating it made me feel pride and mastery. Sony Santa Monica tricked me into believing that I had achieved something worthwhile; that my hobby was valid. And because of that, God of War III rips the head off my top 5 list and smears #1 all over the walls. Happy 2011, bitches.
Mass Effect 2 (Bioware): Everyone loved it but I felt it wasn’t as good as Mass Effect 1. The much-touted story contradicted a lot of the lore set down in ME 1. Switching the enemies from Reapers to the Collectors was anticlimactic, like in season 2 in Star Trek: Next Generation, where they learn about the Borg then in the next episode get hoodwinked by some shitty Pakleds. Most of the vaunted big “choices” were left until the last mission. Whoopty-do.
ME2 ultimately missed out on the Top 5 because of the tedious planet-scanning minigame. I actually liked driving the Mako in ME1 — at least it made me feel like I was exploring planets. Planet scanning was just a yawnfest and worse, it was compulsory if you wanted to upgrade your stuff. Plus I can’t understand why they don’t put spaceship battles into Mass Effect. C’mon Bioware, it’s a space opera, give me my shippy pew-pew!!
What else can I say about Mass Effect 2, for an RPG it makes a pretty decent third person shooter.
Greed Corp (W!Games): a well-balanced downloadable strategy game than adds a twist to the whole “exploit, expand, exterminate” model by making you destroy your own territory to get resources. It’s great fun to play single player or couch co-op with a friend and games are relatively quick. Indie game of the year, for mine.
Enslaved (Ninja Theory): They hired a proper scriptwriter to help with the story and it showed. The mo-capped interactions between Monkey and Trip are a cut above most videogame cutscenes. Unfortunately the combat and platforming didn’t meet the same standard, but a reasonably good ride nonetheless.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (Ready at Dawn): It’s handheld God of War. It looks better than the PS2 games. The story is better than God of War III. It’s awesome. Unfortunately, no one will play it because it’s on the PSP.
Alpha Protocol (Obsidian Entertainment): Reviewed here. I don’t see why Bioware gets the raps for implementing choice and consequence in its games when even a B-side like this game does it better. Too unbalanced to put in the top 5, but still an interesting game.