This year has been one hell of a wild ride, and this is the time where I like to reflect, and put a number to, my Top 10 Games of 2010. Be sure to read Mark and Imran's respective lists, as they're wonderful reads, and their love of quality gaming is up there with the best in the business. For the past three years I've done a 'Best Of' list, and it's always my favorite part of the year. Without further ado, my Top 10 Of 2010.
Metal Gear has always been a series that's somewhat hindered by the controls. For some people, the multi-button layouts and 'stretch my hand across here to hit this button with my tongue' application is a deal-breaker, for others, the controls made tangible sense. With Peace Walker, though, something changed: The controls were adapted to the system in a way that was more user-friendly than the past installments, and also allowed some customization to fully embrace the actions you could perform. Metal Gear Solid 4 may have changed the game in this regard, but Peace Walker perfected it. Discussing the true story of Outer Heaven, the overwhelming odds of fighting a war that is unwinnable, and putting the final, beautiful, painterly strokes on Big Boss's character arc, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the best installment of the series. Recruiting armies never felt so fun, and the Monster Hunter style of multiplayer is an absolute blast. The fun of choosing the perfect soldiers for certain missions never lost its charm, and the fact that the game was on the PSP made it a great stop-gap between bus stops, long plane rides, or even playing before bed. It seems the industry took notice, as the most widely praised part of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is nearly a direct copycat of the recruitment system in Peace Walker. Triple A games benefiting Triple A games? This is why we should all get along! A can't miss title, from a story or gameplay standpoint, and a perfect end to the Big Boss saga.
I've dabbled in my fair share of sandbox titles, and I can definitely appreciate what each have shown me: The prospect of 'making my own fun' is a very appealing one, but it seems that in certain titles, something was missing. Customization? No, Morrowind and GTAIV definitely have that. A strong narrative? Red Dead definitely delivers.....Oh, wait, I know! It's the way in which I can zipline from a base jump, steer into the view of a helicopter, use my grappling hook to latch onto the windshield, and pull the pilot out, sending him to his untimely death. What can I say? He deserved it, fucking with Rico 'The Scorpion' Rodriguez! Just Cause 2 is a perfect example of progressive gaming, as you're given a majority of the content up front, but the way in which you try to tackle it all is your choice, and amplifies your experience. I've heard some people say 'Yeah, Just Cause 2 just didn't do it for me', to which I say, 'What, don't you have an imagination?'
My love for Bioware runs deep. I love they way they present stories to the player, I love the way it feels like my direct actions have influences on the world around me, and I love the fantastic character writing. Mass Effect 2 delivers this in spades, while also showcasing Bioware's evolution into the action game realm. This series is a tricky one to judge, though, as the mixing and matching of genres, productions, and gameplay mechanics all come together in a way that doesn't just improve on the formulas that came before it, but is damn close to creating a new genre. While sure, I could argue that Mass Effect is becoming less and less like a traditional RPG, but in many respects, isn't that a good thing? Putting this on my list was a no-brainer, because when your Codex (the encyclopedia of characters/races/places/things in the universe) is written more cohesively and well than a certain publisher's entire year's worth of releases, you've done something right. Well done, Bioware! Please, though, keep the hybrid gameplay mechanics with Mass Effect. Leave my Dragon Age alone. Kisses!
Man oh man, have I missed this. Street Fighter has always been near and dear to my heart, and my knowledge of SF3: Third Strike is almost to the point of embarrasing. When Street Fighter IV released last year, I was excited, but something didn't quite feel right: Maybe it was the characters, maybe it was the lack of two ultras, maybe it was my tastes at the time not being in-line with the Street Fighter way of life, but this year, this year is different. With the addition of matchmaking progressions, revamped tiers, adding that fabled second ultra to each character's repitore, and new characters on the roster, SSFIV has brought fighting games back to the mainstream, and back into the front of my gaming psyche. A perfect balance of old and new, Super Street Fighter IV deserves nothing but the best, and with the world tournament scene picking up in full force, the best is doing just that. Super Street Fighter IV is here to stay.
I won't lie, up until release, I wasn't excited for Fallout: New Vegas. I had about 80 hours logged into Fallout 3 for the X360, and 25 hours logged into the Game of the Year Edition for Steam, all of which I've done in the past eight months or so. I was Fallout'ed out, as it were, but right about the time commercials starting showing up, something clicked: THIS was Fallout. Bethesda did a great job with Fallout 3, but THIS was the Fallout team I've known and loved since the first installment way-back-when. From the moment I booted up New Vegas, I could tell, too. The attention to minute, almost worthless details is astounding. Graffiti on the sides of buildings, NPC dialogue referencing things I wouldn't see for another 20 hours, and a world so big, it made it terrifying to walk outside at night for fear of getting lost. Sure, we can give Fallout New Vegas a hard time for being 'too much, too soon', but where's the fault in it, truly? The scope is awe-inspiring, the story handled extremely well for such a massive title, and above all: You can get Deckard's gun from 'Blade Runner'. Need I say more?
How would you make a sequel to Chess? That's the question I'm sure Blizzard was asking during the development of Starcraft 2. Starcraft (and the Brood War) expansion is still widely considered the most balanced Real Time Strategy title of all-time, and for good reason. Not only were you having to worry about building enough resources to build a sizeable army, but you were expected to build the right army composition, one that would destroy your enemy's forces without batting an eyelash. There's one problem, though, you can't kill what you can't see. Scouting during the game was another game in and of itself ENTIRELY, and if you didn't scout, you didn't win, period. What does Starcraft 2 do to improve this? Well, as far as the base game is concerned, nothing: You still gather vespene gas and minerals, you still build production buildings to build units, you still scout, and you still do your best to build the greatest army composition the world has ever seen, but that's the thing, though. Starcraft didn't NEED improving, it needed enhancing, and Starcraft 2 does that perfectly. Improved matchmaking, custom lobby interfaces, mindblowing ranking systems, and tutorials for getting started is just the beginning. You also get a fantastic 20+ hour single player campaign filled with dialogue trees, customizable army factions, stellar voicework, and that Blizzard sheen that's become a staple in the industry. With Relic studios being a top contender with Warhammer and Company of Heroes, and EA doing god-knows-what to Command and Conquer, Blizzard had to come in and revamp the genre, and that they did: By sticking to their guns. Every other developer was trying to be the King, but little did they know, the Ace was back.
Suprised? So was I.
Out of the past 5 years, if you were to ask me what my favorite JRPGs were, the Shin Megami games would be near the top of the list, maybe even AT the top of the list, as the variety, charm, and shockingly deep gameplay mechanics always hit the right spot for me. I played through Persona 3, I (sadly) skipped on Persona 3 FES, and I blasted through Persona 4, loving everything I played. I noticed that P3P was released a few weeks after launch, and decided to pick it up on a whim. 'What if my PS2 breaks? I can't just NOT play a Persona game!' I told myself. While it sit on my desk, I kept eyeballing the box. 'I wonder if it plays differently than the console version...It wont hurt to just take a quick peek', I say. 110 hours, and two save files later, here I am, shamelessly addicted to Persona 3 once again. The core mechanics are still here: juggling your personal high school social life with your demon fighting nighttime antics is the lay of the land, and finding the right balance is key. Tartarus is filled to the brim with randomized, Diablo-esque goodness of loot whoring and level grinding, and the high-school drama section successfully fills the character development end of the spectrum. Things weren't cut for the transition to the PSP, they were 'altered', meaning instead of freely roaming the halls in third person during the school segments, you manipulate the areas through an adventure-game mode of selecting areas on a static map, much the same way Phantasy Star Zero for the DS was. This adds a bit of charm for me, as it reminds me of old point-and-click adventures, and it never loses the momentum that made the first version of this game so damned good. A deceptive title that's easy to overlook, Persona 3 Portable is a monster of a game, and alongside Peace Walker, is the reason why any self-respecting gamer should own a PSP.
If there's one genre that has eluded me for many years, it's the Turn Based Strategy. I usually enjoy my strategy done up real-time, where 'in the moment' decision making is just as crucial (if not moreso) than the overall strategy of a gamelong plan. I always saw the appeal of turn based strategy, though, it's just that my preference lied elsewhere. Until Civilization V. Sid Meier and his crack team of 'fun professors' have devised a game so insidious, so addictive, and so outright good, that it shouldn't be missed, no matter who you are. Not only will YOU enjoy the title, but anyone who gets a taste of what it's like to build an empire will, as well. As odd as it sounds, I can liken the game moreso to Bejeweled, or Peggle, in the fact that the game is so easy, accessible, and engaging. That's not to say that hardcore strategy buffs wont get their fill, though, as unit placement, treaties, trade agreements, mutinies, and economic turmoils all influence your alliances and enemies. Want to team up with Ghandi and rule the world as the most hardass, violent dictators on the planet? You can do that. Want to be an artistic pacifist, blowing off the war and focusing on giving birth to the greatest playwrights who've ever lived? You can do that, too! A country is only as rich as its culture. In every review, you'll hear the 'just one more click' line, and it's for a reason: Once you get your momentum going, it's nearly impossible to stop progressing, and seeing where your beautiful country ends up. Whether you're a saint or a sinner, a lover or a fighter, a dictator or a democrat, you'll find something to love with Civilzation V. It's your world to shape, after all.
It's one thing to write a story about the world you're living in, but it's another thing entirely to create a world to tell a story about the world you're living in. With Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar has its grandest success in my opinion, not only in gameplay enchancements and character development, but in overall ambiance. Never before have I felt as truly transported to a place as I have in Red Dead Redemption, and that's no small feat: I'm not a very big fan of westerns. When people bring up Sergio Leone films, I can agree on their greatness and completely respect them for what they are, but The Magnificent Seven? Give me The Seven Samurai anyday. A Fistful of Dollars? I'd like one helping of Yojimbo, please. Out of everything in the media, I can honestly say that there's only one movie that Red Dead Redemption reminds me of, and it's Once Upon A Time In The West (another Leone film), which I consider one of my favorite films ever made. It's subtle, it's careful, and it takes its time. There's no rush in building up the lore of Sweetwater, and the people who are there. The same can be said for Red Dead, as John Marston, and his overall agenda in New Austin isn't readily apparent. As the game opens, you hear not gunfire and horses, but a train being boarded. The most important thing to note, though, is the Model T-esque automobile being loaded as well: Times are changing in New Austin, and people are coping in different ways. What makes Red Dead Redmeption, and in turn, John Marston such powerful storytelling, is there's a sense of urgency and remorse the entire time: Not necessarily for Marston's past actions (which once again, is slowly revealed), but for Marston to finally realize that his very way of life is coming to an end. Here's a man who has made a life being a bandit, a grunt, and a gun-for-hire, when all signs are pointing to religious freedom, politics, and a 'less savage way of life'. Subtle racism, all-encompassing morals, and ever-changing belief systems are taking over the populace, and John Marston isn't too happy. To say that Marston is a one trick pony (something I've been guilty of on the podcast, I admit) is missing the point entirely: The story isn't about John Marston, it's about New Austin. Marston is just a pawn, a puzzle piece that is slowly redesigning the way the game is being played. The subtle beauty of the world around you is like nothing I've see this year, or any year previous, and has more in common with something like Oblivion than Call of Juarez or GUN. To take Red Dead Redemption as 'Grand Theft Auto with horses' is a fool's way of doing business, and you'll be shortchanging yourself out of one of the most important games made in the past decade. Not only a must-play, but a must-own. We'll be looking back on Red Dead as a crucial turning point for the industry, not only in regards to dialogue, storytelling, music composition, or gameplay mechanics, but as an achievement of faith: Give your fans the benefit of the doubt, and you'll be truly rewarded. A smart game for a smart player, I can't urge you enough. Don't let it pass you by.
We're an industry of change, and that's been apparent for quite some time. More and more, though, the changes are headed into the direction of money and investors, instead of the direction of creators and artists. Earlier in this article, I mentioned that Mass Effect 2 (and with the news of Dragon Age 2's changes) is changing the 'face' of the RPG. Instead of inventory management and number crunching taking precendent, we're moving to a 'every button has to do something badass' school of game design. Character development will be heavily scripted, action scenes will be outstanding, production values will rival the top-tier major motion pictures. As great as all of this sounds, one has to wonder, where's the 'game' part fit into the grand scheme of things?
I may show my age a bit here, but have you wanted to go back to that simpler time, a time of blast processing, 'Sega does what Nintendon't' marketing campaigns, Voodoo 2 graphics cards, a time where Super Metroid was the grand-daddy of storytelling, Final Fantasy III would bring a tear to your eye during the Opera chapter, Road Rash would let your need for destruction run free? I remember growing up, and being able to afford one game, once a month. I'd cherish those games, as they were truly mine, and while I didn't always have the best judgement (Shaq Fu says hello. Yeah, it's true.), the judgement was mine to make, and in some weird way, I was always rewarded.
Dragon Quest IX is a portal to that time. The moment you turn on the game, the gorgeous colors and sharp orchestral music flood your senses, and take you back to when games were games, and invited you to share your afternoon with their cast. For myself, Dragon Quest IX took roughly four hours to really sink in for me, but once it did, it never let up. In this time of literal vastness in games (World of Warcraft would take days to traverse by foot), it seems as though developers make sure that 'bigger is better', and market their game so we'll agree. Something about Dragon Quest, though, seems bigger. There's always something just over the horizon, there's always a rumor about that fabled monster in the respective town you're in, and there's always a time when you're rewarded for exploring the world around you. The sense of discovery of Dragon Quest IX is the reason to buy the game, and it all feels so natural, so direct, and so grand, that you can't help but take notice.
There are some complaints with the game, and a majority of those come down to your party becoming 'cookie cutter', in so far as you can equip whatever you want to whoever you want, as long as their stats allow. You can customize your job class on the fly, as well as the job class of your party members, so you'll never truly be stuck with a bad match for any specific section of the game. I don't see this so much as a negative, I see it as a necessary means to an end: The gameworld is HUGE, therefore you'll need the ability to use what you want, when you want, how you want. It opens options in my opinion, it doesn't close them.
Dragon Quest IX is actually a very tricky game to write about, but I think that also adds to the allure: You MUST experience it for yourself, as if you have an 'old school' bone in your body, DQIX will take up months of your time. It uses the DS's natural functions of a touch screen and wireless access to perfect effect, and prove that the game couldn't be made on any other platform. In the time where developers are trying to break the mold, traverse new ground, and create hybrid genres, who knew that a strongly traditional JRPG would end up being so refreshing?
Dragon Quest IX is a portal back to when game design was a more simple affair. You were given a world to explore, and for as much as you invested, you were rewarded back tenfold. Finding those random fetch quests meant learning more about the people in your world, and taking down those epic monsters gave you acclaim, renown, and discounts at the local Inn. This is a swansong to an era gone by, and in many respects, is the best Super Nintendo game you've ever played.
Mixing old school ideals with new technologies, Dragon Quest IX is a perfect game: Not so much as it has no flaws, but because the flaws don't matter. Quest with your friends, get better loot, aid the citizens of the world in their everyday occurances, and watch as a smile touches your lips, and your mind floods with memories of growing up with this hobby, a hobby that has brought us together more than it has split us apart, and a hobby that has shaped the very way we live our life. Thanks for the memories, Dragon Quest IX, and it's an honor to have you as my Top Game of 2010.
They just don't make games like you anymore.