There are several games that were released this week that you should never play. Instead, let’s talk about everything could be playing right now if Black Ops wasn’t rotting your mind instead.
PRESENTING THE BIGREDCOAT GAME OF THE YEAR 2010. HARDCORE GAMES. BECAUSE BROS CAN GO SUCK IT.
FAIR WARNING: STUFF I DIDN’T PLAY
Game That Would Probably Be GOTY If I Hadn’t Bought New Vegas Instead:
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Game That I'd Buy a System For (Again):
Dragon Quest IX
Game Most Likely to Force Me into Reassembling My PSP:
Persona 3 Portable
Game That Makes Me Wish Nintendo Would Go Third Party Already So I Don’t Have To Buy a Friggin’ Wii:
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Game That Gets To Wait Until I’m Finally Bored With Forza 3:
Gran Turismo 5
STUFF THAT DIDN’T COME OUT THIS YEAR BUT I PLAYED THIS YEAR ANYWAY. (Gamestop Used Bin Game of the Year Awards)
Game of the Year from Last Year: Assassin’s Creed 2
I don’t think I’ve ever mislead myself about a game’s quality as I did Assassin’s Creed 2. It turns out Ubisoft Montreal (and more specifically lead designer Patrice Desilets) didn’t just deliver on the sliver of promise behind the plodding, dull Assassin’s Creed I, but improved the original game in such a far-reaching fashion that it’s difficult at first glance to tell they’re from the same franchise.
Not only is Assassin’s Creed II the best 3d platformer I’ve played in years; it’s probably also the best stealth game I’ve played this generation--admittedly that’s not hard to do when the only other stealth games were the first Assassin's Creed and the two interminable Splinter Cell games, but still. Plus the combat didn’t suck, although it’s still clearly the weak point of the series (provided you ignore everything that happens while you’re not playing as Ezio.)
And you know the fucked up part? I’ll probably have this exact same discussion next year when I finally get around to playing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood.
Game that Defined My Year: Persona 4
Okay yeah, this came out two years ago. It’s still the only JRPG I’ve sat down and finished since the very first Suikoden on the PS1, and the 120+ hour long save game file I amassed over the Summer served as gaming comfort food as forlornly shuffled through Craigslist looking for a new roommate.
Admittedly I’ve not kept up with the JRPG scene since dropping out of college, so I may be talking out of my ass, but is no one else alarmed that the current console generation has yet to see a definitive JRPG release, or is it time we all admit that the genre’s future is the handheld and Dragon Quest 9 is the best we’re going to see for a long, long while?
THINGS WE WERE SURE WOULD BE IN THIS CONVERSATION LAST DECEMBER
Soul Crushing Disappointment of the Year: Game Room
Remember when Game Room was first talked about by Microsoft and how the entire project started as a way to bring the Dreamcast library to XBLA? Remember the promises of a n easily-accessible virtual museum dedicated to showing off the evolution of the gaming art? Remember how we were promised a new game release every day, even if that game was something utterly obscure like Gateway to Apshai, but that’s okay because the next day could bring you an arcade-perfect Joust complete with leader board integration and custom challenges from your friend list through Ranked Mode? Remember how there were no further games released for over a month after it’s launch? Remember how almost all those games were some godawful 2600 castoff or a Konami arcade game no one really liked or an Intellivision game that really wasn’t suited to the 360 at all? Remember how games weren’t released every day, but instead every Tuesday we’d get a pack of seven games instead? Remember how some weeks most of the games didn’t have Ranked Mode at all? Remember the day there were only five games? Then three? Then there was like two weeks without any games at all? Remember that week where the three games released were all from Intellivision? Remember how it’s been six months since we’ve had Game Room and we’ve yet to see anything outside of the 2600 and Intellivision and ancient Konami arcade titles?
Finally remember how Sega finally said “screw it; we’re selling Crazy Taxi on XBLA and PSN?”
Yeah. Fuck you, Game Room.
Most Irrelevant System Exclusive of the Year: God of War 3
You now remember that God of War 3 was somehow released in 2010 and not sometime prior to the Obama administration.
Game Most Unfairly Damaged By It’s Own Release Date: Mass Effect 2
Did no one at Bioware think maybe it’d be a bad idea to release it’s two biggest titles of this console generation three months apart with nothing to follow up with the following Christmas? Would anyone really have been all that bummed to have had more time given polishing up Mass Effect 2, maybe adding something resembling a workable RPG and less of a 40 hour long Gears of War campaign?
That said, ME2 wasn’t an awful game. In fact, now that I have time to think back on Mass Effect 2 I rather like it, despite being disappointed that Bioware had largely abandoned the RPG industry by the time of it's release. But Mass Effect2 came out so early in the year that it’s rather hard to imagine it will be in any serious GOTY discussion-- which is probably just as well, Vanquish wound up being a better Gears game and New Vegas was the better Western RPG experience.
ALTERNATE UNIVERSE GAMES OF THE YEAR
GOTY: 1982: Pac-Mex
I’ve talked about this a bit in the Nitrobeard podcast, but nothing can get you into that dilated-eyes, shallow-breathing, sweaty-palmed, I-don’t-care-that-the-house-is-on-fire-I’m-doing-something-important zone quicker than thirty seconds of Pac Man CE DX. Well that and freebasing moth balls.
GOTY: 1992: Super Meat Boy
You will never love anything as much as Edmund McMillen hates your ego. God bless this man.
GOTY: 2002: Afterburner Climax
Doesn’t this seem like the sort of early 2000’s arcade game fans would have begged Sega to release on the Dreamcast only to see it come out in the first wave of third party releases instead?
Okay yeah, it’s a stretch and I needed to keep the joke going. But still, this is easily the best Sega arcade game -- and possibly best first-party Sega game period-- to come out in over a decade. If AM2 still exists and is capable of putting out something like this, where’s our Space Harrier revival already?
GOTY: 2012: Just Cause 2
This game was So. Fucking. Close. to being the best sandbox game ever; only the utter lack of anything even remotely resembling a storyline kept it out of the running for a legit Game of the Year nod. As it stands it’s basically a bunch of standalone faction missions with a tenuous plot holding everything together. Not that you pay attention to plot in a game where the prime game mechanic involves attaching dudes to propane tanks before setting the tank alight and propelling the dude into the stratosphere; but still. At least the Red Faction: Guerrilla made the token effort including a story with more than twelve lines of dialog. Just Cause 2’s story felt like it was developed by a random number generator set to “Dubious Spanish Gibberish”.
At some point Eidos is going to bring all the disparate parts of Just Cause 2 together and remember to build a videogame around it. Here’s to 2012.
Game I’m Trying Very Hard To Fall In Love With Despite All Evidence Otherwise: Vanquish
So admittedly I’ve only owned this for roughly a week, but should a Gears clone be this goddamned complicated? I’m dreadfully afraid of opening up a weapon upgrade crate for fear of instead of throwing a hand grenade into my own face. Also for a game that touts arcade-fast gameplay you sure do spend a lot of time cowering behind cover waiting for your dash attack/bullet time meter to recharge.
That said, I'm roughly five hours in and I can see where Shinji Mikami is trying to get to. Given another week I’d probably have it listed somewhere with the next group; but right now it’s not nearly as fluid as Bayonetta while not quite as cathartic as Gears.
GOTY 2 Years ago Still Counts, Right?: Fallout New Vegas
The only failing New Vegas has is that we all played this same game two years ago, only without good writing. Otherwise everything else you love from Fallout Three is still there, and even the stuff you didn’t really love, like innumerable gameplay glitches and the creaking Gamebryo graphical engine.
Fallout 3 was good enough for my Game of the Year in 2008, but 2010 has been a stupidly good year for games. New Vegas doesn’t really improve upon the Fallout 3 formula aside from Obsidian’s typically stellar writing and mission structure-- which is remarkable, as Obsidian didn’t have time to include any new crippling glitches, even if it’s obvious an emphasis was given to voice cast over quality assurance.
Gameplay King of the Year: Bayonetta
Yes, the story is silly, yes it’s exploitative at best and tawdry at worst, and yes the characterization is downright silly. That said. No game released this year played as fluidly as Bayonetta; no game this year gave as much immediate sense of control as Bayonetta; no game made you feel as much of a badass as Bayonetta and in pure gameplay terms perhaps nothing released since Ninja Gaiden in 2004 can touch it.
What’s more, Hideki Kamiya has crafted a love letter to Sega itself; the game is littered with references to past Sega glories as well as outright gameplay inspirations from classics like Super Hang-On and Space Harrier. Even better, the game utilizes a purely Sega ranking system, giving grades at the end of every mission, encouraging you not to just slog through to the finish, but to become better at playing Bayonetta. This is the first game in years that I’ve sat down and immediately played through after finishing it, and after playing through the second time I immediately completed the game a third and fourth time just to see if I was good enough to beat the game on it’s absolute most difficult setting. And I’m not. Yet.
So if Bayonetta does everything so well; if it’s a revolution in gameplay and control, why not just stop here? It’s obvious if Gameplay Is King, then Bayonetta is our leggy, leather-clad queen, right?
Well, the problem is, gameplay might not be everything, and this exits:
Everything Not Directly Related to Gameplay GOTY: Red Dead Redemption
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that RDR’s gameplay sucks. It doesn’t, but it’s not great. It’s very much a Rockstar game, and if you’re used to that clunky, slightly disconnected feel, you’re not really going to mind the gameplay all that much. I dropped over a hundred hours into Red Dead and thus became a bit attached to the gameplay; and while nothing Rockstar does can fairly be called a “good action game”, it mates well with the level of freedom offered in RDR. Simply put I’m not sure if you can create a sandbox game that plays better than RDR, and if anyone were capable of doing so it’d be Rockstar.
This is the first game in years that I simply didn’t want to end. The characters were too good, the story was too good, the writing was too good. I didn’t want to leave this world and it’s people behind. The last time I remember this happening to me was near the end of Chrono Trigger. You might not be happy with the way the characters acted all the way through, but they acted consistently and logically with the story Rockstar wanted to tell, and that’s the important part. No one in the industry makes you feel for a character more than these guys; even when your character is acting like an obvious idiot as he’s being shuffled around among power brokers in early 1900’s Mexico.
THE WINNER: BIG RED COAT 2010 GAME OF THE YEAR AWARD:
I hemmed and hawed my way between Red Dead Redemption and Bayonetta-- in truth New Vegas wasn’t really in the picture with the other two; the current console generation didn’t really need a second Fallout 3, at least not this quickly.
In the end, it came to this. DLC and expansions aside, I’m probably never going to touch Red Dead Redemption again. It told it’s story and I’m happy with that. I don’t need to go back there, at least not until Rockstar is ready to tell the next chapter in the Marston story. Bayonetta is the sort of game I’m going to replay at least once a year until my launch-window 360 eventually melts into a puddle of plastic goo and toxic fumes, and the very next day I’ll shop for a new 360 Slim so I can play Bayonetta again one day. The list of games I can think of that I’d do that for is very short indeed, and it consists of Symphony of the Night, Joust, Bayonetta, and very little else. It’s that good.