Rob’s top 10 of 2010 (with honorable mentions)
If there’s one thing I hate about top ten lists it’s that they set a bad precedent. That anything not on my list is unworthy of your attention. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, there were so many solid titles this year (e.g Darksiders, Bayonetta, and Battlefield Bad Company II) no list is going to properly honor and acknowledge every 2010 release worth playing. With that in mind, I give you my top ten games of 2010. I don’t expect all of you to agree with my list. If you did, what would be the point of making a list at all?
If Case Zero got my bat-swinging hand twitching, then Dead Rising 2 convinced me that I am totally down with dismembering loads of zombies in a multitude of inventive and laugh-out-loud hysterical ways. Sure, the core game isn’t all that different from the first one. Missions still run out long before you can get to them. Psychopaths seem more annoying than ever. And the story is completely nonsensical. But with a slightly more forgiving save system and combo weapons a’pleanty, Canadian developer Blue Castle has taken the best elements of the Dead Rising series and refined them into zombie-killing perfection.
Starcraft II is as strong a narrative-driven, deep, and enriching single-player gaming experience as it is a multiplayer powerhouse. Allow that thought to penetrate your mind for just a second. Because it’s something I feel a lot of people forget when they talk about Starcraft as a whole. Sure, ‘Blizz’ split the sequel up into three pieces, and we all hemmed and hawed when they did. But as ugly as it sounded at the time, they’ve delivered a game that has more content in it than most games could ever dream of sticking into a $60 title. The game is committed to story in both the missions and the on-ship segments. The built-in editing tools are so robust that the possibilities, as we’ve seen countless times this year, are endless. And when you’re done with the single player component, there are still hours of challenging skirmishes to be had in the online multiplayer. After years of waiting and wondering what would become of the Starcraft franchise, this game is proof that when it comes to the RTS genre, Starcraft is still the big dog on campus.
Your ship has crashed. Your crew is stranded to the four corners (literally). And in this world, the laws of physics can be flipped at your command. This is VVVVVV and it is one of the most challenging, rewarding, and oddly endearing games of this year. Developed by a team of one, VVVVVV’s charm comes from its simplicity. Death doesn’t matter. Survival within VVVVVV’s warped, ultra-hazardous rooms is entirely up to you. And all the while, you’ll be serenaded by some of the best retro-gaming tunes ever created for any video game ever. VVVVVV is not a game for everyone, but if you wax nostalgic for titles inspired by the not-so-heady days of the 2600, this title will transport you to an experience that cannot be duplicated by any other title released this year…perhaps in any year.
Like with Starcraft, the Civilization franchise has been held in such high regard that any attempt to improve upon it sounds rather impossible. This, alone, is why I have to give Civilization V so much credit. While it may not be as mind-numbingly complex as its predecessor, Civ 5 does something that no other Civ game has done to date. It has retained the variety and depth that Civ veterans are accustomed to while giving new players the accessibility they need to stick with the game and become life-long Civ fans. Combine that with the new interface, tile system, streamlined worker and city pages, and a naval system that actually entices sea exploration and it becomes apparent that Civ is definitely evolving in the right direction.
With this newest expansion to WoW, Azeroth has been rattled to its very core. The world has been undone, but it’s also been reborn with new allies, new quests, new abilities, and classes that have been reworked from top to bottom. And I haven’t even mentioned the new zones, raids, pvp environments, and spoils to be plundered. Whatever you may think of World of Warcraft, Cataclysm has not only changed the game forever, but also changed the parameters of what you can and cannot do with an MMO. For Blizzard, nothing in WoW is so sacred that it won’t or can’t be sacrificed for the overall quality of the game. When you consider that no MMO has ever changed its core experience so radically, Cataclysm becomes more than just another expansion pack. It becomes a challenge to every other MMO on the market. Deathwing, with Blizzard’s help, has changed Azeroth’s course forever. And I doubt that anyone would take the old world back.
Considering Ubisoft could have sat back and made this one a forgettable cash in to the previous game, I have to give this title the benefit of the doubt. As a tie-in to 2009’s AC:2, Brotherhood has built upon the success of the last game in every way. Not only has Ubisoft built a title with a solid single player experience, they’ve also refined the controls, the combat, the way money is earned, and on top of that created a multiplayer experience that doesn’t feel tacked on or hackneyed. While I, like many, look forward to seeing the series progress beyond Italy’s borders, heading back for one more jaunt through the streets of Rome has been a thoroughly rewarding experience.
If there’s one thing I can say with utmost certainty, it’s that Limbo is a game that has had the most polarizing effect on the gaming landscape this year. It is so avant-garde, so minimalist, and, if I may say, so mesmerizing that, love it or hate it, Limbo deserves a place on this list simply for being so damn different from everything else I’ve seen this year. With only a basic set of parameters (find sister), a streamlined set of controls (move, climb, jump), a world with very little to go on (Purgatory? Hell? Heaven? None of the above?), and an ominous uber-spider (RUN!), Limbo’s desaturated world and discordant soundscape takes the ‘usual’ we’ve seen in side-scrolling platformers for years and makes it all ‘unusual.’ If there’s one thing Limbo deserves credit for, above all else, it’s for showing us jaded gamers that a game doesn’t need to explain itself to be understood. It can just exist and still be a completely and totally fulfilling experience.
I won’t beat around the bush. Super Meat Boy is the best damn platforming game ever made. Want to argue with me about it? Don’t, because you’d be wrong (and Dr. Fetus will give you the finger if you do). This is not a game that messes around with what it delivers: pure, unadulterated awesome that is as challenging and frustrating as it is rewarding and satisfying. You will play levels over and over and over again. You will die, miss a jump, hit a hazard, be sliced, diced, chopped, ground-up, and blitzkrieg’d until your skull is about to burst. And then, like a smack upside the head, you’ll figure it out and beat the level as if you knew how to do it all along. It’s the most fiendishly devious thing that is so utterly brilliant it defies all human rationale. Every level feels crafted within an inch of its existence. Every secret level and inverted and exponentially more difficult dark world feels meticulously planned for excess “splattage”. And when you finally put down your busted up controller, expect more than a few tunes from the stellar soundtrack to be whistled by what’s left of your face. While I don’t think it’s possible to speak higher of a game than I have of Super Meat Boy, it, in my book, has earned all the praise I’ve given it. If for no other reason than, no matter how much I know the game hates me, I can’t help but love it for making me work so damn hard to rescue bandage girl…and letting me watch back just how many times I died in the process.
Despite ditching a good chunk of RPG elements in favor of a more streamlined interface and combat structure, Mass Effect II has sacrificed almost nothing with regard to what made the first game so great. A deep universe that is fleshed out and catalogued with immense detail, characters who are inexorably flawed and exceptionally well defined, and a conflict that is so complex in its origins that the dividing line between enemy and friend is as transparent as space itself. Mass Effect’s landscape is one of the richest in video games today: a violent environment hidden beneath the glowing fluorescent lights of foreign structures on unfriendly planets. A place where success and failure hinges on who you take into battle and whether or not they’ll be willing to follow you into hell itself. A world brimming with colorful and dangerous characters whose only separation between you and them is the distance between your hand and your sidearm. And while the combat still requires one more pass in the control department, the few sacrifices that have been made make Mass Effect II even more playable than the first. It is easily one of the best titles released in 2010 and is surpassed by only one game.
The sun is setting on the West as John Marston knows it. The days of lawlessness are over. City, industry, and the great intercontinental railroad carrying sophisticates from back East is rapidly bringing to a close what the great land grab started. All that’s left for John Marston is to rescue his family. And to do that, he’ll need to turn on those he used to call friends, rely on the help of less than savory folk, and face a foe that is as corrupt and ruthless as the gangs he used to run with: law and order. While it’s clear Red Dead builds upon what Grand Theft Auto started, Red Dead is very much its own game with a protagonist that lives by his own set of rules, even when it’s his rules that are eventually his undoing. Filled with all the tropes one would expect in a western: gunfights, duels, whore houses, cheating poker players, chases on horseback, and the occasional backstabbing or two, Marston’s quest for redemption is one that, while classic Rockstar, is so much more engaging than that of his Serbian counterpart, that it almost makes you forget about Grand Theft Auto entirely. Marston greatest tragic flaw is that he knows he can’t trust anyone: that no matter what he does he can’t outrun his past, no matter who he helps or what he does. But that doesn’t stop him from doing what must be done. Fantastic combat, countless side missions, a totally rewarding riding mechanic, a beautiful and haunting score that fits perfectly time and time again, and a rendition of the copper-colored sandy hills and valleys of the west that would make even John Ford cry tears of joy. This game has the whole package. There’s just no game that can even come close to what Red Dead Redemption has done this year. And that is why it’s my number one pick of 2010.
Insane, turbo, mecha, mini-skirt, rocket-legs, combat action. That pretty much sums up Vanquish in a nutshell. While there are games that do combat with more finesse, no game this year does visceral, insane combat with more flair than Vanquish. Okay, maybe Bayonetta comes close. But for sheer fun factor, this third-person shooter outclasses the lollipop-loving witch in every way. Oh, and it’s got gigantic ships that crash-land inside of a humongous space station. Seriously, there’s epic…and then there’s Vanquish epic.
2. Fallout: New Vegas
As much as I love Fallout New Vegas, I can’t help but look at it and feel that it’s more of the same. And that’s what is so frustrating about not putting it on my list. I loved the hell out of Fallout 3. I also love the hell out of New Vegas. But the “newness” has sort of worn off for me. Obsidian has done a bang up job of creating a great story, interesting environments, new weapons and ways to repair and modify them, and develop the much-needed conflict that seemed to be lacking in FO3 with the inclusion of the NCR and the Caesar’s Legion. But it’s just too same-y to really knock any of the other games I’ve mentioned off the top ten list.
3. Pac Man Championship Edition DX
I have never really been a Pac-Man guy. I always felt like it was a waste of quarters, mostly because Pac Man was all about avoiding ghosts more than actually eating them. Call me crazy, but that was the fun part of the game. Which is why this Pac Man Championship Edition DX is so damn fun. In this game, Pac Man isn’t just out to survive. He’s out to eat every damn ghost he can find. Combine funky techno tracks with colorful stages and a ghost-devouring combo system that is borderline cathartic and you have a game that is as modern and fresh as it is classic and retro. This is a Pac Man game for the 21st century.