The Ten Best Games of 2010
Welcome back to The 24/7 Gamer for a brand new year! So of course, let's talk about what happened in games of LAST year, shall we?
2010 brought us a ton of great games, to the point where I really don't feel comfortable placing my favorites on an arbitrary numerical scale. Instead, I'm going to list ten that I feel stood out for specific reasons, plus my all-over favorite game from last year.
So, without further ado, here's The 24/7 Gamer's Ten Best of 2010!
Front Mission Evolved-- Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (Most Surprising Quality)
Being the reboot of a cult-favorite series of S-RPGs in the form of a rather straightforward mech-shooter, "Evolved" had a lot to answer for. And while I'm not familiar with the originals, I decided to give it a shot... and found a surprisingly well-made and fast-paced action game. Combat is fluid and responsive, enemies are remarkably smart and force you to adapt or die quickly, and there's a reasonable amount of leeway to how you can design your robot.
Do you want to tackle a mission as a fast melee bruiser? A heavily-defended sniper? A mixed bag with rocket turrets? Yeah, it's not nearly as deep as, say, "Armored Core," but it's accessible and opens up pathways for alot of different player types.
If you're a fan of the originals, I can't say that "Front Mission Evolved" is going to be for you. But if you're open to the mech-shooter as a whole, it's easily the most enjoyable iteration of the genre since at least the "Mechassault" games.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars-- Nintendo Wii (Best Fighter)
You may be thinking, 'why isn't Super Street Fighter 4, or at least Blazblue Continuum Shift here?' To which I'd respond, 'improvements aside, they're not so much 'sequels' as 'slighty discounted "game of the year" editions.' But "TvC" isn't just the best entry into Capcom's beloved "Vs." series yet, it finally gives fighting game fans something besides "Brawl" to play on the Wii.
The roster for "Tatsunoko vs. Capcom" may range from 'obscure' to 'who the hell is that?', but mechanically it's so finely-tuned and lightning fast that you won't care. Not only are all the characters well-balanced, but the simplifications to controls and "Vs." staples add more to "TvC" than they take away.
"Vs." purists-- or rather, "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" purists-- insist that "TvC" isn't a 'proper' entry largely for those exact reasons. But there's definitely alot more to like than to bother disliking here. For its fresh take on tag-team fighters and genuine accessibility, "Tatsunoko vs. Capcom" is definitely the year's best fighting game.
Costume Quest-- Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network (Best Visual Design, Best Writing)
Take one cup "Peanuts," a dash of Henry Selick, a tablespoon of the Mario RPGs and top it off with a helping of "Earthbound," and voila! You've got the formula for one of the most genuinely charming games of the year.
At its heart, "Costume Quest" is a traditional RPG through and through. Instead of gold, you collect candy. Instead of weapons, you construct costumes with a wide range of abilities. And instead of grand castles you explore... malls and suburban neighborhoods. What sets it apart, however, is how effectively it captures the spirit of Halloween and the sense of adventure the holiday holds for children, along with its clever script and memorable characters.
And while any experienced gamer isn't exactly going to be put to the test here (it's entirely possible to beat the entire game with all the possible Achievements in about 8 hours, and dying is something you REALLY have to be making an effort at to happen), battles are fast-paced and full of amusing touches (like the Godzilla-esque scale of the imaginary battles, or the Statue of Liberty's "Colbert Report"-ready Anthem move). It's a game with real heart and more than that, one that's truly 'fun for the whole family,' and that alone makes it worth a look.
Splinter Cell: Conviction-- Xbox 360 (Best Stealth Game)
One of the year's most widely contested reboots was also one of my favorites. "Conviction" lacks the sheer depth and freedom in terms of stealth gameplay that the "Splinter Cell" series perfected with "Chaos Theory," but upon closer inspection the franchise's newest game is less 'dumbed down' as it is 'stripped down'-- and the benefits truly outweigh the caveats.
By cutting out the meters, many of the gadgets and complex maneuvers of previous "Splinter Cell's", Ubisoft Montreal has repurposed the series into a surprisingly sleek, brutal and fast animal, bringing an approach to the genre that really isn't seen often. In much the same way that "Arkham Asylum's" stealth bits were less about not being seen as about exercising strategy and intelligence to pick off foes in the most efficient way possible, "Conviction" excellently conveys a sense of power rather than helplessness throughout its well-paced campaign.
Its impact (and reception) amongst fans of both the series and the genre is hardly at a concensus, but it's not unreasonable that "Conviction's" smart design approach won't start to ripple through stealth games as a whole.
Metro 2033-- PC, Xbox 360 (Best Atmosphere)
To be honest, when I first started "Metro 2033," I felt pretty certain I was looking at a rather shameless attempt to steal "Fallout's" thunder. But then I got to the third chapter-- that is, the first time you leave the network of subway tunnels that's been your post-apocalyptic home, to journey to the surface. And then there was a moment between the slipping on of your vital gas-mask and the sound of your own muffled breathing, when you're not sure if it's YOU making that noise, or your avatar... that's when I knew I was playing something special.
"Metro 2033" travels well-worn ground to be sure, but what makes it stand out is how strongly it sticks to maintaining the impression of "you, alone (most of the time) in a post-nuclear world full of creepy-ass monsters and a rapidly decreasing air-filter." So much care has gone into the little details (the condensation over your mask, the ambient sound design, having to manually remove your clip to check your precious ammunition) and into making every monster encounter feel like it MATTERS rather than just an excuse to work your trigger finger.
But the design carries over to its world-building as well; this is easily the most convincing-looking set of 'apocalyptic refugee' living-areas I've ever seen; mostly because they look believeably LIVED IN. There's enough action to undermine it's status as a 'true' survival-horror game, but even here it gives you plenty of bizarre things to shoot at... and even some likeable characters to boot. Throw in a refreshing perspective on a quintessentially 'American-centric' scenario and you've got something that really ends up being a great game.
Mass Effect 2-- Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (Best Story)
Resource mining and what can best be described as a 'multiple-choice quiz final boss battle' aside, "Mass Effect 2" polishes everything that worked about the original and improves quite a bit that didn't. And while it's definitely more of a straight-up shooter than an action-RPG now, there's still plenty of intrigue, excellent characters and strong writing to maintain its identity. If you haven't gotten in on what I can comfortably call the "Star Wars" of video games, now's a good time to start before "Mass Effect 3" hits late this year.
Sakura Wars: So Long My Love-- Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2 (Best RPG)
Overworks' last game made me want to punch everyone who worked for them in the face. The newest one has reduced the sentence to a few light bitchslaps, and I think that's compliment enough.
Featuring a theatre troupe that operates giant robots to save steampunk-New York City from ancient Japanese demons, "Sakura Wars" certainly isn't pulling any punches about what it is. But it's that purity of approach and honesty that helps to make it so special. Like "Mass Effect," its characters aren't exactly revolutionary but they're written so well that it's hard not to get attached to them, and its easy-to-grasp action-arcade approach to turn-based strategy makes an often aggravating genre into something genuinely challenging and fun.
Just Cause 2 --Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (Best Open-World)
Is it well-written? Not by a long shot. Is there a good story? Hard to say. Is it at least packed with variety? Not really. And yet I loved "Just Cause 2" more than any other open-world game I played all year.
The reason for this, I think, is because of how gleefully the game embraces an almost childish sense of anarchic chaos. While "Grand Theft Auto IV's" story and protagonist definitely benefitted from a more subdued focus, the madcap sense of fun the series had always embraced was discarded to attain it. Thankfully, this wasn't something that was on "Just Cause 2's" agenda.
For me, the absurd level of badness of the game's narrative felt less distracting because of how little the game was bothering to take itself seriously-- it's more like being in an over-the-top pulpy spy flick, a perspective reinforced by the amount of crazy shit you can do.
And that's ignoring that your base methods of traversal-- a long-range grappling hook and infinite parachutes-- are so well-implemented and natural to use that half the time you won't bother stealing from the staggering range of vehicles to cover the detailed, vast island of Panau.
In many ways, "Just Cause 2" is this year's "Prototype"-- it's dumb, childish, absurd and has more than a few issues keeping it from perfection, but the things it does well are done SO well you won't even care. Also, how many Latin-American badasses are there in video games? Exactly.
Vanquish --Xbox 360, Playstation 3 (Best Shooter)
You wouldn't think so on the basis of its veneer as 'another space-marine game,' but "Vanquish" is easily one of the smartest shooters-- first, third, or whatever-- to ever be made. Not on the basis of its narrative or characters or whatever, but entirely in terms of its design.
It's entirely possible to play Platinumgame's newest gem like "Gears of War" or "Uncharted" or "Rainbow Six," but once you come to grips with the tools at your disposal-- not to mention your gigantic booster pack-- there's a depth to the gameplay that is an absolute joy to behold, and discovering the effectiveness of different weapons on various enemy types, prioritizing targets on the fly, or even boosting out of safety for a last-ditch melee kick on a looming threat gives the entire package a feel more akin to real-time strategy-meets-lightning-fast combat than 'just another shooter.'
Granted, its characters are all well-worn cliches and the story takes more than a few utterly stupid turns/attempts at relevance, but not nearly enough to distract from everything good "Vanquish" has going for it.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood --Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (Best Sequel)
There's a good reason I never reviewed "Brotherhood," and it largely has to do with my inability to be completely objective about what I consider to be the overall best series of the modern console generation. From a rich historical context to satisfying gameplay to strong platforming to an intriguing narrative peppered with conspiracy theory nonsense and overall great characters, the "Assassin's Creed" series has hit a ton of my soft spots right from the word go, and "Brotherhood" keeps on keepin' on while adding a few great ideas.
The much-touted... um, 'brotherhood' aspect of the game ends up being rather less substantial than it should, though (like the combat, I've always felt) it makes sense from a character progression perspective, and let's be honest-- having what's basically the equivalent of 'that hand thing the bad guys do in movies that makes eighty-billion guys show up out of nowhere to make people hurt' is EASILY one of the year's best superpowers.
But the real crown jewel of the game is the new multiplayer mode, which is one of the most refreshing takes on a military-shooter-dominated field in ages. Not only does it emphasize guile and cunning over firepower, but it operates on the mindset that those who truly understand and adhere to the core mechanics of gameplay can easily win in leaps and bounds over those who approach a session like a manic serial killer.
Bayonetta --Xbox 360, Playstation 3 (Best Game of 2010)
Full disclosure. From the first minute I started playing "Bayonetta" to completion, I KNEW the first big action game of the year was going to be my favorite. And while plenty of great titles came from January to December, at the end of it all, Hideki Kamiya's new IP still had kept its place on top for me.
From its stellar visual design to come-one-come-all difficulty curve to its lighthearted (though weirdly convoluted) script to its endearing characters, "Bayonetta" is an absolute blast. It's got plenty of different enemy types, excellent music, some truly unique weapons (A whip... that's also a snake! Skates that freeze targets!), and a truly absurd amount of content to unlock.
My main complaints though, are that there aren't really enough opportunities to play with the combat system outside of the story mode (ironically, the more bare-bones "Vanquish" has the upper hand there), there are only a couple QTEs scattered throughout the game that mean instant-death if you don't see them coming (and you WON'T the first time around), and some of the most powerful objects require quite the time commitment to unlock.
But really, none of these things were enough to dilute the sheer quality on display, and certainly not enough to keep me from replaying it at least 10 times. "Bayonetta" is silly, pulpy, over-the-top and easily the best game of 2010.