Around this time last year the game that many critics have awarded the honor of 2010’s best game, Mass Effect 2, was on shelves. This week that game was re-released for the PS3. I have a hard time believing that this year we have already seen the best game to be developed. I should also note that if you see Mass Effect 2 on this list it will be because I have not played as many video games from 2010 as you may think. Still, Bioware aside, 2010 was a strong year for a number of key franchises, even if I was never left as stunned as I was the year previous when I played Dragon Age: Origins or Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s more than a list, baby, it’s an experience.
11. Bioshock 2
The sequel to the original, and rightfully beloved, Bioshock seemed to stir up a lot of criticism even before the game was released. Why do we need to go back to Rapture? I won’t be surprised, I’m too smart now. Multiplayer? This is stupid. While the controls may not be explained as well as a tutorial should, the game is a huge improvement mechanically over the first game, and from a storytelling standpoint the formula that made the first a success still weaves a tale full of intrigue that builds toward one of the most enjoyable and unexpected final sequences of the year. The multiplayer is enjoyable, inconsequential, but enjoyable enough; however, Bioshock 2 creates a thrilling environment laced with a more personalized story than the first, and sometimes that is enough.
10. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
At times the simplest stories can be the most engaging, and luckily for Enslaved it’s decision to take a classic tale from Chinese history and attempt to modernize it creates one of the most unique adventures of the year. What floored me about this adventure game, despite the shoddy gameplay mechanics, was the character interaction. Brought to life by a well rounded script and voice acting, what separates the three characters at the heart of this game can be found in the movements, mostly the fantastic work of former Gollum Andy Serkis, and the detail to characters’ faces. Uncanny valley is located in the eyes. In Enslaved we do not look into shells, we see the window to these characters’ souls, and that accomplishment is simply stunning.
9. God of War III
Here we are, at the end of Kratos’s bloody assault on the Gods of Greek mythology. This game had lofty expectations to live up to, and for the most part is rolls on all cylinders. The combat system is still complex, the scale of encounters is still present, and the game is challenging enough to make it enjoyable and rewarding. The game does not reinvent what has made the previous entries so enjoyable, so the heavy lifting comes from the environments and the story, luckily the Ghost of Sparta rips, slices, and claws his way to a more than satisfying conclusion. Wherever Kratos goes from here, this saga is certainly over, and the conclusion proves fully satisfying.
8. Rock Band 3
Many critics are heralding this game as the swan song of the music and rhythm genre. With the recent sale of Harmonix, though the retention of the Rock Band name, this may be the case. It seems difficult to believe that the company can go anywhere from here. If you have the right equipment you can learn how to really play keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. The song list is massive if you export, the disc tracks are excellent, what more needs to be said? If this is how we die, let the winds carry our spirit.
7. Deadly Premonition
Zach, these seeds are everywhere, all I see is red, like in that film from our favorite director: S. Spielberg. Those were good times, the older times. Times when survival horror games were simple, were clunky, were balls to the wall insane. When we had save points, when games were simple. Well, Zach, those times were good. So was Twin Peaks. But is anything better than the creation known as Agent Francis York Morgan? No. And this game should not be this low on the list because the way Swery plays with this genre, the way he creates this town, the way it present so much value, so much intrigue, so much wonder, is astounding. It’s conventionally unconventional, or unconventionally conventional. Side note: I don’t like Steven Spielberg.
6. Fallout: New Vegas
For the past two or three years a game of this ilk has, by default, taken my number one slot. This game should occupy that slot as well, but maybe I am simply rebelling against myself. Perhaps I am rewarding execution and ambition, not the incredibly solid and realized experience New Vegas delivers. The writing is sharp, the world is unique, and despite it feeling slightly worn the game never loses steam and always remains engaging. The way the game is crafted encourages multiple playstyles and playthroughs, it may not present a world that ever changes drastically, but it presents a world you live in and a game that gives weight to your choices in the short and long term. Technical issues aside, Fallout: New Vegas may be smaller than its predecessor, but the game makes up for size with its complexity.
5. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
I knew nothing of this game before its release aside from the rumblings at E3, which means I was expecting a full on multiplayer experience with a single player that prepared you for whatever unique take Ubisoft brought to the game’s online. And Brotherhood does boast one of the most compelling multiplayer modes of the year, thanks in large part by how directly it is tied in to the game’s fiction. That fiction that drives a compelling single player that picks up right after the second entry, advancing both Ezio’s and Desmond’s story right up until the thrilling conclusion. There have been many IPs created this generation, but none are of the caliber of the Assassin’s Creed series, and Brotherhood is not only the best game mechanically, it does not only boast the best setting while being confined to a single city, it is the best game in the series, last year’s biggest surprise, and one of 2010’s best games.
4. Picross 3D
I have sunk more hours in to Picross 3D than any other game in 2010. In fact, perhaps more than any other game since Picross DS. The number puzzle game does not have the same charm that was found in the level design of its predecessor, but the challenge of the game is still there in full force and the extra dimensions make the puzzles feel even more complete. Add in the robust puzzles able to be downloaded free of charge and the best puzzle series only gets better. The game does not have the graphics or the narrative of my other entries, but sometimes all you need is enjoyment and challenge, and this DS title has them both in spades, or rather in cubes.
3. Heavy Rain
Few games come with as much ambition as this PS3 exclusive. Heavy Rain was touted prior to the console’s launch as a title that showcased the system’s power, capable of rendering perfect recreations of humans. Straddling the line between cinema and game, delivering each player a unique experience. Actually, creator David Cage suggests the game only be played once by each person so that they experience the way they should be experience it and then it sits and grows internally. I have not picked the game up since launch, I plan to do so at some point, but Cage delivers on most of his promises. I do not have the problem with the voice acting others do, but even that complaint is minor is what is otherwise a gripping, compelling, and truly unique experience.
2. Red Dead Redemption
Year after year Rockstar Games seems to pump out these great open world games. However, with the release of Red Dead Redemption the company has crafted what is the company’s second best game next to Bully. The world here breathes, not in the way Bully does, which holds it back from perfection, but it sets up such a well realized and well executed landscape. It weaves a thrilling tale. It offers a reason to play to completion. And that is all before the stellar Undead Nightmare DLC add on. But what really sells me on RDR is not the story as a whole, the world, the gameplay, or the characters. No, the game fascinates me because it handles the final act in a way that games do not operate. Rockstar commits, they pioneer, and they evolve, and damn does RDR showcase these successes.
1. Super Meat Boy
PC or 360, it does not matter (I played the 360 version first, and more, but it really does not matter). Move over Mario because SMB has been reclaimed by Team Meat’s masocore masterpiece. I know this relationship is not good for me, I know I am going to get hurt, and get hurt, and get hurt, and I’ll keep coming back, I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep getting roughed up. When the gameplay is this demanding but this precise I know it’s my fault, SMB knows what’s best for me, I’m just not good enough and I need the tough love to grow. You don’t understand what we have, but it is beautiful, it is deep, it is simple, it is complex, it is Super Meat Boy, and it is, quite easily, the best game released in 2010.
Many great games just missed the cut. I only played a couple of truly bad games this year. I imagine the only list that may be more difficult for me to compile over the next few weeks will be my Top 10 Films. All of the games from 1-7 could probably be my number 1 game. They are all so fantastic, so enjoyable, and simply experiences that all fans of the artform should undertake while we wait for the first great game of 2011 to drop.
Comments are encouraged and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.