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Monday, December 27, 2010

Aaron’s Top 10 Video Games of 2010


I don’t get a chance to write about video games often, so I am pleased to be able to provide a rundown of the games I have enjoyed playing the most this year.  I may not be a professional game reviewer, but I know what I like vs. what frustrates me in video games; and even in a time where my free time has dwindled (yes, part of my living involves watching movies and writing about them, but it’s still work, dammit!), I still managed to play a lot of games.
  I will preface this list by saying that I am a Playstation 3 owner (although I did finally get a Wii this year), and all of the games on this list are PS3 games.  That being said, regardless of whether some of these games are system exclusives or not, there were a lot of pretty awesome video games available for the masses this year, and I certainly had a lot of fun playing through a good chunk of them.  So with that in mind, let’s left, right, left, right, up, down, start this up:

Special Mention:  Red Dead Redemption: Undead NightmareI may be tipping my hand early on with this one, but the work done on this downloadable content for Red Dead Redemption is so well put together that it deserves to have special mention made about it.  Taking the already brilliant game design of ‘Red Dead’ and applying that to a brand new story, which is about a 6-hour long experience was a nice excuse to continue playing an already great game.  But to up the ante even more, Rockstar decided to develop a zombie-themed story expansion, which made it amazing and right up my alley.  Hilarious, fun, and fairly involving, this is why DLC exists, to deliver awesome twists on already proven concepts, without betraying the original spirit of the game.  It is a great feeling to get some Red Dead headshots.


10.  ShankI can understand the arguments made regarding there being not much to this 2D, side-scrolling beat-em-up, but the game has so much style and fun with its story, art style, weapon variety, and M-rated violence.  As far as downloadable games go, this is a nice little package.  Featuring a story that is all about paying homage to a Robert-Rodriguez type flick, the character you inhabit in this game is out for revenge and equipped with pistols, a chainsaw, a katana, and a shotgun, among other weapons. These weapons can be switched between instantly and the mayhem you cause can become fun combos, as you shoot and dice your way through enemies, akin to something like Devil May Cry or this year’s Bayonetta.  The game even manages to fit in 2-player co-op, which has levels that serve as a prequel to the main single-player story.  It’s over-the-top, violent, funny, and a blast to play through…literally. 

9.  Modnation RacersMay, 2010, was a busy month for racing games.  Along with Modnation:  Split/Second and Blur both came out around the same time.  As a result, all three games ended up not doing as well as they could have, despite all receiving solid critical regard.  Modnation was the game I was rooting for the most.  It is essentially using the formula of Little Big Planet and bringing it to the world of Mario Kart.  Thus, you have a very cartoony, but very addictive cart racing game that looks great and has plenty to offer in terms of customization.  The only problem is how bad the load times are.  Once you get going in a race, it’s tons of fun, but the time in between really kills the flow of your gaming experience.  Thanks to a downloadable patch, this has been improved upon, but still a small issue.  That being said, everything concerning the actual gameplay and how easy it is to pick up and go is a lot of fun.

8.  Bioshock 2 The sequel to the critically hailed 2007 hit.  This game did not really reinvent anything that the first had to offer, but it improved off of a lot of little things and managed to delve further into the world of Rapture.  Just like the first game, I was compelled to play it do to how much I liked being in this world and experiencing the horrors of its retro design gone to hell.  The addition of multiplayer was an interesting one.  It may not have had the addictive qualities of a game like Call of Duty, but it certainly managed to work quite well at delivering a fun competitive experience.  I am glad that the next game, Bioshock Infinite, is moving away from the world of Rapture, but taking this second trip was very much worth it.  Taking on the persona of a Big Daddy and fighting a bunch of crazy splicers was certainly a challenge under the sea of dreams.

7.  Rock Band 3I honestly don’t know how to rank Rock Band 3.  It’s the one game that I’ll be playing the most, when all is said and done, because that core gameplay is not going to change, and more and more songs will continue to be added to its already ginormous playlist.  Be it with friends, or online, or by myself, I love the experience of rocking out on my plastic instruments, belting out songs as I strum the Fender Stratocaster.  This newest entry only ups the ante by giving you even more creative freedom and making the overall experience an easier process to play through.  In addition, having a keyboard now in play will lead to many more song varieties to be added.  A room full of people playing and harmonizing to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is a very good thing.  While last year’s Beatles Rock Band managed to apply a unique feel to the Rock Band formula, this game is a true sequel that brought some much needed elements to an already very fun game.

6.  Mafia II At this point in the list, I think it is a good idea to point out that most of these games all delivered on having very well written and involving stories.  With top games from last year, such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Batman: Arkham Asylum, I have very much been drawn to games that delivered on having fantastic stories and characters, in addition to being a games that are fun to play.  Mafia II is a great example of this.  It takes a fairly simple gameplay format and sets it in an open world; however, instead of giving you a huge variety of submissions to play through, the path of the game is very linear, with rare opportunities to stray from the game’s main story.  As a result, you have a game that on lasts a good 15 hours, as opposed to 50+, but I was so drawn into the story, characters, and overall atmosphere of this game, that it hardly bothered me.  I don’t tend to play one game, straight through, in a short amount of time very often, but this was a game I burned through, because of how much I wanted to see where its narrative would take me.  Add to that the great amount of work, visually, which the game delivered on to portray a world set in the 1940s and 50s, along with strong voice-over work, and plenty of Tommy-gun fights, and you have a pretty sweet gaming experience that could make Marlon, Al, James, and Robert proud.

5.  Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood The exciting thing to point out about this game, is that it may be Assassin’s Creed 2.5, but that is a completely awesome thing.  Curiously, the only thing that the build up to this game was highlighting was the fact that it had multiplayer.  Besides the fact that the multiplayer is awesome (which I will get to), this game has a whole 15 hour single-player story mode, which is fantastic.  The plot may not progress much (leave that to Assassin’s Creed 3), but the tweaks to the combat and other new additions are all very welcome.  Given that the game’s design is to make you feel like the ultimate bad ass assassin, having a new feature, where you can call upon assassins to help you out in battle and send them on their own missions only works to emphasize your grandiose nature further.  Who needs difficulty, when you can simply feel satisfied with leaping across buildings and delivering swift death to various historical figures, as you travel around a beautifully recreated, 15th century Rome.  Then you have the multiplayer, which is essentially the coolest version of Clue you can play, as you have various modes requiring you to find out who is trying to kill you, as you attempt to locate your own assigned target.  This is a well crafted gaming experience, delivering plenty of bang for your buck.

4.  Enslaved: Odyssey to the West This game will continue to get all the love in the world from me, because as much as these other blockbuster games deliver on what they set out to do, Enslaved emerged practically from nowhere and delivered a pretty great experience, which is unfortunately not being taken advantage of by enough buyers.  This is a platforming, action-adventure game, taking a few notes from Uncharted, but playing out in a simpler fashion.  However, while the gameplay may be fairly straightforward, it is how this game is constructed that makes me love it.  The story is an adaptation of the ancient Chinese story Journey to the West, written by screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine).  The lead character, Monkey, is voiced by Andy Serkis (Gollum, King Kong), who also did his own motion capture performance and directed all of the cutscenes.  As a result, the work done to create a great story, set in a beautifully realized future dystopian society, along with how well handled the characters are, led to a fantastic game that I did not want to stop playing.  I did say the gameplay is straightforward, but the design of this world (the depiction of the future features an America full of overgrown plant life, which is a nice change in pace over more gray wastelands) and the effort put into the motion performances and vocal work of the characters are all highlights that I will continue to emphasize.  It also is still fun to play.  I initially downloaded the demo, and a twist in the opening level of this game had me hooked immediately.  I am glad I stuck with it, as it gave me exactly what I wanted out of it.

3.  Heavy RainPerhaps the most innovative game of the year, Heavy Rain definitely delivered one of the most ambitious and visceral gaming experiences I have ever had a chance to get my hands on.  Poke holes and have fun with the story and voice acting all you want (I certainly do; “Jaaasooon”), but the way this game has been constructed is pretty fantastic.  Modeled on the plot of a crime thriller akin to Se7en or Silence of the Lambs, this game puts you in the shoes of four different characters, all looking to stop a menace known as the “Origami Killer”, who kidnaps and murders children.  Whether you are in the role of the father hoping to find his son before it is too late or of the detective putting everything together, it is up to you to stay ahead of the curve.  Differing from traditional gameplay, the experience here requires the player to interact with the environment and other characters using a system of quick time events that lead to various discoveries in the story and fast-paced action sequences.  Depending on the choices the players make, the game can literally shift the narrative, leading up to a variety of different scenarios and endings.  The look and mood of the game is matched with intense gameplay sequences, as players are literally tasked with keeping their characters alive or making heavy moral decisions.  It is unique, engaging, dark, and a wonderfully artful experience, as the cinematic quality of this game stands to bring the medium to a new level.

2.  God of War IIINow a unique experience is all well and good, but the “if it aint broke don’t fix it, just make it more awesome and epic” strategy, which the God of War team used to create this final chapter in the series, unquestionably did just that.  I have long been a fan of this series, with its easily accessible control mechanics, over-the-top violent tone, fun revenge story rooted in Greek mythology, and of course the anti-hero of the tale, Kratos, whose drive is set on killing all of the Gods of Olympus.  Fans of this game series finally got to sink their teeth into an entry made for the PS3, and this game certainly delivers on all fronts.  One of the best looking games on the console, God of War has stunning animations throughout, only to be matched with a smooth-framerate and enough power from the console to let you battle tons of enemies on screen at one time, while literally on the back of a Titan, which the game is sure to remind you of, as the camera frequently zooms way out, emphasizing the sense of scale this game is delivering on.  This was another game I was craving more time in the day to play all the way through in order to have a fully satisfying experience.  The addictive gameplay and gleefully over-the-top bloodshed that this game delivers on was certainly one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I had this year.  Special mention must also go out to the fact that this game delivered on having all of the best boss battles of the year, including the knock-down, drag-out brawl that was Kratos vs. his half brother Hercules, voiced by none other than Kevin Sorbo.  “By the gods.”

1.  Red Dead RedemptionIn 2004, Rockstar released Red Dead Revolver on the Playstation 2.  It was a third-person action shooter, set in the realms of a western.  While that game was not without its share of problems, I loved it; played it repeatedly; and would continue to play it for years (as well as the multiplayer, which some friends and I have a certain affinity for).  In 2010, Rockstar revisited this game and gave it a huge overhaul in design, in order to match the potential that a game like this has for next-gen gaming consoles.  As a result, the experience of playing Red Dead Redemption, the amount of fun I had, the amount of work that clearly went into crafting this world, the characters you play as and engage with, and the story so wonderfully written, all paid off to deliver what was an easy choice for me as my game of the year.  An open world experience set in the world of a western that is not just Grand Theft Auto on horseback.  Of all the elements I can praise about this game, which includes the amount of fun I have getting into shootouts, the beauty this game has to offer from its wild west design to the sight of a sunset on the horizon, the addictive multiplayer, and the amazing score, I think it all comes down to how much I respect the main character, John Marston, and the way the story functions around him.  While indeed fun and at many times very funny, the game never winks at the audience, the story is presented as a mature one, where you follow a man, sorry for his past deeds, looking to make up for his sins and earn back his family.  Some may find the pacing of this game slow in its beginnings, but it is all wholly appropriate in order to develop these (fully realized) characters and settings.  The script for this game is incredibly well written, and while certainly a long game to play all the way through, the final “missions” of this game are fully worth it, as the investment placed in these characters reaches a natural conclusion, which is very well handled.  I reckon that this is not only my favorite game of the year, but one of the ones that makes me proud to be a gamer.


Game of the YearRed Dead Redemption

Honorable Mentions:
3D Dot Game Heroes, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, Def Jam Rapstar, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, Darksiders


Other Games Worth Noting:
Donkey Kong Country (Wii), GoldenEye 007 (Wii), Angry Birds (iPhone), Cut the Rope (iPhone), Infinite Blade (iPhone), Dance Central (Xbox 360 – Kinect)

Looking Forward to in 2011:
Dead Space 2, Infamous 2, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Batman: Arkham City, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, Resistance 3, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Portal 2, L.A. Noire




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