Another year is about to end and that means it’s time to look back at all the great games that released in the past twelve months and narrow it down to the must-plays. Now I must note here that I am only one man and don’t have the time nor the money to play every single game released this year. Notably, I have not played Heavy Rain and Gran Turismo 5 because I don’t have a PS3 so I will be leaving those off the list. Nor have I played Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood or Donkey Kong Country Returns (fingers crossed for someone to get those for me for Christmas!). Other than those, I’ve played just about every other major title this year. So without further ado, let’s run down We Got This Covered’s Best Video Games of 2010!
Cut The Rope
Released on iPhone iOS
I know I know, I can hear the screams of the haters already. “The iPhone isn’t a gaming device.” “How is a casual game better than (insert so called “hardcore” game here)?!” Well calm down folks and hear me out. Cut The Rope is a casual game, yes but it’s one of those rare games that crosses the boundary of core and casual and even the hardest of hardcore gamers can and will enjoy it. It’s an incredibly addicting puzzler where you can usually figure out what needs to be done in a matter of minutes but it’s all in the execution, with some of the harder levels requiring incredible finesse to get those candies into Om Nom’s mouth.
This game literally defines what iPhone gaming is about. It requires only short bursts of attention, the cutesy art-style is appropriate for gamers of all ages and most importantly, this was a game built from the ground up for the iPhone. You couldn’t put this game on any other platform out there and have it work nearly as well as it does on the iOS. Plus we got the very difficult Cosmic Box in a free update and the Holiday Gift version also for free! Who can argue with that price? And even if you somehow can, the game itself is only $0.99. At that price, this may be the most entertainment you can get for the least amount of money this year. Thought Angry Birds was fun? Well get that outta here because Cut The Rope is by far, my favorite iPhone game.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Released on PC
PC games are in the dark ages right now. There are not many triple A PC games that are not already on (and usually primarily developed on) consoles. The one genre that continues to flourish on the PC platform are strategy games and arguably none can top the behemoth and the consequent cultural shift of StarCraft. I mean the game has been turned into a national sport in Korea. What other video game can that be said for?
Fast forward twelve years later and we finally have the sequel. Now some may argue that it was not worth the wait and that it is more like StarCraft 1.5 but this is exactly what the fans wanted. It has better graphics, more units and a more balanced multiplayer. The campaign is also fantastic with great voice acting and stunning cinematics. Even though you can only play as the Terran, by no means are you short-changed. It’s lengthy and well worth playing through before diving into the addictive multiplayer. Best strategy game this year? I think so.
God of War 3
Released on PS3
I mentioned in the introduction that I do not own a PS3. Now this was a problem for me because God of War 1 and 2 were two of my absolute favorite games on the PS2. I had to play the conclusion to one of my most beloved series of all time. My solution? I offered to all my friends that I’d buy them God of War 3 if they let me borrow their PS3 for a month so I can play it a few times. Well one of them took up the offer and was it ever worth it!
While the conclusion of the story was slightly disappointing and a little PG-13 compared to the R rated violence of the rest of the series, the gameplay has been honed to near perfection. The pacing is flawless, the puzzles are simple yet effective, and the combat is the finest we’ve ever seen in the series with a few really awesome and actually useful weapons. As we’ve come to expect from a God of War game, the set pieces are unbelievably epic but the final chapter in the series takes the cake. One boss is so big that it’s actually the level itself that you are running on. Now that’s epic!
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Released on Wii
Gamers are a bit spoiled this generation since we usually only get one core Mario game per generation. As a sequel to 2007’s critically acclaimed Super Mario Galaxy, Galaxy 2 just perfects what was already excellent in the first game. The children’s story of the first game was pretty pointless and so it was replaced with a simpler story, the giant hub world that was cumbersome to traverse is replaced with the smaller Starship Mario, and the levels are presented in a much more streamlined World/level setup, similar to Super Mario World on the SNES.
While there were minor changes to make the game more streamlined, the core design is more of the same, which is exactly what fans wanted. More suits, more stars (the green stars), and more wonderfully imaginative level designs, which is the real star of the show. From gravity reversing plates to trap doors and a throwback galaxy that recreates Super Mario 64’s classic Whomp Fortress, this has some of the most bizarre and mindbending platforming levels I’ve ever seen. And who can forget Yoshi! While he wasn’t featured in as many levels as I’d have hoped, the levels that are there are amazing. Throw in another set of powerups for the lovable dinosaur and even more crazy level designs to house them and we get a wonderful twist on the now classic Mario Galaxy formula. This is by far the best platformer released this year so be sure not to miss it!
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Released on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
This is the yin to Call of Duty’s yang. While Call of Duty is frenetic fast-paced twitch shooting, Battlefield is a series more known for its huge open spaces, tactical squad-based objective gameplay and its focus on vehicle combat. Oh and Destruction 2.0…ahhh the joy of taking out campers not by going into the building to flank them but by blowing a hole through the wall with rockets! Or better yet, how about just bringing the entire building down with C4? Having fully destructible environments truly is a game-changer in the increasingly stagnant FPS genre and I think this is the next logical step for all FPS to incorporate in the coming years.
While it may not be as popular as the Call of Duty franchise or have as many game modes, Bad Company 2 is one of the best multiplayer shooters to play with friends simply because of its focus on teamwork. Plus throw in the cooperative download Onslaught and the recently released Vietnam expansion and we have one of the most enjoyable multiplayer games this year period. The gameplay is a little slower than what some shooter fans may be used to but there’s a reason why the Battlefield series has been one of the premier multiplayer shooters of the last decade.
Released on Xbox 360
This is perhaps the best game this year that nobody played. Take a little Twin Peaks and a splash of Twilight Zone and you get Alan Wake, an intense story-driven survival-horror game that has an interesting take on light vs. dark as a primary game mechanic. Now I can see how the people who were following developer Remedy’s every word and were anticipating this much-delayed game for so many years would be somewhat disappointed at the end result. But as someone who never really paid attention to the game pre-release, I came in with little to no expectations and came out blown away.
The creepy atmosphere, the believable cast of characters you actually care about in the end and the witty dialogue make this game what it is. The story is one of the best tales in a video game in recent memory and is definitely the highlight of the game. And if you were mad at the ambiguous ending, note that the game opens with “Stephen King once wrote, ‘Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear,’” so to be honest, if you were expecting a nicely wrapped up conclusion, you weren’t exactly mislead. And to be fair, the two DLC chapters expanded the story a little (one of which was free if you bought the game new).
Most refreshing is the way the game is structured in an episodic format, letting the game play out like a TV show. As insignificant as this sounds, it really does create a wonderful pace to the game and makes it a very memorable experience. With each episode lasting about an hour, each of them ends with a cliffhanger and at a major plot point, leaving you clamoring for more. But at the same time, the end of an episode creates a very convenient point to drop the game and pick it back up later without worry of forgetting what happened because each episode starts off with a nice “Previously on Alan Wake…” recap of the story thus far.
This game also has one of the most memorable licensed soundtracks of the year that is not found in a music game. I can never listen to David Bowie’s Space Oddity ever again without thinking about this game. Even the original music is fantastic. I would definitely buy a full-length Old Gods of Asgard album!
Released on Xbox 360
This will be Bungie’s last Halo game before they depart from their baby and leave the franchise in the hands of 343 Industries. Long-time fans of the sci-fi shooter may lament this but rest assured, Bungie left us with the definitive Halo experience with Reach. Reach is not a revolution. It’s more of an evolution and the refinement of the same mechanics that have been driving Halo for a decade now. But it’s still as fun as ever and looks better than any other Halo game.
The shooting and driving mechanics are solid but it’s the flexibility in the gameplay that gives it its legs. It includes an updated version of Forge with a massive playground called Forge World. Already there are remakes of old maps and some creative stuff like Grifball and crazy Mongoose and Warthog race tracks to be downloaded. Plus the theater makes a return so you can record all the hilarious and random events that often occur in Halo games. ODST’s Firefight mode also makes a return and is now playable through Matchmaking, making this Horde-like gametype playable even if you don’t have friends online. With about a billion different variations on its gametypes, this multiplayer shooter will have you hooked for a long time.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Released on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii
You knew it would appear here somewhere. With the franchise’s primary developer Infinity Ward in shambles after some messy legal problems, fans doubted whether Treyarch, Call of Duty’s second stringer, would have what it takes to step up to the plate and take over. Well rest your fears. Treyarch fully delivered on their promise and made, without a doubt, their best Call of Duty game yet, and possibly the best Call of Duty game since the first Modern Warfare.
Learning from Modern Warfare 2’s mistakes, Treyarch truly listened to fans and made numerous tweaks. Killstreaks are toned down and less overpowering, and abused perks such as One Man Army and Commando are removed entirely, making this the most balanced Call of Duty since Call of Duty 4. They also restructured the unlock system, creating an economy whereby you earn COD points to buy equipment. Best of all, they reintroduced online split-screen! Oh the joys of playing with your buddy on a couch and destroying noobs together.
Treyarch gives you a lot of bang for your buck with plenty of content. On top of the standard multiplayer modes, you can put your money where your mouth is and put up your hard earned COD points in the new and addictive Wager matches. Plus, taking a cue from Halo, this is the first Call of Duty game with a theater where you can watch your previous matches, record that awesome Tomahawk headshot through the window and share it with all your friends.
Treyarch also brought back the much-loved cooperative Zombies mode from World at War and Dead Ops Arcade, a twin-stick zombies shooter that is akin to Smash TV and wouldn’t feel out of place being a $5 or $10 download on XBLA just on its own. On top of all of this, Treyarch crafted Call of Duty’s best single player campaign in years with a new narrative style never seen before in a Call of Duty game. Put all of that together and it adds up to the must-play shooter of the year.
Read Matt’s review of Black Ops HERE.
Mass Effect 2
Released on Xbox 360 and PC
The first Mass Effect was clearly flawed but it still holds a spot as one of my favorite games of this current generation. Then they released Mass Effect 2 and fixed almost every gripe fans had about the first game. It’s still not perfect though, namely the repetitive planet scanning for resources and the more simplified and shallow character customization (some would say it’s more streamlined and for the better), but was it ever a fine effort. Game developers pay attention. This is how sequels are supposed to be made.
Pushing the epic incoming Reaper invasion to the third game and relegating the middle chapter to a series of short stories was disappointing at first but proved to be successful in creating characters that players can connect with and truly care about. That combined with the excellent revamped combat mechanics made this a game that everyone, not just the hardcore RPG fans can enjoy.
And then there’s the ability to carry over your existing character from the first game. This is a revolutionary mechanic and really makes the Mass Effect series come into its own. Your choices really did matter and affected the game in various ways. This makes it unfair for newcomers to the series as the default character has much less meaning if you weren’t involved in the story and didn’t make the important choices yourself. But if you do have a character from the original, you can essentially keep playing the same game. And that’s why I view this trilogy not as three separate games but one game released in three installments (think Lord of the Rings).
That’s why I also feel bad that PS3 owners finally get this series on their console but with the exception of the first game. I’m happy that more people will be able to play this great series and experience one of the best stories in recent sci-fi history but without being able to actually play as the same Shepard throughout the series, it really loses its impact, regardless of the 15 minute interactive backstory comic that PS3 owners get to “experience” the events of the first game. It’s just not the same. Either play all three or none at all. To me, there is no other way to experience the greatness that is Mass Effect. But for PC and Xbox 360 owners, this game is pure bliss.
Red Dead Redemption
Released on Xbox 360 and PS3
I’ll be honest, I was never really a Western fan. Being from Canada, the whole cowboys and Indians thing was never ingrained in our cultural background as much as maybe some of our U.S. readers. So because of that, I wasn’t sure initially if I was going to enjoy this game. But I had faith in Rockstar. They make fantastic games and coming off the success of GTA IV, I couldn’t help but indulge myself.
What I came out with was more than just a GTA in a Western setting (although it does share many similarities to its urban big brother). Going out on hunts and catching bad guys became its own beast. And living out all those Western staples like chasing a robber on horseback and hogtying him, getting caught cheating at cards and getting challenged to a duel, then subsequently shooting the gun out of your opponent’s hand or shooting your opponent’s hat off became pure joy in digital form.
The story is classic Western with John Marston wanting to settle down from his outlaw days with his family at a ranch but things go awry when the government holds his family hostage and orders John to hunt down and kill his old gang leader, Bill Williamson. Bill then shoots Marston dead (or so he thinks), who is then revived by the lovely Bonnie MacFarlane and starts Marston off on his epic adventure.
The single player campaign is what really did it for me but couple this with an excellent online multiplayer and Undead Nightmare, a bizarre zombie cowboy DLC that is in itself one of the best downloadable offerings this year, and you have not only a great game and certainly my personal game of the year but also by far, the greatest Western video game ever created. Every game that ventures into this small genre will be forever compared to Red Dead Redemption and they better come packing.