January 17, 2011

Paul’s Top Ten of 2010

#10 (barely…) Fable III (Note: this really should be the #1 worst game of 2010, why is it on my top 10? -Paul)

Dear Peter,

You make good games!!! So stop promising us that you’ll change the world with your projects! That way, a solid title like Fable III won’t be labeled a disappointment in some random blog post on the internet. Your team knows how to create charming worlds, with interesting gameplay mechanics, but can’t seem to grasp the technical side of game development. : ( I hope your feelings aren’t hurt and we can still meet for tea and crumpets some day.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Sandhu

P.S. Those are my initials! : – )

P.P.S. Please make sure you release your titles without game breaking glitches. It is kind of embarrassing when people have to restart their game because of clipping issues. When I say restart, I don’t mean reboot their console, I mean RESTART their entire game/save. That’s so 1996….

#9 Red Dead Redemption

I really have mixed feelings about this game. So much so that I almost dropped it from my Top Ten list all together. The game has a compelling plot, very well written characters, and an interesting story arc, but at times it plods along. The tutorial section of the game drags on a bit, the entire middle (Mexican Revolution) portion of the game felt out of place and didn’t really add much to the story, and the gameplay has fits of schizophrenia (3 different versions of the dead eye mechanic??? not good).

But as I said, Red Dead (I should be a poet) DOES do some things right. I loved John Marsten and wanted to see him back with his family, and the finale stands as one of the most emotionally involving, gut wrenching conclusions I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a game. But I just couldn’t overlook the glaring flaws this game has and thus had to stick it near the bottom of my list.

#8 Just Cause 2

Searching for Santosi

Recipe for the best game ever:

2 cups – Giant, and interesting open world

2 tsp- Over the top gameplay involving guns, vehicles, and parachutes

1/4 cup – Grapple hook

1 dash – Bolo Santosi

1 cup – Co-op/multiplayer modes that take advantage of the open world you’ve created

Mix together and voila, best game ever. Except somehow Just Cause 2 missed the mark. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It might be the fact that JC2 does a lot of things well, but nothing exceptional with those ingredients. It is also missing a multiplayer mode which seems like a crime considering how loosey goosey the game plays.

I can only imagine the good times that could have been had if the game had even the simplest of multiplayer modes! Just Cause 2 is not a BAD game per se it just isn’t that GREAT of a game. The characters and plot are completely ridiculous, but fit the game world well (Bolo rocks, comrade) The gunplay is decent, the vehicles handle pretty well, and the stunts you can pull off are a blast. But something is missing from the game to raise it from good to great…..

#7 Dead Rising 2

Hooray, the sequel to one of my favorite games of this console generation. A lot of people had some valid complaints about the first Dead Rising like the difficulty, single slot save system, time constraints, and Otis.

Personally, I thought those aspects of the first game actually made it more enjoyable (sans Otis) so I was very happy to see Capcom tweak those mechanics instead of ditching them outright.

It’s rare for a game to have an “arcade-y” yet nuanced feel to it, but Dead Rising 2 hits all the right notes in that regard. The core gameplay mechanics are still intact; you still hunt down hordes of zombies (this never gets old!) with funky ass weapons, you still fight horribly unbalanced and frustrating bosses (this can be fun trust me) and you still have to plan out which missions you want to tackle since you don’t have time to do them all. The story is a complete throw away, but that’s to be expected.

It’s a definite improvement over the first game and I hope to visit Dead Rising 2 again, but with a partner next time!

#6 Civilization 5

Civilization 4 is one of the best games ever made. But we forget that it took years of patches and expansion packs for the game to reach that state of near perfection. What does that have to do with Civ 5? Not a whole lot except Civ 5 is one hell of a broken game in its current state (Civ 4 was broken at release too). But you know what? It’s still a damn good time. I must have logged over 120 hours into Civ 5 and I plan on spending at least another 100 with it once it is patched up and balanced. Firaxis seems committed to making this game as special as Civ 4, though news just came out that the lead designer for Civ 5 joined another studio recently* … depending on your viewpoint, that might actually be a good thing!

Anyways I digress. If you’ve never played a Civilization game before, Civ 5 is a great spring board. It is newbie friendly enough that you shouldn’t be overwhelmed by everything in the game, but deep enough to satisfy all but the most hardcore of fans. The UI has been cleaned up tremendously and is far more intuitive than before, and it has an incredible art deco motif going for it. That has to count for something right? Right??????? The bottom line is that I love this game and if it were just a bit more polished, it would have challenged for game of the year or at the very least cracked my top 3.

As it stands, Civ 5 is a super fun game with some fundamental issues that need ironing out.

#5 Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Momma!!!

Starcraft II came out something like 12 years after the first game. It was worth the wait. This game just screams polish. In typical Blizzard fashion they didn’t want to release the game until it was DONE. I absolutely adored the first Starcraft (Protoss 4 life) so I had very high expectations for this game.

Actually scratch that. I had ZERO expectations for this game. A funny side note about SCII is that I never actually planned on buying it. I was one of those people that was so vehemently opposed to the way Blizzard was splitting up SCII into 3 separate games that I went into a blind nerd rage! It’s probably a good thing that I got into the beta then, because SCII turned out to be one hell of a ride. The single player mode alone was worth the price of admission (though the game does change CANON a bit). But it is in the multiplayer mode where the game really shines.

Even at initial release, the 3 races were very balanced. Good job Blizzard!

If you’ve never played Starcraft but have even the slightest interest in RTS games, then you have to give it a try. Hell you can even play against me and whoop my ass since all I seem to do these days is watch replays and commentary on SCII instead of actually playing the damn game. That’s another thing about Starcraft that I need to mention. The community is outrageously awesome. If you’re ever interested in learning more about the game, and want to learn how to improve, I highly suggest watching The Day9 Daily. Day9 is an ex-professional Starcraft 1 player and has been kind enough to lend his expertise and incredible commentary to the world at large with the intent to help you “become a better gamer”. Do it now!

#4 Transformers: War for Cybertron

I’m a child of the 80s which means I’m aware that knowing is half the battle, Tender Heart is not to be trifled with, and that Optimus Prime is the greatest paragon of all that is good in the universe. Time has not been kind to my childhood hero though. There have been about 9000 (maybe more) different variations on the Transformers storyline but mainly tons of cartoons/comics etc etc. I had almost zero expectations for this game since the past has not been kind to Transformers.

Believe me when I say I was completely surprised by this game! Somehow the developers took everything awesome about the 80s cartoon and distilled it into this incredible action game full of subtle nods to  the lore of yesteryear. The first half of the game has you playing as the Decepticons. I gotta say it was pretty fun seeing Starscream defect to the Decepticons and immediately set his sights on usurping the leadership role from Megatron. Side note: the game does not feature Frank Welker as Megaton! Peter Cullen however, does reprise his role as Optimus Prime. Oh well, we can’t all be perfect.

So how does the game play? Listen to the podcast to find out.

Here’s a hint: It’s totally rad to the max dude.

Also I highly recommend checking out this incredible trailer for the game. A fan took the official trailer and re-dubbed the sound track with voices, music and sound effects from the G1 series. It’s amazing.

#3 The Witcher

The Witcher is based off the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and apparently they are quite well received over there. Originally released in 2007, and then subsequently re-released in 2008 with a new voice track (the original voice acting apparently made VGCT look down right PRO) this game has no business being on a top games of 2010 list right? Tough titties Turkleton, it stays on the list since I played it for the first time in 2010. Who has the time to play every single new game as they are released? Don’t we all have a backlog? I say revolt against common conventions when you make your list for games of the year! We shall be held prisoner no longer!

*ahem*

Anyways… this game absolutely knocked me on my ass. It is Mass Effect, with swords. ‘Nuff said, except that is quite possibly the worst description of this game ever (thanks me). I don’t know why I had such a hard time describing this game in the cast. I mean basically, it is an exceptional Action RPG with a very nuanced and mature story lines. Geralt of Rivia is a complete and utter badass.

You can play him as an unfeeling monster slayer with little to no disregard for the politics of the time or if you feel like moulding him into a noble paragon for the political under class you can do that too. Either way works and both are compelling story lines in their own right.

That’s what makes The Witcher so magnificent. It’s a game about choices. You can build Geralt into a magic wielding powerhouse or a nimble swordsman that dances around his foes and picks them off one by one, again the choice is yours! Also, the battle mechanics are fantastic. It really almost is like a Dance Dance Revolution style system in that the key to success is your timed button presses. If you’re skilled you will overcome many of the more difficult encounters. You need to pay attention to the subtle cues the game gives you and it is rare for me to be so engaged in an RPG’s battles from start to finish.

The sequel is out soon, and apparently choices carry over into the next game. The developers, CD Projekt have a gem on their hands and it looks like they know what to do with it. I wish them all success and will definitely be getting The Witcher 2 on day one.

#2 Lara Croft: The Guardian of Light

Best co-op game I’ve ever played. It isn’t even close to anything else.

This game is pure game play perfection. It isn’t a game which plops a second player into the game and they end up being just another grunt on the battlefield, which is what many games with co-op seem to do. I should probably lay a disclaimer down that I have not played this game solo and I refuse to do so. I think the only way to play this game is with someone else, preferably in the same room (I know that is a lost art, but try it kids). But I digress.

This game surprised me for a number of reasons. First of which is the obvious Tomb Raider title, I won’t get into it as the poor series has been lambasted enough over the years, but the title did not help my expectations to say the least. Secondly, I was not expecting such an incredibly nuanced and deep co-op experience. Like I said, most developers just slap co-op into games without giving it much thought, but co-op is the very foundation of Guardian of Light. The gun play is extremely tight, picking enemies off from a far is a breeze with the excellent controls.

Saving your partner from an enemy that is sneaking up on them never gets old! Also, the puzzle design is simply amazing too. The way the developers formed this incredible synergy between the abilities for both Lara and Totec is something more studios need to take note of.

A true co-op game is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Lara and Totec cannot function in this game without each other. It’s that feeling of relying on someone else at all times that defines this co-op experience, and in any other year, this game would have been a lock for my game of the year. It is magnificent. But not even the mighty power of Totec could vault this game to #1….

#1 Mass Effect 2

So just what kind of game knocks off something like Guardian of Light for #1? A game that won the coin toss. Actually to tell the truth, the coin was stolen by my cat before it landed so I had to make the tough choice and put Mass Effect 2 at the top of my list.**

This was not an easy decision at all and I hated that I had to make it, Sophie really has no idea what a choice is.

So why Mass Effect 2? It’s certainly not perfect and some people have even said it is not as good as Mass Effect 1. I completely disagree but can understand why they might feel that way. However, Mass Effect 2 is what a great sequel should be. It took a lot of the major failings of the first game and improved upon them. I went on and on about this game in the podcast so I’ll try to talk about a few things I didn’t mention.

The story and characters are second to none. Bioware managed to double the number of squad mates you can recruit and made almost all of them interesting people that you want to get to know. Some of the characters are a bit weaker than the rest (Jacob is quite bland) but there seems to be enough quality here that everyone should find a few squad members they form some genuine affection for. I would spend hours on the Normandy just chatting with my crew, learning about their history, families and other personal information that I felt really rounded these characters out.

My affection for these characters definitely added some gravity to the seriousness of the finale in which (not a spoiler) you can actually have squad mates perish, forever. Kudos to Bioware for attempting something so gutsy. More games need the sense of something actually being on the line. I sincerely hope they take this model of story telling and add it into Mass Effect 3, but from the start of the game instead of just for the finale!

Also, I play Commander Shepard as a stylized version of myself as it helps me get immersed in the game world, so I was extremely happy with the arc Bioware is taking Shepard on. I take this journey quite personally and I love what they are doing here. Bioware is also being very meticulous about the DLC they are releasing for Mass Effect 2. So far there have been a few amazing episodic stories released for the game, with one last DLC episode being promised to bridge the gap between Mass Effect 2 and 3 later this year. I can’t wait!

I talk about the incredible game play in the cast and to me that’s just a delicious icing on this incredible cake.

But really it comes down to one important thing.

I care about Shepard. A lot.

That’s why Mass Effect 2 is my top game of the year.

*no, he is not making Spore 2
**this may or may not be completely false
  • discostrings

    Thank you for introducing me to Lara Croft: The Guardian of Light. More than anything, I think this game has recaptured many of the aspects of console gaming that really shine for me: multiple players, same screen, fast action, fun puzzles, working together, a world with plenty to be discovered, and surprises (and I don’t mean scripted “surprises”, I mean surprises the players find in the environment and mechanics, like the Totec/Lara double jump). And somehow, it turned a franchise I would generally scoff at (I think I involuntarily let out a sigh when you said the name Lara Croft) into a universe I enjoyed and would like to go back to. If you have a friend in the vicinity to play this with who won’t blue toad you, it is a must play.

    It’s hard to look at StarCraft II and Civilization V right next to each other on the list, but you definitely made the right call on the ordering. While I generally strongly prefer the gameplay style of a Civilization to a *Craft, it felt to me that StarCraft II (multiplayer alone!) blew Civilization V out of the water. While one can say that Civilization IV was not yet perfect upon release, it was still a 9.5/10 game. Civilization V in its current broken state feels more like a 7 (at least without the latest patch, which I haven’t tried yet). When my StarCraft II beta key went out in the first round, it was already a 9. That just shows what some polish (or maybe just QA…) can do between concept and execution. I’m looking forward to playing more StarCraft II this year, and hopefully Civilization V as well (if the Firaxis team can get it worked out…).

    I can only go on so much longer before I finally get engrossed in Mass Effect…

  • Oh man, I forgot about the double jump! That was like finding out you could actually WARP to different levels in SMB. Well maybe not that epic, but damn close.

    Also I think you’re way more of a hardcore Civ player than I ever was. I remember in some of the multiplayer games we played, you would take eons on your turns and would somehow wind up like 40 billion techs ahead of the rest of us. But I agree that Civ 5 needs work. I agree that SCII is way ahead of Civ 5 in terms of polish, the game is a bit of a mess for super efficient hardcore players.

    But I think the way the game lends itself to new players should warrant some merit as well. With some tweaks I think it can become amazing!

    Also yeah uh, hurry up and play some Mass Effect. ^_^

  • Courtney

    Your female Shepard is HOT if i do say so myself.

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